Dr. Cathy Bush has spent decades investing in the development of leaders as an organizational psychologist, consultant, professor, coach, and author. In her work with leaders around the globe, she’s helped create the organizational cultures people love to work for—and clients love to work with. We recently sat down for a brief interview. Here is some of our conversation.
Tell us your name and a little about yourself.
My name is Dr. Cathy Bush, and I’m the co-author of The Demotivated Employee: Helping Leaders Solve the Motivation Crisis That Is Plaguing Business. I’m an industrial-organizational psychologist and have worked to support leaders from around the world throughout my career as a consultant, researcher, professor, coach, and thought leader. I live in Central Florida with my husband, and we love to travel the world with our two adult sons and other members of our family.
What exactly does your company do?
The Leadership Doctors is a consulting firm that was founded by me and my business partner, Dr. Tara Peters. The company focuses on creating great workplaces by helping organizations develop their leaders. We provide insight into leading others via our coaching, workshops, and webinars, as well as through thought-provoking articles, videos, speaking events, and our book.
What were the biggest challenges you have faced, and how did you overcome them?
I entered the professional workforce in a male-dominated industry during a time when women weren’t recognized as “equals” in the workplace. Although I was based in the United States, I worked for a global company that served parts of the world where men didn’t work with women. To make matters worse, the most valued educational background in my industry was engineering—and my undergraduate degree was in marketing—which was a bit of a handicap in terms of having a voice.
Luckily, I was raised by strong women (my mom and grandmother) and men who encouraged my drive to achieve, so I wasn’t intimidated by the situation. I used empathy to prod my male colleagues into openly discussing the challenge of accepting women in their domain. I learned that if you allow people to talk about their differences freely, they’re much more open to learning about you and adopting a new perspective. I also learned the importance of a warm smile when you are talking about stuff that makes people uncomfortable. This approach has served me well over the years.
What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?
When I talk to people starting out in their careers, I offer four pieces of advice:
- Don’t define your career based on how others perceive success; there are many ways to measure a successful career. Figure out what success looks like for you, and set your course according to that.
- Don’t get stuck building your expertise around a narrow skillset. Seek opportunities to learn new things and contribute to areas in which you are uncomfortable. This will allow you to develop a broad range of skills and gain access to new and exciting options as you progress through your career.
- Build strong relationships with people. If you build your career around making sure the people around you have great work experience, then you will, too. The work itself is not as important as the people you surround yourself with.
- Attitude is contagious, so be first to spread positivity in your workplace instead of being a victim to people who spread negativity.
Who are your biggest influences and people you admire—and why?
This is a hard question for me. I take away so many lessons from studying and observing people in my world, and these lessons come from both positive and negative experiences. As a leadership expert, I find myself fascinated by the things leaders do (both good and bad), and I’m drawn to leaders who define their role as serving the people around them.
I’m especially influenced by those who are humble in their approach to serving people, so I admire leaders like Maya Angelou, and I’ve recently been in awe of Patrick Lencioni, both of whom are tirelessly invested in the success of others. The best leader I have ever observed is my husband, Mark Bush, who is smart and confident while making sure every person he leads knows how important they are and believes that he cares about them.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are?
There are two specific mentors who shaped my perspective about what I wanted to do—and how I’d contribute to the success of others. Early on in my career, I worked for Dr. Barry Leon, who modelled the leadership principles we were teaching. He invested enormous time into coaching and supporting me as I learned how to get out of my own way and focus my energy on others. He was also an organizational psychologist. He was the person who made me realize there’s a difference between the many “working models” of leadership and the science of understanding leaders and their impact on others.
The second mentor was Dr. Dan Behring, who tirelessly engaged in building a great MBA learning experience based on strong core principles and values. He inspired me and many others to share those principles and values as we took responsibility for the program.
What do you see as your greatest success in life?
I am super grateful to have a career that strikes a balance between the work I love and my loving and supportive family. I’m lucky that many of my former students, clients, extended family, and friends frequently reach out to share success stories that are based on something they learned while I was working with them. I’m proud to know that I’ve contributed something that has helped leaders make a positive impact on others, which likely has provided a model that others are paying forward as well.
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