What do the United States Army Reserve and the Miss USA beauty pageant have in common… or shall we ask who? The answer is Deshauna Barber, who in 2016 became the first Miss USA currently to serve in the United States military.
In this episode of the Leadercast Podcast, we chat with Deshauna about how her two very different worlds of military and pageantry collided and the leadership lessons she learned from both. Deshauna will speak at Leadercast Women 2019, taking place live on Oct. 18 at the Cobb Energy Centre in Atlanta and broadcast to locations around the globe.
Read on to discover three leadership lessons Deshauna learned from the military and pageantry, and listen to the episode above for more.
Lesson 1: Venturing Outside of What’s Normal
Deshauna was raised in a military household as both of her parents served in the U.S. Army. She didn’t discover that she wanted to compete in pageantry until she was about 19 years old.
“It was my real first step at femininity,” she says about her first pageant. “I don’t think I had a chance to enjoy being a woman’s woman—the dresses and the high heels.”
She appreciated being able to show her physical fitness and to get to know her feminine side, but wouldn’t have experienced this without trying something new that was outside of her military background.
“[Pageantry] gave me an opportunity to be able to see women from all walks of life being on the same stage and using pageantry as a way to not only advance their brand but advance their platforms,” says Deshauna.
Lesson 2: Staying Accountable for Others
Deshauna’s next leadership lesson came from her service in the U.S. Army. As the youngest commander in her battalion at age 24, Deshauna was called out by her battalion commander not long into her very first command. He yelled at her for not checking in on two of her soldiers she sent to medical.
“My facial expressions say everything. He could tell that I was not getting what he was saying,” says Deshauna, noting that she assumed all was good and she did the right thing for her soldiers by sending them on their way.
Her battalion commander sat her down and explained, “A leader is not only responsible for their soldiers, they must also be accountable for their soldiers.”
This was what Deshauna hadn’t done. She knew where her soldiers were four hours ago, but not right now. How were they doing? What was their status? She didn’t know.
“That’s what it means to be a leader, to not only be responsible but to be accountable,” she says.
After that, Deshauna was a changed leader. She knew where her soldiers were at all times and also what was going on with their jobs, families and schooling. “I started taking a job way more seriously because I felt like I didn’t understand leadership until that conversation,” she says.
“Leaders must treat your teams as your family and know what’s going on with them and know what you need to do to support them and advance their lives,” she says.
Lesson 3: Being Courageous
“The scariest moment in my life was standing on the Miss USA stage with millions of people watching me,” Deshauna says about a moment that required courage. She competed for seven years before making it to that all-important stage question, and she didn’t know what they would ask.
“When I got the mic in my hand, in that moment, I felt my hands shaking,” she says. “I was ready to say ‘uh’ for the next 30 seconds.”
But she didn’t. Instead, she said to herself: “Deshauna, this is your moment. This is a moment that is never going to happen again. Be strong, be fearless, tell the world what they need to hear, tell the world amazing things, and show them exactly who you are in that moment.”
Deshauna put her fears aside and chose to be brave instead. “Courage is based on how you respond to fear,” she says. “I believe that I walked away from that moment feeling very courageous because I fought through that fear.”
Fear is a good thing in leadership, explains Deshauna. “Don’t let fear be the reason why we turn our backs on possibility,” she says.