Sue Hawkes is one of those people who jumps out of bed and can’t wait to get started each morning. I marvel at her energy and talent. As a bestselling author, award-winning leader, certified business coach, and globally recognized award-winning seminar leader, Sue brings more than 25 years of business experience to her clients. She is CEO of YESS! and has designed and delivered dynamic, transformational programs for thousands of people. She is remarkable and I’m so grateful she agreed to talk with me about her career.
Q: What is YESS! and when did you get the idea to create it?
A: I got the idea somewhere around the turn of the century, which makes me feel really old. I was running an IT recruiting firm at the time and was starting to get asked to do training for organizations because my entire career history prior to the three years I spent in recruiting was in training and coaching. I was also a certified coach. Many of our clients started hiring me for that, so YESS! sort of emerged on its own. While I’d like to say I’d always had the idea, it was more seizing an opportunity that presented itself because the networks of people I knew asked me to come do that work for them.
Q: You’ve talked about how women internalize things more than men when it comes to managing business challenges and are more reluctant to sing their own praises. How do you help women make sure they’re on equal footing in the workplace and advocate for themselves?
A: This is something I am incredibly passionate about, and I do it in many ways. I encourage my women friends quite persuasively (and sometimes like a bulldozer) to speak on stage. I post on social media and I do everything in my power to remind women that we are absolutely on this earth to share our voice. We also have to work twice as hard and that’s just a fact. I help women do that from direct to indirect means, whether through social media or one-on-one with friends, family, or people I meet through speaking events and workshops. We all champion one another. It’s not just me. I also hang around with women who support me by doing the same.
Q: You’re the founding chair of the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO) Minnesota Chapter, a peer group for women presidents of multi-million dollar companies. What do you get out of your relationship with other WPO members?
A: First and foremost I’d say I’ve gotten a PhD in business by listening to the gutsy, strong-minded, courageous women in WPO. These are women who everyday make shit up and figure out how to do business when it’s really hard. And when they get knocked down, they band together and figure it out and come back twice as hard and twice as amazing. I’ve learned virtually everything that I know about business from these women. I’ve also gotten support, inspiration and the mentality that I’m as capable as they are and have been empowered to do what I do. For me it’s very much about the relationships in the room, the inspiration and support, and the “I can do it, too” validation.
Q: You encourage business leaders to unmask their superhero identity, which you say is an imposter. How does that free up the leader to grow in their own career?
A: I think leaders who are vulnerable are more emotionally intelligent and I think telling the truth and being authentic has people gravitate towards you. You’re not a leader unless people are following you, and people don’t want to follow someone who has their shit perfectly together and never makes a mistake. They want to follow someone who has boogers and warts and falls down and scrapes their knees and is wrong sometimes and admits it and is OK with that because they say, “I could do that too.” It gives them permission to be great. I think embracing and expressing that vulnerability lets people grow.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you ever received from a female mentor?
A: I’ve gotten lots of great advice from a lot of great people, and I go back to what my mom told me. She was my first female mentor and a woman named Ruby was my second. They both had their own versions of the advice, “pray as if it’s up to God, act as if it’s up to you.” The message in this is that you cannot think that magically things are going to happen. You have to work really hard and act as if you are totally the reason things happen, not some magic luck or spiritual divinity.
Q: I am very passionate about companies moving beyond brand purpose and actually taking brand action. I call it “Do Well by Doing Good.” How important do you think it is that companies move beyond basic philanthropy and get involved in advocating for and making the lives of customers better?
A: I think it is imperative. I don’t think it’s optional. I think if your focus isn’t on making the world and the lives of not just your customers but all people better, you’re going to lose your employees. You’re also not going to serve the public well and you’re not going to be in business very long. Because if you’re not helping, you’re hurting. In our business we like to say that we help people and solve problems. As long as we keep our focus there, we’re out in the world and operating with our clients effectively.
Q: I think you are a rock star in the business world. If you were an actual rock star, what would be your stage (or band) name?
A: I have given thought to this, and because I’m a female over the age of 50, my band would be called Flashes of Hotness. I’m so happy I finally get to use that answer someplace other than a dumb party game!