Connected Leadership: Building Bridges; Inspiring Teams-Susan Chapman-Hughes

Susan Chapman-Hughes

In the aftermath of the pandemic, we’ve witnessed what’s been called “The Great Reevaluation.” Employees are reevaluating their priorities, and for many, that’s led to a decision to change employers.

A survey by Microsoft found the wave of job-changing is often tied to dissatisfaction with leaders and the ways they’ve lost touch with who their employees are and what they need.

We’re talking with Susan Chapman-Hughes, a C-level business executive, an author and growth strategist, about the new business imperative for connected leadership.

Susan, youre writing a book on connected leadership called Why Should I Follow You.Tell us about your book, and why you decided to write it.

“When I left my leadership post at American Express, I received hundreds of letters from people with whom I’d worked or who knew of me. They mentioned the impact I’d had on them through the way that I led — a style best described as connected and empathic. And every time I’ve given a talk on the topic of connected leadership, people come up to me afterwards to say, essentially, ‘you really touched a nerve in me.’

“Over the years, in working with many different teams, people have confided in me. They’ve come for advice because they were frustrated their leaders didn’t understand them or value them for who they really are. My experience has been that when you value people, they know it and they’re even more motivated to bring their all to their work. Connected leadership is connecting with the whole human being, not just the ‘worker being.’ That kind of leadership brings unbelievable returns through more productivity, more cohesive teams, and happier work environment.

“I decided I could address this topic in a book and share advice from my own experience. The book is a primer on how to help people become better people leaders, especially first time people leaders. It offers many real-world stories but also gives tactical advice for leaders and employees who understand that through being a connected leader you can drive better business outcomes and build long-lasting followership.”

What’s your conclusion about why people follow?

“The misconception some leaders carry is that people should follow you because you’ve attained your leadership position and you have a lofty title; therefore, you must be special. But I see that with different eyes. I think the bigger job that you have and the bigger title you get, the greater responsibility you have to earn your way ‘back to the ground.’ You as a leader have the ability to impact people and the whole of their lives in ways that a lot of other people don’t.

“Really good leaders can set strategies for their organization and get people moving forward in the same direction. But really amazing leaders do even more. They inspire.

“Inspiring, connected leaders are more important than ever because people have a lot more options today about where they work. As we came through the pandemic, employees began to realize and voice their truths: ‘I don’t want to work in a place where I don’t feel valued. I don’t want to be with people whom I don’t trust. I’m not going to give my all to a leader who’s not willing to give me some of that back.”

For people who are contemplating a job change, what do you advise them to look for in an organization?

“I speak to them from my own experience and suggest they consider three areas.

“First, connected leaders who earn followership create a space for people to be themselves. Ask yourself, is this a place where I can be myself? Can I dress the way that makes me feel comfortable and wear my hair the way I want and — beyond appearance — just show up as who I really am?

“Second, do I see people who look like me in positions above me? Have they made a real commitment to build capacity around acceptance for people who are like me?

“Third, have they demonstrated that they will actively sponsor someone who is like me? Will they break down barriers, support and coach me and give me room to make some mistakes as part of my growth?

“Connected leaders understand the power of what diversity brings to the team. They create opportunities for all people to have a seat at the table. They realize the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And they use their personal gravitas to create new leaders who will carry forward the values of inclusivity and inspired disruption.”

We appreciate your perceptive observations, Susan, and look forward to reading your book!


Susan Chapman-Hughes is a C-level executive, global speaker, and connected leader. Known as an effective change maker, she has expertise in serving multiple industries in various leadership and executive roles and has a distinct talent for bringing stakeholders together to develop shared winning strategies. Her ability to develop talent to high levels has been recognized by the organizations she works at and serves at the board of. Most recently, Susan served as the Executive Vice President, Global Head of Digital Capabilities, Transformation and Operations at American Express.



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!mpact Magazine is a platform where people with a vision can share their ideas and insights.