Beyond The Checklist

039: Why Doing What God Tells You To Do Will Help You Lead Out || Susan Madsen


Darla: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Spiritually Minded Women podcast. If you’re a woman who is ready and willing to be a follower of Jesus, you’re in the right place. Join me as we dive in deep to learn how to embrace your journey on the covenant path with checkpoints instead of checklists. I’m your host Darla Trendler and I’m cheering you on.

Welcome to your journey.

 Welcome to the Spiritually Minded Women podcast. This is Darla. I am thrilled to be here with you today as always love doing these interviews and sharing new guests with you. I am really excited to have my guest today. Susan Madsen here with us. She’s going to share about a new book that she’s written and some of the things that she’s done, helping women to become leaders.

Susan, thank you so much for being here. 

Susan: It’s great to be here. Thanks for the invitation. 

Darla: Would you just take a minute and introduce yourself, tell everyone 

more about you. 

Susan: So Susan Madsen is my [00:01:00] name and I’m a professor at Utah State University. My official title is the Karen H Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership.

And then John M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. That’s a mouthful. And I also have founded and direct the Utah Women in Leadership Project, and I’ve been a member of the church, my entire life. I was raised in the church. My father was the seminary and the Institute teacher.

Solid upbringing in the church and I’m married and have four kids and they’re all adults. And I have two grandkids and once the last moved out, I’m like my house magically stays clean now is really an awesome part of life, aging is sometimes we have aches and pains, but I still really appreciate this time.

in life. 

Darla: I think you’re using your time very wisely because you’re trying to help all of us. And I’m really excited. So a couple of weeks ago I was on Instagram and your posts about your new book came across my feed and I [00:02:00] was literally jumping up and down. I was so excited. So the name of your new book is A Future Only God Can See for You and it’s to help teens and young adult women learn how to be leaders.

Tell me about your new book. What was the catalyst to help you want to write it? What have you seen in your experiences in the church, outside of the church, in your education, all of that, that made you want to write this


Susan: Well I’ve written other books, mainly scholarly books, but I do a lot of writing, a lot of editorials, different kinds of writing, briefs and research. And the last time I published a really heavy it’s utilized worldwide on women’s leadership in 2017 and I said that’s it. I don’t want to do these books anymore. However, in the back of my mind, I felt not a scholarly books but maybe I needed to write something else. I’ve been pulled more and more towards, doing something for women in the church.

I already do firesides when I’m traveling to different countries and do those kinds of things for young women and women.[00:03:00] And then actually Cedar Publishing reached out a couple of years ago and started tapping me on the shoulder. It’d be nice if you would do something on this because there’s a need.

And then they reached out last fall and I couldn’t get the time till about March. And I’ll tell you, I started writing at March and it just came, it came. And in seven and a half weeks with a busy schedule, lots of speaking on top, I just was able to set some time where the chapters just came.

I think I’ve been prepared to do this book. 

Darla: I was going to say you’ve done so much work before this. 

Susan: Yeah. Each of the chapters just are around things that I’ve studied and I’ve spoken about. And I have a lot of depth in and a lot of understanding, not only the research but how you put it to practice and seeing how these things work in people’s lives and many things, of course, they’re very personal for me, for my own development and my own journey, as well as raising, four kids, [00:04:00] three sons and one daughter. It was raising my own daughter and just doing speaking with young women. So it just felt very natural. And even now I keep a pretty busy schedule with the energy that’s created for the work that I do.

However when you get those promptings. When you wake up at night and that’s what you’re thinking about then you know, it’s not going to go away until you just let it come out with the fingers. And just start writing. And even now, when I think back to March and April I’m not sure how I did.

I don’t think physically if it was just me, I don’t think it would have happened. Honestly. I think I was very blessed by a Heavenly Father to, make it work. And the great thing is that in January I have a secondary book coming out. That’s a workbook for the book. So it’s got exercises and all kinds of activities that people can go through personally, but more of a reflection and a journal and activities.

So that’s a little [00:05:00] background. I feel like I’ve always felt, I have to say that the path that I’ve taken, is absolutely from God. It has been very clear followed my patriarchal blessing on lots of things. Didn’t know why I was continuing to a bachelor’s and then a master’s.

And then I felt totally pulled to do my doctoral work and did get criticism by sisters through, I can talk about that if you want my good responses to that nowadays. So I figured out how to do that. And didn’t know, didn’t really know why and how and where, but knew that I had to prepare to do the work that God needed me to do.

