As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexis Nicole White.
Alexis Nicole White is a senior project manager and scrum master with over ten years of experience supporting enterprise Information Technology and Telecommunications Services Senior Project Manager specializing in the digital supply chain, mobile workforce, wireless, VoIP, audiovisual, and infrastructure augmentations.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Wow! I didn’t realize how, over time, I’ve trained to be an effective leader. Although it started as early as elementary school, I have been identified as an exemplary student both through academics and service. I remember being on the student council’s executive board and other auxiliary boards throughout high school. I attended the Center for Leadership & Development (CLD) in Indianapolis, and I received awards. Although college became a different story academically, I still served as a trainer and mentor for Purdue University’s Tele-Fund and raised almost $50,000 for the school within two years. Even as a new professional, I received “Employee of the Month” awards a few times. I also served as a trainer, mentor, and helped generate policies and programs in the workplace. Now that I think about it, I have always been an agent of change and unafraid to have uncomfortable conversations that will lead us towards success. I am consistently advocating for something by becoming an early adaptor. And I can see the broader vision.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take always’ you learned from that?
While in undergrad, I worked four jobs as I managed 16 credit hours of classes. Although I was trying to make as much money as I could to support myself, I couldn’t successfully manage my time. My time wasn’t mine anymore. It was working at the mall, working at the grocery store, working on campus at the office, tutoring the athletes, and studying the material for my exams. I was so preoccupied with other things that I had slacked in my detailed personal grooming. I hadn’t washed my hair in months. I was running myself raggedy!
I realized then; it doesn’t matter what you do in life to generate income, make a name for yourself, or achieve a specific goal; you have to make time to take care of yourself. Everything is about balance. You are the runner of your race and not that “thing” that you’re trying to achieve. You are the driver. Yes, you determine your destiny. However, failure to properly manage your time and take care of yourself will result in more misfortune than it will goodness. You will burn out, become weary and faint. Your health will deteriorate.
It is absolutely nothing wrong with being a hard worker with a phenomenal work ethic. However, it is something wrong with putting all of these other things over your health and well-being.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am forever grateful for every leader that has poured into my life over the years. Of course, my family was the ultimate driver and force for encouraging and empowering me along the way; but, it was also the educators and investors in the programs that I attended to demonstrate what authentic leadership is and is not. It is my professional mentors that have guided and coached me along the way. It is everyone who has taken a minute to invest in me, becoming who I am.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Although my consulting firm is part-time, my business’s ultimate vision and purpose are to guide small business owners that cannot streamline their business efforts. Most small business owners only know their specific skills and how to capitalize off of their labor. However, they don’t know how not to be involved in every business area; what other resources they can collaborate with to streamline their businesses at a minimum cost. How can they achieve running their business with balance, to where they’re not the employee and the owner? What tools can they use? I bring valuable solutions to the table to make the business work for them.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Before COVID-19, many of us in the technology sector were already facing challenges in the workplace. As a project leader, I manage all types of constraints for one’s time and quality, personalities, and requirements that can frustrate my team members. Knowing that I face significant competing interests, I am here to foster an environment of trust, cohesiveness, and support. I understood that my teams were often stretched thin.
Post-COVID-19, we experience incredible adversity. Not only am I competing with one’s professional constraints, but I am forced to take into consideration his/her personal lives as well. Although some have found a balance, most have not. Whereas before, I knew the issues my team faced, I am battling with intangible items such as stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions that impact our job performance. People are experiencing their loved ones dying alone, job loss, food insecurities, and other financial issues like never before. For some, their job is the only sense of normalcy.
Therefore, I have elected to demonstrate a humanity towards my team. I want them to know, I am here and they have my upmost support. I ask if anything is impeding their ability to deliver and what is it that I can do to help them move forward.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Fortunately, I never once considered giving up. However, I did learn to extend that same grace, compassion, and kindness that I would give to someone else, towards myself. I had to learn how to take the pressure off of me. What motivates me to persevere is knowing that I am doing the best that I can in every moment. If it comes to a place where I feel as though I don’t have peace about my results, I know I am not doing the best possible. However, I know that I’m not just here; I am showing up to provide tangible results. Some days bring more obstacles than others, but only I can stop me from being successful. I have the power of potential. And if I give in to what is going on around me, it will compromise that drive which means I have waivered my right to success.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The most critical role of any leader, especially during seasons of difficulty, is to be supportive. Many leaders are accustomed to everyone responding to them but are not used to being in service to those who sustain the business by being supportive. Sure, no one wants to be presented with a problem without a solution. Yet, there are times when the answer is beyond them, and they are looking to you for guidance and support. With true support comes power, and every leader should want their team to be empowered to do their job, make healthy decisions and execute effortlessly.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
An effective way to boost morale is to provide ownership to your team. Providing ownership fosters an environment of trust, empowerment and autonomy. Since we are all undergoing balancing acts right now, enabling your team to have flexibility with their workday will go a long way. As long as deadlines are being met and the quality of work is going uncompromised, providing that sense of ownership will enhance morale. Also, offer your guidance and support as needed. People are facing extreme circumstances, and being empathetic will demonstrate your ability to connect and build rapport with your team.
What are the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Although no one enjoys hearing bad news, communicating with transparency is the most effective way to deliver discomforting information. Often, we try to soften the blow by removing critical details, hoping that people will gloss over the missing information, which typically results in upsetting others more than being honest. One may not like it, but it is the truth, and in most cases, people will respect you for telling the truth. People tend to gravitate toward individuals who are truthful, honest, and fair.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Make plans that account for flexibility. While organizations are always telling their employees that “you drive your career,” you should do so by never losing sight of your personal goals and targeted areas of growth. Yes, it is difficult not knowing what the future holds; however, if you are flexible with your plans, you will understand that delay does not equate to denial. Furthermore, you learn valuable skills along the way that will equip you to be healthier and wiser, when the time comes.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Remembering “why” you’re doing what you’re doing. This will sustain you through the various challenges and obstacles you face. When you focus on why you’re doing something, you won’t focus on the circumstances but the intended goals. Exercise patience and be reasonable; nothing happens overnight. When you’re feeling down, remember what is motivating you to do what you’re doing. Remember the culture that you have created for the team to follow, recall your department’s mission and vision, organization, and team. Take a break and come back tomorrow ready to go.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
It is helpful when organizations minimize critical changes that cause the team to become frustrated and flustered during chaotic times. If it all, see if you can change those implementation deadlines to allow your team to think clearly without the stress of learning new things. We are processing a lot of information at this time, that is impeding our judgement and impacting our comfort levels.
Generally, I’ve seen the businesses adapt to our current environment, which is good. Continue to put the people first.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
I have learned during this time is to illustrate my humanity by being empathetic as well as aware. There are five things I’ve learned to master during these times: transparency, kindness, understanding, encouraging, and motivating. In general, if we are open and honest with our team, we will build a foundation that breeds dedication and commitment. We are all experiencing challenges, but we are in this together. Similarly, without kindness and understanding, we’re just cracking the whip. However, it’s through empathy and compassion that we humanized as people, not only as doers. We need understanding and patience to be successful. Likewise, we need encouragement and motivation to push through times like this.
Can you please give us your favorite, “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Surround yourself with people who lift you higher.” — Oprah Winfrey
Everyone wants to take from you, but who can help you build?
How can our readers further follow your work?
I am on Linkedin.com/in/AlexisNicoleWhite and AlexisNicoleWhite.com
Find her on LinkedIn.com at https://www.LinkedIn.com/in/AlexisNicoleWhite/