Nia Thomas [00:00:06]:
Hello and welcome to the Knowing Self, Knowing Others podcast, the fortnightly podcast that talks about self aware leadership with thinkers from around the globe. If you want to be a better leader and a better work colleague, then join me, your host, NIA Thomas, as we talk to today’s Knowing Self, Knowing Others guest. A very big welcome to today’s show to Steph Tuss, and Steph is the CEO of Life Is Now, which is a global consulting firm. She’s also the podcast of the highly acclaimed the Successful Mind podcast. Steph is a leadership and business growth expert and also has an expertise in visionary leadership. Steph, it’s wonderful to have you here. Please do introduce yourself.
Thank you so much for having me. And yes, I am CEO of Life is now. We work with solopreneurs all the way to multimillion dollar companies in helping them become better leaders and then that trickles down into their results, into their team and then into their team’s families. So we really focus on building business, starting with the business founder because we think everything starts with that, like on that framework.
Nia Thomas [00:01:22]:
Yeah, I would definitely agree that it all starts from the leadership. Steph, I’m interested. You didn’t start your working career with aspirations to be the CEO of Life Is Now. You’ve had a different journey to this.
Role, very different journey. And if you’d have asked me 20 years ago where I would be today, it certainly wouldn’t be where I am. I started off as a public school elementary teacher, both in music and in fifth grade math and science. Interestingly enough, I loved teaching even from a young age and was brought very much in a lower to middle class household. My dad worked at a General Motors factory for 30 years. My mom was a credit manager at the local hospital, which means she had the job of calling people to let them know that they owed the hospital money for their medical bills. So I grew up very scarcity and security based and thought my natural progression would be to go get a four year degree and then get a teaching job, which I did. Started off teaching and the plan was I was going to teach for 30 years just like every other teacher that I knew, and I would retire and live off my teacher retirement for the remainder of my life. And about two years into teaching, I knew that there was no way that I was going to last 30 years. So I started looking outside the box. Now, it took me another eight years to leave teaching and it took a pretty significant life event to cause me to leave, which was I gave birth to a very sick child and doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. I was a young mom. I was certain that I was going to kill her in some way, shape or form. I had no idea what I was doing, but the doctors wanted to do invasive surgery at like, two and a half to three weeks old. And I just knew in my heart that something wasn’t right. So I looked at alternative therapies. Now, this child is now 22 years old. So this was 22 years ago that I was looking into alternate therapies, which was not accepted as much as it is now, and talked to Chinese herbalists, acupuncturists, massage therapists, Lactation. Like, I left no stone unturned. Stumbled upon a woman who just asked me to simply change my diet because I was nursing at the time, change my diet, and all of my daughter’s symptoms went away. So all of her disease was caused by food sensitivities. They were thinking leukemia, they were thinking massive things wrong with her. And it was as simple as what I was eating. And I’m a teacher, so this had a deep impact on, wait a second, I’m teaching fifth grade math and science. This is way more important to teach to people because I knew that I couldn’t be the only parent out there that had experienced something like this. So while I was teaching, I went back to school and got my master’s degree in holistic nutrition. And then in year ten of teaching, had to come to Jesus with myself and my husband and decided that I was going to leave teaching and go into a full time nutrition health practice. And I did, and I had no idea what I was doing. I’ve never been formally trained in anything business, no business finance, no sales, nothing in entrepreneurship, no entrepreneurs in my family. I just felt a really strong calling that this is something that I needed to do and people needed to understand that there were other ways of treating certain illnesses. And my practice took off, I think partly because I didn’t know that I couldn’t do it. Like, I didn’t have anybody in my ear telling me, don’t do it this way or don’t do it this way. Just started and built very quickly. Within three years, I had a full roster of clients, some professional female athletes on my roster. And I had built to a place where I was really plateaued. Like, it was just me and an assistant, a bookkeeper, and that was my business. And so I hired a business coach to help me grow, and that was David Nagel, who was now my business partner and worked with him for a year. He really helped me grow. And I got to the point where I fell out of love with nutrition and more into love with the mindset behind why someone does or doesn’t do something and also business itself, because I had just grown my business very rapidly and learned some hard lessons along the way. So I made the decision that I was going to once again follow my desire, and I sold my business and reached out to David and asked if I could come and work with him started at the very bottom of his business. I did sales, and then I transitioned, built a sales team, transitioned to curriculum development, marketing, and then six years ago became CEO. So talk about a wiggly path to where I am now. I never could have predicted it, but it was all based in really following my inner desires and not being afraid to say yes to the opportunities that were presented to me.
Nia Thomas [00:06:27]:
Wow, what an amazing journey. Interestingly. I’m also a qualified reflexologist. I qualified in 2006 because, like you, you can see that there are other things going on in the world, and maybe we don’t know everything. Interesting that you’re talking that you started in the world of education, and it feels like you’re a different kind of educator now. Do you think that your grounding in education and teaching children has really set you in the right frame of understanding, knowledge, and skill to be able to do what you’re doing?
Do you know, the interesting thing is, growing up, people always told me I was bossy. So my nickname was bossy the Cow now, not because I was overweight, because I come from a long line of dairy farmers, and there’s always one cow that leads all the other cows in from past year. And my grandparents and my mom and my dad called me bossy the cow. I was always told, stop being so bossy. Stop being so bossy. Now, looking back, if they would have said, hey, you have leadership skills. Let’s work to refine those, then it might not have taken me so long to get where I am today, but I’m really believer that when you look back at all the things that you’ve done throughout your life. Each of those things sets you up to be a success where you are right now and also prepares you for what’s next. So I think the formal education in teaching and the experience I had in teaching both children and dealing with parents helped me communicate and teach and educate my nutrition clients. Some of them were children, children and adults. And then that helped me understand the neuroscience and the psychology behind business and why someone does. Let’s be honest, it’s very easy to teach someone how to be healthy, what to eat, what not to eat. It’s a whole nother thing to understand why they do or do not do those things that they know are good for them. Right. It translates exactly into business as well and into leadership. You know what good leadership skills are. You know what you should be doing for your business. You know that you should be making sales and asking for the sale, and yet you don’t do those things. So I got really passionate about the underlying neuroscience and psychology behind why someone is or is not successful in whatever it is that they’d like to be successful in and then also fell in love with the strategy of business, which then led me to the role that I have right now. So each thing that I’ve experienced and I’m sure it’s true for everyone that looks back on their life, each thing that you experience sets you up for that next thing for you.
Nia Thomas [00:09:04]:
Well, that feeds very nicely into our discussion about self aware leadership because like you say, we know these things in terms of the science or the technology or the good skills, but do we have the self awareness to make the decision as to what we do, why we do something, why we do not do something? So again, for me, it always comes back to that foundation of self awareness, which takes us into our question, how do you define and I’m going to add another element to this, what does self awareness mean to you?
So self awareness to me is understanding how I affect myself and the effect that I have on others. So it’s both like I have control of how I’m affecting myself based upon my awareness and then that awareness influences my actions. And as a leader, especially, self awareness is about knowing how you have an impact on someone else and how they react to how you have an impact on them.
Nia Thomas [00:10:11]:
Nia Thomas [00:10:13]:
What are your thoughts on the relationship between self awareness and leader effectiveness? And I guess in your current role, you will have seen lots of different leaders in lots of different organizations and sectors and cultures.
