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Legacy of Leadership: Legacy Trailblazer Award Honoree

Legacy of Leadership: Legacy Trailblazer Award Honoree

Dr. Bernice Ledbetter – “Reflections on Leadership”

Dean of Students and Alumni Affairs
Director Center for Women in Leadership
Pepperdine University

Dr. Bernice Ledbetter describes her career path as a traditional hero’s journey: Great progress marked by sliding back after hitting some obstacles or challenges, then discovering new insight to move forward again. She will tell you that it is challenges that make us sharp and help us gain deep understanding of ourselves. 

One of the biggest lessons Dr. Ledbetter has learned along her journey is one that she now teaches her students at Pepperdine University: Preparation. Prepare themselves for the opportunities to come; prepare themselves to take on new challenges. 

Part of the reason Dr. Ledbetter feels she is well equipped to teach that lesson is because before she began teaching at Pepperdine, she had a great rehearsal in preparation. She helped start a leadership institution that came to an abrupt end. It was difficult for her to embrace the lesson, but then she began to see that maybe something else would come from it. 


“Lay the groundwork now. Prepare yourself for what will come.”

– Dr. Bernice Ledbetter

Now prepared to seize the next opportunity, she turned her small dream into a larger vision — starting with a post-it- note. 

After she joined the Graziadio Business School at Pepperdine, she placed a small note on her computer that simply said, “Start a Center for Women & Leadership.” She knew the classroom was a good place to teach leadership, but asked herself, “was it enough?” In response, she placed that note on her computer and waited. And continued to prepare for opportunity.

Then opportunity knocked. Pepperdine announced an internal grant program to fund innovative ideas. She knew that was it. Dr. Ledbetter went on to help launch the Center for Women in Leadership at the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, where she currently serves as Director. 

In building the program and in her role as Director, she’s now preparing other women to be leaders. She teaches preparation, but also that steadfast determination matched with passion, ambition, vision, and the ability to get others to join you, are the ingredients of success. 

She stresses that, no matter the role you are in, part of preparation is always to be on the lookout for what you can improve. Unless you prepare yourself for future leadership, she says, there won’t be time to catch up when opportunity comes. 

“Don’t leave things the way you found them – always improve.”

– Dr. Bernice Ledbetter

From her own experience, Dr. Ledbetter said she has seen much more return from putting her focus and energy into opportunities that come to her than ones she tried to manufacture. Other lessons she passes on to her students are to be receptive and open, don’t go alone, take others with you, and invite feedback and input on your big ideas about how you want to lead change in the world.

Dr. Ledbetter’s work continues to focus on empowering and advancing women in the workforce. She believes women have a unique perspective, energy and insight to add to any situation. She also reminds women that it’s not a competition – that’s a holdover from the past when there wasn’t space for all -- but instead to facilitate space for all and lift each other up. Dr. Ledbetter also admonishes, “Leave things better than the way you found them.”


And then yet another opportunity arose, in which she combined her work, experience, focus and preparation to become Dean of Students and Alumni Affairs, a new role for the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School. It’s a fitting role for Dr. Ledbetter to continue to provide foundations for her students to stand upon as they prepare themselves for future opportunities and thoughtfully consider their leadership journey.  

“My greatest reward as an educator is truly my students’ success,” Dr. Ledbetter says.

Leadership Lessons from Dr. Bernice Ledbetter

  • Prepare yourself for leadership
  • The leadership of women is needed. Step up when given the opportunity. 
  • Build a Teflon surface. Silence the naysayers with your success. 
  • Be a servant to others.
  • Ask for ideas from others and build consensus.