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7 Questions on Leadership with Spatteco Smith

Name: Spatteco Smith

Title: Chief Executive Officer

Organisation: Smithsonian Group Incorporated

With 20 years in IT, I lead digital initiatives in education and business. At RTI International, I strategize on using tech to improve education. As CEO of Smithsonian Group Inc., I provide diverse IT solutions.

Expert in IT management, system analysis, and security, I’ve managed key projects like Liberia’s 2023 EVCIS and RTI’s e-learning platform, delivering innovative solutions on time and budget. I focus on teamwork and positive tech impact in education. I’m pursuing a Master’s in IT Management and hold certifications in cybersecurity, Microsoft, and Cisco.

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

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


Jonno White

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

As a leader, my most significant challenge lies in the intersection of communication barriers and change management. Ensuring clear, consistent, and transparent communication is vital, especially during periods of change due to technological advancements, market shifts, or internal restructurings. Balancing the need to effectively convey complex change processes to my team and stakeholders, while also maintaining open channels for feedback and concerns, is a complex task that requires nuanced skills and a deep understanding of both communication dynamics and the nature of change within an organization.

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

My path to becoming a leader in Liberia's evolving tech landscape began with a deep-rooted interest in technology and its transformative power.

I embarked on my professional journey as a humble IT technician in Monrovia, keen to absorb knowledge and make a difference. In an environment where technology was rapidly advancing, I was determined to stay ahead. I devoted many hours to mastering new tech trends, participating in local workshops, and seeking guidance from seasoned Liberian IT professionals.

Recognizing that technical prowess alone wasn't sufficient, I honed my soft skills, especially in communication and teamwork. I learned the art of effective listening, articulating ideas succinctly, and working harmoniously with diverse teams.

My leadership abilities were first put to the test when I was tasked with leading a small team on a project to integrate new technologies into our existing local systems. This project was not just technically challenging; it was a test of my ability to lead under pressure. Through fostering open communication and collaboration, my team and I successfully executed the project, gaining recognition within the organization.

Following this success, I was promoted to a managerial role, where I oversaw more complex projects and larger teams. I embraced these challenges, focusing on strategic planning and change management, while ensuring my team remained motivated and engaged. I always aimed to nurture an environment conducive to innovation and to make every team member feel valued.

Through the years, I've realized that leadership is about inspiring and guiding others through change, and being open to learning from them. Now, as a senior leader in Liberia's IT industry, my pride lies not only in the projects and innovations we've achieved but also in the positive work culture I've helped foster.

My journey to leadership in Liberia wasn't just a professional ascent; it was a journey of personal growth, continuous learning, and a commitment to make a significant impact in the Liberian tech sector and in the lives of my colleagues.

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

Here’s how I structure my workdays from waking up to going to sleep:

1. Morning Routine (6:00 AM - 8:00 AM)

• Wake Up (6:00 AM): I start my day at the same time each morning.

• Morning Exercise (6:15 AM): I do a short workout, yoga, or a brisk walk to energize myself.

• Breakfast and Family Time (6:45 AM): I have a healthy breakfast and spend quality time with my family.

• Plan the Day (7:30 AM): I review my schedule and to-do list to prepare for the day.

2. Work Hours (8:00 AM - 5:00 PM)

• Start Work (8:00 AM): I begin with my most important task or a team huddle.

• Mid-Morning Work (10:00 AM): I continue with my scheduled tasks or meetings.

• Lunch Break (12:00 PM): I take a complete break for lunch, preferably away from my workspace.

• Afternoon Work (1:00 PM): I tackle the remaining tasks, attend meetings, or focus on creative work.

• End of Workday (5:00 PM): I wrap up my work and set priorities for the next day.

3. Evening Routine (5:00 PM - 10:00 PM)

• Evening Activities (5:00 PM): I engage in hobbies, spend time with my family, or socialize.

• Dinner (7:00 PM): I have a relaxing dinner.

• Wind Down (8:30 PM): I do something relaxing like reading or meditation.

• Prepare for Next Day (9:30 PM): I set out my clothes and prepare lunch for the next day.

• Bedtime (10:00 PM): I go to bed at the same time every night to ensure I get enough rest.

4. Weekly and Monthly Planning

• At the start or end of each week, I take time to plan for the upcoming week.

• I also do a monthly review to assess my goals, progress, and set priorities for the coming month.

This routine helps me maintain a balance between my professional responsibilities and personal well-being. I find that having a structured day keeps me focused, productive, and happy.

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

Recently, I was reminded of the crucial leadership lesson of emotional intelligence, particularly the aspect of empathy. In a fast-paced work environment, it’s easy to get caught up in deadlines, projects, and the technical side of things. However, this experience taught me that understanding and addressing the emotions and perspectives of my team members is just as important.

