Terri Broussard Williams: “Be yourself”

Throughout my journey, people would always ask me, “How do you accomplish things?” A lot of my leadership qualities came from instinct but have also been guided by those I met along the way. I truly believe that anyone can be a leader who makes an impact, so I distilled the stories, tips, and tools […]

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Throughout my journey, people would always ask me, “How do you accomplish things?” A lot of my leadership qualities came from instinct but have also been guided by those I met along the way. I truly believe that anyone can be a leader who makes an impact, so I distilled the stories, tips, and tools that had the most influence on me as a leader and my friends on their leadership journeys. The book incorporates stories from leaders, how to take the first step, and practical strategies to go from idea to implementation.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making a social impact,” I had the privilege of interviewing Terri Broussard Williams, author of Find Your Fire: Stories and Strategies to Inspire the Changemaker in You.

Terri’s book stemmed from her founding of Movement Maker, which believes that leaders turn moments into movements. Backed by a highly successful blog, Terri has given her signature talk, “Leaders Turn Moments into Movements: Leading to Inspire Change,” all across the country.

With a career spanning 20 years, Terri has experience specializing in government relations, social impact strategy, corporate social responsibility, public affairs, and innovative business operations to further organizational missions.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana, a small town that was largely fueled by the oil industry. While many families left after its collapse, my family remained. My grandparents were incredibly invested in the town and the people there, too. They helped to build a church that was local and within walking distance so it would be accessible to the whole community, and when that church unfortunately burned down, my parents stepped up to help build another church. Looking back, they were the first “firestarters’’ I met: people who see something in the world they want to change. Seeing them lead by example certainly had an impact on me as a young person.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

I love books. I was actually a student volunteer at the library shelving books from fifth grade through middle school, and my dad used to reward good grades with money to buy more books. Nancy Drew was one of my favorites; she was a natural-born leader who knew how to turn a moment into a movement, figured out how to help people along her journey, and was always learning new things about herself. I think I must have read every single Nancy Drew book, and then when I was done with those, I read The Hardy Boys.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or takeaway did you learn from that?

While working at the American Heart Association, I would go to small cities throughout the state of Louisiana and lobby for laws to make areas smoke-free. One time, I had to travel to Monroe, Louisiana, a place I was unfamiliar with, and I completely missed the exit on the highway. When I pulled over to ask for directions, it turned out I was in a whole different state! The man I chatted with gave me not only driving directions but also gave me insight and cultural tips about the city to which I was traveling. As I then figured out my way, I had a lot of time to reflect on what I was going to say to the lawmakers when I got there. It dawned on me that the car ride was part of a larger metaphor: When you set out on a journey, it isn’t always from point “A” to point “B.” Had I not gotten lost, I wouldn’t have been privy to all of the insight that man was able to give me.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

Throughout my journey, people would always ask me, “How do you accomplish things?” A lot of my leadership qualities came from instinct but have also been guided by those I met along the way. I truly believe that anyone can be a leader who makes an impact, so I distilled the stories, tips, and tools that had the most influence on me as a leader and my friends on their leadership journeys. The book incorporates stories from leaders, how to take the first step, and practical strategies to go from idea to implementation.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

I always find myself revisiting the story of my family building and rebuilding the church in my hometown. It reminds me that the movement you start isn’t for you or the people you know. It’s about the people you will impact whom you will never know and never meet. There are several examples in my book of women who were born all around the world whose work impacts those beyond the circle of those they know.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

I came to a moment in my career where I strongly desired to pivot. Having worked in the public policy space, I felt my own ideas getting lost in the everyday business of my work. I wanted to share a story that stood on its own without being tied to any large brand or organization. While turning a moment into a movement may be easier when you are tied to larger entities, at times, they may make it more difficult. I wanted people to see that they could do it on their own. And in the course of writing, I re-inspired myself, went back to school, and shifted my overall worldview.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Recently, I found out someone had gifted Find Your Fire to a friend, who began a chain reaction. He gave it to his fiancée to read over a weekend, and when she completed it, she made the leap to start her own company. It was incredible to find out that my book was the “booster shot” that someone needed to change the course of their life.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

The problems that are in front of us today are large, systemic issues that don’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. Those who hold decision-making power should take a good, long look at the table they’re sitting at. Does it represent the community they are serving? Is it a diverse group that gives a platform to different voices, or does it only uplift a few? When we stop to really look at what is the right solution for a specific community, we will find that people want to be engaged and involved in the work that is being done with the systemic issues in front of us.

How do you define “leadership?” Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Instead of a definition, I prefer to look at leadership through a competency lens. Those who are confident enough to take that first step can initiate change. Confidence isn’t an absolute state of being, either. You can feel 60 percent confident that you know the right way and still set out on your journey to affect change in your community. Leaders are activators, and that’s why I call them “firestarters”: once they unleash that idea, they can unleash a fire in the world.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?

1.) Be yourself.

Don’t feel the need to change the way you talk or act to fit into a space.

2.) It’s okay if your five-year plan doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would.

I thought from the time I was 16 to the time I was 22 that I would spend my career in a newsroom. But the journey I have taken has made me a stronger, smarter, and better person.

3.) Be an explorer.

If you’re traveling for work, don’t just stick to the work agenda and keep to yourself. By becoming immersed in the place you’re visiting through food and culture, you start to become a storyteller and understand the people there. You start to see it from their lens. That allows you to be a more compassionate leader and cultural ambassador.

4.) Say “yes” to things that may initially scare you.

There have been times when I’ve been asked to take on a task that I wouldn’t have thought I was capable of, but then I realized that the person who asked me must see something in me that I hadn’t recognized in myself yet. Usually, those people are there to cheer you on and are rooting for your success.

5.) It’s okay to rest.

After we do a big project at work, sometimes you’re “rewarded” by being assigned with yet another big project. It’s absolutely okay to tell your supervisor or boss that you need a break to reflect on how things might have been different with what you just completed. We often move on so quickly that we don’t fully absorb all the lessons out of the projects we’ve just completed. It’s okay to turn down the next big project because you’re not fully rested or healed. You can still have an impact without being at the helm of every large endeavor.

Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe.” — John Lewis

Oftentimes, the most meaningful impact can be achieved when we look outside our own movements and see how we can connect with others. A great example of this is the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine. That movement may greatly benefit a movement that seeks to help the homeless population, who may not have the resources to know when and where they may have access to the vaccine. You never know how your movement may be amplified through intersection.

Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

I would love to have lunch with Reese Witherspoon and Meghan Markle. Reese was one of the women to launch a wave of women in film and TV production and was at the forefront of the Time’s Up movement. Meghan Markle has been a movement-maker her whole life and has sacrificed so much to be able to do her work with authenticity. I know a group of women who started their own news platform called the 19th (https://19thnews.org/), and Meghan picked up the phone and asked how she could become involved. I thought that was an incredible example of someone who uses their own platform to amplify the voices of others.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Twitter and Instagram:

@terribwilliams

@movementmaker

[email protected]

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!


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