Saving Lives One Conversation At A Time with Dr. Mark Goulston and Making Impact Through Brave Leadership with Kimberly Davis

It only takes one conversation to change the course of your life. All you need to do is listen. Dr. Mark Goulston uses listening to heal the world one person at a time. At one point in his life, he was about to take his own life for screwing things up, but he listened to one of his professors and it saved him. Now he is paying it forward by responding to letters coming from inmates. Leaders are just as human as the rest of the team. They have this fear that they need to know everything so they don’t fail. Kimberly Davis has developed programs that promote brave leadership. She has helped thousands of senior leaders work on their purpose, presence, influence, and impact.

TTL 141 | Brave Leadership

We’ve got Dr. Mark Goulston and Kimberly Davis. Dr. Mark Goulston is the foremost expert on empathic listening. His book, Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, is just one of his books. He’s got multiple bestsellers. He’s done everything from FBI and police hostage negotiation training to being an advisor on the OJ Simpson trial. He’s also got a one-man show, Steve Jobs Returns. Then we have Kimberly Davis who has more than twenty years’ experience in front of groups and audiences of all sizes, and she has been leading development programs worldwide.

Listen to the podcast here:

Saving Lives One Conversation At A Time with Dr. Mark Goulston

Dr. Mark Goulston is one of the foremost experts on empathic listening. His book, Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, became the top book on listening in the world. He speaks internationally on the topic, having recently returned from a one-day sole presenter training in Moscow to CEOs and members of the Russian Federation. He’s also the author of six additional books. He has a podcast. He has been on so many different shows. If I listed this, we’d be here all day. I want to get to what you do, Mark. Welcome you to the show. How are you?

Thank you, Diane. I’m a legend in my own mind. What can I tell you?

You are an interesting guy. I was watching your one-man show, Steve Jobs Returns. Is that what you call the show where you are Steve Jobs?

I’m waiting for Elon Musk to die so I can do a show on him.

I’m sure he’ll be happy to hear that. You can do it now. I don’t know if you have to wait for him to die. You could channel these people. You do a good job of tapping into their personalities if you’re an empathic listener. I assume you’re an introvert then, correct?

Where did you get that one? Bingo.

Usually introverts are better listeners. I’m a definite extrovert. I have to try hard to make myself listen better. I’m good at it when I’m on the air. I can pay attention a lot easier than real life. How did you get to be focused on listening?

One of my greatest accomplishments as a person, other than the wife and kids and still married, is I dropped out of medical school twice and finished. I didn’t drop out to see the world. I probably had untreated depression. The second time I dropped out, I met with the head of the school who was about money and he wanted to kick me out because they were losing matching funds. I came from a background where your value is what you produce in the world.

If you don’t produce much, you’re not worth much. I was at a low point and the Dean of Students who cares about students brought me into his room. Imagine that you come from a background that you’re only worth what you do and if you don’t do much, you’re not worth much. I reached a low point and he said, “Mark, you didn’t screw up because you’re passing everything but you are screwed up. If you got unscrewed up, the school will be glad to give you a second chance.”

I’m crying with that tenderness. I’ve never heard this. He said, “Even if you don’t get unscrewed up, even if you don’t become a doctor, even if you don’t do another thing the rest of your life, I’d be proud to know you because you have goodness in you. You have no idea how much the world needs that goodness. You won’t know it until you’re 35, but you have to make it to 35. You deserve to be on this planet and you’re going to let me help you.”

I have a personal mission which I shared in Moscow which I was very excited about which is healing the world one conversation at a time because it was done to me. Then I was a suicide specialist and they’re giving me too much credit. None of them killed themselves, but they would say they had the same experience, and so now I’m paying it forward as best I can.

Let me use your words “screwed up” as far as how you felt or how you were at the time. Do you think a lot of people that have emotional issues or problems are drawn to psychiatry, which I assume is what you have your degree in? Do you think that that’s what draws them to that particular specialization? Were you drawn to any other fields in medicine?

That was it. He stood up for me. He put in an appeal. He was just an anatomy instructor and he stood up to the promotions committee on my behalf. I did take another year off and I went to work at the Menninger Foundation, which is a big psychiatric foundation which originally was in Topeka. Even though these were schizophrenia farm boys and I’m from a suburb of Boston, I was able to reach them. These schizophrenia farm boys kept asking me, “Are there psychiatrists there?” “I was a medical student,” I said, “Is this legitimate?” “Yeah, I talk to them. We walk around in the snow. Is that okay?” and they said, “No, it’s legitimate and you’re pretty good at it, Mark,” so I went in that direction.

You probably didn’t want the conversation to go in this direction, but it’s going there anyway. There was one moment when I decided to be a psychiatrist. I was back at medical school and we were doing rounds at a veteran’s hospital in Boston. Being from the right brain side of the tracks, I tune in to people versus filling them with details. I connect with them as opposed to dumping details down their throat. I remember we were on rounds at the VA Hospital and there was the big attending doctor and then there was a resident. We’re discussing this case outside Mr. Jones’s room and everyone was saying, “What do you think he has?”

