Naeshia McDowell on The 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming A Leader
An Interview with Brian Vaughan
Becoming a leader often feels like navigating a winding road, where you're learning and adapting every step of the way. As we kickstart our series, "The 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming A Leader," we’re highlighting experienced leaders from various backgrounds, all set to share the valuable lessons they've learned over time. Join us as we delve into heartfelt conversations with those who've truly gotten a handle on the leadership role, uncovering the pieces of advice they wish they could have heard when they were just beginning their exciting leadership journeys. As part of our series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Naeshia McDowell.
Who is Naeshia McDowell?
Naeshia McDowell is the Director of the Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSEC) Response Team, a program of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Georgia. Naeshia leads a multidisciplinary team of professionals who provide assessment and crisis intervention services to children and youth impacted by child sex trafficking. Naeshia has been immersed in anti-trafficking efforts since 2016. She is an active member of the Georgia Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force. Her contributions to the Task Force include; serving as editor of Georgia’s Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Technical Assistance Resource Guide and chairing the ‘Keeping At-Risk Youth Safe’ workgroup. She is also chair of the Georgia Coalition to Combat Human Trafficking, Victim Services Workgroup. In January of 2022, Naeshia was named to the 2022 Statewide Expert Committee for Sexual Assault, Child Abuse, and Human Trafficking.
Naeshia has spent her career advocating for victims of human trafficking and child abuse and training child serving professionals on topics related to mandated reporting, child fatality, child abuse, commercial sexual exploitation of children and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Naeshia’s publications and contributions include: A Vision for Child & Family Well-Being in Georgia: Our State’s Child Abuse & Neglect Prevention Plan (2020), Prevent Child Abuse Georgia’s Mandated Reporting Curriculum (2019), and Georgia’s Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Technical Assistance Resource Guide (2017). Naeshia is a double panther, earning her BS in Biology with a Minor in Chemistry in 2013 and a Master of Public Health degree in 2017. When she is not serving children and families, Naeshia serves behind the salon chair as a healthy hair care enthusiast. She has over 10 years of experience within the beauty industry and is currently pursuing a cosmetology license.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that your work keeps you very busy. Our readers are eager to delve deeper into who you are. Would you mind sharing a glimpse of your personal journey or backstory?
Sure! My career journey has taken many twists and turns. I initially thought I wanted to go into medicine however, after shadowing a few physicians in college, I quickly realized that it wasn't the path for me. So after graduating from Georgia State University, I enrolled in their Master of Public Health program. The program allowed me to combine my love for the hard sciences, such as chemistry and biology, with the soft sciences, such as psychology and sociology.
It also gave me a systems level understanding of disease prevention and violence prevention. During my studies, I was fortunate to engage in an internship with Prevent Child Abuse Georgia, which completely changed my life and led me to where I am today. I have loved ones who have experienced and survived various forms of child abuse, so it was a no brainer that I dedicate my career to advocating for survivors of abuse and exploitation.
Could you recount the pivotal moments or experiences that guided you to pursue this particular path in leadership?
Yes, I was sitting in a child sex trafficking presentation led by Dr. Angie Boy. She was discussing the horrors of this issue and how it impacts children in Georgia. I recall becoming emotional during the presentation. When I returned home, I looked up every resource I could on the issue. I became emotional as I watched countless documentaries, and then I heard a still small voice telling me 'I don't need your tears; I need your feet'. As a woman of faith, I believe this was God's way of directing my path. I put myself in rooms where allies and experts with lived experience worked tirelessly to address this human rights issue. I sat at their feet and soaked in their wisdom. I also focused my educational efforts on addressing violence against men, women, and children.
Can you elaborate on some of the most significant challenges you have encountered in your leadership role, and share the insights and lessons that you've learned?
Many of the challenges I have faced have been internal. I have questioned my leadership skills, my capacity to serve, and my career trajectory. Imposter syndrome has been a constant thorn in my side over the years. However, I have learned that I deserve to have a seat at the table just as much as anyone else. I have worked hard to educate myself and those around me on issues that society often sweeps under the rug, such as child abuse and exploitation, and I will continue to do so. I have learned to simply show up and let my work speak for itself.
I have also learned to take lessons from every setback, regardless of how difficult it may be. Lastly, I have learned to submit myself to learning from every person that I encounter. In my experience, the people who have supported me and poured into me most have been the people that I least expected to do so. I know that I stand on the shoulders of giants and unsung heroes who quietly fight the good fight with no need for recognition or attention. I aspire to be like them.
What are the 5 things you wish you knew before becoming a leader and why?
1. I wish I knew how lonely leadership would feel. I say 'feel' because it does not have to be that way. A colleague recommended that I curate my own personal board of directors. I have so many generous leaders who dedicate a portion of their time to advising me on challenges that I face as a leader. Additionally, I was fortunate to be apart of the LEAD Atlanta Class of 2023. Now I am surrounded by brilliant young leaders.
2. I wish I fully understood the value of extracurricular activities. Initially, I assumed being consumed in my work was a hallmark of good leadership. I quickly learned that this is a fast track to burn out. It is also the quickest way to lose exceptional team members because I am leading by example and they follow my lead. Extracurricular activities such as working out, hiking, going to the sauna, traveling, and simply resting have kept me refreshed, creative, and engaged.
3. I wish I knew the importance of a succession plan. Your succession plan can be for your organization, your position, your appointment on a board or committee, anything! I have learned that if I am no longer performing at my best, I may need to step aside and allow someone else to carry the torch in my stead. As leaders, we sometimes hold onto control out of fear of being useless; however, I have discovered the beauty in stepping aside and cheering someone else on as they lead and I support. It is so important to constantly scan your environment for individuals you can pour into so that one day they are ready to step into your place and continue the work you or those before you started.
4. I wish I understood leadership and supervisory styles in the beginning of my journey. My leadership journey improved exponentially when I began incorporating various leadership and strength assessments into my work. These assessments gave me greater insight into myself and my team.
5. Lastly, I wish I fully understood the importance of gratitude. I would not be where I am today without countless individuals. I am slowly finding creative ways to express gratitude to those who support me, my team, and the work we do each day.
Could you please share a quote on leadership or life that holds a significant place in your heart? Could you also explain what about this quote deeply resonates with you or has impacted your perspective?
I had the pleasure of hearing Arlan Hamilton, investor and founder of Backstage Capital, speak at an event a few months ago and she shared the following 'We don't have time for imposter syndrome. We have stuff to do, things to create, records to break'. In that moment I felt as though I was released from the shackles of imposter syndrome. It was a reminder that I do not have to live with this imaginary weight on my shoulders. I have young people and entire communities counting on me to use my voice and kick down doors so that others can do the same. I don't have time to allow anyone or anything to stop me.
What insights or strategies could you share with fellow leaders to foster their success and resilience in their respective roles?
I echo Arlan's words. You simply don't have the time or energy to acquiesce to self-doubt, imposter syndrome, doubters, critics, or setbacks. Someone is counting on you to use your voice, express your creativity, create that product, lead that organization, write that book, and the list goes on. We are all waiting on you to stop playing small and walk in the fullness of who you are. If you have to do it with tears in your eyes, do it anyway. If you have to do it with a trembling voice, do it anyway. If you have to do it with minimal resources, do it anyway! I'm cheering for you, and we are all counting on you!
Where can our readers continue to explore and engage with your latest projects and insights?
Feel free to follow me on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/naeshiamcdowell/. I invite you to follow Children's Advocacy Centers of Georgia on Instagram @cacgateam or Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/company/children-s-advocacy-centers-of-georgia to stay abreast of the amazing work of our children's advocacy centers as they address child abuse, neglect, and commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Thank you so much for your time and sharing these important leadership insights. We wish you continued success in your leadership journey!
If you are interested in being featured in our article series: The 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming A Leader, the process is really easy! Go to https://forms.gle/6K8rjgXGW2rpdCht9 and complete the pitch form. Once completed, I will personally review and if approved, will reach out for additional steps regarding the series. Moreover, if you know other leaders, professionals and entrepreneurs, please feel free to share this opportunity with them or connect them with me through your preferred means.