Empower your team. No one ever accomplishes anything alone. A good leader will ensure that he or she communicates with the team and build them up on a consistent basis.
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 Tammie Otukwu,
Tammie Otukwu is a U.S. Army Retiree, Life Coach, Author, Mother, Wife and Grandmother. She holds a master’s degree in Psychology and Management, a Green Belt Certification in Lean Six Sigma, and has taken numerous military and civilian training courses. She and her husband have been married for over 18 years and are the proud parents of two children. Tammie enjoys spending time with her family and volunteering in the community.
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 was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1964. I was the youngest child to a father who was in the military and a mother who was a homemaker. By the time I was born, my father had already served in the Army for 10 years and had developed a very strict structure. Our family traveled quite a bit in the states and overseas which exposed me to many different people and cultures. My father’s gambling addiction uprooted my family and left me and my mother homeless. This experience birthed within me a need for stability and a determination for success.
I later followed in my father’s footsteps and pursued a career in the Army. On my journey to my career goal, I endured racial and sexual discrimination, homelessness a second time, and a debilitating disability that rendered me bedbound for months. However, I was able to finally reach the ranks of Sergeant First Class.
And what are you doing today?
After retiring from the Army, I committed my life to serving Veterans. I now assist Veterans as a Legal Administrative Specialist for the Department of Veteran Affairs.
Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
My passion is in helping Veterans and their families obtain all of the benefits they have earned through their sacrifice and service. Working at the VA as a Legal Administrative Specialist has given me the tools to empower Veterans with the knowledge, resources, and aid they need to make successful transitions into civilian life. I find great satisfaction when I see that my work gives families hope in a better future. As a Veteran, I feel that it is my job to give back to my community of fellow service men and women.
Can you tell us about your military background?
I served a total of 26 years in the Army. I enlisted in the Army on January 7, 1987 and spent the first four years on active duty. In September 1991, I reenlisted for the Army Reserves and worked as a part-time soldier while attending college. In June of 1998, I applied and was accepted into the Active Guard Reserve Program which is a way that a Reserve Soldier can work full-time assisting Reserve Units. I remained in that program until my retirement in August 2013.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
I enlisted in the Army January 1987 as a dental assistant and received my training at Ft. Sam Houston, TX Academy of Health Sciences after Basic Training. After this initial training which ended April 28, 1987, I reported to my duty station and began working as a Dental Assistant. I worked hard and was very determined to learn as much as I could to be the best. The following year a position became available to return to Ft. Sam Houston and receive training as a Dental Hygienist.
I was walking down the hall and one of the supervisors who had spoken highly of my work pointed me out and asked me if I wanted to become a hygienist. I was thrilled to be chosen for this position so very early in my career. I reported to my training as the most junior ranking soldier in my class. I learned from that experience that there are rewarding and exciting opportunities in the military. I also learned that, no matter your title or position, hard work pays off and people do notice.
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.
I have had the amazing opportunity to serve alongside heroes every day. I watched my fellow Soldiers and Veterans sacrifice time away from their families and make a commitment to protect and serve their country risking life and limb daily. Many of these soldiers have served on multiple deployment missions and ask very little in return. These individuals demonstrate the courage and selfless service of heroism.
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
I feel that a hero is a person who sacrifices self for the benefit of others. I spent over 26 years in the Army, and I know that being a Veteran brings special challenges most people cannot relate to or understand. When Soldiers leave the service, they are often leaving a culture that they have grown accustomed to. Leaving the service is not an easy process and can often be debilitating for some. Yet, I am often awe-inspired when I witness a Veteran continue to serve in their communities. In my opinion, anyone who seeks to improve the life of another, in any form, is a hero. Teachers, EMTs, Police officers, soldiers, and community volunteers are all heroes in my book.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
I believe my military experience helped prepare me for business and leadership because it taught me how to manage and work with people collaboratively. My military training instilled within me the fortitude and determination to accomplish any mission and has also taught me how to think strategically and adapt to change.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
The person I am most grateful towards is my Mom. She has always believed in my dreams and has supported me to the fullest. She kept our family together and maintained a positive outlook despite the many obstacles that she has faced in life. On July 10, 2007 she was informed by her doctor that he would have to perform surgery to remove her leg due to diabetes complications. During our conversation, she never allowed me to feel sorry for her or give into my concerns. She reminded me to stay focused and keep my faith and encouraged me to stay on track for my retirement.
How would you define a crisis?
A crisis is an unexpected and devastating situation that causes or has the potential to cause irreparable harm.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
Business owners must prepare for worst-case scenarios in advance and create strategic protocols. Leaders don’t turn blind eyes to the possibility of crisis. Instead, they understand that crises are a part of the human experience, and therefore a part of the business experience. Natural disasters will happen, governments collapse, regulations change, and therefore the prepared leaders mitigate the impact of crisis by having a plan to adjust. I think leaders should create plans to safeguard the core areas of their businesses in the event of a crisis.
In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?
When people are in a crisis, they must first assess their thoughts and feelings about the crisis. Then, they must try to prepare a contingency and communication plan that will take into consideration the needs of the individuals affected.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
I think that the characteristics or traits that are needed to survive a crisis are a strong countenance, creativity, a visionary focus, adaptability, strong communication skills, and strong temperance.
When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
When I think of these traits, I think about Barack Obama because he first accepted the oath of office as the first African American to hold the position. He served the country with the commitment to service that was unwavering.
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?
In March of 1996, I attended a unit training where we had to qualify our weapons on the shooting range. I experienced a migraine and had to be rushed to the hospital. The doctor treated me with a spinal tap to relieve the pressure on my brain. There were complications with the treatment which left me in so much pain that I was unable to walk. The following year, I recovered to the point of attending another training event in Japan. After two years, I was fully recovered and able to return to full Active Duty.
Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.
-Realize and strengthen your foundation:
My foundation is my faith. I was raised in the church and draw strength from my relationship with God.
-Set your vision:
I believe that if you can see it, then you can build it.
-Empower your team. No one ever accomplishes anything alone. A good leader will ensure that he or she communicates with the team and build them up on a consistent basis.
-Set realistic goals and never give up. My first goal when I joined the Army was to complete four years. I set more goals as I began to find out more about the military environment.
-Don’t be afraid to delegate. A good leader knows the capabilities of each team member. He/she knows how to assign responsibilities to competent and capable team members.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I think that if everyone found a cause in their community that they believed in and worked to truly make a difference in that area of need, we would be better off as a country.
Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S. with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I would love to have a private breakfast with Oprah Winfrey. I admire her for her ability to bring people together. I think she has a heart for people, she listens, and has a pulse on the needs of many people throughout this world.
How can our readers follow you online?
Readers can find more information about me at www.TammieOtukwu.com. They can follow on Facebook and Instagram @Tammieo55
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!