Delegate, don’t abdicate responsibility. The key to being a successful leader is learning how to properly delegate responsibility while still being a resource for your team. We give our team members the freedom and creativity to thrive and learn from their experiences. However, I also make myself available and serve as a check and balance and sounding board for our employees as they continue grow in their roles and careers.
I had the pleasure to interview Margaret Bayston. Margaret is the CEO and Executive Director at Laura’s House, a nonprofit authority on breaking the cycle of domestic violence. The nonprofit services more than 55,000 people through shelter, support services, counseling, life skills, education and legal advocacy in the U.S. For 20 years, Margaret has helped lead a variety of successful prevention and education programs for adults, teens and families. She oversaw the launch of the nonprofit’s teen H.E.A.R.T. initiative, which provides high schools and adolescents in Southern California with education and prevention workshops about teen dating abuse. She also spearheaded the successful creation of the nonprofit’s legal and technology training programs, which are provided to businesses, law enforcement and other nonprofits and educates them about the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and digital impersonation technology to commit domestic violence and cyber abuse. During her tenure, Margaret also led the fundraising efforts for the rebuild of a $4.5 million emergency shelter, and the establishment of a domestic violence advocacy center which meets an unmet demand for legal advocacy services in Orange County.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In 1994, I moved to Southern California from the United Kingdom with my husband due to his job relocation. With a background in legal advocacy and passion for helping worthy causes and organizations, I was in search of a new opportunity in which I can share my knowledge and experience to help those in need of legal support. I quickly updated my resume and scheduled a visit to the Orange County District Attorney and Victim Witness office. Shortly after, I secured a volunteer position helping to prepare witnesses giving testimony in domestic violence cases.
During this time, I became good friends with activist and Superior Court Judge Pamela Iles who introduced me to Laura’s House, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides unduplicated domestic violence-related services to residents of Orange County, California and beyond. She recommended that I help the organization develop a comprehensive legal services program. That is exactly what I did, and I have never regretted this decision.
For more than 20 years, I have served as CEO and Executive Director at Laura’s House helping to establish and lead a variety of successful prevention and education programs for adults, teens and families affected by domestic violence. Today, Laura’s House has provided legal advocacy to over 59,000 people and shelter with support services to more than 5,400 abused men, women, and their children. I’m proud to share that this year, Laura’s House was the only nonprofit named one of Orange County’s “Best Places to Work” by the Orange County Business Journal.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
As CEO of Laura’s House, an interesting and defining moment for me took place about 18 years ago with my long-time mentor and friend, Marlene. After working together for about a year, she candidly told me that she had a hard time following my lead and wasn’t sure if we can work together due to my lack of urgency, which she believed I needed to succeed in this role. This was a rude awakening, but it allowed me to see that I needed to take initiative and do more than maintain the ‘status quo’ for Laura’s House.
As CEO, it’s my duty to seek new opportunities and connect with the right donors to help grow the organization and meet the ever-growing needs of our community. Despite how uncomfortable this experience was, it was the best thing Marlene could ever have done to spur me into action. Through this experience, I learned that it’s important to enjoy and celebrate your successes and savor those moments. However, as a leader, you should never rest too long on your laurels because there is always more important work to be done. Now, I pass this wisdom along to my team, colleagues and mentees who want to grow into leadership positions.
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?
When I first started as CEO of Laura’s House, a critical lesson I learned was understanding what business we’re in and what business we’re not in. Early on, I would enthusiastically accept opportunities to collaborate with organizations who I thought would be a good fit for Laura’s House. After securing these partnerships, I would then realize that not only was I committing to a job that was beyond Laura’s House scope of work, but I was overcommitting my team who had to do all the heavy lifting.
I quickly learned that as a leader I need to slow down and do my research to ensure that I am setting up Laura’s House and my team for success. I also learned that while I am the CEO of the organization, I too have many resources available to me and the most successful leaders are never afraid to tap the right people for support.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
At Laura’s House, we are in the business of empowerment. We act like a safety net for our clients who are trying to get back on their feet — after experiencing the trauma of domestic violence — and face the world again with hope for a brighter future. We are proud to assist residents of Orange County and beyond with services ranging from prevention and education to treatment. Services include emergency shelter for women, men and children, legal support, teen dating violence workshops, individual and family counseling, and so much more.
In 2005, Laura’s House launched its Teen H.E.A.R.T (healthy emotions and attitudes in relationships today) program in response to an education bill passed by Governor Jerry Brown to educate the students of California’s public middle and high schools on healthy relationships. The program offers youth, parents and teachers an interactive and informative resource for education on healthy relationships and ways to prevent teen dating abuse. The program is now being provided to 80 schools locally, and soon will be rolled out nationally and globally.
With technology being used to commit cybercrimes — deepfakes, revenge porn and identify theft — which is resulting in more domestic violence incidents and online harassment cases every year, Laura’s House created a program that offers legal and technology training to businesses, law enforcement and other nonprofits. The program helps educate people about the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and digital impersonation technology used to commit cyber abuse, the red flags people should know and what to do if it happens.
In 2019, to commemorate the organization’s 25th anniversary and usher in the next quarter century of community impact, we also will be looking to raise $10 million in capital to fund the establishment of a domestic violence Wellness and Advocacy Center in Orange County, California. Tentatively scheduled to open in 2020, the center will be Orange County’s first multi-service wellness collaborative focused on client- centered domestic and family violence programs and services and deliver an unmet need for a one-stop unified resource for survivors and all others touched by domestic violence.
Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted this cause?
There have been so many courageous people who have inspired me and who have trusted Laura’s House to guide them to a better and brighter future. However, there’s one woman in particular whose journey to a life free of violence not only moved me but has impacted Laura’s House and our staff.
Prior to seeking the support of Laura’s House, this woman took a tremendous amount of time deciding whether to leave her abusive marriage because she was ashamed and embarrassed to have found herself in this position. This individual did not fit the stereotype of a victim of domestic violence. Rather, she came from a great family, had friends who supported her, an education and great career, yet ended up in a dangerously abusive relationship.
However, with the support, guidance and education from Laura’s House she was able to leave everything she owned, everything and everyone who was familiar to her and start over again. She described her first conversation with our crisis hotline staff like “jumping off a cliff” as she had no idea what would happen to her once her feet left the edge. She only knew that whatever was to come could only be better than what she was leaving behind. Fortunately for her, this was true, and she was able to take the time to heal from her physical and emotional wounds and successfully moved on with her life.
This client has truly impacted the staff at Laura’s House as she redefines what most people imagine when they think of a victim of domestic violence. Her story shined light on the fact that a victim can easily be your sister, neighbor or colleague. She proved to all of our staff, board members and donors that there are no socio-economic boundaries to domestic violence.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Laura’s House mission statement includes three key components that our community, society and politicians can do to help us address the root cause of domestic violence. These include changingsocial beliefs, attitudes and the behaviors that perpetuate domestic violence.
At Laura’s House, it’s our goal to educate stakeholders that it’s not acceptable to shame and blame victims of abuse for their unfortunate situation. Instead, the focus needs to be on the perpetrators and holding them accountable for their actions. While it will take a huge shift in attitude and beliefs to accomplish this, I believe that with the support of our community we can help educate people about the misconceptions, stereotypes and root problems of domestic violence.
Additional actions people can take to support Laura’s House and our mission is to volunteer their time at one of our facilities, spread the word about the resources we offer or make a financial contribution to help make a difference in the lives of individuals seeking our services. All of these efforts are vital to our continued success.
How do you define Leadership? Can you explain or give an example?
My definition of leadership is always staying focused on the plan and goals you set to accomplish, taking responsibility for your actions and readily admitting and learning from your mistakes. As a leader, it’s also important to surround yourself with quality people — those who complement your skills and who you can rely on to implement strategies successfully. I also encourage leaders or those seeking leadership positions to remain optimistic and enthusiastic about the work they’re doing. This will inspire your team and encourage them to follow your lead.
What are 5 things I wish someone would have told me when I first started and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Build a strong company culture. The success of any organization starts and ends with your people. Throughout my career, I learned that it’s important to establish and maintain a strong company culture in which your employees are proud to be a part of. As a leader, not only should you take initiative to shape but also model the values and standards of your organization.
- Delegate, don’t abdicate responsibility. The key to being a successful leader is learning how to properly delegate responsibility while still being a resource for your team. At Laura’s House, we give our team members the freedom and creativity to thrive and learn from their experiences. However, I also make myself available and serve as a check and balance and sounding board for our employees as they continue grow in their roles and careers.
- Understand what business you’re in. More importantly, make sure you understand what business you’re not in.As a leader, you are pulled in many directions and as you become busier, it’s easy to get sidetracked and lose focus of the goals you set to accomplish. No matter the circumstance, don’t dilute your efforts. Always do your due diligence.
- Know your audience. Be sure to understand and keep track of what your stakeholders expect from you and your organization. Not every client, donor or sponsor is the same. Each has his/her own expectations and it’s up to you to understand their needs and how to measure your success. Early in my career, I nearly lost a donor because I didn’t know they expected a personal note from me rather than a typed letter. While it may seem like a small mistake, a simple misunderstanding can be rather costly.
- Plan, implement, evaluate. As a leader, it’s important to have a process in place to ensure you, your team and the organization is on track to meet its goals. When I am overwhelmed with an onslaught of assignments, meetings and events, I always find balance and structure by following the “plan, implement and evaluate” process as it allows me to track and measure our success and course-correct when needed.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
It sounds cliché, but I’d love to see more kindness taught in the world. Not only does it feel good to help someone in need but even a small act of kindness can impact a person in such a positive way, and it doesn’t cost anything.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I try to live my life according to the following inspirational and encouraging quote from British photographer and designer, Cecil Beaton:
“This is your world. It is full of more potential for pleasure, love, glory, beauty and bliss than can be comprehended. It even surprises you with misfortune so you can experience the full range of your emotions, and so the good things are much sweeter. Even better, nothing great comes easily, that would be hopelessly boring. You have thrilling hurdles to overcome at every corner in order to achieve greatness in this life. Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the ‘play-it-safers’, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I would have enjoyed a good lunch with Sir Winston Churchill. He was a brilliant communicator and a charismatic and transformational leader. He encouraged people in the United Kingdom to be hopeful and courageous during a time of despair. He also loved good champagne which is something we’d have in common!
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To learn more about Laura’s House, visit https://www.laurashouse.org/. Or connect with us on social media: