This interview is part of a new series where leaders in influential positions share their leadership journey – how they got to where they are today. I believe we all have a lot to learn from our stories of where we started, our successes and struggles, and important lessons learned on the way.
This interview is with Katie Schwartz. She is the founder and currently the President Emeritus of the Corporate Speech Pathology Network and Director at Business Speech Improvement (website). You can find her on LinkedIn.
Question – Share your backstory and how you got where you are today. Can you share one or two events (positive or negative) in life that shaped who you are as a person and leader?
Some people plan to become leaders. They study leadership, get MBA’s, get on a career path towards leadership and get voted class or organization president. My path towards leadership started with having a radical idea and thinking “Why can’t I do this?” The rest of my education in leadership came from the School of Hard Knocks, with a major in Trial and Error.
I started out as a certified, licensed speech-language pathologist working in a traditional setting, a community hospital. I had been there a whole week, as a department of one, when I was told I would be let go one day before they had to give me benefits, after the 90-day probation. This was happening because allegedly I hadn’t earned the hospital enough profit that week. I was offered the job as a contractor after that period, if I wanted it; I didn’t. I was stunned.
As I left the hospital that day, I thought, “what do I like to do as a speech-language pathologist?” I knew professionals in my community had communication disorders but were not coming for help. I thought, “I want to be like Dale Carnegie for people with communication disorders and offer courses! Why can’t I?” I was licensed; I couldn’t think of a reason this would be illegal or improper.
That night I went through my women’s networking group’s directory and called someone who had the title of “corporate trainer” to find out how to get business. As soon as I told her what I could do, she responded, “I have been looking for someone like you all day! Won’t you please come work for my company?” My second contact at another company was even more excited; my business was launched.
Later I decided to write an article for a magazine for training professionals. As soon as it was accepted, it dawned on me that I was only licensed in one state as a healthcare professional; what would I do if I got calls from other states? So I sent a second article to my professional association’s magazine, with 5 pages of information about what I was doing. I knew the exact day it arrived on people’s desks.
New to journalism, I hadn’t thought to include my contact information in the article or to put a FAQ on my new website. That meant that over 1000 interested readers had to contact my professional association to find out how to connect with me, and they did! Readers wanted to get more training from me on how to do what I called corporate speech pathology – working as speech-language pathologists in the industry – so I offered seminars.
A publisher attended one and offered me a book contract to write my first book. Then the people wanted me to form an association, and lead it. Leadership was new to me, and their enthusiasm and questions were overwhelming at times. (I also had a business to run and a young family.) After my book was published, I learned that authors are then considered authorities, which led to speaking gigs. I loved doing it all, but that was a lot to do at once!
I formed the association, the Corporate Speech Pathology Network, CORSPAN, and after a year, I selected someone with an MBA and also the professional credentials to be the next president. I was so relieved when he took over. He did a great job! However, I had not thought to put in a leadership pathway to encourage future leaders into the organization; twice more the board of the organization asked me to resume leadership due to presidents having to resign due to illness or other personal factors.
Now I serve as President Emeritus of the International Corporate Speech Pathology Network. I welcome the contributions of so many members who have embraced and expanded my original idea. I see my role in the organization as being the cheerleader-in-chief, answering questions from the board, responding to questions from potential members who have read my articles in the ASHA Leader and other publications, and doing other projects involving publicity. I also continue to run my business.
What do you like about the work you do? What do you find most challenging?
As a president emeritus, I have the luxury of being able to focus on the future, without the details of running the organization now. For example, I met with the current and future president recently and suggested the board discuss a leadership pathway, with board members keeping a watch out for members who take the initiative, have backgrounds or former careers of special value to the organization, or show other signs of leadership, and give them small jobs on the board to start them out. Those who do well could be considered for additional opportunities as needs arise.
Our organization is virtual and I have never met most of the members in person. It is challenging to keep up with their career needs that the organization might be able to meet if we knew of them. We have monthly online networking sessions online that any member can attend, but I do not have time to attend many of them. I rely on the excellent board members who run the sessions to notice these details.
What are you passionate about? (or what dreams keep you up at night?)
I am passionate about the services corporate speech pathologists can provide in the workplace. I coach my clients in public speaking, clear pronunciation so that ideas can be exchanged efficiently, communication skills for leadership such as meeting management, executive presence and questioning/listening skills.
If clients have communication disorders such as a speech or language impairment, I can help there too, either directly or through referrals to others who are licensed in their states in the USA. I also work with clients in other countries.
I want my colleagues around the world to see that they, too, can work with professionals in the workplace; we are communication problem-solvers!
How do you manage pressure and overwhelm?
A work-life balance is vital. I take time for myself, my family and friends, and enjoy hobbies. I also prioritize tasks and limit my work hours, which can be a challenge when working from home. There is life beyond the computer screen!
Who has had the most influence on your leadership? Share a story to illustrate your point.
My mother has had the most influence on my leadership. As the co-leader of our large family, she made sure that each of us felt as if we mattered. She taught through example and through direct coaching, basic cooking skills, for example, and was quick to praise us when we learned a new skill. Too many leaders do not take the time to recognize each employee for what he or she is doing right for the organization.
What are your goals or aspirations for this year?
My goals are to
1) continue learning through reading and taking online courses several times a week
2) continue working on projects of importance to furthering corporate speech pathology
3) seeking other opportunities to network with other professionals in many fields, develop my skills and mentor others
For more such Leadership Journeys, click here.
Your Leadership story deserves to be heard
Each one of us is on a leadership journey of our own. Our journeys might not look alike, they might resemble more of a roller-coaster than a race track, and that is what makes each one of us special and unique in our own ways.
I am deeply touched when someone takes the time to share their story with me. The readers of my Deploy Yourself newsletter and the leaders I work with are also left inspired when we listen to each other’s leadership journeys.
If you think that your leadership journey is worth sharing and would be valuable to others, reach out and allow me the privilege to interview you. You can send me a message on LinkedIn or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would be interested.