You are successful as a leader when those who you are leading can reach their full potential and see the possibilities within themselves.
As a part of our series about ‘5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bolanle Williams-Olley of Mancini Duffy.
Bolanle Williams-Olley is the chief financial officer and part owner at Mancini Duffy, a technology-first design firm based in NYC where she oversees the firm’s financial and operational performance. She has over 12 years of experience working in the AEC industry with a strong background in financial analysis and strategic initiatives. At her core, she thrives on building relationships between finance and management teams to ensure the overall financial success of projects and her firm. Her clients include Soho House, Peloton, Omnicom, Verizon, and The Assemblage, among others.
She is a dynamic leader within the AEC industry who has been a guest panelist for the American Institute of Architects’ Women’s Leadership Summit, National Organization of Minority Architects 47th Conference and Mother Honestly Summit. Bolanle is passionate about service and is the founder of three impact organizations: SheBuildsWaves — a community that provides support, resources and gives back to professional women in the built industry, SheBuildsLives — a non-profit focused on addressing needs of children and improving quality of education in low-income schools and communities in Nigeria, and REACHNigeria — a connector hub that creates awareness about NGOs and volunteer opportunities across Nigeria.
Before her current position at Mancini Duffy, she served five years as Senior Project Accountant at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and five years as Project Accountant at HLW. She holds a Masters in Education & Social Policy from NYU, Masters in Applied Mathematics and a Bachelors in Mathematics from the City University of New York, Hunter College.
She is married with two kids and absolutely obsessed with throwing really fun themed parties.
Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Igrew up in Lagos, Nigeria with my mom who was a single parent. Even though I was an only child, I was always surrounded with lots of family and friends. I was fortunate to have had rich experiences and attended wonderful schools (elementary and high school). Eventually I moved to the US when I was 17 for college.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The book that has made a significant difference is called Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, because it really helped me clarify my purpose journey. The book takes you on a 40-day personal spiritual journey and explains what your own personal purpose is. Then, it teaches you how to correlate that to the larger world and how you can contribute.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
My mantras are “Just Do It” and “Small Progress Each Day Adds Up to Big Results”.
“Just Do It” is relevant because of the dreams that I have for myself. Lots of people are dreamers, but you also need to be able to execute that idea and dream to see it through to fruition.
“Small Progress Each Day Adds Up to Big Results” means we often miss seeing the impact of the small steps. When you break down that big dream into smaller steps it feels so much more manageable.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership to me at Mancini Duffy means not just showing our employees the way, but actually creating space for them to shine and grow. You are successful as a leader when those who you are leading can reach their full potential and see the possibilities within themselves.
Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crises. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today? Why does that resonate with you so much?
This has been a very difficult time in the US. Personally, knowing family and friends who have battled with and unfortunately lost their loved ones due to COVID, the deep-rooted racial injustice and police brutality we continually witnessed have all been at the forefront of my mind, as well as many others. I will say all have resonated with me, having to yet again think about what it means to be black, living and raising black children in America.
This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
We got to the boiling point, because people are so mentally and physically exhausted, we’ve been in this nonstop ocean and the effect from one incident to the other coupled with have so many people stuck at home, dealing with the COVID crisis which is why I think we’re seeing it erupt now. People feel that enough is enough. Why are we still dealing with racial injustice in 2020? People in the Black community are sick and tired of hearing another Black person has lost their life in such a ridiculous and preventable manner.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience either working on this cause or your experience being impacted by it? Can you share a story with us?
The biggest shift we’re seeing now is you hear about the folks who are full time advocates, then within a few days the rest of the world who has rallied behind them falls back into their regular lives. This is the first time we are seeing large corporate brands being challenged to address and participate in solving this crisis.
We are discussing it at my workplace, too. We are having these difficult conversations, not just by talking but actually starting to put actionable plans in place to create room for real change. We want to help consciously and intentionally fix the problem which starts within our organization first and foremost. Systemic racism will start to be eliminated by companies shifting their thinking and reevaluating their approach to hiring. Starting at this minute level will help us to take strides towards the larger goal.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
- The first step is acknowledgement that this ongoing, pervasive problem exists and is not simply about one incident with George Floyd. These issues have existed for ages, acknowledgement — instead of being dismissive — is the first major step towards healing.
- The second and third steps are listening and education. People need to be willing to take the time to listen and do the work to immerse themselves in the discussion to better understand the depth of the problem. Read up on what is happening, educate yourself on privledge, and what it actually means to feed into the cycle of systemic racism.
- The fourth step is to seek out and support folks around you suffering right now. And learn about which causes and organizations are making a meaningful impact and then actually go out and support them. Share their work with your community, donate funds, and lend your support.
- The final step is to invest and commit to this proactive change long-term. Vow not to forget. Do not allow the impact and heightened awareness of these trying days fade away as the weeks and months pass. The danger in that is that we will end up exactly where we’ve been for far too long.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but what can we do to make these ideas a reality? What specific steps can you suggest to make these ideas actually happen? Are there things that the community can do to help you promote these ideas?
The way this becomes reality is if we take an all-hands-on-deck approach. Everyone needs to take a stand and a commit to a personal responsibility for real change to occur. We can take the 5 steps I described and apply them with a sense of personal responsibility.
I encourage companies to look within their industries and think about the barriers of entry and then create unique ways to start exposing Black youths to your industry to teach them about the possibilities. Building up the pipeline within the Black community by starting with our youth will allow for more people of color to be exposed to various industries that they do not know even exist.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I envision this as a marathon, not a sprint. I am hopeful that this is the beginning of larger change and resolution, however I am aware of the magnitude of this endeavor. We do not want our children to still be having this conversation decades from now so we have no choice but to be optimistic, we need to be positive and proactive so we can fix this for the next generation.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I would tell them that this is our society and we want to live in a world in which opportunities to explore their full potential to shine and thrive is possible. Everyone deserves to be given that chance.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Michelle Obama! Such an inspiration.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you for all of these great insights!