Meet HPRS Interim Director, Lydia A. Isaac, PhD, MSc


Meet HPRS Interim Director, Lydia A. Isaac, PhD, MSc. Learn about what and who is inspiring her, and the guidance she has for leaders.

Is there a specific idea or quote that has captured your imagination recently?

I have had many conversations with friends, colleagues, and our scholars about the notion of “paying it forward.” That the work we do to build equitable societies is not easy or glamorous, but it is worthwhile and necessary. And even though there is much work to be done, we must build on and honor the struggles, courage, and resilience of those who came before us and our ancestors. The way we do that is by continuing to forge forward even in perilous situations, and by making sure that with every generation we make it a little easier and better to do this work and get ahead. The hope is that through this collective action, support, and unity, we will reach our goal of a just society in which everyone has the opportunity to be the best version of themselves. So, I do what I do and work as hard as I do, so that the ones who come after me don’t need to work so hard to get access to a seat at the table. I do this because I know many before me already paved the path that I walk on, and I want those who come after me to be able to walk further down that path and create a different/better/longer path for the ones that come after them.

What have you been reading? Is there a particular author whose work has been pushing you to think differently?

This may sound a little cliché because everyone is reading this book, now but I was gifted former First Lady Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming. I really enjoy her candor, honesty, and realness. Equally important is her openness about the fact that life is not perfect and that many times, as Black women, we are held to a standard that is impossible to achieve or so low that people are surprised when we succeed. That duality takes a toll on us. We are constantly in a state of hypervigilance in which we are too scared to do something for fear of failure, or we over-deliver or over-work ourselves to prove that we are worthy and capable.

This reminds me of the self help book I read last summer, Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes. In this book, she forces herself to do things to which she normally would have said “no” after realizing that she declines opportunities out of fear. The fear of failure is real and, for many people with vulnerabilities, it feels as though we do not have the luxury to fail. Never saying “yes” also causes us to lose out on wonderful opportunities and dampens the creative brilliance that we all have in us. So I have been toying with the idea of my own version of a “year of yes” and opening myself up for possibilities and opportunities to take chances, look at and do things differently, and not worry about the “consequences.” I, as a Black woman, have to allow myself the luxury to “fail” and know that I will come out on the other side a better person for having tried.

What is your favorite piece of leadership advice?

I have two. 1) You cannot control how people behave, but you can control your reactions to their behaviors. 2) I think it is important for all leaders to be themselves and not turn into someone different in their quest to become a leader. I think these are important pieces of advice because, as a leader, our reactions to behaviors are very important for setting tone and context for those with whom we work. In that same vein, authenticity and presenting your true self is important in cultivating buy-in and respect. People can see when you are putting on a front, and it’s hard to maintain that kind of mask for a sustained amount of time. So leading as you are is not only necessary, but the only true way to lead.

What are some things you recommend leaders do for self-care?

I think leaders first need to acknowledge that they need to do self-care. So many leaders forget that they need to be well in order to lead and, if they don’t take care of themselves, they cannot be effective leaders. So what I recommend is take time for yourself, SLEEP, be kind to yourself in the moments when no one is around and it is just you and your thoughts. Lean on others and don’t feel like you always have to carry the burden on your own.


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