Laurie Sudbrink: An interview by Bob Morris

Sudbrink1-1With a passion for developing accountable and proactive workplaces, Laurie Sudbrink established Unlimited Coaching Solutions, Inc. in 1999. She has been a catalyst for change in the workplace ever since. She brings more than 20 years of corporate experience in human relations, leadership/ management, sales, marketing, and training. She is certified as a New York State trainer, a United States Navy trainer, a DiSC® facilitator, an authorized and accredited partner of Patrick Lencioni’s Five Cohesive Behaviors of a Team, a certified Four Agreements trainer, and founder of GRIT® training programs. She is currently a member of NHRA, ASTD, and former member of SHRM and the Western NY Entrepreneurs Organization.

Laurie’s latest book, Leading with GRIT: Inspiring Action and Accountability with Generosity, Respect, Integrity, and Truth, was published by John Wiley & Sons (March 2015). The material in Leading with GRIT provides a foundation that inspires people to step up, take ownership, create solutions, and make things happen! Through these concepts, more happens with less and workplaces are transformed into productive and enjoyable environments.

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Morris: Before discussing Leading with GRIT, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Sudbrink: It’s impossible to narrow this down to one person, there have been so many who have influenced my personal growth in different areas, at different times, in different ways – some by positive example, some by challenging me, some by negative example. My mother, for sure, was a positive influence on me.

Unfortunately I did not get to be raised by her, but as a young adult I quickly valued the sacrifices and pain she endured in having her children stolen from her (by my father), and how she managed to remain a loving and generous person. It puts all of life in focus – you can’t take it personally, but you don’t have to put up with it or ‘like it’ either!

Don Miguel Ruiz is another person who has influenced my personal growth – through retreats and personal meetings, along with his wonderful books, he has taught me to accept myself and be happy.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Sudbrink: Again, so difficult to narrow to one greatest impact, but the one that is earliest in my professional development would be my High School English teacher Mrs. Harvey. She was the first, and only person to tell me not only that I was going to college…but also believe that I would succeed! While my father and stepmother were busy tending to 12 other children, and their own lives, I believe they wanted the best for me but didn’t really consider it much farther. They did the best they could. A college professor, Dr. Thomas Mwanika, also made a big impact on my professional development through his teachings in communications – it was definitely part of what inspired me to do the work I do today.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Sudbrink: Yes, years ago one of my college professors, Thomas Mwanika, taught a terrific course called General Semantics. I was so inspired by the power of our words, and thoughts, it shifted the way I thought about things. It had me so intrigued with the impact it has on behavior. This, combined with the book The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard, and a fantastic public speaking course taught at SUNY Cortland that got me over my fear of public speaking – launched me on this path to professional training and development.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Sudbrink: My formal education has been invaluable to what I’ve accomplished in life thus far in many ways. First, it taught me to focus and finish. College taught me a lot about self-discipline and personal accountability. It also started my experience of working within a team (other than that of my siblings!) In addition, the subject matter was invaluable. From principles of management, to child psychology and sociology, and general semantics and other interpersonal communications classes – I discovered the foundation of a lot of what I teach today. Awareness. Don’t make assumptions. Use your language with a helpful intent. Be objective (don’t take things personally). Integrity – walk your talk. Accountability.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Sudbrink: Politics!!! Knowing how to communicate effectively with different styles; not letting things get to you, but communicating directly; being aware of the politics (not sticking my head in the sand), but instead knowing how to navigate through.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Sudbrink: I would say probably Karate Kid, great lessons in discipline and perseverance. A few important ones from the film: There is no “try” – you just do. “Try” holds us back; keep your ego in check; put your whole heart/self into what you do.

Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Sudbrink: I would have to say The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, and Watty Piper’s The Little Engine That Could The first teaches the basic foundation to living a healthy and happy life, empowering you to be your best in business, and the latter teaches about perseverance and will power!

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Sudbrink: Meet people where they are. This is respect. And generosity – not needing to be recognized for the accomplishment, but rather, being happy that you’ve given people the tools to create their own success.

Morris: From Michael Porter: “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

Sudbrink: Intentional leadership is focusing on the areas that are important, and being able to let go of the things that aren’t important. When we have clarity of purpose, we’ll align our activities appropriately.

Morris: From Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s odd….’”

Sudbrink: Being open to discovering something that you don’t expect, that is different… rather than looking for something specific – this is where it gets exciting!

Morris: From Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

Sudbrink: I think I heard something similar to this – Vision without action is a daydream. Action without Vision is a nightmare. We can dream and never do, and what good is that? To dream, and create, is where the real magic happens!

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Sudbrink: Sometimes we just act, without thought and consideration; without aligning to a purpose, just for the sake of taking action, feeling like we’ve accomplished something. When what we’re accomplishing may not even matter, or would be better off left alone.

Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not ‘Should we make mistakes?’ but rather ‘Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?'” Your response?

Sudbrink: If it’s a mistake, how would one know ahead of time which ones to make?

Morris: Schoemaker seems to be recommending a process of elimination during which experiments are made to determine what works and what doesn’t so that we can understand why. Rather than fearing “failure,” we should tests that, even if they don’t succeed, we will learn something of value.

