Updated: Dec 22, 2022
How does one rise to a leadership position while going through some of the hardest experiences of one’s life?
Born during a storm and raised in a small, impoverished community St. Lucia, with a love of learning, she would read books in the back of her father’s taxi car as he drove his passengers around. She went on to achieve great academic success, despite many challenges during her university years. She returned home, first to undertake a career in education, followed by media and then moved to begin her career in a male-dominated industry. It was in this leadership role in 2017, that she survived a Category 5 storm, Hurricane Maria, which completely destroyed her homeland Dominica. Rising from the ashes became second nature to Deborah Edward in her rise to General Manager St. Lucia and Dominica 4 years later.
We sat down for a chat with Deborah to hear her story and learn how this diversity shaped who she is and where she is today.
“Every test you endure will someday lead to a testimony of success if you are resilient enough.”
Q1: Deborah, your story shows us that you're no stranger to tough situations. Would you share some of the most challenging ones with us?
A: “The lowest moment of my career came when I made the decision to become a single mom, raising three kids, one of them a newborn toddler, while navigating a change from one industry to another. That decision significantly impacted my financial ability to meet all my obligations to my family. I spent many nights doing homework, nursing my toddler, and then burning the midnight oil reading up on material for the many programs my company enrolled me in, given my interest in learning everything I could. These were tough times, but I always felt this burning desire not to give up. Failure was never an option for me, so this fire within me kept igniting passion and flames anytime I got weary.
“Another equally challenging period for me was in September 2017, when with less than 6 hours’ notice, a category 5 hurricane hit a market I had recently moved to as the Country Manager. Hurricane Maria remains the worst natural disaster in recorded history to hit Dominica, where I had only lived for eight months at the time. My home, like 95% of the island, was destroyed. Supplies became scarce and we saw looting for food, and we had no communication with the outside world for days. Not only was I dealing with the crisis, I was also managing the newness of the team and trying to lead them effectively.
“Despite my shock at the destruction around me, I quickly had to pull myself together to get the business back up and running, because people needed fuel to get going.
“For days, we worked almost 16-hour shifts fuelling the nation, energising homes and giving people hope. At that time, I had no electricity for months and literally had to walk from point A to B every day, going home to sleep in darkness. This experience toughened me quite a bit, and taught me how to live without many of life’s necessities. Despite the challenges, this devastation helped me as a leader because I learned to put myself aside and look at the bigger picture, which at the time was the welfare of my team members and being of service to the community.”
Q2: That is a tremendous amount of adversity that you have faced. Thank you for sharing. How do you sustain such a positive and motivated mindset in the face of such challenges?
A: “Find your “why”. For me, my “why” is my children. It’s important to me to give them a better start than I had. Therefore, I am motivated every day to not just turn up but show up at work and help my company grow and succeed.”
Q3: As a leader in a male-dominated industry, how do you deal with sometimes being the only woman in the room?
A: “In my previous role, clients often expected the Country Manager who was coming to meet them to be a “Mr.” Edward. As a female in this male-dominated industry, I must have the required confidence to step into the boardroom knowing that I am not only representing myself in how I lead, but I am also representing the many women who will come after me.
“I think we all go through periods of self-doubt and imposter syndrome. Do I belong here? Can I do this job and be just as successful as my male counterparts? I believe it is normal to doubt ourselves. When confronted with self-doubt I try to remind myself of my “why” and my “why” always brings me back to wanting to give hope and encouragement to the next generation of women on this path. To remind them that the journey will have bumps along the way, but these bumps should motivate you to pick yourself up and keep pressing on.
“My faith is also a central part of my strength. My faith tells me that God meant for his people to prosper and flourish. When I am down or feeling less confident than my normal outward persona, I get strength from that knowledge that the will of God will never take me where the grace of God will not protect me and help me to prosper.”
Q4: You mentioned you want to uplift other women along the way, how does that fit into your leadership style?
A: “I believe your rise should not be at the expense of others. There is still a lot of space at the top to pull others up with you. This allows you to have people who will support and propel you because they see themselves rising and not left behind. Leading therefore becomes a journey where you take others along with you.
“Leading is a privilege and you can’t do it without people following you. I ask myself all the time, “Would I follow myself as a leader?” I answer that by looking at the qualities that matter to me as a leader: compassion for others and leading with empathy rank high on my list.
“I think you have to care more about people than profits and once your people see that genuine concern for them, then the profits will come. A few years ago, I saw this quote by an anonymous writer, “a person who feels appreciated will always do more than expected!” As I sat in the airport getting ready to catch my flight back home, these words stayed with me for the entire 5 hour long flight. I reflected on what feeling appreciated meant to me in my then junior management role and promised that I had to always ensure my team members felt appreciated for their efforts. I therefore lead from a place of care for my colleagues and encourage other team members to be their team members keepers as well. And that has to be authentic or people will see right through you.”
Q5: You have advanced your career massively by putting yourself outside of your comfort zone, even when it has put you in the face of adversity. What advice would you give to others?
A: “I had to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is a philosophy I have embraced and live by as this is applicable in every facet of life.
“It all comes down to the work you are willing to put in! As a general manager you have to be willing to get your hands dirty sometimes. By that I mean get out from behind your desk and do the work you don’t see listed in your job description! It is my view that the more you learn about an industry the more effective of a leader you become.
“My advice therefore is just that. Don’t lead from behind a desk, instead, lead from in front dutifully, by being willing to get down in the trenches with your team.
“As you succeed, be willing to give back to help others succeed. With the help of my core circle of friends, Clemar, Maria, Kendra and Liota, I have been able to get an idea from my head to paper. We are now close to formally launching my foundation, GIRLS - Growing In Real Life Situations, that will offer marginalised girls an opportunity to achieve their basic high school subjects so they can enter the workforce. Through this organisation, we shall invite other professional women to help tutor young girls so they too can succeed. This will hopefully help them to become self-sufficient, successful future leaders.”
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You can connect with Deborah on LinkedIn here.