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7 More Questions on Leadership with Lea Berhane

Name: Lea Berhane

Title: Chief Development, Marketing & Tech Officer

Organisation: StarVista

I am a high performing Executive Officer currently in the philanthropic world. I oversea the Development, Grants, Marketing, Analytics & Data and Technology departments at StarVista. StarVista is an organization assisting over 44,000 people a year, with all stages of life in San Mateo County. I enjoy strategic planning, major gifts, donor development and stewardship, marketing, mentoring, hiring and training. I grew up traveling around the world. I have been passionate about humanity and advocating for humanitarian injustices since I was a kid.

My most recent experiences are at GirlVentures and the American Lung Association where I served as the Director of Development for the Greater Bay Area.

My vast experience includes running my own business, Executive Director and Development roles with various nonprofits. I also worked as an attorney recruiter and intellectual property litigation paralegal with major international law firms in Silicon Valley. I attended California State University-Chico, where I was a Political Science Major and obtained my paralegal certificate. I am a Co-Founder of several nonprofits serving the Eritrean and Ethiopian Communities including, Women 4 Humanity Now, Andenet Meredaja Edir and Warsai Eritrean Association of Santa Clara. I have also had the privilege to serve on many boards including the CSU-Chico Alumni Board Association and the Kensington Education Fund.

My joy in life comes from being a mother, helping others and overcoming obstacles.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

We’ve gone through the interviews and asked the best of the best to come back and answer 7 MORE Questions on Leadership.

I hope Lea's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. As a leader, how do you build trust with employees, customers and other stakeholders?

I make an extra effort to connect with people as people. I work consciously to lead by example. I use the good and bad moments to model positive leadership to my team. My hope is that they feel inspired by my influence, and not threatened by it. I also believe strongly in transparency. I keep my teams in the loop, sharing the good and the bad, and welcoming honest feedback from them. My last pillar is that I believe in is, giving credit where credit is due. I have learned that when your best people believe that their work matters, they’re going to believe in you too. And that mutual respect, appreciation, and trust will be a cornerstone to making things happen!

2. What do 'VISION' and 'MISSION' mean to you? And what does it actually look like to use them in real-world business?

A clear vision and mission understanding are essential for any non-profit organization executive. The mission, purpose, values, and goals of StarVista guide my decisions and actions at work every day. Mission and vision statements establish the long-term direction and goals that guide a nonprofit's daily operations. I also insure we communicate this identity and impact to our stakeholders, such as donors, volunteers, clients and partners.

3. How can a leader empower the people they're leading?

I empower my team by showing them that I trust them by giving them authority to make decisions regarding their tasks and deliverables. Delegating builds trust and leads to empowerment. I also for their input, ideas and insights. I provide positive feedback where I can. I mentor and develop leaders. I approach each team member with a growth mindset within their various capacities.

4. Who are some of the coaches or mentors in your life who have had a positive influence on your leadership? Can you please tell a meaningful story about one of them?

My Great-grandfather is my most influential mentor even though I never met him. He was a highly devoted humanitarian, high priest (then the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) educator and founder of the first public school in Eritrea. Eritrea, is a small nation on the coast of the Red Sea in East Africa. He believed that “real freedom” would only come from equitable access to Education for ALL. He was extremely passionate about equitable access to education for all - especially the handicapped and economically disadvantaged.

Before opening the first public school in Eritrea he took it upon himself to educate his people. Under the disguise of religion he consistently educated many people throughout the Italian and British occupation of Eritrea.

My Great-grandfather hurt his leg in a horse riding incident, and lost mobility in half of one leg. Despite this shortcoming he made the journey from Asmara to Gondar, Ethiopia in the early 1900's on foot (about 212 miles) to earn an education and obtain additional religious training. Upon his return from Gondar... He started teaching the handicapped in the compound of his home. He also translated many books from Geez to Tigrigna and basic teaching manuals in Tigrigna.

He was born in the 1880’s; he lived through the Italian occupation of Eritrea. The Italians moved to Asmara, Eritrea around 1889. Italy then began establishing colonial rule of Eritrea in 1900, 1902 and 1908. 1909 education policies were established with separate curriculums for Italians and Eritreans. For a country with many religions and languages there was unity and public order but the education standard set was until 4th grade for locals and not at the same level provided to Italians.

Benito Mussolini's rise to power in Italy in 1922 impacted Eritrean colonial government in Eritrea. Mussolini established the Italian Empire in May 1936. He imposed harsh rule Eritreans were demoted to menial positions in the public sector in 1938. The color bar was introduced. Education standards for Eritreans was scarce and reduced standards mostly promoting military skills.

During this time my Great-grandfather continued to strive to continue teaching. He was quite controversial in his day, among white contemporaries. Although he was arrested and disciplined for doing this; that never deterred him. He never stopped teaching.

He also lived through the British occupation of Eritrea, WW II, and Ethiopia annexation of Eritrea. He witnessed the first American military advisors and contract civilians arrive in Asmara in 1941. He watched Eritrean become the “focal point” of American participation in the early part of the war through Kagnew Station. He saw the last of the British troops leaving Eritrea and the beginning of a civil war with Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Throughout all of this he remained focused on education, unity, religion and the humanitarian needs of his community.

After the British left… He founded Agazian Elementary and Junior Secondary School, the first public school in Eritrea. The school remains open today.

His legacy continues many generations later because of the core principles he instilled and left behind. Though I was born after he passed away, today his ideas, convictions and quest for a better world lives in me. I also want it to live in my children. It is amazing that even in death he is so alive. Almost 100 years later my parents continued that same journey to the United States striving for a better education for my siblings and I, leaving all their possessions, livelihood and the country they called home. Here we are today, now I am striving for the same with my children. Though my children are Eritrean-Americans - they must understand who they are and how they got here; so that they are cognoscente of why each generation’s commitment to repair of the world we face today and leave behind is so important.

5. Leadership is often more about what you DON'T do. How do you maintain focus in your role?

Maintaining focus in my role means focusing on the value I bring to the agency. It also means cultivate my awareness—an inward focus, a focus on others, and an outward focus. Focusing inward and focusing on others helps me cultivate emotional intelligence. Focusing outward helps me improve my ability to devise strategy, innovate, and manage.

6. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Everyone plans differently. How do you plan for the week, month and years ahead in your role?

I plan for my week every Friday. My whole team does a weekly status report every Friday. The status report has: a) priorities for next week b) where I need help c) what I learned/ how I innovated d) my schedule next week. I have a three year strategic plan for my teams that aligns with the agency’s three year strategic plan. I plan for the year ahead with each of my teams at the end of the fiscal year. The months are less by our set goals.

7. What advice would you give to a young leader who is struggling to delegate effectively?

Be humble. Inspire others. Mentor and develop other leaders. Learn about your team. Encourage communication. Be goal-oriented. Provide constructive feedback. Be decisive. Build trust. Set an example and lead by example.

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