Episode 57: How to Master Our Inner-Critic with Susan Mackenty Brady
Mind Your Leadership
Mind Your Leadership
Episode 57: How to Master Our Inner-Critic with Susan Mackenty Brady

In This episode I’m speaking with Susan Mackenty Brady

Susan is the Deloitte Ellen Gabriel Chair for Women and Leadership at Simmons University and the first CEO of The Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership.  

Susan advises leadership teams on how to work together effectively and create cultures of inclusion and gender equality in their organizations. 

She is passionate about working with leaders at all levels to fully realize—and manifest—their leadership potential.   .

Susan wrote and published 4 books, including the bestseller “Arrive & Thrive: 7 Essential Practices of Women Navigating Leadership”.  

In this episode we speak about what we should do in order to arrive at Drive, how to master our inner-critic, How to overcome our ego and much more

Episode Transcript

Keren: Thank you for joining this episode. I’m really looking forward to our conversation.

Susan: Thank you for having me.

Keren: I will be happy if you can share with us a personal story, a defining moment you had during your career and maybe an inspiring leader or manager. Someone that touched you and help you go your own path? Something that you know that was really meaningful along your journey.

Susan: Thank you for the question. I love the question. There’s a lot of examples to come immediately to mind. One was when I was encouraged by a sponsor, who I didn’t realize was a sponsor at the time. But looking back, I now do, mainly because he was also on the executive team of a global consulting firm. I was working with training and consulting firm who encouraged me to get out there and give my first keynote in front of one of our event audiences. And I had heretofore been a leader, kind of a business leader, host at these large events, not a thought leader. And it forced me to think about the best value I could add at the time, which led me to talk about inner, my inner critic and how I, you know, come back to a place of warm regard for myself, which really started my path in mindful leadership, conscious leadership. And I’d say the second example was when my manager at the time, the President and CEO of the business I was working for, asked me of seemingly simple question, which was, why are you on the planet? Which is like, you know, it’s such a big question for a new CEO to ask a direct report and I said it to eradicate harshness. And the thought that that came out so clearly in my mind was so helpful. But what a beautiful question, you know, what’s your purpose? And of course, I had done a lot of work prior so that I was capable of answering it. But I had never thought the thought eradicating harshness before. But it stayed pretty true to me ever since. And that was almost years ago.

Keren: So, I love the examples and I want before I want to refer to them. I want to understand what you mean by…

Susan: Eradicating harshness. When I think about what creates a lot of havoc, a lot of pain as I’ve worked with leaders both for themselves and the people around them, it is a unconsciousness of how their impact on others, you know, of their impact on others. And what I’ve learned is that it starts with a pretty critical, impatient, sometimes not very nice dialogue in their own minds. You know this, Keren. What we think and feel drives what we say and do. And so, if we have harshness in our minds about a critic about ourselves or harshness about others, chances are we’re not leading from our best self in a way that other people want to come towards and join. And so, when I refer to eradicating harshness, it is the well, eradication is to be rid of something. And harshness is in any context largely unhelpful and a deterrent from the kind of human connection that people crave now in all facets of life, including and especially from the people they work with and for at work. It’s a blocker to showing up as our best self.

Keren: Great. So, it’s really connected. The first one, the inner critic. And you know, I think that we’ll be happy to hear your thoughts because, as I see it, I think we’re really judgmental toward ourselves and in the Western society. And I think it’s a really, really crucial element that we need to work with it. And I see it on myself as I evolved and went on in my path and journey, have a big inner critic, but as involved and practice, more and more mindfulness and embrace it in the day-to-day I can say that I’m less critic than I was in the past. And I agree with you that it is, you know, it’s our glasses that if I’m critical toward myself, there’s no way that I won’t be critical toward my colleagues, my employees, my kids, because this is the glasses that I see through. So, I really believe it’s a crucial, crucial element that will need to evolve in this space. So, I’ll be happy if you can elaborate on it a little bit, where the main critic is that you see how you had leaders to overcome their inner critic because it’s really a long journey when you think about it?