Darla: Yeah. I want to dive in a little bit more about what’s in the book and how we can use it to help teenagers and young women. But I’d really love to know your journey. Like you mentioned you knew you had a purpose from God and you had this drive. What was your upbringing?

How were you taught to be a leader? Were you taught to be leader? I know my experience was [00:06:00] I really wasn’t taught to be a leader. And, I was only told that I could be a mother and that was like about it, and I think that the dialogue’s changing. A book like yours would never have been on the shelf when I was growing up.

So I would just love to know what was your experience and what did that look like for you? 

Susan: I’m in a place now that people wouldn’t have envisioned growing up. Because of my upbringing, I had a wonderful father and mother. However, in terms of leadership, my father was very dominant.

 Worked in the seminaries and institutes. We were the strictest of strict families We did everything. We did personal interviews with my father every week. We did special time. We did all of the things and that was great. I love my upbringing.

My father has passed away about four years ago, my mother’s still living and she’s into family history and temple work and all those wonderful things. So I love that I’m still very active in the church. But one of the interesting things is I was the second to the oldest child and there’s seven of us.

And I have six brothers. I am the only daughter. I’ve researched for [00:07:00] years, how people become leaders, how women become leaders and your background has a ton to do with it, your upbringing. And we were a real athletic family, so I was second to the oldest, but I was really the one to babysit and boss around my brothers and I took a lot of responsibility and I just had naturally, even though I was really in an environment where women did this, men did this very different. My mother was an athlete growing up. So I was an athlete. We get in and do tough things in terms of sports and other things, climbing mountains.

I always did all of those things with my brothers. And so I think that was part I’ve studied sports and sports gives you a real edge on working in certain environments. But I was always a speaker and I started speaking in church and then by the time I was in high school, they just let me, I was not in Utah I was in Northern Idaho,

they would just let me run things. I think a lot of the responsibility in [00:08:00] church was just given to me, it’s like we have a dance festival. I’m like, I’ll organize it. I’ll teach it. I’ll do all the things. And then adults just let me go. They just let me run. Even in school. First of all, I started teaching.

piano lessons when I was 13 and I’ve discovered in my reflection that, and I taught people older than me. I taught some adults and I realized that I really found joy in developing people and they look to me and they felt like my knowledge and voice was important. And then I would just remember one thing In my town, Moscow, Idaho, I was one of the few people that taught violin and the other two were really the director of the high school orchestra and the University of Idaho. So I started teaching violin and doing those kinds of things, but also when one of them was sick, I would just walk in as a, senior or junior in high school and direct the junior high orchestra.

So those kinds of things, I don’t think it was [00:09:00] really in my home. It was those kinds of opportunities that I somehow just had the confidence that I was going to do. And have those opportunities to do so that might be a little more information than you want, but I’ve spent a lot of time because of my writings, really looking at some of those things and then continued, in college and various things.

But I tell you, I didn’t really look at what my life would be out after I got married. That was the end. 

Darla: I can relate to that. Yep totally.

Susan: I thought I would suddenly just start staying home and the joy would come and I would suddenly enjoy cooking, and sewing and are you following me? 

Darla: I am. I’ve done it because I have to feed my family, but it’s just not been my thing. Yeah. 

Susan: So it has been a different, I did not plan on working.

I worked part time. I spent, honestly, I’m going to be open with you the first couple of years I started, I taught junior high after I finished my bachelor’s and was pregnant my [00:10:00] last year and then just started staying home and it was rough. I really got into depression and for a couple of years until we moved and my husband finished a couple of masters. And then I started my masters and within a day or two. I was like, oh my brain is so exciting. My husband and I decided you’re going to have to either be in school or work part time or whatever. And so that’s what I did. I just juggled. And then when my youngest of four was in

first grade then I took on a faculty full-time position where I could be in the office when I taught and I could work at home and that’s my path. I didn’t plan that, and then things have taken off since then. And I’m not really a change agent in terms of strengthening the impact in Utah, but globally of girls and women.

Darla: So I want to know when you were deciding. You were in the middle of motherhood and you’re feeling like I need something more. What type of personal revelation were you receiving? Like how did you know [00:11:00] you’re on the right path? I’m going to go get this master’s degree. And I know that this is what God wants me to do.

And then how did you fight against the culture and people? I know you mentioned like you had women coming to you saying you shouldn’t be doing this or whatever. How did you balance that and manage that? 

Susan: Interestingly, I’ve only had a few of those instances where women have come to me.

