Suzanne Bates on becoming “all the leader you can be”: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris


Bates (Head)Before launching Bates Communications and becoming a recognized thought leader in communicative leadership, Suzanne Bates had a successful career in television news, as an anchor and reporter in major markets. “20 years in broadcasting taught her how to be prepared… to show up ready for the game. This helped her to launch her business and prepare her initial clients for the spotlight.

“As our firm grew, we expanded our work to consulting with senior leaders and teams to drive strategic outcomes, by communicating in a powerful way with their important audiences. We delved into the world of executive presence, and developed the first science-based model, now used around the world. I’m fortunate to have top talent who today advise senior executives in some of the top global companies. And as CEO of a growing firm, I’ve had a wonderful journey to becoming a leader of a growing organization.

“I grew up in the Midwest, went to the University of Illinois, and lived around the country during my first career. I now live in the Boston area with my husband, and our daughter has graduated from college and has successfully launched her career in marketing.

Bates Communications offers strategic communications consulting, executive coaching, workshops, executive presence seminars and boot camps. Clients are a who’s who of the Fortune 1000. Her book, All the Leader You Can Be: The Science of Achieving Extraordinary Executive Presence, was published by McGraw-Hill Education (March 2016).

Here is an excerpt from Part 1 of my interview of Suzanne.

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Morris: Before discussing All the Leader You Can Be, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Bates: My father was an attorney, entrepreneur and leader in the community, who very much shaped my view of myself and encouraged me to believe I could do anything I set out to do. My first career dream was to become a judge, and I’ll never forget his telling me, “You can do anything you want to do.” When I decided after college to pursue a career in television, there were few women in the field. I was the first woman to work in the first newsroom I joined, and the first woman to anchor the news in the next two cities where I worked. But because my father never saw barriers for women, I didn’t see them myself.

My father was an avid reader who was intellectually curious, a quality I admired and wanted to emulate. This has always been an advantage – being curious about the world and interested in learning served me well as a reporter, and serves me as a leader. What drives me is learning, innovating, creating and making things happen.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Bates: After 20 years I decided to leave television because I wanted to grow as a person and a professional. Although I didn’t have a grand plan, I did have a desire to chart my own destiny. I’d seen my father grow his practice, I’d seen him invest in businesses, some that succeeded and some that failed. I wasn’t afraid, just ready for a new chapter. I look back on that decision as a turning point. Had I not decided to leave a comfortable salary, and a profession I knew, I would never have learned what I learned about myself. I wouldn’t have known that I had what it takes to succeed in business. It was life changing to challenge myself this way. I have talked with many people who are considering a career transition, and what I tell them is feel the fear, and do it anyway.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Bates: My formal education was a B.S. in Television Journalism, although I had an excellent liberal arts education prior to choosing my major. While what I learned in school certainly helped me get a start in my first career, like most people, what I learned on the job was so much more. For example, as a reporter, I learned the art of asking great questions, listening, and telling a story. I didn’t realize how valuable these skills would be when I started my business, began coaching, writing and speaking. I look at education as a lifelong journey.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Bates: I often tell people that when I completed my first year in business, I sat down with my accountant, who complimented me for getting the firm off the ground and generating revenue that first year. Then he said, “I’d like to talk with you today about accounts receivable,” to which I replied, “Great…….what are accounts receivable?” I didn’t know what I didn’t know. A business degree might have been handy, but like most entrepreneurs, I’ve learned on the job. Today I tell people I have an on the job Ph.D. in accounts receivable!

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Bates: I’m not sure it’s about business principles, but one of the greatest movies of all time is based on one of the greatest books, To Kill a Mockingbird. The film, like the book, is filled with warmth and humor, but it explores issues of intolerance. The hero, Atticus Finch, has the courage to stand up for principles. Principled leadership is the highest and best form of leadership – and I’m always inspired by leaders with character. As a matter of fact, a core part of our work in executive presence is how character plays a role in leadership. We developed a breakthrough, science-based assessment that measures a leader’s presence, and one third of the qualities we measure are in the category of character.>

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Here is a direct link to all of Part 1.

Suzanne cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

To learn more about the Bates ExPI assessment, and how we work with CEOs and executives, please click here and you’ll also find a vast library of articles, videos and executive briefings that will be of interest to senior leaders.

To take a pre-assessment survey that will guide you to understanding qualities of presence that might be relevant to you, please click here.

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