Leaders in the Spotlight is a series of interviews with prominent leaders across the U.S. Today, we are speaking with LaRae Quy from San Francisco.
La Rae Quy was once a counterintelligence FBI agent who exposed foreign spies, she now writes and speaks about ways to empower the leader in all of us.
1. You have a unique leadership background with your career in the FBI. What was your major take-away from working with that world-class organization?
Working undercover cases, I learned about surviving in an environment of deception, hostility, and fear. Coincidentally, these same conditions also exist in business and life. If you are going to survive in today’s world, you will need to learn how to navigate through the smoke and mirrors that create confusion in investments, competitive job markets, new technology, and relationships.
Plans are essential, but they can fail. Often they fail because people are not predictable and you have very little control over your environment. When this happens, survival depends on leaning into your natural strengths. I learned that tenacity, dealing with change, and overcoming challenges can create a strong mind to keep you moving forward when faced with the unexpected in business and life.
The other thing I learned when working undercover is that when plans fail and you find yourself needing to lean into your natural strengths, authenticity is key. I could slap on any undercover name, but when it came to getting the best from others, I was always my most successful when my words came from the heart.
2. You now work closely with leaders and speak and train. What is your primary message to leaders today?
Leadership is a fusion of heart and mind. That is why leadership is a transformational journey; if you’re to become the leader you have the potential to be, it’s essential that you understand who you are and what you believe. Focus on what truly matters to you, think about the values and beliefs that define you and your actions, and consider what it would take to live and act in a way that is authentic and truly reflects who you are.
Nothing is impossible—but it is up to you to find a way, not someone else. A strong mind can empower you to step into the unknown with confidence that you will land on your feet. Success is adapting to changes in your environment. In a world that is constantly changing and presenting new challenges, it is sometimes necessary to take a few steps backward to go forward. The lessons you learn along the way will empower you to try again. Failure is OK—it’s complacency that will kill you.
3. What have you learned about how to be an effective woman in leadership?
During my four months of training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA I was ensconced in a culture that celebrated physical fitness. On the first day our athletic abilities were tested and scored—I was the 1% that made the top 99% possible. I found myself in a hostile environment because weakness was not something tolerated at the Academy. I was perceived as being both female and weak.
Determination is as important a skill as willpower. I learned that resilient leaders must always look forward. I worked hard on building the muscles needed to pass the future tests at 6 and 12 weeks. I accepted my limitations while using other strengths that I knew I possessed. I was not going to waste my energy trying to compete with the natural athletes surrounding me but I could shoot a gun very well and scored high points in firearms. Later, while working counterintelligence cases, I found that my softer approach as a woman got much better results in interviews than the burly tough-guy stance my male colleagues used.
The key is not to waste time trying to correct weaknesses and turn them into strengths. People do not change. Don’t worry about what was left out. Instead, draw out what was left in.
4. Would you share with us a personal leadership challenge you face?
I tend to focus on the big picture, and as a result, I miss the small details. In fact, details bore me—I prefer to talk about the vision and strategy rather than the nuts and bolts of implementation. This has gotten me into trouble as a leader because my follow-through is not as good as it should be. I assume that once the vision is in place, everyone else will do their part to make the project happen. Too often, this isn’t the case and the project becomes endangered or faces a deadline crisis.
5. With the fast pace of our lives, what do you do to stay balanced?
Spend time with my husband of twenty-five years (Roger), prayer, bible readings, church, hikes in the woods with my adorable miniature Labradoodle (Gus), a group of strong women who share my values and beliefs, my pet philanthropic projects, a good mystery, and gourmet cooking!
6. Who has been a great influence on your leadership?
I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey several years ago and I always appreciated the chapter called “Inside Out.” It had a tremendous impact on me and made me realize that all effective leaders are on a spiritual quest.
7. What is a book you have been reading recently?
I just finished Bring Up the Bodies by Hillary Mantel—a sequel to Wolf Hall and truly an excellent read! I’m also making my way through a workbook called Where Will You Be in 5 Years by Dan Zadra.
8. If you were to coach me, what 2-3 questions would you ask me?
1. What does it take for you to feel successful?
2. What does failure look like?
9. What do you hope to be doing in 24 months?
Writing is my passion so I hope to be writing more articles and publishing books. My other passion is spiritual direction and I would like to combine leadership coaching with spiritual direction by adding a spiritual component. Leaders become effective by leading from mind, heart, and soul. They are already on a spiritual quest . . . it may not be traditionally religious but there is a desire to excavate the significance of their stories and life. I would also like to do more keynote addresses and workshops.
10. I know you have some exciting projects you are working on. Do you mind telling us a little about those?
I have written a book that will be coming out in early September 2012. It’s called Secrets of a Strong Mind and I will be discussing the six primary components of a strong mind that can empower the leader in you: authenticity, purpose, courage, resilience, control, and confidence. It will be available on kindle, Itunes, and in paperback through Amazon. My on-line coaching package will follow the chapters in the book.
11. Finally, what brings you joy?
I am my most authentic when I can share ways that people can increase the quality of their lives. It is the opportunity to contribute something of value to those around me.
Thank you LaRae, for taking your time for this interview. It was truly insightful and I am greatly appreciative. I am so privileged to have had you as part of my series.