Dec 15, 2021

Leading with Courage, with Kim Campbell

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Kim “KC” Campbell is a retired Air Force Colonel who served in the Air Force for 24 years as a fighter pilot and senior military leader. She has flown 1,800 hours in the A-10 Warthog, including more than 100 combat missions protecting troops on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2003, Kim was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for Heroism after successfully recovering her battle-damaged airplane after an intense close air support mission in Baghdad.

Kim is a distinguished graduate from the United States Air Force Academy. As a Marshall Scholar, she earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of London and a Master of Arts in International Security Studies from the University of Reading in England. Kim’s Air Force assignments include leadership roles as a Group Commander, responsible for over 1,000 Air Force personnel in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Kim also served as the Military Assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, advising the number three civilian official in the Department of Defense on national security and defense policy issues. She also served as the Air Force Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, a pre-eminent think tank promoting international leadership and engagement. During her time as a fellow, Kim participated in strategy sessions with ministers of defense, military leaders, and CEOs. Most recently, Kim served as the Director, Center for Character and Leadership Development at the Air Force Academy, responsible for the professional development of faculty and staff and reinforcing character and leadership programs within the 4,000-member Cadet Wing. Connect and learn more at

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • What you can learn about a fighter pilot mindset that can prepare you for what to do when things go wrong
  • Strategies you can use to normalize and work with your fears 
  • Why a 50/50 balance between work and life doesn’t typically work, and why that’s ok
  • How you can channel your anxiety and stress to help you make brave decisions and lead with courage
  • How Kim’s airplane being hit in Baghdad prepared her to face fears and make difficult decisions in life
  • How to build credibility, even when you are the only woman in the workplace
  • How to generate ideas with a culture of trust and connection with your colleagues


Additional resources:  

Show Transcription:

Intro: Welcome to A Brave New Podcast, the podcast all about how brave entrepreneurial companies are unlocking their business potential using inbound marketing. Here is your marketing expert and host, Polly Yakovich.

Polly Yakovich: Welcome back to A Brave New Podcast. I'm really excited to welcome to Kim Campbell to the podcast, today. We're going to have a little bit of a different conversation than we're used to having on this podcast. Kim isn't necessarily going to be imparting wisdom about B2B marketing tactics. She is a retired fighter pilot with a truly impressive background. I'm going to let her share more that, which includes being a recipient of the Air Force's highest medal for aerial flight, the Distinguished Flying Cross, amongst other accomplishments that I don't think anyone in our decade of life should be able to accomplish, but somehow Kim has done it.

Polly Yakovich: And I didn't invite Kim here to make us feel bad about we have, or haven't accomplished in our careers. But I want you to hear from Kim about some really exciting insights about leadership, about teamwork, about building a culture. I always find it so incredibly inspiring to hear from people in other fields and see what I can bring back to my own life and my own career. So, thank you so much for coming on today, Kim.

Kim Campbell: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Polly Yakovich: I even read in your bio that you have two master's degrees. I was like, "Where does this lady find the time?" I don't even understand how it's possible.

Kim Campbell: I found the time right after I graduated from the Air Force Academy.

Polly Yakovich: There you go.

Kim Campbell: And I was able to go directly to graduate school on a Marshall scholarship, and was able to get two degrees. One at the University of London and one at the University of Redding. So, it was really fun to do something different, broadened myself a little bit. I had done an engineering background at the Air Force Academy and decided to just try something a little bit different, and did international security studies, and then an MBA for the second year.

Polly Yakovich: That's crazy. And then tell us a little bit just about the rest of your background. You recently retired. But tell us about your career and what you're doing now.

Kim Campbell: I just retired from 24 years in the Air Force, which was exciting and I don't know, not quite terrifying, but it was something really new. I mean, this is all I had ever done for 24 years of my life is be in the Air Force. And I spent a lot of that time as a fighter pilot, but I also spent time as a commander and leader of teams. And I got the opportunity to command at the squadron and group level, which actually is really about 150 people in a squadron and about over a thousand people in a group. And so, I got the opportunity to really lead at these high levels.

Kim Campbell: And then I finished out my career as the director for the Center for Character and Leadership Development at the Air Force Academy, which was for me like coming full circle with life, just because I got the opportunity to give back where I started, an opportunity to mentor the next generation. But it was a great way to finish out my career. So, it was a wild ride, ups and downs, certainly, but I'm excited for the next chapter.

Polly Yakovich: That's incredible. What is the next chapter?

