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5 Things Exceptional Leaders Say

We can all agree that 2020 was a grueling year. Many people can relate to the idea that the challenges we faced seeped into every aspect of life, both at home and at work, and the lines became nonexistent between the two.

At home, I worried about the wellbeing of my aging parents, feared for the safety of my brother who is a police officer and for my sister who is an essential worker, and suddenly had to manage distance learning for my three young children.

At work, in addition to the inherent, round-the-clock demands of a public safety agency, four of my colleagues passed away within the last six months. This has been an unspeakably painful time for our workforce. Despite it all, under the leadership of our director Karima Holmes, the agency hunkered down and yet rose to the occasion in every way.

Ms. Holmes is a transformational leader who guides with integrity and wisdom. She is also courageous and confident. Undoubtedly, having strong and capable leadership through this time eased the anxiety of the workforce and helped us all retain a better sense of balance, particularly because the path forward in our work lives continued to be crystal clear.

These are five things our exceptional leader said as she successfully guided us through the darkest days the agency has ever faced.

  1. “This is the situation.”

People want to know what is going on. Chances are, they will catch onto the story and, where there are gaps, fill in the blanks with what makes the most sense to them, even if it’s not necessarily true.

Director Holmes is committed to respecting employees’ right to be in the know. She uses tools like email and all-hands meetings to share agency status updates with the entire workforce.

  1. “This is the plan.”

A leader is supposed to have a plan. The best leaders are forward-thinking, make quick and sound decisions, and are always readily accountable for those decisions.

Within hours of the city’s declared public health emergency, Director Holmes developed a plan that enabled the transition of hundreds of employees to telework, the operation of three hot worksites to ensure adherence to social distancing recommendations, and the distribution of personal protective equipment for in-person workers. Among other disaster preparations, she also developed a succession plan to be activated in case the workforce was severely impacted.

  1. “We are in this together.”

A great leader is participative. They take the time to build trust by showing up for their team in every way possible.

Director Holmes embodies this mantra in many ways. During her first week at the helm when the city ground to a halt due to a blizzard, she stayed onsite for more than 72 hours alongside the agency’s designated essential personnel. More recently during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, she committed to alternating between worksites instead of carrying out her duties remotely.

  1. “Let’s stay focused on our mission.”

The world is full of distractions – social media, self-proclaimed experts, and more.  Exceptional leaders know that every goal of an organization should be focused on fulfilling the mission and every role on the team should exist for the same reason. When all roles are aligned, it helps the team stay connected to a common purpose.

Director Holmes is an accomplished professional with substantive experience who mentors and empowers every employee.  She reminds us regularly not to lose sight of the fact that we hold the positions we do because we are subject matter experts. It is incumbent upon us to act and perform accordingly.

  1. “We can do better.”

One of the most crucial parts of leadership is pushing a team to the highest standard. This means that leaders should be honest about when their teams fail to perform as well as expected.

Under the leadership of Director Holmes, the agency’s performance transitioned from satisfactory to exceeding expectations. She achieved this by integrating a continuous improvement model that requires us to continually look objectively at our work, identify performance gaps and then do whatever we can to fill them.

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.  – John C. Maxwell

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Kelly Brown is the Special Assistant to the Director of a public safety agency in Washington, D.C. In her 22 years in government, she has served in senior advisory roles within the executive offices of mayors and city administrators. Her career achievements include drafting the District of Columbia government’s first set of published customer service standards and conceptualizing engagement and culture pivot programs for upward of 40,000 employees. Kelly spends her spare time working on a collection of personal essays that she hopes to have published soon. She is passionate about language and about helping others find and cultivate their distinct voices, too.

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Profile Photo Kelly Brown

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my piece and for commenting on it. Karima is truly the most dynamic and capable leader I have ever had the pleasure of knowing personally. Being on her team is an incredible opportunity.