In this episode, Susan MacKenty Brady shares the practices needed to thrive as one rises to positions of greater responsibility, risk, and reward.
About Susan MacKenty Brady
Susan is the Deloitte Ellen Gabriel Chair for Women and Leadership at Simmons University and the first Chief Executive Officer of The Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership. The Institute develops the mindset and skills of leaders at all stages of life so they can foster gender parity and cultures of inclusion.
As a relationship expert, leadership wellbeing coach, author, and speaker, Susan educates leaders and executives globally on fostering self-awareness for optimal leadership. Susan advises executive teams on how to work together effectively and create inclusion and gender parity in organizations. She is passionate about working with women at all levels of organizational leadership to fully realize—and manifest—their leadership potential.
Susan’s newest book, Arrive and Thrive: 7 Impactful Practices for Women Navigating Leadership, provides readers with the practices they need to thrive as they rise to positions of greater responsibility, risk, and reward. Co-authored with Janet Foutty and Lynn Perry Wooten, Arrive and Thrive is based on the latest research, boots-on-the-ground experience, and advice from 24 of the world’s most successful leaders. Women who arrive at the top should be able to thrive at the top. Arrive and Thrive helps women in leadership show as their authentic self, step into their own personal power, and inspire excellence and equity in their teams; all while leading a highly-fulfilling life. Released in April 2022, Arrive and Thrive has landed on the best-seller list in the Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today.
Read the Transcript
Allison: Welcome back to the Deliberate Leaders podcast, I am your host and Executive Coach Allison Dunn. Today we have with us Susan Brady. She holds a chair for the women in leadership at Simmons University and is the first Chief Executive Officer of the Simmons University Institute for inclusive leadership. She is also a coauthor of Arrive and Thrive. As a relationship expert leadership, wellbeing coach, author and speaker Susan educates leaders and executives globally on fostering self-awareness and optimal leadership. Susan, thank you so much for joining us here today.
Susan: Alli, thank you for having me. I’m so happy to be with you. Thank you.
Allison: My pleasure, love to kick these off with a deliberate conversation. So Susan, what is your number one leadership tip or listeners today?
Susan: Oh, don’t leave yourself behind on your own leadership journey. Right? While you, you know, kick butt and take names and advance your career, just make sure that you’re bringing yourself along with your ride. So and I can, I’m happy to tell you more about what I mean by that.
Allison: So I feel like I’m asking some questions that will help us guide us there. So Arrive and Thrive is your book and in it, you give some really great tips on thriving, can you share a few of those?
Susan: Oh, my gosh, you bet. You know, somehow Alli, my coauthors and I managed to write a book about arriving and thriving, and we, we never found what we mean by thriving. And, you know, it turns out to be a quite a purse, a purposeful endeavor, because, you know, we really want our readers and now our listening audience to, to discover that for themselves.
So the seven practices in the book are avail to, you know, really help you through the discovery process. But I would say if I’m going to land on the top tips for thriving, you know, number one, in what I mean by don’t leave yourself behind is invest and return to your best self, this is the part of us that we’re really proud of, that we like being this is the, this is the one I would love for you all to Velcro yourself to. She’s the one that doesn’t regret what she says or rethink what, you know, what she meant, and is also just not very, very harsh with herself or others, and therefore able to lead from the optimal place. Right?
So that’s probably number one, if we don’t lead from our best self, and we lead thinking network better than others, or we lead thinking that we’re not good enough, or we question ourselves. It’s, we’re, it’s just going to go badly, like, it’s going to be suboptimal in so many ways. One does harm to us, one does harm to others. And it’s also optimal for our businesses. So number one is lead from the best selves. The second, I think, probably the least used leadership skill is reflective sensemaking. We talked about this around the practice of resilience, but this is actually taking a pause and, and really reflecting on moments that matter, either daily, weekly, anything that kind of gets your goat, either in a good way, or in a bad way. It’s worthy of reflection, and probably talking to someone like you like a coach about like, Why did I get stirred up by that? Why does that light me up? Why does that suck the energy out of me, right, though reflective sense making.
And then last but not least, I’d say, Don’t go it alone. So thriving isn’t a singular act. And I would say, just like leadership is about others. Thriving is about partnering with others in order to, you know, land a place where you’re feeling like you’re your best self, right? Where you’re in flow, where you’re bringing your magic and your value to the world in a way that lights you up and adds value. And so I think this is a together a game, and therefore the good times and the bad times. You don’t have to go it alone. I don’t suggest it.
