Susan Goldberg on How To Build Leadership Skills

Susan Goldberg didn’t expect to get into leadership consulting. She started her career with a degree in French literature, worked in marketing and for an executive search firm for awhile before opening her own consulting business, only to move to leadership consulting after noticing a hole in the market.

She spoke to She Spends about her experiences with sexism in the workplace, going solo and how to boost your own leadership skills. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

You started your career in marketing, then made the move to an executive search firm. Tell me about some of your experiences in that industry, and how your workplace looked at the time. 
Originally, I came from a marketing background. I started doing consulting for a number of companies, including consumer packaged goods. I was unable to secure the product management position that I wanted, I continued to do marketing consulting and then the market in New York went flat. Two people from an executive search firm found me and said if you can market ideas and strategies, you can market people and opportunities. So I moved to a career in that field.

At one of the firms, we had a wonderful managing partner who actually fired one of the male principals for sexual harassment because of something that happened with me. It happened when the whole company was together for training and development. A co-worker asked me to dance. I said no thank you, but he pulled me onto the dance floor physically. Finally someone had to say to him, she doesn’t want to dance with you. When we went to breakfast the next day, he started insulting me in front of others, and made it very uncomfortable. Someone in HR found out, and approached me about it. I said yes, I do want to file a complaint. It does make me feel uncomfortable. Then the managing partner came to me and said, I heard what happened, there are others who have brought it up to me, and we’d like to take action. Would you give me your statement? I said yes. And so, it wasn’t even a question. This was in the 90s.

How did you end up starting your own business? 
I left and was looking to go internally, but some of my clients encouraged me to go external. So I started my own professional search firm. I did that until 2009, and then I started a partnership with another woman. Our partnership was career coaching to supplement our work. That’s what kept us somewhat afloat. We eventually parted ways after we realized that our work styles were completely different.

How did executive searching turn into a leadership consulting business?
Rather than approach me for helping me find their vice president, I was getting more questions on helping me with their day-to-day responsibilities I thought, what’s going on here? Doing some delving, I discovered that these people had awesome technical skills. They were smart and well-respected. They didn’t have the communication and people management skills. There was nowhere to get the help. So I started my own

How can someone improve their own leadership skills?
There are a few things I would suggest. One, they should join Toastmasters. It teaches you communication and presenting. It’s all about presenting. However, it teaches you how to better communicate on the phone, any kind of interpersonal conversation. As opposed to voice or texting. It makes the personal interaction much less scary. It also gives them a sense of who they are and it gives them confidence when it comes to speaking to others. 

Second thing is, I read a lot of the more entrepreneurial magazines. These include Inc.,Fast Company and Harvard Business Review. They are much more in touch with new developments in business than traditional news publications. 

Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #59