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Center for Leadership and Organizations

Ph.D. in Leadership melds partnership with intentionality

Although Dr. Bettye Smith’s background is in engineering, she has developed a passion for leadership development. Dr. Smith, who has worked in aerospace, defense and intelligence, was seeking professional development to further enhance the leadership skills she developed over the years. In the Ph.D. in Leadership program offered by the Anderson University Center for Leadership and Organizations, Dr. Smith discovered a program where she experienced a strong partnership with her classmates and professors where she could reach her professional and academic goals—all in a Christ-centered setting. 

“I remember meeting Bettye for the first time over Zoom. I could feel her energy through the screen, and each time we met, I could sense that Bettye is a gifted and talented leader in the defense and intelligence industry. As her program continued, I recognized that her gifts are not simply in leading but also in the practice of research. Bettye was a stellar student, and Anderson University is blessed to count her as one of our finest and earliest graduates. Blessings to her in her endeavors as a research, consultant and leader,” said Dr. Kyle Small, Professor and Director of the Center for Leadership and Organizations. 

Bettye, tell us about yourself. 

For over three decades I worked in the aerospace, defense and intelligence industries. I started my undergraduate degree and my master’s degrees in electrical engineering. I worked for a defense corporation where I started just doing hands-on engineering and then was blessed to have the opportunity to lead teams and organizations of engineers and technical professionals—thousands of them—for the Lockheed-Martin Corporation, so I have a passion for leadership. 

After a number of years, I made a decision to really focus on that area. I wanted to do more than just defense type work. There were opportunities to do leadership outside that realm. I had a defining moment. I was leading one of the leadership forums for the corporation and thought “this is my passion and my purpose,” and I made a decision to leave the corporation and pursue my passion, so I started a leadership consulting business where I wanted to focus on developing and advancing leaders—I found that very interesting and I thought “what can I do to enhance not just my skills and capabilities?” because I’m a practitioner when it comes to leadership, to position myself to be more effective in that area. 

How did you choose the Ph.D. in Leadership from the Center for Leadership and Organizations at Anderson University? 

I started looking at programs in the D.C./Maryland area that had postgraduate studies and somehow as I was doing the search, universities with leadership programs started to pop up and Anderson University was one of them. My thing was not about the Ph.D. I just wanted to do more studies, but as I started to have that conversation with the intake person. I got the information and thought, “yeah this is good, but I’m really not trying to get a Ph.D.,” but as I spoke with him he said “you know, you really seem to be passionate about leadership.” I said, “yes, inspirational leadership.” I wrote a book about the ABC’s of Inspirational Leadership.  

He said, “why don’t you consider the leadership program, but on the business side, because that’s where you’ve been—on the business side and not on the ministry side,” even though I do ministry as an aside.  

So that’s how it started.  

At the end of the day, what gives you a feeling of accomplishment? 

Helping people succeed. For me, I know there are many different definitions of leadership… my first class in the Ph.D. program was in Dr. Small’s class. He asked “what is leadership for you?” I said, “For me, leadership is an enabling function. We enable individuals to succeed, to achieve, to accomplish—for me, that’s what leadership is. For me, that’s my purpose—to enable people to succeed. 

What are some ways your Ph.D. program is benefiting you in your professional life? 

In my professional life, I do leadership. Did the Ph.D. in Leadership program help me in my professional life? Absolutely! There are things I learned. The findings, not just from the research but even in talking to my classmates about the program, there were “aha” moments. You know, I think I’ll take this back and we’ll try this in my professional area. One of the things that I do as a part of the effort through Pearl River is to support NASA. NASA is the customer. 

I was engaged to provide a more effective leadership engagement model; however, as we’ve talked about leadership, I’ve been rolling out these mentoring roundtable sessions. The program is Mentoring Connections—that’s what I bring to the table—connecting people, mentors and mentees. 

Through this program that we had at Anderson University, I learned more about how leaders can engage with followers, to help followers… they’re not our people, they are team members, and so we engage them as valuable members of the team. We all are. That’s helped me in the Mentoring Connections program. That’s helped me in developing and establishing this leadership engagement model. It helped me think about life differently. Being in this program taught me to think differently. It’s been amazing. 

Let’s talk about your dissertation. 

At the heart of my research was a study of gender diversity in leadership. Gender diversity in leadership continues to be a problem that organizations face in the industries in which I have operated. I focused on gender in diversity in leadership as it relates to corporate America. This is not a new area of research. Many have explored this topic, but they’ve studied the barriers, the obstacles that women face in trying to maneuver and advance in leadership in many different industries, but I’m talking about corporate America, specifically the defense industry.  

I took a different approach. 

Instead of focusing on the problems, which we acknowledge exist, there really are challenges—that was not my focus. My focus was on “What are some systems or elements that enable women to be successful?” Where there are all these obstacles and barriers, there are some women who actually made it to the top of corporations. Although the numbers are small, they made it, and so I focused on the enabling systems that they experienced and allowed them to reach the top. And my goal was to get that information and to take it back to help other women who aspire to leadership to help them make informed decisions. 

My research yielded four major findings: 

The first one was that these women experienced support or network systems that provided them with the guidance they needed to maneuver and adapt and make the right decisions. 

The second was learning systems. They experienced organizations that had a culture of learning—not just learning as in going to school, but rotating them through various different assignments and such and did not allow them to become comfortable but to stretch beyond their comfort zones.  

The third one was there was an advancement system that included making hard but strategic decisions based on things that the women possessed themselves. These were their internal influences, things that mattered to them; and then there were external influences, which is the corporation directing them. 

The fourth finding was the surprise finding, that there was intentionality, there was advocacy. I define advocacy as individuals made intentional decisions that influenced their outcomes. They could have had all the learning systems, support systems, career advancement systems, but there was advocacy, there was intentionality involved in helping these women achieve. 

What would be a reason someone should consider Anderson University? 

There are many strong points; I’m just trying to narrow it down to one. Dr. Small said this a lot from day one throughout the program: “In this program, we will collaborate to graduate,” and when I first heard that I’m thinking these are the students who help each other get across the finish line, but the university was a collaborative partner. I’ve attended other universities and am aware of other individuals… Actually one of my committee members talked about the fact that the committee was collaborative, it was a partnership. It was not just the students collaborating to ensure that we achieve success, but that the university partnered with us to ensure that we understood the assignment, that they understand what we’re going through.  

I work fulltime and had a full load. Not that the university went easy on me, but there was an understanding. With partners, there’s an understanding there, and partners help each other to achieve mutual goals. The university is trying to establish this leadership program, and in order for the program to be successful, we needed to be successful. We’re trying to get a Ph.D. and we know that if we don’t get through this program, this program may not exist in the future. It just felt like there was a partnership and it was intentional. The steps were intentional from the beginning to the end.  

Partnership with intentionality—that’s what I saw. That’s what I experienced. 

You’re part of a special group. You’re among the first of the graduates.  

Even as the program was adapting, I could feel it. We’re going in this direction, we’re going to make a tweak here, but as a partner I have to understand that the tweak is for the betterment. I felt I was in a partnership; I will forever believe that.  

Bettye Smith, Ph.D.
Bettye Smith, Ph.D.
Graduated from Anderson University: 2024
Degree: Ph.D. in Leadership
Title: Business leader, organizational change agent, empowerment speaker, author in Washington, D.C. area