Debra Shantz Hart is used to being a trailblazer.
After law school, she joined a firm that later became Husch Blackwell LLP.
“I was the first woman lawyer that they’d ever had,” she says.
When she first met one of the retired partners, E.C. Curtis, at a party, Hart says a quip helped her stake her claim.
“E.C. said to me, ‘Oh, your name is Debbie. We have a secretary named Debbie. How will we ever be able to tell you apart?’” she recalls. “I said, ‘I guess you’ll have to look at my check.’”
Hart’s trend setting didn’t stop there. She was the fourth woman to serve as chair of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce board and the first woman outside of the Turner family to serve on the Great Southern Bank Board of Directors.
In her day job as a developer, she’s created 450 affordable housing units in the past decade. She started the company after serving as general counsel for John Q. Hammons’ properties.
“Women just seem to have the ability to do so many things simultaneously because we have to,” she says. “We have all our oars in the water and we’re paddling a lot of canoes.”
Hart’s advice on leadership
Find a mentor.
“There are always things that you don’t know, and there are always things that you need help with. There’s no way that you can be an island. I changed from being a development lawyer to being a developer. I had to find the right people to help me in that process so that I could do things that would be beneficial for my company.”
Be emotionally aware.
“You have to be emotionally aware of what other people’s backgrounds are and why they have the position they have and why they’re saying the things that they do. That’s almost like bridge building – a way for you to be a leader while finding common ground with other people.”
Make peace with your weaknesses.
“Everybody’s got a weakness. You need to figure out a strategy in order to work around them. Go find somebody who can help fill that void for you.
“This is actually a piece of advice from E.C. Curtis. He came in one day to my office when I was at the law firm and he asked me to proof a legal description. I said, ‘Can’t we get somebody else to do that?’ And he said, ‘Don’t ever ask somebody to do something that you haven’t done yourself.’”
Book time for yourself.
“A friend of mine calls it ‘windshield time,’ where you actually have time to sit and think about what you’re trying to accomplish with your business and come up with a game plan to make those happen. If you don’t do that, what ends up happening is our calendars get so full and you then become part of somebody else’s plan.”
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