A Leader Among Leaders

Judy Gray gives advice to women who aspire to leadership roles. Judy GrayA Leader Among Leaders 

Judy Gray, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Society of Association Executives, is the first to admit that she has learned everything the hard way. Her professional career at Southern Bell began while she was at Georgia State University, working full time during the day and going to class at night.

After 20 years rising up through the ranks at the telecommunications giant, she moved on to Washington, D.C., and worked as a lobbyist specializing in technology, education and telecommunications issues until 2002. After moving to Tallahassee to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren, Gray started her own company, Capital Management Consulting. She served as interim CEO for several associations (including FSAE) and provides leadership counsel for improving board engagement and staff development.

Gray was offered her current job in 2006 and now leads “a state association of associations,” according to her, with a four-person staff and 800-plus members.

As an executive working with other executives, Gray often is asked to speak to companies about what she has learned from her experiences in the work force. Sitting down with Erica Bailey, she shared some bits of wisdom with Tallahassee Magazine.

How can you become a good leader?
Look at (people you) admire and their traits and integrate those traits into your own. If you are known for being fair among your employees . . . you can give bad feedback – the constructive criticism that’s necessary in some kind of relationship with your employees.

What do you bring to the table at your seminars?
I don’t know everything. I find I learn something from janitors to senators. Rather than me purporting to be the sage with all the information, I’m reporting on what I have observed. It’s really from the point of view of an observer imparting information and experiences and anecdotes from other people.

How do you deal with the pressures of all that planning and organizing?
I’m willing to do whatever it takes to do a job well, but I had to realize I’ll never get through my to-do list. It grows exponentially in front of me, so I can’t catch up with it. When I just get to where I’m feeling like I’m not productive, I leave it and go home and do a shift in energy. Whether it’s going out to dinner with friends or taking my dogs for a walk or playing with my grandchildren, I’m renewed and rejuvenated in a way that helps make me healthier when I come back to work the next day.

As a woman executive, what advice do you give women who aspire to leadership roles?
I strongly believe that women professionals have an obligation and hopefully a desire to help other women. It’s important that we are not seen as trying to get somewhere just because of our looks or trying to get by with something special because we might have special family needs. We have to be professional businesspeople first . . . When you’re approaching a job or a leadership responsibility, you need to have that be the thing that you fulfill, and then you make arrangements to handle the other things in an acceptable way to you and your family.

You mention the “free information” technique as a skill that leaders should cultivate – what is it?
Free information means I ask you a question and you answer with more information than you had to in order to answer the question. When I call this a technique, it doesn’t mean that I’m manipulating, it means I’m really trying to find something that works in order to connect with people. It helps make me, I think, be a better person, a more thoughtful and caring person, and it helps make me more effective as a friend or as a mother or as a businessperson.

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