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Maureen O’Toole: Girl Scout Leader

Girl Scouts of Silver Sage Council CEO Maureen O'Toole. Photo by Pete Grady.

Girl Scouts of Silver Sage Council CEO Maureen O’Toole. Photo by Pete Grady.

Maureen O’Toole, the CEO of the Girl Scouts of the Silver Sage Council, doesn’t wear mascara when she goes to work each day.

There’s a perfectly good reason for that.

“We have 2,300 volunteers, 4,200 girls,” O’Toole says, “and they’ll start telling you what Girl Scouts has meant to them: ‘And then I finished high school … and then I didn’t get into crime … and then I got a college degree.’ When they start telling you how the Girl Scouts has impacted them and brought their family together – holy smokes. … And I’m not someone who gets overly emotional, but I just start crying.”

If that makes you think that O’Toole is just an old softie, think again.

She has served as a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army. During her time in the Army she earned multiple Meritorious Service Medals and a Thomas Knowlton Award for excellence in military service.

Growing up, she was the captain of her tennis team and the captain of the track team. Later, she walked on to the cross country team at the College of William and Mary and, you guessed it, she became the captain of that team.

O’Toole was the first female from William and Mary to make it to the NCAAs in cross country. She also coached and ran for the Army and auditioned for the U.S. Army Olympic Team.

So, no, O’Toole isn’t a softie.

But she doesn’t wear mascara to work.

It’s just that the Girl Scouts mean so much to her.

“I’ve lived in countries where girls were prostituted by their parents to pay bills for other children, where tens of thousands of girls and young women disappeared into trafficking every year,” O’Toole says. “So I’ve lived in countries where a girl’s life had no value, no value at all.”

Because of this, she has a special appreciation of what Girl Scouts can do for each generation growing up in America.

“When I look at what we do in Girl Scouts and the opportunities for girls and women in the United States, that’s where I want to influence,” O’Toole says. “We live in a country where we not only want you to go to school, we want you to get a degree.

“So you live in a country where you can create your destiny, you can create your future, and I want girls to understand that. I have two bachelor’s degrees, one master’s degree, a military version of my master’s degree, I’ve run two small businesses. You can do whatever you believe in.”

“In the three years since Maureen has been the acting CEO for this Council she has put together a great team of professionals who are truly passionate about what they do every day: building girls of courage, confidence and character! She leads our team by example every day. Our membership is increasing as our volunteers understand they have a voice and we are listening. Our visibility in the community is higher than I have seen in my 33 years in working with the Girl Scouts, and we are financially stable.”

Sandy Wilson, director of business services for the Girl Scouts of the Silver Sage, in a letter recommending O’Toole as a CEO of Influence

O’Toole was born on the Westover Air Reserve Base in Massachusetts.

“My dad was career Air Force,” she says. “My parents had four kids in three years, and I have a twin sister, so I’m the youngest in the family by five minutes.”

Her young life was one that was constantly on the move, literally.

“We moved probably on the average of every 18 to 24 months,” O’Toole says.

Her father served in Vietnam, and when he returned the family was reassigned to England. Until tragedy struck.

“His plane wrecked,” O’Toole says. “My father’s body was crushed from the neck down. So they had to reconstruct his legs, and they tried to reconstruct his right arm, but all they could do was put it back together with steel rods. He never really regained the use of his right arm, but he was kept on active duty service.”

The family returned to Westover and O’Toole’s mother was presented with a nearly impossible task.

“My mom, who was only 27 at the time, was trying to figure out what you do with four kids this young (from age 5 to 7) and a husband who is in a body cast,” O’Toole says. “So she put us in Scouts, and we became Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Really, for us, that gave us a sense of identity and purpose and friendship. Because when you move every 18 to 24 months you’ve got to start again.”

O’Toole, who at one time was so shy she would hide in the hamper when company came over, began to gain some confidence.

