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Speaker Profile: Dr. Bertha Proctor

Jun 19, 2020

Dr. Bertha Proctor, CCAP, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
CEO, Pace Community Action Agency; Lead Consultant, WiseCAP Training & Consulting (Vincennes, IN)

National Board President, CAPLAW

At the National Training Conference in Las Vegas in July, Dr. Proctor will deliver the virtual keynote address. She’ll speak about:

  • The importance of leadership and learning
  • What you’ll learn at the National Training Conference in October and why you want to be there

What were your early years like?
I grew up in Washington, DC. which was wonderful. You’d go downtown and there was such diversity everywhere. Diversity in everything – not just people, but also ideas. When I hear and see different people, that’s energizing.

What has your career path been? Which roles brought you here?
I worked in the federal government, then at several non-profits in DC before moving to Indiana. I came to the Community Action Agency as a Client Services Supervisor, then Energy Assistance Manager, then Director of Health and Community Services until becoming the Executive Director in 2004. I’ve served as an adjunct faculty member at local universities. I’m also the current National Board President/Board Chair of CAPLAW (Community Action Program Legal Services).

For 12 years until 2019, I served a dual role as the Community Action Agency CEO and the Head Start Director. We branched out and started social enterprises by forming our C-corporation when my role evolved to CEO. Now I’m “just” the CEO of Pace Community Action Agency which owns the C-corp, as well as Lead Consultant with WiseCAP Training & Consulting, one of our social enterprises developed through the C-corp.

What led you to create the C corporation?
Non-profits need money. I always try new things. So I asked, “How do we make money?” I have that entrepreneurial spirit. We talked to attorneys and accountants. We researched and found this model that wouldn’t interfere with our non-profit status. It’s been 13 years that we’ve had the C-corp to make money for the non-profit.

What’s your greatest accomplishment?
For me personally, it was achieving my doctorate degree. But in terms of all my roles, developing the for-profit entity, the C-corp, was big. So many people hadn’t heard of this. We figured it out. Now, the C-corp provides the non-profit with unrestricted funds, as opposed to just having funds with strings attached. That’s pretty significant.  Now a lot of people ask, “How did you do it?” So, we do a lot of training, based on empirical knowledge.

What contributed to your success?
Communication. My top strength theme is “WOO” winning others over. I can connect with anyone from the CEO to mailroom staff. Because I don’t get tied up in my leadership role. I want to know who YOU are. I’m a person, not a role.

What’s been your biggest challenge?
Well, COVID-19. But beyond that, I’d say working in an organization and then transitioning to Executive Director. My predecessor had been there for 38 years. There was some expectation that I’d follow that path, and that’s not who I am. It was challenging for a lot of people, not doing what we used to do, a new direction. Because we’re going to do things differently all the time, not just once. We were transitioning an organization from what I’d say was stable to thriving.

How did you bring people along for that?
You start small. Find those who are on board with you and those who influence others, not necessarily positional leaders. We’re all leaders in different regards. They can be a voice without you having to be there. And then you want to communicate constantly.

What drew you to non-profit work?
My drive has always been in helping others improve. Non-profit work showed me I could have a larger impact to help others grow and succeed.

How would you describe your leadership style?
I am an inclusive, participative transformative leader. I want to transform individuals, and organizations while engaging others in the process.

Who do you admire?
I’ve always admired Nelson Mandela’s leadership. When he became president, people said, “Oh, you’re going to fire all of us.” And he said, “If we’re going to re-build this country, we’ve got to do it together.” He decided to keep what’s good and add to it, not just start over.

What are leadership lessons that have stuck with you?
Be authentic. For example, I’m going to add fun into anything I do. That’s who I am. I was Bertha first. I was fun before I was CEO. I’m not a position, I’m a person.

So I encourage people to explore themselves: who are you outside of a job? Once you discover that, you lead from that. I can’t lead the way someone else leads. I lead based on who I am. Authenticity is paramount. That’s my number one lesson: I can’t be anybody but myself. It’s important that people see me before they see me as a CEO.

Also, egos are terrible. I attribute failure of leadership to ego, not being open to the input of others.

I look for thinkers. I’m very serious about that, especially for someone working at my level. In an interview, I say, “Here’s a scenario. What questions come to mind?” I don’t want to hear what they would do. I want them to formulate questions to see how they think. Because I want independent thinkers. I don’t need someone to do whatever I tell them to do. I need someone to think separately, to give me ideas so we can come up with the best solutions.

What’s the best part of your job?
I’m in a position to develop new initiatives. I can say, “Let’s do it,” without running it up the food chain. Sometimes I just throw sparks and see if they’ll catch fire. When they catch fire, it’s great. Then it’s not my thing. Someone else made it grow.

My passion is developing others. Effective leadership is of utmost importance to me. People don’t consider the importance of when they get promoted. Then many times, they become ‘in charge’ without knowledge of leadership. In my role as CEO, I’m ensuring that those that work with me grow, achieve and take the mantle from there. For themselves, and for everybody else.

What’s the best career advice for starting in non-profits?
Be willing to jump into situations. Whenever there’s an opportunity to volunteer, do it. It shows that you have drive. And accepting different duties helps you learn. Then, share what it taught you and help others. Be able to articulate what you learned, and how you grew from it.

How do you stay motivated?
First thing in the morning, I put on music and dance or sing along.

Outside of work, when and where are you happiest?
I love traveling. I’m happiest when I see different people and cultures. It gives me ideas. It opens me up to see how people are living totally differently than we do, and thriving.

Register today
to hear Dr. Bertha Proctor speak at the National Training Conference.

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