Exemplary Leadership: Monique Johnson, Ph.D., GB'02, Executive in Residence

April 19, 2021

This month our newsletter article focuses on the career and worldview of Monique Johnson, Ph.D., GB’02, a Robins School Executive in Residence and COO of the Better Housing Coalition. Thank you, Monique, for sharing your insights with us!

Over the course of her career, Monique Johnson, Ph.D., GB’02, has served as a social enterprise leader, a community and economic development practitioner, and an advocate for next-generation leaders. Her 20 years of experience spans the non-profit and public sectors of commercial real estate development, small business and real estate finance, and organizational and talent development. After college, Monique stumbled into the world of community development. The work reconciles her interest in transforming the built environment with a commitment to catalyzing equitable development and access within communities of color. She currently serves as COO for the Better Housing Coalition. We asked her to reflect on her years in leadership for this month’s newsletter:   

What is your role at the Better Housing Coalition?

Better Housing Coalition is a nonprofit affordable housing development company. I am responsible for working with the executive leadership to define strategic priorities for the company and then work with departmental leaders to operationalize those priorities. We have a team of 70 associates in property management, real estate development, resident services, communications and marketing, accounting, and administrative operations. A large element of my role also involves creating and sustaining a culture of employee engagement. That means I keep my hand on the pulse of the employee experience by listening, synthesizing that learning, and working with teams to problem solve and innovate. We have started on a journey to be more intentional about diversity, equity, and inclusion so that has become a critical focus of our culture work moving forward. I anticipate a lot of stumbles along the way —as we are in the learning and trust-building phase.

What have you learned throughout your years in leadership?

I have learned that creating a high-performance organization begins and ends with employee engagement. I’ve learned how important it is to be self-aware, show empathy, compassionately navigate conflict, and listen across difference. This is the most challenging aspect of my role. We have a very diverse team of associates who are all committed to the mission. However, the way that commitment manifests looks different. My goal is to create an environment where those differences of perspective are embraced, where we collaborate and communicate effectively, and where employees are encouraged to take initiative, innovate, and take risks. If those competencies are exhibited consistently and grounded in our values, we will successfully achieve our mission. 

What advice would you give to current leaders?

Take time to understand yourself as a leader. Identify your strengths and limitations. Be open to receiving and incorporating feedback from associates at all levels. Do as much active listening as you do talking. 

What challenges do you think leaders face today?

There are plenty of challenges but that also presents tremendous opportunity. For example, the way we work is changing and employee expectations are shifting. Will we maintain flexible working arrangements that uniquely accommodate employee needs? How will we make our environments more inclusive? How are we measuring our impact (beyond our individual organization’s sustainability)? As our workforce grows more diverse, are our operating frameworks and policies reflective of those changes? With all the competition for attention, how do we differentiate ourselves and continue to add unique value? How do we plan in an environment of continuous change? There are many more questions than answers and as leaders, we have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.   

What advice would you give to Richmond students?

Don’t be afraid to pivot. My career path has not been traditional but led by passion and curiosity. There’s not a one-size-fits all model of leadership and impact. Remain a lifelong learner. 

In her current role as COO for the Better Housing Coalition (BHC), Monique works with the CEO, CFO, and Board of Directors to formulate and operationalize the company’s strategic growth goals. BHC is among the top-performing high-capacity nonprofit developers in the country, having won numerous awards for its community impact, green building approaches, and innovative design models. Teaching, mentoring, and actively sponsoring young leaders has been a consistent theme throughout her career. Monique is an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. She also launched a program in partnership with the Richmond chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) called CREW Careers to introduce minority girls to careers in commercial real estate. She obtained q Ph.D. in public policy and administration, an M.B.A. from the University of Richmond, and a bachelor of science in civil engineering from the University of Virginia.