Candy Johnson became the President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga in January 2021, taking the helm of an organization dedicated to equity, empowerment and inclusion for African Americans and disadvantaged people. A native of Clarksville, Tennessee, she was 25 when she became the youngest council member ever elected to the city council in 2008, after previously working as a City Hall intern while at Austin Peay State University. Johnson has served as executive director for the Clarksville-Montgomery County Education Foundation, where she helped boost both fundraising success and the programs offered by the foundation, and as education policy director for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. She moved to Chattanooga four years ago with her husband, Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson, and has worked as a senior advisor for Mayor Andy Berke.
What books have shaped your approach to leadership and the development of your career?
My interest in reading leadership development books began during my undergraduate years at Austin Peay State University while minoring in leadership studies. In one of our courses we took the Myers Briggs leadership inventory, which inspired my search for ways I could grow in my role as a student leader since I was already pretty involved on campus.
One of the books that I read during these years and has shaped my approach as a leader was "Unlimited Power" by Anthony Robbins. This book also provided me with some of the strategies I needed to produce results— and later the confidence to run for public office while in graduate school. A few key takeaways from this book that I still implement today are:
Aligning my passion with the work in which I chose to engage. (I have not always done this, but when I have, that is when I see the best performance).
Mindset matters: Mastering my thoughts, what I believe can be possible and only seeing solutions as a possibility rather than focusing too much on barriers. Realizing that "nothing has any meaning except the meaning we give it" through what we internalize. Thus, we have "unlimited power" to achieve success in any area of our lives.
Adaptability: Being able to change your approach when you're not achieving your intended outcomes and being deliberate with strategy and a plan to deliver.
Maintaining relationships and being consistent.
This was such an impactful book as I started my career because it helped me realize that success starts in the mind, and it reaffirmed what I learned growing up in church about faith. As a result, I only see opportunities, which is why I enjoy addressing complex community challenges. A few other books that have shaped my approach to leadership are "Emotional Intelligence 2.0" by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, and "First Things First" by Stephen Covey.
What books have you recently read for pleasure that you're recommending to others?
I typically prefer reading books that are aligned with my life's work of helping others to achieve success. I also read a lot of scholarly pieces about education, workforce and economic development daily. One of the last two books I've read is "Bridges to Sustainable Communities: A Systemwide Cradle to Grave Approach to Ending Poverty in America" by Philip DeVol. This book addresses the mindset of those in poverty and those who contribute to this system, coupled with a holistic theory of change for action toward sustained change in a community. The other book I've recently read is "The Years that Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us" by Paul Tough. This book addresses the higher education system and exposes hidden truths about access and who the system works for.
What books are up next on your to-read list?
"The Gumbo Coalition" by National Urban League President Marc Morial and "A Promised Land" by President Barack Obama.