The radiologist said, “We need more radiology,” and someone said, “We need more surgery,” and I’m there listening and I was a medical student and a little bit intimidated by this. Then the nurse came over to our group outside the room, and she said, “Didn’t you hear Mr. Jones jumped from the roof last night and he’s in the morgue.” It was totally quiet. They didn’t know what to do. It was interesting. I heard this thought in my mind that said “Maybe Mr. Jones needed something else,” and that’s one of the things that set me down that path.

You’ve gone down an interesting path. You have another book called Get Out of Your Own Way that became one of the top self-help books and got into the prisons and jails system and you received letters from inmates that wanted help from you, so that was the basis for your critically acclaimed Prison Letters with Dr. Mark Goulston, your podcast. Tell me a little bit about what you did with that.

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Brave Leadership: Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior

I’ve written seven books and Get Out of Your Own Way has been in the top 10 self-help books for ten years on Amazon and we’re re-releasing it with a new cover in a few months. It found its way into prisons and jails. I’ve gotten a couple of hundred letters from inmates and they’re reaching out to me because the chapters in the book are very easy reading. They’re three-page or four-page chapters. They relate to them. The chapters were such as getting angry, making things worse, getting involved with the wrong person, not learning from my mistakes, so they will write to me about this. I’m into my third month of Prison Letters podcast and it was number one on an Entrepreneur article saying “Podcasts you should listen to.”

In each podcast, I read one of the letters and then I spontaneously empathize with where they’re coming from. This is an example of how crazy but hopefully interesting they are, there’s one called Not Born to Hate, so I read this letter from someone about how angry he is. As soon as I finish the letter, I imagine I was him as a newborn and there I was being born and three hours earlier, it was warm and cozy. What I’m aware of is it’s cold and people are yelling. Then I go to where I’m three months old and I’m looking into the eyes of my mother.

I’m expecting her to be smiling at me but what she’s saying is, “Can you put the nipple in your mouth?” I would say, “If you stop putting it in my eye, we could get along here,” and there’s a guy behind her then that I said, “That must be dad. What is she saying to dad?” “Can you wake up in the middle of the night and feed this thing?” “I didn’t ask to be born,” and so they all have a story of their own and it’s growing gradually. People say to me, “I listen to you because I don’t know what you’re going to say next,” and I say “That makes two of us.”

You obviously are saying something right and you are writing something right too. You’re on a Harvard Business Review, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Psychology Today. I’m looking at all the places where you’ve written. In addition to being UCLA professor, you did an FBI and police hostage negotiation training and you were an advisor in the OJ Simpson trial. How did you get involved in all these things?

People took notice of my book, Get Out of Your Own Way, and then we started getting some media in the 1980s. I was on Oprah, The Today Show, New York Times. I was the world’s expert in helping divorced couples get back together again. I created something called Recoupling Therapy, and divorced couples would find me through word of mouth, “We heard so and so got back together again.” It was much easier getting a couple back together again than it was keeping an angry couple together because what I would say is, “How did you contribute to the problem?” They had to be contrite. They also had to be in action correcting how they contributed to the problem in other parts of their life as long as they met certain criteria.

It’s interesting because I’ve been able to cross over into the business world because that’s not unlike making mergers work and getting silos to cooperate with each other. It’s the very same process. I used to do house calls to dying patients and their families. I would often meet with a family where the founder or CEO was dying in the bedroom, and at the eleventh hour, I seem to have some way of being able to identify the elephant in the room that’s not being spoken about. This is what I would say to leaders and also consultants, I’m perceived as having a take-charge personality without being either judgmental or controlling. People like someone who can take charge, but if they perceive you as being judgmental or controlling, they arch their backs.

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Brave Leadership: People like someone who can take charge, but if they perceive you as being judgmental or controlling, they arch their backs.

I do a lot of executive coaching and I coached more women than men. I do keynotes at women’s conferences where I’m the only male speaker. When I ask women, “Why do you choose me?” they say, “You’re like the big brother I always wanted. You’re smart, you’re irreverent, you’re funny, but you can hit me right between the eyes with something incredibly specific and doable and it’s laced with love,” so I love that. That’s the answer. All women want to be leaders, so my first homework assignment to them is, “Be the big sister that everybody always wanted.” A lot of women are confused with delineating, “how do I be assertive without being the B word?” My homework after the first meeting with women I’m coaching is, “I want you to watch three Barbara Stanwyck movies in the ‘40s and ‘50s, and see how she is with Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper because she was perfect. Try not to watch Katharine Hepburn.”