I encountered a situation where a normally high-performing team member’s productivity had suddenly dropped. Instead of jumping to conclusions or immediately focusing on performance metrics, I took the time to have a one-on-one conversation with them. During this discussion, I learned they were dealing with some personal challenges.

This experience reinforced for me the value of empathy in leadership. By showing genuine concern and offering support, not only did I help my team member feel valued and understood, but I also fostered a deeper sense of trust and loyalty within the team. It was a powerful reminder that the emotional well-being of the team is integral to overall performance and success. This lesson in empathy has now become a cornerstone of my leadership approach.

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 profoundly influenced my leadership is "Long Walk to Freedom" by Nelson Mandela. This memoir, beyond its historical significance, provided me with invaluable insights into leadership from an African perspective.

My journey with this book began during a challenging period in my career. Our team was competent, yet I felt we were not reaching our full potential. "Long Walk to Freedom" came into my life at this critical juncture. Mandela's story of resilience, moral leadership, and commitment to a cause greater than oneself resonated with me deeply.

The concept that particularly impacted me was Mandela's approach to leadership based on resilience, empathy, and the power of a shared vision. It made me realize that true leadership isn't about authority or power, but about leading by example, with humility and a focus on the greater good.

Influenced by Mandela's life, I started incorporating these principles into my leadership style. I began prioritizing empathetic listening and understanding the diverse perspectives of my team members. This helped in building stronger relationships and a more cohesive team.

I also focused on the idea of a shared vision. Inspired by Mandela's ability to unify diverse groups towards a common goal, I worked on aligning my team with our organization’s objectives, ensuring that every member understood their role in the larger picture.

"Long Walk to Freedom" didn’t just offer leadership strategies; it provided a lens to view leadership through values, ethics, and a commitment to serving others. It transformed my approach to leadership, making me a more empathetic, resilient, and vision-driven leader, much needed in the dynamic and diverse landscape of Africa. The change in my leadership style, rooted in these principles, led to significant improvements in team performance and personal growth as a leader.

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

If I were to give one piece of advice to young leaders, it would be this: Cultivate the ability to listen actively and empathetically. In the fast-paced, result-oriented world we live in, it's easy to get caught up in the rush to speak, to act, to lead from the front. However, the true power of leadership often lies in the quieter skill of listening.

Listening, truly listening, to your team, your mentors, your critics, and even to your own inner voice, can provide insights far deeper than any data analysis or strategic plan. It enables you to understand perspectives different from your own, to learn from others' experiences, and to build meaningful connections. These connections foster trust, which is the foundation of any effective leadership.

Empathetic listening also allows you to grasp not just the spoken words, but also the unspoken emotions, concerns, and aspirations of those around you. This understanding is crucial in leading a team effectively, as it enables you to address issues at their core and to motivate and inspire your team in a way that resonates deeply with them.

So, my advice would be to take the time to really listen, to be present in conversations, to put aside your own agenda and fully engage with what is being shared. This skill, though it may seem simple, is one of the most powerful tools in a leader's arsenal. It will not only make you a better leader but also a more compassionate and understanding human being.

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

A story that often resonates with me about my leadership journey takes me back to a significant project in Liberia, a defining moment early in my career.

We were embarking on a crucial IT project that was vital for the advancement of our organization in Liberia. This project was not just technical; it was a blend of culture, innovation, and change management in a rapidly evolving Liberian IT landscape.

The early days were riddled with challenges. Technical difficulties were just the tip of the iceberg. The diverse team, comprising individuals from different regions of Liberia, faced communication barriers and low morale due to the high pressure and unclear directives. As the leader, I recognized that our approach needed a drastic shift.

I initiated a strategy pivoting towards open communication and team building. I organized regular, inclusive meetings, encouraging every team member to share their thoughts and ideas. We didn’t just focus on the project; we also delved into understanding each other’s backgrounds, leveraging our diverse Liberian cultural heritage as a strength.

My leadership style became more hands-on and empathetic. I provided guidance and support, emphasizing the critical role of each team member in our collective success. It was important to me that everyone felt heard and valued.

The pivotal moment came when the team collaboratively overcame a significant technical challenge. This success was more than a milestone; it was a morale booster, symbolizing the power of unity and collaboration. The project’s trajectory changed for the better from that point.

By the project’s completion, we had not only successfully implemented the IT system but also cultivated a strong, united team. This experience profoundly shaped my leadership philosophy. It underscored the importance of empathy, clear communication, and the power of a collaborative environment, especially in the dynamic context of Liberia. This story, a testament to the spirit of teamwork and resilience, is one that I often recall and share, reminding me of the profound lessons learned in those transformative days.

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