What a joy it is to work with someone who says “yes”— yes to solving an old problem in a new way, yes to transforming a challenge into an advantage, yes to bringing elements of play to the workplace. It’s perhaps the most marked characteristic of Wendy McCormack, NITA’s Associate Executive Director of Operations at NITA Central in Boulder. Anyone who keeps books like “Totally Awesome Training!” and “1001 Ways to Reward Employees” right next to her textbooks on leadership and event planning has deep emotional intelligence about what inspires people and keeps them fired up. That quality makes Wendy a special asset to our team here at NITA—and for that, she’s more than earned her moment in the “Asked and Answered” hot seat.
What do you do as the Associate Executive Director of Operations at NITA?
I like to think I keep the trains moving, operationally on a day-to-day basis and also strategically looking at short-term and long-term goals and objectives of the organization. NITA runs nearly 300 programs annually and is the publisher of over 100 books. We have 30 employees and over 900 volunteer faculty. We have a well-oiled machine, and we still have hiccups. I’m here to brainstorm and help problem solve issues, create and implement ideas to be efficient and effective, and inspire our staff to push beyond what we think we are capable of. I’m a big promoter of taking risks and learning from them.
What was the academic and career path that brought you to NITA?
I worked full-time through college at an international tour company called Globus and Cosmos in their events department. We educated travel agents about why they should be selling our tours. From there, I worked for a consulting firm called ComTech Services—working with technology and health care companies consulting, and also conducting training events on how to write content once to be used in multiple ways, called single sourcing. From there, I worked at the University of Colorado–Denver’s Continuing Engineering Education Program, where we hosted a number of Continuing Engineering Education (CEE) courses. And, I finally made my way to NITA. My niche has always been training and education. I’ve always loved organizing and planning events, so to couple that with my love of project management and leadership makes NITA a perfect match.
What’s the most interesting part of your work?
Figuring out how to increase our operational effectiveness while maintaining the quality of brand and exploring ways to inspire our team to be creative and innovative by trying new things, taking risks, and learning from our mistakes.
Things have been rough for nonprofit organizations for years. What is it about NITA that keeps you from throwing in the towel and getting a job in the private sector?
Our mission is the heart and soul of what we do and who we are. The commitment by our Board of Trustees and by our nearly 900 volunteer faculty members is a sign that what we do matters. It’s the ability to see the impact of the work we do: lawyers are better because of NITA. We value the diversity of our participants. Whether a public service lawyer, a solo practitioner, a big firm lawyer, or somewhere in between, results happen. I see it happen after two days in a NITA program. The magic that happens here, in our programs, is real. Our faculty are the best in the business at coaching lawyers to be more competent and confident in their advocacy. We have an amazing staff, and collectively we are family, craziness and all. NITA prides itself internally on a set of core values; creating a solid culture and looking at ways to always increase employee engagement is really important to us. The support and autonomy that I receive from the Board and the Executive Director [Karen Lockwood] to try new things—even if they fail—is a big motivator.
You’re not a lawyer. What has surprised you the most about working with so many of them?
They are regular people like you and me. Mostly type A’s, which can be a battle sometimes since I am one too. Typically, they all mean well and are coming from a place of wanting to contribute and have a voice that is heard. They are passionate about doing the best job possible. As for our faculty, they are probably the most passionate and committed people you will find in the legal profession. We all drank the Kool-Aid and absolutely love NITA.
What could men learn from women?
I had to read this question twice just to make sure I read it right correctly. And then I chuckled. Not sure how I would advise the entire male race, but if you asked my husband he would tell you that when a woman says she needs to eat, it’s time to eat . . . NOW!
What could women learn from men?
I agree with something I read once by [speechwriter, columnist, and political analyst] Peggy Noonan: “There’s a lot women can learn from studying men, from watching how they proceed through the world. I admire and have often been instructed by the silence of strong men. They’re silent not because they have nothing to say but because they don’t have to fill up the air with words. If you ask a quiet man you know well what he’s thinking, chances are pretty good that a lot of interesting things will come out.”
When was the last time you traveled somewhere new, and what did you do?
I just went to Singapore with my husband. We toured the city, visited China Town, Little India, Garden by the Bay, the Botanic Gardens. We love checking out speakeasys, so we found ourselves at 28 Hong Kong Street. And you can’t come to Singapore and not get a Singapore Sling from the famous Raffles Hotel Long Bar. After all the sightseeing in the city and while my husband was working, I took a ferry to an island called St. John, where I spent the day in solitude. There were no other people around and no amenities. I walked around exploring, and then took a nap under a palm tree on the beach. It was magnificent.
If you could live in a book, tv show, or movie, what would it be?
A book called The Night Circus—magic, mystery, pure imagination, and competition. Can’t wait to see how they bring this book to life in a movie. Or what about Dirty Dancing . . . am I taking it too far now?
What do you hate doing?
Running on a treadmill. I love to run, but I need the hills, dirt trail, and air of the outdoors. It’s just not the same inside, and it makes me want to cry.
The time has come for you to lip-sync for your life. What song do you choose?
“Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads. I can do the “fa fa fa fa fa” part really well. I also follow an acoustic singer-songwriter duo called Moors and McCumber. I sing all their songs in the car. And I do it really loudly.
What’s your motto?
“Carpe diem.” I know it’s cliché, but if you constantly hear Robin Williams saying it to you in your head, it continues to be motivating. Also, really, any words by the poet Rumi are usually good words to live by: “Let the beauty we love be what we do.”
Enjoy this interview? Find more of our “Asked and Answered” interview posts with NITA personalities here on The Legal Advocate.