Kim Campbell: The next chapter for me is more about sharing my message and sharing some of the lessons I've learned. I've joined an incredible team called Victory Strategies, and they are a leadership development and assessment team, comprised of elite performers like Navy SEALs and fighter pilots, and entrepreneurs, and business executives, who are really passionate about leadership. And we give keynote speeches. We do leadership development programs. And it's just a great team to be a part of that is really committed to spreading some messages and things that we've learned throughout our years, either at military service or in business.

Polly Yakovich: I want to back up just a tiny bit. So, when I was looking at your bio and stuff, you talk a lot about a fighter pilot mindset.

Kim Campbell: Yes.

Polly Yakovich: Can you tell us a little bit what that means and what that is?

Kim Campbell: Yeah. I think there are a lot of things that go into it, but really one of the things that sticks out to me is fighter pilots have this drive to succeed and to perform well. But the truth is on every mission, you can't be perfect. You can't have that perfect mission, the perfect flight every time. And even though we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get it right, we've figured out a way to be successful by looking at incremental progress and having the ability to take those missions, where things don't so well, ideally in training, and to look at our mistakes and debrief them, and really to have that mindset where you're going to make mistakes, you're likely going to fail at some point. And so, then how do you learn from those? What is the cause of those mistakes? What would you do differently the next time? And then it's really about sharing those lessons, right? So, not just keeping it to yourself or in the small team, but then sharing those lessons with a bigger team.

Kim Campbell: So to me, it's a focus on continuous improvement. That's this desire to achieve and excel, and hit that high level of performance that is expected, but in a way that allows us to make mistakes, to try new things, to push ourselves, so that we can be competitive. Right? Yeah. I mean, and for the Air Force, that is very much what it's about to be competitive and in a very competitive and volatile environment. And so, it's figuring out how to do that and having that mindset that you're going to make mistakes. It's all about learning from them.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. How does that mindset help you when you're in the midst of the thing that's going wrong? Because I think that, for me, like if I'm in the midst of a marketing campaign that's going wrong, there are a lot less life or death kinds of things that are happening for you, if you're flying a plane and something's going wrong. But how does that mindset help you while the thing is going wrong?

Kim Campbell: I think the thing that I like to compare is this idea that we all face fears, whether it is fear for me in flying, doing a combat mission in Iraq or Afghanistan, there are fears that I face. And now that I am retired, there are still fears that I face, especially when things are not going well. And so, I think there's a couple of things. One it's being prepared to face those fears to set yourself up, so you know what to do in that moment, but then also just normalizing it, knowing that we're all going to face fears. We're all going to have these fears about different things, whether it's fear of failure or change, or the unknown. It's fear, and it's okay. It's admitting to yourself that it is okay to be scared. It's all about what you do in that moment that matters.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. I like what you say about normalizing it too, because it feels like when you know that you're going to expect something to go wrong or to be afraid, or whatever it is, then you feel, I guess a little more prepared, or maybe as you practice, it becomes a little bit easier.

Kim Campbell: Yeah. I agree with that completely. I think for me, I've realized that preparation and training, I don't know if I'd go so far to say that it's the antidote to fear, but it certainly helps you deal with it in the moment. I have discovered for me, the more I practice, prepare for something and plan for those contingencies, the better I feel about it. So for me, it's preparation, right? Doing your homework, doing the research about something, and then taking the time to practice.

Kim Campbell: In flying, we use a technique called chair flying, which is a visualization technique where we just think through critical steps, like we're sitting in the cockpit, but I've used that in my normal life as well. And just being able to visualize a stressful situation in advance and just thinking through how things might play out. And then I take it the next step and plan for contingencies, which for me is like, what are those potholes down the road? What are those things that could go wrong? And then what will I do in that moment?

Kim Campbell: And so, by following that plan of having preparation, and then practice, and then planning for contingencies, I find like I can face those difficult moments a lot easier and a lot better. And I'm not talking about flying now. I'm talking about preparing for a difficult briefing with my boss. I'm talking about having that hard conversation that I don't want to have, that I'm dreading. I just take the time to think through in advance. And it just, I don't know, it makes me feel better about it in the moment. And I feel more prepared to deal with it.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. I love that. I think that's a great strategy, especially for those of us who I think suffer from some level of anxiety. And after the pandemic, who's not suffering from some level of anxiety?

Kim Campbell: Exactly.

