Sep 01, 2021

Bravery and Empowering Women in Leadership, with Nicole Bianchi

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Nicole M. Bianchi is a founding partner at Bravium HD, where she is an accomplished speaker, author, and coach. She designs and facilitates transformational workshops in leadership, team alignment, and culture-building. Before Bravium, she was human resources and organizational development executive, leading transformation within Conagra Brands and Markel Insurance.

Her passion? Inspiring Bravery. Her focus? Enabling leaders to stretch into their bravest selves.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • What key lessons and magic moments Nicole experienced over her career, and why creating transformation has been a key part of her journey
  • Why Nicole attributes her success to surrounding herself with people who believed in her, and why mentorship is vital in dealing with Imposter Syndrome
  • How mentors and sponsors differ, and why mentors and sponsors are crucial for helping empower women in business leadership positions
  • Why the global pandemic was the right time for Nicole to write "Small Brave Moves", and why the book's message is especially applicable through the challenges we're facing
  • Why bravery isn't just about big, dramatic moments but also about the "small brave moves" we make every day, and what benefits being brave offers to business leaders
  • Nicole shares a story of having a piece of lettuce stuck in her braces through an important lunch meeting and how it led to a powerful conversation and a strong leadership relationship
  • What steps you can take to build a habit for making small brave moves and creating a personal mindset that allows you to meet each moment as it comes


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 so excited to have the powerhouse Nicole Bianchi with me today and pick her brain about all things leadership. Nicole is the recent author, I'm holding it in my hand, of the book Small Brave Moves, which everyone is going to want to go and get after they listen to this episode, and she's also the founding partner at Bravium HD, which she is going to share much more about with us. So welcome, Nicole.

Nicole Bianchi: Thank you so much, Polly, for having me. I am really excited to have a conversation about bravery with you today.

Polly Yakovich: So tell us a little bit about your story. You are an entrepreneur, you're a recent author. Tell us a little bit about your career path and just how it's unfolded. I always like to hear how that's happened, and I think everyone in my audience does as well, as entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Nicole Bianchi: Yeah. So I won't spend a lot of time on the early, early days, but I did work 16 years inside of two companies. The first one, I'll tell you, I had the most incredible internship journey that I don't think many students are afforded nowadays. As an HR leader, an intern, I was hiring, I was firing, I was building the first employee handbook, the very first affirmative action plan. I mean, they had nothing. So that experience just launched me into holding very transformational roles inside of a Fortune 200 company, as well as a Fortune 500 company, and just amazing opportunities. So for about 16 years, and then really took a step back after that point to say, "What do I want to do in that next step?" 

And I fulfilled a lifelong dream, and something I had talked about for quite a while, and started my very own consulting business, and ran that for about three or four years, focusing primarily on leadership development and coaching. And then brought on a business partner who had such great strengths and strategy and innovation, Jeff Shannon, and we were able to build something much more and take our strengths and complement them together and built some amazing products and worked with some incredible clients. And here we are, it's year 10. Don't do the math for all of the numbers I'm [crosstalk].

Polly Yakovich: Congratulations.

Nicole Bianchi: That'll show my age. But yeah, it's been an incredible journey and experience, and I've just loved every moment of it.

Polly Yakovich: That's incredible. We're going to get more into about your career journey, and your book, and the topics of your book, but I really like to ask people what lessons stand out to you the most about your career journey? What were some of those magic moments that you showed up for?

Nicole Bianchi: Yeah. I'll tell you, I was always the one that was seeking the really challenging, and I mentioned transformational awhile back. And those were the biggest opportunities, and really the transformational moments for me in my leadership journey when I look back. As I shared, as an intern, being able to hire and fire people as an intern is just unheard of, and I was always put in roles probably a few years before I was actually ready for them. But with the support, growth was going to run parallel alongside of that, so any opportunity I got...

So when I think about a magic moment, I actually talk about this moment in my book, one of the pivotal moments was when I was tapped on the shoulder to go negotiate the largest union contract for Conagra Brands, and it was a complex union contract between the UFCW and the Teamsters who hated each other. And then here we are, coming in, and we had one mission, which was to break up a contract that Jimmy Hoffa himself had put together. So it was this legacy contract. We were told by the union it'll never happen. We wanted to spin off some of the plants, so we didn't want to get into a co-employer situation, and it took us 10 months morning and night to pull it off and to effectively break this Jimmy Hoffa contract.

