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Suzanne Monroe: “Don’t try to be perfect”

Here’s the thing, if you’re passionate about a subject and want to be able to influence people’s lives for the better, you’re definitely going to need to invest your time and energy into it. As I shared earlier, though, don’t make the same mistake I did of thinking that years and years of education will […]

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Here’s the thing, if you’re passionate about a subject and want to be able to influence people’s lives for the better, you’re definitely going to need to invest your time and energy into it. As I shared earlier, though, don’t make the same mistake I did of thinking that years and years of education will be your answer. You may need some additional training, education or information for sure, but be sure to also spend your energy “hitting the streets”. Talk to real people, be curious, find out what is going on in their lives and what really matters to them. This is how I believe thought leaders can make a bigger difference, by connecting with real people, hearing real stories and being vulnerable enough themselves to share their own experiences and stories.


As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Suzanne Monroe.

Suzanne Monroe is Founder and CEO of the International Association of Wellness Professionals (IAWP), a global education company that trains and certifies Wellness Coaches.

Suzanne is the Director of the IAWP Wellness Coach Certification program which provides a world-class education from the industry’s most renowned experts in holistic health, natural medicine, wellness, coaching, entrepreneurship and holistic business. She is a leader in the conscious business movement, that includes creating success by aligning your passion with your health.

Suzanne started the IAWP to inspire others to share the important message of holistic health and wellness while creating a career following their passion and purpose. Today the IAWP is a thriving community of over 25,000 wellness professionals worldwide that are a part of the IAWP mission to change the health and wellness of people everywhere.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I’m happy to! Before I found my passion for wellness coaching, I was stuck in a job that I didn’t love. In fact, it felt totally out of alignment, but I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Finally in 2007, I stumbled upon the field of health and wellness coaching and knew this was what I was meant to pursue next. Soon after, I left my successful career in the pharmaceutical industry to begin my own health and wellness coaching business. I evolved my business from a small wellness coaching practice to individuals and organizations into a global education company that trains and certifies Wellness Coaches worldwide.

My company, The International Association of Wellness Professionals (IAWP) is now a thriving community of over 25,000 wellness professionals worldwide that are a part of the IAWP mission to change the health of people everywhere.

I’ve had the great opportunity to be in the position of identifying and supporting people who are ready to follow their passion for health and wellness to become “thought leaders” in this growing field.

Now through the IAWP Wellness Coach Certification program, I pass along the wisdom that I gained in growing my business and teach my students how to use their experiences and their own unique stories to create transformation in the lives of others.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

To be honest, I don’t go around calling myself a thought leader or authority. It amuses me when people claim these titles for themselves. It seems more appropriate for someone else to award you the thought leader or authority hat. In any case, I hope to provide a unique perspective on thought leadership in this interview. My thoughts will be based on my experience over the last thirteen years in the online education space where I identify and train those who are ready to become leaders in the holistic health and wellness field as wellness coaches.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

By far the most interesting thing that has happened to me on my journey in business is that when I first got started, I spent tens of thousands of dollars and years of my time acquiring an education filled with information in order to become a health and wellness coach. I literally went broke following my passion because I believed that all I needed to be a thought leader was the right information. The truth was, even after all of the time and money spent, I wasn’t any more prepared to step into a role as a thought leader or to start a successful coaching practice helping people. I was missing some key things that are crucial to being able to lead and support others. The most important thing I learned is that information does not create transformation. In other words, you can have all of the knowledge and information in the world, but this does not motivate or inspire others to actually make changes or transform their life. You need to build the skills that create transformation.

It sounds counterintuitive, but the lesson here is that you don’t have to be some all-knowing expert who has a bunch of data in your head or all of the answers to someone’s problems in order to make a difference. In fact, if you do, you’re probably going to miss something really important, like what the person in front of you is really saying. Instead the ability to be able to listen, to be curious and to ask the right questions that help people unlock their own answers is what matters most. It’s the most important skill I’ve developed on my journey. Today we teach this process of “Transformation, Not Information” in our certification curriculum at the IAWP so that our Wellness Coaches can gain the skills they need to help people transform their health and their lives.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first got started as a wellness coach I was working with clients in my local

community. I always feared that I would run into one of them at the grocery store and I would have something on the “not healthy list” in my cart. I thought that in order to be a a good wellness coach that I needed to be a perfect image of healthy living. So I would hide everything in my cart at the bottom and put all of the vegetables on top.

