LeadAR Alumni Spotlight: April Ambrose
For this month's LeadAR Alumni Spotlight we speak to April Ambrose, LeadAR Class 13. April Ambrose is a Business Development Manager for the Sustainability and Energy Services Divisions at Entegrity, a sustainability consulting firm headquartered in Little Rock. She is a LEED Fellow and Green Classroom Professional faculty, and as the second employee at Entegrity has been involved with the design and implementation of hundreds of sustainable building projects. April holds a self-designed BA in Environmental Education from Hendrix College and each year provides a variety of continuing education presentations to organizations around the country. We've asked April to share more about her LeadAR experience and how it continues to impact her life and work. We've shared her answers below.
Tell us about yourself.
I am the Business Development Manager for the Sustainability and Energy services divisions at Entegrity, a green building consulting firm headquartered in Little Rock. I am a LEED Fellow and Green Classroom Professional faculty. As the second employee at Entegrity, I have been involved with the design and implementation of hundreds of sustainable building projects, while having provided more than 500 presentations across the country.
I live in North Little Rock with my husband and 4-year-old daughter, and I also have two bonus daughters, ages 14 and 19. I love playing on the water or in the woods, dancing, yoga, live music, rocks, native plants, art, local food, popcorn, festivals, and community.
What leadership roles or positions have you held/currently hold?
As the first employee of Entegrity in 2007, I was integral in our growth from two to more than 100 employees with nine offices, including the Memphis office which I founded. I am the founder of Arkansas Earth Day Foundation, first chair of the Little Rock Sustainability Commission, first director of Elevate, and have served on the board for numerous other non-profit organizations, the latest of which is the Arkansas Natural Sky Association.
Why did you choose to be a part of the LeadAR program? What motivated you?
Raised in a community of back-to-the land hippies that moved to the Ozarks for cheap land in the 70s, I felt that I knew a lot about the environmental issues facing that part of the state. However, while working on state-wide issues, I could not identify with the delta, livestock, or resource extraction practices in the rest of the state. I wanted to understand the full range of challenges Arkansans face so that I could better understand the motivations for or against a variety of environmental issues.
How did your LeadAR experience impact your professional life?
First, I was early in my career during LeadAR. The second year of LeadAR was my first year with Entegrity, which was 12 years ago. LeadAR helped me transition from a passionate environmentalist into a true sustainability professional.
Second, I became much more tempered in my environmental stances, while also allowing my experience to encompass many efforts: health, conservation of natural resources, sustainable buildings, corporate and municipal sustainability and resilience. For example, when I started Arkansas Earth Day, my goal was to bring into focus all of the people working to better our environment, as they did not all know each other, including health, gardening, green buildings, finance, art, and academia, to name a few. However, I had not thought much about bringing in conservation efforts like, wildlife management, good resource extraction (mining, lumber, etc.), or safer agricultural methods. I had a very “us” and “them” mentality. Starting LeadAR helped me understand that, while I wanted a wood house, I also did not want anybody to log the woods. Now, I work with all types of clients to determine what motivates them, whether that is financial, marketing, or leaving a better world to our kids, and allowing the other global sustainability benefits to simply come along for the ride.
What LeadAR activity or part of the program do you believe helped you develop as a leader?
The mock legislature was very formative for me. I thought it would be easy to push my bill forward with the sponsors I had gathered. I had not expected the amount of time and energy needed to help others further their bills. I was also surprised by the number of people asking me to assist by speaking on behalf of their bills. I don’t remember if I was successful in my conservation easement bill, but I remember my impromptu speeches on others’ bills that helped them succeed. I felt both honored and yet surprised at their faith in my leadership, both during the exercise and in being voted “most likely to run for office” (which has yet to happen!).
What is a significant LeadAR memory or moment that you still think about today?
I remember Dan Schwieder and I doing one specific exercise at the ropes course at the Vines Center. Dan was not fond of heights, and I wanted to challenge myself while helping him do something he did not think was possible. We did an exercise where we faced each other holding hands and balanced against each other as we inched sideways on wires that progressively got further from each other. At the end, it seemed we were nearly horizontal to the ground with our hands above our heads pressed against each other. There were times I wasn’t really sure we were going to make it to the next platform, but then I’d look into his eyes and he was really panicking inside and seemed on the verge of just letting go and dropping. So, I shoved my fear down and made sure my focus was on him feeling safer and empowered. If he felt that I could do it, he was going to follow my lead to the end. I made him look at me, not the trees or the ground, and kept telling him how good he was doing and how we were going to do this together. We inched along with muscles burning, fear bubbling, and hearing support from the ground for what seemed like hours, until we finally reached the platform. It seemed like a huge accomplishment that I even made it, but a larger leadership accomplishment that we both made it!
