Monica Blake – Lessons in Leadership

At First Tee, we guide kids to strengthen what’s inside and put it into action because strong character, inner strength and resilience is needed now more than ever. This month we are talking to leaders within our Network about their experiences and key lessons learned over the course of their careers.

Monica Blake, First Tee – Central Arkansas

What is your current role at First Tee and what is the most rewarding part of your job?

My name is Monica Blake and I am the Executive Director of First Tee-Central Arkansas. The most rewarding part of my job is making a positive impact on the lives of the youth and families we serve in Central Arkansas. As the Executive Director I’m able to serve as the voice of our participants and advocate on their behalf. I am also a certified First Tee coach and I have been intentional about staying involved in the coaching process. I believe that in order to be a successful leader it’s important that I stay connected to our participants and our mission. As the Executive Director, it’s essential to be a good steward of our donors and sponsoring donations and it’s very rewarding to see those contributions directly impact the youth that we serve.

This month we’re celebrating Black History Month and lifting up voices of Black participants, coaches and leaders exploring what it means to be a leader. What does leadership mean to you?

I believe that leadership isn’t about a title or position that you hold, but that it’s about the difference you make in someone’s life. As the leader of First Tee- Central Arkansas it’s important that I’m putting everyone within our organization in a position to not only be  successful, but to facilitate an environment where each participant, coach, and volunteer aspire to be the change they seek in the lives of the youth that we serve.

Did you always know you wanted to be in a leadership role? Can you share a little bit about your journey and how you’ve developed into your current role?

My journey with First Tee began in an entry level role as a volunteer coach in 2012. It was in this role, I realized the value that each position within the organization holds, and how it’s sometimes the person who’s the initial point of contact, that can make the biggest impact on a participant. As I reflect on my growth in the organization, and how my career has progressed, I was extremely fortunate for the opportunity to serve as a volunteer. It was instrumental in laying a foundation of what it means to serve and how to incorporate service into my leadership style. I quickly moved into the role of a paid coach and from there I was promoted to Program Director, where I served for 6 years. Being the Program Director allowed me to connect with the curriculum we were teaching and our mission as an organization and how it impacts each participant. In 2019, I became the first female African-American Executive Director of First Tee-Central Arkansas. I know it was every role that I’ve served, which helped prepare me for this amazing opportunity within this organization and has put me in the greatest position to be successful .

Who were some of the strong voices or mentors in your life that inspired you?

Harold Banks has been a mentor to not only myself, but to countless golfers throughout the Central Arkansas area. Harold was always willing to share his knowledge, skills and expertise with everyone in the golf community. He always had a positive attitude and took a personal interest in mentoring the next generation. Harold was instrumental in advancing black golfers in Little Rock and often his advice extended far beyond the golf course. He was respected by golfers throughout Central Arkansas and left a lasting impact on golfers for generations to come. The impact Harold has made on our community is something that truly inspires and motivates me to become a mentor and leader in the community.

Can you give an example of a challenge you have faced in your career and how have you worked to overcome it?

Having to lead during a pandemic was certainly a challenge and continues to be each day. One important lesson I’ve learned is how to constantly adapt to ever changing  circumstances and continue to modify and adjust as necessary. Flexibility and the power of teamwork are key pillars I have to lean on. Together, as an organization, we were able to navigate through our new circumstances and now we’re in a position to advance our organization even further. We were forced to evaluate our operations through a different lens, and I feel programming has benefited as a result.

How does or can First Tee play a role in bringing more diversity to our game? 

First Tee has the opportunity to play a fundamental role in increasing diversity in golf, especially in Central Arkansas.  The mission of our organization has always been to introduce our programming to underserved communities and now we have the opportunity to lead the charge in bringing diversity and inclusion into the game of golf. This is done by elevating black voices within the community and developing a plan to identify the disconnections and expanding opportunities for minorities. As an organization it is our responsibility to ensure that all participants are having an equitable experience.

What advice do you have for young people entering the job market determined to make a career for themselves?

My advice for young people entering the job market would be to find something that you are passionate about and where you can make a difference. Golf has always played a significant role in my life and as I’ve grown older so has the desire to help people in my community. I’m very fortunate to now serve in a role where I get to blend these two together. It is important to make an impact on the world around you and to help those who are in need.