059: Boston Speaks up with The Leadership Consortium CEO Cara Shortsleeve
Boston Speaks Up (BSU) is a podcast owned and operated by Value Creation Labs. Listen to BSU on any podcast platform you choose: SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Google Play.
Cara Shortsleeve is the CEO at The Leadership Consortium (TLC), a leadership development platform designed to accelerate high potential and diverse leaders.
Shortsleeve joined TLC in 2018 to launch and scale the business which has since forged relationships with Google, IBM, HubSpot, P&G, WPP and dozens more. Under Shortleeve’s leadership, TLC has enabled more than 2,000 executives to lead stronger teams and bring broader strategic mindsets to their business.
Prior to joining TLC, Shortsleeve spent more than a decade in various leadership roles at Google and YouTube. Most recently, she served as a Global Director for GTM and commercialization at YouTube, focusing on product and commercial strategy. She was initially hired in 2007 to help launch and scale Google’s east coast, mid-market sales presence, after which she led the North American mid market sales teams for both Financial Services and Healthcare.
Before Google, Shortsleeve managed the US running apparel business at New Balance, served as a Sales Director for Hind/Saucony, and spent three years with Morgan Stanley's Investment Banking Division.
You can listen to the podcast embedded below or on any podcast platform you prefer (SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Google Play):
Enjoy an abridged version of our interview with Shortsleeve below.
Where did you grow up and how would you describe your childhood?
I grew up in Belmont, MA. It was a great place to grow up and it brings me great joy whenever I can return and drive through town. My childhood was idyllic in many ways - rich in family, as my grandmother would say. There was an emphasis on personal excellence, growth and development. Family dinner was the one thing that was required - we’d sit down and say grace, and everyone got a turn to thank God for one thing for which we were grateful that day.
Who had the biggest impact in your life shaping the person you are today?
I was always in hot pursuit of my two older siblings; they were epic in what they were able to accomplish and who they were (and still are today!) as humans. I also had the beauty of having a younger sibling who was not so close to me in age - she was seven years younger - and being her older sibling always gave me an unbelievable feeling of pride.
How did your early job experience shape your career goals?
While I was in business school, I wanted to test the hypothesis as to whether I could match my vocation and avocation: could I wed my personal passion for athletics with a professional pursuit? So between my two years at Harvard Business School, I tracked down and then pitched who seemed to be the only HBS alum doing sales in sporting goods, hunting him down convincing him to let me work for him for the summer. It was amazing! After HBS, I went back to that company, and when they were acquired, I found my way to Google.
Tell us about your time spent at Google and YouTube.
I spent an amazing decade at Google and I would do it again. I’m a huge believer in technology as a force for good and Google was a gracious and generous employer -- Google is where I really grew up as a professional. I always tell people I left a dream job at Google for an even dreamier job at TLC. That’s what I wish for everybody: that you leave something when you feel rich, when you feel fulfilled. When you can say, ‘I have learned amazing things and I leave with a full heart’. My hope is that I’ll have a few amazing professional chapters and my chapter at Google was absolutely outstanding.
How did your role as CEO of The Leadership Consortium come to fruition?
I’m hugely passionate about equity -- it grew from personal experience as a woman working in finance, then sporting goods, then technology (arguably some of the more male-dominated sectors). I also have a passion for technology and tech-enabled businesses. Finally, I feel I am values driven and feel a deep connection with high integrity brands and people. Which all made The Leadership Consortium the perfect opportunity for me! Frances Frei, a professor at HBS, and Anne Morriss, a fabulous author, had an idea for a business which wold accelerates diverse leaders, and they needed an operator. It was the perfect role for me because it was a mission I cared deeply about, with an amazing founding team, and the business would be Boston born and bred (satiating my fierce Boston loyalty!). We joined forces in 2018 and it has been amazing ever since.
What is your favorite thing about your role at TLC?
We’ve accelerated ~2,000 business leaders through our work at TLC. So when you ask what I love about my job, first, it’s that I get to connect with such amazing humans and second, I get to see these leaders return to their companies as even more audacious leaders ready to do unbelievable work.
What are some common areas of corporate improvement you’ve identified from working with so many companies through TLC?
TLC works with companies which care deeply about human capital and accelerating previously underserved leaders. The most inspiring / hopeful trend I have identified is that during what was arguably one of the toughest years to do business (2020), these companies increased -- not decreased! -- their investment in their human capital. It is not surprising that these are the category leaders: they understand the pivotal role of leadership in tough times, and thus have supported their leaders via the TLC partnership even more completely in 2020 than in past years. It has been truly inspiring to partner with these companies.
What is TLC doing to help foster more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces?
Our mission is around inclusive leadership: to help more and varied leaders thrive and to help change the look and feel of leadership. We do that by partnering with companies -- fabulous organizations like Google, Alphabet, IBM and of course amazing Boston-born companies like HubSpot, Nuance, Salsify, etc. These companies send members of their leadership ranks through our leadership acceleration programming. We ask that companies strive to send at least 50% women and 50% BIPOC through our programming. We bring this rich group of humans together from different sectors, different stages of business, different backgrounds, and ensure disproportionate access is given to those who have not had access in the past. Through the richness of the experience, leaders emerge feeling even more confident in their own personal leadership style, their ability to lead and manage teams in an inclusive way, and their command of business.
What are some TLC goals or initiatives for 2021 you’d like folks to know about?
We run programs two seasons a year, in the spring and the fall. We are always interested in bringing in new partners who are mission-aligned and thus have an outsized focus on human capital, an interest in inclusivity, and commitment to ensuring that leadership looks (richly!) different in the years to come.
How will you measure TLC’s impact in 10 years from now? In 2030, what are some examples of what you’d like to achieve?
I would love to be out of business! The day everyone masters inclusive leadership… when leadership reflects the broader demographics... that will be the day we close up shop. And then I’ll go tackle the next big thing.
What’s the most important issue in the world you’d like to see solved and why?
Inequality is something I feel quite passionately about and something I feel I have the direct ability to influence. When I think about inequality, from a global standpoint -- inequality in terms of access to resources, safety, education, wealth -- the problems seem so big that if you sit and think about the problem too long, you’ll probably break down. So I try to focus on what is within my personal scope, what I can do as a human every day in my own corner of the world given my own unique skills, and that has led me to the work I'm doing with TLC today. I’m trying to do my part to help crack inequality in the business setting (access to employment, advancement, economic achievement), etc. If you want to join our efforts, reach out to me at TLC!
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