Interview with Kim Hayes, CEO and Co-Founder of The Ambit Group. Hayes was nominated for “2014 Executive of the Year” in the $75 million and less category.

WashingtonExecWhat would you say are the top one or two leadership qualities necessary to be a great leader?

Kim Hayes: Exceptional leaders are the compass of their organization. They establish a clear path and enable their team to reach the destination via the most efficient and effective route, one that yields organizational and personal success. This might seem simple, yet, embodying this leadership approach requires one to function as a servant-leader.

As the co-founder and CEO of Ambit, I take to heart the importance of being a servant-leader. I work for my team. We embody the name of the firm in our culture. Our ambit, or sphere of influence, is one in which all members have a voice and all are committed to outcomes. We understand that work, family and community co-exist, when any element is out of balance, all suffer. Great leaders drive this balance by removing roadblocks using all tools at-hand.

The result is policies that are family-centric, flexible work schedules, job sharing and cross-training to meet client requirements and mission-centric accountability at all levels. Ultimately, creating an ambit requires focus on more than the office or the task at hand, we focus on the entirety of our ambit. There is no job too large and no task too low — we function as ONE. Our success is a testament to this approach, Ambit has recovered more than $82 million in costs on behalf of our federal clients in the last 48 months.

Leaders in our industry must be focused on succeeding at the now and driving the next. We have a commitment to bringing the best of breed solutions to our federal clients, empowering their success and ultimately enhancement of services to the citizen. We are the servant leaders for the American taxpayer.

WashingtonExec: If we were to speak directly to your leadership team, what would they say is your management style? How would your team describe your leadership qualities?

Kim Hayes: Again, I am our compass. There are many firms who are content with delivering to a standard. Ambit is committed to redefining the standard — my team expects me to challenge and push to break status quo. As the organization’s compass, it is my job to inspire, innovate and guide. I enjoy walking the halls, seeking points of connection that others may have missed or simply not had liberty of time to seek. Those hidden connections are often the most valuable assets of an organization — they are the components of an organization’s ambit that lead to cost reductions, outline performance improvements to be shared or perhaps provide insight to innovations not yet tapped.

My approach is to:

  • Inspire: I push myself to be well-versed in a multitude of topics, ready at a moment to debate, discuss and design with members of my technology, organizational change, and communications practices, as well as my customers. Ultimately, I can’t afford the luxury of being unprepared. I am the Ambit brand.
  • Innovate: No solution is baked. We must consistently challenge ourselves. I must encourage innovation through policy, investment and ability to remove “pride of authorship or design” from our environment. Good ideas live in all areas of our operations. Great ideas are fostered and championed by leadership. Innovation touches all levels, enables barriers to advancement to be broken and focuses on mission. I am committed to creation of an innovative culture — one where all have a voice and an opportunity to make an impact.
  • Guide: Someone once asked my philosophy to parenting. I explained that my job was to be the “bowling alley gutter guard.” I needed to keep my kids on the path but allow them to flexibility to go offline and bounce into the danger zones. As a leader, I enable my team to succeed AND to fail. Both enable conversations that provide opportunities for guidance, improvement and growth.

WashingtonExecWhat was a turning point or inflection point in your career?

Kim Hayes: I happily worked for others for many years. At one point, I realized that my approach to business resembled my approach to teaching, parenting and life! I sought an environment that encouraged innovation and breaking of boundaries. I realized that I was designing, selling and delivering solutions without the support of the organizations for whom I worked.

At this same point in time, a client errantly introduced me as the owner of the small business that I worked FOR! I realized that the brand, vision and approach were mine and that achieving these required me to “push a rock uphill” daily. I found myself consistently dissatisfied in this environment and realized that the choice to be in the environment was mine. The responsibility for my personal happiness was mine. I firmly believed that contractors had a burden to drive outcomes and cost-reductions that enhanced service to the citizen, improved organizational performance and delivered forward-leaning, boundary-breaking services. That belief fueled a commitment and drive to create Ambit and to redefine the ambit of the federal IT service environment.

WashingtonExecWhat is the No. 1 book that you gift to individuals?

Kim Hayes: What a great question! My FAVORITE book to give to others is Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo!The book is a child’s book meant to explain the concept of cause and effect. I promise there are many leaders who should revisit this concept! Each action, decision and interaction has an impact, some predictable and some not. As a human we must be cognizant of the intended and unintended cause and effect of our actions. I’ll bring copies if you ask!

WashingtonExecWhat advice do you have for aspiring leaders in the government contracting industry?

Kim Hayes: Leaders in our industry must be focused on succeeding at the now and driving the next. We have a commitment to bringing the best of breed solutions to our federal clients, empowering their success and ultimately enhancement of services to the citizen. We are the servant leaders for the American taxpayer.

WashingtonExecWhat was your first job? Overall, how did that experience shape your career?

Kim Hayes: I am truly laughing out loud! My first job was the “oldest of 30-plus grandkids” in a large farming family. There was no pay. Everyone had a different definition of success. The job was 24/7/365. All felt the right to critique. Successes were incremental and cumulative!Welcome to small business ownership in the federal environment. When the spotlight is on, you must be willing to make a decision, set a path and commit to a vision. The noise of criticism or opposition is simply a challenge to ensure that you assess decisions for right time, right approach, right design and that you have the guts to make change when required. Leaders are capable of maintaining integrity and focus when the heat is on — so are oldest grandchildren who survive!

WashingtonExec: What three pieces of advice would you give your kids?

Kim Hayes: My kids aren’t my employees! I often tell my consultants that emotion (not empathy or feeling) has no place in business. Emotion filters into all that we do with our children. We truly want what is best for them. My children have heard the following from me their entire lives:

  1. Find and pursue YOUR passion! It shouldn’t be mine.
  2. Take advantage of the advantages you have been given, but do so with integrity and purpose.
  3. Remember, if not for the Grace of God, there go you! You have an obligation to give back to the community and world that has given to you such a beautiful life.

Originally appeared in Washington Exec

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