I bet millennials are going, “Who?” I know what you’re saying. She was ahead of her time for having a strong personality for women; both of them did. That’s an interesting exercise. I’ll have to use that one. I’ve never been a big sister. I’m the baby in the family, but I’m interested in what you’re saying. I’m interested in your work because you focus on tying into people’s personality, getting empathetic to their cause. I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence, and empathy is a big part of that. Did you receive much emotional intelligence training when you were going through this psychology training, or did you get more of that afterwards after you received your MD?

I got more of it by doing. One of my first mentors started the whole studying intervention suicide. He started the suicide prevention centers in Washington and Los Angeles and he would go up and see still suicidal inpatients at UCLA who needed to be discharged because they weren’t acutely suicidal. You can’t keep them there forever. That enabled me to be innovative and try things differently. Everything changed and my book, Just Listen, is about listening into people, not just listening to them. It’s helping people feel felt versus understood. It’s better to show than tell, so I’m going to demonstrate to you and your audience the difference between listening to and listening into, and I’m going to do it with you.

If I’m listening to you, you’re asking me a good question and I hope I’m giving you answers and I know I’m pushing the limits in how tangential I am and thank you for tolerating that. You asked me these questions and I think I’m responding in a reasonably responsible and hopefully coherent way, but if I’m listening into you, what I’m picking up is that you take the trust of your audience seriously and you’re always looking for things to give them that are immediately valuable that they can relate to and tips that they can use to make their lives better. You probably also interviewed people who may be well known, but they’re not broadcastable because “The person is an expert, I like the person’s book, but I can’t do this to my audience. How do I get out of it?” Is any of that true that you feel a calling to be responsive to your audience and you value that they’ve given you your time to listen to you? Is that true? Can you feel that that’s true, the importance of it?

Yes. That’s the difference between listening in and listening into. It’s challenging when you talk to somebody for 25 to 30 minutes to get that in depth. For the audience who is a podcaster or somebody like me that does this where they’re interacting with people in short periods of time, what advice would you give them, to listening to them, if you’re the host?

There’re two questions. What do you care about? Are you living your life in a lie with that? What’s your confidence so that at the end of your life, you’ll look back and say, “That was a life worth giving my life to.’”

If you’re trying to have a conversation with somebody you’ve never talked to before and you’re talking for a short period of, are you saying you ask them those kinds of questions? Or are you saying that the host should ask themselves that type of question?

Everybody should ask themselves that question: What do you care about? Here’s a quick exercise which I’d love you to email me your response. It’s also what I do with people that I’m coaching. I want you to ask yourself this question and answer it three times: What is it that you care about? Think of your first response, do it with your eyes closed, and then let go of that response completely. Then think of your second response, let go of it completely. What’s your third response to what do you care about?

Frequently, not always, the first response is a transactional one and it’s more short term. Sometimes the second response is “Now I’m confused because I let go of this transactional part of me and I’m a business person. Now I don’t even know which way I’m going,” and then you have to take a few breaths. Often the third thing is people will come up with what they care about. Sometimes people will say, “I haven’t thought about that in years,” usually. There’s a possibility that the third answer will be close to a calling that’s calling out to you that you haven’t heard.

What would be your knee-jerk for the first answer?

I’m very duty bound and I want to make sure that I can support my family and my wife. She deserves a medal and then some for putting up with me. I’d like to be able to treat her to a good life and not just being a good person, which I think she thinks I am, but give her more of the pleasures that money can buy. The second answer is I’m going to let go of that because that was a generic response that any loving husband and father would say. The third response is I hear the world screaming out to me that it’s hurting and it’s angry and it’s afraid, and I want to respond to that.

What I want to do is be able to spend all my time responding to that, forgetting about money. I have a feeling money will come because when I went to Russia, I said, “I’m going to not teach anyone how to negotiate.” This was a business audience and I don’t care of any of them win a business deal. I’m going to help them win at life, and so they paused and they said, “We’re giving you a multi-year visa and multi-city visa because you’re what Russia needs.” It was a home run for a six-hour talk. I’m on my way to that.

I don’t get depressed, but every day, I get incredibly sad when I read the news. Since I was close to being a throwaway medical student, I have real passion for marginalized groups such as women who aren’t getting their chance, African Americans, especially African American males, and foster teens, well-meaning prisoners who have been released and really want to change their life, and the elderly. That’s what I care about. I want to tune more into hearing that as opposed to getting distracted. What would you come up with it?

I started to write down. I had kids and family as my first thing too. I care about learning and sharing what I’ve learned with the world. I like to share knowledge and that’s always high on my list. I do a lot of that through the show because we all get together and share the top things that people have had to be successful. I would do any of these things whether it made money or not. It’s something that you feel like you need to do. That’s why I’m fascinated by all the things that you do and all the things you’re thinking about you because you have your hand in this and that. How does this make you a FBI and police hostage negotiator trainer and an advisor to OJ Simpson and on Oprah? Do you get any sleep?

