Nancy Batterman of Options For All: “Why a leader must become a lifelong learner”

It is important to keep learning. Things are changing faster today than ever before so staying current on business trends and always building on your skills and talent are critical. I’m an avid reader so reading is the way I stay current and continue to learn. I recently established a leadership book club at my […]

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It is important to keep learning. Things are changing faster today than ever before so staying current on business trends and always building on your skills and talent are critical. I’m an avid reader so reading is the way I stay current and continue to learn. I recently established a leadership book club at my organization, which is open to any employee who wants to participate. The group meets about every six weeks, and the group chooses the next book together. It’s been a great way for me to bond with people, read new and different books and model being a lifelong learner.

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Batterman, Chief Executive Officer of Options For All. Nancy has served 34 years to the nonprofit organization and is a leader in the advocacy for disability awareness and support. Nancy is an alumnus of San Diego State University, where she earned both her Master of Business Administration and her Master’s in Education. She continues her support of SDSU by mentoring SDSU students in their final year of college. Nancy is also active in the Developmental Disability Provider Network in San Diego. Nancy is an active fundraiser for Options For All and for the Endowment Committee of her local church, St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church. Nancy has been active in the California Disability Services Association (CDSA), the trade association for agencies who serve individuals with developmental disabilities in California for more than 20 years. Nancy is active in local politics, where she has learned the value of grassroots efforts while working on campaigns and supporting disability advocacy issues. In conjunction with the CDSA, Nancy meets with local legislators on an annual basis and has a strong working relationship with Assembly Member Brian Maienschein’s office. Nancy is an active member of the San Diego Regional Chamber and participates on the Public Policy and Education & Workforce Committees of the Chamber. She has traveled to Sacramento and Washington D.C. with the Chamber to advocate for services and supports for people with disabilities. Founded in 1985, Options For All serves individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, helping empower them to become fully participating members of their communities. The organization serves as many as 1,300 individuals who face the challenges of autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, hearing and vision impairments, learning and intellectual disabilities, and severe behavioral disorders. Options For All offers a wide range of programs and services throughout the state of California, including San Diego, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Riverside counties.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My brother was in the first special education class in the school district where I grew up in Wisconsin. I saw the positive impact that his services had on him and my family. This is why I chose to go into the Special Education field in college. That decision led me to a job when Options For All was just beginning. It was one of the most important and right decisions I have ever made! That decision led me to where I am at Options For All today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In 2006, we were the Community Options division of the Foundation for Educational Achievement (FEA). We had been a part of this larger organization since our founding in 1985. Since then each of the divisions had grown substantially. We were no longer seeing the economies of scale that we had in the past. My colleague, Pat Rickard (the President of the CASAS division of the Foundation for Educational Achievement) and I decided to approach the Board President about our divisions separating from the FEA. He was extremely supportive and within a year, we had made the transition to becoming a stand-alone nonprofit with the new name of Employment & Community Options.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

One of the values has always been innovation…being a trailblazer. This is what really distinguishes us from other nonprofits in our sector. When we started, we were one of the first nonprofits to focus solely on community-based services and integration of individuals with the most significant disabilities. We have continued that effort throughout our 34-year history. Other examples include our social enterprises where the folks we support operate businesses in the community. They include Feel Good Coffee, Poway Super Shredders and Vending Express.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

One of the most exciting new services we have implemented in my 34-year career at Options For All is our Film & Media Studios. This is a 4 semester (20 weeks/semester) film and media vocational program for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and focuses on individuals on the high end of the autism spectrum. This is a partnership with Joey Travolta and his company Inclusion Films. Joey brings his film and media experience, while we bring our expertise working with adults with disabilities.

Students learn all aspects of filmmaking including pitching a story, writing scripts, building sets and props, auditioning, acting, filming and postproduction. Students make two short films per semester. We are now providing this innovative service in all three of our geographic locations. We have also started our own production company, Options For All Productions to support our graduates in getting film gigs. This month at San Diego’s Film Week, we received our first film award for “Diversity in Film”.

