To honor Black History Month this February, Noodle is celebrating a number of our Black colleagues in a series of “Profiles in Diversity.” We are incredibly grateful to our colleagues who have shared their stories with us here. We hope they inspire you like they inspire us.
Adamah Cole leads us in Noodle’s mission to lower the cost of education, enrich our culture, and catalyze change in higher education. Adamah began his professional career as a member of Teach For America (TFA) and a 4th grade teacher in the Bronx, New York. After serving as a member of the Alumni Affairs team of TFA, he simultaneously earned an MBA from the Wharton School of Business and an MA from the Joseph H. Lauder Institute for Management & International Studies. Cole also served on the board of Out4Business, the LGBT professional and social organization, and played an active role in the campus African-American MBA association. Following business school, Cole worked for Viacom, YouTube and within the independent film sector before returning to his education roots as a member of the student marketing team at Noodle.
Meet Head of Strategic Branding Adamah Cole
“I make sure that people are being set up for success.”
What elements or traits does a great leader exhibit?
I always tell my team that my job is to remove any obstacles in their way so that they can do what they do best and shine through their accomplishments. I approach leadership as a form of service. I have found that people will follow you if they trust you. Great leaders do whatever they can to help team members perform to the best of their abilities.
When you think of great leadership, who comes to mind? Why?
When I think of great leaders, I think of those I’ve worked with before, my favorite managers. They come to mind because each time I worked with a great leader the result of our working together has been greater than the sum of its parts. I also think of public leaders who make hard choices in order to do what they believe is important. Marsha P. Johnson, a gay liberation activist and self-identified drag queen, is someone I would classify as a great leader. She wasn’t looking to be a leader, but she helped lead the Stonewall Uprising of 1969 in Greenwich Village, New York, and stood up to the system to make positive change. Bayard Rustin, one of the architects of the March on Washington, was also a great leader in the work he did on behalf of both civil rights and the gay rights movement.
How has your personal leadership style evolved over time?
Over time, I have become better able to lead people who are different than me. If you work with someone whose style and way of working is similar to yours, that’s easy. If you need to work with someone whose style or method of working is different than yours, that’s harder. As I have progressed in my career, I have found I am better able to work with those who are different than myself.
What is it about your background or career experiences that successfully positioned you for your role at Noodle?
In terms of my role here at Noodle, I sit at the nexus of creative production and the business objectives of our university partners. My background includes spending years working for some of the biggest media producers in the world, like Viacom and YouTube. I have also studied the business side by earning an MBA, so I am able to speak to both sides.
How do you build momentum as a leader among diverse stakeholders at Noodle?
It starts with finding common ground. Agreeing on a goal means we’re all moving in the same direction. The best way to get there may often take some debate, but at least we’re all going in the same direction. When you start with that, everything else, in terms of building momentum and fostering collaboration, becomes a lot easier.
How do you support the success of your team?
As I’ve said, my job is to help remove any roadblocks in front of my team members. I also have a policy that my team and I are always 100% honest with each other. And I try to be conscious of whatever smaller issues that people might be a little sensitive about. Finally, I try to make work fun by infusing humor or celebrating the small wins, balancing it out wherever possible and appropriate.
Describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places or experiences.
When I got my MBA, I got my Masters in International Studies at the same time in a program that drew students from literally all over the world. It was one of the most diverse social environments I’ve ever encountered. In hearing about their experiences and discussing their various points of view, I grew to further appreciate the intricacies that exist within a diverse group of opinions, and try to foster these with my team and colleagues.
What are some of the most effective tools in your leadership arsenal?
Humility. Ever since I was young, I’ve never wanted to be beyond reproach. I learned that from teaching, because if you lose the trust of your students, it takes a lot of work to earn it back. Secondly, being very clear about both the big goals and what I call the “crunchy parts” – the little complications or difficulties – that may get in the way. I make sure that people are being set up for success.
Tell us something about yourself that people would be surprised to learn.
People are usually surprised to learn how much of a nerd I am. I grew up watching and loving “Star Trek,” for example. I’m real Trekkie. I still remember how, when I was around the age of 12, my mother drove me to a costume party dressed in full regalia as a Klingon, headpiece and all. I really enjoyed seeing the people in other cars do a double take at stop lights. What also often surprises people is that I’m conversational in several other languages, including French, Spanish, Italian and Chinese.