The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Chief Officer Awards were announced April 15, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually May 27.
Next is Chief Operating Officer Award finalist Sandy Gillespie, who’s COO at Excella. Here, she talks proud career moments, primary focus areas, career advice and more.
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?
I joined Excella at the end of March last year, which meant being greeted upon arrival with numerous pressing challenges, including guiding employees through a transition to fully remote operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic and helping to take Excella to the corporate mid-markets level.
Making sure that we stayed connected as a company, had access to diverse talent and made no layoffs due to pandemic business impacts were all very important. I think I am most proud of being a part of driving cultural awareness in Excella, after a number of very socially unsettling circumstances occurred — helping all Excellians and their clients be supporters and allies for the racial injustice movement.
What are your primary focus areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
I like many leaders have found 2021 a year of challenge, frustration, innovation and exhilaration — now how to plan for “a new normal.” First and foremost is my focus on empowering Excellians through continuing to improve our remote enabled work environment and bringing transparency of operation to inform customer business decisions that benefit transformation and improving mission success.
Being aware of ever evolving changes in the areas of technology, compliance, project management as well as being prepared to take on growth are all areas for increased focus and planning.
What’s one key thing you learned from a failure you had?
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.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
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.
While there is a lot of good general advice for aspiring leaders to follow, I believe in encouraging others 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.
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 Excella brings to our client base is founded in our vision, “We will create enormous value to the world, measured through impact to our clients, colleagues, and communities,” and values of “Flexibility, Initiative and Results.” This is supported by Excella leaders who create an environment of freedom, trust and challenge lays a foundation for shared success.