I think I’ve been busy enough that people just know in the church that I’m a little bit of a different path. But I do, because I don’t want to forget to tell you, this one woman in Minnesota. It was when we lived in Minnesota and I was doing my doctoral work and I had four pretty young children at the time.

And she came up to me a couple of times and said things like that in the last second time she did, she said, “Why is your doctorate? You just don’t need that much education to raise children. Why are you doing that? Aren’t your kids being disadvantaged? Are you ignoring your kids?” That kind of thing.

Why are you doing that? And at that point I had just leaned right into her when you could get close to people. And [00:12:00] again, she said “why?” And I said, “because God told me”. And that just ended it and I’ve had to use that a couple of other times and it’s true. I feel very called. And so initially the thing that drove me with education, honestly, I feel privileged in some ways that it was absolutely mentioned in my patriarchal blessing.

And I had watched my father go through when I was eight a masters and when I was 15, 16, 17, a doctorate. So that was in my mind. I always watched what my dad did and my mom. And my dad’s work was a little more interesting to me. He created new institutes for the church in different parts of the country, Northern Idaho and Washington and different things.

 it’s specifically said you will find joy and you will continue your education and having that example from my father, I just knew. I waited a couple of years dove [00:13:00] after two kids, into my masters degree at Portland state university, when they were really little and then had a break and had a couple more kids and then started my doctoral work when we moved to Minnesota at the University of Minnesota.

And I knew. I didn’t know why. But I knew I had those promptings and I have a couple of chapters in this new book especially the one at the end called personal revelation. And very much specifically talk about different ways that I and others have received personal revelation.

And and I really think carefully talk often about how you can receive revelation in your head. And end in your heart, right? There’s different ways. And sometimes I have so many ideas all the time and people come to me with ideas, like all the time and sometimes I’ll get excited, but it’ll just go away.

And it’s like that wasn’t right. I just know that wasn’t right. But when not just even in my prayers [00:14:00] where I’m officially down on my knees or that, but just other times when I’m walking outside and doing things, when I talk to God when I’m walking by myself and it just keeps coming and my mind gets so excited about things.

And I try and connect to that with my heart. And I’m such a believer in the three things, your head, heart, and hands, and the combination of all those three. So intellectually, you’ve got to learn, you’ve got to study it out in your mind. Exactly what the scriptures say, and then you need to listen.

You need to feel. And sometimes I really use a stupor of thought. Like I just talked about, if it’s a stupor, if it’s oh, then I just walk away. So there’s so many ways to feel and think, and then what do you want to do? And one of the things that I did early and I teach others to do now, and I have a whole chapter on gifts, talents, and strengths, is your call and callings with an S. I feel like I’m [00:15:00]called to mother and I have other callings. I have a whole chapter on this. So in figuring out your callings that God needs you to prepare to do, and who you need to prepare to be. You must understand your gifts and your talents and your strengths.

And we have this culture often where women just if people tell them, ” You did great on this,” they’re like shoving it aside. “Oh, not a big deal,” or give all credit to somebody else. That’s how we’re socialized to do it.

We do that sometimes because we’re supposed to be humble, but humility is not being small it’s being teachable. And we can be confident. And we can use our voice and we can understand our strengths and we can be teachable at the same time. 

Darla: You know what I think your story is illustrating so well? And it’s, I think you’re giving hope and courage to other women to follow the personal revelation that you receive, because you’re receiving the personal [00:16:00] revelation to go and leave your little kids at home and go and get a master’s degree.

And somebody else might have the personal revelation set your master’s degree aside and stay home. And there’s times and seasons and all of that. 

Susan: I have to say this though, real quick, because I’m going to push back on one thing you said. It’s and. It’s not either or. We have a mentality in the church that it’s all this or all that. So I don’t feel like I really left my kids when I did education. Like my master’s, degree point. I had two afternoons a week and it was mental health for me to get away. We were poor. I taught piano lessons and then this woman would tend to my two kids, two afternoons a week, and I was just gone two afternoons a week.

And then my mother-in-law would come for two weeks during the summers. And I would just like pack in all of these short courses in that time. So I think I still was a full-time mother. I’m just pushing you back a little bit. 

Darla: No I appreciate that so much. I agree with you. And I think you are totally right.

I remember when I decided to go on a mission and [00:17:00] I went to my home ward and somebody came up to me and said, “Oh you decided to go on a mission instead of get married.” And I was like, I thought I might do both. Like I can do both of those things. I’m really grateful that you pushed back on me on that.

