When I was a little girl, we loved to watch Batman. After each show, I would have a script ready for my siblings and neighborhood friends to reenact. We did not have all the fancy toys that children have today; we used whatever we could to have fun. We had tricycles and bikes for the high-tech cars, blankets for capes, and sunglasses as our masks. I always played the character Cat Woman.
Today, Andrea D. Hendricks is senior vice president for Diversity and Corporate Development for UMB Financial Corporation. She still leads others, just as she did when she was a child. But now, instead of scripting neighborhood playtime, she is heading up teams and proactive efforts to ensure equality, diversity, and inclusion within her workplace, the greater corporate world, and the community at large. According to her colleagues, she also does it with the grace and bravery of a superhero.
"Her greatest leadership characteristic is her professional courage," says Hendricks' Eagle Award nominator Lawrence G. Smith – who is executive vice president and Chief Human Resources Officer for Organizational Effectiveness. "Andrea has demonstrated courageous leadership to help UMB evolve from a respected supporter of diversity initiatives to a recognized corporate leader of diversity and inclusion."
Hendricks helped to develop the first comprehensive diversity and inclusion plan for UMB, and, within just four years, the program has already received at least a dozen corporate diversity awards and recognitions.
Hendricks attributes much of her inspiration to her mother, who was a civil rights and community leader, an educator, and a minister. "She continuously instilled that it is important to always do the right thing, no matter what the circumstance," Hendricks recalls.
So, when a high school guidance counselor encouraged Hendricks to go to the local community college instead of to the state university, she did what seemed right at the time. "I decided to prove her wrong. I went ahead and applied to universities and was immediately accepted into two of them. The rest is history." Hendricks completed her doctorate degree, for instance, while working a full-time job and managed to do it within just three years – while it takes most students at least twice that long.
But when Hendricks entered the workforce, it was harder to find visible role models to give her the kind of guidance she needed, and it posed a challenge early on in her career. "I often felt like an outsider," she says. To overcome the obstacle, she began to build bridges, and this is a skill that she still demonstrates as a key approach to networking and leadership.
"The experience inspired me to lead others in a way that focuses on finding common ground with each other rather than concentrating on the differences," says Hendricks.
"My life's purpose is to be a servant leader. Servant leadership was the way my mother guided us even when the times suggested we should not be caring, considerate, or kind. Servant leaders achieve results for their organizations by giving priority attention to the needs of their colleagues and those they serve."
Hendricks is quick to emphasize the value of life beyond work and career, however, and she recently made a new commitment to devote more time to family, friends, and faith. "You cannot buy back the time you miss in these three areas," she says, "and I truly believe that you are defined by how you lead your life outside of work."
CareerFOCUS Magazine and the National Eagle Leadership Institute® salute 2010 Eagle Award winner Andrea D. Hendricks, Ph.D.