Who were your role models during the pivotal stages of your life?

My dad, Bob Harris. I was named after him and have been working hard to exemplify his strong moral values, work ethic and seemingly fearless career path. He had a dream and kept working,volunteering and pushing forward till he reached it. But through it all, he never sacrificed his good name. He always said: “Your name is the only thing you truly have, so protect it.”Connie Durcsak was the former CEO of UTC and who hired me in 2015. Her passion and vision for the utility telecommunications industry impressed me. Connie passed away just six months after I met her, but she had a profound effect on me.

This article first appeared in the Global Smart Energy Elites 2019. Read the full digital magazine here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.

Her desire for the success of utility telecom and technology members of UTC and Africa UTC still helps me focus on the value of membership.

What do you think makes a successful leader?

The best leader is not someone who tries to do it alone – successful leaders build strong and loyal teams. Leaders need to understand their own competencies, strive to build on their strengths, and empower those with whom they work to do the same. The best leaders create an organisational culture that supports professional growth, nurtures successful teams, and encourages staff to build strong relationships with customers,members, volunteers and each other.

What are your greatest strengths?

a. Positive attitude

b. Strong work ethic

c. Dedicated and loyal

What are your greatest blind spots and how are you improving these?

Being a type-A personality means I am very driven, ambitious, aggressive and competitive– I continue attacking my next goal. This can be a detriment if I don’t stop and celebrate successes. I am working to celebrate all successes for myself, my team and my family, while maintaining my drive.

What is the one thing in your opinion that people misconceive about your character?

Some people may perceive my kindness and‘southern charm’ as naive or easily run over,when in reality my easy personality pulls people into discussions they may not have planned.

What tips do you have for keeping a team motivated?

• Summon the courage to endure critics and follow through, even if people say you cannot succeed.

• Learn how to think on your feet and adjust your plan or improvise when needed.

• Encourage mutual accountability and ownership among all team members.

• Give positive reinforcement to help all team members feel important, respected and key to the success of the project.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken?

At a very difficult time in my career, I stepped out and took a huge risk to start my own business,Smart Water, Smart City LLC. I had been in the high-tech, telecom and utility industries for nearly 15 years and I was passionate about utility infrastructure. When another round of lay-offs hit in 2014 and the economic landscape was bleak in the U.S., I struggled with where my path should lead next. The one thing I knew was that I loved working with utilities and municipalities.

There were great challenges for utility infrastructure and cities struggling to find technological answers to the aging infrastructure while providing ‘smart’communities for their residents. I saw this as a great opportunity to help those communities and utilities by connecting them to technologies. I had no idea my business would be so successful in the first year and that I would have the opportunity to work with utilities, municipalities and technology providers around the world.

This ‘risk’ also led me to the greatest opportunity of my career: to lead market strategy and development at the Utilities Technology Council.

Another person or business, what factors are deal-breakers for you?

If there isn’t complete trust and open, honest communication, then the deal is off. No success can be had without trust and communication is key to trust.

What’s the best book you’ve read this year?

DARE by Becky Blalock; and Let There Be Water by Seth Siegel.

What are you most proud of in your professional career?

I’m proud to have broken through a‘glass ceiling’ of sorts. When I started in utilities I saw very few women in leadership positions. Some women may have sought an industry more ‘suitable’ for soft skills, but I have found that having a high EQ (Emotional Quotient) in an industry full of high IQs has helped me stand out, succeed and grow. Today EQ is a sought-after trait among many high tech organisations.

Women in STEM (Science, Technology,Engineering & Mathematics) are crucial to the future of utilities, municipalities and their communities, but women in marketing,public relations, and business are just as crucial in this marketplace. As consumers become more engaged through smart devices,the communication and relationship-building programmes are as key as the software running the devices. I am proud to have a marketing and business education and to have the technical knowledge and experience to communicate across audiences. I hope many girls and women will think about this as they are planning for their own careers.

Which of your leadership skills were the most difficult to develop?

Delegation was a challenge for me and I still work on it every day. I like to delegate to others,but if the task is not being accomplished, I feel the need to jump in – so I have to weigh delegation against deadlines.

What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned and how has it proven invaluable?

Lead from your heart. All business is personal,and leaders should never forget that folks have different challenges and different skills, and they are all human.

How do you achieve balance in your life?

I have to ‘go to the mountain’. My family is very important to me, so I make time to unplug and focus on those relationships; and sometimes this literally means going to the mountain where there is no cellphone reception, no electricity,and no distractions. Sitting around a campfire and talking or just meditating is the best way for me to de-stress.

Of course, I can’t go to the mountain everyday for real, so finding ways to bring the mountain to my office is the next best thing.

Sometimes that means taking a walk or a two minute Tai Chi experience; sometimes it means just quitting work in time to cook dinner for my family. Cooking is a great balancer for me. I know my job requires long hours,early phone calls across time zones, multiple business trips and conference calls; and this is a blessing because it means I have a job I love. This crazy balancing act makes me very happy.

What trend in the global energy space do you see becoming intrinsic to the overall power network?

Real-time telecommunications will not only continue as a trend, but will grow across all types and sizes of utilities and municipal services. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sits at the nexus of telecommunication and technologies focused on operational efficiencies and security.

Around the world utilities of all shapes and sizes are faced with adding ‘smart’ devices,automation and business intelligence software to their infrastructure while maintaining cybersecurity throughout. Access to radio frequency spectrum is crucial to real-time communication and smart infrastructure. This is still a challenge and an opportunity.

This article first appeared in the Global Smart Energy Elites 2019. Read the full digital magazine here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.