Polly Yakovich: It helps you give yourself, I think some power over this feeling. But actually, I like the way you put that, visualizing how it's going to go, coming up with some strategies. It gives you some of your power back and it helps you be less afraid, because it's like, "Well, if this happens, I'm going to do this. And then if this happens, I might be doing this instead."

Kim Campbell: Yeah. It just gives you an opportunity to think through it a little bit. I think the pandemic was a time, still is a time unfortunately, where we all feel a little bit overwhelmed. And so it's, how do you prepare yourself for those difficult things, those difficult moments? What can I do to calm myself?

Kim Campbell: I personally tend to overthink things way too much. I start feeling anxious or worried, or stressed about something, and I just have to take that step back and remind myself, "Okay, what is it that you're feeling anxious or worried about? And let's take five minutes and think through it. What is it that is causing that worry or fear and what can I do about it?". And the I just, one, I feel better, but then I feel like I'm better prepared in that moment.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. I like that. I so much love learning from other disciplines, other sort of like, I mean, just whole areas of life. What is the main thing that you would bring from your experience that you talk to business people about leadership? It's funny because when I think about things like the military and you talk about training, it's like training is so explicit and so disciplined, and so spelled out, and I know it's probably evolving and changing all the time. And then when you think about training for like a career in marketing, it's just a whole different thing. It's like more like the Wild West. Maybe you did get some good training and maybe you didn't. Maybe you just were skilled and thrown into leadership, things like that. What do you find that you're normally bringing back to business environments about leadership that really is resonating, or that maybe we just never learned because we're not "trained" in the same way as you might be about how to be a leader?

Kim Campbell: It's interesting. I think over the years, my leadership style and what I thought leadership was has changed, I think.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah, I bet.

Kim Campbell: When I first became a leader and commander, and this was for about 150 people, I had this view of what I should be as a leader and who I should be. And it wasn't the leader that I am now, because I think what I've learned over time is that for me, it's really been all about connection and connecting with people on a human level, and being true to who you are. I had this view of it like, here I am coming in as this combat proven fire pilot. I have this certain view of what I think a leader should be.

Kim Campbell: And it took my son, who was three at the time to really put it into perspective for me, because at my very first, we call it a change of command ceremony, which is the first time you take command of the squad. And it's a big formal ceremony. And my son instead of sitting in the front row, decided to come up on stage and sit with me. And he just came up and sat right in my lap. And as this is happening, I'm looking at my husband thinking, "You've got to do something." And my husband is thinking, "I'm not doing anything." Because he's going to have a meltdown in front of everybody. And you know, of course my three year old son, he doesn't care about any of it. He just pops right up on stage and hops right in my lap.

Polly Yakovich: "I'm going to sit with my mom."

Kim Campbell: Yeah. And it was like that moment of realizing that, let my team see me for who I am. I'm not perfect. I don't have all the answers. I have my own challenges. I certainly cannot control my three year old son. And it's just this realization that letting your team see you for who you are. And for me that was a mom, a wife, a fighter pilot, and the leader. And that level of connection at that human level was so critical for me in terms of connecting with my team and building this rapport and trust. And it broke down everything that I thought about what I thought this leader was, that I was going to be.

Polly Yakovich: That you have to look perfect. And have perfectly behaved children, sitting quietly through something.

Kim Campbell: Yeah.

Polly Yakovich: I wonder as you're telling that story is it feels so familiar. And there's a part of it I don't want to overly place this on things that it doesn't belong, but it feels like that's also a unique experience about being a woman in leadership, which is like, how authentic can I be to my full range of experiences in my life? Which is, I am a mother or I'm a wife, or I'm this, or I'm other things, and how much we feel like we have to put on other characteristics in leadership.

Kim Campbell: Yeah. I think so. I mean, I think it was pressure that I put on myself. I don't think it was pressure that anyone necessarily put on me. I have been one of the only women in most organizations I've been in. And when I walked into my fighter squadron on day one, keep in mind, this was 2001, I was one of 43 female fighter pilots in the entire Air Force, which was under 1%. And so, I put that pressure on myself.

Polly Yakovich: Can you put that in context, like 43 versus how many male?

Kim Campbell: So, at the time we had, we'll call roughly 3000 fighter pilots at the time.

Polly Yakovich: That's wild.

Kim Campbell: Yeah. And so, it was pressure that I put on myself to perform. And I think the thing is like, no matter who you are at an organization, when you walk in for the first time, you have to prove yourself. You have to prove that you're credible. It doesn't matter if you're male or female. And yet I put more pressure on myself, because and these are my words, I didn't want to ruin it for the women that followed me. It was like, I can't make a mistake. I can't fail. And then take that to 10 years later as a commander. I have this idea of this leader that I think I should be based on everything that I've seen.

