Susan S. Freeman, MBA, PCC, NCC is an accredited Executive and Team Coach, leadership development consultant, speaker, and author of “Step Up Now: 21 Powerful Principles for People Who Influence Others”. Her passion is working with Founders, CEO’s and investors of entrepreneurial, high-growth companies. She helps leaders and their top leadership teams lay the critical foundations required for scale. She assists with personal and organizational leadership, creating and aligning teams to vision, purpose, and values, culture creation and change, and talent development.
She helps leadership teams explore their challenges and opportunities through a systemic lens while taking into account the complex environment in which they work. As a result, previous blind spots and obstacles to results and satisfaction are removed.
She frequently writes on the topic of humanistic leadership using her unique innovative system that blends Western strategy and Eastern wisdom to activate the Guru Leader Within.
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Table of Contents
Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Susan S. Freeman: The narrative of my story makes the most sense when looking backward. Over two decades ago I found myself struggling with a complicated life. I was transitioning between jobs and married to a man with a high-stress, all-out career of his own. We were also raising three young, high-energy boys. I was seeking something different and found my way to yoga. It soon became a place of refuge for me. Through a number of twists and turns, I discovered it could be so much more than that. The result was that I developed a unique system to incorporate the principles of yoga into developing leaders.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Susan S. Freeman: A few years into starting my yoga practice, I had an “accident.” It turned out that the damage that was done from this seemingly innocuous injury lasted much longer than I imagined. I had developed what appeared to be a serious, chronic physical situation. I suffered great physical and emotional pain for over five years. When I exhausted all known medical treatments, I felt frustrated and wanted to give up. Yet an inner knowing guided me to yoga. What if what I learned to do there could help me heal my body? That is exactly what I did, and eventually, I transitioned again into a state of well-being.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Susan S. Freeman: The most common mistakes I see entrepreneurs make are Waiting too long to transition from functional/technical manager to general leadership.
- Trying to do all the jobs in the organization they have previously done (and likely well) far beyond when it makes sense to do so.
- Unsophisticated recruiting practices resulting in not having the right people in the right role.
- Lacking the ability and commitment to delegate effectively and
- Lacking a clear vision, shared purpose and values that are communicated frequently and embraced by all colleagues.
What I would suggest they do is to align themselves with an outside, trusted partner to help them easily and efficiently see their “gaps” as a leader. This may include verbal and online assessments that capture both quantitative and qualitative data. These create the starting point for self-awareness and a behavioral action plan that works.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Susan S. Freeman: Resilience is a leadership muscle. As with any other muscle group, if we don’t use it, it will atrophy.
Why does resilience matter to leaders? According to a Zenger Folkman study of 500 leaders that measured resilience along with nine other leadership competencies, the most resilient leaders were viewed as the most effective leaders (87%) vs. the least resilient leaders (12%).
What is resilience? Zenger Folkman examined a global database of more than 1300 responses via self-assessments, looking at preference data, including resilience. They identified the 7 key enabling behaviors that help individual leaders demonstrate their resilience to others. They are:
- Communicate Powerfully—communicate your intentions to others
- Be Coachable—continue to ask for feedback throughout your career and demonstrate a real effort to improve skills and abilities
- Build Positive/Trusting Relationships–Bring others along; be open to differences in others
- Be a Bold Risk Taker-don’t be afraid to make changes
- Develop Others-be concerned about developing others
- Champion Change-embrace change and encourage others to change
- Be Decisive-be effective at making decisions and move forward; if the wrong decision is made, be quick to adjust and move in another direction
In preparation for a group leadership team call, the CEO and I discussed what was most challenging for them at this time. It turned out that he was sensing his people needed to focus on developing the resilience muscle. They had it already, yet they weren’t exercising it in ways that were adding impact quickly enough for the new situation at hand. I asked each of the participants to rate themselves 1-10 on resilience. Then I asked for each participant to come up with a “resilience edge,” considering the following:
- What is the one thing, that when you focus on it will improve your resilience?
- How will your team know you are doing that? What will your colleagues be able to observe?
- What will the difference be to the team and the organization?
As I said before, resilience is a leadership muscle. As with any other muscle group, lack of use leads to atrophy. By focusing on even one of the above, your leadership resilience body will strengthen.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Susan S. Freeman: There are over 30,000 coaches globally who, like me, are accredited by the International Coach Federation. What makes me stand out?
I believe that in addition to a broad background of corporate, non-profit, and entrepreneurial leadership experience, I am a life-long learner and student of a broad range of disciplines. I’ve taken over three dozen advanced courses in disciplines from coaching to leadership to yoga and wellness. These diverse fields have helped me design a unique approach to helping leaders grow themselves and their organizations.
My clients all experience high levels of stress. Over the last twenty-five years, I learned to manage my stress by practicing yoga. During this time, I also became a professional executive coach. I began to explore the common ground between my internal state and what I was able to create. I found that my tools from yoga and executive coaching had more in common than I ever imagined. Although not part of traditional leadership development, I slowly began to incorporate yogic wisdom that had strengthened my personal practice into my work with clients. As I did, they began to notice significant shifts, even if they had never been on a yoga mat.
In the years that followed, these two seemingly disconnected paths of my life began to merge. I saw the opportunity to build an effective bridge between yoga and leadership, one in which our internal state could positively impact our influence and ability to collaborate with others. The Guru Leader Within system was born.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Susan S. Freeman: My answer would be:
- Persistence. I don’t give up or get dissuaded easily.
- Vision. I am able to see possibilities and create novel approaches to problems
- Curiosity. I am relentlessly curious and open to learning new things about myself, others and our world.
Being a CEO of the company, do you think that your personal brand reflects your company’s values?
Susan S. Freeman: Yes. I believe my personal brand is an excellent reflection of my company’s values.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Susan S. Freeman: My favorite leadership style includes having a real vision, the ability, and fortitude to execute effectively, the ability to invite others into the circle to bring their best selves to the work, a strong inner presence, the ability to connect deeply with others, finally to see the connection between us and everything else in the world.
Do you think entrepreneurship is something that you’re born with or something that you can learn along the way?
Susan S. Freeman: I think the qualities of entrepreneurship are sowed early in life. That doesn’t mean that we can’t grow and develop more of what it takes to become an effective entrepreneurs. I believe we can always learn and grow if we have both the capacity and the motivation to do so.
What’s your favorite “leadership” quote and how has it affected the way you implement your leadership style?
Susan S. Freeman: “Leaders are more powerful role models when they learn than when they teach.” by Rosabeth Moss Kanter
I aim to always be learning and growing myself. I believe that the pressing problems of our time will best be addressed by leaders who invest time and money in learning, who are open to “not knowing,” who explore problems from a systemic lens rather than simply a linear “cause and effect” perspective. Finally, the leaders for these challenging times will foster cultures of co-creation, where all ideas and voices are welcomed.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Susan S. Freeman for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Susan S. Freeman or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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