Claudia Merkle, CEO of National MI Holdings, shares the importance of preparation and organization, carving out time for yourself, and shifting to a deliberate approach when executing tasks, and uncovers the secret to her success through work-life balance, consistent communication and setting aside time to reflect.

An excerpt from the interview: 

Kristin Messerli: Yeah. And you’re an amazing communicator, especially around in a mortgage insurance. I’m always surprised whenever I hear you talk about it, because I think like, oh, okay, this is all going to go over my head. And then I hear you speak and you explain things in a way that’s really… it’s speaking to the point, but it’s also bringing others into the conversation and I don’t know if that was something intentional or if it’s just you being you and you’re able to communicate across a lot of, I think, potential boundaries. But are you spending time thinking about the way that you’re communicating these things, or is that something that was an intentional shift for you?

Claudia Merkle: You know, Kristin, I have a background right out of college where I was a trainer for a while. I actually was a teller trainer, went into corporate training and I think training helps with communication because you’re telling a story, you’re making sure everybody has a baseline and then is building from there that. That just comes natural to me. And that’s the way my mind works. Like, wait, do I miss something? What are we talking about? Let’s find out where we were, where we’re at and where we’re heading.

And I think sometimes when we’re in meetings and somebody just starts talking and you’re not connecting, you need to say, “Look, I may have missed something. I really apologize. But can we step back a minute? Am I clear on our goal? Am I clear on the last conversation? I thought the jumping off point was this.” I think that’s important. And then if someone else is telling that story, so probably my training background helped, but it’s natural, but it is deliberate.

Kristin Messerli: Yeah. So my last question for you is around how you’ve challenged the status quo within yourself. Can you describe a time when you have shifted internally or challenged something that you were thinking and feeling internally?

Claudia Merkle: Yeah. THe challenge quo within myself was about learning areas that were just not natural for me. I didn’t come up in that world, whatever that world is around me. And it’s really researching, learning. I had to pull some college books out again. I had to take some courses, but it’s research and understanding. It’s pulling back to your own organization. That was a big shift. Normally you go into a meeting and you just go, oh, that person knows it. And I no longer said that person knows it. I wanted to know it. Now I’m not going to be the subject matter expert, but I want to know it.

I want to know it well enough that I can ask questions that I can pull things together and make a difference. And that’s been quite a while, but it really is… It is, for me, breaking the status quo of trusting someone just to do it all. And that doesn’t mean that they aren’t still doing it. It just means that you have more knowledge to be able to come to the conversation about, and that’s important. And I think it has been a big shift for me.

Kristin Messerli: So the shift was around challenging yourself to gather more information and become more of an expert in certain areas that you didn’t previously have experience? Okay.

Claudia Merkle: That’s right. That’s exactly right. And that takes a lot of work. That takes a lot of time. I would sometimes spend a weekend just saying, “I’m going to spend a couple hours understanding this. Understanding and looking at this spreadsheet.” Pulling it back to something else. And it’s not rocket science, but it… Takes time because it’s not natural and constant for you. Same with speeches. I needed to practice. I would normally just pretty much just go with it and you get to a point in your career that just going with it isn’t enough. You have to practice, stand in front of the mirror, make sure it’s natural. Not like this, this is you and I talking, this is us. But when you’re standing in front of a crowd and you’re at an investor meeting or at some type of forum where you are giving a speech, you can’t just read it off or wing it. So that’s another status quo that you have to… That I felt I had to break in order to be prepared.

Kristin Messerli: I think with a lot of people, especially women, it seems like we feel like okay, I’m not an expert in this area and so there’s like an internal ceiling there. And instead of okay, but I can learn that and I can break through that. And I think that that’s something that I’m constantly trying to challenge myself with oh okay, no, I’m not there right now, but I could be. And trying to constantly push myself towards, this is what I would like to become and so I can study it and practice it.

Claudia Merkle: Yeah. Because people around us, if you said to the subject matter expert, you’ve made a comment in a meeting a couple of times about X and I understand it, but don’t really fully grasp where it’s coming from, where it’s going. Can you spend 15 minutes with me and just unraveling that subject? People are very happy as long as it’s not confidential, et cetera, but people are very happy to be able to help. And it’s what makes the world go round.

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