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Danon Carter was in her early 20s and just eight credits shy of her bachelor’s degree when she decided she didn't want to be in school anymore. The environment bored her. She wanted real-world experience. So Carter got a job as a cosmetics counter manager at a department store.
The one semester she planned to take off turned into two. She kept procrastinating, thinking,"I’ll go back and finish eventually. Oh, the stupid things you do when you’re young,” she says. “I never did finish those last credits.”
“Initially, it was OK to have just a job,” says Carter. “I had enough money to do whatever I wanted to do. I had my own apartment.” But when Carter learned she was pregnant, her priorities shifted. She knew she needed a career to support her child.
At the time, Carter was working for Sears. She watched co-workers advance while she stayed in the same position. Yes, she was pregnant, but that didn’t mean she had given up on her goals—something she communicated to her boss. Carter relocated to Atlanta and enrolled in the Sears management training program. The experience taught her a valuable lesson: To be a good leader for others, you first have to assert leadership in your own life.
“When I stopped procrastinating, I started excelling,” she says.
Carter rose rapidly in her role. She was named manager of the asset loss department and turned that unit into a top-performing site.
“I learned how to manage people,” Carter says. “I would find what skill set each person was best in and figure out if my people were in the right place. I had good loyalty from that group—and when you have loyalty, you have people who will follow you, even if they’re unsure of the direction you’re going, because they believe in you.”
Carter learned that successful leaders aren’t interested in what they can achieve for themselves. She sees her success intertwined with that of the people around her. “It should never be about you,” she says. “The issue becomes this: That gift you have to lead—how can you use it to better someone else and help them see the talents that are within them?”
Her approach won her the respect of her employees, which translated into success for the departments she ran. She became known as a “fixer” and was sent around the country to turn around struggling departments.
Carter’s rise wasn’t easy. In addition to other obstacles, she faced the challenge of being a single mother. When an opportunity arose for a promotion that involved a lot of travel, Carter, whose son was an infant at the time, admits that she hesitated. How could she be away from her baby for weeks at a time? But she wanted it and so she made it happen by convincing family members to travel along with her to watch her son while she worked.
“To young women today, I say know what your career aspirations are and don’t allow anyone to limit you,” says Carter.
Carter took that advice herself when in 2005, she decided to finish up those eight credits toward her bachelor's degree and then pursue her Master of Management degree from University of Phoenix.
“I would sit next to my son, and we would do homework together. It was important for him to see me doing that versus putting my life on hold,” she says.
Carter finished her master’s and went on to receive her Doctor of Management degree in 2012. Today, she is a project lead/trainer in Dallas with The Center for Business Solutions, a management consulting firm. She has traveled the world to help customer call centers improve their performance. Her son started college this year. When she’s not working, Carter, now 45, is very active with her church’s single parent ministry and volunteers for Habitat for Humanity. In 2013, she received the University of Phoenix® Alumni Community Service Award for her volunteer work and community influence.
“I’ve learned that if you’re chasing money and you’re chasing a title, that’s not always what’s going to make you happiest,” says Carter. “Instead, figure out what you really want to do and then don’t let anyone limit you.”
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