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For Leslie Anderson, leadership is what someone does when everyone is watching.
Although Anderson says she learned that lesson more than 30 years ago as a mother of four, she’s had plenty of professional experience to make it stick.
As a professor in the Counseling Leadership and Special Education Department at Missouri State University, whether she’s teaching in the classroom, serving on a committee, assisting colleagues or developing diversity efforts on campus, the opportunity for influential guidance is always present.
“The accomplishments that bring me the most personal gratification are the notes from students or the conference attendees … or the change meetings in the community where I receive a reflection that something I said or did or taught made a positive difference in someone else’s life,” Anderson says. “It is not a single flame but a multitude of little sparks that light up my world.”
Anderson says her proudest accomplishment came while serving as MSU’s interim vice president for diversity and inclusion at the appointment of the university’s board of governors in 2010. During that time, she helped establish and chaired monthly meetings of Diversity MODES – a higher education consortium between area secondary education institutions, Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce member businesses and local officials geared toward developing diversity in the community. Anderson says the consortium’s efforts led to a 2011 conference engaging 228 community leaders and 72 organizations on the topic.
“Nearly five years later, I am still receiving requests for staff training, additional information or resources as a result of this networked event,” Anderson says.
Francine Pratt, MSU’s executive director of the office for multicultural programs, says Anderson’s community building efforts have included pro-bono work for the city of Springfield, facilitating Leadership Springfield’s spring retreats and assisting in the redesign of bias-based training for the Springfield Police Department.
“She hits the heavy issues that others are afraid to discuss, but she breaks the language down in a way that someone can look in the mirror and identify how they can be a better person,” Pratt says. “Many college students have shared with me their excitement in attending her classes and how they can apply what they learn to their global community.”
Anderson also has helped train numerous professionals coming from the fields of business, medicine, faith and academics in leadership skills, and in 2010 received the Community Advocacy Award from Springfield’s Minorities in Business.
It’s all in a life’s work for Anderson, who emulates the ideas of personal responsibility and influential leadership instilled in her from a young age.
“I hear the strength of my grandmother’s voice in my ears admonishing me against pride,” Anderson says. “While she stooped over to pick up trash from the lawn of our public library as a board member of that local landmark: Take some ownership in the world you live in and help make it a better place.”
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