Few people are “born leaders.” In fact, within the business world, the ability to oversee plans, processes and personnel requires skills that are honed over time and with great patience. Sometimes there is an “aha moment,” an epiphany of sorts at which point a person realizes ‘I can lead.’ In other cases, a series of general events or a string of specific incidences yields a confidence and focus within a person, allowing leadership qualities to come forth.
In Nashville, the majority of leaders remain men. But woman are closing that gap, making significant impact on the area’s business community. It is a trend that is encouraging and surely will benefit the city and the region. The Nashville Post editorial team selected the 2012 Most Powerful Women — check out our 2011 choices here  — based on their leadership skills, broad influence and ability to facilitate positive change. The group represents a cross-section of area industries: health care, government, nonprofits and public relations/marketing.
We interviewed the four to learn about their leadership styles, philosophies and challenges. They came across as humble, intelligent and seasoned. We liked what we heard. Nashville, indeed, should take note of these leaders.
Aileen Katcher ranks among Nashville’s most successful and admired business leaders.
However, the long-time local communications pro struggles to pinpoint a defining moment in her career evolution.
“I can’t say there was an ‘a-ha moment,’” she responded when asked at what point she realized she was prepared to oversee employees, budgets, company decision-making and the like.
But Katcher, a partner with Katcher Vaughn & Bailey Public Relations, does recall a situation that helped define the person she is today.
“Some years back, I did have a real leadership test in a non-profit leadership role for my congregation,” she remembered. “During my year as chair-elect, our beloved, founding rabbi announced he was leaving to teach. The next two years of searching for a replacement — serving as board chair and a consistent face of leadership to our members during the year of an interim rabbi — taught me many great leadership lessons.”
On of those lessons learned involved the importance of declining, even though tempted otherwise, to “triangulate.”
“If a congregant called me to complain about the rabbi, I redirected [the congregant] straight to him,” she said. “If necessary, I offered to go with them to discuss the issue. But not to do it for them.”
Katcher tries to do likewise at KVB.
“If someone on our team has an issue with someone else, I try to offer to help talk through some potential solutions with the person but encourage them to resolve it with the other person directly,” she explained.
Underlings, colleagues and the general business community respect Katcher, in large part, because she does not present herself as a high-powered business mover and shaker. Her bio on the KVB website even subtly references this “down-to-earthness.”
“During her professional career, Aileen has inventoried road-building equipment in Upper East Tennessee and used syringes to coat tiny ball bearings with grease,” it reads, an underlying playfulness noticeable.
When asked if she considers herself a leader or a “powerful/influential” businesswoman, Katcher reflected on her history in Music City.
“Since I came to Nashville in 1978, I have interacted with many people here, both in the business world and the government and nonprofit worlds,” she said. “This is mostly due to the nature of my work and my involvement in nonprofit and community activities. So, I do have a large network of contacts. A former co-worker used to say she found there to be less than six degrees of separation from Aileen Katcher in Nashville. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to power or influence.
“A leader is a guide,” Katcher added. “That doesn’t mean it’s ‘my way or the highway.’ But, rather, set the direction for the group and work to ensure all are headed in the right direction.”
John Tighe, a retired Corrections Corp. of America and Saint Thomas Hospital executive, said Katcher possesses a “calm relentless style.”
“As a leader, there is nothing that is too big or too small for her to take on,” said Tighe, who once served on the Community Nashville board with Katcher. “If there is a strategy that makes sense, Aileen will drive it to completion. She will make sure that it happens.”
Tighe said Katcher is adaptable and flexible — and capable of accepting that sometimes less-than-ideal options must be taken.
“Aileen quickly gets over the emotion,” he said. “There is this calm focus. She is willing to roll up her sleeves. She is not just an idea person. If she says she is going to do something, it gets done.”
Katcher has been “getting it done” for a long time. She is a veteran member of Nashville’s business community and has been highly influential in helping the city’s female business leaders make great strides for more than 30 years.
“Twenty five years ago, women weren’t allowed to join in men’s business groups,” she recalled. “We weren’t allowed at The City Club unless we sat in the Lady’s Tea Room. We weren’t allowed in Rotary or other groups. That has changed. So, we have ‘come a long way baby,’ but the business community is still male dominated and women still have to work harder to prove ourselves.”
Katcher said being a leader can involve vision, entrepreneurialism — or, perhaps, both or neither.
“It depends where your heart is,” she said. “Successful leaders are not necessarily successful entrepreneurs. Conversely, successful entrepreneurs may not always be the best leaders. To be a successful entrepreneur, you must be a visionary. And, if you want to grow your entrepreneurial business, you must either be a leader, or recruit a leader to join you.”