In your opinion, why do so many C-level executives seem to have such a difficult time delegating work to others?

Sudbrink: Lack of trust – wanting control. Not moral trust, but trust that someone else can really handle the job, or get the job done well enough and fast enough – as good as I can. Relinguishing control can be very challenging for C-level executives. After all, that’s how most got where they are. I believe that for most C-level execs, it is a deep seeded fear of not being needed or valued, so they need the control to feel worthy. For some I suppose it could be just a lack of patience – faster to do it themselves that to teach someone else, or rely on someone else.

Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exception) were great storytellers. What do you make of that?

Sudbrink: The ability to help others relate, your ability to help others see that you empathize; that you get it, inspires others to trust in you, believe in you – they’ll WANT to follow someone like this. I do believe the stories need to come from a genuine place (the intent to help, not just to entertain or impress).

Morris: Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. More often than not, resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

Here’s my question: How best to avoid or overcome such resistance?

Sudbrink: Respecting the culture and people’s natural resistance is the start. Then being able to understand motivators and stressors so that you can help people see the value of the change is key. When they trust that this new thing is going to result in something beneficial, they’ll be more willing to go along for the ride, rather than go kicking and screaming.

Morris: In recent years, there has been criticism, sometimes severe criticism of M.B.A. programs, even those offered by the most prestigious business schools. In your opinion, in which area is there the greatest need for immediate improvement? Any suggestions?

Sudbrink: Helping people to take an objective “look inside” and create clarity of purpose. Knowing yourself and a genuine desire to know and help others, to reach a goal larger than one could alone

Morris: Looking ahead (let’s say) 3-5 years, what do you think will be the greatest challenge that CEOs will face? Any advice?

Sudbrink: There will be many challenges, and perhaps the greatest of which, the most important, will be to be happy. Yes that sounds so cliché, but with all the demands, pressures, long hours and stress, to enjoy life and work will undoubtedly continue to be a big struggle for most CEOs. With the rise of cancer and many other stress-related diseases, my advice for any CEO would be to manage their happiness like it’s their business!

Morris: Now please shift your attention to Leading with GRIT. When and why did you decide to write it?

Sudbrink: Around 10 years ago, 2005ish, I realized the value of the message I gave in my teachings with supervisors, managers, executives, and quite frankly, any group. I was watching people shift; find meaning and purpose; become more positive; get meaningful results, and put simply, be happier and more productive. I decided that writing a book could get this message to the masses. I could reach so many more people this way. I believe we are all messengers and we deliver the message in different ways, from teaching to art to music to books… this was my way besides teaching, to deliver the message.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Sudbrink: I’m not sure there were any head-snapping revelations, but definitely evolutions of ideas and thoughts. As painful as it was to organize data and sit in solitude, it was also very rewarding and inspiring because of the message itself, and the book it developed into.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Sudbrink: Originally the book did not even have the acronym GRIT (10 years ago). It was about eight years ago that I developed GRIT to help describe the process – so it got it’s name well after it’s life, because I’d been delivering this message for many years before thinking about presenting it in a book. I realized it would help people to understand and retain the message if it was organized and named, and grit being a favorite word of mine was so fitting, because people want grit, they want to persevere, to have the courage and tenacity to get the job done. GRIT expands it though – it helps us to maintain other very important characteristics, and consider other people – not just have grit for ourselves.

Morris: I checked the etymology of the word “grit” and learned that it was first recorded American English in 1808: then and now, it connotes “pluck, spirit, and firmness of mind.” When and why did you first become interested in the concept of grit?

Sudbrink: I’ve always been a bit of a country girl, my grandmother lived in the south, so the word grit was just appealing to me. I love the old westerns and John Wayne’s True Grit is definitely a classic and source of inspiration. I know George Washington used the word “grit,” as did more recent leaders such as Steve Jobs. Again, I believe grit is critical, but I think sometimes people get so caught up in their own grit that they forget about others along the way, hence GRIT.

Morris: Please explain the admonition. “Get your GRIT together.”

Sudbrink: Just a cute way of helping people use GRIT to get themselves “straightened out” (or aligned). A variation of “Get Your Sh*t Together.”

Morris: What are the defining characteristics of someone who leads with GRIT?

Sudbrink: There are several:

o Self Awareness and self-acceptance
o Clarity of purpose/intent
o Actions in alignment with the given objectives
o Results-oriented
o Doing one’s best but not striving for unattainable perfection according to someone else’s standards
o Takes care of self rather than risking burnout and playing the victim
o Respectful of others’ differences (especially principled dissent)
o Never assumes omniscience
o Giving recognition, time and presence whenever and wherever needed
o Being accessible and gracious to others

Morris: Which experiences in your life thus far have done the most to develop grit in your approach to crises and challenges?

Sudbrink: I’ve had quite a bit of adversity in my life, and all has helped me learn and grow in so many ways. One in particular incident, my youngest brother’s suicide, really made me look at myself and my truth and question what was really important in life. I changed the way I did business and lived life. He taught me a great deal about GRIT – in ways where he himself lived the principles, and ways he did not. For example, he was generous to a fault, and this may have been a lack of self-esteem or lack of self-worth in some way. I’ll never know exactly what or why – just that he did suffer at times because of his over-generosity. But he also lived an authentic and beautiful life to which I am grateful I had a part.