And when I think about growth, it was 10 months, but it felt like it was five years of growth. It just helped me learn so much, and how to build relationships, drive change, influence, getting people who hate each other aligned and marching in the right direction. And I was able to take that experience and apply it in subsequent roles. So that's one that just I'm so proud of, and one that I just think a lot of. So it was a great opportunity.

Polly Yakovich: Obviously, your book is about bravery, your company name is Brave, our company name is A Brave New. I think that you and I felt a kinship right away. How does bravery build throughout your career? How has that been a theme for you in these magic moments, and how you've showed up for them, and as you've thought about what's next, or starting your own company? How did that develop for you?

Nicole Bianchi: So I'll tell you, I realized that early on I was making bravery out to be such a big thing, and that if I were to take just one small move, I would tell myself, "What would that be, and what could that look like?" And that really helped me make moves that I probably otherwise wouldn't have. I mean, how intimidating is it to go in and negotiate? I had limited skills at this point. I was the right hand of the chief negotiator, but I had to get in there and work with people who had 25, 30 years of deep union experience, and build relationships, and build credibility, and take a deep breath walking in. I think I mentioned at one point in the book that the Teamster Union guy just looked at me and was flicking ashes in my drink, in my glass of water, in this conference room. It was the most bizarre thing.

Polly Yakovich: It's so like Mad Men. Feels like it's 50 years ago.

Nicole Bianchi: Oh, it is. And you're just sitting here going, "Okay," and I literally would ask myself, "Okay. What's the bravest thing you can do right now, Nicole? What do you need to do not just for your learning and growth, but what would best serve the people, what's going to best serve the business, what's going to best..." And that enabled so many small brave moves to happen for me. So it feels a little like I'm sharing self-coaching, but that's a lot of what it was, self-coaching. Just say, "Okay. This is the opportunity. It's about choice." So you can walk away from that opportunity and go, "Well, I'm not going to do this," or you could figure out how to instill the change that needs to happen, regardless of things I just can't control.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. Where do you think... Because I think for those of us who are entrepreneurs, are leaders, I think many of us... As you say in your book, it is about the small brave moves. It's not about the big heroic things, but where does that boldness come from for you, I think? Where did it come from for you to be coaching yourself through, like okay, do this one next thing? Is that a confidence? How do you get there? Where does that come from?

Nicole Bianchi: I think it goes back to surrounding myself with people who believed in me. So I have been so intentional about in those moments being able to, whether it's self-coaching or picking up the phone and calling somebody who would have a very neutral and objective perspective, and be able to pull out what I was feeling, what I was thinking, what I thought I needed to do. So early on in my career, I know having the right mentors, sponsors, and leaders, being surrounded by them, that would help me work through some of that from a maturity standpoint, especially even early, that I would find myself taking the questions they would ask me and asking myself when one of them may not be available, and working through that. I've been told I'm a very coachable person, and I do believe that, that I-

Polly Yakovich: Huh. That's a great quality.

Nicole Bianchi: Yeah. I listen, I learn, and I take those beautiful things that people do for me and with me, and figure out how I can apply them in my leadership as well.

Polly Yakovich: Two things that you said really stand out to me, and they're the beginning of your book, too. You talk about fears, and one of the fears you talk about is imposter syndrome. And I think one of the tools you just described in the book and just now is such a really good tool for overcoming imposter syndrome. I want to talk about this because I think we all face it, but one of my personal passions is obviously talking about women in leadership and how we can empower women that are coming up underneath us as well. 

And I think imposter syndrome, everyone can face it, but women face it, I think, to a higher degree. And one of the things you talked about is getting neutral third-party feedback. Imposter syndrome is all about what you're telling yourself that may not actually be true. And I think another thing you said, mentorship, is so important too. Learning how to train yourself to ask those questions, get that third-party feedback, be able to give it to yourself and look at like I'm telling myself this story, but what would my mentor or somebody outside of myself say if they were talking to me in this moment?

Nicole Bianchi: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely. So what's interesting about imposter syndrome is research shows it actually impacts men and women equally.

Polly Yakovich: Oh. Interesting. That's good to know.

Nicole Bianchi: So we're both dealing with it, but how we handle it is different. That's what's key. And when I think about women leaders I specifically coach, the stories that they tell themselves when it comes to building out their network with mentors, sponsors, allies, is that person is probably too busy, or they have too much on... They see from afar how busy they are, they have too much on their plate. Why would they want to invest time in me? Those are not the same stories that men tell themselves with imposter syndrome. So for females... And when I think about... So really, getting them their first small brave move, is making the connection and making the ask. That's it. And getting them comfortable and seeing that. 