So I think self awareness is key to leaders, to leadership, both in how you react to your employees or your team and how they react to you. So I’m not sure where I stumbled across this kind of training or tool for self awareness, but it was originally developed by Freud and it’s all about transference. And you know, I know that if something happens in my business, whether it’s team related, whether it’s results related, and I have a negative emotional impact, then I have a negative emotional experience of that. I know that there’s something in my past, in my past paradigms that’s causing me to have that reaction and it’s tied to something that I witnessed as a child that my parents did or reacted to. And I react according to how I saw them react. So it creates a stop gap for me. Right? So let’s say something’s not going right in the business. A team member walks into my office, says something, and I feel myself getting angry or I feel myself getting frustrated. As soon as I realize that I’m feeling angry or frustrated, I take a step back and I take a look at how am I experiencing this and how am I reacting to this and is that actually how I want to consciously experience this and consciously react to this? Because my reaction then trickles down into my team and my employees. So here’s a perfect example. We have a client that we’re working with. He’s a very successful law firm owner. So he has a law firm. He’s got lots and lots of employees. They deal in very large cases. And he’s having team issues. He’s having issues with his team. He’s constantly frustrated with his team. And in conversation with him, he uses the words, I lost my shit. I lost my shit with my team. And I helped him see that him losing his shit was actually triggering a core wound inside of himself. It actually had nothing to do with what was going on in the firm. And that by him reacting, he was breaking down psychological safety with his employees and his team. So his lack of self awareness was creating all of the issues in his firm. And when he could dial that back and take a step back and not, quote, unquote, lose his shit, that term just even gives me, like, hives. When he stopped doing that and took a step back and looked at what was really the underlying core issue that was causing that reaction, and then he chose to respond differently to his team, everything started to change. His team was no longer afraid to come to him with issues. They were not worried about losing their job if a mistake was made. They were talking about what they were learning based on their mistakes. And it built a stronger company culture, and he became triggered less and less and less. Does that make sense?
Nia Thomas [00:13:24]:
Most definitely. And as somebody who works in the preschool and early years sectors and have done for 15 years or more, that trauma that children or we experience, or anything that we experience as children, it forms the adult that we become. And whatever you have lived through, whatever you have seen, modeled by the adults around you, that means that that is how you’re going to respond. Unless something happens that changes your reaction to a response, which, as you say, the colleague that you’re referring to gave himself that opportunity through coaching with you, through that discussions and consultation with you. That time to reflect, to give himself that opportunity for that to be a response and a chosen response.
Correct. So it was no longer a compulsion, like a compulsive response. Most people don’t take the time to think, oh, I have a choice of how I can respond to this. It’s a compulsive response. And because that’s what was modeled for him as a child, he just assumed that was an okay thing, that it was okay to lose your shit on your team. It was okay to get upset and angry and yell and treat people that way. He didn’t understand the ramifications of that across the entire firm.
Nia Thomas [00:14:42]:
And I think when you’re in a leadership position before you realize that that’s very, very difficult for people within your organization to give you unfiltered feedback, that is candid feedback, to give you that opportunity to do something differently. Maybe it does take something like a coach or an external consultancy firm to come in and have that neutral viewpoint to be able to share.
Absolutely. I mean, it’s a blind spot, right? Sometimes you can’t see what you can’t see without someone saying, wait a second, let’s take a look at this. What’s the truth in this? What’s actually happening and what are the effects of that cause that you’re creating and showing them that you actually have a choice in how you both react and respond. And a fascinating thing happens when you have that awareness is without the awareness, you don’t think that you have any other choice. With the awareness, you realize that you do have the opportunity to make a different choice. And I think there’s real magic in that.
Nia Thomas [00:15:47]:
Do you think effective leaders can be found at all levels of organizations? And what have you seen and experienced that really informs that?
I think effective leaders can be found everywhere. I don’t think effective leaders are just found in the C suite of corporations or as founders of organizations. I see leaders everywhere in our community and some people lead themselves in their own lives in terms of what their own self discipline and what they’re able to create in their life. It doesn’t have anything to do with growing a large team, but just their ability to lead themselves to being the best person that they can be. And also in everyday tasks, you see leaders, fantastic coaches that are creating a huge impact in little League teams, in kids soccer teams. You see leaders in every level as long as they’re there because they feel like their job is to create the best people that they possibly can create. So I really feel like leadership isn’t about you as the leader. It’s about how you support others in being their best self. So I find it like I don’t think that my team works for me. I don’t feel like I’m an authority. I feel like I work for them in giving them the tools and the coaching and the resources they need to be their best self. And I think any good leader does that in any capacity, even if you’re just leading yourself.
Nia Thomas [00:17:17]:
I think there’s far more conversation happening around followership. And rather than the focus being on leadership, it’s about how are you showing up for followers? And I think what you were talking about sporting teams, it’s about how do you lead from the back to make sure that you are putting your arms around that team to give them what they need at the time that they need it to be able to push them forward if that’s where they want to go.