Morris: How essential is grit to being an effective mentor? Please explain.

Sudbrink: We all know actions speak louder than words. How can we mentor someone if we don’t know ourselves and align to our own truth, respect ourselves and others, and give generously, but not at the expense of ourselves; as well as receiving from others? To mentor is to help someone else through your own experience and stories; being genuine and authentic. This is GRIT!

Morris: I share your high regard for Don Miguel Ruiz’s classic, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. Please explain the relevance of each of the “arguments” to effective leadership. First. “Be Impeccable with Your Word”

Sudbrink: Specifically:

1. Be Impeccable with your word – Know the power of your word and intent and use it responsibly, with yourself and with others.

2, Don’t Take Anything Personally – Leaders need to realize that it’s not all about them, and what others do is rarely about them. If they can be more objective, they can help people shift when necessary. If they take it personally, they’ll get defensive and people will resist following them.

3. Don’t make assumptions – leaders need to realize the assumptions they make, and while it’s important to think, wonder, challenge and be skeptical, it’s critical to not assume they know the truth of someone else’s situations.

4. Always do your best. A leader has to be able to forgive, himself first and others. We will make so-called “mistakes.'”think of them as learning experiences. Don’t assume you know if someone is doing their best or not – you don’t know that. But to circle back to being impeccable, you can use your words and your intent, and you can ask!

Morris: Here are other passages that caught my eye. Please suggest what you consider to be the key point in each. First, Communicate with Confidence, and Inspire with Your Message (157-159)

Sudbrink: Sometimes we need to exude more confidence so people will believe us and believe in us, and sometimes we need to be inspirational so people will want to listen and/or step up and make something happen. When we know the purpose of our communication, we can talk the language that people need for that situations, when it’s confidence or inspiration.

Morris: Structure Your Message (164-166)

Sudbrink: Respect what other people need to hear and how you need to say it so they have a chance to understand it.

Morris: Empower Team Communication (178-181)

Sudbrink: Get people to talk directly with each other, rather than enabling triangulated conversations where you have to play mediator.

Morris: Just Ask (184-186)

Sudbrink: Often we refrain from asking a question, while assuming all kinds of things. It’s almost too simple, but we just need to find the courage and the right voice to ask.

Morris: The Value of Connecting (196-200)

Sudbrink: When we genuinely connect with people at an emotional level, this creates a loyalty like nothing else could.

Morris: Attitude Is Everything (206-208)

Sudbrink: Attitude is something we have full control over, and it has a direct impact. Our attitude can positive influence and inspire others!

Morris: Leaders Set the Direction, and Know the Where and the Why (218-223)

Sudbrink: As leaders, we must have an idea of where we want to take the team, and why it’s so important! Then we can get them involved in making it happen, by aligning our message and empowering them.

Morris: Creating a Culture of Feedback and Recognition (225-230)

Sudbrink: The most efficient and effective way to getting results is by helping people stay on track through feedback – recognition for the positive and right things, and help with things that need to change.

Morris: Of all the great leaders throughout history, with which one would you most want to share an evening of conversation if it were possible? Why?

Sudbrink: There are so many great leaders, past and present, and I’d be grateful for a conversation with any one of them. So I will pick one legendary figure (and one of my all time favorite movies) – William Wallace of Scotland in the 1300’s whose passion and commitment was incredibly honorable and courageous. (I’ve read a bit about him after seeing the movie.)

Morris: Let’s say that a CEO has read and then (hopefully) re-read Leading with GRIT and is now determined to establish or strengthen a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive. In your opinion, where to begin?

Sudbrink: Start inside. Start with Part I. Take one area that you feel would make the greatest difference to yourself and those around you, maybe just a small shift. Focus on that and enjoy it. And continue the journey, not too forced, but with passion and positive intent. Balance accepting where you are with changing what you think will get you to where you want to be. Believe that you can make a profound impact on those around you and your workplace culture, and you will.

Morris: For more than 25 years, it has been my great pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with the owner/CEOs of hundreds of small companies, those with $20-million or less in annual sales. In your opinion, of all the material you provide in Leading with GRIT, which do you think will be of greatest value to leaders in small companies? Please explain.

Sudbrink: Part I undoubtedly makes the greatest impact for any of us. Taking time to reflect on what is important to us, who we are and who we want to be, and realizing the impact we have on others – the difference we can make, and the difference we can’t make – genuinely believing in people and having a vision that is challenging and inspiring, and serving your people in a way that empowers them to make a difference. I get excited for smaller companies because the realization of a vision and the impact a leader can make seems to be more attainable and trackable.

Morris: Which question had you hoped to be asked during this interview – but weren’t – and what is your response to it?

Sudbrink: You really have covered a great deal! At this point I can’t think of any other question. Thank you!

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Laurie cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Her website link

Leading with GRIT page at Wiley website

Unlimited Coaching link

Her Amazon page link

Twitter link

Google+ link

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