In fact, I was just coaching a young female leader that was looking for an executive sponsor within her company. So we worked through a couple coaching sessions, we identified who should be that person, and how she was going to make the ask. And when she came back, she was like, "They said one, they were super excited. They were thrilled that they were asked, and they said, 'I'll make time on my calendar this week for us to connect over coffee to begin down this path.'" So all the stories that this lady told themselves, none of them were true. Zero. And she was just like... The confidence that you just saw being built by making this one simple ask, and the person saying yes.

Now I know not everybody's going to say yes, but usually there's good reasons why they can't. And when I think about mentors and surrounding ourselves with those individuals, mentors are so important because they impart wisdom on us. They share their expertise, and that can be so helpful throughout our leadership journey, because it is a journey. Sponsors... This is what's interesting, and I find that female leaders, women leaders, do a better job of asking for mentors but not sponsors. 

Here's what's different. Sponsors have the power. They are the ones that can invest political capital into you, and they're the ones in the room kind of banging on the table going, "No, no, no," and speaking up for you and advocating for you, and helping you land assignments which can be mission critical ones. So that's where I think the miss is, is okay, mentors... Yep. Build out your network, have some mentors. But who can sponsor you and really help you get your voice out there and be seen by others as well?

Polly Yakovich: This is really interesting. I've wondered about this a long time, because I do get a lot of young women who ask me for my time. And I have this personal rule where I always say yes, but they have to take the next step to follow up with me. If I've run into someone somewhere, or we're talking and I say, "Email me," and then they never follow through. And I've always wondered about that, because I'm like, "I am happy to give my time." People have generously given me their time, and I always want to pay that forward. But people don't follow through. So it's really interesting to hear you say that and to unpack some of the deeper issues. What would your advice be for someone like me then? Be more specific?

Nicole Bianchi: Yeah. It could be. That's interesting. So what's coming up for me right now is, I'm wondering is, what's going through their head around the lack of follow up. Similarly, I will get a lot through LinkedIn messages, and it's hard for me with email and LinkedIn messages to stay on top, and actually stay on top of both. So in the LinkedIn messages, I will tell them, "Email me specifically what you need and what you're looking for at this email address." 

And if they follow through and come through that email, similar to you, then I will absolutely take action, whether it's setting them up meetingly, or sharing a resource, or a bit of time. But I often wonder sometimes if it could be imposter syndrome or stories they're telling themselves. But if you said yes, then you can't take action for them, so that's challenging. And it's disappointing, because you're like, "Absolutely." Yeah. It's interesting. I'm talking in circles on this one, because I'm not quite sure what the challenge is, but I applaud you saying yes, and saying, "Reach out to me." That's the first thing. And hopefully it's not a missed opportunity for them.

Polly Yakovich: We're getting to this issue that I like to talk about, which is empowering women into leadership roles. We talk about some of the challenges particularly facing women still in leadership. I look around at marketing leaders, and the top five that come to mind are all still men, maybe 10. So in every industry, it feels like we're still not quite there. Can you talk about how you feel as a woman in leadership, and how we can create more opportunities for other women? How do we do this? How do we get enough seats at the table for everyone?

Nicole Bianchi: I think it's all about support and actively... Not just women supporting women, but men supporting women as well. And that's where I go back to the mentorship and the sponsorship, and women leaders not feeling like they have to have it all right and all put together. It's almost as if they view it as a sign of weakness, connecting with a mentor a sponsor. It's like, "No, no, no." You can be thriving and doing amazing things. This is to take it to that absolute next level and to help grow you. I think that's something we have to be so intentional about nurturing, and showing up for each other. I will say anytime a women leader has offered advice or some kind of support, I've always latched onto it. And I hope, similar to what you said earlier, I'm doing it with others as well. 

But I think we have to just... I do a network evaluation once a year where I look at my network. And I'm talking about my inner circle, my next circle, and then that third circle, because your circle, I talk a lot about this around your circle, your circle kind of defines who you are. So am I getting enough diversity of thought in there? Am I getting enough opposing views, or people that will be like, "Nicole, you're not showing up at your best." Okay. Well, what does looking my best look like, then? 

