Leadership Skills Gained from a Hip-Hop Education

Written by Jennifer Hightower of Dominion Energy, Fall 2020 Leadership Discovery participant, after hearing from Anton Gunn, Chief Diversity Officer and Executive Director of Community Health Innovation for the Medical University of South Carolina

Most likely, you’ve heard Anton Gunn’s name before, he’s a bit of a local celebrity. Whether it was playing football for the South Carolina Gamecocks, serving as a senior advisor to President Obama, becoming the first African American elected to House District 79 in the SC House of Representatives or being a best-selling author, Anton has been positively impacting the Charleston region for many years. Today, you’ll know him for his leadership role as Chief Diversity Officer and Executive Director of Community Health Innovation for the Medical University of South Carolina, a position where he is one of the most insightful, respected and sought-after Chief Diversity Officers in the country.


Anton began our session by sharing ways he leads his team at MUSC. Getting to know the people you’re leading should always be a top priority – understanding who you’re leading and building intentional relationships with your team are crucial steps to becoming a successful leader. After providing examples of how he leads today and lessons learned throughout his career, Anton candidly shared stories of life experiences that impacted his leadership path and molded him into the person he is today.

One experience in particular led Anton to his favorite hometown record store, where his life was forever changed when he spotted an album by Public Enemy. Everything about the album – the cover image to the lyrics – made an immediate impression. The music’s message resonated with him, and he realized he could either be part of the problem, or part of the solution. He chose the latter. It was at this point that our discussion took an unexpected, yet brilliant turn into Anton’s “hip-hop education.”

Lessons from the Lyrics

  1. Know who you are. It’s okay to think and act differently. Be original, respectful and educated.
  2. Serve others. Help others. Empower others. Work for equality and peace and fight for justice.
  3. Leadership isn’t power and control. It’s teaching and impacting others in a righteous way. Be the leader others want to follow.  
  4. Never get too big to listen to the advice of others.
  5. Look for leadership opportunities in every situation. Leadership development is a continuous journey.
  6. There’s always a lesson, especially when there’s adversity. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. This is where growth occurs.  
  7. Determine what you’re good at, then become great at it; and always give it your best.  
  8. What’s your legacy? How will you leave a positive impact on your world?

Hip-hop provided Anton with many valuable lessons, and most importantly, it helped him identify and define his purpose. Remember, it’s not who you are today, rather it’s who you become over time…one of Anton’s favorite hip-hop artists, Rakim, says it best, “it ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”

So, next time you’re stuck in traffic listening to your favorite tunes, think about what the music really says. Perhaps you’ll find a life lesson hidden in plain sight, rather sound, too.

Jennifer Hightower
Participant in the 2020 Fall Leadership Discovery class

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