What is sleep? I’m having a senior moment. Is that something you’re supposed to do? I did not know that. Thank you.

It’s interesting to talk to introverts and people that are interested in empathy. I’m sure you’ve read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet. I’ve interviewed Ken Fisher, the genius behind Fisher Investments, and he talked about how that book had changed his perception of who he was and what he is, and what motivated him. That’s on YouTube. It’s an interesting interview. She had a great thing to impact. A lot of people didn’t focus on how much introverts add in so many ways in terms of their listening, their empathy, and all the things that you focus on. I love that you write about all this stuff and this is all fascinating to me.

I’ll tell you something I’ve discovered. People who are introverts and are speakers, sometimes when I will start speaking to an audience, one of the things I’m aware of, and if you’re an extrovert you should be aware of this, is that a lot of people will be jazzed up by what extroverts say. Inside, the people in the audience will say, “That’ll work for you because you’re an extrovert. That’ll work for you because you have courage,” and even if you’re giving them great advice, they won’t follow it.

One of the things I will often do, I say “Before we start, I have to do some psychological housekeeping. I’m a role-specific extrovert. What that means is I’m painfully shy, but when I get up here, I have to be able to communicate in a way that shows that I’m confident about what I’m talking about because if my shyness and introversion interrupts. You may confuse that with self-doubt about what I’m talking about whereas in reality, I’m being shy. If you look into my eyes in the front row, you’ll see the shyness hiding behind all this stuff that I’m talking about.” I got to tell you, you say that to an audience, you have them at hello.

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Brave Leadership: Everybody should ask themselves that question, “What do you care about?”

Many people want to feel like it’s not a weird thing to feel this or feel that, but everybody has their unique things that energize them and things that drain them. You can be an introvert all the time and still seem extroverted in certain situations because you can overcome certain things, but it’s draining.

It can be draining. On the other hand, I meet with some extroverts when I used to be practicing as a therapist. What I would discover is many of them are emotionally shy. They have all this energy and they’re very upbeat and they’re very energetic, but often there’s a deep emotional shyness and some of them will say, “I have a good life, but I don’t know that I get close to people,” and some of them will say, “I even get kind of nervous when it feels like someone’s wanting to get close.” A lot of guys, and I’m sure you know these people, will say, “I always make a joke. I always make a joke out of something when someone’s trying to get close to me and I think it annoys them.”

It is a challenge for a lot of people to learn to get along with different personalities. That’s some of the stuff I talk about and write about in my books in. You’ve written so many great books that are self-help related as well and this is probably a good place for us to stop and have you share with everybody how can they get to find out more about some of your books? Just Listen, and all the ones that you’ve got out there are so popular. Is there one site that you can recommend?

If you go to Amazon, you’ll see my seven books. Just Listen became the top book. It’s in eighteen languages. When I went over to Russia, my most recent book is called Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life, and because I was getting a lot of media in advance of my presentation coming to Moscow, the Russian Edition, the translation, is How to Talk to A-holes which has gone viral in Russia. Maybe we’ll do another interview on this month down the road. I told the publisher, “When you go to paper, can we change the title?” It’s going crazy in Russia and they are non-profit, and they say, “No, we’ll stick with the original one,” and I say, “I could sell more books. It’s up to you.”

I’m looking forward to reading that. It might be something that all of us could benefit from, where we can be around crazy family members. I think that sounds amazing that you keep doing all this work to help people. I enjoyed having you on the show.

I do have websites that I can mention. I have a consulting group called The Goulston Group and you saw the Steve Jobs thing. Our tagline at The Goulston Group is we create “gotta have it.” If you can create “gotta have it” in a customer, you don’t have to sell them. If you can create “gotta work there” in a talent, you don’t have to attract them. If you can create “gotta invest there,” you get investors. At The Goulston Group, we have a formula for creating it. We don’t have enough time to talk about it here, but the formula, if you want to create “gotta have it” in a customer, investor, or talent, what you want to trigger in them is “whoa, wow, hmmm, yes.” Whoa is “I can’t believe what I saw heard, read, or felt.”

My suicidal people felt hopeful. They couldn’t believe that. Wow is “that’s astonishing, amazing, unbelievable.” Hmmm is “this is too good not to use. I don’t know how I’m going to use it, but it’s too good not to use.” Yes is, “I see how I’m going to use it, sold.” The corner piece of the Steve Jobs one-man show was I talked about visiting Xerox PARC and discovering the graphical user interface, the mouse and the icons, and how that was a worldwide yes moment and that created the Macintosh. People can take that. They can also go to, which is a nice thought leaders and speakers page and find me on LinkedIn. I’m not quite up to Donald Trump, but I do have close to 500,000 Twitter followers. You can find me there.

Mark, thank you so much. It’s been so much fun having you on the show and I appreciate it.

Thank you for giving me enough of a leash to just come close to hanging myself.

