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The Leadership Podcast

The Leadership Podcast

Why do we do this?

We interview great leaders, review the books they read, and speak with highly influential authors who study them.

How we do this?

#1 We interview great leaders.
#2 We review the books great leaders read and write.
#3 We have fun!

Feb 22, 2023

Nicole Kalil is the Confidence Sherpa. She’s the author of “Validation is for Parking,” and a leadership strategist, respected coach, speaker, and host of the “This is Woman’s Work” podcast. Nicole sees that women and men approach confidence very differently. She discusses how appearing confident is very different from being confident. Real, authentic confidence produces executive presence, and is a catalyst for effective leadership. Listen in for new insights on confidence and how it affects team success, and professional fulfillment.


Key Takeaways


[1:25] Jan and Jim want to know if you have listened to every episode of The Leadership Podcast. If you have, please drop them a line. They may have something for you!

[2:27] Nicole is a partner to her husband, a mom to her nine-year-old daughter, a hotel snob, a wine and cheese enthusiast, and a reluctant Peloton rider.

[4:23] Nicole wrote Validation Is For Parking to discuss confidence through a feminine lens. At the time she wrote the book, 92% of business books were written by men. In her finance job, all her mentors were men. Nicole felt an imbalance. She wrote the book with women in mind. Her intention isn’t to be exclusionary. She hopes people who identify as any gender will read it and have good takeaways.

[6:29] Nicole took the filters off and wrote what she felt and knew, having women in mind, and sharing stories she felt would be most relevant or help people feel less alone. She wrote it almost as a journal and then realized someone was going to read it! It felt important to her, in writing a book about confidence, to put it all out there and be authentic and true to herself.

[8:22] In work environments, confidence is when you trust yourself firmly and boldly. When you walk into an environment where you’re “the other,” you may spend a lot of your energy trying to navigate how to fit into the culture and the environment, and in doing that, you tend to lose some of your authenticity; you tend to lose some of yourself. That impacts your confidence.

[9:11] When negotiating for a salary increase or a promotion, women are coming to those conversations with less confidence than their male counterparts because the way they would do it authentically or naturally is different from the way that is being encouraged, supported, trained, or recognized in the culture and environment. Jan cites past guest Jeffrey Pfeffer on the seven rules of power.

[10:24] How are we defining power? Nicole defines power as showing up with true and vulnerable emotions, not as inauthentically looking confident or powerful.

[12:53] The boss is the keeper of the culture. If your being authentic doesn’t fit in the culture, this is the opportunity for the boss to say, “This is just not the right place for you.”

[13:16] If you’re accentuating something about yourself so much that it’s repellent to others it may be worth questioning if you are actually showing up authentically at all. You’re probably doing that in reaction. Nicole shares an experience from when she was trying to fit in. Looking back, she sees that was not her authentic self.

[15:34] There isn’t one right, definitive answer to just about anything. We come to every situation, conversation, or event with our beliefs, values, experiences, and interpretations, and we think that those experiences, interpretations, and values are right or true with a capital T. What one person believes is right and true may not be right and true for everybody.

[16:31] Nicole is trying to practice being more empathetic, better listening, being more open, and communicating, “This is the way I see it and I’m open that there may be another way to see it,” and being curious about that.

[16:49] Nicole sees all of those things as a practice in being and becoming a better leader. They make us better relationship-builders, and developers of others, and create safer, healthier, and more productive environments.

[18:24] Leadership and allyship are very closely connected. Be curious, listen. When you ask a question, believe what people are telling you is their perception or interpretation, and try to have empathy around that. All of us have the opportunity to create more balance.

[18:57] Understand that the masculine approach to success in business is alive and well. There is the opportunity to bring in, recognize, and reward the more feminine side, as well, within yourselves and your organization, and your culture. Be aware and pay attention.

[19:26] It helps people to have someone they trust and have a good relationship with. Be a coach to others when they say something that they may have meant in one way, but that might have been interpreted in another way. Most people can be very forgiving if they know you’re coming from a good place. Knowing where you’re coming from makes all the difference in the world.

[22:21] Nicole discusses executive presence. It’s external; what we show to the world. We have an impact on how people see us. Nicole distinguishes it from confidence. Confidence is about firm and bold trust in self. Confidence in others is trust in them. Confidence leads to executive presence and that leads to leadership.
[24:02] If you bypass confidence and go for executive presence, you can look confident but at some point, if the internal component isn’t there, it’s going to become painful to you and obvious to others. Don’t be focused on how you look to others but on who you are and what you bring to the table; what it is you can, and choose to, trust in yourself.

[25:24] Nicole discusses the gender component of confidence vs. competence. Women tend to over-rotate on competence. They believe they need to do it all, have it all, and look the part; get all the designations and check all the boxes. It’s very much about how it looks. But you cannot be competent at anything you’re doing for the first time. Competence takes time.

[26:00] Confidence is a choice we can make any time we want. Confidence is on the road to competence. Competence will then circle back and increase your confidence as you go. But there’s always something more to learn and skills to develop before you are fully competent. Instead of “Fake it till you make it,” Nicole says, “Choose it until you become it.” Choose confidence continually.

[26:55] Women, especially, feel they need to be 100% ready before taking big actions. But 100% ready is not available to any of us when it comes to doing something new. We do most meaningful things with a combination of excitement, fear, readiness, and doubt.