Kim Campbell: And so, I put a lot of pressure on myself. And then for whatever it was with my son, the fact that a three year old can just put everything in perspective for you. And not that he said like mom, seriously, but just in his actions, he really reminded me of what's important. It's not about this perception of what I thought I should be. It was just about being me. And as a result, I connected with my team in a way that I wouldn't have been able to do before.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. I find it so interesting because for those of us who are type A achievers like we do, I think especially earlier in our career, really want to look and be perfect, but it is so hard to connect with perfect people. You know what I mean? That's something it's just this weird juxtaposition that doesn't actually make sense, but we still believe it. Like I should be perfect, but then who do I want to connect with? I want to connect with people who feel like me and feel like they struggle, and maybe put two wrong socks on that morning. Those are the people that I'm more drawn to.

Kim Campbell: Yeah. And as a leader, I'm not going to expect my team to be perfect. I mean, I know they're going to make mistakes. And I want to be understanding of those mistakes. So, why would I then put so much pressure on myself to be perfect, to get everything right.

Kim Campbell: And so, I think for me really, over the years, these are things that I've realized, probably learning the hard way. But to me, it comes down to what I like to refer to as leading with courage. And I don't mean big, bold, courage. I mean, just the courage to connect with people on a human level. Sometimes that's hard to be authentic and true to who you are, to have the courage to have those hard conversations, to make the tough decisions, to hold people accountable. I mean, to me, that all takes courage. And sometimes that's just small courage, small moments. But it makes a difference when you're leading teams to have the courage to do those tough things, even if the tough thing is connecting with people.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. We've talked a lot on the podcast and I've talked with other folks who, Nicole and Nicole's episode, Nicole Bianchi, about being brave and what a struggle that is for many leaders to act with bravery, and how important it is for leaders to be making... They're different than when you're a fighter jet, but there's still brave decisions being made in the workplace every day in the face of fear. How do you advise people to act bravely, to do things when you're scared, or when you're not sure of the outcome? What advice do you have for people who are struggling with some of those fears?

Kim Campbell: Yeah. I think, it's been interesting because for me, I had a very pivotal moment of facing fear in 2003 when my airplane was hit with a surface tear missile over Baghdad. And yes, that was an incredible amount of fear that I felt in that moment, but I had to do something if I wanted to survive. And yes, that was a big moment of fear that I felt and that I was able to overcome.

Kim Campbell: But I realized today, I still have these moments of fear. And sometimes they're immediate, where you have to do something, where you have to react so quickly, just because you don't have time. And then there is this type of fear to me, where you have a decision, and it last and drags on, and you overthink it. And then there's the fear of living with your decision and living with your choice.

Kim Campbell: And I felt all of those fears on that mission. And different parts of the mission from start to finish, I felt those fears. And I were realize today, I still feel them. And yes, it's not a life or death situation, or flying a fighter jet in combat, but it's still fear. And your body actually responds in the same way. I mean, when we feel stress or fear, our bodies have this stress response.

Kim Campbell: And I think for me, I've realized over time that sometimes we feel that response and we freak out about it. Sometimes for me, my heart starts racing or I'll get really tense, and I know that I'm feeling anxious or worried. But I've also learned that same feeling is that's our survival mechanism too. And so, I think it's just spinning the narrative a bit, knowing that when you start feeling that anxious worry or stress, that's actually what can help you to take action.

Polly Yakovich: Interesting.

Kim Campbell: And so, it's just a reminder of yourself to just do those small things, right? Just one small step. I love Nicole's work on small brave moves. I think it's fantastic. It's a great way to look at it. Instead of thinking about this big, massive thing that you need to do. It's just these small little steps. And if I can just prepare myself to have that tough conversation with somebody that I don't want to, but know I need to. And for me, it's all about the preparation that leads to that. Right? I can't do that just by giving myself a pep talk. I actually have to sit down and prepare, and go through those steps. But it's small things. I love the idea of small brave moves. It's the small things that matter. It doesn't have to be wrestling a fighter jet over Baghdad. I mean, ertainly that enlightened me to understanding what fear is and how to act in the face of fear, but I also think that preparation that got me there helps me today.

