Alexis Swann believes great leaders are focused, courageous, trustworthy, team-oriented, and flexible among other attributes. She also thinks good leaders firmly believe in their vision and can convince others to embrace it.
“All in all, leaders have common traits. They take risks. They’re not afraid to fail. I’ve failed many times, and then I tried new things. That takes some work,” said Swann, who is the president of TowneBank-Peninsula and Williamsburg and was the guest speaker at the Peninsula Executive Leadership Forum (PELF).
The May 24 event was presented by Thomas Nelson Community College Workforce Development at the Hampton campus in partnership with the Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. The gathering of regional leaders representing various sectors drew more than 50 guests.
Upon introduction by Dr. Adrienne Cosby, the College's Workforce Credentials & Continuing Education coordinator, Swann gave a 40-minute address. She discussed her career, leadership style, and some of the lessons she has learned.
Swann said many historical and modern-day leaders – nationally renowned figures to several personal mentors – inspire her. She cited Jon Gordon’s bestselling book “Energy Bus” as another motivational source.
“That book inspired me … changed my life. It helped me to be a better leader as I go through,” said Swann, also pointing to her late father as a major influence.
She acknowledged that there are various paths to becoming a leader. Some have God-given abilities that naturally thrust them into the role. Some arrive through networking and making the right connections. Recalling a time when she was laid off from a corporate position with one of the nation’s top banking companies, Swann said leaders are sometimes borne out of adversity.
“You have to learn how to be able to use all the things that you go through to help push you to where you’re supposed to be. It’s important for you to do that,” she said.
Swann joined TowneBank in 2019 and is the first black woman to serve in her capacity with the company. She is grateful for the opportunity crediting her success to the support her family, friends, colleagues, and mentors provided along the way. She is passionate about the company’s mission. As part of that, she said servant leadership is important.
“Be a servant leader,” she told the audience. “It means that you value the people you work with. You’re willing to roll up your sleeves and help them get the job done. One of the things I tell my staff is, ‘Don’t tell me that’s not your job.’ When I see trash on the floor, I pick up trash from the floor. That’s not in my job description, but if I’m willing to roll up my sleeves, then you should be willing to do the same.”
In closing, Swann offered what she called “key leadership nuggets.”
- Lead with love – it entails being kind, considerate, empathetic, and sometimes sympathetic,
- Learn to appreciate and respect other peoples’ differences,
- Serve your team – buy lunch, bring coffee, etc.
- Leave a legacy by mentoring and helping “those behind you.”
“I charge you to be, know and do,” Swann encouraged. “Be the change you’re expecting from others. Lead with courage and humility. Know that people are watching you all the time. Know your job and organization better than anyone else. Do your work … nothing should be handed to you. Do lead with integrity, provide direction, make decisions, take responsibility, and let your passion and commitment be contagious.”
Following Swann’s address, Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Bob McKenna opened the floor for questions and presented Swann with an appreciation gift before his closing remarks. She also received a token of appreciation from the College presented by Cosby.
Swann, a Hampton High School alum, has three decades of banking industry experience. She has an MBA in finance from the College of William and Mary, a BBA in Marketing from Howard University, and financial planning certification from Old Dominion University.
Appointed to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Board of Visitors by Governor Ralph Northam in 2019, Swann also serves on the boards of several organizations: United Way of Virginia Peninsula, Jamestown Yorktown Foundation Inc., Fear to Freedom, Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, and the Hampton Delta Foundation Inc.
The May 24 PELF at Thomas Nelson (becoming Virginia Peninsula Community College) was made possible by sponsorship from TowneBank and Ferguson.
The Peninsula Executive Leadership Forum gives executives throughout Virginia opportunities to share their insight on corporate strategies. The series allows them to discuss what is shaping their business decision-making today and serves to foster dialogue that inspires and motivates excellence in business leadership.