Podcast·2 min read

Debra Lee on Stepping Into Her Power

March 15, 2023

Debra Lee was the chairman and CEO of BET, where she worked for over three decades. But even though she was a leader in the entertainment world, Debra said her biggest career weakness was being “too nice”. This week, we sat down to talk about Debra’s new memoir, I Am Debra Lee, and how she stepped into her power as a leader – from taking back control of her senior staff meetings, to literally finding her voice. 

In this episode, Debra shares…

  • How she dealt with getting denied a raise

  • Why men are promoted based on potential, and women are promoted based on experience 

  • How she took her power back as an executive 

  • The celeb who left her the most starstruck 

And PS: There’s so much Debra shares in her new memoir – including some things we weren’t able to get to in our interview. You can find her book here

On Negotiating a Raise

Debra: I made my plea and they all sat there and said no. And Herb Wilkins in particular said, “If you don't like what Bob Johnson pays you, you should leave. There are plenty of other people who would like your job.” And I was so hurt. Because I loved my job. I didn't wanna leave. But at that point, it just felt like such a personal insult. I got up from the table, I went to the bathroom, I cried, you know, never wanna let them see a woman cry. I dried my tears and went back and finished the conversation. And the next day, I started planning my exit…. Sometimes you just know it's your time to leave and you don't wanna be insulted or taken advantage of.

On Stepping Into Her Power

Debra: Even when I became COO, it took me a while to use that. You know, I used to hate to go to my own senior staff meetings because I knew the guys were gonna fight among themselves.

They were gonna fight with me, they weren't gonna do what I asked them to do. And I was more of a consensus builder and there was never a consensus. And I just had to learn, okay, this is my decision. I gotta tell them what to do. And that took a while and it…took me a while to get my own team. Because at first Bob Johnson told me I couldn't fire them. I mean, what kind of thing is that? I'm now their boss, but I can't fire them. 

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