Angela Fox | Crain's Washington D.C.

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Angela Fox


The Crystal City Business Improvement District is one of five defined business improvement districts in Virginia that work with local property and business owners to fund projects and services through taxes. 

The Mistake:

One of my things is always holding on a little bit too long.

I took over an organization that was run by a founder. Basically I was the second person to lead an organization that had been built from the ground up by an amazing individual. It was the first time I had run a nonprofit—my background was mostly corporate. I had run nonprofit boards, like theater and arts boards as a volunteer, but I had never run a nonprofit organization. I didn’t know enough to figure out what and why people serve on boards.

Even though they may say “We want change,” there’s nothing scarier for a nonprofit board than when your beloved executive leaves. The big change is the fact that somebody new is coming in. And I think having a really good understanding of that and who the players are and why they’re involved is really important in order to set up the organization for long-term success.

Sometimes when you’re building an organization from the ground up, you have to hire really quickly. It’s very important when you’re trying to build a team to move quickly. You have to make decisions very quickly. But sometimes the team you start with is not going to be the team you end up with. I think allowing for some of that and some transition, it’s almost similar to that of taking over for a founder. It takes time to make things your own.

Sometimes you’re taking a team in place, sometimes you’re building a team. It is extremely hard for any leader, especially a leader with a sense of empathy and compassion, when you actually need to go back to address that or clean it up. It is extremely hard when you start to realize who really gets where the organization is going, who was there to get it to a certain point but isn’t there to take it further, and then to make the tough calls of when to let people go.

Usually those gut instincts are your gut instincts for a reason.

The Lesson:

I think the realization for me as a leader is that usually those gut instincts are your gut instincts for a reason. Usually, if you hold on too long, you’re doing your team a disservice, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Sometimes those hard decisions are actually better when made very quickly, certainly with care—but at a time before it starts to really get painful for everybody around.

I’m very big into creating a team. Organizations are successful because of the team in place. My piece is always trying to find a way to make sure people are engaged and connected for their own reasons, not for my reasons or necessarily the organization’s reasons, but for how we share that vision collectively.

I used to joke that balance is something I wave to as I run from one extreme to another. But what I have found through the last ten years in my professional and personal world is that there is a lot of blending. The key is not this whole conversation of balance, but it’s really integration. Finding ways to sort of expand my spirit and self in the space where I am, and helping my team do that too so we’re connected and fulfilled personally and professionally. At the end of the day, that’s what makes teams stay together, work together and thrive together.

Follow Crystal City BID on Twitter at @ccbid

Photo courtesy of Angela Fox

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