Allison: Yeah, actually, those are three fantastic tips. There’s, I’m just going to get personal for just a moment. I think thriving is a core goal of mine that I use in my coaching and want for people I use a slightly different coined term that’s from my mentors called Surthriving, which is beyond it’s beyond surviving to thriving in a bigger way. And so I know that in my own life, there’s been times where people we get into difficult circumstances and it doesn’t feel like we’re thriving, but we really are. How do you know when you’re thriving? Like when do you know that that is happening?
Susan: Yeah, so I think thriving is like the practice of emotional intelligence. And a lot of things that we think are some destinations, I think it’s a moment to moment, sometimes micro moment, kind of, kind of occurrence. I don’t, I don’t see thriving as a place we will get to and then be, I see, I’ve had moments today where I feel like I’m thriving. And I’ve had moments today that I’ve been frustrated. And I’ve had moments today where I’ve been, you know, just not experiencing a good or bad just getting my day done. Right.
And so I think, I think the, the act of being consciously aware of thriving, in my opinion, is mainly about my energy. So, you know, where am I spending my time? And what substance am I spending my time on that bring me energy? And chances are, it’s directly related to where I lead from my best self, right? Where my strengths and talents come together with my value to others, which comes together with where I feel vitality, when those when those three things come together, chances are, I’m going to lose track of time, I’m going to, you know, come to and be like, Oh my god, that was great. I love that conversation. Or I had, I feel like I got lost in this writing piece, or that was a value, you know. So I think their moments of thriving.
Allison: That’s a fantastic way to look at it. I think in thinking about my question, like, I realized that there’s moments where I think people would be like, Oh, that’s terrible. And it’s how you are its perception, right? It’s how you work through it in that moment, right? You can still be thriving, even in the bad circumstance.
Susan: I love your surthriving, I’m going to think about that, you know, when I was doing some original research on the, you know, too early footwork, on resilience, on fostering resilience, which is our fifth our fourth practice. My coauthor, Lynne Perry Wooten is a scholar and researcher on crisis leadership. And, you know, when I, I talked to my coauthors about this, I thought, you know, I don’t actually think I want to include resilience.
Because if you wake up woman, you know, resilience if you wake up, right, if you wake up a person of color, or a woman of color, for sure, you know, resilience, do we have to write about resilience and, and what I’ve learned goes right to what you just said, which is, you know, having a setback doesn’t mean we are we arrived at the place we were once we’re through that setback, the glory, and the gift of a setback, however you want to define that is, these are the moments when we’re not thriving, is that we are catapulted forward into a new place of awareness and consciousness and usually learning and what a gift that is because we can share it with others, we can learn and not repeat some of the choices we made that created that occurrence. There so and that’s where reflective sensemaking comes in is like, Oh, what am I want to make up about this setback, or this moment, which feels a whole lot more like surviving and thriving, because I actually want more moments of thriving and surviving, you know, for sure.
Allison: I appreciate that perspective. I also appreciate kind of you’re not kind of your focus on like, wellbeing, like to just dive in, there’s a lot of leaders that men and women are coming at it from not a healthy perspective. And so can we just talk about how well being when we ignore that like, what did what happens?
Susan: Right? Well, look, you know, it’s funny, I, I just worked with a bunch of doctors last week, who we’re diving into female doctors diving in about their best self. And, you know, when we talked about what enables our best self-versus what blocks our best self, the enablers can really fall into three categories. They are personal practices that we put to use. So this is what we can do more of or less of for ourselves. These are relational dynamics that feel good to us when we’re, you know, connecting in certain ways with certain people. And they can be situational dynamics, like, you know, I might feel like I’m in my zone when I’ve got classical music playing or when I have total quiet versus going into an office right.
This is the future of hype. The future is hybrid to be done. I but the thing about wellbeing is a lot like thriving ally, I believe that wellbeing is configured by each of us what, what enables my best self. And my overall feeling of wellbeing is something I am on a journey to discover. There’s no prescription, nor would I offer to other people any should about their wellbeing, what I would invite people to do is take time to think about when I’m at my best, right either as a mom or a dad, or a partner, or a daughter, or an employer or a boss or a manager or just a good doobie going to work. When I feel like I’m at my best, what’s true. Maybe I worked out, maybe I moved my body, maybe I you know, maybe I got eight hours asleep, you know, there’s some there’s some things that we maybe I just I have something look forward to this weekend, you know, or I had a great, I have a great meeting coming up, I think it’s part and parcel to paying attention. And wellbeing is a massive suite of enablers to leading your life from your best self so that you can spend more of your time thriving than surviving.
