Residences: Fayetteville and Tahlequah, Okla.
Education: B.A., Washington University in St. Louis; MBA, University of Tennessee; J.D., University of Tulsa; LL.M., University of Wisconsin
Professional background: Leeds has served as vice chancellor for economic development at the University of Arkansas since July 2018. She’s also dean emeritus and law professor at the UA. She was dean of the UA School of Law from 2011 to July 2018. Leeds previously was a faculty member and administrator at the University of Kansas and justice for the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court.
What inspired you to pursue the career you are in? I took an undergraduate class that focused on oral advocacy skills, and the subject matter was the protection of native children in tribal communities. It was a light bulb moment. I was hooked, and it solidified my desire to attend law school. I’ve worked on education and empowerment issues ever since.
What was your dream job as a kid and why? High school history teacher and basketball coach. Get paid to read the books I would choose for pleasure and stay forever engaged in the sport I love.
What’s the most important aspect of achieving a balance between your career and your family? I’m not sure anyone ever does this well. For me, it goes in spurts. There are times when I am in a groove and times when I fall out of balance. It’s a lifelong struggle.
What has been the most fulfilling moment of your career so far? There are many such moments, and they typically revolve around watching former students thrive and become difference makers. The phrase “pay it forward” is powerful, and I don’t see it as cliché.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry? We still live in a world where women have to be smarter, harder working and better prepared to be viewed as equal. Whether this is explicit or implicit, this will eventually change. Until then, own it. Shine. Positive change is longer lasting than being bitter.
Do you feel like we’re getting closer to gender equality in the workplace? I think we are getting closer. But this morning, my 11-year-old boy asked me, “Why are the men usually always the leaders?” He and I have very candid conversations frequently, and with this one, it took about 20 minutes just to crack the surface.
What’s the next big personal or career challenge you plan to take on? It’s unclear. I plan to remain perceptive enough to fully understand what my highest best use is, at any given time, and never being afraid to take a leap of faith.
What are three words you would use to describe yourself? Grounded. Innovative. Hilarious.
What is something unique people would be surprised to know about you? I tend to have very public-facing jobs, but I love going into hermit-mode.
What’s the last good book you read? Sadly, the final page proofs of an Indian law manuscript I co-authored. Getting that publication out the door so it can be used for fall courses is my present obsession. And it’s a good read.
Of all the mentors in your professional career, who has been the most influential and why? The late Bill Rice, one of my law school professors. He told me I should be a law professor because there was almost no one like me in the legal academy.
What did he mean by that? There were only two native women tenured law professors in the U.S. at that time. He wanted me to be a law professor for the benefit of the tribes and the native law students, but he also told me it was even more important for mainstream law students to be taught by a native woman. It took me a long time to fully appreciate what he was saying.
What’s the first thing you do at the office each morning? Address what I consider to be the $5,000 problems first and leave the nickel problems for future resolution. And coffee, lots of it.
What’s your biggest passion and why? Empowering people and communities. That’s a translatable skill set across many contexts. There are endless opportunities to be excited about.
What qualities do you feel are most important in a company leader? Intelligence, humility, relatability.
What time do you get up on workday mornings? 6 a.m. Mornings start with mom duties, and it quickly descends into championship multitasking.
What’s your favorite app at the moment? Evernote is still my most-used, long-term organization hack.
If you have a bucket list, what are the top three things on it? Take a full one-year sabbatical. Train for a marathon again. Travel extensively in Asia.