Visit Alexandria’s Patricia Washington on the main leadership principles needed to lead her team through a pandemic.
This interview is part of Visit Alexandria’s series, Leadership Insights During COVID-19: How 7 Alexandria Leaders Navigated a Global Crisis. Read more interviews in this series here.
President and CEO, Visit Alexandria
What leadership principles did you practice that led you to where you are in your professional career?
A: A career is a marathon, not a sprint. Maintain practices that keep you balanced and grounded. Work hard and play hard, too. Make time for family and friends, exercise, travel, creative pursuits, spiritual practice and more. Personal balance leads to centered leadership and a positive organizational culture, which stems from the leader.
Here are five of my main leadership principles:
- Trust your team. If you take care to hire and cultivate a team that shares your vision and values while building an environment of respect and trust, you can be confident that your staff will rise to challenges and always bring their best work to the table.
- Aim high. Have an aspirational vision, personal mission statement and goals that drive you.
- Be fearless. Go after new opportunities that stretch and challenge you.
- Be true to yourself. Maintain honesty and integrity always.
- Know that success is an inside job. It comes from cultivating internal strength, resilience and a sense of well-being and caring about others.
Q: When you were a child, what did you dream of being as an adult? Did you always want to be in a leadership role?
A: My leadership was expressed through a desire to create something new, such as creating a kids’ club in my backyard as a youngster; creating a summer theater program at a recreation center as a teen counselor and creating a radio show at my high school.
Q: What principles did you follow to lead your team, stakeholders, clients and members during the pandemic to keep them engaged, motivated and feeling secure?
A: Nimbleness, adaptability and the ability to anticipate and plan for strategy changes based on multiple scenarios during the different phases of the pandemic.
Within days of the World Health Organization declaring a worldwide pandemic, Visit Alexandria launched ALX at Home and began working with the Alexandria Health Department on the ALX Promise program, which hundreds of local businesses have taken part in to instill above-and-beyond safety measures for their guests. Our meetings team created a robust new program of virtual tours and experiences, and we maintain a data-driven approach to guide our decisions. We closely monitored changes in consumer behavior, health data and economic forecasts and adjusted our marketing message, advertising timing and target audience to be as effective as possible.
As a DMO, our role as convener supported our members during the crisis. We held frequent sector meetings with hotels, restaurants, retailers and attractions to listen and get input, share critical information and provide tools and resources to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.
Our collaboration with City leaders, economic development and tourism and hospitality sectors was key to quickly expanding outdoor dining, easing regulations, creating ‘streateries’, winterization grants and many more adaptations that helped save many of our local businesses.
Q: What new skills and lessons did you learn during the pandemic? What will you implement as we move toward recovery?
A: An appreciation for the strong sense of community, flexibility and partnership among the city’s leaders, business community, economic development and tourism agencies who all worked together on strategies to support local businesses and mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. This foundation of collaboration and flexibility will be carried forward as the City develops a comprehensive, longer-term recovery strategy.
Q: Benjamin Franklin once said, “Well done is better than well said.” Is there a certain historical leader or phrase/quote/mantra that you relate to?
A: “Equanimity under duress” from Dr. LaSalle Laffall, a respected American surgeon, oncologist and medical educator at Howard University School of Medicine who also served as president of the American Cancer Society and the American College of Surgeons.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style, and what did you have to amend during the pandemic crisis?
A: Results-driven. During the past five years, I had grown accustomed to seeing our organization achieve record results each year. I had to amend that with patience, knowing that it will take years before our industry fully recovers to the 2019 record levels of tourism performance that we had been so accustomed to.
Inspirational, collaborative and celebratory. My staff often tells me how much they appreciate having a leader with a creative vision who seeks input and ideas from all levels of the organization, and who is quick to celebrate the contributions and achievements of our team members. This environment has helped keep our team energized through the hard work of helping our small businesses survive a global pandemic.
Flexible, grateful and inspired, as it relates to witnessing the extraordinary resilience and adaptability of our hospitality community.
Q: How did you personally recharge and let go of stress?
A: I do lots of yoga – I practice daily and take classes three times a week. I also enjoy walking and biking in nature, especially along the waterfront trail and historic streets of Alexandria. And, I even grew a pandemic garden! Staying connected to family and friends is important for everyone during a time like this.