A bachelor’s degree in Architecture may have led to a career in building homes or offices, but Nicole Travis is using her background in community development, project management, and strategic planning to build our community.  As Lakeland’s Director of Community & Economic Development, Nicole leads the divisions that perform city planning, code enforcement, economic development and corporate incentives, neighborhood services, and redevelopment. While Nicole is relentless in her pursuit of sustainable economic growth in our city, she is passionate about creating a culturally inclusive and welcoming community. She holds a Master of Business Administration and in 2019 was recognized as a Tampa Bay Business Journal Woman of the Year Honoree.  Nicole is married to Shawn Travis and they have two daughters. Recently I had the privilege of speaking with her about how her leadership is shaping the city we both love.

What are the most valuable leadership lessons you have learned in your first two years as the City of Lakeland’s Community & Economic Development Director?

The two most valuable leadership lessons that I have learned are first, Talk Less and Listen More and second, Keep Trying. People will listen to what I say because of my position. My job is to pay attention to others and by talking less, I can acknowledge those who think their views don’t matter. Everyone deserves to be heard. Acting on what you’ve heard earns trust. Another bonus to listening well is that creativity is magnified when many voices with different perspectives contribute to the solution.

Lesson #2 continues to challenge me, but I am learning to not beat myself up when I don’t live up to my expectations.  I am learning to reflect, learn from less than perfect results, extend myself a little grace, and then try again.

In what ways do you most want to contribute to Lakeland’s future growth and development?

I love the City of Lakeland deeply and I want to continue contributing to Lakeland’s future by advancing the city’s mission and vision as a world-class, culturally inclusive community.

We experience a sense of community where we work, study, and most importantly, where we live.  It is imperative to ensure there is a positive sense of community for all – citizens and businesses alike.  The economic growth and development of our region will be maximized when we confidently and knowledgeably approach businesses, educational institutions, and community groups with a clear way for everyone to engage and align with community solutions.

Ultimately, we are all responsible for the success of our community, and we are also responsible for failures within our community. In a time where things are extremely polarizing, we must continue to build a strong sense of community by supporting relationship building, encouraging shared experiences, and being accessible to the public.

What advice do you have for women leaders who find themselves caught in the perfectionism trap?

I feel like you are talking to me in this question.  Women often subscribe to the idea that perfection is a prerequisite for success, and it absolutely is not! We live in a highly competitive environment and it does not help if your personality is like mine, which is naturally susceptible to perfectionism.  The real key to success is resiliency. You must be able to scuff your knee, dust it off, and keep moving. It is essential to acknowledge that along your journey to success, you will fail.  You will fail multiple times if you’re lucky.  So, the key is to fail. Fail quickly. Fail hard.  And get right back up and learn from it.

What I know for sure is the fear of failure will keep you from success. Perfectionism will paralyze you and prevent your organization from progressing.  If you are not trying new things because there is a chance of failure, you are accepting mediocrity.  Start. Go for it.  Do not be outworked, and as you work, embrace the opportunity to learn from failure.  F.A.I.L. is the acronym for First Attempt In Learning.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess and why?

Unquestionable integrity is the most foundational characteristic of a leader. When leaders act with integrity, their employees will know that they will be treated right and that decisions will be made in the organization’s best interest. People want to work for those that are ethical.  Words, actions, and decisions matter.  They all play a part in creating an organization’s true values and culture.  Regardless of title and job description, there are leaders at every level of every organization.  We are all responsible for modeling integrity.  What you do when no one is looking is what sets you apart from the rest.  If you can’t be trusted, you can’t lead.

What is one piece of advice you have to offer women who are starting their career?

I love this question because I envision myself talking to young women I have mentored along my journey.  My best advice – be confident. You are in the room for a reason. Speak up, even if your voice shakes.  You have something to contribute, so let everyone know why you are in the room. Don’t be a wallflower.  If there isn’t a chair at the table, grab a folding chair, and sit at the table.  Your voice deserves to be heard.

Lakeland is fortunate to have leaders like Nicole Travis who care deeply about helping the community and who work tirelessly to serve the people we care about and improve the city we love.

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