WNBA President Urges Students to Rebound from Failures

Lisa Borders
Lisa M. Borders, the President of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), discusses her efforts to strengthen and accelerate the organization’s growth. Under Borders, the WNBA reached its highest attendance numbers since 2011.

After Lisa Borders lost her bid for the mayorship of Atlanta, she adopted the motto “failure isn’t fatal, it’s feedback”—and rebounded to become the president of the Women’s National Basketball Association.

Borders, who has led the WNBA since 2016, shared this and other anecdotes during a conversation at the Kennedy School Tuesday about her life and career in the nonprofit, public, and private sectors.

Borders said her path to the WNBA was anything but straightforward. Before a crowd of about 50 attendees, she recounted her first taste of adversity in a newly-desegregated school, switching majors at Duke University, and waiting for her son to grow up before running for public office.

“Everywhere I have worked, I have always been underestimated,” Borders said. “That’s a very strong weapon. Don’t think I can do it? Watch this. It gives me inspiration when people say I can’t.”

Borders said that she often did not realize the benefits of her experiences until later, like the time she was able to apply her fluency in French when working for Coca-Cola in Africa—a job she would not have taken had she won the 2009 Atlanta mayoral race. She said hopes that her audience could learn from her losses in the same way she did.

“The takeaway that I would have for Harvard students is that they just have to be true to themselves,” Borders said. “As trite as that sounds, it took me a long, long time to not only understand that, but to believe it. If you bring your whole self, then you’re adding value to the whole.”

The event was part of the Center for Public Leadership’s series of “C-Suite Sessions,” run by Communications and Events Coordinator Samantha Goober.

“We’re hoping to bring in those high-level leaders to teach our students about what it’s like to lead from the top, what it’s like to be an authentic leader, and also most importantly what are the biggest challenges and failures that you’ve faced and how have you overcome them to get to where you are today,” Goober said.

In addition to the event, Borders met with the Harvard women’s and men’s basketball coaches and teams and toured the athletics facilities. The women’s team also attended the conversation Tuesday.

“It’s one thing to share your perspective, and another to hear the questions so you understand where your audience is,” Borders said. “The event was a blessing for me, and I’m hoping that I added some value here.”

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