Allison: If you are working with someone who struggles to find to identify what is wellbeing for them, what would be some of the elements that you would encourage them to look at? And I know that that probably sounds silly, like how would you not know, but some people just don’t know.
Susan: Oh, my gosh, I did. Okay, let me tell you a true story. So I for this, when I was looking at wellbeing and thinking about what practice with my coauthors we want to connect it to we ended up actually talking about wellbeing in our first chapter about best self and also again in resilience. And I called on my friend Rich to fear Dr. Rich sphere, who is the Chief Medical Officer for wellbeing at Johns Hopkins, love that. He just wrote a book on wellbeing, and I should have the name of it right here because he’s doing all this hoopla. Anyway, Dr. Severe, I said, I was ready with my notebook, to hear what he had to say and then write down like, whatever his prescription was about, like, what am I doing, that I need to do for, you know, prescribing, you know, myself my own wellbeing practices and what he what he said is wellbeing is whatever you make wellbeing is but then he said something that really gave me a hall pass.
Now I need to feel insufficient, because I’m not doing the things the doctor says I should do so that I can have my leadership wellbeing. And he said, you know, the, the name of the game is to do more of what we know, makes us feel better about our body mind spirit and less of what doesn’t right. And so, and again, he was less prescriptive. And we therefore we talked to the head the Chief Operating Officer at Deloitte as well you know, my coauthor, Janet Foudy is the Executive Chair of Deloitte. So we interviewed their chief wellbeing officer, and you know, a lot of this comes down to paying attention to your energy and what gives you energy if you need to move your body, move your body, and make exception for that time to do that.
Different people are motivated in different ways. And I do think it’s mind body spirit, I think of wellbeing for me, very relationally, because it’s such an important component of my life, is being in healthy relationship with others. And first and foremost, myself. And so that, to me, is more of a cognitive process. It’s like, how is How clean is my thinking right now? How healthy is my thinking? Do I get? Like, am I getting? Am I getting some harshness going on for either myself or a situation? And if so, what do I want to do about that? So I think it ranges and I, typically someone like you probably has a recipe, I’d love to hear what you say, with executives and leaders that you work with, I think bringing their attention to what are the practices for them, but I’d say the three that I’ve covered are probably a pretty good start. So what are the personal practices you can do? What are the relational practices so what feels good in relationships? Some of us just don’t like group meetings because we don’t feel like we can speak up others You know, and we prefer one on ones. That’s an example of a relational practice. And then what are the situational practices with our environment? And some of these might overlap.
Allison: Yeah. I love the fact that you’ve kind of given it three sectors. When I talk to clients about wellbeing, it’s almost like, it’s almost like a time management issue for them. And it’s that deep search of like, how do I figure it out? How do I fit it all in? And I think your answer about wellbeing it’s about doing more about what feels good and less about what doesn’t Time management is the same way. In the sense of, if you know, if you can find a system that works like use that system, there’s, there is no right answer. It’s on a date camera, it’s not your phone, it’s not a computer, like find a system that works. Find a process that works for you.
Susan: It’s a speaking of ally, like, I feel better when I take at least a yoga class a week, but I don’t put it in my several people like that. Right? If I don’t put it in my calendar, I won’t vote come Wednesday night, I’m just like, oh my gosh, you know, especially I live in the Northeast, and it’s, well, it’s dry. It’s like, you know, dark.
Allison: I’m planning for it in in the way that we manage our time, because I feel like people put that up is the most common obstacle to it. And I think, you know, my favorite thing is you are your most important client. Right?
Susan: And your time is your greatest diminishing asset. So might want to reserve a little time for yourself. Yeah, at the beginning, when I said don’t leave yourself behind. I, I worry, especially around about women, but I worry about leaders generally, who give up themselves to their mission, or their charter, or their objectives. And their health starts to fail, their relationships start to suffer their overall happiness and peace of mind and joy. Like there’s no extra points we’re getting somewhere for sacrificing ourselves.
Allison: Yeah, just, that’s worth saying one more time. There’s no hidden one. There are no extra points, no extra points for sacrificing ourselves.
Susan: More bored, where we’re going to be pet, you know, pat on the head, it doesn’t work that way. It’s going to be really tired and maybe even sick. So there you go.
