‘Really recognize who your audience is… [and] parcel up the pieces, the topics, the themes according to their needs. Not according to what I know, but what they need to know.’
Susan Doering’s career progression mirrored that of many women: a successful early career, derailed by childcare commitments and domestic expectations, followed by a period of ‘happenstance’ – doing jobs as she was asked, discovering her own skills, and starting to build her confidence and qualifications along the way, until she’d created a place in the world where she could excel and where she loved what she was doing.
And then she wrote the book she wished she’d had herself, to help other women achieve the same.
Along the way she discovered how to shift away from academic writing, how to structure ideas, and how to learn to love the long, long process of marketing a book…
Susan’s site: https://www.doering-training.com/
Susan on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-susan-doering-ma-oxon-pcc-41514527/
Alison on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alison-jones-9b09893/
Power Up Your Writing workshop at Gladstone’s Library: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/power-up-your-writing-workshop-tickets-600773689277
WriteBrained: A 28-day exploratory writing adventure: https://pi-q.learnworlds.com/course?courseid=writebrainedcourse
The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/
Alison Jones: I’m here today with Susan Doering, who is an international career and leadership coach, who operates globally coaching individuals to achieve professional success and facilitating career development training courses for private and public sector organizations. And her new book is entitled Smart Career Moves for Smart Women.
So first, it’s a great title. Welcome to the show, Susan. Good to have you here.
Susan Doering: Thank you very much Alison, it’s great to be here.
Alison Jones: And one of the things that really struck me about your book was the way it reflects your own journey and the way that you have turned that into something that other people can use. So I think I’m going to ask you to start there.
Could you just tell us a little bit about your own career journey and why you realized that people, like you, needed this book?
Susan Doering: Yes, with pleasure. Okay.
Well, I started out as an academic. I moved seamlessly from writing a PhD thesis and teaching at a university, a very prestigious university, yes, from studying to teaching at that university and doing research. So that was awfully easy. I just fell into it, really.
But there came a time when I had two small children and quite a demanding husband, well, a husband with a demanding job, let’s put it that way.
Alison Jones: Tactfully done.
Susan Doering: And it was really incumbent upon me to take a little bit of a backseat and to devote more time to the family and the children, which I did. But then when I lost touch with academia, and of course, as you know, if you don’t publish, you are not really in…
…publish or perish, exactly.
And then so I, but I did want to use my intellectual capacities and get back more in, get back into some sort of professional context doing something, but I realized, well, let me put it this way, and this is interesting, at that point I didn’t perhaps realize what options, what various options could be available to me if I’d done my research, if I’d used my network, if I’d talked to more people.
So what happened was I, again, fell into doing some project management. I was offered the opportunity to do the social program, to organize and run the social program for a very big international conference. Well, this was fun. Absolutely. It was also a success. And then I fell into the next two international projects, which were both music based.
I organized everything to do with the putting together of an international opera production at an opera festival. And again, it was great fun, I managed to do it. It was hugely successful, but I was always feeling my way. I didn’t really have any background in this. I had no training in project management. I had no network in music. And there came a moment, well that was actually when I was going through a difficult time in my personal life, getting divorced and I suddenly realized that I didn’t have a very firm footing for what one could call my professional life, my career.
You know, I’d lost my way, and at that point I thought I perhaps should do something, to also to earn more money. And again, I was passed on, somebody said, well, you know what you are really good at probably is research and educating, teaching. And would you like to devise, design a brand new course for senior managers on diversity and inclusion. So I thought, well, gosh, this sounds like fun.
And my research skills stood me in good stead. It was in an international context, in an international environment where I’m very happy, I speak three languages. And so I did that and then I was passed on again to another international organization who wanted to train people to work with their staff on various training courses.
So I did that and then people used to come up to me and say, do you do this sort of on a one-to-one basis? Would you give me private coaching and I need some support. And I thought to myself, well, I don’t, but perhaps I could. So I got myself a coaching qualification and this really all goes to show, it was all a bit happenstance.
It was all a little bit, yes, emergent. You call it that, absolutely. It’s a good way of putting it. But there was no clear direction.
Alison Jones: And what really fascinates me as well, all through that narrative, there’s so many themes and common experiences that many women listening will pick up on. So the disruption to your career of children, great though they are….
Susan Doering: Absolutely.
Alison Jones: …the expectations of your partner. And I remember, you say in the book that there was sort of an expectation there that perhaps your place was really with the children at home, you which… it’s still there.
