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7 Questions on Leadership with Rachel Waterman

Name: Rachel Waterman

Title: Founder & CEO

Oranisation: Global Development Solutions - The Creators of GEMS Grant Easy Management Software

Rachel Waterman is a Thinker, Writer, Advocate, Entrepreneur, Software Developer, Artist and Mother of two. She has held various community development positions including Peace Corps Volunteer, organizer, researcher, consultant, coach, City Master Planner, nonprofit Executive Director and Mayor of the City of Lake Worth Beach, Florida. She holds a Master’s Degree in Community & Economic Development with a concentration in Applied Social Research, a Bachelor’s Degree in International Studies and speaks Spanish and Portuguese fluently. She is a Certified Fundraising Executive, a Certified Grant Professional, A Grants Professional Association approved trainer, and the Founder & CEO of Global Development Solutions (aka GDS Grants), the makers of GEMS- Grant Easy Management Software. Rachel lives and works remotely part of the year from Florida, USA and part of the year from Florianopolis, Brazil.

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

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


Jonno White

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

Standing up against the current can be exhausting and not everyone you are standing for and with will appreciate your sacrifice.

In our divided world, half the people love you, which also means half the people hate you, often without really knowing you.

Sometimes I find myself fighting battles that are not my own or that I don't need to take responsibility for fighting alone, and debate the highest and best use of my time and energy.

Imitation does not always feel like flattery, sometimes it feels like being robbed.

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

I was a bit of an outsider growing up in a traditional small New England town, facing prejudice and adversity. I learned early on not to fear standing out or standing up.

I was called a leader from a young age, whether for being kicked out of girls scouts for "starting a revolt" and being told by the Vice Principal of my middle school that he would vote for me as our countries first female president, to being an exchange student in high school and holding various leadership positions in University. As an exchange student I organized the first-ever regional conference for exchange students and local students. In University I started the campus recycling program and organizations still active today- 30 years later. I was a Peace Corps volunteer for 3 years and had the opportunity of many leadership positions, both in my village and among the other volunteers across the country. In graduate school I was elected the first ever student representative to a faculty committee to ensure students' voices were heard and led a community campaign that led to the resignation of the Chief of Police. I had a career as a community organizer and led campaigns for social justice, immigration reform and neighborhood-based redevelopment initiatives. I was even elected as Mayor of my city through a special election after the former mayor left town in the middle of the night. I started my own consulting firm (with two babies in diapers) and have grown my firm to be a leader in my industry, supporting emerging professionals along the way.

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

Breakfast, pilates and doggy love

Emails & Schedule/appointments review

Meetings, lunch at my desk, more meetings

Family time break in the evening

Then, meetings outside the office or return to the office to get work done after the emails and meetings stop

Jacuzzi break and bed

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

I was raised to believe that being a leader was a positive thing and that being a follower was a negative thing. I have recently learned from my team that being a follower is as important as being a leader. Followers allow leaders to lead, provide support for our vision and can be counted on to contribute to the vision rather than always looking for a "better" opportunity to break out on their own. I could not grow my vision and impact - for me, my team and the world - if not for the highly-skilled members on my team that happily identify as followers.

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?

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz. The Four Agreements are: Be Impeccable With Your Word, Don't Take Anything Personally, Don't Make Assumptions, Always Do Your Best. These are simple ideas that have guided my choices and actions since reading the book. As a leader who has put herself in the line of fire, these guidelines have had a profound impact for me, in my work, how I feel about myself and my results, how people treat me, how I raise my children and how I want to be remembered.

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

Follow your passion, lead with bravery and compassion. Know that all paths have ups and downs, and learn as much as you can from both.

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

When I was Mayor, I was faced with many tough decisions and contentious policies- renegotiation of a 10 year contract with the Sheriff's office, renegotiation of the Fire firefighters and City Police retirement packages, the millage rate, utility rates- things that often result in winners and losers. But, one opportunity I had was very meaningful to me personally. I just happened to be in the City Manager's office one day when a call came in. A conversation came up about an old beer distribution warehouse that the owner was offering to donate to the City, but the City (City management) did not want the building as they were concerned about insurance expenses and other liabilities. I knew right away which building it was... I had my eye on it for years, as I had been pushing for the establishment of an arts district just west of the downtown area since moving to the City in 2003 with my artist husband as a way to spur redevelopment westward. I had even made a presentation to the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) in 2004 about the power of arts based redevelopment to garner support for my ideas. I had always dreamed of turning the building into a foundry as my husband is a bronze artist and due to the City zoning laws, it was not possible for industrial artists to have live/work studios spaces, which I had been advocating the city to allow for years. Then, 7 years later, I found myself with an opportunity to make a difference. I asked the City Manager to take me to see the building to make sure it was the same one and we toured the grounds. I told them we definitely wanted the building. I envisioned it being a great art center. Upon my insistence, the City Manager engaged the owners in conversation and the City took possession of the facility specifically for an arts-related purpose. Although I was no longer in office two years later when the City and CRA chose an organization to develop the site, and I have never been credited for the project by my successors, my heart is content knowing the role I played in the repurposing of a blighted building into the vibrant art center it is today.

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