Lisa Wardell is the president and CEO of Adtalem Global Education and is on the 2019 Black Enterprise “The Most Powerful Women in Corporate America” list. Wardell is the only black women CEO of an S&P 500 company.
Intentionality is a term we hear frequently in business, but it’s originally a philosophical term. It’s defined as “the quality of mental states (e.g., thoughts, beliefs, desires, hopes) that consists in their being directed toward some object or state of affairs.” To me, that means purposefully putting thoughts into actions to drive measurable results.
I have attempted to be intentional in my career by performing well in my current position, and by consistently seeking feedback and incorporating that guidance into my professional life. I seek out mentors to help me build my leadership skills, and use sponsors to assist me in advancing my career. I also set goals for one, three, and five years out, and regularly revisit those goals to keep myself on track.
As the president and CEO of Adtalem Global Education, I have the opportunity to practice intentionality on a much larger stage, leading a nearly $3 billion organization of 18,000 people. I seek intentionality on three focus areas: creating a performance culture, effecting diversity and inclusion, and solidifying our mission-driven focus. Measurement is an important part of being intentional, and in creating a performance culture to meet our objectives, I’ve tied executive compensation to both diversity and inclusion outcomes and to the pursuit of top talent; for top talent is intentional about their own performance and in leading teams that do so with the organization’s mission in view.
Intentionality in our three focus areas is reflected in our financial performance—Adtalem’s stock price has more than tripled in 2.5 years—and intentionality is reflected in our leading education policies, academic standards, and life-long learning programs that contribute to the global workforce in a meaningful way.
Active intentionality isn’t always easy to accomplish; even CEOs get push back. When I said I wanted every recruiting search to include ethnically diverse candidates, I was told there may not be enough qualified candidates to accomplish that goal. Of course, we know better and our organization reflects it. Our board of directors is now 44% African American and 67% combined women and people of color (POC). The Adtalem leadership team has gone from nominally diverse to 40% POC, 47% women, and 80% combined. And our pipeline of talent for future leaders is deep and growing. Recruiting is aided because talented, diverse candidates flock to a talented and diverse workforce.
While there is always more to do as Adtalem drives toward its global education mission, I’m proud our team’s intentionality is delivering improved performance by a workforce that’s reflective of those we serve in global education. Acting intentionally holds power and promise: the power to achieve our professional and organizational goals, and the promise of building stronger global communities.