Laird Norton CEO Kristen Bauer Embraces Authenticity

Bauer encourages leaders to become self-reflective and sincere
  • Laird Norton CEO Kristen Bauer

This article is featured in the January issue of Seattle Business magazine. Subscribe here to access the print edition.

Kristen Bauer became chief executive officer of Seattle-based Laird Norton Wealth Management, the Pacific Northwest’s oldest and largest independent wealth management and trust company, in May. 

Raised as the daughter of a CEO, Bauer didn’t lack for lessons in leadership. Now, she strives to be a role model for future leaders of all identities — especially her own two daughters — in whatever endeavors they pursue. Recognizing the state of diversity in financial services — where less than 4% of financial planners are Black or Latino and less than 20% of advisers are women, according the Certified Financial Planners Board — she’s making a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture a top priority for Laird Norton.

Bauer is passionate about working closely with multiple generations within successful families to help them navigate challenges, change and generational transitions. She grew up in Bend, Oregon, which inspired her love of the outdoors and ongoing involvement with environmental causes. Bauer serves as board chairwoman of The Nature Conservancy in Washington, president of the board of the Wilderness Awareness School and is a member of the Young President’s Organization.

Leadership: When I think about the leaders I’ve admired, I think of courage and passion, people with integrity who are deeply committed to collaboratively pursuing a vi-sion and to helping others develop. And to do this, I think leaders need the ability to be self-reflective and actively seek feedback from all around them. And while many people talk about the importance of leading from behind, which I agree with, it is also critical to be able to lead from the front. Sometimes having the courage to go first so others will follow is as important. While few may con-sider aggressiveness to be a leadership trait, for me, it crosses a line into more ego-driven and self-serving actions. 

Barriers: Early in my career, I got in my own way and let too many things hold me back, especially around whether I was doing a good enough job of balancing being a mother with my professional aspirations. I was fortunate enough to have a few mentors who saw something in me and took a personal and authentic interest in my development. They helped show me my leadership path and, in turn, encouraged me to own up to my unique abilities. That said, I don’t mean to discount the structural and systemic barriers in business. They’re very real and they go far beyond gender. I’m proud to say women make up half of our firm’s leadership team and board of directors but we have lots of room to improve as it relates to building a diverse and inclusive culture that considers all aspects of diversity. We’ve recently brought in a consultant to help us assess where we stand on DEI, from hiring and culture to how we can promote racial and gender equity in our region and industry. It’s a first step, but an important one.

Prominence: Nurture an authentic and supportive network, get feedback from as many diverse perspectives as possible and be willing to stretch beyond your comfort zone. To evolve and advance your career, you can’t play it safe. If you don’t risk failure, you won’t grow. This takes bravery, passion, advocacy and sometimes scrappiness, but it’s worth the effort. And you can actually balance it all.

Mentorship: What’s interesting is that, in my professional career, I’ve only had one female boss. For three summers during college, I worked for a CFO who was a woman who took a chance on me and pushed me. So, I’ve gained most from women who I’ve watched create their own path, whether they were public figures, professional forces of nature or those who quietly used their integrity and guiding influence as powerful drivers of change. 

Advice: Build your tribe and offer your full authentic self to others. What I’m talk-ing about here is embracing authenticity and diversity within yourself so that you can encourage authenticity around you. And find others who will do the same. I see this next generation of female leaders building businesses and cultures that fully celebrate diversity and authenticity and not only make room for a future that’s going to look differ-ent, but take an active role in learning from, developing and mentoring the next generation. Our youngest generations are showing us great leadership for how diversity and authenticity should be respected in our world.

Networking: Finding ways to bring my networks together that benefit others has been a passion of mine. We are all interconnected and helping to weave a broad web of relationships that brings exponential rewards. It’s not just about advancement of one’s career. It’s about inclusiveness, community building and being a part of a thought-provoking ecosystem. New ideas, partnerships or ways to address big issues often come out of connecting beyond our immediate circles. 

Do Differently: As I started nurturing my network, I realized how many opportunities and connections I may have left in the past by not starting earlier. I often wonder what impact people from college or early in my career could have had on my life and how I could’ve paid that forward. 

Unwind: On a hike or wandering Discovery Park. I’m honestly a country girl from central Oregon and being outdoors in nature calms my mind. And if it’s raining, you most likely will find me with my two daughters or friends talking about the interesting aspects of life. 

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