STORY Q&A – Leader2Leader

Define leadership in 10 words.
A leader is committed to an organization’s goals and vision.

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?
My grandfather was a civil rights leader in Chicago. When I was growing up, he had a talk show, and I would watch from the background as he interviewed community leaders. They talked about desegregation in Chicago and about other community issues. I didn’t realize my grandfather’s impact on me for many years. From listening to him, I learned the importance of being involved in community work, and I passed this lesson on to my kids.

What’s your “go-to” spot to eat lunch in Southwest Michigan?
Food Dance in downtown Kalamazoo. It’s a fun and engaging atmosphere.

What excites you most about the future of Southwest Michigan?
The growth. I love the community and how people come together to really support each other—not just in times of tragedy, as we’ve had recently, but also in general. I like the diversity of our community; so many more wonderful people are coming in as we continue to grow.

Last book you read that had an impact on you?
Rising Strong by Brene Brown.

What do you do for fun?
Exercise! I work out, I run. I enjoy almost anything active.

If happiness was the national currency, what kind of work would make you rich?
What makes me happy every day is seeing people coming together and working together without barriers. It’s nice when everyone can be free and be themselves without being judgmental, or without being judged. If I could help make that happen on a daily basis, I would truly feel rich.

If you could go to dinner with three people who would they be?
Serena Williams. President Obama. Oprah Winfrey.

What are three things that you cannot travel on business without?
My cellphone, gym shoes for exercise—I’m not going away without my gym shoes—and a good book.

Briefcase or backpack?
Probably a briefcase. I carry one every day, although it does have a strap.

Who would you most like to meet and why?
I would say Oprah Winfrey. I would love to hear firsthand about her journey and her struggles.

Where/how do you get your most creative ideas?
I wake up every morning at 4:30 am and go downstairs to my gym. It allows me to just breathe and feel strong and it prepares me for work—it’s my coffee. If I don’t work out, you’ll know it!

What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?
Finding the best ways to engage our employees and helping make it possible to partner with our community.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
An open mind.

What is one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?
The biggest mistake is forgetting where you came from and losing track of your purpose. Don’t forget your purpose.

What is one of your daily routines that keeps you developing as a leader?
I surround myself with inspiration. Relationships are also huge. I stay in touch with my Board of Directors in the community, and I check in with them regularly to make sure we communicate effectively.

What is your “Life Quote?”
There is no better person to be than yourself. Be kind, thankful, smile every day, and fill your mind and heart with love and forgiveness … and live free.

What inspires you?
Knowing that I’m having an impact and that I’m making a difference in helping people. That keeps me going, and it makes me feel like I have value here.

What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?
Being an election year, we see many politicians focusing more on personal issues instead of doing what’s best for the people. The biggest challenge is focusing on the true issues and really making a difference, rather than simply leveling personal attacks. When things get personal, we lose track of the real issue, and, ultimately, nothing gets done.

What is your favorite leadership book?
John C. Maxwell’s Developing the Leader Within You.

What is App on your phone can’t you live without?
I love inspirational daily quotes, and, as they say, “there’s an app for that.”

What are you doing to ensure your continued growth as a leader?
Relationships are very important: You have to build them, maintain them, and use them to make a sustainable impact. I’m constantly meeting with community leaders, partnering with them and ensuring that I keep my purpose in mind, as well as focusing on the vision and goals of the organization. As long as I make sure I go into every meeting with this as my focus, I believe that I will continue to grow as a leader.

How do you maintain your and your team’s daily motivation?
I meet regularly with my team and I let them know I’m thinking of them. We’re all very busy here—110 percent—but I think taking a break and just saying, “Hey, how’s your day going?” is important. Mutual support is a key, as is letting them know you’re there and being positive when they’re struggling. We do have team meetings every two weeks, and that also helps keep us connected.

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