Polly Yakovich: One of the things I really like about that is I think sometimes I am over preparing and I'm thinking about the things that are down the road, and I'm not thinking about like the thing I like about her small brave moves, and what you're talking about with fear is just doing the next right thing. I don't have to worry about the 10 steps down the line right thing that I might have to think about next week, but I can just think about like, if I know to do the next right thing, I can prepare and be brave, and do that thing. And then also let the path unfold, because I can't actually predict what 10 steps from now is going to look like. I just can do the next right thing.

Kim Campbell: Yeah. I think we have the saying in aviation and it's to help us in stressful moments deal with an emergency or something going wrong, and it's aviate, navigate, communicate. And the idea is aviate, right? Fly the airplane first. And then navigate, figure out where you need to go. And communicate, let people know if you need help, explore and explain the problem.

Kim Campbell: And I love this going through the pandemic, because as I've felt overwhelmed and as I feel sometimes overwhelmed in leadership, if we're facing a crisis or a large set of problems, I go back to that like, what is most important? I need to aviate right. What do I need to do right now in this moment? What is my critical priority that I have to keep doing that I can't stop doing, or I'm going to fail? And let's focus on. That and then navigate, okay, where do I need to go next? What's that path I can take to help me get there? Are there risks? Are there threats? But where do I need to go? And then communicate, which I feel like right now is more important.

Kim Campbell: It's more important in a crisis than ever is, to communicate with people, whether it's your team to let them know the way forward and what's going on, or it's communicating with leadership to let people know that you need help. But it's one of those things that really helped me focus in the airplane, but it's helped me focus in a crisis as well. And just focusing on what is most important, what is the small thing that you can focus on and do right now? And those other 10 things that you're worried about, let them go for a minute, and just focus on that one thing, that one change that you can make.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. And not to leave people hanging, because it is a really dramatic story that we just like casually like, "Oh yeah, when my plane got shot over Baghdad." Can you give people the ending to that story or a little bit more about that story?

Kim Campbell: Yeah. When I talk about the fear that I felt on that mission certainly was the immediate fear when my airplane was hit. At the time that my airplane was hit, the missile that hit my airplane damaged it enough that I lost control of the aircraft and had to go into a backup emergency system. And so, that was the immediate fear in having to take action. It was either take action and go into our backup system or jack over Baghdad, which wasn't an option that I wanted. And once I got the airplane under control, then I had to make a decision about trying to get the airplane back to friendly territory, and ejecting or attempting to land the airplane. And that decision was probably the most difficult decision I've ever had to make because I feel like there was potential for it to be the difference between life and death.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. Did you have a second to make that decision?

Kim Campbell: I had an hour. So, it was almost too much time, from flying from Baghdad back to our base was an hour. And so, I had an hour to think about the pros and cons, the consequences, what could go wrong, what might go wrong? And it was plenty of time to think about what could happen. And really again, in that moment, focusing on what was most important, what was most critical, which was flying the airplane and figuring out how to get it home. But the decision to land, which is what I ultimately chose was a difficult one. And it was one that I thought through for an entire hour. But once I made the decision, I felt confident. And then there was that fear of like, "Did I make the right choice? How is this going to turn out? Am I going to crush? Am I going to survive?" These are things that I didn't know.

Kim Campbell: And so, coming into land, it was terrifying to be honest, just in terms of knowing that the potential of crashing was not great, but landing the airplane and getting it on the ground, and knowing that I had worked so hard to get to that moment, to be prepared, to deal with all of that, and then put the airplane on the ground was just a relief. Is like a total understatement.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah, absolutely.

Kim Campbell: But being able to land the airplane successfully was just a culmination of all the things that had come together in that really hour of flight time.

Polly Yakovich: That's wild. Is that what you won your award for?

Kim Campbell: Yes. I was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for that mission for supporting our troops on the ground over Baghdad, out and then recovering what became a heavily damaged airplane and an airplane that unfortunately never flew again.

Polly Yakovich: Oh interesting.

Kim Campbell: Yeah.

Polly Yakovich: Very interesting. That is a very intense story. I think it's really, it's nice because I think sometimes when you hear about these stories of intense moments for people, for me, at least it helps put things in perspective for like, I'm not facing those same decisions, but I can draw from the strength and bravery of someone like you in that moment to be like, "Okay. Well, if she did that, I'm pretty sure I can decide what direction X, Y, Z should be going for my business. Things like that. So, thank you for sharing that. That story is moving every time I've heard it. Oh, go ahead please.