The sense of, I mean, you don’t talk about imposter syndrome exactly, and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but that sense that I’m doing this job for which I have no professional qualifications and the sort of the anxiety that underpins that the whole time and that sense of almost falling into things, of reacting to things rather than planning them.
I think most people, most women certainly listening, oh, and the lack of network as well, that was something very interesting that said. And it’s related to all those other things as well, isn’t it, that you don’t tend to build your professional network as a woman in the same way that a lot of men do.
So I just wanted to sort of highlight that and say, I see you. I also recognize many of those things. Now tell us how you fixed that or what you sort of, how you work with people now.
Susan Doering: Yes. Well, what I realized was once I’d got my coaching qualification, then I had two pillars where I did feel that they were on firm ground. Because on the one hand, the training facilitating groups, working with groups on various managerial, leadership, performance issues sort of within an organizational context that I had learned how to do, because first of all, I’d been trained. Secondly, I had the research and educating background. So I was on firm ground, and then as a coach, I was on firm ground because I’d done the training, I got the qualification, and I built up my own confidence in that sector. So I was very firm. I still didn’t have a huge network, but I was building it up. Right?
What I would also say is that these two activities, spheres of activity, in both of these, I am playing to my strengths. Whereas as a project manager, I was swimming around, but I suddenly realized what I’m doing now, I can do, because I think I’m a good communicator. I’m a good educator. I love working in an international context. I’m very comfortable with diverse cultural backgrounds, people from diverse backgrounds. This is what I do. I love it.
And I’m also very, I think one quality, a strength, is I’m very empathetic. I can put myself in other people’s shoes so that helps a lot. Of course, one has to have the analytical sort of, you know distance as a coach.
But being empathetic and coming over as empathetic, coming across as empathetic is also helpful. So that’s one thing that’s really important to play to your strengths. Another is..
Alison Jones: Gay Hendricks calls this Your Zone of Genius.
Susan Doering: Ah, that’s a lovely phrase.
Alison Jones: It’s a lovely phrase, isn’t it? And we all spend far too much time, not in our zone of genius doing the things that have to be done, but perhaps not by us. So, yes.
Susan Doering: Absolutely. Yes, exactly. And the other thing is that, you know, something to do with this, being in a very diverse, international, intercultural environment, that’s something that I value, right. And as it has evolved, developed my work, it is certainly true that I do coach more and more women, or I have coached more and more women over the years, although I still coach men as well.
And sort of equality, equity is something very close to my heart, so it’s something that I want to promote also in my work. So this is part of me and I think that’s important. You know, if you do…
Alison Jones: A professional and a personal synergy, isn’t it, this book?
Susan Doering: Exactly. Yes.
Alison Jones: Wonderful, what was the prompt behind the book? What made you think, actually, there is a book here specifically for women?
Susan Doering: Well, I think, as I’ve just said, I grew my cohort of women who came for coaching and I asked myself, why, why are there more women coming for career and leadership coaching than men? And I think there are two reasons. I think perhaps women are more conscious of the fact or more willing to admit that they need support and help, right. So there’s that little bit of a lack of self-confidence somewhere or other that we see more in women than in men. These are generalizations, I’m aware of that, but nevertheless, it is a fact, right? And so, I think women are more of able to admit this lack of self-confidence.
You mentioned imposter syndrome. We know from the research that imposter syndrome is right across the board. Men suffer exactly the same as women. It’s about 60/40, we think the latest research says, but you know, it’s across the board. But women will say it and they’ll say it to a coach, right. So that’s really where this sticking point for women, I suddenly thought, well, well not suddenly, I realized that I could help more women than I’m able to help as a coach, right? Because that’s only limited, the individual coaching or even group coaching that I can do and I’d like to share this with a wider audience.
Alison Jones: And that’s the joy of the book, isn’t it? It scales. It also forces you to articulate what it is that you’re doing with individual coachees and with groups.
So, let’s talk about the writing. What surprised you about that process of translating what you do into book form?
Susan Doering: I suppose what surprised me was how hard it is to really put into a clear structure what you need to say. It was very clear, you know, I had all these different case studies, I had my stories, I knew what the topics were, but sitting down to put that into a clear structure… And of course I remember my academic time, years writing articles, writing a PhD thesis, you know, structure is so important.
It’s got to be crystal clear. And I found that not having done anything like that for quite a while, I found that quite hard.
Alison Jones: But it’s not a thesis, is it? That’s the other point, is that this has got be able to actually, it’s got to land with people, it’s got to keep them engaged, it’s got to be accessible, it’s got to be practical. So how did, because when you have written extensively as an academic, you have a particular way of structuring things and you have your thesis and you have your counter-arguments and you have your synthesis and how did you make that journey from writing dissertation to writing a book?
