NCI, Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sandy Gillespie is a Pinnacle Awards finalist in the General Manager and Federal Practice Leaders with (P&L 100M+) category. Here, she shares how she overcame a career struggle, what made her successful, what she learned from failing and more.
What has made you successful in your current role?
Gillespie: I believe developing trusting partnerships with customers is critical to advancing and transforming government. Embracing change and being open to adjusting one’s approach based on how others are motivated has been pivotal in helping me get to where I am today. Listening and asking questions that provide the opportunity for collaboration as well as understanding other’s perspectives are two of the most important qualities you will find in a successful leader.
Additionally, the ability to execute and bring repeatable, proven approaches to ensure ideas become a reality is a must. The operational freedom to deliver on what NCI brings to the GovCon community through our “Navigate, Collaborate, Innovate” tagline helps channel and fuel the energy of our employees to successfully solve our customers most important and complex mission challenges, which lays the foundation for shared success.
What was your biggest career struggle and how did you overcome it?
Gillespie: My second job in the government services business arena was on an A-76 base operations contract as the program’s contract administrator. That role provided me the opportunity to interact with customers, stakeholders, and employees, as well as the soldiers and their families that our services supported. As a young professional in my 20’s, navigating this environment was an eye-opening experience. This position allowed for a first-hand perspective of all the aspects that impact contract delivery — acquisition, human capital, finance, communication, program management, customer experience and more.
As one of only two women in the office, and being so young in age, I naturally gravitated to the other female. This is when my mentor, a retired Navy contracting officer, said to me “Sandy, you need to spend time with the people you aspire to be like”. From that moment forward, I summed up the courage and expanded my network in order to be around, and learn from, those whom I respected and admired. I continue to follow this advice even today.
What’s your best advice for aspiring leaders who want to follow in your footsteps?
Gillespie: While there is a lot of good general advice for aspiring leaders to follow, one of my favorite tips to pass along is to raise your hand. Whether it’s asking for a new experience in an unfamiliar area or volunteering to solve a complex problem that is critical to your customer’s mission – embracing the opportunity to engage provides a deeper understanding of the business, customers, domains and the wide array of missions supported in the GovCon space. It also tends to fuel the need for change and innovation that today’s aspiring leaders crave. Getting everything you possibly can out of a particular career opportunity will serve you well, as does seizing the opportunity by simply raising your hand.
What’s one key thing you learned from a failure you had?
Gillespie: In today’s agile world, we hear the term ‘fail fast’ often. While accepting failure can be hard, it is necessary to have had the experience in order to create the critical building blocks needed for the desired outcome(s). Learning from and using these valuable lessons to inform your next experience or decision is critical. Being humbled by failure is quite a valuable life lesson.