Voice of Experience - Caryl Barnes

Caryl Barnes serves as Managing Director of Asset Management for Bridge Seniors Housing Fund Manager LLC. Caryl is a seasoned operations executive in the senior care industry and has worked in the healthcare field for over 30 years. Given Caryl’s experience, we focused our conversation on topics surrounding women in leadership.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I strive to cast a vision for my team of where we are going and what we need to do to get there, but more importantly, I seek to focus on the “why.” In my opinion, leaders can share the “why” with their team in a way that gets folks excited about the journey and the destination that we are seeking together. Colleagues have described me as having a “velveteen hammer.” I endeavor to always clearly convey my message, but I believe it is important to do so in a thoughtful and finessed way that is respectful and keeps the recipient whole, even when the message is a hard one.

What advice would you give the next generation of female leaders?

Finding your passion is so important. Work can be challenging; our careers are long and many struggle to balance work and personal commitments. If you work in a field that you are passionate about, it makes such a difference in the way you feel about the work you do. I refer to that fulfillment as my “second paycheck” – for me, if my work can improve someone else’s life, that feels like an extra payment.

Be gentle on yourself. Early on in my career, I failed to balance my work and personal life the way I needed to. Find strong mentors that can help coach and guide you. Seek to find that mentor that will be patient and wants to bring you along. Don’t be afraid to fail – failing is just an opportunity to make things better. For me, the key here is to cut losses quickly when something isn’t working and pivot – I call this a “Fail Fast” mentality. Essentially, I believe the knowledge gained from the failed project or initiative puts us that much closer to finding success. We don’t learn if we don’t have moments of failure. Every day there are challenges and obstacles. Be nimble, creative and determined - try 20 different ways to attack the problem if needed.

What strategies can help the next generation of female leaders grow in their careers?

Get as much experience as you possibly can, and be willing to engage in new initiatives or projects that are of interest and stretch you professionally. Develop a strong personal brand and reputation, and continually build your professional network. Do your homework and show up ready to go. Be meaningfully and substantively engaged in the conversation. Contribute in a way that would encourage others to think, “that professional deserves a seat at this table.” Seek to present yourself in a professional way for the promotion you want.

How do you find work/life balance or integration?

A lot of trial and error. Early on in my leadership career, a dear mentor of mine told me, “you take everything so seriously and so responsibly that no matter where you go to work, unless you resolve the need to ‘fix everything yourself,’ that issue will always hold you back.” I realized I could not carry the burden myself and I needed to build a strong team around me. Through reading about leadership approaches and trainings, I learned that a principle of servant leadership is to effectively train your team well and arm them with the tools they need to succeed. 

Then, step back a bit and let them work hard and shine. I found that doing so empowered the team to do what they needed to do, and they thrived. I also coached each team member to rise to the occasion. Once I was able to develop a high-performing team, I was able to step away a bit for vacations or family events, and know that responsibilities would be handled by my competent colleagues. It also inspired me to invest in and develop the talent in my team. Building a “strong bench” of professionals that you know well and trust enabled an environment where everyone can have balance.

What qualities help yield a productive team? How can women leaders foster that?

It’s important that team members have strengths that complement each other. Although the natural pull may be for like-minded individuals to want to work together, a fully-optimized team is full of individuals that have varying strengths. This yields higher efficiency and a better product, which in turn can help team members to feel more fulfilled by their work. I believe that when team members can work in areas that rejuvenate, excite and empower them, they are more engaged, will work harder, and are happier overall.

What are some barriers our female leaders and rising leaders face today?

Today, more than ever before, there is a strong environment for women to grow and develop their skillset. I’d like to see women supporting other women more – it is far more productive to work together and support each other as colleagues. I would also encourage women leaders to truly appreciate different styles, approaches, and strengths of their colleagues and mentors.