Behind the career: John K. Nolan

March 24, 2013

Position: President of Quadel Consulting, a District company that provides outsourced management, consulting and training to the affordable housing industry.

While he was growing up, John Nolan watched his father start a few telecommunications equipment companies in Dallas, which inspired him to consider a career in business. After a brief accounting stint at IBM, he moved to MCI, where he ascended to an executive finance role before moving to Quadel Consulting. At Quadel, he helped secure a contract that helped 100,000 people rebuild their homes after Hurricane Katrina. Now he will lead the company as president.

You talked a lot about the impact your mentors had on you. What was the most memorable piece of advice you received from one of them?

To have the courage to trust your instincts. When something is not up to your standards, be comfortable to talk to someone about it. A manager at MCI taught me that if someone is not performing well and you do it for them, it doesn’t help them. If you say, ‘This doesn’t look right. You should change that. Come and see me when you’re done,’ that directness serves everyone better.

Any other advice?

A mentor at Quadel taught me to listen a lot before I speak. Find out more about the situation before jumping in too soon with a solution. Later on, when there’s some comfort there, it’s easier for your words to carry weight.

How have you grown most as a leader since your early days?

In your first managerial job, you’re more like a supervisor and you probably can do the job of the person you’re supervising. As you move along, you don’t have the time or the exact knowledge to do the job of the people who report to you. So it’s learning about instructing people, setting a vision and working through them. That’s the journey you go through. Everything that happens at Quadel is a result of someone else taking some action. It’s not about me doing the work. I might decide what the important actions are to take. But I don’t do the action. Now, I think a lot about helping managers and executives make that journey.

What’s most difficult about that?

The feeling in your gut you get when you’re relinquishing control. It’s moving you from where you’re comfortable to a different position.

How do you navigate through that?

You have to think about what other ways you can use your experience to achieve a satisfactory goal. It’s being supportive rather than instructing.

What does it take to be successful in Washington?

It’s a big town, but because people are so networked here, the world is very small. You always have to be thinking in things in terms of how this conversation impacts the next one.

Reading any business books?

I’m reading Daniel Pink’s, “To Sell Is Human.” The last one I read was ”The Power of Habit” [by Charles Duhigg].

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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