Susan: Well. So first of all, there is no arrival at a world where you’re not critical at all of yourself or others. It’s an unrealistic aim to think that if you just, you know, do enough therapy or talk to enough coach or, you know, practice mindfulness more most frequently, that you’ll never have a critical thought of yourself or others. I just don’t think that’s realistic. So, we need to figure out how to come back to our best, most compassionate, respectful selves. As quickly as possible, when we’re triggered out of our best, most compassionate selves. So, I think of, first and foremost, navigating the mastery of quelling the inner critic as a moment-to-moment practice, which is a practice of mindfulness and consciousness. So, I’m noticing my thoughts and feelings, and I’m creating a allergy to my own inner critic. So, the voice inside my head that beats myself up over things I’ve said or done or that, you know, should be doing this or shouldn’t be doing that or supposed to be doing this. I’m really tuned into that because that is so sabotaging that voice. She dilutes my agency, my joy, my power, my impact. She makes me small, not good enough. And then when she’s focused on others, right. You mentioned this, like, but now all that energy is focused out on well, why didn’t he or shouldn’t she or that person was supposed to, or I can’t believe he. You know, that’s a little trickier, because we’re innately allergic, or at least probably less comfortable with feeling not good enough ourselves. But when we’re disappointed with the people around us, it doesn’t make us feel bad about ourselves. It makes us feel disappointed in others, which invariably feels actually better to us. Better to feel annoyed with someone else than annoyed with oneself. Right. So that’s actually even harder. But the voice, let’s be clear, the critic is the critic. It’s either pointing in at us or out on another. It can be very instructive. I’ve written, you know, two books just on this topic and moved to a narrative that pays more attention to the destination we want to return to when we find ourselves being critical, which I call best self. And it’s investing in and then returning to your best self on a moment-to-moment basis is essentially the practice of coaching and mastering your own inner critic.

Keren: So, you know, it’s really interesting because first of all. For me, the inner critic, you know, I think I have a few things to say about it because we also learned to evolve through criticizing ourselves, right? So if I’m seeing what’s wrong, I will evolve in one, do it and will be a better version of myself. But I really believe that we can evolve and be better persons from a loving place, as you said, compassion, so we can be demanding. The fact that I’m that I’m not criticizing myself, it doesn’t mean that I don’t demand for myself to be more professional, to do different things differently. But it’s a big shift between criticizing and being demanding. So sometimes we hold it that if we’re not criticizing ourselves, we won’t be able to achieve goals. And II think it’s a critical thing to understand that we can achieve goals from out of love toward ourselves. And it doesn’t mean that I won’t say, OK next time. I need to do it differently. What do I have to learn from this kind of failure that I had?

Susan: The difference you’re Speaking of is super, super important. I’ve had leaders challenge me, well, you know, if I start to, you know, love myself and be kind to myself and others, then am I going to want to achieve anything? The difference is instead of hustling to prove everybody that we’re worthy and get annoyed with others when they don’t do it right and get annoyed with ourselves if we don’t live up in the hustle, we’re striving from a place of knowing our worthiness, of knowing that right here, right now, we’re whole, complete worthy as human beings. And we’re learning. We’re taking risks. And when we come back to our best self, that best self is a worthy self. And you don’t have to do anything, achieve anything, learn a different language, find another lover, buy a bigger house, live in a different place, have a better title, make more money to be more worthy as a human being than you are right here, right now. You just have to believe it. And so, what creates all this disharmony as we go out into the world to give the world our gifts is feeling like we’re not enough. And so, I’m going to prove to everybody that we’re enough. And then I get really critical about myself and really critical of others because I’m not enough. And I see I’m not enough in every area. Do you see what I’m saying? And it’s a process that sends us back to a place of harshness. I’m saying we don’t have to do it that way.

Keren: I agree with you. But I think it’s really a process because I think a lot of people, and I must also talk about myself that I wasn’t self-confident. It took me awhile to understand what I’m bringing to the world and to let go of automatic behaviors and belief system. They didn’t serve me anymore. So, it’s a deep, deep process. I don’t think you can get to it in understanding, OK, I’m worthy and I’m going out because it sits on really, really deep places that our parents in the interaction with our parents as kids that we embraced in the day-to-day. And I think this is actually the journey that each and every one of us is going through to let go of this belief system that doesn’t serve us anymore to find our ease and believe in ourselves intrinsically not finding to please others in order to get the love. And this is a really long journey I think and this is actually isa journey as a leaders, as parents as you know I see the same I don’t think different. What do you think about it?

Susan: Hell yes. It’s a long journey. Yeah, and I really want to break it down because it’s a belief. So, let’s first of all, let’s separate confidence from worthiness, confidence you built. When I wanted to write my first book, I didn’t have confidence writing a book. I didn’t know how to write a book. I had to learn. And so that’s where I turned to people who have done it before. And I tap a support system and I read about writing and I try it and I, you know, that’s building confidence, writing a book. I have having written four books. I’m working on my 5th. I have a whole lot more confidence now in my ability to produce a book than I did. You know, ten years ago I built that confidence by taking action that’s different than my worthiness.my worthiness is my belief that I am whole and complete as a human being right now, that I am worthy of love, right? I’m not talking about human resource; I’m talking about the human being in me. And the reason why that distinction between the two matters is because as we build our self-confidence around whatever it is we’re building our self-confidence around, we’re human and we will have moments that require resilience. To lean in on this inner narrative, this inner belief that says, you know what you’re doing pretty well, it’s OK, you’re OK. And that process could certainly take a lifetime. It also could just be a change of mind. You can decide right now, any of your listeners could decide right now I’m going to start catching the not nice stuff I say about myself and saying, whoa sister, hang on a minute. You’re actually doing really well, so you become your own inner well-being champion and the renarrative can kick in. To your point. If you’ve had a lot of woundedness in your life, it is harder. If you haven’t had as much support extroverted love people who have seen you right and you’re carrying some deeply held beliefs about yourself that no longer serve you, it might take longer. But because it’s mindfulness, it’s a moment to moment practice of checking, whoa, of noticing, of awareness. It starts with just awareness. How are you speaking to yourself and how are you letting yourself think about others?

Keren: That’s great. You know, I really love the focusing method of Doctor Eugene Gardell. Have you heard about it? I really love it. Because what does it mean? It means, you know, it really created a method of listening to ourselves. Of connecting to a different sense. So, understanding that in each of every one of us, in every moment, we have different parts within ourselves, right. So, it can be part of me can be a critic, part of me can be really patient, part of me can be really loving, excited and the ability to acknowledge them, bring their awareness to the present moment and say, OK, I see that part of me right now is really critical. Another part of me is really excited and ask each and every part how can I be there for them? How can I bring my attention and maybe the inner critic only wants my love right now and enable this emotion to be present without trying to change it. And then we can enable different parts within ourselves to just be once we acknowledge and we ask our internal world what each part needs right now. So maybe they critic needs love and instead of pushing it away, given a place in space, sometimes only by acknowledging the emotion that you are feeling, it transforms right because emotion is emotion. So, enable it to move and usually what we are doing, we are disconnecting from this emotion or trying to change them and then it’s stuck in our body and actually then it really manage ourselves instead of being managing our internal world. So, I really love this practice. What do you think about it?

Susan: Yes. So, it’s a practice of release. So, what you’re talking about is the, the deeply held beliefs, the emotions we hold in our body when they come up if we don’t release them. I agree, I think they fester and wreak havoc because we’re talking about leadership and how we show up at work. It’s actually not, I think, appropriate most of the time to release a lot of emotion in and around others because I think the goal is to lead with your best self and have intended impact on others. And I haven’t met yet a leader who wants to scare other people or who wants to make other people feel devalued or make other people feel like they’re, you know, wrong or bad. And yet sometimes the way we express in the moment can have pretty negative impact on the people around us. And so, the space between stimulus, whatever you’re thinking and feeling, whatever you’re wrestling with, and your response is your saving grace and the only way I know to in the moment. Help yourself from not doing something that you will regret is to take the space, and I think there’s different versions of taking this space. For me lately it’s been the 4-7-9 breathing technique. It works like a charm. In the past I’ve been able to just take one deep breath. Sometimes I call a timeout and go for a walk. But here’s my aim. My aim is to narrow the gap between my intention which is always positive. I want to do a good job. I want other people to feel valued and inspired. I want to achieve the mission and vision we’re on and my impact, which sometimes is not great. And so the more I can be mindful and check in with how my thoughts and feelings are impacting my words and actions, the more thoughtfully I can meet and more thoughtfully I think I come across to the people around me,

