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"Across the Divide" offers valuable leadership lessons from entrepreneur Susan S. Elliott Featured

8:01pm EDT June 30, 2012
"Across the Divide" offers valuable leadership lessons from entrepreneur Susan S. Elliott

Susan S. Elliott wanted to write a book that would share the inspiring words of wisdom she picked up in her 50 years in business. It would also keep her out of her daughter’s hair.

Elliott launched SSE Inc. in 1966 after a successful stint as a female programmer at IBM. She led the 100-employee IT services firm until 2004, when she transitioned leadership to Elizabeth, her daughter.

“If I could help do the same thing for others who were coming along or leaders who were building their leadership roles, that was what I hoped and dreamed about,” Elliott says.

Elliott’s book is called “Across the Divide.” She spoke with Smart Business about the lessons that helped her be a more effective leader.

What are keys to successful leadership?

If you have passion, there are no obstacles and nothing stands in your way. If it’s important to you, you persevere. A favorite quote I read from Steve Jobs was when Steve believed in an idea, he was both passionate and patient, scratching away over the years until he got it right.

It’s relentless intensity and total commitment. The only way to do truly great work is to adore what you are doing, which is a combination of passion and perseverance.

How do you deal with these times of constant change?

You have to look at change and look to the future right when your business is at the peak of its success. It’s the hardest time to do that. Your revenue is coming in. You’re feeling good about what you’ve accomplished. That’s when you have to make the transition.

IBM almost missed the PC market altogether. They stayed with the mainframes so long. Microsoft, they were late coming up with Internet Explorer, but it did replace Netscape. But look at Bing, it doesn’t touch Google. The last one is Kodak. They had to declare bankruptcy. They missed the whole digital world transition.

How do you get your people to buy into change?

You have to build a team that is responsive and receptive to your vision.

Elizabeth, my daughter, pulled together people from various aspects of the company. She did not include me or the gentleman who had been president when she took over. She pulled together people who were technical, business office, back office, that type of thing.

What they did was figure out, what can we be the best in the world at? What can be we passionate about? What do we have that is an economic engine that will make it work?

By pulling the various entities into this discussion, they came out with this manifesto as to what SSE should be doing going forward. That filters through the whole organization because it bubbled up from the people.

What is a leadership trait of your daughter that you really admire?

The ability to make a decision and follow through. It’s not shoot from the hip. It’s well thought out, carefully prepared in her mind and then executed. There are so many business executives that just weeble-wobble and can’t bite the bullet. You have to make decisions. You have to follow through.

If you don’t, your employees look around and they think, ‘Well, they tolerated this, they won’t care because this is OK.’ You have to be strong. Don’t second-guess yourself.

How to reach: SSE Inc., (314) 439-4700 or www.sseinc.com