Kim Campbell: I was going to say, I definitely put life into perspective for me. I mean, it was a defining moment in my life. And it really showed me what I was capable of doing in the face of fear, that I could take action. I could be decisive. And I could prepare myself for those difficult moments. And so, you're right, now in life, when I face difficult moments, I revert back to, "Okay. I'm feeling anxious or stressed, or worried right now, how did I get through that situation in Baghdad and what are those lessons that I can pull from it to prepare myself for this thing that I am fearful about right now, this thing that I'm worried about? And so, I just try to draw from the positives and the strength from making it through that.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. As an aside, if you ever get to hear Kim speak or you see a video of her speaking somewhere, sometimes in one speech, she does like a little bit of a walkthrough of what that moment is like in her speech. And it's incredibly moving. So, I encourage you to check that out. We'll link to some places that you can connect with Kim in the show notes.

Polly Yakovich: I did want to talk to you a little bit, I wanted to press on this subject a little bit about being a woman in a typically male dominated career. I think for me, even as a marketer coming up, all of my mentors were men. When you look around the marketing world and you talk about marketing leaders, and I don't want to leave women out, who certainly are appearing on that list, but really off the top of your head, if any person in marketing is going to need like, "Oh, these are the top five people." They're still men.

Polly Yakovich: And so, I just have a real passion for bringing women along and promoting women, and creating a workplace that is more friendly to the balance that I think women usually have to strike more than men. And so, I'm saying all of this quickly, so I'm not saying it in as nuanced of a way as it may be, but what advice do you give women? Or what advice do you have for women that are, like you said, trying to make their mark and be brilliant in careers, and also have other aspects of life that typically have left them behind in moving up in workplaces? What kinds of things do you find yourself talking to women about?

Kim Campbell: I think for me, having been around environments where I've been many times the only female is one being credible. And I think having credibility and being good at what you do is really important. I think when I went into that fighter squadron, like I said, I was very nervous. I wanted to perform and I did. I mean, I worked really hard to do that, and to be able to perform and to do it well. And in combat, really set the example in terms of, letting the guys know in my squadron that I was part of the team, that I could do the hard work. Part of that also is working hard and showing that you work hard, and then having a good attitude, being receptive to feedback and open to different ideas.

Kim Campbell: As I say that advice, I would give that same advice to any young person going into a new career field or a new environment. So, I don't know that's specific to women, but having credibility was probably the number one thing for me.

Kim Campbell: The other thing I would say that I talk to women about, because I understand that women sometimes put more pressure on themselves from the work-life balance perspective and trying to deal with all of that. And one of the things that I've realized over the years, having put a ton of pressure on myself, trying to raise two kids and have a career. And at one point my husband was deployed to Afghanistan for a year while I was trying to do all of this.

Polly Yakovich: Oh my gosh.

Kim Campbell: I realized I wasn't doing any of it very well. And I was just putting so much pressure on myself to have this like 50/50 balance every day. And what I realized is that it just wasn't possible, at least for me. And I stopped putting so much pressure on myself. And I realized that there were going to be days where work was going to be much higher and I was going to spend more time at work, and I wasn't going to be able to bounce out the family piece. And then if I could, maybe towards the end of the week, I would try to leave work a little early and have that family piece rise higher and spend more time with my kids.

Kim Campbell: And so, when I think of the word balance, I try not to think of it in the terms of an everyday, 50/50 balance, family and work has to be every day 50/50, because it just wasn't possible. And so, I looked at it more of a long term view. Maybe it was a week, maybe it was a month. There were times where I was deployed and I would be gone for six months. And now I'm just looking at the year, "Can I bounce this out long term? Can I spend more time with my family?" And so, I think part of it is just not putting so much pressure on ourselves, like we think it has to be this 50/50 balance every day.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. I really like people who are relabeling that balance. Right? Because it's like, it's more about juggling, I think. And something is going to drop. And hopefully, that thing that drops is like rotated a bit.

Kim Campbell: Yeah, exactly.

Polly Yakovich: Because sometimes work is going to take more, and then sometimes your family is going to take more. And I think leveling it out over time, knowing that you can't do it all is part of the message.

