Being a Grumpy-Faced Leader

Now this was a 'happy' face - and the brow still stands out!
This is a my happy face!

I have this face that apparently is incredibly transparent – or, at least, easy to read as angry, tight or intimidating.

I often get feedback that I seem annoyed or angry. It’s odd, because when I check inside, that usually isn’t what I am feeling. Don’t get me wrong. I can feel angry and annoyed, but generally, when I do…I will say something. In fact, you can actually count on me to tell you when I am angry or annoyed with you.

It’s been a challenge as a leader to deal effectively with this face. I have avoided taking the suggestions from a few folks to get Botox or work harder to be kind. I actually did look into the Botox, but after a bit of research, and the temporary nature of the results, I decided to simply live with the kickback of this face of mine.

The advise to work harder to be kind, though annoying in its assumption that I am not, was curious to me.  How does one jump from the assumption of grumpy-face to unkind person.

Honestly, I have found smiling, outwardly happy people some of the most unkind and judgmental people I know. So neither smiles nor a wrinkled brow seem to be an effective measure for kindness.

Back, though, to this leadership issue. Is it my role as a leader to have a kind friendly face?

If so, it is a strange measure of leadership. I do believe I need to learn to appreciate that my face can be a barrier to building strong relationships. As a result, I now give folks a heads up about the brow, and ask them to check in with me if they are imagining me to be happy, glad, sad or mad. The face may, and does, look about the same (see above photo) for any of those emotions especially if I am busy, deeply thinking, or intently listening. BTW, the photo was taken in a very happy moment for me. Surprised?

As for being intimidating, I can imagine that as a woman who often has a strong opinion, and tends to counter the majority view, I could be intimidating. When I am passionate about an idea, I am fairly intense and usually have collected a sound argument for my position. I actually enjoy a debate, and will frequently take in the opposing view.

What people may not know, is that I often expand my view and include valuable pieces of that information from others, after the conversation.  However, those left behind may or may not be aware of the significant influence they have had on me.

I have this assumption that folks will know that if I am passionate and engaging in a debate, I respect their views. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have bothered to do the research and come prepared. I have learned that this style isn’t always acceptable – especially as a woman leader.

It seems people prefer woman leaders to ask questions and gather input from others before speaking up. That’s not me. I have tried the style, it isn’t natural. Though, I can and do use it at times.

I wish a strong opinion wasn’t interpreted as a signal for lack of curiosity and genuine interest. I am actually very interested and intrigued when I am engaged with someone who will meet me at that contact point.

I imagine there are other grumpy-faced leaders out there. I also imagine there are others who are “too passionate” and/or “too persuasive.” It’s not easy presenting as strong and intimidating. Sometimes my insides are quite the opposite. However, I don’t find it easy to say “Ouch!” or “I’m scared.”

I have to admit, some of that comes from years of developing a style that keeps people away. It was helpful for some periods of my life. Now, it’s not really needed, but the scars and the wrinkles are not easy to erase. I’m also not sure as a leader, it’s in my best interest or my team’s to explain the history. I’m not afraid of that anymore, it just doesn’t seem that relevant.

Still, I do wonder if I cried easier or smiled more would I be a better leader….I doubt it.

Leadership isn’t about getting people to like my face or me. It is though, about not letting the distance my face or style may create, get in the way of building strong relationships that don’t get stopped on the surface or because of style differences.

Leadership means finding a way to bridge my grumpy-face gap, and make sure that my strong views don’t silence others. Sometimes, I wish I was a softer, nicer person, and maybe I am, it’s just not my going-in position.

If you are a grumpy-faced leader, or struggle with a style that gets you into trouble, I would love to hear from you.  I think my coaching niche might be helping grumpy-faced leaders bridge the gap and learn to embrace their grumpy-face style!




The Woo & The Wow! of Horses

CBP1001157Life is presenting me so many awesome new opportunities to LEAP and enjoy the thrill of learning something new.

Since I turned 50 (and let’s just say it wasn’t this year…), I have embarked on so many new and fun activities. Yes, it started with biking in Croatia and realizing how much I loved stretching myself.

