Business Strategist, Executive Coach and Speaker, The Batie Group
I first saw LaFern Batie on stage. Her compelling personality filled the auditorium. Mesmerized by her quick-witted confidence, the all-female audience was energized by her unique combination of strength and femininity. I knew immediately, I had to meet this woman and share her story. Batie is most definitely a woman with gravitas.
A few weeks later, we met for what was scheduled to be an hour lunch. We both brushed our schedules aside to enjoy an entire afternoon of lively conversation covering all the tabu topics of race, religion, politics, divorce and anything else controversial we could think of. Two women with seemingly little in common, we became fast friends and confidantes.
Originally from Maryland, Batie, 49, has called Florida home for close to two decades. She enjoyed an impressive career with Fortune 500 companies before starting her own company in 2005, the Batie Group. She uses her expertise to help international organizations and leaders across diverse industries maximize their collective and individual performance. She travels between her offices and homes in Tampa and Washington, D.C. to assist clients around the globe.
You have an impressive background. How did your career evolve?
I originally thought I wanted to be a teacher. I was a teacher’s pet growing up. I didn’t even want to go to recess, I wanted to stay and help the teacher. I was a dedicated student until the 9th grade when something flipped and I almost failed. Then I woke up and realized I wanted to graduate on time and do something with my life.
I worked in banking as a summer job then stayed on and went to school. I ended up getting my accounting degree, then years later, I decided to go back to school for my MBA.
I ended up working for a defense contractor, then a brokerage company when we moved to Florida. Out of the blue, I was offered an opportunity to run the human resources for an engineering team. For the first time, I went into an interview with nothing to lose, so I was very honest. I said, “I do not want a routine where day-to-day everything is the same. I need excitement, something different. Otherwise, I will be like a caged tiger: When that door opens, I’m gone. The executive chuckled and said OK, at least I know where you stand.
It ended up being a great opportunity that allowed me to grow. When I went in my goal was to be there four years. I had a chance to see what I enjoyed most, which was strategy, and helping leaders be more effective. Being able to see the inside of a large company, the people, the processes, the systems and the discipline around those processes—that is what creates the exceptional experience that people are attracted to.
When the four-year mark came, I realized I didn’t have a plan. I got frustrated with myself. So in 2005, I started my three-year plan and started my business on the side. All of my vacation time went to serving clients. I saved my money, so I would have enough money in reserve. And at the end of that time, I resigned and never looked back. That was 2008, we all know what was going on then.
2008 was an interesting time to jump off the cliff.
Actually, I think it was the best time, because organizations were looking to do things with more discipline. They didn’t have the luxury to say, “We’re doing well, we don’t need that.”
How did you carve out your place in male dominated industries?
It was very beneficial to have a man tell me I could do whatever I want—that was my father. Nobody said, you can’t; not in my innermost circle. And I think it’s important to give that to others who maybe don’t have that kind of inner circle. I had structure but not boundaries. Nobody ever told me, you should be this. I was able to figure that out on my own.
I’ve worked around men predominately, but I’ve never felt that I needed to be like a man. I love being a woman. I love the femininity of a woman. I love the intelligence of a woman. I like substantive conversations, and I like football. If your wife or your girlfriend does not like football, please don’t bring her to my house on Sunday. I’m not going to entertain her. I’m watching the game.
Where did you get your confidence and how do you help others find it?
First of all, you have to have the courage to allow confidence to surface. I believe part of it came from my nurturing. My mother is very independent, even now at 80. She was a leader in the community and required us to serve the community. She taught me to stand up for what is right. She would tell me, “Honey, sometimes you have to be the voice for people, when they are too ignorant to do it for themselves.” So, having a voice was always familiar to me. And my father always talked to us about being young ladies and not being afraid to be different.
Also part of it was my mindset. I’m very independent, which can be stubbornness, but when tempered can be confidence. Over time, I became more comfortable with who I am, what I believe, what I know is right for me. I know that if I don’t walk in confidence, then I will be the doormat for somebody else and I’m not able to live with that. I’m OK with conflict and disagreement. Other peoples’ judgement of what I should be doing—that made me fight even harder.
Confidence comes with embracing who you are with all of your imperfections. It comes from my desire to fully live the way LaFern wants to live. And not just living my life fully, but helping others do the same. I think it’s a shame for someone to go through life and not get a taste of joy and happiness and fulfillment because of the choices they are too afraid to make, that will make them uncomfortable. So I love working with people who don’t mind being stretched. I want to be the boot camp instructor for your mind. I am going to challenge the way you think. Not to get you upset, but to make you consider a different perspective, even if you don’t embrace it.
My goal is to die empty, or as close as I can get. To do all that I desire to do, can do, think that I was built to do. I don’t have to do it for a lifetime, maybe I’ll just do it for the weekend. Try it: See what it feels like.
Can you share with us a memorable life experience?
The first time I went to West Africa, Burundi, the third worst country in Africa; it was the best experience of my life. I had a lot of preconceived concepts of that area, but there was never a single day when we woke up that they were not already working. No one ever begged one time for anything. It was a wake-up call for me.
When we arrived, we were told we would be approached. But, no one asked for money, they wanted to carry our bags or make us clothes. When we would wake up in the morning the little kids were outside with their mules and all of their products. They were already working. When we got in at 11 o’clock at night, they were still out. I’ve never seen such industrious people. No one begged for a penny. Even at the Vatican, the gypsies are there. I never felt safe. It forever changed the way I felt about my life. Maybe it is the third worst country in Africa, but they sure don’t have the third worst mindset. The experience changed my whole perspective.
How do you think women can help each other more in business?
As a woman who was a leader in a large organization, I push women to work twice as hard, be twice as good, because I know that is what it takes. Some women accept it, others do not.
I see women who are almost afraid that if they help a woman it will be seen that they are doing it because she is a woman. And some women honestly want to be the only one; that is their sacred space as the only. But in the middle there are women who will support at whatever level they can. What I want to see is women who have solid opportunities to bring other women along and unapologetically talk about it. If you get women together and demand nothing, they are just a bunch of women. If you get women who are unified and they say, “We are willing to experience discomfort and consequences to accomplish something,” that can be a force for good and change. I love to see young women who are courageous enough to raise their voices. I think about the women who made the biggest influence in my life. They were the women in my community who encouraged me and shared some of the realities and consequences of life.