I enjoyed having you on the show.

Making Impact Through Brave Leadership with Kimberly Davis

I am with Kimberly Davis who has more than twenty years’ experience in front of groups and audiences of all sizes. Since 2001, Kimberly has been leading development programs worldwide around authentic leadership, purpose, presence, influence, presentation skills, communication skills, engagement, and customer experience. In March of 2009, Kimberly launched OnStage Leadership which has received rave reviews and has made a big impact on leaders across the country. She has a new book, and I was very excited to receive it, called Brave Leadership. It’s so nice to have you here, Kimberly.

I am so excited to be with you, Diane.

I watched your TEDx. It was great. I loved how you started off about how you’re talking about being brave and if you were scared to talk or not.

I listened to your fantastic interview with Lolly Daskal. It sounds like I’m not alone in this.

She was saying how so many leaders think that people view them a different way, that they know everything, and then they are insecure that they don’t know as much.

I have worked with thousands of senior leaders and most of them are pretty insecure. Nobody recognizes that about them because they’re human beings like the rest of us. When I wanted to write this book, I kept thinking, “I want everyone to know that they can be brave, that they’ve got what it takes to be brave.” We seem to think that it’s some genetic, unique thing that happens to other people that doesn’t happen to us. You either have it or you don’t, or you’re born with it, but it’s not the case.

We are our own worst enemies me. It’s so easy to be critical of our talks. I gave a talk yesterday. I was watching it because the videographer sent me a link, and I’m thinking, “I kept saying that when I meant who and it drove me crazy.”

We get hyper-aware of the things that we’re doing that we don’t like.

I’m a professor and I’m yelling at my students about that. When you are up on stage, it’s hard to completely focus on everything. It’s like golf, you’ve got to put your hand this way, put this that way.

How do you take your focus off of all the things that you’re not doing right and all the things that people might be thinking about you and judging you, and how do you connect any way? That’s the work that I’m up to. The truth is I teach what I need to learn. The reason I get so obsessive about teaching this and learning this is because it’s something I want to be better at doing.

I get that completely, because I’m always working on trying to get better and I try to push myself into things that make me a little uncomfortable on purpose. People say “Why would you want to do that?” but that’s part of growing, it’s part of curiosity. You were talking about being your real self. I’m curious what you think what part does curiosity play in all that you write about and teach?

Curiosity. The number one thing in terms of authenticity is being curious about yourself and understanding, “Why am I behaving the way I’m behaving? What got triggered there?” and recognizing what we’re doing that’s working for us and what we’re doing that’s not working for us. If we’re not curious about ourselves, then we can’t show up authentically. We can’t bring our best to the situation at hand because we’re being hijacked by a lot of old experiences, old messages, and old behaviors that are hampering the way we’re connecting with people in real time. If you’re not curious about other people, then you can’t have any sense of what is important to them and what they need from you. When I talk about authenticity, I look at it a little bit differently than a lot of people do. Are you familiar with Bill George?

I don’t think so.

You would love his work. He was the former CEO for Medtronic and he teaches for the Harvard Business School of Management. He has written two books, one called Authentic Leadership, which makes him the guru, and the other one which is more recent and more people are familiar with is True North. The way Bill George defined authenticity, which I think is powerful, is, “Are you genuine and worthy of trust, reliance, and belief?” It’s a lovely definition, but where it gets complicated is who gets to decide. In the framework of leadership and influence, you don’t get to decide. You can decide it, but it’s not going to help you lead and influence people.

You can go “I am authentic,” that’s great, how nice. You see all those Facebook posts all the time that are saying, “Be yourself. Who cares what anyone thinks?” That’s nice and you can do that, but it’s not going to help you lead or influence. If you want to be able to lead and influence other people, you have to have a respect for what they need from you to experience if you’re genuine, worthy of trust, reliance, and belief.

To build on what you said about being curious and observing behaviors and different things, I liked your story about Stanislavski. That was interesting to me. In your TED Talk, you give a background that you have a theater background. Can you tell a little bit about that?

I did theater for twenty years. When I first started out, I would go into auditions and my body was not working on my behalf. I would go in, my stomach would be it knots, my throat would be clenched, my hands would be sweating. I was a hot mess. When I would get cast in spite of myself, I would connect to the actors on stage and all of those feelings would disappear. I would feel great. I would feel like I could see myself. I would feel free and powerful and forget about what everybody else thought about me and forget about what I wasn’t doing right and how I might mess up.

I’d walk off the stage and I’d sit and listen to notes from my director, and all those feelings will come right back; jaws clenched, my stomach would be tight, and I would be completely emotionally hijacked the second I got offstage, and I couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on. Eventually, I ended up in training and development. I started to observe all of the participants that would show up in my classroom. I noticed that they were doing the same thing. There’re a lot of things that they were doing that in the theater, we had tools to help you work through. Eventually, as I trained in theater and became familiar with these tools, I was able to utilize the tools to make my experience better for myself.

