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Photography by Ryan Long / Chattanooga State Community College President Rebecca Ashford

Rebecca Ashford, the president of Chattanooga State Community College since July 2017, began her career in higher education in 1997 as a student advisor at what was then Brevard Community College in Florida. Over the last 20 years, she has held executive-level appointments at three community colleges.

Before coming to Chattanooga, Ashford was vice president of student affairs at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville since July 2008. She holds a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership degree, a Master of Arts in Higher Education Student Personnel, and a Bachelor of Science in English Education, all from the University of Central Florida, as well as an Associate in Arts degree from Brevard Community College, now Eastern Florida State College.

What books have you read and recommended to others that influence your leadership style and how you've developed your career?

I read a lot of books related to leadership. Many focus on concepts and skill development of effective leadership, while others focus on people in leadership positions. Leadership books that have made the biggest impact on me are Simon Sinek's three books, "Leaders Eat Last," "Start With Why," and "The Infinite Game."

"Leaders Eat Last" resonated with me as it helped reinforce the idea that leadership is not about the leader—it is about the needs of the people you lead. "Start With Why" emphasized how important it is for people in organizations to understand the reason the organization exists and the greater purpose their work serves. "The Infinite Game" encourages leaders to focus their organizations on constantly improving, rather than being "the best." The concepts in these three books are critical for development of a strong organizational culture.

The most impactful book I've read about a specific leader was "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Her book about Lincoln's presidency demonstrated how important his people skills were to his leading the United States through the most difficult point in its history.

What books have you recently read for pleasure that you're telling others about?

Two books stand out. "American Eden" by Victoria Johnson and "The Murmur of Bees" by Sofia Segovia. "American Eden" tells the story of David Hosack, a medical doctor and botanist in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He founded the first botanical garden in New York City, which no longer exists. He was also the attending physician for Alexander Hamilton in his duel with Aaron Burr. "The Murmur of Bees" is a novel about a Mexican family who takes in an abandoned child with special gifts. It is set against the Mexican Revolution and the Spanish Flu.

What is next on your to-read list?

I plan to read "The Splendid and the Vile" by Erik Larson, which chronicles the life of Winston Churchill during the Blitz and how he led England during this time of crisis. This type of book seems very fitting right now. Also, I plan to read "The Genius of Birds" by Jennifer Ackerman. My husband read this a couple of years ago and was fascinated to discover how intelligent our winged friends truly are.

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