The Feature is Female: Susan Long

“If you aren’t at the table, you might be on the menu.” – Susan Long

There’s an old saying in life that many have heard, even more have uttered, and a number have lived. That saying is to expect the unexpected. For Denman Services Chief Operating Officer, Susan Long, that saying describes her career in a nutshell.

Upon graduating from Northeast Missouri State University, now Truman State University, with a degree in accounting, Long joined the ranks of the Blessing Health System as a staff accountant. As a new graduate, Susan took the job out of necessity, rather than desire. Her plans were never to stay in that position for too long. “I had no intention of staying here. I thought I’d go in, do good work for a couple of years and move on,” Long recalls. Fast forward 42 years and she’s right where she’s always belonged. 

With four decades of leadership experience under her belt, Susan Long is well versed in what it takes to be a well rounded leader. When asked about her leadership style, Long discussed what she strives for in her everyday work life. “I like to think of my style as more of a collaborator. Whether it’s the people that are involved in a project I’m leading or if it’s in my day-to-day work, I like to get everyone’s input on the situation at hand. I honestly believe that the people who know the situation best, are the people who are in the trenches doing the day-to-day work, so I seek out their input and open up a more collaborative workspace,” says Long. 

As a woman in power, Susan has had her fair share of challenges, but at the end of the day, she feels very fortunate to have had such a positive experience in her career and in her role as a senior leader. “I have to say, I’ve been very fortunate in my experience…I’ve always been in environments that are very much a group effort,” states Susan. 

During her time in the Blessing Health System, Susan has had many direct leaders who have helped shape her into the person that she is today. There is one leader in particular, however, that comes to mind when she thinks of the inspiration behind her leadership style. “The most influential person that I’ve had in my career is the former CEO of the Blessing Health System, Brad Billings. He is an individual that was able to teach me to see things differently. He always believed in me, and I truly felt that he always wanted to see me grow and develop,” Long recalls. “He offered me opportunities such as an Advisory Board Fellowship in Washington D.C. It was a two year program, but he told me it would help me see things from a broader perspective. Even to this day, he is someone that I call upon to say ‘What would you do in this situation?’”

One thing Long has noticed in her time at Denman is the difference between how men and women work in the workplace. “The men have taught me how to maneuver in business, but the women have taught me how to stay balanced,” says Susan. 

As many people in a leadership role will tell you, they didn’t ever expect to be there. Susan Long is no exception. When she took her position 42 years ago, her goal was never to be sitting where she is now. In fact, she had no leadership aspirations at all. “I was fresh out of college and I needed a job!” Susan said with a laugh. “I really did not have aspirations, but as I hung around and continued to see things occur, I began thinking Well why not? Why not me? I’m pretty sure I could do that,” recalls Long. 

There are barriers in every career, but for women, sometimes those barriers can feel like they’re becoming bigger and bigger by the day. For Long, she says that the biggest barrier she sees today is ensuring that you have a voice. “I think the hardest part is making sure that your voice is heard. I do think I’ve probably been sheltered a little bit working in healthcare, because it is predominantly female, but I do think that women have to find the balance between standing their ground and controlling their emotions. Even if you are angry, and that anger leads to tears, you have to shut that down, because unfortunately for women, you will be seen as weak,” states Long. She also states that coming to meetings fully prepared, as well as not having a fear of asking questions and speaking up is a great way to help you stand out and break down those barriers. 

You don’t get as far as Susan has without picking up some nuggets of wisdom along the way. The good news is, Susan was willing to share her wisdom and give advice to the next generation of female leaders. “Go into it knowing that it’s hard work. You can’t be afraid to raise your hand and say ‘I’ll do that! I’ll try that!’ You also have to be willing to accept the fact that if you demonstrate that you do good work, then you’re probably going to get more work put on you, and that’s not always going to come with increased pay, but that’s okay, because it will come in time. You’ve got to be willing to wait sometimes, but in the end, it does pay off, so don’t be afraid to take the step forward,” states Long. 

Work is the motivation behind what continues to push Susan Long each and every day. But not just any work. It’s the work that she has grown to love and the people that she gets to work with that have helped to continue to motivate her for over forty years. “What motivates me is the hope that I can make a difference for somebody, somewhere, and that I can help somebody grow and develop into a little bit better individual than they were. I’ve been given such a great opportunity in this organization. The organization believed in me, and I’m hoping to share that and give that back to the people who work with me” Long states.  

Oftentimes in life, the path we want to take, isn’t always the path we end up going down. For Susan Long, that couldn’t be more true. Although her intention was never to stay, stay she did. And that has led her to be one of the area’s most successful leaders. 

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