Candy Johnson, of Chattanooga's Urban League, shares her best business habit

Photography by Matt Hamilton / Urban League of Greater Chattanooga President and CEO Candy Johnson

Candy Johnson became the first female president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga in January of 2021 after more than 15 years in a variety of leadership roles including senior advisor to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and independent consultant for multiple nonprofits. Her goal is to rebuild an organization that will address the needs of the future, positioning ULGC as a leader in financial development, expanding economic inclusion and prosperity for people of color.

What is your best business habit?

Building quality relationships based on trust and transparency has been my "go-to" for success in business--and life, in general. I often share that I work with people, not organizations; meaning I'm not focused on building what works for the institution, but what works for the people. Relationships are two-way and it takes intentional effort to focus on the quality aspect. Keeping clear lines of communication and understanding intention is important. And I trust my instinct a lot. Understanding the basis of a relationship--why I am here, why they are here, and why we are here--has always helped me to set the right expectations for any engagement or problem I am working to address.

How did you discover or develop it?

As a granddaughter of a local civil rights leader and daughter of a public servant, I was born to be an advocate for people. At a young age, I began working on strategies to address the challenges in any community in which I have resided. I am driven by the urgency and complexity of the work, but more importantly engaging in the right work. When you're in a leadership role, you can often be pulled in different directions, but staying focused on cultivating the right relationships will help you to make a greater impact.

How has it improved your work and/or personal life?

We are all here on this earth to make a difference and I am focused on this daily. With the 24 hours I have in a day, I ask myself -- Am I prioritizing my engagements with others for the difference I am trying to make? Or do I fill my day with interactions that will distract from work of our organization? Leading with intent and a "people first" attitude has helped me tremendously.

How might others apply it?

Taking more interest in why others showed up is always beneficial to problem solving. If I am building something to improve the community or introducing a new product, I need to understand human behavior and their why. People like to feel valued and be heard, but ultimately what they want to see is progress and impact for what they care about. Don't rely on your own networks. Serve in various capacities in the community. And most of all, remain in search of knowledge as a life-long learner.


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