Maverick consultant turns theme of courage into executive development
By Susan Paprcka, for SBT
No guts, no story. It’s Susan Marshall’s trademark saying, and she has certainly lived by it. An author, speaker and consultant, Marshall has built a career on providing consulting and coaching resources for businesspeople seeking to develop and enhance powerful and practical executive skills with an experiential approach.
She founded her company, Executive Advisor, in 1997, offering organizations three primary consulting services: strategic positioning, performance management and executive development. The delivery of those services focuses on Marshall’s central themes of vision, courage and leadership.
"Growth, improved performance and measurable results are not possible without vision, courage and leadership," according to Marshall, of Jackson in Washington County. "An individual’s growth will be limited by what he or she refuses to see. The same is true for companies."
Marshall published her first book in 2000 entitled How To Grow A Backbone: 10 Strategies for Gaining Power and Influence at Work, which effectively ties into her consulting themes. The book’s focus is on tangible ways individuals can succeed through confidence, competence and risk-taking.
Her book has been translated into German, Spanish and Chinese.
She says she chose the terminology of "backbone" because of what she witnessed during her many years in the corporate world — lack of courage and accountability in leadership roles. "In my interactions with people, I’d see so much conflict avoidance," Marshall recalls. "People that were afraid to speak up and take responsibility and say what they really wanted to say; many of them simply lacked confidence."
Since the book’s release, Marshall has also developed the concept into a course based on the same themes. The course is titled "Developing Executive Stature: Six Weeks to Greater Power and Influence" and is designed to offer executives an experiential, accountable learning experience.
Are you in the game?
According to Marshall, too much executive development has become what she calls "entertainment training." Meaning that executives attend conferences, seminars and workshops with the expectation that speakers will be interesting, engaging and entertaining, and that their learning is the responsibility of the speaker.
"Accumulating a catalog of ‘learning experiences’ has nothing to do with growth or improvement," says Marshall. "Just as a resume can list important titles and well-known companies, the quality of the individual’s experience will be determined by how fully engaged he or she was in learning and performing each role."
That’s why Marshall says she decided to make the course into a six-week format that meets once a week. She wants executives to listen, engage and use what they’ve learned in the work setting, then return to the class ready to discuss the effectiveness of what they’ve discovered. Such an experiential approach makes the executive more engaged in and accountable to the learning process, she says.
"The quality of coaching experience lies in helping the individual to take responsibility for his or her current state and to help those people decide how they want to improve it," she says. "It is not a simple or quick proposition, and it should not be billed as such."
Week one of the course is an introduction and overview that sets the stage for understanding how prevailing business events affect the individual and organizational success. Participants rate their current levels of power and influence as a basis for comparison throughout the course.
The second week is "context and intelligence gathering," in which participants develop a context within their current work, including a brief developmental sketch to understand how they arrived where they are at, and an integration map that shows important links to others.
Week three is about "perceptive observation" – the importance of listening, information gathering and eye contact.
Week four is "new thinking, stronger partnerships," which builds on the enhanced awareness of the first three weeks and focuses on individual thought habits and the importance of relationships.
The fifth week is called "powerful presentation," where participants learn to assess their effectiveness based on feedback from a variety of sources and identify ways in which to modify their actions for enhanced success.
And the final week is about generating consistent results. Participants evaluate their propensity for making excuses, creating diversions or constructing rationalizations to avoid challenging situations or potentially controversial decisions. Participants once again rate themselves on their current level of power and influence and compare them with the first week’s self-evaluation.
The curriculum is under consideration for several graduate outreach programs across the country.
Marshall has been active in the business community for more than 25 years, both in the corporate setting and in her private practice. She has held corporate positions in advertising, marketing, training and development, and general management, and has worked with a variety of organizations, including General Motors, Nestle, Subaru of America, Harley-Davidson, Apple Computer, Revere Ware, Hewitt Associates, the Society of Automotive Engineers, Kmart, Sears and many other Fortune 50 to 1000 companies and organizations.
She also has a very diverse background — from leading a turnaround to coaching executives, from creating workshops to facilitating MBA orientation at the University of Michigan Graduate School of Business. Marshall is also currently a chairperson for the executive coaching organization Executive Agenda.
Always a reader and a learner, Marshall says she became interested in executive development during her experience in corporate situations where she says she many times felt she threatened people because she challenged the way things were being done and the excuses for lack of success that were being made.
"I noticed that executives many times resisted real learning, that once they reached their executive goal, they felt they had no more reason to learn," says Marshall. "They saw the presentation of new ideas as challenging their authority, and I found it to be quite a disturbing reality."
For more information on Executive Advisor, visit www.executiveadvisorllc.com.
May 30, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee