There is no change without change. You have to be willing to change yourself, your work, your habits, and your environment to stay on your journey to your desired success. It is up to you and no one else. You are in control and you have to do the work!
As a part of my series about “Black Men and Women of The C-Suite”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Rita P Mitchell. Rita is an overcomer. In a career spanning nearly four decades, she has navigated countless roadblocks and conquered numerous obstacles to accomplish her personal and professional goals in the very competitive financial services industry. Rita became president of her own insurance and securities brokerage firm, spoke on the TEDx stage, has been a frequent contributor to Black Enterprise magazine, and became the first-ever recipient of First Horizon’s 2018 Inclusion & Diversity Leader’s Award. Before retiring in early 2018, Rita served as Executive Vice President and Manager of Private Client Services for Middle Tennessee, First Tennessee Bank. Most recently, she has written Own Your Phenomenal Self, a guide to empower young career women to achieve their desired success, which released on January 29, 2019. Rita resides in Nashville, TN, and enjoys writing, cooking, and traveling with the love of her life, Fulton, and her daughter, Brittany.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I recently retired after a 40+ year career in the financial services industry. Having climbed the corporate ladder from top-producing salesperson to Owner/President of the insurance and brokerage firm Mitchell Financial, Inc., to Executive Vice President, leader, and manager for a $50 billion regional bank, I have endured and overcome countless roadblocks on my journey to amazing success. Through these corporate ups and downs, a passion grew in me to empower women to become their best selves. I wrote Own Your Phenomenal Self for all the amazing young women in corporate America who have a strong desire to do good in the world and to be their very best for themselves and their families. It is a unique guide on character, success, and leadership for those who may not have the privilege of having a one-on-one mentor/coach. I am now on a mission to share this message worldwide: You are enough. You have enough. Because you were created with enough!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In all of my success, I was never selected to be a leader because of my talent, merit, or experiences; my leadership opportunities came because I was the only one who stood up, I was the only one who was ready. My mantra is “get ready, be ready, stay ready,” and, fortunately, I have always been ready — ready to raise my own hand and toot my own horn for the next big thing.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The worst mistake that I ever made at work happened nearly 40 years ago, but I still remember it to this day. I was only 22 years old and I was a participant in a regional bank’s 18-month management training program. For six months of this program, we had to do a six-week rotation in different areas of the bank and I was in the middle of the “bond-desk rotation.” Compared to the other areas, in my opinion, I was learning very little and had been given only mundane tasks to complete. So on this particular day, I was in a bad mood and decided to tell my co-workers that worked in this area how boring the bond-rotation job was compared to the other rotations.
I was completely on fire and spoke my mind about every little thing: I did not think that I was being utilized properly; I felt that I was smarter and more talented than the work that they were having me to do; I could do something better with my time; and finally that I was completely BORED out of my mind. As I finished, I turned around and there stood the manager of the department who was also a senior vice president and reported directly to the president of the bank. As I shut my mouth, he politely asked me to follow him to his office, which I did. He then politely asked me to close the door, which I did. Let me just say, the only thing that I said in that meeting was that I was sorry. He said everything else that you could possibly imagine about how dumb, ungrateful, careless, immature and stupid I obviously had to be. In addition, he told me if I was so smart and so bored maybe I should go read a bond book, which one of the bond traders politely had on my desk the next morning. The bad news was that it was the worst verbal butt-kicking in my life. The good news was that I read that bond book, shut my mouth and eventually was promoted out of the program!
My lifelong takeaways:
1) Never say or email anything in a corporate environment that you are not prepared to say to the CEO directly and/or blast out to the entire company.
2) Never complain without also having a recommended solution to the problem.
3) Don’t be the problem.
Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important for a business to have a diverse executive team?
- Leaders should look like the people they are leading. How can you, as a leader, have a universal perspective if everyone looks and thinks the same way? The executive team should look like the workforce AND the customers since they are the ones the company is serving and selling to.
- Typically, one person cannot and does not have all the right answers. To have the best chance of landing on the right answer or the winning strategy or the right vision and mission, you need diversity at the executive level.
- Lastly, how can you do good in the world without being inclusive? And how can you be inclusive without having diversity at the table? It takes having diversity at the table to hear the ideas and experiences you’ve never had or heard of. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you certainly can’t learn it all in a vacuum.
More broadly can you describe how this can have an effect on our culture?
Leadership at the executive level impacts the culture of the entire company. Thus, when you have diversity and inclusion at that level, you have the opportunity to change and impact every employee at every level.
People begin to be more open and look for ways to become more alike because they are working on the same page, on the same problem, and they are on the same team, as opposed to finding commonality in what is different. Diversity, when it is done well, creates commonality rather than division, and that changes the world.
Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in executive leadership?
- First, recognize talent when you see it, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or anything else. Don’t be afraid of smart people. Recognize the talent and call it out!
- Secondly, figure out how to grow that talent into leadership. What does he/she need to become successful? Do they need a mentor, more education, polished communication skills, etc. How do you mold, shape, develop, and lead this person into becoming their best self?
- Then, finally, please, place them on a legitimate executive career track. Share with them the path that you are putting in place AND set an expectation that all of management will support this path and acknowledge the person as someone the company has “named and claimed.” Then, expect and demand support from all involved in this person’s career trajectory.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
This is best expressed in an excerpt from my book: Own Your Phenomenal Self: A Guide on Character, Success, and Leadership.
“Good leaders influence, empower, and inspire others to become the best they can be. Great leaders have humility and are, themselves, the greatest servants. They are powerful because they do the right thing for the right thing’s sake. They bring out the best in others because they use their power and position for good. They help you to want to be your best, and they create an environment to nurture and foster that better behavior. With great leadership, there is care. With great leadership, the littlest things are the biggest things.”
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Grades, education, and paper are important: good grades — at all levels do your best; higher education — keep educating yourself if you can afford it; paper — everything you do will go on paper — on your resume — so make it meaningful. Understanding the importance of these three things is critical to your future success.
- Language. We are a global economy. Learn more than one language. More is more.
- You do not need to be known as the smartest person in the room, even though you might, in fact, be the smartest; however, you do need to understand the power and the strategy being used in the room. This means: not talking and, instead, observing the landscape; seeing how people connect to power; looking for how decisions are being made and how things get done; AND learning how and why people get promoted. Stop letting people know who you are until you see who they are first.
- Own your power. This means to have a personal agenda and determine what it is you are trying to accomplish with your career and life; to evaluate the gifts and talents that belong to you; and then to own the fact that you are truly in control of your destiny because choice belongs to you.
- There is no change without change. You have to be willing to change yourself, your work, your habits, and your environment to stay on your journey to your desired success. It is up to you and no one else. You are in control and you have to do the work!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It is in the book I just published: Own Your Phenomenal Self. The movement is called OYPS (Own Your Phenomenal Self), which, in essence, says that you are enough and you have enough because you were created with enough.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand. Henceforth will I apply ALL my efforts to become the highest mountain of all and I will strain my potential until it cries for mercy.”
This was the inspiration that helped me go from a person who had no business being in sales (no friendly personality, no skills, no network) to becoming a number-one producer and top salesperson because this is what I knew I had to do to get there. And I did. I conquered that mountain, and now it is how I live my life.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Oprah!! There are no words, she is just “all of that “ and more. She has been that light in my world to help me know what was and what is possible when you bring hard work, integrity, honesty, authenticity, and care of humanity to the table and to the world as you stay on your journey to becoming your best self!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!