Love, education, confidence and support

Having been raised by a loving family, Lisa Osborne Ross credits a lot of her success to her parents’ value in education, confidence in Lisa, and constant support.

“My parents convinced me, without ever having talked about it, that anything and everything was available to me—I just had to work for it,” says Osborne Ross. “I was raised with the belief that I could do anything and have anything.”

Fast Facts

Current Position: President, Edelman
Location: Washington, D.C.
Number of Employees: 225+
Number of Years in Current Role: 1.5
Education: Bachelor’s in Journalism, Marquette University
Work History: Clinton Administration, Department of Labor, Ogilvy, APCO, and Edelman
Leader Most Admired: Thelma Little Osborne, Mother

That self-confidence continues to drive Osborne Ross’s life. As the youngest of four children—and the only girl—her parents raised her not to see gender distinction, but to rise to the occasion. What her parents expected from her brothers, they expected from her. She was expected to achieve.

Osborne Ross attributes being raised in Washington D.C.—what she calls “the center of black excellence”—as a critical factor to her success. Her parents held notable positions within both city and federal government, and she grew up living in a beautiful all-black neighborhood. Attending predominantly black schools with black teachers through middle school, she never grew up with a sense of feeling “less than” due to the color of her skin. When she did transition to high school—where students of color were the minority—she learned to navigate the race issues, and it didn’t hold her back.

Mentorship

When asked if she had a mentor on her path to success, Osborne Ross says, “My mother was my mentor. My mother was my muse.”

Seeing her mother succeed in her career, her marriage, and as a parent, Osborne Ross aspired to be like her. Outside of her mother, she never had a true mentor. Realizing how important it is to have such a guiding figure in your life, she now is a passionate mentor to many—especially young women of color.

As a mentor, there are four things Osborne Ross wants her mentees to understand:

  • Work hard. Working hard proves that you don’t take your opportunities for granted.
  • Have balance. Work is not everything, and you have a life outside of work. Whether you have family or children, your time is just as valuable as someone else’s. You can be financially successful, do good work, and still have a life.
  • Be open to being wrong. Being wrong doesn’t mean you don’t know what you are doing, it means that you’re open to the fact that your idea might not be the best one. It is important to understand what others are thinking and learn from it.
  • Know your own power. Especially for women, Osborne Ross says it is important in your life and your career to know your own power and to know how/when to use it.

Excellence & leadership

Osborne Ross is seen as a pillar of success within her industry, her family and her community. She holds herself and those in her life up to a standard of excellence.

“Excellence means going the extra mile while exhausting all options and believing that good is just not good enough,” Osborne Ross explains. Holding herself to that level of excellence drives her to go above and beyond what is required. Her competitive nature pushes her to be the best at anything she puts her mind to. When she is working with a client, she doesn’t just do a job—she provides a solution. This pursuit of excellence plays into the qualities that make her a great leader.

In her many different leadership roles, Osborne Ross has identified six tenets that are important to successful leadership:

  • Be honest. It’s important to speak truth to people. Leaders need to have the courage to be honest with those they work with. When people do succeed, cheer them on. When they aren’t successful, tell them and help them figure out how to be.
  • Be transparent. In anything you do, you have to build trust. Relationships form the bedrock of a successful businessperson. If you aren’t transparent, you feed people’s suspicions and undermine the relationship.
  • Be sunny. You have to be positive. You can be good at what you do, but if you are negative, nobody wants to work with you or for you. People need and want to be inspired. Bringing the sunshine inspires people.
  • Have energy. Leadership requires energy. You need to be physically, mentally and spiritually in shape to lead. If you aren’t feeding yourself in those ways you will be drained and won’t be able to lead effectively.
  • Keep learning. As a leader, you aren’t going to have all the answers all the time—and that’s OK. You must remember to keep learning from those whom you lead. Sometimes you may be wrong and you must be OK with that.
  • Have fun. People should enjoy working with you. Being irritable—even if you are smart and great at your job—makes it hard for people to work with you. Being fun is energizing, and people will want to work with you and for you.

Motivation

Osborne Ross is extraordinarily competitive and always likes to win; however, what constitutes a win can mean many things to her, such as helping someone who is struggling, securing a new piece of business, or having a place where people are happy to work. “I believe in people,” explains Osborne Ross. “When people feel that someone sees something within them and has believed in them, they are motivated to do their best.” One of the things Osborne Ross is most proud of in her career is that she can look throughout her industry and see that she impacted many people’s lives and careers.

She feels she can compete best when outcomes are clear and measurable. She must know her goal no matter how big or small, because reaching or surpassing that goal is what motivates her. “Doing well motivates me. Success motivates me,” says Osborne Ross.

Love, serve & forgive

Lisa Osborne Ross is an influential woman who hasn’t let her success overshadow her compassion.

“I was born from love, and I believe in the power of loving one another. I am blessed, and I have an obligation to serve others,” says Osborne Ross. “Forgiveness frees me. Not forgiving holds you back.”

Interviewed by Bethanee Reynolds and Aaron Teitelbaum.