Stay calm and take a tactical pause — When we focus on things that we cannot control, we increase our fight-or-flight reaction. Taking a moment to breathe helps dissect the information and identify potential outcomes.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristy Singletary.
Kristy Singletary is a Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager at Verizon Media. In her current role, Kristy leads education and awareness programs that focus on addressing systemic and implicit bias, building cultural awareness, and driving inclusion strategies across the employee lifecycle. She is passionate about cultivating an inclusive workplace, creating impactful experiences, and promoting employees’ overall health and wellness. Kristy also serves for the DC Army National Guard as a Human Resource Officer. She chose to serve because she wanted to be a part of a mission bigger than herself.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I moved around quite a bit when I was growing up — I was born in Rochester, NY, and completed grade school school in Indiana and high school in Michigan. I am the youngest of three children and come from a very close-knit family. My father and mother wanted their children to experience life to its fullest. My father passed when I was little; however, my mother continued to take yearly trips and made it a goal to visit as many states as possible — the Carolinas, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and many more. By the time I graduated high school, I visited 32 out of the 50 states. I believe this is what activated my passion for traveling.
I was an active child and loved playing sports. I picked up a basketball when I was 11 years old and quickly became obsessed. Basketball grounded me on the importance of teamwork and overall discipline. I had the opportunity to play basketball at Barry University, located in Miami Shores, FL. I completed school with a Bachelors of Science, double majoring in Accounting and Marketing. Upon completing my degree, I moved to Washington, DC, to work for the federal government for nine years until I started my current role at Verizon Media.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
I currently work as a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager at Verizon Media. I focus on building education and awareness programs that drive inclusion across the employee lifecycle. We design and facilitate workshops and discussions that help leaders and employees navigate the complexities of diversity and find common threads to understand one another. Our team emphasizes the need for human connection, and how we can best cultivate an environment grounded in psychological safety and trust while embracing and celebrating difference.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
I joined the military because I always wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. I was commissioned as an Adjutant General Officer in 2016. Due to the uniqueness of the DC Guard, I’ve had the opportunity to serve in unique roles in various missions: the 58th and 59th Inauguration, US Capitol Support Mission, National Women’s March, March on Washington, and local First Amendment activities.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
The DC National Guard’s ability to adapt in support of diverse missions, as well as multiple law enforcement agencies has been the biggest challenge but greatest success over the past two years. One of the most unfortunate but rewarding experiences has been working in support of the US Capitol over the last three months. As an Adjutant General Officer, my expertise lies in personnel accountability, but I’ve expanded my functional area into security operations over the course of this mission.
We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.
Being traditional guardsmen, most soldiers (including myself) were at home watching the events on January 6th unfold. As the Capitol was breached, servicemembers were called to duty to report. Many of us left our jobs and families with many unknowns but with the courage to serve and protect. We understood what was being asked of us and trusted those to our left and right to unify and support the greater mission.
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
A hero is an individual that chooses courage over fear. Each of us can rise above our most extraordinary imagination and trust that we’ve been prepared physically, mentally and emotionally for the moment. All we have to do is to activate it.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
The military has prepared me to think about others outside of myself. Each person has their own life to consider, so you have to practice empathy and understanding as you are responsible for choices that will cascade to others. It’s essential to check in and see how individuals are doing because you never know what they are experiencing. Also, my experience in the military has enabled me to get creative regarding problem solving. Sometimes we look at obstacles as if they are barriers to our ultimate goal; however, if we approach it as an opportunity to explore and think outside of the box, we will discover greater outcomes than expected.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My mother instilled the idea that I can do anything I put my heart and mind to. She emphasized the importance of believing in myself, trusting the opportunities, and leaning on faith.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?
Crisis is defined as a pivotal point in which you experience intense difficulty or trouble which may lead to an unknown result. It often requires a difficult decision to be made.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
The COVID pandemic was a unique circumstance — no one could prepare for this specific situation. The lessons learned from this catastrophe will help business owners and leaders consider all potential risks, no matter how improbable, and map out contingency plans. The more you can prepare will help create safety measures. You may not understand or see every detail, but knowing and committing to the results you need to accomplish while maintaining an open and agile mind will help you adapt to changing circumstances. Change is inevitable but you have to be willing to put the right resources in place. It may look different, but will prove to be effective.
There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?
This pandemic shook up the world. It was a globally shared traumatic experience and a heavy load to endure. I encourage people to take a moment and check in with themselves and know that it’s ok not to be ok. It’s ok to be concerned about tomorrow, and it’s understandable to be disappointed that the world you imagined has dissipated. However, it’s an opportunity to look at the situation and understand what is within your choice. How can you move from reactionary to proactive? You have the choice to reinvent yourself as well as the power to create how you want to live. Commit to identifying what makes you feel alive and doing your personal best every day. Find what that means to you, and prioritize it in your life. Develop foresight instead of mastering hindsight. The sooner you can rid yourself of the ideal person you thought you were, the quicker you can adapt to present circumstances. Exercise grace as you are a continuing evolution.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
Vulnerability, imagination, flexibility, and resiliency.
When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I believe these traits were uncovered by anyone who survived through last year. Many individuals found that they were stronger than they ever anticipated. Sometimes we do not discover these traits until we have to.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
My last year at Barry University, I piled way too many things on my plate — I overloaded my classes, had an internship, played basketball, and volunteered. I was overwhelmed but continued to push through. However, by the end of the semester, I failed my final and was utterly devastated. To complete my Accounting major, I had to come back the following year to take the course because it was only offered one semester. This wasn’t easy to accept because I was adamant about completing two majors within a four-year timeframe, and I never failed before. I recognized that it was not a failure but a lesson in taking care of myself and my primary responsibilities. I had to return the following year and work to pay for my final courses. It was a very humbling experience since I was on scholarship for four years. I never understood what other students had to endure holding both a job and a course load. However, working provided me with the experience for my first position in the federal government. I was able to graduate and walk into a career in the federal government during the Great Recession, which is something many of my peers were unable to do.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are five steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Stay calm and take a tactical pause — When we focus on things that we cannot control, we increase our fight-or-flight reaction. Taking a moment to breathe helps dissect the information and identify potential outcomes.
- There is always a solution to the problem — Trust your instinct and believe that you are making the best decision with the information that you have at that present moment. Have confidence in yourself.
- Identify resources and know when to ask for help — We often fear asking for help because of negative social implications, but the reason we are all here is to offer something. When you are at a time of need, sometimes the bravest thing we can do is ask for support. Know and believe there are people in your life to lift you when you are in need.
- Map out a plan — Structure provides guardrails and allows you to create boundaries and make better decisions. Creating a plan gives you a direction of where you are going and helps you identify when you deviate from your goals and values.
- Stay open-minded and pivot when necessary — Stay curious about yourself. We are constantly discovering unique attributes. Accept that the only constant is change, and there are times when you may need to change directions.
Ok. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
One movement that I want to drive is the push for self-adventure. Let’s make authenticity and energy to be the new currency. We often look externally for validation or a model to emulate success, but let’s normalize the idea of formulating your own personal values and defining your pathway. It may be radical, potentially rare, but most importantly, it’s exclusive and important to you.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
I would love to meet Michelle Obama. She’s such an incredible person who commands the room whenever she speaks. I would be honored if I could meet her!
How can our readers follow you online?