An Interview with Transformational Facilitator Susi Willis

Though I don't run anymore, I met today's bitch through local running group, East Nasty. I used to write for them, and I wrote their "East Nasty of the Week" profile on Susi. That was in 2013, and even though we knew each other before, that was when we really became friends.

If there was a cloud of good things you could reach up and pluck compliments out of, every single thing in that cloud would apply to Susi. She has shown up unannounced to cheer me on at out of town races; she has reached out when I've been hurting and sat with me while I talked and cried; she has asked me for help when she needed it; and she has gotten me hired for jobs. She inspires me to stay curious, to never settle, and above all, to do what you want to do. Meet today's bitch, Susi Willis!

What is your job title and where do you work? 

I'm a Senior Consultant and Transformational Facilitator. I work as a consultant at Mobius Executive Leadership. I also started my own business recently with 3 colleagues/friends. Our company, Sangha Leadership Group, is providing coaching, leadership and organizational development consulting. We are excited because we will be hosting a 3-day Leadership Development workshop in September. I am also teaching yoga twice a week at Renee’s Groove Room in Hermitage. I love that the coaching, transformation work and yoga all compliment each other.  

When did you first learn about this field of work? 

I had been working at DuPont for 15 years, when in 2008 my job as an Employee Assistance Consultant was outsourced to a call center. I was encouraged by a colleague to apply for a position as a Transformational Facilitator, which sounded very crazy, at least from a title perspective. When I read the job description though, it sounded like it was written for me:  facilitate personal insight workshops for leaders of the company so that they understand what they are doing to either help or hinder their teams and organizations to be successful. It was like my whole life’s experience lead me to this job.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?  

When I was applying for the position, one of the application processes was to write a life journey essay. I wrote about my favorite hobby, which at that time was quilting. I used the analogy that I was making something that would outlast me, that I was investing in a future I wouldn’t necessarily see. I feel the same about coaching leaders and their teams. This work has never become stale, it has always given me so much energy and passion. I love seeing people come away with a broader perspective of themselves AND their co-workers.

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

I have a Masters Degree in Social Work. I worked in both the mental health and substance abuse fields before working in organizations as an Employee Assistance Counselor. I have helped employees and managers with issues since the late 1980s. I moved to Nashville to work for DuPont in 1993. It was an incredible work experience for me.  

In 2008, when I shifted roles to a Transformational Facilitator, my teachers for this work were from Mobius Executive Leadership, where I am a consultant now. I was a Transformational Facilitator about 4 years, then my boss retired and I was named leader of my group. I was able to travel all over the world and see so much I would have never done on my own. I am so grateful for being at DuPont 23 years. My work team and I were caught up in some recent restructuring at DuPont and when I announced I was leaving, I was offered an opportunity to work with Mobius.  

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

I don’t know about others, but I usually dream too small for myself. I think I have historically been ruled by a need to feel and play emotionally safe at work. So the best advice I would give, is what was offered to me by my mentor Kathy, she said that she hoped I would be able to see myself as others saw me.

Don’t let your negative self talk rule how you show up. 

I think that is what kept me in my comfort zone so long. If my job hadn’t been outsourced, I would probably still be doing it, and while I loved that job, it wasn’t the job that gave me the opportunity to stretch and grow. I would hate to have missed the last 8 years doing transformational work. 

The other advice is get a passport and leave the country at least once a year (and don’t go to a place where it’s filled with other Americans), so you can understand why it’s important to be a global citizen.

Here is my beauty advice I wish I would have received in my 20s, moisturize the hell out of your neck.

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?  

During the outsourcing of the EAP consultant role, I reached out to a HR leader to ask for help on how to get another job in the company. He told me that there wasn’t a job for me and that if I didn’t agree to relocate, I would be effectively resigning from the company. He then told me I had 3 days to decide if I would relocate or not. For many many years I held a grudge and carried a negative view of him. I later learned that if he had granted my wish to stay at the plant to work, I would have NEVER moved very far from my comfort zone. 

I also learned that I had played a part in that situation. I went to get advice from the person who had the least investment or interest in my career. How this has improved my work is that I now try to look at upsetting situations from the mindset of, “How have I contributed?” and “What am I learning?”. It has changed me from seeing myself as a victim. These are just experiences and they are for here my learning.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day? 

Read more and get a different type of exercise in more frequently than yoga. I have to say, the transformation work led me to getting more active, which lead me to running with East Nasty, which led me to yoga and my recent graduation from Yoga Teacher Training at Sanctuary. So lately I have been very happily immersed in yoga AND recognize I need to get back to more running and zumba. Can I have 3 more hours in the day?

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?

That I moved from being an individual performer to managing a global team. I am most proud of the relationship that the team I managed created. We didn’t get to meet as a team but maybe every 2 years, this could have been an interference to relationship building, but it wasn’t. This group of about 17 people refer to themselves as a family (even now after after being disbanded), they supported each other, shared and learned together.  

I also think that some of that success came from being willing to really give and receive feedback. My biggest growth came from leading this global team and I owe so much to 2 of my mentors, Sandra Chillous and Kathy Wright. They both saw something in me that I hadn’t recognized for myself yet. 

Also, I have to mention that I am so proud to be doing a job that I absolutely love. I get to work with people I completely adore. When I was looking for pictures of my work to share, what I have is pictures of moments of love and joy, true true gratitude to be sharing this work with people who have become such dear friends. They are part of my chosen family.

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning? 

I check email, my calendar, the Book of Face and… usually lay in bed doing all of that before I roll out.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day? 

Usually when I am working, that means I am traveling, so I use Facebook to connect to others. If I am home, it usually involves yoga, cooking a Blue Apron meal or putting together a new playlist for a yoga class. I also find Pinterest a great way to decompress. A quick thing I do is play a New York Times mini crossword each day.

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious? 

Many times people will refer to this work as the “soft stuff”. I see it as the hard stuff. If it was soft or easy, more leaders wouldn’t have employees plotting against them and teams would be working together more functionally and really excited to come to work. I help leaders understand what it takes from them to co-create these work experiences. Most don’t realize that what helped you become successful at work doesn’t mean it will keep you successful.

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do? 

I am not sure people are always clear what I do, but if they do know what I do, they probably don’t understand the connection of what I do that impacts teams, productivity and making sustainable changes.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack? 

My favorite TV program runs during the summer, whatever is on Mystery on Masterpiece Theatre. I especially love any British mystery, they know how to make a murder cozy, as strange as that sounds. My favorite snack is getting a Starbucks Venti nonfat Chai Tea Latte, or, if no one is looking, lots of bread and with embarrassing amounts of butter.

All photos courtesy of Susi Willis

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Attorney and Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher, Paige Seals!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

Dear Orlando Survivors

Dear Orlando Survivors

An Interview with Attorney and Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher Paige Seals