Keren: That’s for sure. I agree with you. They’re focusing method is actually, internally it’s not externally, it’s working with yourself when you have time to, to give yourself space and this inner space to various feelings and not being managed by them. And you know, I think also I, I really love the definition that mindfulness is the space between the stimulation and the response. And I think then you can decide what to do with your emotion. I think the new leadership does embrace the emotional aspect and even saying it loud in telling my colleague, you know, I really feel angry right now. I think it won’t achieve the goal that we speak right now. Let’s take minutes break and come later and I’ll be much more relaxed. I think it will. It will be better for both of us. So this is great. It’s speaking our emotions. But in order to do this, instead of being managed by our emotion, we need to pause, create the space and decide what we want to do right now. Maybe we want to go to a walk, as you said, maybe I want to speak my emotions, say, OK, I’m really angry right now. I want to share with you what I’m feeling and to hear what you’re feeling so you have a free choice. How to act differently in this space, right.

Susan: Yeah, it takes thoughtfulness towards yourself though.

Keren: Yeah, it’s thought within yourself, right. And you know, it takes me forward. So Winnicott, Donald Winnicott, pediatrician and psychoanalyst coined the term called good enough Mother. The term of good enough mother is a tool of the ordinary and devoted mother who provides an adequate and good enough environment for the growth of the infant’s ego to be able to express. It’s true self. So, it’s about creating good enough environment for the growth of the infant. And I take it to the leadership and to our day-to-day to create good enough environment to be good enough in what we are doing and what our intention is, even if it’s not perfect. And this is actually resonated with their blame issue because as mothers, as a woman that raised children, we always have this blame: am I good enough am I not good enough. There’s a pass Yes, if you’re doing what you can do, it’s a good enough mother. And it resonated with the ability about being mindful as a leader, right. Because OK, maybe I made a mistake right now, but I did the best I can do at this moment. So instead of criticizing myself and say, OK, I did my best, what can I learn from it and go forward instead of trying to get into this circle of negative thoughts and create inner critic. So, this is also a technique that I found in myself during my journey saying OK, right. It wasn’t perfect. I did the best I could. Going forward, what can I do differently next time?

Susan: I actually think the best thing that those of us who identify as mothers can do for ourselves and our children should ourselves in warm regard and talk about, you know, talk about how we are doing our best. And you know, our children learn self-esteem by watching how we talk about ourselves, right. They internalize our own narrative. And for me, I didn’t want my children to be, you know, the other extreme, which is full of hubris and ego and arrogance. And yet I was desperately hoping and still am that they aren’t terribly hard on themselves. And if they are to just catch themselves. I think it’s a learning, right. It’s a learning because you know, gosh, there’s always going to be evidence that somebody else did it better. Or has it better or looks better. Right? So, we can either feel shame about that or we can feel like wow, you know what? For the things that we’re doing, we’re doing pretty well. And so, when I talk about the inner well-being coach, that is the mother to you. That’s the voice inside your head. That’s the love that you. I believe every human can develop. Some need more help than others to say, whoa, whoa, whoa, you know, she’s, you know, in her critics. Sit down. You know, she’s got it. Going on right now, and I know it sounds crazy to talk to yourself like this, but let me tell you, for the people I’ve worked with who have taken this as their aim, to live their life from their best self, to become allergic to their own harshness, to stand in their power with grace and their strengths and give up their gifts, it will require this muscle. It’s OK, you’re OK. And sometimes that doesn’t come from your husband or partner or wife or mother or sister or best friend, you know, that’s something that emanates and can be learned to emanate from inside ourselves.

Keren: I couldn’t agree with you more. Another thing I wanted to refer to is that I looked at your LinkedIn and I really loved something that I truly believe myself that you wrote. I consider myself a work in progress.

Susan: Oh, I just ask my kids, ask my partner. I mean, I am a work in progress, for sure,

Keren: But I love it because I think each and every one of us is a work in progress, right? Because we’re evolving, we’re learning, we are adopting, we are letting go of behaviors that don’t serve us anymore and adopt new ones, right.