Kim Campbell: Yeah. I was reading an article this morning talking about, if you're going to say yes to something, you're likely going to have to say no to something as well. And so, you just need to be comfortable with what you're saying no to. And I like the idea that it needs to bounce out over time. It doesn't have to bounce out every day, today. And it's not going to be perfect and nor are we going to be perfect. And so, putting less pressure on ourselves. And then I think the leaders of organizations to set the example.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. I also think too about, and this is probably different in your environment than mine, but also like workplace flexibility for people. And this could be women, this could be single parents, this could be people with all sorts of other kinds of family obligations, just being more flexible and not defining success at work based on things that you have no control over, and allowing for different kinds of families and different kinds of opportunities. Because we're leaving people out of the workforce just by defining like, "Oh, you have the financial ability to be sitting in your seat, 12 hours a day, therefore you succeed." You know what I mean?

Kim Campbell: Yeah. I think the pandemic, if I pull something good from it, it's everybody being a little bit more understanding that everybody's life at home is different. Everybody's stressors are different. And so, it's just giving a little bit of grace and being understanding, and figuring out how we can work within those constraints. And everybody's situation is going to be a little bit different. It's just being understanding to that.

Polly Yakovich: I also like the piece you said about credibility too, because you do have to earn it to some degree. And you have to earn the ability to kind of create a different situation for yourself or to define your role if you want to do things in a different way.

Kim Campbell: Yeah. I think it's credibility coming in. And then it's also credibility about once you're there, how do you perform, what do you do in those moments? How do you engage with people? I think as a leader, anytime you come in new to an organization as well, there's going to be a judgment, right? They're looking to see how you lead, how you perform. And so, I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do well, but there is going to be that bit of credibility coming into an organization, having to prove yourself.

Polly Yakovich: Absolutely. I want to talk about one thing before I let you go. And that is to talk a little bit about teamwork. Obviously, you come from an environment where you really rely on your team members.

Kim Campbell: Yeah.

Polly Yakovich: And so, I'd love to learn what we can learn from you about, what are some characteristics of high performing teams? What happens when we go off on our own and don't operate at as a team? What are some of those risks?

Kim Campbell: I think the best teams that I have been on are surrounded by trust, that there is an environment of trust with a team. And I don't think that's easily earned. I think it's something though that makes all the difference, because when you're on a team that trusts each other, then people are willing to try different things. They're willing to expand outside of their comfort zone because there's this environment of trust. And so, they don't feel like they're going to be blamed or ashamed for making a mistake or failing. It's more of this mutual support of, "We're going to support each other. We're going to get through hard times together. We're going to have each other's backs. We're going to support new ideas. We're going to support mistakes. And that we're going to learn from them and not critique from them."

Kim Campbell: And so to me, it really all comes down to trust. The best teams I've been on, have a really trusting relationship and environment.

Kim Campbell: I think about very first unit when I deployed to Iraq, and the trust that we had amongst each other to go out and do really hard things. And know that we might not all come home. And that camaraderie, that trust, that we had to put in each other was absolutely critical for our mission.

Kim Campbell: And then I look today about these teams that I have been a part of, yes, it's not that combat environment anymore, but it's still trusting in each other, trust in that the person that's next to you has the expertise to do their job, that you value their expertise. And so, it really is centered around this idea of trust.

Polly Yakovich: How do you suggest then for people, let's say in the business environment, how do you build that culture of trust? Are there any pieces of advice you would give about how teams can-

Kim Campbell: I think it starts with a leader. I think the leader is really the key piece, and the example to that. In one of my command jobs, I went into a unit that was very different than my background. As we talked about it, I have flown airplanes for 20 years. And part of my team was civil engineers. And so, they built things. They are an amazing group of people, but I didn't know a lot about them. And they didn't know a lot about me. And trying to build that trust with them was really important.

Kim Campbell: And so, when I went to visit them, they asked if I wanted to drive a front loader, which is like a tractor with a bucket on the front. It's way outside of my area of expertise. I didn't know what I was doing. And there was this part of me with this like, "I don't really want to do something stupid in front of my team." This a little bit of ego, if you will. And my young airman looked at me and was like, "So, ma'am, do you want to give it a try?" And how do you say no? Right. You got to put yourself out there and get outside your comfort zone.

Kim Campbell: And so, I hopped in the front loader and I had the youngest person on the team, teaching me how to drive the front loader. And it was, I think just that little bit of getting outside your comfort zone, walking around, getting to know your people, finding out what they do and what they contribute to the organization, I think goes a long way. Can we all drive a front loader? No, but you can get out and walk around and let people teach you what they do. And I feel like that goes a long way to building trust.

Polly Yakovich: And I feel like we came full circle to the connection piece we talked about, originally. It's so interesting that connection sounds like it's this foundational component for bravery and leadership, and building a culture of trust in which your team can be successful.