Nia Thomas [00:17:49]:
Do you think leaders at the most strategic level of organizations have greater self awareness than leaders at other levels of organizations? And again, what has really informed your view?
I’ve thought a lot about this, actually, and I don’t know that every strategic leader is also self aware. Done a lot of studies on a lot of leaders and I think you can have bad leaders that still create really great things. You can have non empathetic, you can have non psychological safety creating leaders that have created really amazing things. Unfortunately based on so and I wouldn’t classify them as a great leader, I would classify them as a great innovator, as someone that was able to get something really incredible done. I wouldn’t classify Steve Jobs as a great leader, but he did some really incredible and amazing, groundbreaking things. Right. So I think that in the majority of companies, your strategic leaders generally work better when they’ve got a buffer between them and the rest of the team. And this is actually true in my case as well. So I’m business partners with David Nagel. He’s a visionary leader type that actually shouldn’t be managing people. He’s forward facing, he’s constantly finding new material, he’s constantly on stages, podcasts. His main focus is getting his message out, business development and really focusing on perfecting his craft. I am the integrator, so I’m the CEO COO my focus is team building operations, making sure that everyone feels supported so that his vision comes to realization. So in that case, he’s the strategic leader in terms of his craft, I am the one, I am the leader that comes and leads the team. He leads the vision, I lead the how to’s. So in other sense he’s the what and why and I’m the how. Does that make sense?
Nia Thomas [00:19:57]:
Absolutely, yeah, most definitely. I love the way you describe that, that buffer between the person who is my viewers, that leaders look up and out and managers look down and in. And sometimes we have to do both of those roles. Yes, but sometimes that there are people who are better at the looking up and out, so they need to do just that thing. Whereas there are people like yourself and maybe me too, who up and out, but we also look down and in at the same time and we’re pretty good at doing both of those things. And I just love that idea that actually if you are self aware enough, you know your skills, you are able to place yourself in the right position to be able to support your people. And I was talking to brilliant podcast guest Sophie Brian. We were talking about should we be being more conscious of separating these roles that are technical experts and people experts? Is that something that you’re thinking more about?
Absolutely, we see it every single day. And unfortunately the biggest obstacle to that is the founder themselves because they have shame around not being able to manage their team. And what generally happens is if they’re, like you say, an up and out visionary where their focus really shouldn’t be on the managing of the team, they actually do more harm than good digging in. They’re impatient. They feel like they’re not great communicators. They have a difficult time communicating what they see to other people, whereas the integrator, I can communicate what he sees better to our team. But there’s a lot of shame around this because people have this idea in their head that if they’re the founder, if they’re the head of their company, they have to be the quote unquote, team leader. And that just is simply not the case. We found generally 40% of the business owners that we work with should not be managing people, they should be focused on what their brilliance is, which is leading with their passion, speaking on stages, bringing their message to the masses, perfecting their craft. And they need to have that person, that CEO COO integrator in Rocket Fuel terms to be that buffer. And everything works clockwork when you do that because they’re no longer feeling the frustration, forcing themselves to do things that are not within their gifts. And it allows an opportunity for someone like me, whose gift it is to build people to do what I do best. And it works wonderfully.
Nia Thomas [00:22:25]:
That’s brilliant. Interestingly. My husband is doing some work with somebody in the tech industry and he is, as you described, that innovator. But he cannot bring that innovation into the practicalities, the financial management, putting it into a business plan, the strategy and everything that goes with it. Yet he has detailed people in his organization who are working for him, but there is this huge gap in the middle where they can’t bring down his thoughts to the level of detail they need. And the buffer that you mentioned earlier, the buffer is simply a gap.
There’s a great book that describes this relationship between the visionary and the integrator. It’s called rocket fuel. And it’s by Gino Wickman. I think that’s what it’s called. But it lays out, and I give this book out to so many of our clients because there’s so many of them that are in this situation. Yeah, it’s Gino Wickman and it really describes like these are the issues of a visionary. They have a really hard time communicating what’s in their head. The Integrator is a really good question asker. So they just ask questions and ask questions until they feel like they’ve got the picture of what the visionary wants and then they can break it down and reverse engineer it and communicate it to the rest of the team to then be put into play and into action.
