Sue Woodard, speaker and Chief Customer Officer for Total Expert, shares how she overcame severe stage anxiety, learned how to manage her time and energy, and strategies for audacious leadership. Sue explains how she chooses action over perfection to move through procrastination, and ways to move past mental barriers to speaking up or taking the lead. This energizing conversation is full of lessons for all leaders.

An excerpt from the interview: 

Kristin Messerli: My next question for you is what is one pivotal moment in your career where you decided to do something differently or approach something in a different way?

Sue Woodard: Yeah, it’s interesting, because all of your questions are about kind of important choices that you made at some point in your life, right? This is definitely one. So, I think this is about making some strong choices about where I was going to invest my time and energy and what I was going to say no to.

So, I had two different times in my career where I made some really strong shifts. One of them, I was a single mom raising my daughter, I was traveling like crazy, I was still running my Origination business, I was helping build this other business on the vendor side. I remember having a day, my daughter and I were in the car, we’re getting ready to go on a vacation and somebody cut me off in traffic and then flipped me off. I remember, Kristin, I freaked out.

I looked at my daughter in the rear view mirror and she just started crying. I mean, it still chokes me up when I think about it, because I remember it that vividly. I thought, “I have to change something, right? I am wired way, way, way too tightly right now, and I’m not doing the best thing for most importantly my daughter, for my family and even for my business,” right?

I said two things, because I kind of took another level, a few years later in my career when I needed to make a decision to leave a company that I actually loved and I’d been at for a really, really long time. But when you really think about where you’re investing your time and your energy, your time is the one thing, that once you’ve spent in one place, you can’t get it back, right? Once it’s gone, it’s gone. I think it’s just learning that lesson and making those pivots, which were very hard for me, but it was really making important choices about what to say no to and where to spend my time and energy, because those were tough decisions.

Kristin Messerli:  Oh, that’s so good. I feel like I have a really hard time figuring out what to say no to, but I’m realizing that I have a finite set of energy, or amount of energy, and I can stretch it a little bit sometimes, but it does always come back to me. It’s less than I had 10 years ago, and I know it’s probably going to get worse than that. But yeah, just figuring out what you’re going to prioritize and understanding that this is the amount of energy I have to put into this is so important.

Okay, so I know you’ve done this a lot in your career, but what is one way that you have challenged the status quo in your career or industry?

Sue Woodard: I think first about making that decision to speak, because quite honestly, one of the reasons I did it and why I was asked is because there was hardly any female speakers. There was Karen Diaz, there’s Pat Sherlock, there’s a few out there, but there really weren’t that many. But I would say rather than just saying speaking, I think making a choice to really speak up.

This was probably, literally, I don’t know, probably eight, 10 years ago, right? Really making a conscious decision that I was going to speak my mind, because I know that you’re supposed to listen deeply, and I do, right? You have two ears, one mouth and you need to use them in that proportion, and I get that. But I think there was a lot of times, I think especially coming up as a … and you know me well enough to know I’m not like a, oh, women have it so rough or anything like that, but I would get told a lot as a young female in the business, “You don’t really know how things are.” In my gut, I kind of thought, “Well, but I think I do, actually.”

I’ve found plenty of times in my life and career where I regretted not speaking my mind. So yes, listen deeply, but speak your mind and don’t ask. Another big thing that I think is a bit challenging of the status quo is stop apologizing. So often I would hear myself say, and I hear other people say this, “Well, I’m sorry, but …” Well, why are you sorry? Or asking permission to speak, “Could I just ask a question?” Well, you just did, right?

So, I worked really hard at getting those kind of things out of my vocabulary. Again, I do think it’s somewhat challenging the status quo to speak up and make sure that my voice is heard, because I know that I’ve got a valuable perspective. I also think it’s important, because in some cases we need to speak up, because almost always somebody else is thinking the same thing and not saying it, right? In the world we’re operating in, I think it’s important to speak up about the things that you know in your gut and in your heart and in your head that are the right things to talk about, because somebody else may need you to speak up for them.

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