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7 Questions on Leadership with Carla A Carlisle

Name: Carla A Carlisle

Title: Founder/Executive Director

Organisation: Carla A. Carlisle LLC dba The Compassionate Companion (TM)

Carla Carlisle is TEDx speaker, award-winning author, trauma expert, and proud boy mom. A keynote speaker, Carla provides workshops to support our communities becoming trauma informed and practicing self-care. She incorporates her experiences penned in her memoir, “Journey to the Son” as well with her son, JC, in “My Big Notebook” to drive home how to cope and thrive beyond trauma. Her third book “The Compassionate Companion” shares everything you should know about becoming a foster/adoptive parent and/or support a child that has a traumatic background but didn’t know to ask.

Carla is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She earned an M.S. in human resources management from American University, an M.S. in organizational development from Johns Hopkins University and a B.A. in sociology from Indiana University.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Carla's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

As a community leader, my primary challenge has been navigating inclusivity. I've found solutions by actively balancing authority with an open environment for diverse voices. Addressing conflicts with emotional intelligence has fostered a more cohesive community. Staying relevant involves proactive decisions and adapting to change. I'm actively promoting continuous improvement by encouraging growth and ensuring every person involved feels heard and valued. This commitment to servant leadership is shaping a more inclusive and thriving community.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Leadership is ingrained in my character, a trait instilled early on. Unsatisfied with the status quo, I consistently sought opportunities for improvement. Starting my career at the FBI, an organization predominantly male, I learned to navigate and collaborate effectively with diverse and challenging personalities. Presenting progress and challenges to leadership honed my early presentation skills.

As I expanded my expertise through education and life experiences, I committed myself to driving change, engaging teams, and leaving a positive mark. Guided by exceptional mentors, I absorbed valuable lessons, particularly in emotional intelligence. These skills became vital as I transitioned to government consulting and leadership roles in Fortune 500 companies, where I continued to leverage my experience in working with difficult people to build cohesive and successful teams.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I kickstart my workdays by prepping the night before, reviewing my calendar. Mornings revolve around getting my special needs son ready for school and carving out crucial "me" time for prayer and meditation.

Daily, I prioritize checking in on someone to convey care. I assess the necessity of meetings, adjusting as needed, and ensure my contributions are meaningful. If presenting, I refresh materials and find quiet time for focus. Incorporating breaks for personal activities like chatting with friends keeps me energized, and I make an effort to include exercise, though not always successfully.

End-of-day reflections involve reviewing achievements, gauging positive impacts, and preparing for my son's return home. Flexibility is crucial in my dynamic schedule, where adapting with a calm demeanor is key. Evening time with my son takes precedence, offering a break from work and school responsibilities. Once he's occupied, I address outstanding priorities and unwind by reflecting on the day, acknowledging achievements, and planning for tomorrow – often accompanied by a good meal!

Before winding down, I review the next day's schedule, set alarms for readiness, and then take a moment to relax.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

A recent leadership lesson that I've been reminded of is the critical importance of playing to people's strengths. This lesson became particularly evident during a collaborative effort on a community initiative with an academic leader. While she possessed a strong strategic vision, she encountered challenges with the tactical execution of the concepts.

In this scenario, my role extended beyond mere collaboration; it involved helping the academic leader recognize the inherent connection between strategic planning and the necessary tactical steps. By highlighting the importance of setting deadlines and aligning them with the broader strategic goals, we were able to bridge the gap between vision and execution. This experience underscored the significance of understanding and leveraging each team member's strengths, ensuring that their unique abilities contribute optimally to the collective success of the initiative. This lesson has since become a guiding principle in my approach to leadership, emphasizing the value of recognizing and maximizing individual strengths within a team dynamic.

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?

One book that has profoundly impacted my leadership journey is "Dare to Lead" by Brené Brown. This transformative experience coincided with a significant shift in my professional role – transitioning from leading a large team to becoming an individual contributor within the organization. Initially, this change felt like a step back, as leading people had been where I believed I made the most substantial impact.

"Dare to Lead" played a pivotal role during this transition, providing valuable insights into the power of vulnerability and authenticity in leadership. Brown's teachings encouraged me to embrace vulnerability as a strength, allowing me to share my own challenges and uncertainties with the team. This shift towards authenticity made me more relatable to the staff, breaking down barriers and fostering a culture of openness.

Rather than viewing the move from a leadership role to an individual contributor position as a setback, the principles from "Dare to Lead" guided me in expanding my sphere of influence. By being more relatable and authentic, I found that I could still make a significant impact on the organization, even without a formal leadership title. The book helped me recognize that true leadership extends beyond positional authority, emphasizing the importance of influence, connection, and fostering a collaborative work environment.

In essence, "Dare to Lead" empowered me to redefine my understanding of leadership, showcasing that impact can be made regardless of the formal role one holds. This shift in perspective not only made me more influential in my new position but also contributed to a more authentic and connected workplace culture.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Leadership is a journey of continuous growth, and every experience is an opportunity to refine your skills and make a positive impact. Embrace the challenges, learn from each opportunity, and lead with authenticity and purpose. Here are some specific things I would suggest:

Lead by Example: Demonstrate the values and work ethic you expect from your team. A leader who exemplifies integrity, accountability, and dedication sets a powerful precedent and earns the respect of those they lead.

Be Adaptable: The business landscape is dynamic. Cultivate adaptability to navigate change successfully. Embrace new technologies, methodologies, and industry trends. A flexible leader is better equipped to guide their team through evolving challenges.

Celebrate Successes, Big and Small: Acknowledge and celebrate achievements, both individual and collective. Recognition fosters a positive and motivated team culture. Celebrating successes, no matter how small, builds morale and reinforces the sense of accomplishment.

Stay True to Your Values: In the face of challenges and decisions, stay true to your core values. Your values guide your actions and decisions, defining the character of your leadership. Consistency in values builds trust and credibility.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

One poignant story from my leadership journey revolves around a non-business, yet profoundly impactful, moment. The most significant leadership experience for me was navigating a large team through the tragic and unnecessary death of a colleague who had taken his own life and that of his son. The emotional toll on everyone was immense.

In response, I collaborated with human resources and our wellness center to provide support services for the team. This included organizing several Zoom calls to facilitate open discussions where team members could express their feelings. The sessions incorporated therapeutic services and a compassionate approach to addressing the emotional aftermath of the tragedy. While we addressed the operational aspects of reassigning responsibilities, the top priority remained the mental health and well-being of our staff.

This experience underscored the vital importance of caring for and supporting your team, emphasizing the significance of self-care. Recognizing the need to give myself time and space to grieve enabled me to better support others during this challenging period. The lesson learned was clear: effective leadership extends beyond business concerns to prioritize the emotional and mental welfare of the team, highlighting the interconnectedness of compassionate leadership and self-care.

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