This vocational program is helping highly skilled and talented young adults achieve success and pursue their dream job. We are also helping break the barriers of employment in the film industry.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

My advice is to build strong relationships with the key influences on the team. It is important to build and maintain relationships with employees at all levels of the organization.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Surround yourself with a strong team. Always hire “A” players, which means you must be confident about yourself and your skills. Your team should complement your skill set. Surround yourself with great people, successful people.

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 about that?

My mentor was Garland Peed III, my boss and the CEO of the Foundation for Educational Achievement. He was the person who gave me the support and courage I needed to fulfill my passion at Options For All. I was young and naïve, but passionate about my work and expanding our services. I knew that when I said I wanted to expand to a new area or start a new program, I had better be sure because if I said I could do it, he said yes to do it! Garland gave me the freedom to take risks, fail and try again. He also encouraged me to continue to learn and grow. He taught me the business skills to make this nonprofit successful and he supported me to go back and get my MBA when we both realized I was running a small company.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m only successful because I have worked with great passionate people who care deeply about the success of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. As an organization, we have helped thousands of individuals receive their first paycheck, or move into their first apartment and produce their first film. Our success allows us to serve more individuals and support more individuals to reach their full potential.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Lifelong learner — It is important to keep learning. Things are changing faster today than ever before so staying current on business trends and always building on your skills and talent are critical. I’m an avid reader so reading is the way I stay current and continue to learn. I recently established a leadership book club at my organization, which is open to any employee who wants to participate. The group meets about every six weeks, and the group chooses the next book together. It’s been a great way for me to bond with people, read new and different books and model being a lifelong learner.

2. Routine & Discipline — the Miracle Morning is an amazing daily process developed by Hal Elrod that includes meditation, affirmations, reading, journaling, visualization and exercise. If done daily, these six activities can elevate your success. I have completed 528 consecutive days of the Miracle Morning. The benefits are vast — being calmer, more at peace, accomplishing more at a slower pace, reaching financial and work goals and losing 30 pounds. I just wish I had found this 25 years ago!

3. Hope for the best, plan for the worst — As a leader, you want to project positivity and optimism, but at the same time, you have to consider what things can go wrong and plan for them. This way you are always prepared. In 2009, when the economy was struggling so was Options For All. We made the very difficult decision to make our first and only staff layoffs. Although we planned for these early on and hoped we wouldn’t have to lay staff off, we soon realized we were going to have to make this very tough decision. By planning and having back-up plans in place, we were able to weather the very difficult times in 2009. We came out of that situation leaner and stronger.

4. Don’t become complacent, don’t take anything for granted –No matter how long you have been successful I learned I had to keep learning and trying new ideas. I became complacent and was reluctant to try new things and take risks like I had in the past. Fortunately, I had a mentor who was willing to be honest with me and started asking me the hard questions. This made me reflect on where my success had come from and to return to those principles.

5. Work hard, play hard — To be successful, you have to put forth maximum effort all of the time. I believe in working hard and in playing hard, too. It’s important to find ways to release stress and have fun. For me this includes gardening, reading and kayaking.

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. 🙂

I would like to influence others to be more accepting of people with disabilities. I encourage others to see the abilities and capabilities of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This group of people can contribute to society when given the opportunity to do so.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Leadership success requires continual change, improvement and sacrifice.” John Maxwell

I see John Maxwell as one of the Gurus of leadership. He has written many books on leadership most of which I’ve read. This quotes stands out to me. It’s why I have kept reading his books and books of other successful business people and leaders. They all describe the importance of lifelong learning. Not only do I need to keep learning, I need to keep taking risks, trying new things and making sacrifices to stay successful. It takes continual effort. Effort and hard work do pay off!

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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 if we tag them 🙂

John Maxwell. I have always liked to read and as my career started taking off, I really became interested in reading about leadership, John Maxwell has written many books on leadership and I have read almost all of his books and heard him speak on several occasions. I would be honored to meet him one day and talk with him about his most difficult leadership lesson.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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