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A Game Changer

Interview with Susan Johnson, EVP, Client Services for Publicis Health

Throughout my career, I have struggled to find strong, female leaders that I can look up to. I was, however, blessed to have Susan Johnson as my boss and my life will never be the same. When I first met Susan, I immediately gravitated to her. She is inclusive, genuine, and bold. I had a sense of trust and respect for Susan that I hadn’t experienced with any female boss to date. There is a reason that I selected Susan for my first interview and I hope that you find her as inspiring as I do.

Susan is a 27-year veteran who has earned her stripes holding various roles from sales operations to new business development to client services at Wyeth and Publicis Health – all giving her the time and experience to optimize her natural abilities to be a great boss and strong female leader.

What really is a strong leader?

Susan had only a few words to share. “Be true to yourself, but always, always, always be open to hearing other things.” Susan believes that a good leader carries themselves with a level of humility in knowing that they are never right about everything and that there are always other perspectives to learn. But what I love about her philosophy is this “…when you are [right], have the conviction to stand up for it regardless of what is coming at you.”

The Art of Teamwork

When thinking about the nuances of her leadership style, Susan believes that the art of teamwork is the key to everything. “No one person can accomplish anything on their own. By pulling everyone together, you can make something better, truly move things forward. There are a lot of great things that individuals posses but in not knowing, you won’t know how to leverage and support or help each other.” However, teamwork can feel like an overabundance of consensus and at some point someone has to make a decision and move it forward. And this is where the art comes in. The key, according to Susan, is to “try to build advocacy and have the team involved in the decision process, but if that slows it down, analysis paralysis can set in” and as a strong leader, you have to know when to make the call.

Susan faced a difficult situation a few years back in making a decision on an account that she managed. The client made some changes to their business needs which required restructure on the agency’s behalf. Based on her past experiences, Susan coordinated discussions with several organizational leads and communicated the restructure as agreed upon. However, that direction backfired as the news spread more broadly internally. Susan used her teamwork and collaboration skills to bring those key players together to reassess the situation, align on the best steps and ultimately stood her ground on the previously communicated direction, which was executed flawlessly thereafter. By combining her strong belief in teamwork and her ability to stand with conviction, Susan was able to extend her leadership capabilities once again and allow her team to learn, grown and ultimately do the best thing for their clients.

All You Own is Your Integrity

“At the end of the day, all you really have is your name and what people think of you. I have never conceded to something without trying whole-heartedly [to understand all sides] but also to make sure that my objection was known. I will get in line when I have to, but I will make sure that people know how I feel or what I think is the right thing to do. Integrity is critical for me. You have to be able to live with yourself. When I sit across from a client or my team, fighting for it is the right thing to do and demonstrate that commitment. At the end of the day, they will know that Susan fought for it and that my word matters.”

Susan has demonstrated to me that being true to who you are, to your convictions and beliefs, is all that really matters. When you truly embrace who you are and look to others for the same, the rest will follow. Such simple advice but yet so profound:

You be You.

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