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Learn to lead: Anita Jackson, ’86, is challenging the myth of the natural born leader.
Author: Andrea Bailey
Posted: February 13, 2017

Anita Jackson on Leadership 

What makes someone a leader? Often the first answers you’ll hear cluster around certain personality traits or strengths that we suspect we have - or don’t have. Anita Jackson offers a different, more empowering perspective: Leadership is a skillset. 


Since graduating from Portland State’s Human Resources program, Anita Jackson has gained 30+ years experience in HR and communications. Her current focus as executive coach at Jackson Pacific Consulting is to help people become better leaders. 

“Most leaders have good intentions, but they often don’t know how to communicate with their team, or how to be the kind of leader others actually want to follow.” 

Anita identified communication as a major obstacle when she became interested in public relations. At the time, she was working in HR and noticed that a lot of the communications had a threatening tone. “It sounded like do this or else….,” she recalls. “That didn’t capture people’s hearts.” From then on, her team applied PR tactics helped change the way the organization communicated in meetings, email, and policies. 

As a starting point for leaders who want to level up their communication skills, Anita recommends to never miss an opportunity to let people know you care.

“Leadership is not a popularity contest. You will have decisions to communicate that don’t make everyone happy. But even when people don’t agree with you, you can let them know you put care into the process and are doing what you see as the right thing.” 

Beyond communication Anita highlights emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, and change management as important skills for leaders to develop. 

“These are the skills that will make you an inspirational leader. Especially people who take on a leadership role for the first time tend to be very autocratic, very top down, simply because they don’t yet know another way,” she observes. “When you develop a leadership skillset, you learn to instead focus on bringing out the best in people.”  

Where can new leaders find resources to build these crucial skills? Anita sees them everywhere. “There are so many opportunities - books, mentors, TED talks, seminars. You just need to be motivated to continue your education on your own.” 

With the gender gap in leadership still an undeniable reality in many industries, Anita sometimes coaches clients and mentees on skills that are especially important for women leaders. “I recommend learning to push back in a respectful, professional way when someone minimizes you. Don’t let it slide. Reflect on what it is that was bothering you, then address it in person, one on one. Otherwise it will become the way things are. What you permit you promote.” 

In case you are wondering when it is the right time in your career to begin developing leadership skills, Anita’s answer is now. “Everybody is a leader, no matter your designated title or position.” She offers three concrete behaviors you can apply to start the process: 

“Do more than what you’re asked to. Find out what the big, hairy issues are in your organization, and figure out how you can contribute to a solution. And be a really great colleague to work with. If you practice these three behaviors, you will find success and move up.” 

In Anita’s experience, the benefits of developing a leadership skillset radiate far beyond your career. “The people skills you hone as a leader will make you a better partner, friend, family member, and person.” 



See how the Portland MBA integrates leadership development in its curriculum. 

Progressive, values-driven, relational: What women’s MBA choices signal about the future of business leadership