“Really, for me, Girl Scouts was the one thing where everywhere we moved I had the same sense of identity,” she says. “You had instant friends. Instant friendship, a sense of community, identity. So I did Scouts.”

And she continued on through an eventful life.

“I retired from the military 3½ years ago, and I went back and became the CEO for Girl Scouts,” O’Toole says. “So you end up where you started at age 6, as a Girl Scout. Fascinating.”

“I have been with Girl Scouts of the Silver Sage Council for 17 years and have worked under two previous CEOs. Thanks to Maureen’s leadership, our Council has flourished. Girl and adult membership is up, donations are up, but most importantly, the perception of Girl Scouts in the community has changed from … negative and non-existent … to a positive and respected position.”

Martha Snyder, volunteer support/Visions manager, Girl Scouts of Silver Sage   

You could make the argument that O’Toole spent her whole life preparing to become the CEO of Girl Scouts of Silver Sage.

She received a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology from the College of William and Mary in 1985. From 1985 to 2012 she served in the Army, the National Guard and the Army Reserves.

While raising her three children – Michael, Mary Kate and Sean – she worked as a private music instructor and as a teacher in the Idaho Public School system.

“The focus, once I had kids, was you don’t want to move, because I lived in 15 states growing up,” O’Toole says. “I went to three middle schools, four grade schools, so I wanted my kids to have stability.”

As a result, she has worked with children, around children, for most of her adult life.

O’Toole has also read books that have helped her mold her leadership style.

“Mine is democratic,” she says. “’This is where we’re going.’ The leader sets the vision with the input of everybody else. ‘This is where we’re going. Do you understand why we’re going this way?’”

O’Toole is big on vision, hope and communication. It’s a system that seems to be working.

The Girl Scouts of Silver Sage Council enjoyed a 113 percent increase in revenue growth in the first year under O’Toole’s leadership. For two consecutive years she has witnessed double-digit membership growth despite a national decline in membership.

She admits the Council had “some serious financial issues” when she took over, but net income growth has gone up 229 percent during her tenure.

“Prior to Maureen’s arrival our local Silver Sage Council was nearing insolvency. What Maureen has done is nothing short of miraculous. In her relatively short tenure she has built a strong team and led with integrity, high energy and in a way (that) inspires others.  Maureen has the Girl Scouts thriving again in this community, and we are all the beneficiaries.”

Jim Everett, retired CEO of Treasure Valley YMCA, and a 2011 CEO of Influence

When looking for some inspiration of her own, O’Toole doesn’t have to look far.

“My dad is this constant source of resiliency and strength,” she says. “He never quits. ‘Never ever quit. You can do it, you can do it, you can do it.’ … They told him he would never walk again and he ended up running 10 marathons.

“And then my mom is one of the most gentle, caring compassionate people on the planet. She is, without a doubt, the smartest woman I know. … So those are my two favorite leaders.”

Needless to say, family is important to O’Toole.

“When you moved as much as we did growing up family really becomes your nucleus,” she says.

Away from work, she treasures her time with family members. She loves watching “silly movies” with them.

She also enjoys spending time in the garden, running, hiking, biking, playing tennis.

“I like to be outside,” she says.

But perhaps her greatest mission in life is to inspire. O’Toole has a gift for inspiring others and she’s determined to continue using that gift.

“I look at people and I can quickly identify (their) strengths,” she says. “I’m not going to focus on what you don’t have. I’m going to focus on what you’re good at, and I want you to focus on that and go create the world you want. Go do it. I believe in you. Go.”

“Leaders must be visionary and lead with mission. This is simply in Maureen’s blood. She is a determined leader who has developed many of her staff to a new level while also connecting with the girls she serves. She has an incredible talent (for) identifying gifts and talents in a way that can only build each girl’s soul to be more confident and positive (about) fulfilling their dreams.”– Connie Miller, president and CEO of Icon Credit Union and a 2014 CEO of Influence




About Chris Langrill