Stanislavski was this interesting guy who was not only an actor and a director, but he was also the owner of the Moscow Art Theater. He was a businessman. His family ran businesses in Moscow for years. He always looked at a theater as a business endeavor and through a business lens, and he wanted to understand why some of the actors could perform powerfully, consistently, regardless of what was going on, and bringing the audiences and make the theater a lot of money and some of the actors couldn’t seem to do that. He dug in and studied them and then he married his observations that he had of them with his own experiences.

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Brave Leadership: If we’re not curious about ourselves, then we can’t show up authentically.

What he identified was that these actors who the audiences would leap to their feet and thunderous applause and they would come back again and again to see the same actors perform, they weren’t more talented than the other actors. They weren’t better looking. They weren’t more charismatic. They weren’t more experienced. It wasn’t any of the things that we would think would make them better. What made them better was simply that they had a different focus of attention, instead of focusing on themselves and what was going on.

When I auditioned, I would think about my stomach churning, my hands sweating, what people thought about me, and was I going to fail. I’d be thinking about those things. When we think about those things, they build and build and snowball in our minds and they lock us up like a dam. What Stanislavski identified is if you can take your focus off of yourself so you are no longer in the spotlight and you focus instead your attention outside yourself to take action to have an impact on someone or something else, which in the theater world is on the stage obviously, then those actors, the by-product of that, would be presence.

I admire actors. I have had this talk with my husband in the past because some people, and I’m one of them, take ourselves too seriously. We get embarrassed. You don’t want to be super ridiculous acting and look embarrassed by how you come across. I see a lot of men that don’t worry about that, they could be goofy. A lot of women are much more concerned about that, at least the ones who I’ve spoken with. It’s very hard to let go and say, “Who cares if you look goofy or not,” and relax. Do you think that it would help people who speak and do things to take some acting lessons?

All the work that I do is about this. It’s about how can I take these tools that work so great in the theater and apply them to the business world? It’s exactly the same way. If you go to work everyday and you’re thinking about, “am I going to mess up? What’s my boss going to say? What do they think about me?” all of the different things that show up in your mind when you’re at work. You’re on this conversation and the entire time you’re thinking about, “Am I going to fail? What is my audience going to think? Am I going to sound stupid?”

If that’s what you’re thinking about, it’s going to be hard for you to perform powerfully in that situation. Instead you need to take your focus off of yourself. Instead of thinking about yourself and how you’re showing up in it, it’s “How can I ask powerful questions so I get the best answers? How can I draw my listeners in with bringing guests on that that they’re curious about?” You’re focused on action to have an impact outside yourself.

It’s interesting how certain things will impact people and not others. When I was in a leadership position recently, one of the girls who reported to me said she didn’t want to give talks in front of groups. It was devastating to her, but then in the last sentence, she said, “She loves to be on stage to sing for people” and I’m thinking, “It would be the opposite for me.” First of all, the place would clear out if they had to hear my singing voice. It’s interesting thing how we all have our places where we feel comfortable and it’s hard to determine what it is. I find that I care a lot less as I get older. Does age help at all?

Most definitely. I had a big one, so I’m caring less today than I did yesterday.

When I was a pharmaceutical rep many years ago, they used to videotape us and then everybody would sit around and critique every single thing you said. That was devastating for some people. How do you be brave? It’s such a difficult thing. I mean is there a step-by-step process?

First of all, it’s getting clear about the impact you want to have. A lot of the work that I do is helping people identify what I call your super objective. It’s essentially your purpose in active terms. Why am I here? What’s the impact I want to have? I do what I do for the sake of what? If you can name that and be crystal clear about the impact you’re here to have, then you can look at all the different situations in your life.

You can look at when you’re giving an interview, when you have to present, when you have to have a difficult conversation that you don’t want to have, when you have to put yourself out there and try something new. All of these different situations that you have in your life, what action can you take that’s in alignment with the impact you want to have in that situation? What that does, when you can focus your attention on that, is it harnesses your attention.

For example, my super objective is to connect people to the best of who they are. That’s what I stand for. That’s why I do the work I do. It is my commitment to myself that I do that in every situation I face. Do I succeed at that? No, but I can get myself back on track when I’m not there because I’m crystal clear on “This is what it is I stand for.” In every situation I face, if I can go into it and say, “What action can I take in this situation to connect the people I’m with to the best of who they are?” Since you love emotional intelligence work, you will love this. What it does is it harnesses your attention so it overrides your amygdala, so you’re not going to kick in. It’s circumvents it.

For your audience who don’t know what the amygdala is, it is essentially the center for emotion management in your brain. If the amygdala doesn’t sense risk like you’re in trouble, it’s not going to send those body sensations like I experience when I audition. It’s not going to send those body sensations, the stress hormones, through your body so you experience the body sensations. It won’t even show up on the radar as being something to be worried about, so you won’t feel vulnerable. You won’t experience yourself as this being a risky situation because you’ve harnessed your attention on something else.

