Blackbaud CMO Catherine LaCour champions authentic leadership

Photo: Keely Laughlin

By Shelley Hill Young

What does it mean to be a woman?

That’s the question Catherine LaCour – chief marketing officer of Blackbaud, the world’s largest cloud software provider for the social good community – recently fielded during a presentation to students at R.B. Stall High School in North Charleston.

It might be one of the toughest questions she’s had to answer in a while. Catherine applauded the young woman for not being intimidated, for asking an insightful question. It’s the type of assertiveness she looks for on her team. Then, she says, she told the student that being a woman is a responsibility to other women.

“I take as much delight in your success as my own,” she says. “This really is about supporting each other. For me, personally, that doesn’t have borders.”

In her office in Blackbaud’s new headquarters on Daniel Island, Catherine says helping other women and making the world a better place can be as small a gesture as wiping off the countertop in a public restroom so that it’s clean for the next person and perhaps makes a cleaning person’s job a little easier.

Or it could be leading the marketing efforts of the company whose software powers Ashley Hall and the ALS ice bucket challenge fundraising campaign that went viral in 2014, along with other organizations whose mission is to improve society and do good.

In November, Catherine will speak to hundreds of professional women at the Center for Women’s annual conference on the topic of what it means to be a woman leader.

“I’m a woman. I’m a leader. I’m a woman leader,” she says. “The idea is we can’t separate the two.”

Catherine champions authentic leadership and plans to focus on the idea that leadership isn’t a title, it’s an attitude.

“Leadership starts when no one is watching,” Catherine says. “It’s about your core values. What inspires you? What brings you joy?”

She often reflects and asks herself: Am I curious? Am I passionate? Am I challenged? If she answers “yes” most of the time, she says, then I know I’m in the right place.

“That will show up in the way I lead,” she says.

Catherine says it’s important for women to be really intentional about what their goals are and to go after them. She encourages women to “identify what’s holding them back, acknowledge the fear and still move forward.”

While Catherine took on the tile of CMO for Blackbaud in January, she’s also taken on a role of championing and empowering the women at Blackbaud and in the larger community. She has a leadership team of six women in the marketing department and helped create a global management team of women at the company along with chief technology officer Mary Beth Westmoreland. The management team is having its third summit in November.

“It’s really empowering,” Catherine says. “I have an amazing job.”

The culture at Blackbaud is known to be supportive of women. In July, it was recognized by Forbes as one of America’s Best Employers for Women. The company boasts that 50 percent of its employees are women.

Catherine exudes a genuine and approachable confident authority. She warmly greets workers in the hallway, and everyone seems to respond to her positive energy.

Catherine recalls pretending as if she ran a modeling agency with her best friend when they were 12. She laughs and says, “I was always running a business.” She says her younger siblings (she’s the oldest) always joke that she used her management skills to keep them in line when they were young.

The Charleston native attended College of Charleston, where being the president of her sorority gave her one of her first opportunities to lead a group of women. She’s now on the College of Charleston graduate school’s advisory board.

After receiving a master’s in business administration from the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State, Catherine worked in San Francisco during the height of the tech boom. She says she was always the only female and the youngest person at the table. She often wore glasses so people would take her seriously. While in San Francisco, she took acting classes and recalls that during her first class, the teacher asked students to stand in a position of power. She learned to stand with her feet apart, to take up space, to own that space. Catherine is still exercising her power and taking up space, but she’s doing it her way.

Catherine says a female mentor who worked for Apple taught her that being a leader is not about being the most aggressive person in the room. “I’m kind of silly, I’m fun,” she says. She’s not one to yell. But, she says, “If you want someone who is going to win the war, you want me. I will get it done.”

It’s that authenticity and the ability to create a safe space where people feel comfortable being vulnerable that helps build trust, Catherine says. “That’s when the magic happens.”

Last year, she joined the board of directors of the Women’s Refugee Commission, a nonprofit that advocates for policies and programs to improve the lives and protect the rights of refugee women and children.

It’s yet another way Catherine is working to make the world a better place for women.

“It’s part of the gift I’ve been given in this role,” Catherine says. “It’s part of my responsibility in this role.”