Next, it was the Whitefish Ladies Golf League and taking a summer to invest in learning to appreciate slowing down and keeping my cool as I went through the process of being humbled week after week as our team stayed firmly in last place and my game improved much slower than I wanted. Next up, skiing and discovering the joy of dancing with the mountain.

In addition to the joy I found in sports, I also stepped out as a writer and coach. I started my book. Okay, that has yet to be completed, but… just starting is huge. I write a regular article for 406 Woman’s Business magazine.

I completed my Martha Beck Coach certification process and stepped up to present at the MBI Summit with CrisMarie.  It was magical and fun.

We walked away from the comfort of a corporate referral firm, to step out with out with own voice and brand, The Path to Great Results: Oh Sh*T! to Aha for Teams.

Many of these things have not been easy. Much like learning golf, stepping out, with our own voice and brand, has at times been humbling and not as easy as we had hoped.

In some ways it didn’t seem that much of a leap to sign up for a year of Equus Coaching. I got a nudge to apply, and so I did. Without any horse experience, other than a weekend workshop with Koelle Simpson, and no real clarity about how I was going to be using this training in my coaching, I knew something was calling. It was as if all the new things I had been jumping into, to find more of myself, were steps towards listening on a deeper level, and this Equus Coaching was a calling from some place in my center.

Truthfully, I was terrified when I arrived at the first in-person weekend to launch our journey. After being accepted to the program, I watched the training videos in preparation for the on site event, and fully realized I was soon going to be regularly interacting with these magnificent animals up close and very personal. One of the videos was about taking vitals, including temperatures…you know where…

I tried to remember that I had taken up skiing and done fairly well, even though I had been terrified of tree wells and falling. If I could do that, I could get comfortable with horses!

I had one crystal clear objective for the weekend: stay open, be willing to be vulnerable and play. Okay, may be that’s three objectives!

I soon learned that my reason for ‘joining up’ wasn’t about leadership or coaching. No, what I discovered was something I had lost or shut down a very long time ago. My little girl showed up. Not the guarded and defended girl who had learned to survive long ago, but the little girl who heard music and truly believed that all things were connected.

I don’t know if all people experience horses the way I do, but for me they sing. The music is beautiful and like something from another world. At first I spooked myself with the sounds. It wasn’t a sound I would expect from a 1000 plus pound animal. Yet consistently, I heard some version of the music with each of the horses I had the privilege to work with. As I let the music guide me, I soon discovered the music of other things – people and trees.

I have been told that I have the gift of sound – it is my language. Honestly, I never had a clue what that meant fully until I heard the music of the horses and began to discover the interconnected notes between all living things.

I also remembered hearing that music as a child. Out in nature, and with my grandmother when she was dying. I remembered shutting it down because no one else seemed to hear the music, and I didn’t want to be that different. Sharing the music seemed to bring with it more pain, and I decided it was best to stop listening. As a little girl it wasn’t easy when people would laugh at my stories of the music that seemed so loud and wonderful. Little did I know how hard it would be to remember, and what a joy it could be now!

It’s still all new, and now back home, the music isn’t quite as loud. Frankly, I am not really clear what journey I have stepped out on. I hope I will learn to listen and utilize the music. But mostly, I want to allow that little girl to play and not have to worry if no one else hears the same notes. She’s okay, and the horses are free to sing to me anytime they like!

For those who are not so into the “Woo,” no worries, I am also learning ways to relate to the horses, and discover how they are amazing mirrors of our emotional landscape and are very willing to connect when we are congruent and authentic in our communication. This I would call the Wow!

Yes, I still imagine as I go forward on this journey that bringing the horses into our work with leaders and teams is going to be one of the outcomes. I am also aware that the horses may be the pathway to building the community I have been seeking.

I don’t quite know what that will look like, but I met new friends and even now as we have scattered to our various places in the world, can hear the sounds and musical notes we each started to play together. I think there is much more to come on this adventure and I look forward to playing!  At some point I’ll be coaching with the horses and will be inviting folks interested to join me in a session.  Maybe you will hear the music as well or at least get the honor of an amazing mirror.

Of course if you want some coaching now you are welcome to give me a call.  No horses – but there still might be some magic!!



The Oh SH*T! to Aha Continues!

For the past twelve months (and it may be more but really who’s counting? Let’s just say, a long time!), we have been transforming our thrive! brand.  I know I have written about this saga at various stages.

Honestly, we have learned so much, and it’s not been as easy as we thought it would be and that is okay.

What I am most proud of is that the revived thrive! is truly a reflection of our own unique voice.  CrisMarie and I both, in very different ways, have lived through the voices of our teachers and mentors.

For me, that started at The Haven with Ben Wong, Jock McKeen and Joann Peterson.  That trio taught me how to be a person, how to relate, how to lead.  It’s hard not to simply keep using their models and leading their awesome core curriculum.  I imagine that will always be some part of my life and work. I hope so.  However, I think they would say, “Carry on, Susan, expand and include all you have learned.  Find your own voice!”

I do like learning.  So I have continued to find great teachers and learned so much from each of these masters.  It becomes easy to speak with their voice and believe my work is to magnify their message.  However, that just doesn’t feel right anymore.  For one thing, I naturally adjust and tweak their model to what works for me.  Integrating pieces and shifting and shaping the learning into my own message.

So it is time to stop delivering the message of other masters.  I have a message, crafted and build over many years of transforming my life – through cancer(s), beyond a victim’s stance around my history, rebuilding my life multiple times.  Indeed, here I go again.

One might wonder, if I am a master, how is I keep finding myself rebuilding and transforming?  Honestly, I think it is simply because that is what living fully is all about.  It is about seeking a vision or creating a new possibility or romance and having the courage to embark on a new path, knowing it’s not all bliss and happiness.

Our new thrive! model is so perfect for my life journey: Oh Sh*t! to Aha! – living and thriving through crisis, conflict and change – over and over again.

©thrive! 2014
©thrive! 2014

This model, more appropriately called, The Path to Great Results (CrisMarie’s influence) Oh Sh*T! to Aha! (my influence) applies to individuals, couples, teams and organizations.  I am excited about the various ways we are sharing our message.

We use our model for coaching, in our couples workshops with leaders and their teams, and now, I am building a workshop for individuals.  Yes, it’s fun, it’s creative and it’s not quite as easy as I thought it would be.  Indeed we are living through our own thrive! version of Oh Sh*t! to Aha!….again.

I imagine anyone reading this has had at least one of those moments either personally or professionally where you either say out loud or in your head, “Oh Sh*t! how did I get here and what do I do now?”

What is “Oh Sh*t!”

It’s a moment when what you are confronted with overwhelms your capacity to respond or even react in your usual way.  What’s worked before isn’t working now. It may be a good thing, but it doesn’t feel that way.  It certainly is not easy.

It takes courage to stay in that tension and unknown space.  We humans are too quick to defuse tension and compromise, hold back or bully our way through to something familiar and less uncomfortable.  But some events, some situations just don’t let us settle.


Because we were not meant to settle.  The human journey is one that humbles us and invites us to find new possibilities beyond our own individual beliefs and imagination.

Each of our lives is calling to us in some way and asking softly or loudly for us to surrender what we know to be true and consider something much bigger.  What we see, hear, taste, touch and smell is limited.  What is really possible is well beyond those physical restraints, and yet it’s not about separation, it’s about embodying that possibility in this physical home we have chosen.

Embodiment it is about being committed to, and grounded in, our physical experience, yet fully embracing the non-physical possibilities.  To embody the magic and possibility of being a spiritual being having a physical experience will allow us to utilize our Oh Sh*t! moments and transform all that learning and mastering into something new.

There are tools that make the journey easier and less bumpy.  These are what we share with our clients and in our programs.  We find them valuable.

And the Aha! comes when we are working together and people open and are willing to be fully responsible for themselves and curious in each other.  We can then hold the paradox of our physical separation and our spiritual oneness.  It’s not so much out of ashes that a Phoenix rises but out of wholeness – the good, the bad, the ugly and beautiful – that’s inclusion.

Want to learn more about our message and our model?

Visit our website, or call for a coaching session, invite us to work with your team or come to my Living Through Crisis, Conflict and Change: Oh Sh*t! to Aha! at The Haven June 13-15, 2014.

Play in the mess and the magic of this human journey!