Claire Muhm Executive Coach, Muhm & Associates & President, The Boston Club

Executive coach, human resources leader, passionate women’s leadership advocate, gourmet chef, marathoner, and now The Boston Club President--meet Claire Muhm!

Q: You have spent your career in senior HR positions and are now an executive coach. What are you most looking forward to in your new role as Club President?

A: While I have held senior leadership roles before, I have not had the opportunity to lead a 600-person all-volunteer nonprofit organization, let alone an organization that is so distinctly committed to a cause! I am excited and inspired by the opportunity to serve a cause that I think is so important, and one I believe in so deeply.

Q: Tell us about one memorable or meaningful experience you have had as a member of the Club.

A: This is not something I'm proud of nor something I would recommend to other members, but about ten years ago I held a job that had offices in two places: London and Denver. Literally the only time I ever got to Boston was when a plane I was on stopped here on the way to somewhere else, and over the course of those two years, I didn't attend even one Boston Club event. During the period I was away, I felt like the Club represented a lifeline for me to connect to the Boston community. Just the knowledge that the organization was there was really important to me and when I once again took a position that was based in Boston, I felt so warmly welcomed back. I never was made to feel guilty about being away. It was a reminder that the seasons of life ebb and flow, but one of the constants is the Club. It will take as much as we have to give, but it's a forgiving organization when life takes over.

Q: Looking back over your years of experience, what would you say are the most important traits of a successful leader? 

A: I very much believe in the concept of servant leadership. It's the responsibility of the leader to empower those around us to carry out the mission or cause of an organization. When I gave my inaugural address to the Club at the Annual Meeting, I talked about leadership in that context--my job is to encourage, inspire, listen and unleash the truly fantastic capabilities that are represented by our members.

I once worked for an incredible company that ended up going out of business, and the takeaway from that experience is that when the leaders of any organization lose touch with customers, clients and members, the organization becomes imperiled. In this particular company, I witnessed well-meaning people protecting the company's leaders from bad news. What that says to me is that it is absolutely crucial to be open, to listen, and when things are wrong, to make it easy to hear feedback.

Q: Why do you believe in the cause of women's leadership?

A: Without generalizing, I do believe women lead differently, and I find myself wondering what it is that makes women different. Perhaps it comes from the fact that most women are raised with the expectation that our job is to empower or support the success of others.

Many women tend to be more inclusive, more inclined to lead teams, more likely to engage others and establish a collective force of leadership, and less likely to fall into the role of “heroic” individual leaders. We represent at least 50 percent of the talent in the world and in my experience, the leadership teams I've been a part of that include multiple women are more effective, and the companies that have diverse boards are more profitable.

Q: Tell us about a pivotal moment in your life that helped lead you to the work you are doing today.

A: When I was 26, I was sent on a temporary assignment to Galway, Ireland, where the company I worked for had a large manufacturing plant. The assignment was intended to be four weeks in length, and I returned over three years later! It was a pivotal experience in many ways--seeing my own country through the eyes of others, hearing a different version of the world news--but most importantly, being challenged to understand attitudes and beliefs that were very different from those I grew up with.

As a young woman born and raised in the Midwest and brought up Protestant (though rather loosely and casually), I had little or no understanding of Ireland, Catholicism or Irish attitudes toward American multinational corporations. And because I was the only American woman in a plant of over one thousand people, I also experienced stereotyping in a way I had never before encountered. This experience was so developmental, so life-and-mind expanding, that I returned a changed person--and one of the most significant and lasting influences was a passion for diversity and inclusion that has remained a central value in my life.  

Q: Who is your role model or mentor?

A: Dorothy Terrell is a recognized senior leader who has served on numerous boards and has a high profile in the Boston community and beyond. She was my boss when I returned from Ireland, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have worked for her. Those of us who have held expatriate assignments know that, ironically, returning home is often the hardest part.  Dorothy supported my re-entry and was the best leader I’ve ever worked for. She made a huge difference in my career and taught me many things. 

Q: Tell us something offbeat that few people know about you.

Though my knees have since given out, I'm proud of the fact that I once ran a 3:01:34 marathon! I am also passionate about cooking--it’s my one artistic pursuit. Best of all, I am a brand-new grandmother! I never had children of my own, so how lucky can I get?

Q: What do you hope to be doing in five years?

One of the reasons I accepted this position is because I view it as a bridge to the next chapter of my professional life. I spent 30 years in corporate America and 10 years as an executive coach, all in corporate settings. During the next chapter, I can turn my attention to giving back and utilizing my skills in a different capacity. I look forward to coaching within nonprofit settings and especially with women leaders. I know it's not easy to reshape one's career, and I see The Boston Club as a positive force that will pull me in a new direction. I'm grateful for that opportunity.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to say to Club members as you start your tenure as President? 

A: I love the mission of the Club--that it’s both a club and a cause. I very much want to shine a light on the cause. I recognize our members lead busy lives--our cups runneth over!--and it's hard for many of us to take advantage of the tangible benefits of the Club. Members periodically say to me, “I'm so busy I can't make it to programs, so I just don't feel I am getting value from the Club.”

I have three responses to that. One, remember that life ebbs and flows, and we’ll always be here for you. Two, I want to remind members that there are ways outside of attending events to access the benefits of membership, including mentoring and affinity groups. And finally, I ask that our members remain committed to the Club simply because it's the right thing to do! Remember what we stand for--the advancement of women’s leadership. We are united in this mission, and our membership symbolizes a cause that we are all committed to and proud of. I look forward to serving you over the next two years.