Rolling Out

Georgia State University’s Tameka Lester shares key to great leadership

Photo source: Tameka Lester
Photo courtesy of Tameka Lester

Tameka Lester’s intelligence and perseverance have carried her to impressive heights in her career. Currently, her admirable traits are also being used to help the less fortunate as she servers as the assistant clinical professor and assistant director of the Philip C. Cook Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic at Georgia State University.

The clinic represents taxpayers who cannot afford legal representation. Lester assists the student-employees with helping their community and gaining valuable legal experience. She is more than qualified to serve as an educator in this area of work, since she has been involved in the taxation field for years.

Before law school, Lester worked in a leadership role at Wells Fargo for several years and as an audio marketing consultant for Muzak LLC. She received her juris doctorate degree from North Carolina Central University School of Law, where she held the position as the vice president of the Women’s Law Caucus and a Basic Income Taxation tutor. She was the first graduate of the Taxation Certificate Program.

Lester told rolling out how she continues to excel as an advocate for taxpayer rights and her key to being a superb leader.

Has competition been a key factor in your success?

Yes, but not in the traditional sense of measuring myself against the success and accomplishments of others. We all have different skills, gifts and abilities. Instead, my only benchmark — or competition — is myself — “have I done my best under the circumstances?” I am my toughest critic. Wanting to do my best drives me to work hard and provide others with the type of service I would desire if I were in their position. Is it a perfect system? No; however, it has allowed me to set realistic benchmarks for myself, whether it be in my personal or professional life. When I fall short, I use it as a learning opportunity for the future to be better.

Tell us how education has played a role in your success.

Education has played a tremendous role in my success. My mother has been a teacher for over 40 years, and she always stressed the importance of taking education seriously. Both my parents created an environment that encouraged a healthy curiosity for learning, and from an early age, my sister and I were cultivated into avid readers. Naturally, we became intrigued with learning. This love affair with learning has guided me through various professional roles and three degrees … all of which were important to my development and essential to my success as a clinical professor.

Finish this sentence: “Being agile and having the ability to adapt has …”

Lead to my survival in various circumstances. One of my favorite quotes by Charles Darwin states: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” This is true of most situations that life may present us — whether personal or professional. Those individuals who are able to adapt to change easiest and oftentimes quickest will fare better than others who are resistant to the change. My theory has always been to embrace change, as it will always have its purpose. Although it may be uncomfortable, you may actually find yourself in a better situation. If not, it will still serve as a learning experience.

Finish this sentence: “Learning to let go of trying to be perfect has helped me …”

Enjoy the journey. When we strive for perfection, it creates a state of tunnel vision. Since your goal is being perfect, you don’t stop to appreciate the wonderful things going on around you. I always encourage my students to measure success by the effort they put into the task verses perfection. Your performance may not always reflect your level of preparation, but your level of preparation lays a foundation for the cultivation of your work ethic. Giving your personal best is always a great accomplishment in itself. Simply use each experience as an opportunity to learn something new about yourself, about the particular task, and about other people.

Please describe your leadership style and tell us why you think it works.

I would describe my style as servant-based leadership. I want those who I have been entrusted to lead to move forward knowing more and feeling as though they are in a better situation than they were when we began the relationship. Not only do I want others to benefit from my successes, but I also want them to learn from my failures. My desire is to enhance their good qualities and teach them how to manage their shortcomings. I do this by being transparent, fair, and giving out a dose of tough love when necessary.

How did or does mentoring factor into your career or personal life?

Mentoring has allowed me to make tremendous strides in my career. A great mentor is not only experienced, but is often privileged to have insight you do not yet possess. I have had the divine good fortune of having a few of these over the course of my career. In addition to imparting knowledge I needed to be successful in my given role, each of my mentors have been able to help me develop my professional “common sense,” navigate difficult situations, and learn to utilize (and learn from) the strengths of those around [me]. In addition to great mentors, having someone who is willing to sponsor you (i.e. promote you to others) is key.

How has staying the course been a factor in your personal and professional life?

Perseverance is the key to success. You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to reach your goals. Sometimes others will look at your situation and simply not understand; however, as long as you have a plan that will allow you to hit the mark, stick with it. My first year of law school, I worked full-time and drove four hours round trip three days a week to attend class at night. People thought I was crazy and wondered how I was able to preserve. I was able to do it by telling myself that these days were temporary. As the old saying goes, “Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can do what others can’t” (Jerry Rice). I knew the reward of earning a law degree and becoming a licensed attorney far outweighed any temporary discomfort I had to endure. When you really want something, don’t let anything stand in your way — not even you.

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