Suzanne Simmons-Lewis (MA, BA Hons) is a professional coach and journalist. She helps clients to clarify and achieve their true purpose and ambitions in their careers and businesses, drawing out their unique talents.
Through bespoke coaching and mentoring services combined with communications consultancy. She delivers a holistic approach to career and business success for a varied client base.
She describes her work as very varied, ranging from to helping the closet entrepreneur make the transition from corporate life, to raising the profile of individuals, business ventures and campaigns.
What made you get into career coaching?
A very poignant quote from Steve Jobs sums it up: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
I’m interested in people and understand what makes them tick. I have a keen eye in spotting and nurturing untapped potential in people and situations and exploiting the subsequent opportunities. I am passionate about helping clients to discover their ‘authentic self’ to live and enjoy their true purpose in work and life, because I believe people can achieve more than they think are capable of with the right inspiration, motivation, support and challenge. I have seen too many people not believing enough in themselves or their talents to actively pursue careers or business ventures that they would really enjoy and be good at. I enjoy career coaching because it’s rewarding to see more people swap their ‘straight jacket’ for a ‘bespoke suit’, journeying with them to unlock the possibilities.
What are some of the common challenges and issues that women are facing in their career at the moment?
One of the key challenges of women I coach whether just starting out or running an outwardly successful company is ‘identity’. Understanding who they really are and what they bring to the table, rather than what they believe they ‘should’ bring to the table, often living out other people’s or society’s expectations of them. Women who have not taken the time to really understand who they are and what their real motivations are can mean the difference between making the right career choice that provides fulfilment and purpose and enjoying ‘success’ when it comes.
By working on the very foundations of their identity my clients are able to discover what really motivates them, design their roadmap to success and enjoy the journey, without apology. They no longer live out a pseudo – version of who they think they should be that lacks congruence and their confidence grows.
Sreedhari Desai claimed in her recent research that if women want a promotion they need to find a boss whose wife has a career. Do you believe having a manager in a traditional marriage will thwart the career prospects of women?
While this information will certainly make anyone sit up and take notice, being aware of this potential bias, as any other, can help – ‘to be forewarned is to be forearmed’. After all it can be just as difficult having a female boss, who has shunned relationships and motherhood to focus wholeheartedly on her career, and have similar expectations of the women they employ.
I would advise women to consider the following: Think about what you are projecting at work, does your boss have a clear picture of who you are, where you want to go and what you want to achieve? Are you promoting your personal brand at work, among your colleagues and stakeholders? Are you taking credit for your achievements? Are you networking and building the right relationships? Ultimately taking personal responsibility for your career and destination is in your hands. Don’t rely on your boss to ‘read your mind’ or project any unconscious bias on you. Using 360 degree feedback exercises are a great way to begin finding out how you are perceived in the workplace.
What steps should women take to accelerate their promotional prospects?
Women can get bogged down with ticking the boxes of the relevant qualifications and experience they ‘should’ have. But often overlook the benefit of their personal power and ability to get along with people. Being aware of their strengths, particularly their interpersonal strengths and learning how to exploit them can fast track their promotional prospects. Women should never underestimate the power of networking, not just in the traditional sense but building relationships wherever they go. I wholeheartedly buy-into the theory of six degrees of separation – you never know where your next opportunity could come from. And even if you don’t ascribe to this, it’s useful to remember, people prefer to work with people they like.
Beyond the obvious, I recommend six steps:
- Positive attitude (see possibilities in situations, not just obstacles)
- Set goals: you need to know where you are going to devise a road map of how to get there
- Be consistent in your character: what do you what to be known for? Who needs to know? How will you get access to them?
- Build your personal ‘authentic’ brand and promote it in everything you do and say
- Become an expert commentator in your field and exploit opportunities to promote your message and skills
- Network; build genuine relationships with people in your field and beyond, exploit your interpersonal skills.
How can women work around unconscious beliefs and bias as a barrier to increasing representation in the boardroom?
In addition to the steps outlined in this article I recommend that women:
- Be clear about what they bring to the table, what ideas, skills and experience will they contribute? This knowledge and awareness increases confidence, it’s tangible.
- Work with a coach to help clarify and develop their strengths and skills
- Find a mentor already in a boardroom position to help them prepare and/or speak to board members about their experiences and ask for advice.
What meaningful work life strategies can high achieving career women adopt so they can have it all? Or is it a myth?
It is a myth. Compromise has to be made somewhere. I am a business woman, a wife and a mother. To achieve quality and balance in all of these areas requires a strong dose of what is realistic and doable, and counting the cost on each level (time, finances, etc) of what it will take to achieve.
When women are in-tune are with what their core values are (what is important to them), it’s a good starting point to prioritise their time and where it is spent. When they live to honour those values, fulfilment is achievable, but it doesn’t mean they will be able to tick everything off their wish list. I just read a book by self confessed workaholic Karren Brady (aka Vice Chairman on West Ham and Alan Sugar’s right-hand woman). She also says that women cannot have it all – something has got to give. Work and family are important to her, so she has sacrificed a social life and the trappings of ‘celebrity status’ to honour her values and commitments to work and her family.
A good starting point is listing key areas of importance in your life, for example, work, partner, family, health, finance, etc. Score each out of ten to reflect your current satisfaction level. Look at the areas where you score lowest and match them against your current priorities. Use these responses as a guide to work out what needs to change.
If you were designing a new approach for women’s leadership what would be your 5 key elements to help them thrive in their careers?
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Source: John Quincy Adams
Key words here are ‘inspiration’ and ‘gravitas’. Good leaders are followed chiefly because people trust and respect them rather than for the technical skills they possess.
With leadership, I always start at the foundational level which is often overlooked. So instead of jumping to advice on strategies to enhance leadership or assessing the benefits of the ‘carrot and stick’ approach, I advise a ‘health check’ on the basic characteristics and behaviours of effective leadership and match them against what traits the individual is currently demonstrating. These include integrity; courage; inspiration; passion; confidence; and determination. When there are strong foundations, an individual can become like magnet to others.
The foundational elements of great leadership which can be developed immediately in all ambitious women whether in a formal leadership position or not are:
- Effective communication and well honed interpersonal skills
- Enhanced self awareness (knowledge of the impact of strengths and weaknesses)
- Understand how you inspire and motivate others – ask yourself, why would any one want to be led by you?
- Understand your objectives and having a plan for how to achieve them
- Understand how your strengths and capabilities help others achieve their best efforts.
For practical exercises on how to develop leadership skills, see the links below