How has the onset of COVID-19 impacted your work or life? What have you learned?
Before COVID, I would freak out if I didn’t have childcare for even an hour of my time at work. Now that I have worked from home with my 4-year-old for months, I am less scared of the crossover between home and work. It is still highly stressful to feel accomplished as both a mother and employee, especially simultaneously, but I’m more capable than I expected. I’ve also found my limits so that I can apply self-care more meaningfully in the future and distilled my priorities so that it’s easier to let the small stuff slide.
I have learned how much this pandemic is weighing on women, generally more than men, and especially as working women. We have to adjust our entire schedules and manage a heavier mental load to accommodate the changes in childcare, household shopping, home cleaning, health focus, serve as mask/distancing/etc. czar, keep on top of pandemic updates, alternative celebrations, etc. all while balancing everything with our careers. That said, almost overnight the business world has become much more tolerant of personal lives intersecting with our work lives. The sudden appearance of a pet or kid in a virtual meeting is completely tolerated now, where it would have previously been taboo.
What advice would you give to an up and coming leader?
I feel like I’ve been groomed to be a leader my whole life. I’ve been in numerous leadership programs since attending the Hugh O’Brian Youth Foundation World Leadership Congress in 8th grade. I’ve been trained on the numerous facets of what a good leader looks like, from the outside. However, it also really matters how it feels on the inside when you stop and check in with yourself. Are you listening to all viewpoints and giving everybody time to speak/shine to form a comprehensive picture of the solution? Are you leading so that your opinions can be heard, or leading because you heard what others have to say and are helping them to achieve their goals? Are you helping others to be the best versions of themselves or using their talents to further a larger agenda? None of these are right or wrong, but these questions help ensure you are remaining balanced in your approach and that your leadership is more about accomplishing what is needed, than about being recognized for your efforts.
What is something easy for you now that was difficult 6 months ago?
Working from home with a 4-year-old and a puppy. I can’t really say it’s easy, but it’s significantly easier than I ever expected it would be.
What leadership quality do you admire most in others?
The ability to make everybody feel heard and honored in their opinions, without fear of judgment. Also, the ability to keep emotions out of conversations in which you have strong opinions.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Even as a “greenie ” I have a brown thumb. My husband takes care of all the plants at our house and they are beautiful! When I “tend” them, they tend to turn brown!
What book are you reading? What show are you watching?
“The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” even as I seek to continue healing from the birth of my child (who is almost 5 now) and the stress and trauma I experienced during pregnancy, birth, and post-partum depression. It is also helping me to be far more empathetic toward others. I’m also watching “Leverage,” which is a somewhat silly crime drama, but encourages me to think outside the box of any normal scenario to solve much larger problems.
What is one crucial ingredient for true happiness?
To believe that you already have all you need to be happy. Happiness is not the next job, the next vacation, or the next house. Happiness is a state of mind that is always available, if we believe it as such. You can’t wait to believe it when you see it; you must see it (in your mind) to be able to believe it.
How can leadership help move communities and the state of Arkansas forward?
I will never forget my interview for LeadAR with multiple members of the board and alumni. At the end of my interview an older woman said, “If you get into the program, you’ll be the first one of you people that we’ve ever let in. ” Since the program was rooted in agriculture, they saw environmentalists as someone on the opposing side. I was appalled to be referred to as “you people, ” but even more so that she saw protecting our state’s natural bounty as something to be feared. By the end of my LeadAR experience I had changed many minds about the goals of sustainability. Just as I tempered my views, I believe I had a big hand in helping others to temper theirs. I know one classmate removed all plastics from their kitchen, another began recycling for the first time, and still others came to me for advice on sustainability topics such as healthy materials, water and energy conservation, etc. This did not feel like a big win, but rather a seed to move us all toward conversation and moderation instead of an us and them mentality. This mentality of working together for the common good, in light of our differences, is how leadership will help move Arkansas forward.