Allison: I consider that almost the opposite of wellbeing in so many ways. So what are some of the tips that you would suggest are working on yourself to becoming more self-aware?
Susan: Yeah, okay. So it goes like this, you know, the reason why I just have to back up and say, I care about self-awareness is not for self-awareness sake, I leaving is an inside job, first and foremost. And what I mean by that is, we have to think about from where are we leading? And when I say from where, what part of our mind frame? And what, what’s the narrative and how gentle is that narrative.
You know, we work with human beings, and we, we actually navigate with human resources. And I think if the pandemic did anything, that was good, if there’s a silver lining or lining to this moment, of now we’re in this Peri pandemic moment, of, of, you know, screen time of, of having to see each other up close, we saw the humanity among us, and both directly with our colleagues, and then indirectly as we watch TV, and, you know, I would say it’s the human being that wants to be valued and seen and cared for.
At work, and so the way we connect first and foremost is we’re aware of our of the tone we have of our energy, are we in a rush? Are we annoyed? Or we frustrated? Or are we trying to do something because we feel badly about ourselves that we haven’t done enough like checking in with that being self-aware? Because what we think and feel drives what we say and do in what you think and feel drives what you say and do you got to start paying attention to what you think and feel. Because what we say and do is our impact, it is our impact full stop. It creates the narrative of perception about us in every interaction.
So how should we really start to have to pay attention to this. So the job of self-awareness to begin is to start to notice you know, my first two books were about coaching and mastering your inner critic and that that’s a that’s a game of noticing, noticing sort of, am I letting the harsh voice inside my mind? Either go after myself in you know, ways that aren’t helpful, or, you know, go after others. And when I say go after usually Alli, you know this, we leave our, we leave our worst behavior for the people who love us the most. And most typically, we’re not going to say what we really think at work, but let’s just like don’t kill yourself, folks, like, people read it off of you, if you think you’re right, and they don’t understand, you don’t have to say anything. And it’s also felt when you don’t think your voice is worthy, you know, the energetic backing away from the table, because you just don’t know if you have a valid point, or you can speak up and it’ll matter, you know, that’s leaving a lot of value.
On the table on heard unknown, so I would say, you know, the first step in self-awareness is noticing. And then you know, after that, well, I won’t go into the other steps of centering. But it’s a moment to moment practice is checking in, I say that, I say that the way to become aware is start to notice when you get heated, and or down. So, when you’re starting, starting, notice what your narrative is in your head, you know?
Allison: Do How do you suggest leaders work through when they record when they do recognize that their narrative is? Negative or not healthy? Or whatever, you know, whatever, it may be judgmental? There’s a lot of things that come along with those things. And what would be I think you I think you said, I’m not going to go decentering. But I would love for you to share, like a technique on how to process that.
Susan: And how important that is. Yeah, so I really appreciate the question. So I think the here’s, here’s the, here’s the truth, when we run around thinking that we aren’t good enough, or when we’re casting a shadow on ourselves, our value, our voice, our skills. Sometimes it can be as extreme as imposter syndrome, others, it’s just berating ourselves, because we’re not perfect. That keeps us from stepping into our full potential. And it if you share that inner voice with others, it can I think, impact people around you, like people don’t want to be around someone who doesn’t really like themselves or think they add value.
I noticed a lot of perfectionism and controlling behavior and sort of due to matching. Not Hey, I got so much value to add. I just want to do more it comes from oh my gosh, it got this done. Then I’m going to disappoint someone. So it’s actually well intended hustling, but it’s still hustling it still feels like whoa, you know, so it does impact others, you know, negativity when we think about it. And it’s about others, right? Should is a red flag like oh, he should be doing that. Isn’t she supposed to so shouldn’t supposed to she shouldn’t be talking right now. You know, whatever it is. It’s welters creativity. It’s Welch’s innovation, it creates unsafe psychologically unsafe environments, it precludes inclusion. Right.
So when we sit in a in a space of contempt, disgust, harshness critique judgment about another, again, we don’t even have to speak it, we can just say it there will feel it off of us. It literally erodes collaboration and, and oftentimes best results. And so the impact of negativity can kill an organization. It’s and the smart ones defect they get out after a while, you know? So it is I think, leading responsibly and leading thoughtfully requires first noticing and then before you speak, coming back to a place of centeredness to your best self. And that journey back might take a couple of seconds when you’re triggered like oh, gosh, she had a tone just now but pause No, assume best intention and reply in a way that I feel good about right? Isn’t sometimes it takes us days when we’re triggered. And, and that means you don’t, you know, you don’t go after the person or the conversation or the debate, if you are at risk of looking back at your own behavior and regretting it.