And that will give me that feedback, but also some people that will just be in there just to cheer me on, especially on those days where we're not having a great day, or thought leaders that I can bounce ideas or concepts off of. And I think, especially within our circle/network, there are going to be people that come in for a period of time and move on, and there will be people that stay there throughout our journey. And that's okay to have a little bit of both. But we have to be so intentional about that and making sure that we're curating that right circle.

Polly Yakovich: I love that exercise or idea. I don't think that I'm very intentional about it at all. It's sort of like, "Oh, you've been here a while, I guess you're in my circle." So I think that that's a really helpful exercise. That's something I'm going to explore.

Nicole Bianchi: Okay. Awesome. I love it. And I'll tell you, Polly, just... What most people don't know, we just met, gosh, a few weeks ago. I remember when we connected and were able to share ideas and thoughts. In my mind, it was, "Okay. This is one I'm going to nurture and I'm going to grow. I'm not sure quite what that's going to look like, but it's somebody I definitely want in, because I know having these kind of conversations with Polly's going to make me grow as a leader as well."

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. And I really worry. I encourage women, I really worry about the effects of this pandemic, and as egalitarian as we hope things are becoming at home, women really have borne the brunt of a lot of needs during the pandemic. So I do worry about women, and also want to create space for women who had to step back. But also want to say, "How can we, as women leaders, make it easier, and helpful, and lend our hand to women who had to step back, or are struggling to step forward?" It's a passion of mine. So for women who were dealing with kids in school at home, and not to say men weren't dealing with that as well, but the stats show that women dealt with that much more, maybe had to step back at work, really looking for how can we encourage other women?

And like you were saying, when we met just a few weeks ago, you do get these connections that you're like, "Oh. This is somebody special, and we have a special connection. So how can I push in further?" I think you and I are old enough that we're like, "Oh. Life is short. Let's push in further." But I really want to encourage people who maybe aren't as wild as we are, and maybe haven't been making some braver, bolder moves, to do that, to feel free to ask, to feel free to step in, to feel free to ask things of other people.

Nicole Bianchi: And even just to ask for advice, so something so simple. I'm actually coaching, she's a dean of college of business at a college, and she was talking about the volume of time she's spending at work between the virtual and live learning, certainly at the collegiate level, and then with grown children and things like that. So we had a powerful conversation around what would it look like to put yourself first in some of those situations, and then how do you use your network to fill in some of the gaps? 

So women sometimes struggle with, "Okay. Can I outsource cleaning my house? Can I outsource somebody running errands for me? What can I outsource? What do I need to do? Where is the highest impact I can spend my time, and what can I outsource, and is that okay," also looking for permission. It's okay to outsource some of those things. And those are things I'm looking at all the time for my life as well. And in an attempt to keep things juggling at the level that I want them to, and where I want to spend my attention and time. And I think that's something we have to be so mindful of for us to be at our very, very best.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. Absolutely. Talk a little bit about the book. When were you like, "Hey. It's a pandemic. I think I'm going to write a book." Were you coalescing things that you'd been thinking about, and writing, and talking about for a long time?

Nicole Bianchi: Yeah. So what's crazy is the timing of this could not have worked out any better for me. And I do believe when you put the intention out in the world, somehow it shapes it in the way, and it serves it to you in a way, that you're able to accomplish it. I do believe that. So at the end of 2019, I had been talking about writing a book for a year or two, maybe even a little bit longer than that. And I told myself as I was writing my vision board for what I really wanted to be intentional about 2020 and doing, I wrote on there write the damn book. Just write it. And I told myself if I cannot write this book at the end of 2020, I have to bless and release it. I have to be done talking about it. It's just one of those goals where I've talked about it enough, it's move on it or not.

So I started interviewing publishers in early 2020, and it was probably right about the time the pandemic hit, in March, where I'd landed on a partner, the Creator's Institute, and New Degree Press, that I just knew in my heart was the right partner for me. And simultaneously, the pandemic begins to unfold, which impacted our business pretty significantly for a period of time, as businesses were having to stop all live sessions, make big decisions around their business and their employees, and whether or not they were going to continue to develop them or focus on the strategy. So really, at the beginning of the book writing process, our business was cut in at least by 50%, which created the space just in time for me to roll up my sleeves and begin the hard work of writing a book, and pouring your heart into something like that.

