LDI 25th Anniversary Leadership Insights - Chandell Ryan

Chandell LDI

Above all else, what do you believe is one key characteristic that makes a successful leader? How do you apply this in your daily life as a leader in the workplace? Approachability is a key characteristic of a successful leader. The team must believe you are genuinely interested in their success personally and professionally so they are comfortable sharing ideas, risks, barriers, and wins. It gives both the leader and employee an opportunity to create an alignment that will help feed the culture of the organization. The leader can either be part of the team or suffer the consequences of a team banding together without a leader.  

How do you keep morale high and spark inspiration among your teams? It’s important for me to involve the team in the decision making process and listen to their ideas/feedback as often as possible. We often meet to discuss important organizational decisions and talk through our recommendations before settling on a direction. Employees are also empowered to make decisions individually. I am big on clear communication so that everyone understands where we are headed and why. I am interested in their input, development, and their needs. We have created an environment where we push each other to try new things by taking calculated risks without the fear of failure.

Tell me about a mentor who shaped your leadership? My first mentors pushed me beyond my perceived limits. They exposed me to a way of life I had only seen on television by inviting me into their home and lives. They challenged me to resist settling and helped me to redefine my worth. They turned a babysitting job into a life changing encounter. I am an attorney today because they took interest in me. He is a founding partner of Archibald & Halmon, P.C., she is a retired U.S. Attorney's Office, Chief of Civil Division both are Memphians. A special thanks to Attorneys Clarence and Harriett Halmon and their beautiful family.

What values are most important to you as a leader? Humility. Integrity. Courage. Empathy. Self-Awareness. Vision. Service. Drive.

What is a leadership lesson that you’ve discovered throughout your career that you wish you could have learned sooner? Don’t get stuck in the research phase. Some lessons are best learned by doing. It is impossible to plan for every scenario. Sometimes the biggest impact you can make is getting started. You will then have something to improve upon and lessons learned from any mistakes.

If you could tell your 20-year-old-self one thing, what would it be? Bet on yourself. Don’t allow fear to steal your time, your dreams, or your progress. Be intentional and bold in pursuit of your goals and happiness.

What advice would you give to professionals who are stepping into the leadership space? The truth needs no proof. Don’t waste time trying to prove you are the leader. Spend time leading with humility. Be approachable and a good listener to your team. Clearly communicate your expectations and remove barriers to their success. Take time to build relationships with your peers, customers and collaborators.

The best leaders know that learning never stops. What steps do you take to ensure you keep up with personal and professional development? Stay close to the work. There is always something to learn about how the work is being performed at your organization. Be very interested in innovation and industry best practices. Join organizations specializing in your field. As you face challenging situations, seek learning programs to help you address them.

Leadership extends far past the professional landscape at work, but into the broader Memphis community. Why do you believe it is crucial to make time to serve in other ways in the 901? (Can include how you serve—other boards? Volunteering? Mentoring?) I believe we are all called to serve our community. Those who heed that calling are satisfied knowing they are positively impacting the lives of others. Every time I donate my funds or my time either through board memberships or a community project, I walk away more humble and thankful. Serving on boards is important because you can impact community on a larger scale. I currently serve as trustee for the New Memphis Institute and board member for Innovate Memphis, for Innovate Memphis, Tennessee Labor-Management Foundation and Shelby County Municipal Solid Waste Region Board. Also, I make myself available to mentor as much as I can because I know that mentors changed my life tremendously.

Tell me about a time where you felt most challenged in your leadership? How did you rise above? An important lesson I learned when dealing with a challenging situation is not taking it personal. In those moments, I rise above the matter by focusing on the issue requiring a resolution. I make the issue the problem and find ways to meet the challenge.  

Why do you choose to lead in Memphis? Memphis has been good to me. From preschool to law school, I have grown up loving this city. I want to do my part to make it a better Memphis (a new Memphis) just as I strive to be the best me. I find myself in spaces where my voice as a product of the Bing Hampton and Frayser communities brings a diversity of thought that has been well needed and well received. My hope is to be a real life example like my mentors were for me.

Leadership can oftentimes feel lonely, but it shouldn’t be. How do you believe leaders can best navigate and address this pressing issue? Leaders can navigate loneliness by joining leadership organizations, like New Memphis, that bring leaders together to learn, grow, and serve. Also, building relationships with peers or colleagues gives you an outlet to discuss hot topics or navigate challenges. Finally, having mentor to confide in when times are tough will help to keep you centered.

Share with us your biggest takeaway from your LDI experience and how would you convince another leader to take part in the program? Self-awareness is critical to development. To quote Aristotle, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” You cannot improve something of which you are unaware. This is what makes the New Memphis Leadership Development Intensive so important. This program is transformational because it first makes you confront yourself to give you the wisdom to understand and appreciate the differences in others.

The road to being a leader isn’t only paved with success, but a lot of trial and error. How do you adjust your next steps to combat failure? Simply put, never give up. Don’t commit to one way forward. Learn from the mistake, refocus and be flexible. Your team is watching you lead them out of the failure so turn them into opportunities for growth and continuous improvement. They will model that behavior with their projects.

What is your hope for the future of Memphis? My hope is that Memphis continues to be celebrated for her rich soul, history and culture. I would love for Memphis to be a place of opportunity where you have a chance at a successful life regardless of your background. A place where the tri-state community and neighboring cities work together for the success of the whole.  

What has been your great accomplishment in your career or what are you most proud of in your career? I am most proud of those who gave me an opportunity to lead. I have had the pleasure of working on some amazing teams with leaders who simply gave me a chance. And sometimes that is all we need. I am humbled to have learned from their example by giving “a chance” to deserving employees. Throughout my career, I built relationships with peers by empathizing with their concerns and learning their business units. These relationships and lessons prepared me for the totally unexpected pleasure of serving the city I love as Deputy Chief Operations Officer.



Chandell Ryan, Deputy Chief Operating Officer, is an attorney and 16-year veteran at the City of Memphis responsible for service delivery in day-to-day operations, resource allocation, and policy development for all City divisions. Her regular duties include budget, grant, and contract management for the Executive Division ($22M). As Interim Solid Waste Director she is responsible for all Memphis solid waste collections and disposal and the solid waste fund ($78M). She has over 20 years in attorney and HR roles, serving most recently as Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Officer. Ryan is a Native Memphian and 2001 Juris Doctorate Graduate of the University of Memphis. She is a trustee for the New Memphis Institute and board member for Innovate Memphis, Tennessee Labor-Management Foundation and Shelby County Municipal Solid Waste Region Board. Ryan is a proud 2017 New Memphis Leadership Development Intensive Alum, member of Alpha Kappa Sorority, Inc., and 2020 Leadership Memphis Executive Program graduate. As an arts lover, you may find Ryan acting or singing in local plays, movies or her place of worship.