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Tips From The Top: One On One With Natalye Paquin

I spoke to Natalye Paquin, CEO of Points of Light, about her journey and best advice

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Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you.  How did you get here?  What experiences, failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Natalye: Thanks for giving me the space to share my story. When I think about my experience, it is built upon the values instilled in me as a child, to excel in education, have a positive attitude, care about something and work hard.  Over the course of my life, I’ve been in many rooms where I was the only woman or person of color. I entered the professional world as a lawyer. I remember going to court as a young attorney and people thinking I was the paralegal asking for a continuance for the “real attorney”, who was not available. Opposing counsel never approached the bench with me thinking I was the lawyer. Introducing myself as the counsel of record, prepared, and ready to argue my client’s position, was often disarming. From this experience and many others along the way, I learned that you could create your own future by focusing on the work at hand. Your identity, socioeconomic status, cultural and social capital do not dictate your future.

I came into the non-profit world professionally, after serving as a volunteer for many years myself. It was not a chartered course for me. My earliest memory of seeing volunteerism in action was being outside of the voting polls where my parents volunteered, and I began volunteering myself at an early age passing out lunches to those in need where I grew up in Miami. As chief transformation officer at Girl Scouts USA, I saw girls and young women’s lives and futures transformed through the power of service and volunteerism. This is what led me to Points of Light, and I am proud to continue the work of so many others before me. 

Adam: What are the best leadership lessons you have learned from leading a non-profit organization?

Natalye: I see Points of Light as the conductor of an orchestra. We are one part of a larger mission that takes the power of individual goodness and directs that towards something great. My role in this orchestra is to harness that energy into our long-lasting legacy starting with our founder, George H.W. Bush. President Bush founded this non-partisan organization and set the example of leadership for this organization by being a point of light himself, serving others first and foremost. I learned that in order to complete this vision, a leader must be willing to honor legacy and propel it forward, which is what I have envisioned for Points of Light as we enter into a Civic Century, an age when people become the driving force that transforms our world. It will take all of us, united in action, for this new century to take root.

Adam: What are your best tips for fellow leaders of non-profit organizations?

Natalye: It’s not enough to talk about change. It’s not enough to enact new programs or promote the work of others – leaders must do the work themselves. People take action because they are asked to, because they are compelled to, and I believe that leaders must set an example. The real work happens outside of (virtual) meeting rooms and on the ground.  

Leadership requires action. Leaders inspire and guide people, sometimes helping them get to a place they would not ordinarily get to on their own, but when they arrive they appreciate that they are there.  I believe the best leaders lead by example. 

Adam: What advice do you have on how to lead effectively during times of crisis?

Natalye: An effective leader is not just one person – effective leadership requires a team of talented, dedicated, and passionate people who work towards a similar goal. In times of crisis, such a team is crucial, and I have been privileged to be surrounded by a group of individuals who rolled up their sleeves and took on extra roles during the pandemic as we moved to a virtual workspace and continued the work of Points of Light from our homes. My advice for leaders is to lean on the counsel of your people, trust the collective talent your team, and work together to solve problems. 

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Natalye: There isn’t a single defining quality or skill you need to be an effective leader, but I have found that throughout my career I have always been willing to do the work and uphold my integrity. I graduated from high school at 16 and completed the requirement for my undergraduate degree at Florida A&M within three years. I approach every opportunity with gratitude and enthusiasm and have never shied away from putting in the work and it has opened many doors for me. I am always respectful of others and think that effective leaders tend to have this quality as well. Leaders must be self-starters and set the tone and example for their teams. 

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Natalye: 

  1. Integrity matters; lead by example.
  2. Build diverse teams – race, gender, age, and most important, life experience, which shape’s perspective and ideology. 
  3. Be creative, bold, and fearless. 

Adam: What is your best advice on building, leading and managing teams?

Natalye: First, know yourself and get to know and understand others on your team. Clarity is important. Leaders must understand their objective, provide clear goals and purpose, and build the most talented team to achieve the objective.  Focus on gaps and redundancies in skills and perspectives of team members. Diversity matters. As the leader, be respectful, uplifting and hold yourself and others accountable. . .  It’s critical for teams to develop synergy and want to work together. Each team member must recognize and value the benefit of being a part of something greater. And finally, beware of the talented, yet energy vampires. They stall or take teams backwards, deplete them of vital resources required for success.   

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Natalye: When integrity comes up against loyalty, integrity must win.

Adam: What should everyone do to pay it forward?

Natalye: Start. The most impactful thing you can do for your community is to begin with a small act that is meaningful to you and helps someone else.  Getting started is often the most difficult part, and the pandemic has made this first step seemingly impossible; however, Points of Light is here to help and connect people to opportunities across the world. Invite someone to join you and start small, start with your neighbors and your family. Find ways to support online. Know that no effort  is too small. View volunteering as an opportunity to gain skills you might not get in your current role or education. It can be an amazing opportunity to better your community and yourself.

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