So it took about three months for our business to start beginning to uptick back with more virtual sessions, or hybrid. And by that time, I was well on my way and in a really good habit and routine of the work that needed to be done. So again, I think the timing, although you're like, "Gosh, who writes a book in the middle of a pandemic?" Well, it worked out great. And I was able to be really creative about implementing different things, like my Being Brave series. I wasn't doing that at all pre-pandemic. And as I was listening to people take a stand on LinkedIn about what they thought about the pandemic, I realized that a lot of them were very self-serving. So what I wanted to get was leaders' voices who aren't typically on LinkedIn, especially video content, and getting their voice out there around what's helping them be brave right now?

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. What a perfect time for a perfect topic.

Nicole Bianchi: I underestimated how it's [crosstalk].

Polly Yakovich: It's kismet.

Nicole Bianchi: Yeah. How inspiring it would be and the content it would create for the book to happen just a few months later. So everything just came together so beautifully, and it was a great opportunity.

Polly Yakovich: It was meant to be.

Nicole Bianchi: Yes. Definitely.

Polly Yakovich: If we think about this idea of bravery, and the book is Small Brave Moves, so when you release this idea of the big, heroic, brave, run-into-a-burning-building acts, what do you think are the main things that keep leaders back from being brave? Why don't we make small brave moves? Why do we face something and then stay safe?

Nicole Bianchi: I believe we build up bravery to be something like you talk about, like you just shared, the big brave moves, the heroic. In fact, I opened the book with the Todd Beamer Flight United 93 story, and that moment. And not all of those moments are going to ever happen for all of us. So I had that in my mind, and the other thing simultaneously, I've been married for 24 years, actually, this week, to my husband [crosstalk].

Polly Yakovich: Congratulations.

Nicole Bianchi: Thank you. Again, don't do the math. My husband has been a SWAT leader, so emergency response unit, as well as leading a narcotics team for over half of his journey on the police department. And we would come home every night for dinner and share what happened for the day. I would be so excited about here's something that really I did that was big, and bold, and this brave move, and then he would swoop in with this story of 10 times braver than mine, around taking down this big-time drug dealer, or doing something emergency response or SWAT-related. And I remember thinking to myself, "Okay. He's got the big brave, and I've got the small brave, and how do we translate that?"

And when I think back and reflect back to the moves that we have to make as leaders, they are small brave moves. And when I launched that Being Brave leadership series, I remember as I reached out to leaders, really iconic leaders, like Fortune 10. GE was a leader I hosted, and I remember her saying to me, "Nicole, I don't think I'm being that brave at all." Because again, they assimilate it to be these big, big acts. And as we begin to unpack and have this conversation, we would reflect on the mindsets, behaviors, and habits of those small brave moves. 

And at the end of the conversation, she was like, "I guess I am doing some small brave moves. I am really doing this." And it's like, "Yeah, you are. Don't apologize for it. Don't think that you're not. These are important pieces to have." And in fact, leaders would decline my interview initially up front because they were intimidated by talking about bravery. Until I could get them and say, "Listen, here's what I'm really looking for," and then they were like, "Oh, yeah." And the common thread I noticed among each and every one of them is they were so solid on their own purpose, their own values and what they stood for, and how they really leaned into that when times got really tough during the pandemic. So it was simply about them articulating those, and protecting those, and making moves around those.

Polly Yakovich: Why do you think it matters? What do business leaders and businesses get from being brave? What's the value?

Nicole Bianchi: The value is it creates a competitive advantage for sure. So bravery plus leadership creates a competitive advantage. So bravery is a skill, leadership is an action, but without that skill, it can be hard to take action. And when we help leaders think about the small brave moves, something so simple around the missed conversation, or gaining alignment on something, or even being braver around being a little bit more strategic in some of the moves that they're going to be making, and sharing the voice that needs to be shared, it can be intimidating. And they allow fear, a lot of times, to get in the way. You mentioned the fear of not being perfect, but it's also the fear of loss. If I speak up, what could I lose? Could I lose my team, my project, my political capital, my credibility, whatever? And then fear of change, of what could happen.