Nia Thomas [00:23:46]:
Amazing listeners for private sector organizations and commercial sector organizations. It sounds like this book might be very useful for you. So we will make sure that we’ve got a link to this book in the show notes. What do you think is an effective way to develop self awareness?
So I’m going to speak from personal experience and how I feel like I’ve developed self awareness and that’s through a lot of study and then putting that study into practice. So I’ve read leadership books up and down. But awareness only takes you so far. You know that you come with a litany of past paradigms and program. Everybody does. It’s how we were shaped as human beings. We are a reflection of our parents or people who raised us. Beliefs and values. Sometimes those values can be in conflict with what you actually want consciously. And so for me, it started with a lot of study, but not just study because study doesn’t do anything. You have to actually create new behaviors to then form new beliefs and new patterns. So for me, I would read something and then I would actually implement it with my team. I would try it out, I would have discussions with other people. I would create a new behavior around that thing that I was learning about myself. And like I said, one of the most valuable tools, skills that I’ve learned is that projection exercise, is that transference exercise that was developed by Freud because it forces you to look at yourself and take 100% responsibility. And I really think that that’s a huge part of self awareness is that I take 100% responsibility for everything, for everything in my life. No matter if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, I’m 100% responsible because I’m at the center of it. I’m creating it. So if I’m having a negative reaction, then that also means that I’m responsible for that negative reaction, which also means I can change that, right? So it’s been the study of books. It’s also putting myself in a room with people who will point out things that I may not be aware of. So other like minded individuals that are growth minded, that share my same values that I can go to and say, hey, I’m having this crazy experience where I’m feeling really stuck and I can’t see what’s causing this stuckness. They know to ask me the right questions to help me uncover what that is because the truth is I already know what it not. I’m just not aware of it. So I think study and implementation for sure, they have to go hand in hand and also surrounding yourself with other people who can help point out your blind spots. And that really collapses the time that it takes for you to continue on that path of self awareness.
Nia Thomas [00:26:25]:
Really helpful steph, thank you so much. It’s been an absolutely brilliant conversation. I have learned so much. We will make sure that there are links to your organization in the show Notes life is now so that listeners are able to access you and we will make sure that is it LinkedIn is the best way to get hold of you.
Actually, for me, it’s instagram. I manage my own Instagram account. So you send me a message, I will be the one that answers. It’s not a bot or a fake person pretending to be me. I post a lot of leadership on my Instagram account. So at Steph Tuss is where you can get in contact with me. And then also on our website we have that visionary leadership assessment that will tell you, are you one of those leaders that shouldn’t be actually managing people, or are you one that actually should? It’ll tell you your strengths and weaknesses and then give you some suggestions on how to strengthen those weaknesses.
Nia Thomas [00:27:18]:
That’s really helpful. Thank you so much, Steph. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been a really interesting conversation, listeners. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. Steph, thank you.
Thank you so much.
Nia Thomas [00:27:33]:
Thank you for joining me. Your host, NIA Thomas of the Knowing Self Knowing Others podcast. After every podcast, I’m going to be doing a top takeaways review of the things that I’ve learnt from my discussions with guests, which you can find on my website. Knowingselfknowingothers. Co, UK, LinkedIn, TikTok and the other main social media sites. Rates, reviews and recommendations from you are the best way to get the word out about the knowing, self Knowing Others Podcast open your favorite podcast app. Find the Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast take a listen to some episodes, give it some stars and write a little review. A little word from you means a big deal to me. Make sure you bookmark the Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast on your favourite podcast player and tune in to the next episode in two weeks time. The Knowing Self Knowing Others podcast is available on Apple podcasts Spotify google Podcasts stitcher Goodpods Podchaser amazon Music Podcast Index Podcast Addict pocketcast Deezer Listener.
Looking forward to having you on my learning journey!