Career Spotlight: Camille Preston

Camille Preston

Founder and CEO of AIM Leadership

Describe your current position and what led you to your job:

I am the founder and CEO of AIM Leadership, an organizational and leadership development firm. My work is split between coaching, teaching, writing and speaking.

I came to leadership development after I received my Ph.D. in psychology when I was doing change-management consulting with police chiefs from large jurisdictions. My first day on the job was Sept. 11, 2001—a life-changing day for everyone and a career-changing day for law enforcement executives who suddenly assumed the responsibility of grassroots terrorism preparedness. Like most corporate leaders, police chiefs are just great cops who moved up through the ranks and suddenly found themselves at the top without any formal leadership training. My passion for leadership stemmed from their questions, requests and curiosity.

Working with such passionate, dedicated executives inspired me to take my practice to another level. I went on to earn certification as an executive coach and then founded AIM Leadership. Launching AIM was a combination of following my passion and being so compelled and inspired that it was if I didn’t have a choice. It was my calling.

I love helping people develop essential skills—not just for leadership, but also for life. I love teaching and I love that I, too, am always learning. I’m always looking for ways to connect with my community and give back. I am a Pipeline Fellow, an investor at Qwalify and a mentor to Compass Partners.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your career?

Helping police chiefs, after 9/11, regain their composure, increase their leadership and communication skills, and approach with confidence and purpose the most extraordinary security and leadership crisis in their careers.

I also have to say that I am rewarded every day when clients share stories about the ripple effect our leadership development and coaching work has had on their lives—at work, at home, personally and professionally. It is immensely rewarding to hear from a client a week, a month or even years later that they have grown and developed in profound ways from one of our programs. Clients tell me that their whole lives changed after coaching, that they made better choices and were happier and more fulfilled. That’s what it’s all about!

What is the best career advice you have received?

My third grade teacher’s husband always said, “Feed your heart.” Do what you love and life will be easier and more fun. It really is true. Where there is passion there is energy, emotion, progress and, happily, money! 

What would you recommend to someone interested in working in your field?

Do your own work. Look in the mirror. Ask the difficult questions. Give yourself the hard assignments you want to give your clients so that you can walk what you talk. And if you can’t walk it, be very careful how you talk it. There are so many people who want to be coaches, but it takes great integrity, authenticity and transparency to be effective. People should know that leadership and personal development is a journey, not a destination. Make sure that the journey is something you enjoy.

What challenges have you faced and how did you successfully manage one situation?

In October 2011, I was scheduled to give my first talk on my book, Rewired. I was excited and terrified. For nearly five days before the talk, I didn’t sleep. At about 3:45 a.m. on the third night, I realized the source of my insomnia. By going public with the book, I was “putting a stake” in the ground about what I believe in and what I stand for. And by publishing this book, I was giving the world permission to hold me to that standard. I was terrified. But, having written and now published that book, the past three months have been phenomenal. My productivity and confidence have skyrocketed because I am doing what I say is most important.

Over the past year and a half, I have faced, for the first time in my life, health issues that have challenged the very core of who I am. I have written a dissertation, run a marathon and lived in a refugee camp, but none compare to the challenge of these health issues. I would never wish this on anyone. But I would never give them up, as they have shaped the fabric of all that I am becoming. A few things have profoundly shaped my experience navigating this. First: relationships, both those that are around me day-to-day (my husband is a super star) and those that inspire me to a higher level. I hold in my mind’s eye the clarity and focus that two of my friends had moving through health issues and it raises me to live at a higher level. I also believe deep within my core that life doesn’t happen to us—it happens for us. So, all that I navigate now is preparation. (What can I say—I read John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany when I was working in a refugee camp, suffering from malaria, and loved it.)

What skills are necessary or what prepared you the most for your career?

I believe that success in any career is a combination of nature and nurture. You have to know who you are, what your strengths are and what brings you joy, and then you have to explore careers that help you celebrate this.  

Great coaches integrate the science of the human mind and body with the emotions of the heart and the passion of the soul. As a coach, having a curious, warm, welcoming personality that draws people in has been a great asset. Having a passion for learning and experiencing new things helps to cultivate wisdom, intuition and presence.

It doesn't hurt to have a natural inclination to try to understand and get at the root of issues. Several summers back, I was sitting on the porch with my father. He said, “Sweetheart, you know how proud I am of you for the work you are doing...”  I waited for the “but.” But there wasn’t any. Instead, he said, “Since the time you were five years old, you were always asking the most difficult questions. I just never knew you could make so much money asking them.”

What professional associations have aided in your professional development?

I am an avid learner and believe in the power of peer groups. I seek out groups that inspire and push me to step up, stretch and take myself to the next level. I am blessed to be part of a women’s group called TARA, an entrepreneurs group called the Summit Series and a mastermind that we call T-incito. If the research is true that we become the power of the five people we spend the most time with, be really careful whom you pick as your peers.

Anything you would like to add?

Passion and innovation are the keys to professional happiness. Try what you love, and then try something else. Great jobs rarely come in a box; they are the result of building skills by doing the things you love, and then constantly pushing the edge of how you can add value to the world.