Executive performance coach Teri Citterman knows a thing or two about effective leadership. And it comes down to one trait that she believes all successful leaders exhibit: courage. “Without courage, I don’t know how you would lead,” Citterman says. “It has a lot to do with pushing yourself to be uncomfortable most of the time.”
Courage runs through Citterman’s family: Her father, at 17, was among the 30,000 men arrested during Kristallnacht. About to be sent to a concentration camp, he convinced a Nazi officer to let him go. He and his parents fled Germany to Shanghai, where they had to adapt to a new culture. “When I talk about the courage he had, it’s what saved his life,” Citterman says. “I feel it has passed down through him to me.”
Citterman, who has a background in journalism, set out to write her father’s story, but it wasn’t until much later in her career that the message of courage solidified. After working in PR for 20 years, she quit her job and followed her passion for executive coaching. “When I decided to switch careers in 2013, it crystallized. I didn’t have a safety net,” she says. She told herself, “‘I’m the only one who is going to stop me.’ And I wasn’t going to let that happen.”
Citterman has an eye for discerning how leaders can improve, and her coaching practice provides the resources and support they need to do so. Her book, From the CEO’s Perspective (Aviva Publishing, 2014), includes interviews with 20 local CEOs on their leadership styles and mentorship practices, providing insight into leaders’ candid thoughts. For Citterman, the book’s success revealed the public’s desire to hear from executives. The same year, she launched speaker forums, intimate discussions with CEOs that bridge the gap between executives and the community, covering topics from women and innovation to culture and diversity. Along with this work, Citterman developed and founded an exclusive executive performance program. Her newest project is an online executive presence course for introverted leaders, which she hopes to launch this fall.
As with past projects, Citterman is confident. “I can help them,” she says. “I know I can.”