[27:34] For a lot of women it’s letting go of the unachievable expectation that you’re going to be 100% anything. Trust that you’ll figure it out as you go. Trust that if you don’t do well, you’ll be OK; you’ll learn something to take to the next thing you do. Trust that you’ve done what got you here, and you can apply your unique talents, strengths, and abilities to this new thing and you will get there. Trust in yourself.

[29:03] Nicole saw integrity as strong moral principles or being honest. Her background is in finance, where being honest is important, and doing what’s best for your clients. In terms of a strong moral standing, who decides what that is? Do personal things bleed into the definition? Nicole had a struggle with the word, which forced her to look at the definition.

[30:08] Nicole loves the second definition of integrity: the state of being whole and undivided. That’s what we need to be talking about, is being so true and trusting in ourselves that we show up with all that we are, we own everything that we’re not, and we choose to embrace all of it. And that would lead us to bring our full and best selves to the leadership table, to our businesses.

[30:52] Nicole sees power and magic in knowing who we are, owning who we are not, choosing to embrace all of it, and showing up as our full and best selves. That’s how we should be talking more about integrity.

[31:46] We’ve over-rotated in society and we try to “save” people every time they express that they are not meant for something. We think everybody can be anything they want to be. That’s not an available option for any of us. And, unfortunately, we think that we should do and be everything. What we end up doing is watering down our unique abilities and unique talents by trying to be everything.

[32:32] Nicole refers to Essentialism, by Greg McKeown (a previous guest). We don’t stay in our lane because we don’t spend any of our time figuring out what our lane is. In order to do that, we need to know what our lane isn’t. There is power in owning what and who you are not meant for; what and who may not be meant for you. Being able to discern that will put you on track for what you are meant for.

[33:16] Purpose is not one thing but we all have a purpose. It’s confidence-boosting to sift out the things that are not meant for you.

[34:42] The biggest “Aha” that Nicole would tell her younger self is how much her failures, missteps, mistakes, fears, and doubts built her confidence and contributed to her success and purpose, more than her achievements, successes, wins, and things that came easily. It doesn't hurt any less when she’s in it, but when she’s experiencing bad feelings, she tells herself all that’s missing is the benefit of hindsight.

[35:26] Nicole reminds herself that she doesn’t yet know why the negative thing is happening, but she trusts that it is serving a purpose. It’s a gift, a lesson, a redirect, or an opportunity. There’s some other way to see the thing that’s happening that is going to work for her betterment. She trusts that in those moments. She wishes she would have failed more often and risked more, earlier on.

[36:40] Letting your children or employees fall is a struggle, but they go through it for their growth. You want to protect. You want them to be happy. Nicole and her husband are clear that they want to protect their daughter as much as they can from things that fall under health and safety that are very difficult to recover from. On other things, it is better to just let it play out and get messy.

[37:44] Nicole tells her daughter that she loves her all of the time. It’s constant and does not need to be earned. She doesn’t need to prove herself to get it. The love is constant even in the messiness, failure, and mistakes. She can figure all the rest of it out. She encourages her daughter to hold onto her own confidence when it gets challenged.

[39:08] Nicole’s challenge to listeners: “Separate all the advice, advertisements, and things on social media that tell you that the way you gain confidence is by fixing how your confidence looks to others. If it’s external, it’s probably not confidence-building. Go back to ‘Confidence is when you trust yourself.’ … Ask yourself, ‘Is this going to help me trust myself more?’ If the answer is yes then go do it!”

[40:25] Closing quote: Remember, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson


Quotable Quotes

  • “So much of what we learn about what it is to be professional, what it is to be successful, what it is to be a leader, or what it is to be confident comes from the masculine lens. I worked in finance and almost exclusively, all of my mentors, trainers, and teachers were men.”

  • “When you walk into an environment where you’re ‘the other,’ … a lot of people spend a lot of their energy trying to navigate how to fit into the culture and the environment, and in doing that, we tend to lose some of our authenticity; we tend to lose some of ourselves.”

  • “We are often being taught how to look confident. Very rarely taught how to be or become confident.”

  • “I have a fundamental belief that leaders are keepers of the culture and if somebody being their authentic self doesn’t fit in a culture, then it’s probably the opportunity to say, ‘You’re not bad, we’re not bad, this is just not the right place for you.’”

  • “The older I get the more I realize that there isn’t one right, definitive answer to just about anything.”

  • “We are all coming to every situation, conversation, or event with our own beliefs, values, experiences, and interpretations, and unfortunately, we are thinking that those experiences, interpretations, and values are right or true with a capital T.”

  • “[Let] people know ‘I’m going into this uncomfortable place. I might say things wrong; I might do things wrong. But my intention is only ever, always to get better. I’m open to feedback. If I make mistakes [please] pull me aside and tell me about it.’”

  • “Confidence is about trust; firm and bold trust in self. So when we talk about being confident, that’s what I think we are talking about.”

  • “One hundred percent ready is not a thing that’s available to any of us when it comes to doing something new or that we haven’t done before.”

  • “That’s what we need to be talking about, is being so true and so trusting in ourselves that we show up with all that we are, we own everything that we’re not, and we choose to embrace all of it. And that would lead us to bring our full and best selves to the leadership table.”


Resources Mentioned