Do you want to have a little bit of anxiety? Does it make you perform better to have some?

I don’t know that it kicks all the anxiety out. That’s so human being. I would love to say I am never anxious. That would be a big fat lie. What it does is it helps you get yourself back on track, so when you feel the anxiety, you can reframe the anxiety. If I’m here to have an impact on these people, whatever that impact is for you, I’m experiencing this, “What action can I take to have that impact?” Those emotions become the fuel for you to have the impact.

What I loved about your TEDx Talk is you called out the elephant in the room that you’re talking about being brave. Of course it’s terrifying to give a TEDx Talk.

Everybody thinks, “She’s talking about being brave. She must have this totally dialed in,” but it’s the biggest joke ever because there are so many times in my life I’m afraid. That’s the thing. We’re human beings. We have false understanding that people who do well are somehow braver than we are, but that’s not true. They have learned how to shift their focus so they’re not thinking about their stomach and what’s happening and that they might fail or they might look stupid. For example, I spoke at the Work Human Conference, and Michelle Obama was there.

She was amazing. I would suspect that Michelle wasn’t sitting up in her hotel room the morning before her talk worried about what we’re going to think about her. Michelle was probably focused on having an impact, and that’s why she can bring such grace and poise and strength and be so articulate because she’s not worried about what we’re thinking about her, whether she’s going to look stupid or make a mistake, but focuses on something else.

A lot of it comes from repetition to you. The more you do something, you become braver just from that, don’t you think?

Absolutely. You know that rubber band analogy, that when you do things more often, it stretches your rubber band and your comfort zone is bigger. That’s definitely true.

She came across very well, as did Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Chaz Bono. They all seemed like they’ve done it a million times. I think it’s easier when someone’s asking you questions than if you have to just get up there and do memorized talk. That’s always preferable for a lot of people. I worked in sales for many decades and it’s such a competitive environment for salespeople and a lot of my audience is salespeople.

You want to be the best. You don’t want to be at the bottom of the list. We used to have contests where you give a presentation and then who came in first, second, third and, and you’re like, “What would be worse than being at the bottom?” so you have all these outside pressure sometimes that it’s very difficult.

There’s a part of my book where I talk about this guy who’s interviewing for a job. It’s like getting the sale. He’s interviewing with a recruiter and the recruiter has shared with me that all these people that talk to her will tell her, “I do what I do because of the people. I love the people. That’s why I want to be a leader,” and the recruiter will say, “Kimberly, this guy will talk to me for 45 minutes and he’ll never ask me a single question about me. If he’s curious about people and if he cares about people, wouldn’t I count?”

You can look at this and go, “Why didn’t he ask her? What was going on there? Could it be that he does care about people and he was just so nervous that he wanted to prove himself to her? That he didn’t show up on his radar?” It could be. Maybe he was telling her a line because he thought that that’s what she wanted to hear, and then she would say “Yes. You’re my guy. You care about people,” but that’s not what happened. He was so focused on getting the sale and selling himself to her that he wasn’t paying attention to whether or not she experienced him as genuine, worthy of trust, reliance and belief.

Let’s say he was crystal clear about what he stood for, this is what I stand for, and let’s say curiosity is part of that and that he really is curious guy. Maybe his super objective would be something like “I want to understand what drives people,” so his focus of attention is understanding what drives people. If he were focused on that in this session with this recruiter, then how would he show up differently instead of trying to sell himself? If he were focused on trying to understand people, so he might ask rich questions to draw her out about her.

Was what she experienced genuine, worthy of trust, reliance, and belief? Probably. He might look to understand what’s going on in the industry to share those exciting things with her. There’re a lot of actions he could take to achieve what he was up to in that situation, and the byproduct would be the sale because she would experience him as genuine, worthy of trust, reliance, and belief. As it was, was she going to recommend this guy? Probably not.

The unfortunate part of the interview process sometimes is you learn from the interviewee “I wish I thought of that and would’ve been a good thing to do,” and you think back but it helps with the next one of some of the things that you could do right the next time. You give great examples of things in your book like that story, and you don’t know this, but I had Tanya Hall on my show who’s the CEO of Greenleaf, the book publishing company. We talked about you on the air and you don’t even know.

I will listen to that. Was it good?

Yes. I brought it up that you had sent me a copy of your book and that’s why I wanted to talk to her because I was so impressed with how quality your book looked that I was interested in her publishing company. I interviewed her because of you. She liked that.

You’re curious about people, Diane.

Yes. I’m very curious. Your book is very well done and I loved not just the content but how it’s organized. Thank you for giving me a copy of your book and I noticed it. Daniel Pink even endorsed it. That’s an impressive endorsement. This is a lot of work that you put into this. This isn’t a simple book.

