Learning not to see the obstacles:
A conversation on leadership with Katie Casey
March is Women’s History Month and to celebrate we’re sharing select stories of women at Schwab who are rising and leading efforts to improve the lives of our clients all year round and all around the globe. This is the second installment of a four-part series.
March 11, 2020
By Jamie Fox, Manager, Talent Acquisition
Katie Casey, Executive Vice President of Human Resources at Schwab, shares her perspective on leadership, recounts pivotal moments in her career, and offers advice for aspiring leaders.
What’s your favorite part about being a leader?
I love the opportunity to have a positive impact on others. When people come to me for advice, an introduction to someone in the organization, or a chance to have a developmental experience, it’s a rewarding feeling.
For example, I recently heard from an employee who received an award for doing fabulous work. It really made my day to hear how appreciated and valued she felt. In her email, she said, “I’ve never been on a team as amazing as this and I’ve been a part of so many great ones. But to feel trusted, listened to and empowered is a great way to come to work. And while I can’t find the right words and I’m not sure I feel worthy, I do know what an incredible honor it is to receive this award and thank you for believing in me.”
So personally, the best part of being a leader is when people feel you believe in them, and they feel valued and listened to. It’s even better when you’re able to recognize them with an award or an opportunity that affects them in a way that’s deeply felt.
"Leadership is hard. It’s demanding. But you have to believe in yourself. Part of believing in yourself is not being afraid to fail. When you do fail, you have to own it, then learn from it and move on."
Katie Casey, Executive Vice President of Human Resources, Schwab
Where does your inspiration come from?
My mother used to say she was only as happy as her least-happy child. I believe our clients are only as happy as our least-happy employee. The reason why I’m so driven to make a difference is that I think it’s ultimately reflected in how our employees treat our clients. I love Schwab for the way we value, treat and serve our clients. And if I can make a difference in somebody’s life that enables them to take better care of a Schwab client, then maybe in some small way I’ve helped contribute to a financial outcome. That’s what really inspires me—helping people who work closest to clients, who get those phenomenal outcomes that truly can be life-changing for people.
What led you to become the leader you are today?
I played a lot of sports growing up. I ultimately became captain of every team except one that I was on. It always felt good knowing my teammates wanted me to be their leader. I was the point guard in basketball, and the position operates as the coach on the floor who calls the plays. I loved everything about the position and I believe it set me on my leadership journey. Out of college, I went into a management-development program hoping for the opportunity to lead others. Later in my career, I took a position as an individual contributor and subject matter expert, which gave me the opportunity to see all different types of leadership. It was an eye-opening experience and ultimately led me back to a leadership role.
Tell us about a pivotal moment along your leadership journey?
Leadership can be a very humbling experience. Seeking opportunities to embrace humility strengthens leadership qualities by helping develop empathy and understanding. These qualities help you see things differently—not so much as it relates to your destination as a leader, but how you see things along the way.
I’ve done some very out-of-the box things that have helped me see many different types of leadership. I’ve worked in financial services almost my entire career, but I left the industry for seven years and went into higher education, which requires a very different type of leadership. In financial services, you have hierarchy, organizational structure and decision rights that don’t exist in higher education. The faculty have jobs for life and administrators have little ability to influence and shape outcomes. That can make it very challenging to get things done. In that environment, you have to build your influence muscle.
Returning to financial services, where the structure affords more decision rights, I’d built muscle for when things get difficult. I had the ability to influence, shape and move the thinking to conclusion. Getting out of my comfort zone was probably the single biggest influence on my leadership skills.
Katie quote 2
"If I can make a difference in somebody’s life that enables them to take better care of a Schwab client, then maybe in some small way I’ve helped contribute to a financial outcome. That’s what really inspires me—helping people who work closest to clients."
Any words of wisdom to women aspiring to leadership roles?
First and foremost, you have to believe you can. Leadership is hard. It’s demanding. But you have to believe in yourself. Part of believing in yourself is not being afraid to fail. When you do fail, you have to own it, then learn from it and move on.
I’m an avid golfer, and the thing I love most is the integrity of the game – the mental toughness and courage it requires. Either you can see the flag you’re swinging for a hundred yards out or you can see all the obstacles on the path to that flag – the rocks, the trees, the water, the sand, out-of-bounds. The true genius in golf is training yourself not to see those obstacles. They are there—understand them, appreciate the risk they pose, but try to look past them.
Identify the obstacles, know they’re there, but find a pathway through them to reach your goal. Ultimately, that’s what it takes to be a leader or achieve whatever goal you want to reach in life.
Part 1 of the Women’s History Month series: Meet the Internationals: Two women helping Schwab clients around the globe