Marsha Clark is an Executive Leadership Coach, Author, Consultant.
She is a 70-year-old woman living life to the fullest. She tells us that, “I have an amazing son, an equally amazing daughter-in-law, and three smart and wonderful grandchildren – Brent, Claire, Georgia (age 10), Jackson (age 8), and Margaret (age 4). I have been a widow for almost 18 years and am now in a serious relationship with someone I’ve known since I was 12 years old. I have been an entrepreneur for almost 24 years, founding my own leadership and executive development company. Prior to starting my company, I had a wonderful corporate career for 21 years at a technology company – Electronic Data Systems (EDS). I love learning, supporting others in their leadership journey, and sports. I am full of energy, and I love the life I have created.”
What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative.
Growing up I was the middle child of five children with two older brothers and two younger sisters. One of my sisters was a special needs child. I played a large role in her life, almost that of a second mother. She died at age 18 still wearing diapers, being fed, and taking a bottle. She taught me the deeper meaning of unconditional love and compassion for others. In school I was a good student. I loved reading and seeing the world through books. I joined many extracurricular clubs and activities and got my first significant leadership role as head of my drill team in high school. My role models were my teachers.
Was there any turning point in your life that changed your journey? If so, what was it? Please tell us the backstory behind it.
The first turning point in my life was being the big sister to my special needs sister, Erin. My next turning point came when I was asked to help my fellow students and even substitute teaching in the ninth grade. These experiences tapped into the teacher in me. As a 19-year-old college sophomore, I chose to move out of my parents’ home and carve out a more independent life. It was my first real adult turning point. I shifted my college focus to working full time and going to college at night. I became responsible and accountable for my choices. There were many turning points as I navigated my professional journey. The next big one was deciding to leave my career at EDS – a place where I had grown up professionally, starting as secretary and leaving as a corporate officer of a Fortune 50 company. This turning point ultimately launched my entrepreneurial career and I haven’t looked back.
Every industry that is now a large-scale, top-notch business once started as a small idea in the minds of entrepreneurs. What was that idea or motivation that made you start your business /initiative? What motivated you within to say “YES, go for it!”*
When I left my corporate career, I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. At age 47, I knew there was more that I wanted to do. A colleague called me and asked if I would help her on a consulting engagement. I said “yes” for two reasons. First, I respected this colleague very much and wanted to support her. Second, I needed something to do. I found that I really enjoyed it and others started calling and asking for help. The initial services I offered were a wide-ranging set of services: consulting, coaching, and facilitation. I got ever clearer about where I wanted to focus – leadership and executive development with a specialty area supporting women. Over a twenty plus year timeframe, I began writing and podcasting. I wouldn’t change a thing as I learned as I learned so much along the way.
Everyone has their own set of challenges when starting an entrepreneurial journey. Still, the most essential part for others to learn is how you deal with those. Would you like to share with us your challenges and your coping mechanisms?
My biggest challenges initially were securing clients and clearly articulating what services I would offer. I had received advice that I should have a booth at conferences and conventions and collect business cards. I did that and never got one client from that strategy. I came to learn that building relationships and doing good work would lead to sales. People and organizations buy my services based on a relationship or a referral. They keep buying my services based on doing good work. Another challenge was me understanding the difference between leading or managing someone and coaching them. I had a natural leadership style of coaching. There is a fine line between recommending & coaching. I had a coaching client who asked me what I thought he should do in a particular situation. I responded that he had to figure that out & before I could finish my sentence, he told me that was why he had hired me. I learned to balance helping him discover the answers while sharing my own experiences to offer as the teacher. And my last challenge to share was having the ugliness some people displayed because I was focused on working with women. I was called a feminist as if that’s a bad thing. I was called a man-hater. I learned to take it in stride; I would not let their “stuff” become my stuff. I didn’t try to change their minds, justify or defend my work. I now tell prospects and clients that I want to work with the people who want to do the real work of leadership – seeing ourselves as we really are and now looking to learn and grow.
While the global pandemic of COVID-19 is associated primarily with adversities, it has also brought about a true boom in startups, with successful entrepreneurship in many countries. The pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another. Would you like to share your experience on a personal and professional level?
During the Covid pandemic, I heard from many former clients who had no place to turn. Many had risen to C-suite jobs and had a huge responsibility for leading their organizations through these difficult times. I helped them come back to their value systems to make some of these hard decisions. I had over 75 coaching clients for about two years, which was twice as many as I usually had at any one time. Like most trainers and facilitators. I pivoted my in-person training programs to virtual platforms. These virtual programs evolved to be hybrid programs with a combination of in-person and virtual platform delivery. And last, I began to better understand the various forms of fatigue that we suffer during challenging times. The more traditional forms of fatigue include physical, intellectual, emotional, and even spiritual fatigue. I added a new one from an insight perspective – compassion fatigue. This presented itself as caregiving, helping those with food scarcity, helping with virtual schooling and grandchildren, sharing tough messages with those who experienced loss, and wanting to show our love and support to our loved ones and not being able to celebrate birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, retirements, weddings and on and on. It gave me a deeper appreciation about caring for and about others.
Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention?
My goal has always been to help leaders – both men and women – to be their best and most authentic selves. Helping women do that has an extra sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Helping women find their voices, achieve financial security, gain greater confidence, take better care of themselves through healthier habits, and attain more career goals. And writing books and delivering podcasts have been particularly satisfying because it allows me to reach a much broader audience.
Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?
The change I want to see is for all of us to live in a world that values women and girls. We have ideas and skills to contribute. Our voices need to be heard. We are not second-thought or second- class citizens. We need to be seen, heard and valued.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your personal life and professional journey? What is your personal motto in life?
The most important lesson I’ve learned is to love unconditionally. It is a lesson I continue to learn. Everyone has a story that is reflected in who they are and how they behave. Hear their story. Respect their story. It doesn’t mean we have to love their actions. Its about loving them as a human being. My personal motto in life is: “May the love I’ve shared, the work that I’ve done, the legacy that I leave speak for me.”
Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women’s leadership today?
Women’s leadership is vital in today’s world. In the words of Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” I totally agree. The world needs us.
With your grit and determination, you are making a considerable impact, breaking through, and serving as role models for many budding entrepreneurs. What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?
To young women everywhere, I offer these things: A) Know your values and make decisions in accordance with these values. Remember, principles are only principles when you practice them when they are inconvenient. B) You matter. Don’t play small. We need to hear your story, your truth. The world needs you. C) Set boundaries to ensure you’re focused on things that matter – personally and professionally. D) Be prepared for change. Try new things. Be a lifelong learner. The world is full of ambiguity – learn to navigate. E) Be resilient. you’ll get knocked down. Your choice is how you want to get back up. F) Life is full of choices – choose wisely and intentionally. G) Be kind. You never truly know another person’s story. H) Be authentic. Strive every day to be your best self. Don’t let others define you.