Margie Frazier, PhD, grew up on a farm in rural Ohio. As a young girl she dreamed of being Marlo Thomas, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett or Lucille Ball. It’s not that she wanted to be a television star or a comedian; she wanted to be smart and funny, to live in a big city and to have the confidence to talk back to the men in charge. Additionally, by middle school she knew that she wanted to make a difference in the world, in people’s lives.
Currently the Executive Director of the Batten Disease Support and Research Association, Margie’s career has run the gamut from government and policy work (Ohio General Assembly, Ohio Attorney General’s office) to not-for-profit leadership (Ohio Association of Free Clinics, National Center Adoption Law and Policy) to clinical social work (in inner city Chicago and rural Ohio). She believes that her career, like that of many women, evolved in “skips and hops” as she sought to make the best choices given the constraints of life and family. Each career move was motivated by Margie’s need to do work that was interesting to her and made a difference to others. And with each move she learned more about herself about leadership and about making a difference.
And while it was not a direct career path, all of her prior work has ideally suited her for her current role which is in her sweet spot of leadership, policy and clinical support of individuals.
Yet, this does not mean that Margie is “resting on her laurels.” Leading an organization devoted to funding research and treatment as well as support for the families of children who have “genetically inherited life-limiting neurodegenerative disease” has required Margie to immerse herself in learning about the world of rare diseases venture capital funding, brain science and molecular biology. However she has developed the confidence to know that she “can do this.”
This confidence has developed over a career of seeking out challenging and interesting opportunities and figuring things out. Completing her doctoral dissertation at the prestigious and rigorous University of Chicago’s School of Social Work Administration was instrumental in helping her understand that
“I have done an amazing thing and I can do other amazing things!”
Working as a legislative aide, right after college Margie’s penchant for influencing policy, a way of improving lives on a larger scale than clinical work, became cemented. She learned a tremendous amount about the legislative process, motivations and lobbying.
Additionally, Margie observed that
“even the big guns” worried about things “like searching for a parking spot and where to go for lunch.”
This realization that very important people were, in many ways, just like her, contributed to her willingness to ask them for help (when needed) and question their decisions (when questionable). This is not to imply that she learned all this on her own. Margie noted that she was fortunate enough to have had sponsors in many of her roles.
These men (yes, they were all men)
“went to bat for me because they knew that I was doing good work in difficult situations…They were BS clearers who knew that if they cleared the way I could do impactful work.”
This leadership lesson, leader as BS clearer, has informed Margie’s own leadership style ever since.
While Margie’s sponsors have all been men this should not be interpreted as an absence of influential women in her life. Margie has always sought out female colleagues to “bounce ideas off of” and to think through complex issues. Margie has learned from them and they have learned from Margie in a collaborative relationship that has enhanced each parties’ careers and lives. These women have developed into a crucial network of colleagues and friends.
Speaking of influential women, Margie gives credit to her mother, grandmother and aunt,
“three women with cores of steel who persevered through adversity.
These women were tough” Margie chuckled, recounting her mother’s move to New York City after World War II, despite her grandmother’s trepidation. “She (her mother) lived near the Bowery” but did what she had to do to live the adventure that Ohio failed to provide. Later when circumstances changed her mother returned to Ohio to raise three children who were born when she was in her late 30’s, unheard of in the 1950’s. In addition to working on the farm her mother secured a secretarial position at OSU Newark, ensuring that her family would have health coverage and her children could attend college.
“You do what you have to do and you do it without complaining.”
Truly a life-long learner, Margie’s leadership style reflects what she has learned both through her career and her life experiences. She leads with “steadfast courage in protecting vulnerable populations” an approach that Margie observed in her husband’s long career in mental health. She leads by providing others the support and BS clearing that they need. She leads by having fun and hiring others who like to have fun both on and off the job. She leads by asking for help and unstintingly providing help. She leads by learning what she needs to learn and then doggedly learning it. She leads by calmly reassuring staff that, together, they CAN accomplish amazing things. She leads by enforcing a “no jerks respect everyone” work environment. She leads by forming relationships and nurturing existing relationships.
Margie summarized her leadership as “an acquired taste for some and an embraced taste for others but I am who I am.”
So, if you consider Columbus OH metropolitan area, population approximately 1.9 million, a big city Margie has achieved her childhood dreams. She is certifiably smart and genuinely funny. She lives in a big city. She is unafraid to talk back to the “men” in charge. She is most definitely making a difference in the lives of thousands.
1. This interview has been edited and condensed.