Yes, you are totally correct. I agree a hundred percent. So I would love to shift gears and kind of talk more about the book. And primarily I think the people in my audience are going to be mothers. They’re going to be young women leaders. Who do you envision reading this book? Does a young woman and a teenager, do they read the book and then do the guide? How do adult women come into play to help them? What do we do to help these young women become leaders? 

Susan: So the focus of the book really is around 15 to 16 years old to 24. But can I be honest? It, would be fabulous for any age, Not necessarily younger than that. Maybe a 14 year old or something, but women of any age. There’s just so much applicability across the board. And I have posed questions in the chapter, different things to think about. So I picture that this can [00:18:00] be used by parents or young women leaders, or, a group can get together.

Once my workbook comes out, really take some time and talk about. It’s such a good guide for a book club or a book group, especially if you have a little more time than just talking about the book, but actually doing some reflections, doing some writing, doing the discussions. In fact, some of the activities I say, pick up your phone and talk into your phone and record yourself talking about this, and then listen to yourself as you talk about this. So I have all kinds of activities, in the book that you can do. So I think there’s just many ways that, you can do it. I wouldn’t rush through it though. I would take a little bit of time, read a chapter, think about it, do some activities.

Can I connect? And then go to chapter two or whatever. I really set the book up in different sections. My first really is just on leadership that really focuses. [00:19:00] I have pulled out the best quotes from church leaders. I have to tell you, I, it is packed. You’re going to love it. So my first chapter is called God Needs You.

And it really just lays out lots of quotes and why God needs young women to prepare to lead in so many different ways. And then I, even have a chapter on why is it beneficial to have women leaders out there? And what does leadership even mean? That’s another chapter. Because sometimes people think it looks a certain way and then I really get into all the leadership opportunities, whether they’re in high school, college, workplace, politics, community engagement, and all of that. So that’s how I really set the stage. And then I get to work on how to prepare to lead in my next big chunk. That’s my biggest chunk. And then I have four chapters that talk about some really key and timely challenges.

Darla: I love that. I love that don’t just read a book, but actually [00:20:00] do something like act. And I think that kind of goes back to what you said about your head, your heart and your hands. Like we have to do something that’s been something I’ve seen over and over in my life.

If I learned something I have to go and actually apply it somehow. 

Susan: You have to, part of my doctoral work is adult learning and training and development. I taught to junior high, so you’ll have to do that, finish the book with just a couple chapters on really what is the next step?

And one of them, like I said, was personal revelation. That is so important all the way through because Heavenly Father did not make us all the same. We all are different, but I ended with personal revelation and then my last chapter is called The Road Less Traveled. And so this is the road less traveled to decide to do things a little bit differently.

So I’m just going to be really personal here, but I will tell you this, that I worked for years trying to get who I am to fit into a [00:21:00] specific box, a specific kind of thing that the good Latter -Day Saint woman looks like. And I was really hard on myself for a lot of years trying to do that.

Even as a missionary, when I served, I was the only sister, until my last mission companion, to play basketball with the elders and then no one else did I just played basketball and then I got some comments, that ” I didn’t think you were supposed to do this cause you’re a sister” these kinds of things. I just remember thinking I’m not right. Even as I was having kids, I don’t love to cook. I didn’t love I did it, And I prayed for years and asked Heavenly Father, ‘Why did you make me wrong?’ Until I realized that He made me right. He just made me different. He needs me with my unique, busy brain, [00:22:00] with my passion on being the voice for people that need me to be a voice and my hands as a, strengths finder. I’m an activator, I’m a strategic activator, achiever.

And to accept that I have His work and I need to do what He needs me to do, not what the culture, not what people are telling me. Not even sometimes what my parents, trying to get me to sew. My poor mother, she failed there. But what God and my relationship to God and my ability and work to hear His voice has been the thing that has guided me, especially as I’ve moved forward in my choices to do the advocacy work, the research work to move forward. And yes, I work full time, but work way more than full-time now. I don’t have kids in the home or whatever, but I feel work that I get a paycheck for. And [00:23:00] then all my other work that I don’t get a paycheck is all related to my calling.

And so I have, like I said sorry to get all teary-eyed on you, but I have my passionate chapters in part two of the book. And let me just outline what they are. Confidence. That’s number one, gifts, talents, and strengths. Number two mindset. The fixed mindset, the forgiveness mindset, different mindsets. 

