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MMM: Lakeya Cherry, Executive Director, NSWM

BIO: Lakeya Cherry, MSSW is the Executive Director of the Network for Social Work Management, an international membership organization dedicated to strengthening leadership in health and human services. Cherry’s prior experience at 2U, Inc., a technology company partnering with prestigious universities to place degree programs online, she was a senior regional field manager for the University at Southern California School of Social Work’s online Master of Social Work program. Cherry was in charge of spearheading national partnerships and managing field education agency development initiatives. She has also held a variety of direct service positions in the nonprofit sector and volunteers during her free time. She earned her Master of Science of Social Work from Columbia University and her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Legal Studies from the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Lakeya Cherry - Executive Director, NSWM

Degree/Institution: MSSW, Columbia University 

Years in Management: 3-5 years.
Tell us about your path to management:

I began my social work career in micro social work roles. My first four years post graduate I worked as a Senior Case Planner in prevention services, Therapist/Forensic Evaluator at a child advocacy center, and last as a Clinical Social Worker in a parole office. In these three roles, I worked two years in NYC and two years in CA. I was exposed to a variety of people and populations ; all diverse in age, race, and socioeconomic status.  I enjoyed these professional roles and thrived in them, but always felt like something was missing. As I grew in these roles and received more responsibility, I questioned what was next?

Eventually, I grew wary of the lack of opportunity for advancement and sought a change of pace. This change of pace led me to DC to work for a higher education technology start up company. As a Social Worker, I was excited yet also reluctant to dive into the corporate environment. Nonetheless, I took a leap of faith and finally felt as if everything I wanted and lacked was now at my finger tips. In less than a year, I was promoted to a manager role. Months after that, I was promoted to senior manager. Then eventually I left and became the Executive Director of the Network for Social Work Management. I have been in this role for almost two years.

What leadership qualities do you find to be the most effective in reaching your organizational or career goals? 
Passion. Creativity. Drive.
How do you motivate your team members?
I believe that its important to get to know your team members, their interests, and what inspires them. I also believe that people want to be acknowledged for the work they’ve done, the effort they’ve made. If you get to know who you work with, thank them, and show appreciation in tangible ways then its likely that your team will stay motivated. You should always support and encourage the professional development of your team members and always strive to bring them up (Each one teach one!). Also, its important to keep in mind that team members must buy-in to the mission and overall work of the organization. Once this interest is lost, sometimes you can no longer motivate them and its time for them to go.The Network is a team of two. I do my best to ensure that my team member feels respected, supported, and appreciated. There is no “I” in team and I know leading would be a challenge without her.
Is there a leader or mentor who has inspired or assisted you along your professional journey? 
The person who has most impacted my professional journey is Dean Marilyn Flynn, President of the Board for the Network for Social Work Management and Dean of USC School of Social Work. Dean Flynn is someone who I admired from afar for many years and whose characteristics appealed to me. As Executive Director for the Network, I have the opportunity to work closely under Dean Flynn’s guidance and be mentored by her. She is not only a brilliant social work manager, but an innovative business professional. She inspires me daily to be bold, confident, curious, innovative, and to take risks.
How has networking impacted your career?
Networking brought me to the Network. If I didn’t put myself out there, I would never have the opportunity to lead such an impactful organization and meet so many empowering social work and human services leaders internationally.What are you reading and/or following now (e.g. book, blog, social media groups, etc.)?
Every Morning, I read Fast Company and Harvard Business Review. I also read INC,Stanford Social Innovation Review, Forbes, and Entrepreneur Magazine.

I am currently finishing The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs On How To Lead And Succeed by Adam Bryant. I have recently began Like A Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School by Richard Branson.

What advice do you have for those beginning their professional journey or who are already in leadership positions?

Every opportunity is a learning opportunity. Often times we plan, but things don’t go as planned. Regardless, those experiences help to shape who we are and teach us new lessons. If you are starting out in your career, “crawling before you walk” can be useful because the lessons you learn while crawling can help you to have a stronger foundation when walking. You may end up in a role you never saw yourself in or one that ends up being different from what you expected, learn from it. There is a learning opportunity in EVERYTHING! Furthermore, know your values, know your worth, routinely refine your goals, have confidence, and be strategic.

If you are already in a leadership role, remember who you were and how you were before that role. Remember what it was like to be managed. Treat people with respect. Help nurture and inspire those who work for you.

Do you have an initiative or project you would like to tell our readers about?The Network for Social Work Management is a free organization that offers many valuable opportunities for professional development and networking. There are many opportunities to get involved i.e. blogging, participating on a committee, joining a chapter, applying to be a mentor or mentee, joining the executive circle, orattending our annual conference (submit a proposal!).

Consider taking advantage of these resources. We’re more than our email campaigns and Monday Morning Manager blog (although still great) Trust me, you won’t regret it!

Furthermore, If you have participated and believe in the Network and in our growth, also consider supporting by becoming a donor. Invest in us! Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday! Why not give back to our profession and to strengthening our leaders, so they can make a better impact within our communities?

What do you wish you had known before you started your career?
I am capable of more than I let myself believe. We do not have to know everything or have all of the answers. Its important to go for what you want and not let fear prohibit you from going after something you are interested in and/or passionate about. Its not always wise to wait. Sometimes you have to just go for it and learn along the way.
What advice do you have for those beginning their professional journey or who are already in leadership positions?
Although I don’t consider it a mistake or failure, I went to law school but never finished. Growing up, people often told me that I should be a lawyer and would be a great lawyer. I was so thrilled that people saw me this way, so I went for it.  I am very passionate about civil rights and social justice issues, so I felt that I could make an impact on the world if I became a lawyer. The words of those around me was more encouragement to apply. Once in law school, I HATED it. I wanted out, but my pride kept me in. I didn’t want to feel like a failure or disappoint those who believed in me. However, with every brief written, every class interaction, or networking event I attended I felt more and more like a fraud. It took so much courage to convince myself to leave. This was the first time in my life I had to make a decision that could drastically shape the rest of my life. I didn’t have a back up plan, but I left. I have no regrets from this experience and learned in an interesting way to trust my gut and go with my instincts. Months after I left law school, I moved cross country to attend CSSW for social work. Again, no regrets only lessons.
To contact Lakeya Cherry for any inquiries please email her at*The views expressed herein are those solely of the author and not necessarily endorsed by the Network for Social Work Management.

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The views expressed herein are those solely of the author and not necessarily endorsed by the Network for Social Work Management.

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