So oftentimes leaders will just play it safe with the status quo and not do anything too much to disrupt, when, in fact, we need that leadership. We need that bravery and that voice for change to actually happen and for transformation to occur. So helping leaders do that, build not just, again, the skill, but the action around that, is so important. And then the last piece I would just mention on that is not all the other challenges, not all cultures and environments, support brave moves. So if you're working in a culture and environment where that's rewarded, that's recognized, and that's encouraged, that's an amazing place to be. You're working in an environment where it's very top-down, I'm going to tell you what you need to do, you shouldn't be asking questions, small braves moves is going to look a little bit different for you in that environment.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. I think when we think about leaders, when you're talking about these small brave moves, I think about a couple things. One is if we're not practicing it in the little things, we're never going to have it to lean on when it gets to those bigger decisions. And I think of a story you said that... Well, and the second part is just that it creates this culture where people are safe, and they can say a true thing that maybe is scary. And you have this crazy story about lettuce in your braces that I think is so charming and funny, but just demonstrates... Tell the story. It's so funny.

Nicole Bianchi: Oh. So I was meeting with my CEO to share my 90-day plan, and it was over this fancy lunch. And what's crazy is when he interviewed me for this role, he told me if I couldn't fix that department, he was going to outsource the whole thing. So this is kind of high-risk, get in there. So here am I, I just had new braces at the age of 42, which is crazy. So we have lunch, we both have salads. At the end of that lunch, I spent about an hour going through my 90-day plan, and then we head back. He says, "Great job," we head back to our offices.

And I get an instant message from somebody I had just spoke to walking back to my office, and the message read, "Nicole, you may want to check your braces. I think you have something in them." So as I ran into the bathroom with the big mirror and looked, it was not just like this little piece of lettuce hanging off your braces, but it was a branch that had wrapped itself around my front brace bracket like a mouth guard, so you couldn't have not seen it. He sat there and had a conversation with me for a full hour.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. Like you're mortified at first, but then you're like, "Come on, guy. You're just staring me in the face and you can't do me a solid?"

Nicole Bianchi: Yeah. Right. And me thinking, "Why didn't he say anything?" And then me immediately going into he said he's going to outsource the entire department if I don't fix it. How will I know he's going to give me feedback on this high-risk situation, just-in-time feedback, when he can't even tell me something so simple as, "You have a branch of lettuce on your braces. Get to the bathroom and get it fixed." Something like that. So that's how the story begins, and then certainly the ending is me summoning the courage and a small brave move by bringing it up when I see him three weeks later at yet another meal, of course, in another state.

Polly Yakovich: Do not order the salad.

Nicole Bianchi: No salad order that evening.

Polly Yakovich: You're like, "I'll have the soup."

Nicole Bianchi: But me being able to not just ask him the question, but then take it a step further, because I always want people to be comfortable, and I don't like to upset individuals. So most times, if I were to bring it up, I would go, "Oh, I don't say anything either. I get it. I understand. It's awkward." And I would have made excuses for him and let him off the hook, essentially, and I didn't. I really practiced everything I wanted to say so that I had to know that he would be able to give me... It wasn't about the lettuce. It was about will you give me just-in-time feedback, honest just-in-time feedback, every step of the way in this really high-risk situation? I don't want any surprises. 

So what ended up happening was me asking the question opened up one of the most powerful conversations I've had with a leader, because we were able to get real clear on how we wanted to work together to get aligned, and he ended up being one of the best bosses, best leaders, I had ever worked for, because we got real clear, real clear on our rhythms, rules, and routines, and how we wanted to work together. So that's actually a workshop that we teach now around team alignment, getting leaders and teams to have those powerful conversations at any point in their journey so that they can become the highest level of performance possible.

Polly Yakovich: I think, too, you wrap this issue, and you talk about Brene Brown's work on vulnerability, but I think for those of us that maybe aren't the CEO, it really just goes to show how being brave and being vulnerable, even about something as superficial as lettuce in the braces, which kind of leads to this big, deep conversation about are we going to be able to be honest, forthright partners on this journey, can really unlock bigger conversations. So I think this is part of the whole power of your book is that's a brave conversation to have with a CEO, and it's also a small, silly thing. But it can really open up a whole new opportunity.

Nicole Bianchi: Yeah. Absolutely. And that's the beauty. I didn't fully appreciate the impact of what happened that day and that moment for probably a couple of years, and then realized wow, as I saw not just our relationship develop, but also the work, what we were able to accomplish in a very short period of time, I wouldn't have been able to do in a normal or a typical situation. So so much to be learned from it.