Kim Campbell: I absolutely agree. I think connection is really the foundation. I think it's being willing to put yourself about there a little bit and being able to connect with your team, and letting them see you for who you are.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. When I think of connection, I also think about like listening more than you're speaking as well.

Kim Campbell: Yeah. One of the things I love to do is just get out and walk around, and talk to my team members. And I love to hear what they have to say. And a lot of that times is asking them questions and letting them respond before you offer your own ideas and assessments of a situation. And I think when we do that, when we listen, we sometimes get some of the best and most creative ideas that come forward because the lower levels of an organization often are closest to the problems and have these really creative ideas of how to get things done. And so, I think just listening to them and creating that connection where they're not afraid to bring those ideas out, but listening and giving them the opportunity to speak and bring their ideas to the table, I think is really critical to helping generate new ideas, new ways of doing things in an organization, so that you don't end up in this kind of status quo where that's the way we've always done it.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. I love that. I think one of the big, big lesson in my career that I can't learn, so I keep having to learn it, is creating an environment where people are bringing solutions and not just the problem. And creating the space for people to have those creative ideas and bringing solutions. And maybe you're helping decide between one of a couple options, but not always being the person in the room being like, "Oh, this is how we're going to solve this problem."

Kim Campbell: Yeah. And the other thing that I try to do when I talk about bringing solutions like that is, it doesn't have to be a hundred percent. I don't need you to have thought through everything, but if you've got an 80% solution, then maybe we can all get there or to a hundred.

Polly Yakovich: I love that.

Kim Campbell: That bringing a solution and not just a problem, I think is really key, think through it a little bit. Do that preparation, so that when you come to the table, you're confident and you've thought through it.

Polly Yakovich: I love it.

Kim Campbell: But it doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't have to be perfect.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. I love it. And I think for sometimes those of us as leaders who have a lot of creative solutions, shutting up is hard to do, but a really important part of the process.

Kim Campbell: Yes, absolutely.

Polly Yakovich: So, I have loved our conversation. I hope everyone who's listening has found some inspiration and what Kim had to share. I ask everyone at the end of my podcast this question, and I would love to hear from you, who feels like you have like 700 superpowers, but what is your superpower? What would you say is the superpower that makes you uniquely gifted and able to do what you do?

Kim Campbell: That's such a hard question. I think maybe I'll answer it in what I hope my superpower is for the people that I've worked with and that I've worked for, and that I've led. I think I have an ability to connect with people. I think there is this idea that I am this combat proven fighter pilot and that I do have all the answers, that things always go my way. And that's not the truth. Right? The truth is I'm a pretty normal person. I have my own struggles. I have my own fears. And what I love to be able to do is just connect with people, and to share that, yes, I've done some incredible challenging things in combat, but I'm still a normal person. And we all have these fears. We all have insecurities or things that we're worried about. And so, being able to connect with people and share that we are more alike than you think, that we all go through these things together. And so, the ability to connect with people and share that message.

Kim Campbell: My whole drive and goal is that I've learned these amazing things through some really difficult and challenging situations. I want other people to learn from them. I think it's so important that we share stories, we share experiences. Because I look back and I think of all the stories that people have connected with me and shared with me, and it's made me better. And so, as sometimes as hard and as vulnerable as it feels to share those stories and to share those love, I think in the end, it's the whole goal is that we make other people better.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. I love that. Thank you so much. Thank you for coming on and chatting with me today.

Kim Campbell: Yeah, absolutely. It was fun to reconnect.

Polly Yakovich: Where can people find you, follow you, book you to speak. I know you do speaking. What are your details? And we'll also link them in the show notes.

Kim Campbell: Yeah, absolutely. You can find me on LinkedIn, Kim KC Campbell. You can find me on Twitter at KC Hog 987. Hog is the name of my airplane. 987 is the tail number that I flew on April seven, back in 2003. And then you can find me on my website at And then if you're looking for any information on leadership development programs, you can find me at Victory Strategies as well.

Polly Yakovich: Great. We'll link all of those. Thank you so much. Any final thoughts?

Kim Campbell: No, thanks for having me. This was a lot of fun. And it was fun to reconnect after not seeing each other since our public speaking days.

Outro: Thanks for listening to this episode of A Brave New Podcast. Go to for more resources and advice. If you enjoyed this episode, show us some love by subscribing, rating and reviewing A Brave New Podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Polly Yakovich

Polly Yakovich



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