Education. I’ve been a voice of getting your college education. Purpose and calling and leadership identity, seeing yourself as a leader. So those are my part two segments, and they’re things. I’m super passionate about.

Darla: Thank you so much for being so open and sharing what’s in your heart because I think there’s so many women out there that are probably feeling that way. Like why did God make me this way? I know I have felt that way. And sometimes I’m still working through it, so it’s really nice to look at someone who has accomplished so much, as you have and what a difference that you’re making, because you were able to work through that and to [00:24:00] just follow what God is telling you to do.

I think that is bringing so much hope to so many women, and I’m so grateful that you push through that and we’re able to figure that out. I think it’s blessing all of us so much. This has been amazing. I have loved talking to you, Susan. I have learned so much and you’ve given me so much to think about, and I know my listeners will feel the same, but I do have one final question for you.

And that is how have you seen and felt the Savior in your journey on the covenant path? 

Susan: I love that question. I think I have felt the Savior throughout my covenant path. There’s so many points where you make decisions that you just need to feel and think and do that. And I feel it almost every day. I don’t feel this big sometimes I do, but this big, whew, I felt the spirit or whatever, but my mind goes in different ways and my heart just feels in different ways and it feels right.

And I just know that I’m doing that, I’m connected to the holy ghost, I’m connected with [00:25:00] the Savior. So I think, in my choices, in my even daily decisions, even when I’m so busy, sometimes I feel, and I get an email where someone is sharing their story. I just stop and I breathe and I’m like, God needs me to read this.

He needs me to respond and give compassion and and do that. So I think for me, learning, and not that I’m perfect and I’m older than you but learning to feel the spirit. Learning to understand my strengths and figure out how my brain works, figuring out myself, taking the time to do that and no it’s not selfish to do that.

It is what God needs us to do. All of those things has helped me trust myself. I trust my head. I trust my heart. I trust when the spirit touches me, even if it’s in ways that maybe are different than other people would say, I trust that because I know [00:26:00] he knows me and I know he needs me with my unique set of strengths to do the work that only I can do.

And that trust in self and that trust in our Savior and His Father is what guides me daily, weekly, monthly to do the work that I do as a scholar, as a writer, as an advocate, but also as a mother and as a wife. And I guess I trust at this point that the work that he needs me to do is more important than anything else.

And so why not just stick with him and move forward in the way that he needs me to do. 

Darla: Oh, thank you so much for the way you express that.You have touched me. You have really helped me with things that I have struggled with. Like I have said, I just don’t want to do this anymore, but I feel so called to do it.

I can’t stop, and [00:27:00] I feel like he doesn’t tell me okay, this is what’s going to happen in the future. He just says, this is the next step and that’s sometimes hard for me. So you have given me so much hope. 

Susan: But he prepares you 

Darla: I can look back and I can see that. So I just am so grateful.

You have filled me up and I felt the spirit talking to you today. So very excited to read your book. We’re recording this before your book comes out. So I haven’t read it yet, but I know it comes out on November 9th. Where 

can people go to find it? 

Susan: It’s on Amazon already. Pre-orders are out there.

Darla: Okay. 

Susan: It’s Cedar Ford publishing and yeah it’s out there. People can find it. Oftentimes if they just search Susan R here’s another Susan Madsen that does church writing. So Susan R. Madsen M-A-D-S-E-N they’ll be able to find that. It’s been a delight to talk to you. 

Darla: Oh, thank you so much. And I’ll link all that up in the show notes too.

So to Amazon and wherever else, so people can go and find the book, but I’m truly grateful that you would come on today and thank you so much for being 


Susan: Thank you.

Darla: And now here are this week’s journal [00:28:00] questions. 

Susan shared how another woman once asked her why she was furthering her education while she still had young children. Susan’s simple response was, “Because God told me.” What has God told you to do? Write about what you have personally learned by following what Heavenly Father has asked you to do, even when others have judged your choices. 

During the interview, Susan pushed back on a question I asked and brought up how we sometimes have a mentality in the church that women’s choices have to be “either or.” How has this thinking affected your choices? What do you think you could do to change the “either or” culture around women’s choices? [00:29:00]

By following the Spirit, understanding her strengths and figuring out how her brain works, Susan shared she has learned to trust herself and know God knows her and her unique strengths to do the work that only she can do. What is the Holy Ghost prompting you to do to learn to trust yourself and know that God knows you? What part of God’s work is He saving just for you? Take some time to ponder and write your thoughts and feelings.