Recipes for Thoughtful Leadership and Healthy Culture — Author Interview with Bonnie Sussman-Versace

Published on
March 27, 2017
Sara Saddington
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
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Bonnie Sussman-Versace is the Founder and Operating Principal of Focused LLC, an Executive Business Coaching and Leadership Training firm that helps business leaders and their organizations succeed by providing solutions and offerings that boost their success and help them navigate the opportunities and obstacles. Sussman-Versace brings 30+ years of experience as a successful business leader, owner, entrepreneur and mentor to help for profit and non-profit enterprises thrive and prosper.

Sussman-Versace knows that a healthy, resilient company requires a positive and productive culture of leaders and employees, working in sync around heightened values of accountability, communication, and trust. She has devoted the past 10 years to working with companies to provide effective solutions for developing leaders, enhancing cultures, and improving performance that can strengthen the organization’s bottom line. Sussman-Versace’s new book, Recipes for Thoughtful Leadership and Healthy Culture is an actionable manual that will help organizations develop leaders and create world class cultures.

1. How did you come to decide on the recipe book format for the book?

I had been writing articles for a regional business magazine for 6 or 7 years, when a fellow writer and long-time friend suggested that I put the published articles into a book and offer them to my clients. I remember thinking ‘copied pages, three-ringed binder,’ nothing particularly creative. Then I realized these articles are really like short recipes that can be applied in any business. Recipes that should be easy and quick to read, digest, and act upon. The recipe book concept just popped during a moment of creativity, and Suzy Rae Design developed the actual book design from a 10-minute briefing of that concept.

2. And how did you decide which sections would be associated with each type of food?

The soup/nurture combination was easy, and it became the anchor. Dessert/lead it was the next logical selection. I went back and forth on the others. Once I switched out an article or two, the natural order became obvious.

3. What inspired you to focus on leadership and culture?

My practice is focused on developing leadership, building healthy cultures, and achieving individual, team and enterprise-wide results. Three key elements that help improve the quality of life for people while they are in the place where they spend most of their waking hours, the workplace.

The fact is, every business has a culture, regardless of the size, type, industry or any other characteristic. When we apply leadership to the culture, results become repeatable, sustainable, and transferable. People feel valued, productive and part of something bigger than themselves.

4. Are there other important “ingredients” that weren’t included in the book?

I purposely focused on developing people, but having efficient, easy to understand and use processes in place is also very critical. Maybe I’ll focus on processes for the next book.

5. What advice would you give to a leader who is struggling to create a strong culture? Aside from reading the book, what first step would you recommend?

Make a personal commitment to build, adjust, modify or enhance your company’s culture. Don’t let running your business take you away from growing the people who are helping you grow the business. Without making the commitment personal, it becomes too easy to dismiss the importance of creating a healthy culture and get distracted chasing the next shiny penny.

6. What leadership development advice would you give to an employee who doesn’t occupy a management role?

You don’t need to sit in the seat marked “leader” to demonstrate “leadership.” Leadership is not about age, title or position in life, it is a mindset that lives in all of us. It’s what we decide to do with the mindset that makes the difference. How we develop and strengthen it over time. At the end of each day, think back on the things you did to improve the quality of life for others, like teaching a new process to a co-worker, contributing to the common goal, or finding a solution to a customer’s situation. That’s leadership. A client once told me, “When I see someone pick up a piece of paper from the floor (that everyone else has stepped over or around), someone saying ‘Hey boss, we have a problem, but I think we can fix it by doing. . .’, or someone staying late to finish a project that is due tomorrow, I know I have leadership in the house.”

7. I loved the analogy of property maintenance in relation to organizational culture—it’s a signal for the mindset of a business. In your work as a consultant, have you noticed other signals that can be indicative of culture?

The property damage, lack of proper maintenance, or misuse of company IP can all be clear demonstrations of employee’s feeling they are not valued. Other signs are verbally abusing and disrespecting co-workers, customers, and vendors, excessive, repeated errors on familiar work product, not returning shared files or tools to their proper location, etc.. The list goes on. Businesses that have fragile or chaotic cultures are creating the imbalances that lead to poor attitudes and behaviors. When left unaddressed, those ingredients will turn into a disastrous recipe. Decline or implosion are usually just around the corner.

On the flip side, when a culture is healthy, it looks like, sounds like and feels like family, community, caring, sharing, growing, strength, problem solving, collaboration. . . success. And, who wouldn’t want a steady diet of that recipe?