Updated: Oct 30
Name: Al Viller
Title: Senior Manager
Organisation: Cox Enterprises
Al Viller is a communication and brand professional for Cox Enterprises, a remarkable Fortune 100 company that empowers people today to build a better future for the next generation.
He’s in his element when he’s helping leaders communicate ideas and information or share knowledge in a compelling way that cuts through the clutter so that they can achieve their business objectives. As a leader on the Corporate Communications Employee & Business Communications team, he’s primarily responsible for managing communications for several enterprisewide programs including the company’s inclusion and diversity efforts as well as championing the company’s purpose across the enterprise.
Inspired by Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” philosophy, Al sought to work for a company whose values aligned with his. In 2014, he joined Cox Communications as senior manager supporting internal business communications for operations, which included customer care and field services. In 2019, he moved to Cox Enterprises where he supported People Solutions, inclusion & diversity and HR-related communications. Before joining Cox, he led an international internal communications team for Orange Business Services and helped its functional leaders communicate through various mergers, transformations and rebranding.
Actively involved in the community, Al serves as the Vice Chairperson for the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Peachtree Corners and supports causes that promote unity, the equality of women and men, and education.
A recent cancer survivor, Al moves through the world with an ever-present sense of gratitude – not only for what he has, but also what he doesn’t have.
Al is a graduate of the University of California, San Diego with a B.A. in Economics and minors in Communications and Literature.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope AI's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
I’d have to say managing though change, hands down. The pace, frequency and duration of change today is frenetic. Whether the change is in the form of technological advancements, market shifts or organizational restructuring, it’s all challenging, and leaders are the ones responsible for guiding their teams through these transitions. While it’s essential to have a solid understanding of change management that enables you take a systematic approach combined with the knowledge, tools and resources to deal with change, it’s vital for leaders to understand that people process change differently. Many people will say they’re comfortable with change… until they realize you mean them!
There’s no denying that change can be disruptive and unsettling. That’s why leaders play such a pivotal role in guiding their teams through transitions. When faced with change, I’ve found success with a three-pronged approach: 1) Communicate clearly and transparently 2) Provide support and resources and 3) Lead by example.
To help teams manage through change, I believe we, as leaders, have a responsibility to communicate a clear vision for the change, explain the ‘why’ that’s driving the change, provide frequent updates and actively listen to the team throughout the entire process. Secondly, it’s important that leaders offer support through training, mentoring, sharing lessons learned and celebrating wins, even when they’re small. Finally, it’s critical that leaders model the way by embracing change themselves, being vulnerable by acknowledge change is difficult while maintaining an optimistically outlook. It’s also important for leaders to be patient and empathetic toward team members' reactions and challenges.
Effective change management requires leaders to be proactive communicators, provide the necessary support and set a positive example for their teams. By demonstrating empathy, transparency and a commitment to the team's success, leaders can help their teams navigate change more smoothly and successfully.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I’m not the first to think or say this, but I believe that you can lead from wherever you are. So I leaned into leadership as a youth. After college, I didn’t have a solid job lined up, so I started helping the bartenders at a local nightclub. I quickly moved from barback to bartender, and after a few months the owner asked if I would manage the operation! While I reduced costs and increased revenues, which increased profits and thrilled the owner, my heart wasn’t in it.
After that, I moved to northern Virginia and started working for Airline Tariff Publishing Company. I joined as a Junior Editorial Assistant. Eight months later, I landed a role in another department, which came with a promotion. Eleven months later, I became the Assistant Manager in the department where I started. I was responsible for leading a team, many of whom were older and more experienced, and the most senior of which had trained me.
We had a major project that required a lot of overtime in addition to the daily work. I believe I earned the team’s respect and confidence by learning all aspects of their jobs and working side-by-side with them. I also believe that demonstrating humility and an openness to listen and learn, taking ownership when something went wrong, as well as giving credit and showering praise with each success, played a role in earning the team’s support.
I think I became a leader because I cared about my teammates. Also, I was willing to step up, admit that I didn’t have all the answers but was committed to the task at hand. When our team made a mistake, I was accountable, protected them and demonstrated that I was willing to learn so the same mistake didn’t reoccur.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I’m a huge fan of routine, especially in the morning. For those interested in how I start my day, consider reading “7 Habits To Start Your Day — My Morning Routine.” In terms of my day, I’m fortunate to work for Cox Enterprises, a global company with nearly 50,000 employees and $22 billion in revenue whose purpose is to empower people today to build a better future for the next generation. I say “fortunate” because Cox is a great place to work that has values close to my own, offers great benefits and flexibility. I set my own schedule and while the Cox campus in Atlanta is extraordinary, I’m also able to work remotely.
As a corporate communicator, my days are a mix of meetings with business leaders, developing communication strategies and plans designed to produce desired outcomes, collaborating with division communication partners, coaching my team and producing content on a wide variety of enterprisewide programs. While my calendar is peppered with meetings throughout the day, I ensure it also reflects my priorities by blocking time for important work that requires focus.
I’m still working on establishing the habit of daily exercise. On days when I can’t get a workout in, I do something called “the better than nothing” workout. Ten pushups or a few squats, a walk, or a set of reps with weights is “better than nothing.”
Dinner with family has always been important to me. It’s a great way to reconnect with my loved ones. My evening activities vary throughout the week and the year. But admittedly, my family and I have binge-watched a few programs from time to time.
I’ve optimized many areas of my day, however, the next frontier for me is the evening. You’ll need to check back with me on that one.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
Recently, I was reminded of a lesson that Kim Scott shared in Radical Candor. In brief, Radical Candor is a management philosophy based on caring personally while challenging directly.
One of our partners presented a project and had a clear idea how it would be executed. In my role, I offer strategic communications counsel and recommended a different approach. The partner interpreted my recommendation as lack of support and chose to escalate to their leadership. Since my counsel was sound, I was on firm ground with my leadership and our division communication partners.
While I thought I had established a high level of trust with the partner and could speak candidly, I discovered that wasn’t the case. That reminded me of the lesson that “Radical Candor is measured not at the speaker's mouth, but at the listener's ear; it's not what you say, it's how the other person hears it.” When giving praise and especially criticism, pay particular attention to how the other person is responding and adjust or clarify accordingly.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I believe that leaders are readers. Unfortunately, I can’t point to just one, but I can point to three:
1. Start with Why by Simon Sinek. I heard many of the tumblers in my head drop into place after reading this book. Its key message deeply resonated with me as a communicator. It changed the trajectory of my career. It not only inspired me to work for a company that believes what I believe, it shapes how I approach communications and guide the leaders I support today.
2. Atomic Habits by James Clear. I’ve been a productivity geek for years. Making lists. Setting goals. Continuously working to improve myself. While I’ve had success, this book fundamentally changed the way I approach personal development and goal setting. According to James Clear, “Many people begin the process of changing their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. This leads us to outcome-based habits. The alternative is to build identity-based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.” Changing your beliefs requires two steps: 1. Decide the type of person you want to be. 2. Prove it to yourself with small wins.
3. Come Up for Air by Nick Sonnenberg. I just finished reading this one so I’ve yet to put what I’ve learned into action. However, Nick’s book provides strategies and practical ways teams can leverage systems, processes and tools to stop drowning in work. I won’t spoil it for you, but his laundry analogy crystalized for me the way we should distribute information. He also draws a distinction between project management and process management. This one idea will likely trigger several new projects that will help our team level up our performance.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
It’s not about you! I’ve worked with a variety of leaders at all levels over the course of my life. Some I respected and willing followed; others I obeyed because I had to. I’ve experienced the Peter Principle firsthand on several occasions. However, the leaders that I admired most were competent, humble and genuinely nice people. They considered their team first and customers a close second. They provided support and took the heat when things didn’t go well but always gave credit to others when successful. It was never about them. I think Simon Sinek said it best, “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge."
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
Early in my career, I was working with a senior vice president of operations for a global company. He stopped by my desk and said, “We need to inform leadership about our strategy to improve operations.” I said, “Great! What is it?” He replied without hesitation but with a gleam in his eye, “How do I know? You haven’t written it yet!” And then he walked away.
Initially, I was dumbstruck! However, I looked at it as an opportunity to meet with each of his direct reports, ask questions and gain their insights into where we needed to go and what we needed to do to get there. I pulled all that together and looked for patterns to determine themes. That helped me cobble together an outline. After getting the executive’s thumbs up on the outline, I created a narrative with a series of key messages and a high-level action plan that would serve as the foundation for the department’s three-year strategic plan!
One’s first reaction might be that developing the business strategy for the operation isn’t a communicator’s job. However, I looked at it as an opportunity to make important and meaningful connections with senior leaders, learn about the business and its priorities, and ultimately influence the direction of the company.