Alisha Benson has been a staple in the Spokane business community for a little more than 12 years. And now she is Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Greater Spokane Incorporated, a position she earned through years of hard work and commitment to the region in a variety of areas.
‘Impactful’ is a good word to describe Alisha, in the sense that no matter what you’re working on, she is the one you want on your team. She has a history of finding creative solutions and making a positive impact. Alisha is just over 100 days into her tenure as CEO of GSI, and now is a great time to hear her perspective, focus and direction for the next year and beyond.
DF: Has it been difficult to adjust to all the new responsibilities in terms of time management?
AB: No, I wouldn’t say it’s been difficult, just different. It’s about how you prioritize all your buckets of time. There’s time that needs to be spent with people, stakeholders, family and more. It can be challenging, as with any leadership position, you are pulled in a lot of different directions; you have to realize it’s all important, but you have to be smart. It’s a continuous work in progress, but it helps to be able to lean on your team, your tribe and your family.
DF: Speaking of your family, how instrumental have they been in all of this?
AB: They have been massively important. I consider myself extremely lucky and blessed; they were a part of the decision making around me taking this position. They’re a part of my decision-making every day as I think about how some things can work and how certain decisions can impact them as well.
DF: What do you think has been the most significant adjustment you’ve had to make over these 100 days?
AB: Having the capacity to lead the work, but also create the strategic space and time to recharge and re-calibrate. There’s definitely an intensity to the job regarding the time capacity. Learning how to maneuver with that and be intentional with building time to both get work done and nurturing the relationships that make it all happen.
DF: The board was unanimous when it came to offering you this position. Has it been nice knowing you’ve had their trust from day one?
AB: Having the confidence of the board and the staff does matter, and I don’t take it for granted. I’ve been here for 12 years, and you gain that trust and confidence over time. It doesn’t happen overnight, which is a benefit to having been here so long. Earning trust starts with work that results in action, outcomes and change. Those things build confidence in your board. That being said, you have to keep working at it every day as a leader. You second guess yourself all the time, but that’s what keeps you honest.
DF: What would you tell someone who’s never been to Spokane or even heard of it, about why they should move here?
AB: I would tell them that it’s big enough to have a lot of the big city amenities, but it has a connectedness that you can’t beat. That matters both personally and professionally. It’s super connected to the outdoors…I can be in the heart of downtown and in 30 minutes I could be on a nature hike or on a ski hill.
Connectedness is the most important thing though. As we work with colleagues, we can get a lot of stuff done in the time that you might sit in traffic getting from point A to point B in a bigger city. I may be able to get to six different meetings in one day whereas somewhere else I might only be able to make it to three. This helps our relationships.
There’s a passion in this community that is unmatched. It’s unexplainable. The community will all come together for things such as Gonzaga Basketball, Hoopfest, Bloomsday and more. This is rare. Not to mention we also have one of the fastest growing airports in the U.S.; you can be anywhere in just a flight or two. Spokane is nowhere near as isolated as some people may think.
DF: How is it that you approach leadership in general? And has that approach changed over the last 100 days with this new position?
AB: I wouldn’t have ever assumed I’d be here. I do really enjoy working with people and tackling things that seem impossible. I think that’s a unique place where things happen. I love teams and teamwork, whether playing basketball or involved in different groups in college, I’ve always sought out those sorts of opportunities. It’s about work ethic. That you show up and you do the little things right every day and that you make sure those things are never above you. You need to be able to connect with people. We spend a lot of time with the people that we work with, and our work is complex, but what matters is your people. Leadership is all about relationships.
DF: Do you have any plans to familiarize our brand name more with the general public?
AB: Yes, 2020 will be a year of action and a lot of it is where and how we are engaging. GSI’s current image campaign on social media helps tell our story and why GSI matters to this area. We also have to be smart and use technology to help us. Our greatest strength is how we bring people together. We live in an era where we have to communicate. People are getting information all the time, but how are we helping people filter through what information matters. We bring people together on issues that matter to the employer community and at the same time we have to ensure we are at the table and part of the discussion on issues that matter to the community. There are real issues impacting our community and we have a responsibility to have a voice in these issues. I see an opportunity to do a better job of storytelling and connecting the dots in our region. We need to also make sure we’re marketing the regions’ assets in the greatest way possible – together.
DF: Who is your role model?
AB: My parents and my grandma are huge role models for me. My parents never told me I couldn’t do something; they always supported me in pursuing any opportunity I wanted to. They made sure doing something post high school was never not an option. My grandma well she worked in an era where most women didn’t work. She even played for the first women’s AAU basketball team in Iowa.
DF: What does it mean to you to be GSI’s first female CEO?
AB: I have two answers for that question. First of all, I think that it’s significant and I won’t understate that. We are living in a time where more diversity is better than less. Diverse perspectives matters in leadership. We need our young women and girls to aspire to leadership roles and believe that it’s possible and I hope I can be an inspiration for that. Having diverse leadership creates diverse sets of ideas because it brings different thoughts and experiences to the table. So I don’t take this lightly.
That said, everybody should be able to have families and jobs that matter. However, we have a culture that has made it difficult. A culture where people are supposed to choose one or the other. I hope that I can inspire people that they can be a spouse and have a family while also doing work that matters. But we shouldn’t have to ask this question. We need to inspire people regardless of gender or skin color. What really matters is: Are you a good leader and do you want to lead? I hope to be able to carve that path for people.
I want to make sure I’m inspiring. If people don’t see anyone else like them doing what they want to do, then they may not even try. It takes a lot of confidence and skill to be able to do something that you haven’t seen, so I hope to be an inspiration for that.
Hear more from Alisha about her plans for the future on Wednesday, February 26 at the Annual Meeting.