I look back now and can laugh at myself because I see that I was worried about being judged for not being perfect. What I have learned since that time is that people want to see you are a real person, not some perfect image they have to keep up with. Being a leader for others is about sharing your own vulnerabilities, challenges and showing up as imperfect. You don’t have to be an all-knowing expert or a perfect person to be able to help others. In fact, the more imperfect we are, the more inspiration we can provide because we can relate to someone’s journey. This is the beginning of true leadership in my opinion.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

The most common definitions of ‘thought leader’ point to people who are the go-to experts in their field and can take their big ideas and turn them into realities. While I agree with these broad definitions, I also believe that the most effective thought leaders don’t need to show ups as all-knowing experts who have all of the answers and come up with all of their big ideas on their own. When leaders distance themselves too much and position themselves on a stage, rather than in the trenches with people, they become unrelateable and out of touch. They become a guru rather than a guide.

Through our Wellness Coach Certification curriculum, we teach our coaches in training how to “Be the Guide, not the Guru” so they can truly become a leader who transforms people’s lives. A guide is someone who supports others by listening and seeking first to understand other people rather than preach their own opinion. When you have a lot of experience, education and bright ideas, this approach can be challenging because you have to get your ego out of the way. The truth is, we all want to be right and to be seen. When we can let go of that desire, though, we can show up more powerfully for others. Ultimately, being a guide is more effective than being a guru who simply shares thoughts and ideas based on their own opinion or ideas.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

Here’s the thing, if you’re passionate about a subject and want to be able to influence people’s lives for the better, you’re definitely going to need to invest your time and energy into it. As I shared earlier, though, don’t make the same mistake I did of thinking that years and years of education will be your answer. You may need some additional training, education or information for sure, but be sure to also spend your energy “hitting the streets”. Talk to real people, be curious, find out what is going on in their lives and what really matters to them. This is how I believe thought leaders can make a bigger difference, by connecting with real people, hearing real stories and being vulnerable enough themselves to share their own experiences and stories.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

Businesses that want to grow need a thought leader behind them, there’s no doubt about that. It can be the Founder, the CEO or even someone in a leadership role that helps guide the vision of the company. It can even be a group of people who work together collectively to form a thought leadership tank. For example, at the IAWP we have several key team members that pow-wow together when it’s time to implement an idea or pursue a new opportunity.

Thought leaders can benefit by surrounding themselves with other thought leaders on their team. Our COO Kevin Cahill is someone I consider a thought leader in strategic business growth, so having him on our team is very valuable. As a thought leader, he’s been able to bring new ideas to the table while ensuring we stay true to our mission and vision. This is imperative for thought leadership because it guides everything you do and helps you to know which are the right opportunities. A business on the rise will likely have many opportunities for growth, but only the ones that match the vision and mission will make sense.

The IAWP’s mission is to provide holistic training, proven systems and personal support that empowers Wellness Coaches to improve the health and wellness of people everywhere. Our vision is to create a global community of Wellness Coaches who transform the health and wellness of every human being on our planet. Our mission and vision were created by our thought leader tank and continue to guide our internal team of thought leaders to keep growing and choosing aligned opportunities every step of the way.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

Walk Your Talk — It’s important to live the message you’re sharing. If you really believe something, it should be easy to live and breathe it. If it’s not, you might be out of alignment with your values or goals. For example, we support our Wellness Coaches-in-training with having their own Wellness Coach and working on themselves while they are learning to help others. This is imperative for not only modeling the process, but applying it personally to their own lives so they can walk their talk. If you need to get support to walk your own talk, do it.

Don’t try to be perfect — While you want to walk your talk, you don’t have to be perfect. In fact, being less than perfect makes you more relatable. When my first coaching clients knew that I didn’t have a grocery cart filled with perfect groceries, they felt relieved. It took the pressure off of them to be perfect.

Remember ‘Transformation, not Information’ — As I shared earlier, don’t spend all of your time taking in more information. What ultimately matters is how you can help other people transform their lives. This requires opening your heart, listening, caring and being connected rather than holding on to your point of view. When I first began my career in coaching, I only had information. I had no idea how to create transformation. I remember dishing out a ton of advice to my clients about what they should and shouldn’t do in order to be healthy and change their lives. Sometimes people took my advice, but often times they weren’t able to put it into action. It wasn’t until I honed my own skills in how to create real transformation that I was able to truly help people create lasting breakthroughs in their life.

Hit the Streets, not the Stage — Don’t be a typical know-it-all on a stage, spouting your wisdom and thoughts. Hit the streets and stay connected to real people. I’ve found that when I create things in a box, without input from others, I end up with something that is less than. The more I can talk to others, the more powerful my creation becomes.

