Leaders grow leaders. It’s important to provide opportunities and experiences to others. In my experience, most leaders are not consciously aware of this, but when they do help grow others’ leadership skills, it’s a differentiator. Often times it comes with experience and wisdom, and people get better later in life at growing the next generation of leaders.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Terry Barclay, the President and CEO of Inforum. Terry oversees the only professional organization in Michigan — and one of only a few in the country — that combines strategic connections, proven professional development programs, a respected forum for new ideas, and original research to accelerate careers for women and boost talent initiatives for companies. Under Terry’s leadership, Inforum has become a trusted ally and sought-after resource in helping companies advance gender diversity to build inclusive work environments. Inforum’s research-based leadership development programs have been widely used by automotive companies for current and future women leaders, and Inforum also publishes the biennial Michigan Women’s Leadership Report, which tracks women’s leadership in the state’s publicly traded companies. Terry serves on the boards of Cranbrook Institute of Science; The Nature Conservancy of Michigan; and Rebel Nell LLC.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was brought to Inforum by seeing the impact of inequity early in life. I saw how transformative it is for families, individuals and companies when women are full participants in the economy. In my family, women were on occasion the bread winners, which was rare in the time period and culture. Early in my career, I witnessed the impact women can have when they are fully present in teams, in critical mass when their voices are heard. Seeing the value diverse leadership brings made Inforum a standout place for me to focus my efforts.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your organization?
One of the most memorable was securing Sherron Watkins, the Enron vice president who warned CEO Ken Lay about the accounting irregularities that brought down the company, as a speaker. We thought it’d be amazing to hear her story. I looked her up in the phone book, called her at home, and she answered! She was inundated with speaking requests, but Inforum became the first place she spoke after testifying before Congress. We had 1,300 people in the room, and you could’ve heard a pin drop. It was an amazing experience! She is one of the most values-driven people I’ve ever known.
It is also remarkable to me that a former Inforum board member became the CEO of one of the largest companies of the world, General Motors. It has been amazing to see Mary Barra’s leadership at GM and the balanced representation on GM’s board as a result of her efforts. Mary has had a very unusual path to the top at GM, and her many relationships with strong women have helped lead her to where she is today. Mary makes the extra effort to make GM’s workplace inclusive.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Mistakes I made when first starting were centered around failing to speak up with a good idea. At the time, I didn’t think I had the standing to successfully express the ideas I had. I’ve recognized later in my career that the only standing needed to share a good idea is to simply have one. There were many times I didn’t speak up, but the exact thing I was thinking became the transformative idea executed within the company. This mistake may not be funny in the traditional sense, but it is funny looking back to think that I couldn’t share what was on my mind.
What do you think makes your organization stand out? Can you share a story?
Inforum stands out because of the unique, powerful, strategic networks that allow for things happen for people in organizations. An example of the magic of Inforum was displayed at a recent meeting of our TechnologyNEXT industry group. One of our board members who owns a large technology-focused company attended and brought with her six young women of color who are learning to code through a Detroit-based organization. The host of the event, who is the CIO of a large financial institution in the Detroit area, hired all six women on the spot. This executive is part of Inforum’s Men as Allies group and has made it a national goal for his company’s technology division to be comprised of 50 percent women — a bold goal in a field where there is often a struggle trying to find qualified professionals. The magic of the Inforum network brought everyone together and provided a wonderful opportunity for these young women. All parties involved made the effort to engage and participate. Inforum provides a platform where real actions and results can be achieved for women.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How will they help people?
An exciting project that has been in the works for quite some time is Inforum’s Men as Allies roundtable. This was a group that was operating behind the scenes, but we are now able to share the concept and execution of that concept more publicly. Men as Allies includes male leaders from some of Michigan’s largest companies who are collaborating to identify how they can leverage their spheres of influences and inspire change in their organizations. The challenge is finding ways to push through the obstacles and work together to demonstrate how women’s continued progress is in the best interest of all. In this time of talent shortage, we need all the talent at the table, not half of it sitting on the sidelines. Male leaders want to be part of making that happen.