Susan Doering: Well, allow me to give a big shout out now to my development editor. I had a wonderful, wonderful freelance development editor with a massive amount of experience in publishing and I mean, she really whipped this book into shape. It was all there and she recognized, she said, I think you’ve got an audience here.
I think there is an audience. I think people will want to read this. But then we worked. We worked together very hard at pulling it into shape. So…
Alison Jones: Do feel free to give her a shout out. We love development editors on this show.
Susan Doering: Her name is Louise Goulsbra and her company is called Content Box.
Alison Jones: Well done Louise. Good job. But you are right, that you almost need somebody to take you by the hand because you’re so close to your material, aren’t you? And you know every nuance and shade of it and it’s very hard to simplify when you have the curse of knowledge.
Susan Doering: Yes, I think you’ve just used the right word. It has to be ‘to simplify’, you have to simplify enough, right. But obviously not dumbed down.
Alison Jones: It’s that lovely Einstein phrase, isn’t it? As simple as possible, but no simpler.
Susan Doering: Exactly, yes, yes.
Alison Jones: Yes, and when you think about the process that you and Louise went through, what did you learn from that? So if you had to do this again, don’t quake, what would you do differently this time around knowing what you know now?
Susan Doering: I think I would attempt to do a structure earlier.
Alison Jones: Yes.
Susan Doering: Recognizing, and this would be my biggest, I suppose my biggest piece of advice almost, although, I mean I’m not really in a position to give advice, but from my experience with this one book, really recognize who your audience is, who are your readers going to be, what do they need?
And then one can almost parcel up, structure, the pieces, the topics, the themes according to their needs. Not according to what I know, but what they need to know.
Alison Jones: That’s the massive difference, isn’t it, massive shift, I think that’s where editors really come into their own, because they act on behalf of the reader… .
Susan Doering: Yes. Yes.
Alison Jones: …when you can’t. Yes, that’s a great way of putting it. And then, we were just talking off air before we started recording about the fact that once you’ve written the book, it’s not over.
Susan Doering: Gosh.
Alison Jones: …tell us a little bit about what you’re noticing now that you’re in the promotion stage?
Susan Doering: How naive I was, right.
Alison Jones: Right, the book’s done. I can go and do something else with my life now. Oh, no.
Susan Doering: No, I think, and I’m hearing from all corners, you know, that this is quite, this is par for the course at the moment, you know, very, very happy that Routledge said they’d like to publish my book because I was at the stage, you know, it was Louise who said, well, we’ll try and get a good publisher.
But deep down I was saying to myself, I will give it several months, a few months. But if we don’t find a publisher by such and such a date, then I’m going to self-publish. And of course that is a route that many authors go down now.
Alison Jones: Yes, you have options these days.
Susan Doering: They have options. But anyway, Routledge said they’d like it. So lovely. Thank you.
And I naively thought that the publisher would then really do everything else, right. But in fact, that doesn’t happen nowadays. The publishing process has changed dramatically and there is now print on demand. Nobody has thousands of copies stored in warehouses and promotion really is very much, I have to say, down to the author.
And it’s an uphill battle because again, you know, here I am again doing something that I don’t know how to do. So I did get a PR agency. So another shout out, Literally PR. Lovely people and very, very happy to be working with them. Really, they’ve put me on the map in many, many ways, many different ways. I’ve been giving interviews, doing podcasts, writing articles, which I do know how to do.
Alison Jones: Hooray
Susan Doering: But you know, it’s an uphill battle. It’s a lot of work and it needs doing.
Alison Jones: And that’s the thing, isn’t it? Is you can write the book and it can be a great book, but if nobody knows about the book, then that’s no good. It’s not going to achieve its goal of, we said right back at the beginning you know, scaling, you know, and getting people. So in a sense, I’d love to hear where you feel you’re at now, but also more generally, why are you doing this deeply uncomfortable work of promoting, you know, what is your hope for the book and for you, sort professionally.
Susan Doering: Yes, where I am now is I suppose sort of a little bit further than the beginning. I now do…
Alison Jones: a great phrase.
Susan Doering: …I do realize what I’m up against, and I do have a feeling, no, even more than a feeling, I have some knowledge of what needs to be done. And I’m doing it. What I have realized is that this is not a sprint, but a marathon. The book was published on the 28th of February, so I had in the back of my mind everything has to happen in March, right? Well, this is not true. This has got to go on over a year or even longer, but shall we say one year. So that’s where I am at the moment, and, you know, trying to calm myself down saying, this will be okay, people will want to read the book. People are reading the book. I’ve had some very, very nice, very, very rewarding book reviews, four and five star reviews so far. So that’s very encouraging. Very nice.
What do I hope, I hope that people buy it and read it, you know, it’s so that women, and it is addressed to women, although several people have said, you know, everything you say is valid for men too. And of course it is. But I do think women need that little bit more support, a little bit more help than men. And I think, you know, I would like to reach as many women, professional women, business women who are at those crossroads where they’re trying to work out where do I go from here? What do I do? How do I do it? And okay, I’ve made the move, now what do I do?
You know, so that’s why it’s about career transitions, it’s about those sticking points, those crossroads where you say, I want to do something that is more in line with who I am. That’s back to that. Those, you know, what’s really important to you. What do you really value? Can you do more of that in your work? So that’s really what the book’s about and what the book’s for.
Alison Jones: Yes, It’s wonderful. And what’s lovely as well is, you know, looping right back to the beginning when we were talking about you doing these things that weren’t really in your skillset necessarily, but you had all those transferrable skills and you got on and did it. And of course, it’s a bit meta this because in working on the book, that’s what you’re doing, you’re acquiring a whole new set of skills.
Susan Doering: Indeed. One of the things that, you know, you realize, and it’s also in my book, you build on your strengths. You know, you’ve got to learn new things occasionally, complementary skills. You know, I’m never going to be an IT expert. There’s something that, you know, it’s a long way away from who I am, what I’m interested in and what I can do. So why would I try and be a, you know, why would I do that? But everything that is complementary in some way to what I do, to what I want to do, then that I can learn, because I can learn it with joy.
Alison Jones: Oh, that’s beautiful. Beautiful phrase. Thank you.
And you’ve already given us your fantastic tip about getting the structure in place and thinking about what the reader wants. So I’m not going to repeat that question for you. But what I will do, which I do for all my guests, is ask you to offer us a recommendation.
Doesn’t have to be a business book, it often is, but what book do you think everybody should read if they haven’t?
Susan Doering: May I talk about a book by two women called The Disruption Game Plan.
Alison Jones: You absolutely can.
Susan Doering: You talked about, you mentioned, you used the word disrupt quite at the beginning of our conversation. And you said disruption in your career. I think disruption of course was always, had only negative connotations, right. But everybody’s career, everybody’s professional life has been disrupted since Covid, through Covid, right? So we’re learning new ways of being, learning new ways of doing things, and certainly one of the things that is very clear in my book is that women are thinking about new ways of being and being professional women.
So disrupting one’s career, you know, means thinking here I am at this crossroads, what do I do now? And this book is all about, it’s called new rules for connect. Well, the subtitle is new rules for connected thinking on innovation and risks. So that’s…
Alison Jones: for those listening… Those listening rather than watching. Sorry, I just want to give the title for those listening rather than watching. If you can give whole title and the authors.
Susan Doering: Yes. It’s called The Disruption Game Plan, subtitle, new rules for connected thinking on innovation and risk, and it’s by Ruth Murray-Webster and Eleanor Winton. So I mean, and without being an organizational change expert, which I’m absolutely not, I do work with a lot of leaders, managers, team leaders, and I’m recommending it to all my clients at how to approach this, you know, these shifting sands, this new situation that we find ourself in and embrace it and work towards positive solutions for it. And that’s what they show in this book.
Alison Jones: Brilliant. What a great recommendation. And what I love about that book as well is that they combine the two sides of disruption, the risk and the innovation. We tend to focus on one or the other. They say they are just two sides of the same coin. And yes, brilliantly done. Thank you. Great recommendation.
And if people want to find out more about you, Susan, more about what you do, where should they go?
Susan Doering: Well, my website is a good place to start.
Alison Jones: Is that just susandoering.com?
Susan Doering: No, it’s doering-training.com.
Alison Jones: I’ll put that link up on the show notes.
Susan Doering: And I’m also on LinkedIn. Would love to see people on LinkedIn, would love to connect with more people. I’m having a book promotion event at Hatchards in Piccadilly, right in the center of town, London, sorry, London on the 24th of May in the evening. Pop along. Have a glass of wine. Love to meet anybody who’s heard the podcast and the book will be there. Lots of people will be there. It would be lovely to see you there.
Alison Jones: Wonderful. Thank you so much for your time today, Susan. It’s been absolutely fascinating and lovely to hear your personal journey as a writer alongside the tips from the book.
Susan Doering: Thank you, Alison. It’s been a great pleasure to be on your program and to be hosted by you. Thank you.