We sat down with Dannie Alexander,Nicole Marques,
How Can You Identify a Great Leader?
Dannie Alexander: I identify a great leader as someone who treats everyone the same as the next person. They don’t cater to folks they feel will be more influential or more powerful. A leader is someone who can connect with all people.
Nicole Marques: A lot of people are leaders, but when I think of a great leader, it’s someone who looks at every person to figure out their strengths and weaknesses and leads accordingly. Outstanding leadership is not one size fits all.
What is Your Greatest Strength as a Leader?
Dannie: I consider myself to be an intuitive, positive person, and I feel I also have some dexterity that allows me to adapt. But more importantly, I strive not to make assumptions about people. Someone can walk in here, and I should not assume that they’re going to be a particular way. This is important to me because I think folks are so unique; no one’s the same.
Nicole: I thrive on positivity, encouragement, and optimism. That’s why I try to give back to my teammates. Everyone deserves a cheerleader in their corner, and if I can do that for somebody, then I did my job.
How Do You Get Your Most Creative Ideas?
Dannie: I may free write or sit in silence with my thoughts. Sometimes, I like to drive with no radio. I get a lot of creative ideas like that. I’m one of those types of folks. I don’t need distractions—I just zone out and think about things. It helps me connect the dots.
Nicole: I get my best ideas when I’m able to disconnect from work a little bit. Whether it’s on vacation or when I am out-of-town traveling for work, I need to step away from the day-to-day. Sometimes at night, right before I fall asleep, I get the best ideas, then hurry up email myself so I don’t forget it in the morning.
Is There One Behavior or Trait That You are Seeing Derail More Leaders’ Careers?
Dannie: Impatience. People want things now. We all see folks in high positions and think, “Hey, it’d be great to be that person,” but no one has any idea what that successful person went through to achieve that. I guarantee it took them plenty of patience and sacrifice. I believe you don’t arrive before your time. If you try to rush it, you are not going to be ready.
Nicole: When you get to be a great leader, you say “we” instead of “I.” It should be about the team. You have to give credit to those around you. At some point, it’s no longer about you—it’s about everyone else around you. You have to have self-awareness as a leader.
What Inspires You?
Dannie: What inspires me is when I see folks begin to live up to their potential. I also love to see people step out of their comfort zone and go after something. I am inspired by people who are willing to take the leap and say, “I have a passion for X,” then go after it wholeheartedly with no safety net or guarantee of success.
Nicole: I’m a tad competitive with most things. It began with sports. I naturally want to be [and make things] better. I’ve been with Miller-Davis for almost 11 years, and I have seen that construction is really important. It improves communities, and I think that’s what drives me—seeing the look on our client’s faces of how you’re able to transform something and make it better. It’s really rewarding.
How Do You Encourage the Development of Your Team?
Dannie: I try to include my team in decision-making. At the end of the day, I have to make the decision, but I like to involve my team. I like to put them in situations that are going to pull them out of their comfort zones, and also give them opportunities to lead. I also try to think of other unconventional ways to help them develop by involving other folks who know my team members’ craft better than I do.
Nicole: I think it’s most important for me to trust my team. Not only am I their cheerleader, but I trust them with whatever project they’re given. I know that they’re going to do their very best. That gives them the motivation to do the job well. I’m not a big believer in micromanaging. I want people to have the freedom to do the best they can.
Which Quote Guides You Through Life?
Dannie: I could give you pages upon pages of quotes. I’m a quote person. But I do have one that I just heard recently: “Your peers will respect you for your integrity and your character, not your possessions.” David Robinson said that.
Nicole: When I started at Miller-Davis, on my very first day, my older sister, who lives in London, sent me flowers. On the card, she wrote the Woody Allen quote: “80 percent of success is showing up.” I have had that note pinned up on my bulletin board ever since, because it encourages me to try things that are uncomfortable for me. For example, public speaking terrified me at first. But 80 percent of the difficulty was starting, then the rest followed.
What Hobby Do You Pursue in Your Spare Time?
Dannie: I like to fish. But here’s the thing: I would like to try something different. I think it would be cool to learn the art of tailoring. I have many memories of my great-grandmother creating terrific things—I think I would enjoy that.
Nicole: I have two dogs, so my husband and I do a lot of hiking with them. I also love to travel. Italy is my favorite vacation destination. If I could go every year, I would.
If You Could Have Dinner with Any Three Living People, Who Would They Be?
Dannie: I would like to have my second-grade teacher, Miss Pitman—I will never forget her. You always have teachers you never forget. Another person I think would be interesting to have dinner with is a guy by the name of Jeffery Canada. He started the Harlem Children’s Home. And my third invitation would have to go to Malcolm Gladwell, because I find him so interesting.
Nicole: I would invite Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, because I love marketing. I’ve also wanted to meet Julia Roberts since I was a child, so she has to be at the table. Also, Simon Sinek. He wrote “Start With Why” and just did a great recording of Millennials in the workforce.