Men as Allies is solution-focused and a natural next step in the women’s movement. It provides information, inspiration, learning, and discovery of ideas that can be taken back to each individual company. These men lead by example, modeling what male allies represent in public spaces. These individuals are impactful because of the roles they hold within their companies, and are forthright about running equitable workplaces. Their discussions include developing diverse work places and growing talent pipelines that help overcome unconscious biases.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Define diversity broadly and hold yourself accountable for making it happen. Not just in gender and race, but in life stages. To hold yourself accountable, it’s not enough to have a policy; it needs to be ingrained in the day-to-day actions and behaviors of the company. You have to hold yourself accountable for doing the hard work to create a culture where every voice is heard.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Communicate often and in a transparent manner. Teams today may not be as traditional as in former years, where all employees worked under the same roof. The best ideas can come from anyone on a team. It’s important to spend the bulk of your time making sure people are engaged and know that they can make a difference.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There have been many people along the way who have helped me. Early on in my career, I was the CEO at a small nonprofit. There was a board member who believed in me before I believed in myself. Without me being aware, this person was quietly positioning me for opportunities that ended up being transformative. The value of that in retrospect cannot be overstated. It helped me get further faster and develop meaningful relationships. There has been a lot of change at Inforum as the world has changed. There are board members at Inforum who truly embrace our vision, help remove barriers and support the vision in spite of the resistance along the way. These people have helped lead in significant ways to support the vision we have at Inforum.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Because of the success of Inforum and my visibility as a leader, I’ve been able to have really candid conversations with business leaders about what inclusion looks like. These conversations are often challenging leaders on their own values and view of the world to proactively create change. It’s rewarding to see how these transformative conversations exponentially impact corners of the corporate world.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Becoming a leader is a process and does not happen in one day. It’s really important to get comfortable with the fact that it’s a journey, and become adept at asking for and receiving feedback along the way. I’ve been with many CEOs who’ve turned to me after giving a speech or chairing a meeting to ask how they did. I’ve come to understand the power in asking that question and watched as the best leaders use that feedback to continually sharpen their game.
2. Leadership is a team sport and many times it’s about getting out of the way of talented people and allowing them to lead. One of our team members at Inforum is brilliant at speaking to companies about the benefits of gender balance in the workplace, and she loves doing it. Another is the best project manager and process designer with whom I’ve ever worked. We’ve seen our impact and outcomes grow through their leadership.
3. Leadership is not positional, but it is about influence and can — and does — come from any role within the organization. One of the most important innovations we made at Inforum came from one of our newest employees because she had “fresh eyes” and was closest to our customers.
4. There is always room for growth as a leader. You’re never done; it’s not like you arrive one day having mastered leadership skills. I think that the two most important components of that are self-awareness and resilience. I remember reading somewhere that leadership was a journey of self-discovery, and it’s a process of constantly working on your own awareness to understand your own internal motivations and blind spots, and how that impacts the rest of your team. With resilience, you’re going to get knocked down from time to time, but having the ability to get back up is critical.
5. Leaders grow leaders. It’s important to provide opportunities and experiences to others. In my experience, most leaders are not consciously aware of this, but when they do help grow others’ leadership skills, it’s a differentiator. Often times it comes with experience and wisdom, and people get better later in life at growing the next generation of leaders.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The world, the country and the state has so much more work to do to see the value and potential that people bring instead of limiting them by their socioeconomic background, age, race, gender, etc. Seeing potential more broadly transforms workplaces and people’s lives.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is from Ruth Bader Ginsberg: “Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” I think this captures my career journey and the power of our network here in Michigan to make strides for women in the business community.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Dr. Marylou Jepsen, who has had an incredible career in artificial intelligence. She has worked for Facebook and Google, and she has founded an incredible startup, OpenWater, focused on high-resolution, low-cost imaging technologies. I heard her speak at our Auto Show breakfast and she is brilliant.
Thank you for all of these great insights!