MEET STEPH EDUSEI - A NEW VIEW
Coach, entrepreneur, mother and survivor are all words which could be used to describe the woman that is Steph Edusei. Her story is really quite extraordinary, from early aspirations to sing, dance and act to 18+ years working as a leader for one of the most pressurised corporations in the UK, eventually leading to stress related illness, imposter syndrome and a brain haemorrhage she’s still standing and with a head full of knowledge and a firm mission to lead female entrepreneurs to take back control, get balance in their lives and still be a highly effective leaders through her SHINE programme. It’s safe to say that Steph Edusei is one amazing lady…
So, STEPH, What’s your story?
Where to begin? I was born and bred in the Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England. My mother is from just outside Newcastle and my father from Ghana in West Africa and whilst I had a very happy and stable childhood being both black and mixed-race singled out my siblings and me in a predominantly white area. We were just different from most of the people around us.
I always loved dancing, singing and acting and this became the thing I wanted to do as a career but, in my early teens, self-doubt started to creep in. I went to university to study performance art, not the right course choice for me, but by the age of 20 had decided that this wasn’t for me, that I wasn’t tall enough, skinny enough or pretty enough to make it as a performer and I dropped out. I felt like I was a huge disappointment to my parents. My father had wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer and now I was a university drop out.
I started on a series of administrative roles, bank clerk, receptionist, customer services advisor, and eventually got a short-term contract as a clerk typist on the liver unit at our local hospital. Suddenly something clicked. This work was important. I would go home from work not knowing if a young man was going to get a super-urgent liver transplant; people had life-saving surgery. The contribution I made to this was small, but it mattered. I was hooked. This three-month contract led to an 18+ year relationship with the National Health Service. When the initial contract ended, I became a relief medical typist, covering holiday and sickness, and then, very quickly got a job as a medical secretary. I loved the relationships that I could build up with patients and their families as well as with the rest of the hospital staff. I moved into junior management and then as I’d been studying part-time alongside my work, got a place on the National Graduate Management Training Scheme. This led to a series of middle and senior management roles in hospitals, the ambulance service and with commissioners (the people that plan and buy services).
Alongside all of this apparent success, and a lot of acknowledgement from colleagues, team members and bosses, though was a terrible knowledge that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, I was ‘winging it’ and the certainty that at some point I would do something that would show everyone I didn’t belong and I’d be found out.
This terrible knowledge, which I later found out was Imposter Syndrome, drove me to work harder and longer than everyone else. After all, if I did more than everyone else maybe people wouldn’t notice it wasn’t any good. I didn’t take holidays, or if I did, I would still come in for important meetings and answer emails. I became a lone parent after a relationship break up and my young daughter would regularly be seen sitting in my office playing on the computer or drawing on the whiteboard whilst I had a meeting. I would volunteer in my community and generally kept myself extremely busy – people would call me Superwoman and that made me feel great. I realise now that I was no such thing but then again, no one is.
Eventually, in 2014, I decided I couldn’t continue working for the NHS. At the time, some of the people leading the organisation had very different values to me, and as a values-based person, it was taking a huge toll on me. I left to run Healthwatch Newcastle, a health and social care watchdog, and my own consultancy business. This went really well for a couple of years, however, I was stressed again as I hadn’t learned my lesson or dealt with my Imposter Syndrome, and a series of rare occurrences led to me having a brain haemorrhage in September 2016. I was very lucky and have little or no residual damage but I threw myself back into work and life trying to prove to everyone that I could still do everything, that I was still superwoman.
By the summer of 2017, I was on the brink of a breakdown; crying whenever I was alone, dropping balls all over the place and with constant anxiety. I knew I had to do something. I started by addressing my Imposter Syndrome and from that came the ability to take time for me and a new found confidence that grows daily.
What gets you out of bed in the morning and excites you most about your work?
I love helping and supporting people. It’s what I do in all areas of my life. I love to see people grow and develop and get a real kick out of it when they flourish. I really enjoy coaching and look forward to my 1:1 sessions with clients. We’re able to build a real bond and I’m really aware of the fact that they are often telling me things that they haven’t said to anyone else, sometimes not even to themselves. It’s such an honour.
What inspired you to start your business coaching female entrepreneurs?
I had been a coach for years, having received training in the NHS that I continued with a Postgraduate Diploma, but this was always the smaller part of my business. After my brain haemorrhage, I did some re-evaluation of life; I ended a long-term relationship that wasn’t working and looked at my business. I realised that I was doing work like writing specifications and bids, that I was good at but didn’t enjoy at all.
As I worked on my Imposter Syndrome and recognised what it had done to me and made me do, I saw it more in more in the people that I had coached. Virtually all of my coaching clients had been women. Women like me – who were already doing amazing things but were secretly crippled by self-doubt and a need to work constantly. They were ambitious but were scared to state their ambition in case someone said, ‘who do you think you are’, so they sat on it and squashed it making it far less likely that they’d ever achieve it. The more I started to talk to women about my imposter syndrome the more it became important to me to support them to control it. Most of the people who knew me were amazed that all of this was going on beneath the surface as they hadn’t seen it, and that’s the thing with imposter syndrome, it’s hidden because we’re too scared to talk about it. It’s now my mission to help these incredible female leaders and entrepreneurs to take back control, get balance in their lives and step into being a competent and confident high value leader.
