Rhonda McLean ’83

Journey Fueled by Legacy

Rhonda Joy McLeanFamous playwright, novelist, and poet James Baldwin said, “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” 

Rhonda McLean’s leadership journey is an example of someone who knows from whence they came and has used those lessons to remove any limitations on her journey. “I would describe my leadership journey as destined, desired, and opportunity-driven,” said McLean. “I am descended from a long line of strong, independent, family-oriented, and faith-filled African American women. I learned early to stand on my own, even in difficult circumstances and to also collaborate with others where sharing skills sets could be mutually empowering.”

The leadership lessons observed at a young age were put to the test when McLean along with two other young girls integrated her small Southern high school. “I stood on the leadership principles: courage, confidence, and faith that were embedded in my conscience and my very being by my family, teachers in an all-Black elementary school, and Sunday School teachers and ministers at the Baptist Church, where I was reared,” said McLean.

As President and CEO of RJMLEADS, a leadership consulting company, McLean advises her clients to set aside time on a regular basis to meet individually with the members of their teams. “I had wonderful examples of both how to lead and how not to lead during my early working years, and decided that I would grow my own leadership skills by encouraging everyone I worked with to grown their own. I was inspired by the diverse men and women who took time to nurture me. I believe that empowering others to lead is the sign of a really strong, confident leader,” said McLean.

She establishes an atmosphere of trust that she believes is essential to a truly productive working culture. Her motto is trust, not fear. “I have learned that listening is a superpower, and I believe that a listening leader is an empowering one,” said McLean. “Effective listening, not just ‘waiting to speak,’ can lead to amazing relationships in one’s career, life, and unprecedented accomplishments.”

When faced with obstacles along her journey, she learned to weather those times and look for the opportunities in them. She learned to “trust my gut” and move forward on her leadership adventure. The advice McLean would give her former law school self is to “slow down. Don’t feel that you must do everything yourself. Stay cool. Listen, listen, listen.”

McLean said her experience at Yale Law School made her understand the importance of embracing different viewpoints and the value of developing strong relationships in order to be an effective leader. “I learned that YLS was, in its way, a microcosm of our greater society, with many different opinions about how the law should be learned and applied,” said McLean. “I came to understand that this diversity of viewpoints was a great gift, affording me the opportunity to develop skills in law and leadership and test them at the same time in a relatively safe space,” she said. “I still treasure the friendships I made at YLS and am deeply grateful that we were encouraged to disagree openly, publicly, and with great respect and civility even about the most strongly held positions. I believe that true leadership welcomes, even embraces differing points of view. Those sparks of difference can lead to better, stronger decision-making with investment and inclusion from all sides.”

She is the former Deputy General Counsel of Time Inc., a global media company, where she managed one-third of the law department for nearly 20 years and provided legal counsel to more than 200 clients, including the print, digital, and social media marketing staff for Time, People, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, Money, Entertainment Weekly, and Essence, among other top brands.

Prior to joining Time Inc., McLean was the Deputy Director of the Northeast region of the Federal Trade Commission. She managed more than 50 employees, including attorneys, investigators, law student interns, and support staff. She prosecuted cases against antitrust law and consumer law violators across the United States.

A noted public speaker, facilitator and convener, McLean is also the co-author of the best-selling book The Little Black Book of Success, written with her longtime friends and collaborators Elaine Meryl Brown and Marsha Haygood. McLean has been honored in the public and private sectors for her commitment to mentoring future leaders and broadening the paths to and definitions of leadership roles and opportunities.

October 2021