Share Your Story — We all have a story to tell. Every person’s journey to get to where they are now has been a story. There are ups and downs, failures and triumphs. There are challenges and celebrations, however big or small. Yet often times we don’t see our own journey as one that can inspire others or even one that is worth telling. If you have a message to share and want to help others, sharing your story is a powerful and effective way of inspiring and teaching. Stories create connection. They also hold the power to impact a person’s thinking and behavior because they are often emotional. This is one way thought leaders can inspire others.

An example of this is how every month I lead a live call for our wellness coach community called “Empower Hour”. In preparing for that call, it feels safer sometimes to share information in the form of tips or tools that might empower someone. But the times I remember to share my real, personal stories, I get the best feedback and create the greatest impact for participants. Just recently a Wellness Coach in our community told me that my story really helped her to see things in a new way.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

I think Oprah Winfrey has done an amazing job as a thought leader. She seeks to surround herself with other thought leaders and bring their leadership to the forefront. She stays curious and asks powerful questions. She is vulnerable and shares her own mishaps, personal stories and lessons learned. I believe Oprah is focused on transformation, not information. I consider Oprah to be a guide for many people and the type of thought leader I admire most.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

As I started out this interview, I think that labeling yourself as a thought leader is a little presumptuous. I don’t think the term should be avoided, but I think it might be better used when awarded to those who have earned it by showing they not only have great thoughts, ideas and information, but also truly care about making a difference and helping people through their ideas. Because what good is leadership that doesn’t have a consciousness behind it?

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

There’s two things that I’ve personally experienced and watched thousands of others experience that have supported them to thrive in leadership roles. These two things are systems and support. They are part of a formula we teach our own wellness coach leaders at the IAWP, which is this: “Systems + Support = Success”. If you want to create success, you need both proven systems and personal support. No thought leader creates success without using systems that help them to be more effective and avoid overwhelm and burnout. This could be a simple system that helps them to manage their time or a complex system that allows them to deliver their innovations to a large number of people.

Thought leaders also need personal support, possibly more than other individuals. It’s easy for thought leaders to be isolated and distanced from others in their private life, even though they may inspire a large number of people. Most thought leaders I know have quiet personal lives. That’s good and can help to recharge them, but it’s also essential they have an inner network of support so they can continue to do the important work of leading others. I find for myself personally as someone who leads a large community, that I need the downtime and personal space to restore my energy so that I can be the best leader possible. At the same time, it’s important for me to have support from people in my life that I can trust as I continue to grow as a person and share new thoughts, ideas and creations with my community.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I feel extremely grateful to be following my passion in life and leading a movement that is impacting the health of people across the globe. I firmly believe that holistic health and wellness is a powerful tool that can change people’s lives. It’s why I’m inspired to get up everyday and do what I do. I’m most grateful for the Wellness Coaches in the IAWP community that are doing the real work everyday to spread this important message to those who need it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite quotes is by Brene Brown, author or Dare to Lead and many other amazing books. She says “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

I love this quote because it reminds us that to lead any type of change or birth anything new, we have to step into vulnerability. This means that we need to show up authentically, make real connections with people and be willing to share of ourselves. We might have to be uncomfortable and have hard conversations. It’s not always easy to do. For me, as I’ve had the opportunity to lead wellness coaches across the globe in following their passion and stepping into thought leadership, it’s helped me to remember that sharing my own experiences as a leader is 100 times more meaningful than pretending I have it all together all of the time. While it’s sometimes difficult to do, I try to share my own struggles and personal challenges with my community. Sure, sometimes I think to myself “Do people really care about this?” and usually that’s just the moment when someone says, “Thank you, this story really helped me.”

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Brene Brown, since I do love that quote and all of her books. I think we could have a fun and interesting chat about thought leadership, vulnerability, entrepreneurship and wellness coaching all mixed into one powerful conversation.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

If you’re interested in becoming a wellness coach, succeeding as a wellness coach, or improving your own life through holistic wellness then we’d love for you to follow the IAWP social channels!

IAWP Twitter — https://twitter.com/theiawp

IAWP Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/theiawp/

IAWP Youtube — https://www.youtube.com/theinternationalassociationofwellnessprofessionals

IAWP Pinterest — https://www.pinterest.com/theiawp

IAWP LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/company/international-association-of-wellness-professionals/

IAWP Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/InternationalAssociationOfWellnessProfessionals

Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

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