How do you handle criticism?
It’s so different now to a few years ago. Then I would have believed it was true, that it had more validity than anything positive anyone had ever said about me, that it was a stain that everyone could see and I would obsess about it. Now, I take a little time to consider if there is any validity in what has been said. I weigh it up against all the evidence I have and, if I need to accept that I’ve done something wrong or make a change in the way I do things then I do. However, I also now accept that just because I’m great at what I do, doesn’t mean that everyone will like me or my style of doing it; that people have their own stuff going on that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with me. When I get criticism from those places I just smile and carry on. Now that sounds very easy, and I don’t want people to underestimate the regular maintenance that I do to keep my Imposter Syndrome creature in its box. If I get a lot of criticism or am starting something new, putting myself out there, I up the maintenance just to make sure that the creature is locked down
You’ve worked in some large, heavily male dominated industries, did you find it difficult to be yourself?
Working in the NHS is interesting because whilst the workforce is very female, the power is very male. In the ambulance service however, the workforce was also very male. I laugh when I look back at myself during those years. I was the queen of the trouser suit and high heels – I still wear the heels as they bring me nearer the eyeline of men so it’s harder to ignore me. I was determined to show that being a lone mother would not make me less of a leader, so work came before any real social life.
Because the NHS was my leadership training ground, I was taught that there was a certain way to act and behave that was successful and that came very much from a masculine model. It was difficult for me to conform to that because I have quite a feminine leadership style (mixed with cold logic). This often fed my self-doubt and made me question if I was the one in the wrong.
My leadership style also means that things might take longer to achieve but that the end result will be so much better with everyone on board. This was, and still is, extremely difficult to get across to colleagues and bosses.
You have so many roles within your work and of course as a mother, how to you get the balance and make time to look after yourself properly?
The various roles I have, coach, Chief Executive and dance teacher, actually help to bring some balance to my life. Each is very different and feeds a different part of me. In my Chief Executive role, my team often worry that I’m doing too much but, as I explain to them, I can look very busy because I make sure that I have time for myself. That means that when I’m at work, I work, knowing that I have time to relax scheduled in. I dance and have recently taken up ballroom, Latin and burlesque, I also meditate, cook and watch trashy romantic films.
My daughter is a teenager now so doesn’t want to spend much time with me, but I try to make sure that we have quality time when we are together, often in the car when I’m taking her somewhere.
How would your best friend describe you?
I hope they’d say I was caring, funny, loyal and dependable, energetic and calming, always up for a big night out or a quiet night in. I have friends who describe me as inspiring too which is fantastic.
What the first thing you check about your business daily?
Like so many it’s my social media. I have such great networks, especially on Facebook and LinkedIn, and I like to interact with people, so I try to schedule in time to check what’s going on. I can be quite disciplined about it and find that leaving my phone in another room really helps, but I’ve also easily lost 45 minutes just checking news feeds and responding to people
What have you found difficult on your journey?
There have been a number of challenges. I’m a very social person so working alone can be quite difficult. I’m also an obliger and will do anything for anyone but not for myself, so I’ve had to find ways to hold myself accountable for actions for me. However, by far the biggest challenge has been keeping my negative inner voice, my creature, under control. In the past could paralyse me so easily with just a few words so I know how important it is to keep working to keep it muzzled.
What’s your top tip for the awesome ENTREPRENEURS reading this article?
Make sure you have the right people around you. You become an echo chamber for everything you see and hear so if the people around you are saying things that are negative, undermining you, bringing you down, that’s what you’ll become. The groups of women that I associate with are awesome and I feel like I can take on the world after just a little time with them. If you can’t find the right people reach out online, listen to podcasts, do as much as you can to drown out the negativity and criticism until you can remove yourself from it.
What’s your favourite non work-related thing to do?
Dancing – no question about it. I love ballet, and teach that along with tap and stage, but have recently started to learn ballroom and Latin dancing and burlesque. I find dancing so creative and energising; it connects with a deeper part of me. I also love it as a way to switch off my brain. As I often say to people it’s really difficult to think about emails, business plans or what’s for dinner when you’re standing on one leg with the other one half way up your back or trying to remember a sequence of steps.
What’s the number one played song on your iPod?
I don’t have one (an iPod or a number one song). I do have a playlist on Spotify though which I add to regularly and is quite eclectic. Everything from Needle in a Haystack (The Velvelettes) to The Greatest (Sia), from Think (Aretha Franklin) to I’ll Rise (Ben Harper) and Bootylicious (Destiny’s Child)
What do you know for sure?
That change is always going to happen but that through it all I’ll be just fine.
Do you have a book or favourite podcast recommendation for our Female CEO members?
I listen to a lot of podcasts and can recommend Lead to Win with Michael Hyatt and Megan Hyatt Miller, The Marie Forleo Podcast, Work Life TED with Adam Grant and Inspiration North. If you’re a LinkedIn user, I’d also recommend Linkedinformed with Mark Williams which is full of information and technical tips.
If you could send one message to female entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Quite simply, you are good enough.
If you want to know more about Steph you can visit her website, or catch up with her on over on Facebook or LinkedIn. You can also contact her directly at email@example.com or of course in The Community!