"Did I make a difference today? Did I show up in the way I needed to? Did my actions reflect my character?"
These are the questions Suzann Foerster asks herself at the end of each day when reflecting upon her personal and professional life. In everything she does, connection and impact are paramount. And when you get to know her, it doesn't take long to understand why.
Originally from the Metro Detroit area, Foerster attended Detroit College where she earned a business degree and went on to work at State Farm Insurance. Though she initially had no idea exactly what career path she wanted to take, the pieces began to fall into place for Foerster once she was introduced to the idea of coaching and training and development.
"I went to a conference in Chicago and learned all about coaching, and at that time, no one knew what coaching as it relates to business was," Foerster said, noting the appeal this type of coaching offered—being able to work with leaders one-on-one and build long-term relationships. "So, I investigated further and eventually started my own practice."
Now, 22 years later as CEO of Suzann Foerster Leadership Coaching, she—along with her team of six coaches—continue to bring a compassionately blunt perspective to a range of leaders, including C-Suite executives and their leadership teams. Foerster's favorite part of her work is bearing witness to her clients' transformative changes—a result of their efforts and time together.
"I love watching people grow and hearing things like, 'I finally had that hard conversation I've been avoiding,'" she said. "I care so much about my clients. Once you're in my circle, you're always on my mind; I'm thinking about you and I want to support you. I care about your personal life, I care about you."
Foerster understands leadership positions often come with the weight of knowing other people's jobs are in their hands. She compares being a good leader to being a good human—it's a lifetime journey of listening, growing, accountability and complexity. And while Foerster brings major doses of empathy to the table, she recognizes how vital it is to be honest and get to the core of an issue.
"Oftentimes, those positions are very lonely," she explained. "And a lot of times, I'm the only person they can tell certain things to, and I'm the only person who's going to say certain things to them in return. You have to be able to take a look in the mirror and say, 'Yeah, I'm not perfect.'"
Foerster knows firsthand what it's like to dig deep, work hard and forge ahead. While in high school, her parents divorced, leaving Foerster to navigate additional struggles during an already vulnerable time in her life. Her sister, who she'd always leaned on for support, had already moved out, and the family didn't have much money. To make ends meet, Foerster worked and attended college simultaneously full-time.
"I was determined because I wanted to be able to help people and knew I wanted a better life for myself. While that timeframe was really hard, it's where I developed a lot of my strength, toughness, tenacity and grit," said Foerster, who eventually dealt with a divorce of her own, leaving her a single mother to daughter Haylee, who she considers her best friend. "My first priority has always been being a good mother."
Foerster truly believes in the philosophy of either going for it or giving up.
"I think that was a big foundation for owning my own business because it's scary to go out on your own," Foerster said. "That thought process has carried me throughout my life and is probably my draw to being an entrepreneur and wanting to do my own thing."
Foerster is an avid weightlifter and enjoys reading, practicing Systema (a modern martial art) and ballroom dancing. In addition to her work in the realm of business, she also holds a culinary arts degree from GRCC and finds solace in creating a dish she can serve and share with loved ones.
"I was very close to my father growing up, and that's what we did and how we bonded—we cooked together and baked bread," she recalled. "That's where my love for food came from. When I'm stressed out, I love to get in the kitchen and cook because I feel like the world just kind of settles down in the kitchen."
Soon, Foerster begins a new chapter as Haylee leaves home for college.
"It's going to be hard. It feels impossible right now, but I know we'll get through it. And I know I'll stay close," she said, reflecting on what she'd tell her younger self at that same age. "I was so hard on myself. I wish I would have understood how to give myself more grace and understood more about emotions and vulnerability. I would tell myself to ask for help when I needed it.
"I always thought being strong meant I had to do everything myself and asking for help was weak. I really had to learn the hard way. I think that's why I'm so passionate about helping others through it today."
DID YOU KNOW?
Foerster has also played an integral part in the Serendipity Media story. She has worked behind the scenes with West Michigan Woman President & Publisher, Kasie Smith, for the last 10 years since the magazine's inception, offering tools, guidance, tough love and more.
"I'd had other trainings but I knew I needed one-on-one coaching, and when I met Suzann, we immediately clicked," Smith said. "She has always been firm with me and pushed me to be a better leader. She'll always challenge and tell you what you need to hear—not what you want to hear."
For Smith, having Foerster as a support system has been life changing.
"When COVID happened, I genuinely thought my world crumbled around me. For so long, I just couldn't wrap my head around it all. Suzann really helped me to recognize and honor my feelings," Smith shared. "Without her, I don't know what I would have done. I think every smart leader needs to have somebody like Suzann in their world, because you need somebody to be objective, to be passionate, to be supportive, and to equip you with the tools to tackle those things that are all too easy to avoid."
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.
This article originally appeared in the Aug/Sep '22 issue of West Michigan Woman.