So I’m really calling for some cleaning up of our own behavior. And it’s shocking to me alley, how some of the smartest people, the most accomplished people will defend their bad behavior, myself included, because self-righteousness feels good, right? So when I see something that I’m disappointed in, I go there as well. It’s like, welcome to being human, Susan. And then I have to catch myself, which is hard. Because as you know, we’re not intrinsically motivated to stop being self-righteous, we are intrinsically motivated to stop feeling not good enough.
But when it comes to how to get things done the right way around here. You know, if people would just follow me, everything would be fine. Right? So that’s a common refrain. So it’s, we’re not allergic to it. So we have to start being that’s the harder part is like, maybe, maybe I should listen to her. Maybe he has a learning and something to bring to the table. Is that possible? Like, maybe she has value to add? Right, it’s so indulgent. To think that we know better. And yet, we run into this all the time. I’m sure you did do.
Allison: Yes, definitely. In, in your book Arrive and Thrive, you touch on fostering a culture of belonging and inclusion. And I would love for you to share how we how we as a society maybe could do a better?
Susan: Why that’s a biggie. But I think it starts with and I love the question, because we know we’re approaching the United States and some potentially even more volatile political times, we’ve got a very sort of tricky world we’re living in. And it’s just getting trickier, more divisive. And so I would say, you know, when we talk about belonging, here’s what it is. It’s, it’s I value you for the unique things you bring to the table. And you feel like you can be, you can be yourself, right? So you’re valued for your uniqueness. And you feel some level of safety, to come in and give up your gifts.
And so when we’re in conversation outside of work and work, and you’re confronted with someone who sees something different, I would say, the most skillful way to navigate belonging or to foster inclusion, is to lead with genuine curiosity. It’s gentle curiosity. It’s stopping your it’s refraining from talking somebody out of whatever they think. And probing why, how where’d tell me how you back there, you know, I want to see from your angle, what you say, because we can’t possibly see or know what others see and know or think. And it doesn’t mean that we’re going to agree, but it means we honor them just in the questioning.
So I would kind of wave my magic wand, I would say, you know, the future does belong to the, to the, to the learners and, and my friend, Richard lighter, who’s the purpose guru of all-purpose gurus says the future belongs to learners, not the Knowers. And, boy, if we could instill this in every conversation, wouldn’t it be a better society? Right? Yeah, for sure. And respect. It’s rooted in respect that you have actually something of value to even come to the table with and we devalue others. When we think they’re not like us, or when we think they don’t agree with us.
Allison: That to two final questions, we, we kind of, we dove into the concept of thriving and the tips on how to get there and what that looks like. But the arrive cart to the title, and I don’t want to just overlook kind of the baseline of what does that mean to arrive?
Susan: Well, look, I think in the context of leadership, is please don’t give up. Arrival is awakening the identity of a leader and in you and that is not An identity that a lot of people want to embrace, because look around. Last I heard leaders, you know, we get blamed and you know, it’s a hard job and, and what people often forget women in particular is, when you’re in a position of leadership, you have choice. You can restructure some things, you have power, you can get things done differently than they’ve done before then they’re done before.
So arrival is it’s not just positional, it’s arrival at a station, a state of giving of your gifts at highest capacity again, it’s not for me to tell anyone what that is, right? I like you like running the show. I’m not going to lie, I’m better as a leader. And I let other people you know, do their thing around me. My job is to stay out of the way ally, but I don’t really like being told what’s. So for me, my own arrival was really stepping into leading at the highest levels. So for certainly, for this particular work, arrive and thrive. We’re looking to encourage women who may already feel like they’ve arrived. Okay. Arriving.
Allison: Because it’s something you have to show up and do every day. Right?
Susan: And yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s kind of like driving right? Like, yeah. I’m just to step in to my greatest value and potential and stand in it, even though it makes me uncomfortable sometimes, and it makes other people uncomfortable sometimes. Yeah.
Allison: Susan, I’ve so appreciated this conversation. I want to make sure that our listeners find out from you what is the best way to connect with you?
Susan: Great. So I’d love to begin with people. You can find me at Susan McKenty Brady could also inclusive leadership.com.
Allison: Fantastic. Thank you so much for this fantastic conversation.
Susan: It’s been such a pleasure speaking with you, Alli. You’re terrific. Thank you for having me.