Susan: I think that was actually the most exciting thing that I learned as I wrote my last book with my co-authors Lynn Perry Wooten and Janet Foutt. Even on the topic of embracing authenticity, we are constantly growing and maturing and changing. And so there was a time when I thought identifying who you really are, your authentic self is like this destination. And once you realize you’re your true self, right then your job is to be your true self. It never occurred to me that your true self changes as you age, as you grow, as you meet new people, as you experience new things and so even values. We have a values exercise in the book arrive and thrive also in the embracing authenticity chapter and there’s a number. There’s no shortage of values exercises but there’s a number of values listed. And my rule is I don’t ask anybody to do anything that I’m not willing to do myself. So, you know, I try on all the tools that I toss out to leaders to use. And I was doing the values exercise and what I realized was some of my values have changed in importance for me. and I think that has a lot to do with actually my children growing older. But I also feel differently about my own aspirations in the world about my own gifts and talents. And because we’re evolving and growing and learning, what a great opportunity to assume that we are all a work in progress, right? And so it gives sort of some freedom to not being perfect

Keren: And to explore. And yes, I agree with, you know in my retreats I always have a practice around their values, and I say, OK, our values change, we are changing priorities. Once it really was important to me to be out there and professional and now it’s more important to be with my kids or the other way around or you know, so I really believe that it changes and we need to accept it and to understand and once in a while to pause and really ask ourselves these questions because we usually, we don’t put effort and time to it, right. It’s like kind of a waste of time. And no, I think it’s critical to in order to fine tune our path, our way, the way we lead. And you took me to the next question that I wanted to talk about. Is your book actually you wrote this book that we see here Arrive and Thrive and you talk about  essential practices that as women we need to show up fully and lead. I will be happy to hear from you what the main struggle that you see among women leaders because I understand that it focuses on women leaders and if you can talk about one or two practices that are really crucial to help leaders overcome the struggle and the challenges.

Susan: One of the things that I notice that women do is we leave ourselves behind a lot on our own journey. So, there’s somewhere we learned in the social architecture of our time that it’s OK to not put ourselves 1st. And over time that has really, really serious implications. Physically, health wise, mentally, emotionally, relationally. And you know what I remind people is there’s no, there’s no scoreboard in life where you get extra points for being needless and want less, and I think it is so counter for women, some women who have achieved great, great accomplishments who also still feel like they’re not really their best self because they’ve given so much of themselves to other people. I’d say females in the sports arena who are probably don’t qualify. But in almost every industry that I can think of, this is true and so doubling down on best-self. Who am I? At my best. What does that even mean? Right. So, the way I define that is where your strengths and talents meet, where you’re called to add value to others meets where you experience joy and vitality. Well, when’s last time I did that, you know? And what are the strengths that other people love about me that actually deplete me versus what are my strengths, my true strengths that that I love to give that energized me and oxygenate me? And then I’m like, I have energy for the rest of the day. Being aware of that and then we’re not. Typically, when we’re in our best self, it’s very hard to be in our best self. And at the same time, I would say critical of others or critical of ourselves, right? In fact, if you are being critical of others or critical of yourself, I would argue you’re not in your best self. Because best self is also where you find respect and compassion for yourself. And respect and compassion for others doesn’t mean you won’t have conflict. So, the first practice in the book is investing and then returning to your best self. Where we talk about the best self-return. So, I’d say nothing else really works if you don’t understand that part. Because what emanates from there is how you show up authentically, taking risks and acting with courage. You know, navigating through setbacks and finding that most moments of resilience catapult us forward. How do we learn from that? Creating a vision for ourselves and for our organizations or for our teams. All of this requires that we start from this place of best self. And inherent in this place of best self is second consciousness. It is mindful awareness. It is knowing, whoa, I am not at my best today. So, what enables our best self? What blocks or detracts from our best self? This is self-management. It’s our job to be aware of these things. It’s so much easier to blame everybody else when we’re not our best. It’s our job, you know what I mean? It’s what it is to be an adult.

