Melissa Blevins serves as the president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Food Bank. Now celebrating its 50th year, the Food Bank works with more than 250 partners across 20 counties in Tennessee and Northwest Georgia to unite communities and eliminate hunger. She provides strategic vision for the organization, looking out across various local communities to determine those most in need of services. As the world struggles to leave the pandemic behind, she says, leadership is a greater challenge than ever. Operating costs and the need for assistance are both up, while food supplies and funding donations are on the decline. Her ultimate career goal is to work herself out of a job. "No one should go hungry," she says. "Period."
What is your best business habit?
The first thing that comes to mind is intentionality. People often ask how I manage it all. I have to say that being intentional with my time and energy allows me to prioritize, plan and prepare. I can focus on big picture strategies, while making sure my team has what they need to be successful.
I also think it's important for leaders to create a sense of autonomy. You build a team to feel empowered and equipped to do their jobs. I truly don't think today's business world can surive under a "top down" leadership. There has to be high-level transparency and trust for the whole team to work together to get the job done. It's one thing to be effective as an individual -- and to be effective as a team is another.
How did you discover or develop it?
Early on in my career, I would say "yes" to every opportunity. Unfortunately, with that approach, I found myself stretched thin and left with little or no space for the great opportunities that were presented. Asking myself questions like, "Is this the right thing for me to be working on?" or "Is this really how I should be spending my time?" helps bring clarity to my decision making.
How has it improved your work and/or personal life?
We all have an equal amount of time -- and being intentional on how I spend it helps me with work/life balance. I am better prepared and it has certainly helped me be more present in the moment. I also have more time to dream big and work on the things that are important, but not urgent. I've learned that it's OK to say no. Saying no to good opportunities creates time and space for the great ones!
How might others apply it?
Effective leaders plan the work and work the plan -- it's that simple. Block time on your calendar to plan. Be intentional on what you say yes to. And don't overcommit. Planning is key to minimizing stress and creating space for the unexpected. Finally, don't forget to take time to invest in your own inspiration and energy. The world needs the best version of you.