A Q&A with Susan Scott
Question: The title of your book is Fierce Leadership. Can you tell us what you mean by "fierce"?
Susan Scott: In the dictionary there are several definitions for almost every word and when I ask people to put a positive spin on the word "fierce," people suggest: passionate, bold, robust, unbridled, strong, intense, powerful. That’s why I use the word "fierce"--it wakes me up, it’s exciting, it sounds bold, it sounds passionate. It doesn’t sound boring or careful or dull or controlled.
That’s what I mean by the word "fierce"--and "fierce leadership," of course, is all of those things. In martial arts, senseis have a saying, "You are always practicing something; the question is, What are you practicing?" Fierce leadership is a practice, a way of life, a way of thinking and behaving that a leader can bring into his or her life everyday. In Fierce Leadership we are pointing out some so-called "best practices" of leaders today and showing that they are actually far more problematic than they are positive and providing an alternative.
Question: So if some of today’s most widely accepted business practices are wrong-headed and ineffective, why do we insist on clinging to them?
Susan Scott: Well, we are very used to the over-parsed, acronym riddled corporate way and somewhere along the line someone suggested these as best practices. "Best Practices" is a widely used term to describe the best techniques or the best methods that are in use in a company, a field, or an industry. Unfortunately, companies often confuse the latest or the trendiest with the best and lock onto these practices. The best practices of one era are often superceded by the even more ludicrous fads of the next.
There is a direct link between leadership practices and results. We need to develop the ability to spot the "tells" that let us know that our practices aren’t working and, in fact, are getting us the opposite results from what we want. A fierce leader is someone who had acquired Squid Eye.
Question: What is Squid Eye exactly?
Susan Scott: It’s the ability to see the Squid while he is blending into his natural environment. The ability to see him just being himself, even when he doesn’t want you to see him, even when he is hiding. Having Squid Eye means you see many things others cannot and do not see. It’s like having sight in the presence of the blind, you are a selective and efficient information gatherer. This is what Squid Eye really means. So for a fierce leader, with Squid Eye, they begin to spot the tells that let us know that these "best practices" aren’t working.
Question: Another thing you stress is the value of relationships and conversations in business. Why are relationships so important for our careers and our bottom line?
Susan Scott: There is a bold and, I feel, compelling line between leadership and fierce leadership. You cross that line once you begin to understand and act on the central premise of everything fierce, which is If you want to become a great leader you must gain the capacity to connect with your colleagues and customers at a deep level, or lower your aim. So, whether your goal is to improve workplace relations or gain market share, your most valuable currency is not IQ, it’s not the ability to build a really cool power point deck, or analyze a case study or write a white paper. Your most valuable currency is emotional capital. And this is far from a naive, feel good notion; it is really good business sense. In fact, I am proposing that human connectivity, as opposed to strategy and tactics, is the next frontier for exponential growth and the only sustainable competitive edge.
"Susan's new book has serious style, in its best sense, and is a must-read for anyone even remotely thinking about influencing situations and organizations. It's a jammed-packed compilation of truths and approaches for grounding all those "business how-to's" in real substance that makes them work. Marrying how you are with who you are is ultimately the winning formula, and Fierce Leadership makes that accessible and exciting in its practical suggestions for implementing the powerful principles of making positive change. This is on my very short list of books to digest and assimilate. " - David Allen, author of Getting Things Done and Making it all Work
See all Editorial Reviews
“Fierce and chock full of fresh ideas! A great read for anyone who leads… and that’s just about all of us.”
-Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D., author of See Jane Lead
"Susan Scott answers one of the most compelling questions in business today: “why are healthy companies so sick”. For executives leading their organizations through a global economic crisis of this magnitude, Fierce Leadership provides a critical new roadmap.”
-Cos La Porta, senior vice president, International Operations, Starbucks
“Scott’s unique combination of business expertise and bold imagination will re-energize leaders, employees, and managers alike.”
- Professor Stewart D. Friedman, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Total Leadership
“You can start using these ideas tomorrow. Hell, you can start using them today. Susan Scott shows why the received wisdom is wrong, and how we can get it right.”
-Doug Stone, co-author of the international best-seller Difficult Conversations and Lecturer at Harvard Law School
“Susan Scott cuts through a lot of jargon and commonly accepted ideas and offers up specific, actionable steps to achieve better results. Pick one or two and get started today."
-Bill Ayer, President and CEO, Alaska Air Group
“Fierce Leadership has distilled valuable real life experiences and provides a clear roadmap for leaders, managers, employees, or any group of people working together to make positive change.”
-Geri D. Palast, Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor and Executive Director, Campaign For Fiscal Equity
“Susan Scott nails it again with Fierce Leadership. Her powerful imagery and gift for stylish communication lend her message a stickiness and freshness that makes it impossible to forget. As an author, communicator, and leader Susan is peerless. Once again I'm wowed!!!"
-Mark Willis, CEO, Keller Williams
“Fierce Leadership is a refreshingly honest and candid book. The author takes a critical look at how our careers and businesses have been held back by so-called ‘best practices,’ then gives actionable suggestions for revitalizing work and accelerating your success. Read this book for new ideas and to inspire a proactive transition strategy.”
-Michael D. Watkins, bestselling author of The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels
“Of all the worst, best practices in Fierce Leadership, ‘customer-centricity’ provoked the most thought. I truly believe that when the dust settles after this recession, the companies left standing will be those who know how to connect with their customers human being to human being. If this economic downturn has a silver lining it may be, as Susan suggests, that we will learn to ask, ‘how are you?’ and be willing to wait for the real answer."
-Jackie P. Bayer, Director, Organizational Development, America's People Team Ernst & Young, LLP
“Fierce Leadership is the next best thing to having a word-class management guru like Susan Scott on your board–or as your personal adviser.”
-Steve Farber, Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Greater Than Yourself: The Ultimate Lesson of True Leadership and The Radical Leap
“Looking for a take on leadership that will stretch your perspective and your comfort zone? If that’s what you need (and what leader doesn’t?), then Fierce Leadership is for you. In her trademark style of “tough love” coaching and advice, Susan Scott shoots straight to provide the tips and insights you really need to take your team and yourself to new heights.”
-Scott Eblin, author, The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.
“Wow! I wish I’d had Susan Scott’s candid and refreshing advice earlier in my career as an executive. You’ll never think about management, performance, or professional relationships in the same way again.”
-Timothy Keiningham, EVP/Global Chief Strategy Officer at IPSOS Loyalty and author of Why Loyalty Matters
“Many of these best practices are anything but. Having applied the principles of Fierce Conversations to our organization, I can truly recommend ‘Fierce’ as a best practice, fundamental to all leadership. Fierce Leadership expands these principles by debunking traditional, but misguided notions. After reading the chapter on accountability, I am amazed at the amount of time I spend in “victim” mode. Scott strips bare the self-serving excuses for accepting external influences and the behavior of others as an escape from the pain of not getting the results we desire. For any leader who wants to learn how to move beyond holding people ‘accountable’ to the rich and rewarding behavior of holding people ‘able’, this book is a must read.”
- David R. Nielsen, MD, Executive Vice President and CEO American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery
“Fierce Leadership is not for those who want to become shadows in the crowd; it is for those who are willing to tackle the biggest challenges in their lives, toss out the “old” corporate way of thinking, and execute at a higher level of integrity, both personally and professionally.”
-Faith Green, Co-Founder of ARC - A Resource Community for Women
“Susan Scott is clearly one of the sages of the ages! This is a book to move the head and the heart. And it can make a huge difference in the success of your business. She fiercely cuts through the slogans and fads that pass for ‘best practices’ in business today and shows us what it really takes to get where we need to go. This is authentic, original, and powerful -- as only Susan can provide!”
-Tom Morris, author of If Aristotle Ran General Motors and If Harry Potter Ran General Electric
“I had to laugh when I read Susan’s words......”what you and I are talking about is so fundamental that if I wrote another book, it would have to be titled The Complete Guide to the Fricking Obvious.” And yet reading Fierce Leadership has instilled in me a new energy! It gives language and support to what has been for me simply ‘an instinct’ as it relates to leadership, and encourages me to ‘come out from behind myself’ and put authenticity and the capacity to connect at the heart of the culture, ‘the way we do things around here,’ in our District.....well, in ALL my relationships. It gives me the courage to make it an absolute reality and not just an idea vaguely emerging.”
-Elaine C. Cash, Superintendent, Riverdale Joint Unified School District
-“I laughed out loud at Scott’s memo to leaders. Humor and the enjoyment of reading for reading’ s sake in a business book…what a concept. I think I’m seeing a new workshop.” Mardig Sheridan Beyond Boundaries Learning
“I loved the book---wrote all over it and used my highlighter and made lot and lots of footnotes. My staff is already hearing all about it.”
-Juan Gonzalez, VP Student Affairs, University of Texas, Austin