Keren: Sure. This is what actually I’m saying. When I’m teaching my course and facilitating my courses and retreats, I say, OK, the mindfulness, the pros and cons, the positive thing that you have responsibility in your life, the negative that you can’t blame anybody, you need to take responsibility, you know, so it goes together. And another thing that you say that I really love, it’s really the ability to see if you are in the right place. Because I believe that when we are working from our center and from present, we are really getting energized by our work. And once we are working and really out of our ego and putting much energy and doing the doing mode and putting too much energy then we get exhausted. And this is for me not the right place that we are working with. So, you know when I when I started talking, having my lectures and talks at the beginning, I saw that I really putting a lot of energy and I really got tired. And then and then it was amazing through the process I learned to do to facilitate the courses, the talks from a really centered and present place. and I was really finishing it with a lot of energy. So, I think this is a great tool for leaders to pause and ask themselves after a meeting, their facilitating a meeting or after a one-on-one or after a meeting with the client. How am I feeling right now? Did I work from my center, from my presence or I was trying to please and get the feedback outside feedback and then I was exhausted at the end of the day. And this is a sign that I can change the way I act next time and be more tuned in instead of tuned out. What do you think about it?

Susan: I love this. I also think the reframe of achievement is important. You know, you asked earlier, you know what an example you know of somebody who impacted you or conversation. I remember when I accepted the notion of giving up my gifts for others, it was a sea change in my frame, first of all, that I had gifts to give, and that the energy that comes from giving of my gifts in a way that is grounded and centered is very different than trying to achieve something. Trying to achieve something is about me. Giving up my gifts is about both of us. It’s a very honoring thing to do. I’m honoring myself every time I agree to a podcast because I believe sharing what I’ve learned over the course of my lifetime, and I’ve written about is a gift to the people who want to think about it themselves and work on it. It’s also a gift to me for two reasons. One, I need to practice what I preach so it reminds me. And two, I’m really good at communicating, you know? And I’m really good at unpacking complex notions. So people can just take away one thing and think about, you know and do something different that feels good to them, right? These are these are some of my strengths and so to own it is important. And then that feeling of sort of effortlessness that you describe, it’s great where you’re not depleted, you’re energized at the end.

Keren: I think it’s a good, great sign really to understand where we’re working from because a lot of time, we started also the conversation we lead out of ego, right. I need them to see me. I need to cover my own wounds in order not to feel what I don’t want to feel and then really depleted and exhausted and we don’t serve others. And once we’re really listening and tune on to ourselves, we can be listening to others and to their needs and really serve them. As you said, I’m giving my presents, I’m helping them to learn from it because I know that I’m good at it and that’s great for saying it. And for knowing what your strengths are as a leader? I think it’s important and talking it loudly, that’s amazing. I can speak with you for hours, but we are we need to wrap up soon. So, is there any question that I didn’t ask you?

Susan: No, I would say, you know, for your listening audience, if there’s people interested, inclusiveleadership.comis the Institute for Inclusive Leadership at Simmons University here in Boston. And arriveandthrive.com. More information about the seven practices, a couple of them we’ve talked about now in this conversation, and you’ll be able to find my work at susanmbrady.com. More about mastering your inner critic and some other musings. So, enjoy.

Keren: Thank you very much, Susan. It was really an inspiring talk and talking about this inner critic. And now we can be present. You know, I think it’s a really needed thing and really challenging at the same time. Right? Because as you said, it’s awareness of every moment that we need to practice.

Susan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Gentle, though. We can be gentle with ourselves and laugh at ourselves. I laugh at myself a lot because I’m no perfect.

Keren: This is great. I think it’s important. I also laugh at myself because we’re not perfect and we don’t need to take ourselves seriously. We human being and be joyful, right and playfulness in the day today. So, I think what? But you know, this is the opposite of ego. Because when we’re from ego we really need to show up serious and professional and to show what we know. And once we really connected to ourselves and believe in ourselves and one light, we can connect to people really from a compassion and loving place and be joyful. I think it’s important. And not take ourselves seriously because life is not so serious.

Susan: You are so wonderful. Thank you so much for having me connected.

Keren: Hope you enjoyed the conversation. You’re invited to subscribe to our podcast in order to know when we upload a new episode and follow us on social media. Thank you for listening and till next time take care and bye bye


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