Barbara McCaslin: A veteran leader teaching leaders
When you first meet Barbara McCaslin, her military background may not be readily apparent. After all, she’s been with Commerce Bank for 27 years and it’s been nearly three decades since she traded an Army uniform for a business suit. She also has a warm, lighthearted demeanor that may not seem consistent with that of a former sergeant.
However, ask her colleagues, and they’ll tell you they see the military’s impact on McCaslin all the time. “The influence is there in her leadership,” says Dave Whelan, a senior vice president and market retail banking manager at Commerce who has worked with McCaslin for 15 years. “Not only is she a phenomenal leader who keeps her staff informed and engaged, but she’s also a great developer of people.”
McCaslin, a vice president and banking center manager in Columbia, Mo., says her military experience has benefited her in other ways as well. “I learned to work with a diverse group of people,” she notes. “It’s like its own city, the military. I was able to work with people with different backgrounds and personalities, and it has helped. I’m able to work with anybody.”
McCaslin has come a long way from her roots in Rochester, Michigan, where she signed up for the Army after finishing high school. She enlisted, she says, because she felt fortunate to have been born in the U.S. and wanted to repay her country. After an initial posting at Fort Benning in Georgia, she transferred to Germany.
“I loved Germany,” she says. “I kept re-enlisting and extending my stay because I enjoyed it so much.” While there, she served as a medic, providing mental health services for infantry soldiers and their spouses.
“It was interesting work,” she says. “It involved a lot of group counseling with soldiers or with family members who were struggling with the challenges of being a military spouse in a foreign country. We worked hard to take care of the total soldier.”
During her time overseas, McCaslin also earned an associate’s degree, which helped to prepare her for life after the military. “I learned a lot all at the same time,” she notes. “Earning a degree while on active duty involves a lot of being up at 4:30 a.m.”
The switch to a career in banking once her military career was over required some adjustments. “When I got out, I had a tendency to bring that military approach and just tell people what to do,” she says with a laugh. “I still have that ‘let’s get it done’ mindset, but I have learned to soften my approach a little. That wasn’t easy at first.” At Commerce, Barbara learned to model the type of behavior that shows what she expects from the team she works with, and to have a positive influence on the people she is leading.
The change has allowed her to thrive in her main role at the bank, which is to manage and develop the talent on her team. “My goal is to grow my team members’ skills and abilities so they can do better, do more, and take great care of our customers,” she says. “I want to retire someday, so I need my replacement to be ready.”
Whelan says he knows how good McCaslin is at developing talent because he’s one of the beneficiaries of her coaching. “When I came on board, I looked around at the management team, and I realized Barbara was the top-performing one,” he says. “I spent a lot of time training with her and seeing how she managed. That’s how I became successful at Commerce Bank: watching and learning from her.”
“She’s an amazing individual,” Whelan adds. “She’s a dedicated veteran, and she does many great things.”
For her part, McCaslin is simply grateful for the opportunity she’s enjoyed at Commerce. “When I was in the Army, I didn’t do anything heroic, but I did something every day to help people,” she says. “That’s the same thing I do today: help people.”