Dr. Tara Peters is an educator, TED Talk speaker, bestselling author, and recognized consultant with a client list that spans the globe. A professional educator for more than 24 years, she currently serves as a professor at Northwood University’s Richard DeVos Graduate School of Management and as an academic dean for its Texas campus. We recently sat down for a brief interview. Here is some of our conversation.
Tell us your name and a little about yourself.
My name is Dr. Tara Peters, and I currently serve as academic dean and professor in the graduate school at Northwood University. I’ve been an educator for more than 24 years and have a passion for the work I do. I love having the opportunity to work with undergrad and graduate students as they pursue their degrees.
I’m naturally curious, and this has led to research that’s been presented at regional, national, and international conferences. My research interests led to co-authoring a book, The Demotivated Employee: Helping Leaders Solve the Motivation Crisis That Is Plaguing Business. As an ardent international traveler, I relish the opportunity to experience new cultures and people.
What exactly does your company do?
The Leadership Doctors is a consulting firm that was founded by me and my business partner, Dr. Cathy Bush. The company focuses on creating great workplaces by helping organizations develop their leaders. Our services include executive coaching, leadership development for teams, and customized solutions. Our approach ensures that leaders develop self-awareness, acquire requisite skills through application and feedback, and demonstrate competencies consistent with effective leadership.
What were the biggest challenges you have faced, and how did you overcome them?
People of color—and more specifically, minority women—aren’t widely represented in higher education. For example, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that 3 percent of the professoriate is comprised of African American women. I’ve been able to overcome this challenge by having advocates who recognize the need to diversity the faculty ranks. They supported my professional growth by providing opportunities for me to acquire requisite skills and demonstrate my abilities. Because I now have a “seat at the table,” I’ve been able to support other people of color as they’ve sought to enter the faculty ranks in higher education.
What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?
There are three pieces of advice that would’ve been helpful to me at the beginning of my career:
- Own your career. You’re responsible for managing your career path and trajectory. So, get clarity about what you want to do and then take actionable steps that support your career goals.
- Find a mentor. Having a trusted advisor who can provide guidance and share “straight talk” is essential; this perspective will help guide your development and growth.
- Learn to embrace failure. Failure is part of the learning process. So, get comfortable with the f-word because it’s going to be a part of your life and career. Learning from your failures and overcoming them will be an integral part of building your character, skills, and resilience.
Who are your biggest influences and people you admire—and why?
My biggest influencers are the women in my family, specifically my mom, Sandra Brown, and my grandmother, Mattie Dickerson. I admire them because they taught me the importance of education, the value of reading (they were avid readers), and how to advocate for myself.
Beyond my family, I admire Ursula Burns, former CEO of Xerox, and Jim Kouzes, an author, professor, and leadership expert. Their philosophical views and leadership practices have informed how I think about the role and impact of leaders in organizations.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are?
I have many people to thank for my success, so this is a difficult question to answer. In an effort to respond, I’ll narrow this down to a single person by focusing on my career in higher education. That individual would be Dr. Kevin Fegan. Dr. Fegan, along with Dr. Jane Konditi, believed in me and supported my hiring as a full-time faculty member at Northwood University. Dr. Fegan’s support of my career continued as I assumed more responsibility at Northwood University as a division chair for management and marketing, lead faculty in the MBA program, and academic dean. Dr. Fegan cares about people, listens, is empowering, and is genuinely committed to the growth and development of employees.
What do you see as your greatest success in life?
My greatest success in life is my son, Generra. He’s accomplished academically and professionally, as an attorney, and he’s kind, thoughtful, and a prolific reader. One of my greatest joys in life is being his mom, and I’m so grateful for the young man he’s become.
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