By Sabie Crowder
Marj Flemming and Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute have been synonymous in the community for decades, but now at over 650 members, many may not know Marj or her contributions to our organization.
Over 25 years ago, Marj and a group of influential Chattanooga women met regularly to catch up and socialize. “The Women’s Leadership Institute was initiated in 1996 with informal gatherings regarding the small number of women in true leadership positions in the Chattanooga community, especially the relatively few women holding elective and appointive office in local government. Additionally, a movement began to form an organization where women leaders could interact with each other more productively and could bring forward a new generation of women leaders.” (CWLI.org)
Marj took on the role of Executive Director for 12 years and clocked countless hours to contribute to the formative years that shaped our current organization. CWLI grew from a half dozen members meeting casually, to 150 members meeting quarterly, to now over 650 members, a 20 member Board of Directors, and a three-woman staff.
From Cornfields to Corporation
Iowa-native Marj Flemming attended St. Mary of the Woods in Indiana and studied Management and Leadership. A working mother of three (including a set of twins), Marj moved to California to work in strategic planning for General Electric’s nuclear division. The kids eventually became adults and Marj transitioned to Chattanooga for a similar nuclear role at TVA.
After earning her master’s degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Marj was ready. She had always wanted to start her own company, and with experience in government, private, and public sectors, the doors opened in 1995. The first three years were spent researching the American Management Association catalog and writing 26 (!) of her own leadership courses. Three years went by and no paycheck.
“Creating the courses was easy and comfortable for me. The hard part was marketing the materials to potential clients,” Marj reflected.
The fear subsided quickly after booking her first clients, but the lesson left a mark on her life.
“Don’t feed your fears,” Marj says when asked for her best advice. “Learn the lesson and move on. Women have a hard time with this; don’t dwell on your mistakes.”
Now after 25 years in business, Marj’s company, LaunchPoint Leadership, brings personal and executive coaching, leadership training, board member training, mentoring training, and team building to anyone from individuals to large corporations in the Chattanooga area. Marj notes that leadership development is extremely important for all organizations no matter the size or budget including churches, clubs, or nonprofits.
A self-proclaimed nonhobbyist, Marj is more interested in people, their personalities, and their decision-making than gardening or cooking.
“How people think, analyze, and make decisions is important. After 25 years of coaching, I still love being surprised by people’s answers.”
Talk with Marj for any period of time and you know her mind is moving quickly, but she chooses her words carefully. She defines herself well: straightforward but kind.
“It’s hard to tell people the truth. Truth is sometimes tough to face and how it is phrased when spoken is important. I’m patient to discover answers and people’s truths and desires.”
Leaders Versus Managers
A concept that is well-articulated by Marj is the difference between managers and leaders. After the first few years in business, LaunchPoint Leadership switched its focus from management development to leadership development. Admittedly, they sounded the same to me at first, but when Marj simply stated, “Leaders share what they want done, and managers care about how it gets done,” it clicked. Leaders come in all forms, whether a management position or a stay at home mom, a non-profit president or a volunteer. Leaders step up to the plate in whatever role they hold at the time.
“People don’t hire leaders, people become leaders. You can’t write a resume for a leader,” she said.
Advice From A Coach
- Her basic premise of leadership? “Learn who you are. When you face yourself, your fears, habits, likes, dislikes…life gets simpler.”
- Interested in volunteering? Marj says, “Raise your hand! Don’t wait to be asked. Women especially can waste time waiting to be asked. If you want to volunteer, choose an organization that matters to you and help.”
- Two simple tactics to work into your daily life? “Use people’s names and ask questions.” Marj says people instantly feel warmer when they are called by name and feel special when someone cares about their opinion. Bonus points: if you can help them identify their pain and be a part of the solution, you can be a hero.
Marj is still heavily involved in the organization she helped build as a presenter for Women Mentoring Women, board member, and the first Legacy member of CWLI. Next time you see her, introduce yourself. You’ll be glad you did.
Want to learn more? Read Marj’s Q&A here.