Thank you. I would love to say I was the kind of author who could whip this out. This was a labor of four years and that’s before Greenleaf helped me with editing. It’s been a long haul and I’m very grateful to be getting it over the finish line.

It’s an amazing accomplishment and there’s so much to be learned. You talk about a lot of the things that I’m interested in that I talk about. There are so many people that need help with curiosity, with soft skills, with how to be brave and leadership skills in general and trying to be more confident. You mentioned how Lolly Daskal said that people aren’t as confident.

Confidence is a by-product of us experiencing ourselves succeeding time and time again. If we can have some strategies that are powerful, but they’re not prescriptive, they’re the strategies that you can apply no matter who you are and what your situation is, it helps.

TTL 141 | Brave Leadership
Brave Leadership: Confidence is a by-product of us experiencing ourselves succeeding time and time again.

It’s a different time. Younger generations are used to seeing themselves being recorded in different situations. Did you find that people are more brave based on generations? I’m curious.

I didn’t do any research specifically focused on the generation.

Your next book.

Yeah, although a part of me is thinking this whole book piece might be setting me up for doing something around the impostor syndrome. It’s amazing how many people will share their stories about not feeling brave with me because I’ve written this book and because I’m calling myself out, “I have trouble with this and so I wrote a book about it.”

I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have trouble with it. I remember having to give a presentation where it was a competition and we gave at the beginning of the week in front of all of our peers and at the end of the week, we were going to be rated and the top person would get a prize. I didn’t sleep all week because I figured I’d blew it. It was horrible. At the end of the week, I ended up winning the thing after I made my friend miserable all week about how I was so awful.

It’s all our perception. It’s all how we critique ourselves and some of the words we say. This was a long time ago, but I still remember it because it was torture for me that week. When you’re young, you have these insecurities. Your book is an important book for a lot of people and a lot of people should read this. I would like it if you could share how they can find you in and read more about your work.

If you go to Amazon, you can find Brave Leadership. My website for the book will be I’ve also gotten very active on Twitter, on Facebook, and on LinkedIn. I’m always sharing information for all of those. My business started off as OnStage Leadership because of my theater background, but primarily because my belief is as a leader, you’re always on stage because people are always paying attention and how do they experience you, so I named my business OnStage Leadership. Most of my social media has been going on for ten years long before my book ever came out. Most of my social media is @OnStageKimberly for Twitter and @OnStageLeadership for my Facebook business page. That’s the way you can find me on social media.

What I’m hoping is that we can create a bigger conversation around being brave and support each other around being brave. What’s so interesting to me is that most of the work I do is with emerging leaders. Big companies send them. I do executive ed for SMU and these are people that have a lot of resources that are being trained for these programs I teach. The reason I wanted to write the book is so this conversation could be accessible to anyone because I’m finding people following me on social media who are managers for Target and a lot of different kinds of leadership roles that don’t have access to the training and development that a lot of other people have. This could be a great equalizer.

I agree with you and I hope a lot of people take some time to check out your book. You do some amazing work and I’m so glad you were on the show. Thank you so much, Kimberly.

It has been such a gift to have this conversation with you and your audience. I’m grateful. Thank you.

Thank you so much to Mark and to Kimberly. If you’ve missed any past shows, please go to and you can find them there.

About Dr. Mark Goulston

TTL 141 | Brave LeadershipDr. Mark Goulston is one of the foremost experts on empathic listening. His book, “Just Listen” Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone became the top book on listening in the world. He speaks internationally on that topic having recently returned from a one-day, sole presenter training in Moscow to CEOs and members of the Russian Federation. He is also the author of six additional books with his book, Get Out of Your Own Way, first published in 1996, being among the top self-help books at Amazon for the past ten years. That book has found its way into prisons and jails and led to Dr. Goulston receiving hundreds of letters from inmates reaching out to him for help and those letters form the basis for his critically acclaimed Prison Letters with Dr. Mark Goulston weekly podcast. He also contributes to Harvard Business Review, Huffington Post, Business Insider, Psychology Today, Fast Company and write a syndicated column for Business Journals.

About Kimberly Davis

TTL 141 | Brave LeadershipKimberly Davis is expert on authentic leadership, Kimberly shares her inspirational message of personal power, responsibility, and impact with organizations across the country and teaches leadership programs world-wide; most notably, her program “OnStage Leadership” which runs in NYC and Dallas, TX. Additionally, Kimberly teaches Authentic Influence and Executive Presence for Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) Cox School of Business’ Executive Education Program; for the Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative Fellowship program (empowering female leaders from North Africa and the Middle East) and for the National Hispanic Corporate Council. Kimberly is a TEDx speaker and her new book, Brave Leadership:  Unleash Your Most Confident, Authentic, and Powerful Self to Get the Results You Need, (endorsed by Daniel Pink!)  will be released January 16, 2018.

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