Polly Yakovich: I want to just ask a couple more questions before I let you go. You talk about these 11 principles of becoming a braver leader, and they're really helpful and instructive, but they can be daunting. So it's like 11 things, how do I do all these 11 things? If you feel like you've struggled with being brave, or maybe you were braver but now you're kind of playing it safe, I think you can go back and forth. A lot of us were really brave early in our careers, and then we kind of get settled in, or things are going on in our lives and maybe we lose our edge a little bit. How do we start building these habits back? I think one of the things that's impactful is it doesn't have to be this huge brave thing. It is about small, everyday bravery, boldness. So where do you start? How do you build these habits?

Nicole Bianchi: So first off, I will tell you, writing the book, as I was... These principles were a culmination of all these interviews and experience. And even looking at those 11, there are some that as I was building out the chapter, I'm like, "Boy. I've got some work to do here on this one personally." So I want you to know, even as the author, that was real for me.

Polly Yakovich: There's only one that I was like, "Oh, yeah. I'm really good at relentless curiosity." But I think that that's just natural. Embracing uncertainty? No, thank you.

Nicole Bianchi: Yeah. It's tough. So actually on page 235, I have a scale of okay, more of and less of, which I think I'm going to end up switching, I've been giving some thought to this, about frequency and confidence. So take a look at those 11, and think, "How frequent am I doing it, and what's my confidence level in doing it?" And of those 11, you're going to have some that you're like, "Oh, yeah. That's great," and you're going to have some that are probably mid. And when you look at the ones that you probably rated the lowest on, that would be one place to start. 

And I would just focus on one, and start building some habits, and... Well, first, reflect. What's the gap for you, and what do you want to intentionally begin to build around it? I would only start with one and then begin to layer, over time, on other things. Because again, just that one small shift and that one move can make all the difference in that. So some people will relate, again, stronger with some of the 11 and some will recognize that that's a growth area for them. And I, writing the book, experienced the same thing.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. I think that's really encouraging. From your Being Brave series, as you're interviewing all these leaders for this book, and you're putting all this together with these 11 principles, is there one that stood out to you as... Just personally hit you, or that you remember and call back to as something as you're working on, you think of that?

Nicole Bianchi: Yeah. Great question. I would say that so many of them at different points, especially as I relook at them, have come up and had a moment of clarity for me, or a moment that helped me think about something differently. But the one that's coming up for me right now is... It's in the Embracing Uncertainty chapter, actually, and her name's Leah Vetter, and she's with Gallagher. When I was interviewing her, and it was right in the middle of the pandemic, she paused and asked herself, "What if this is happening for me right now? What if there's something much bigger around this?" And that question, I'm just reflecting on that right now. 

It's coming up for me right now, is we've got the Delta variant happening, we've got... There's all this uncertainty beginning to creep up. We work a lot with international clients, and I was on a phone call earlier today with Germany at 5:30 this morning, and he said, "We're seeing the fourth potential shutdown happen in Germany. We're not quite there yet, but the numbers are trending." And I'm just like, "Oh my gosh." So that question, for me, is one that I'm holding right now. It's such a powerful question. What if this is happening for me right now, and what do I do with that, and what does this mean? So that's one that I just thought was so insightful and a good way to shift from victim in the middle of a pandemic to no, I'm going to be the author of some of how this is going to go, and what I can control, and what does authoring that look like?

Polly Yakovich: It's also, I think, such a lovely reminder that this may be daunting for some, but I think for me, it's encouraging that we've never really made it. It's like we never get there, and we're like, "Good. We've done it all. We've done all the brave habits, and we are this kind of leader now." It's just always a work in progress, which means you can always get tired and start again.

Nicole Bianchi: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely. Absolutely.

Polly Yakovich: One question I love to end with, and I do it with every guest I have, is just what's your superpower? What's that one core thing that makes Nicole exceptional?

Nicole Bianchi: I will tell you that what others have told me is it's my ability to see the possibilities and to get things across the finish line in areas where people don't always think it's possible. And in fact, I talk a little bit about it in Chapter 1, that my brothers, my family members, will give me a hard time about you're so lucky, or this stuff always happens for you. And I'm like, "Nope. It is not luck." And I reference Darren Hardy's Compound Effect in there around preparation, attitude, opportunity, and action. 

And when I think about that formula, preparation is all about personal growth, so what am I doing to invest in myself right now, which we have to be so vigilant about. Attitude is what's my belief and mindset around this? Opportunity is good things coming our way, and the last one is action, so what am I going to do about it? So that, for me, is I can see the possibilities, and I'm probably one... My superpower is I see it and I do something about it.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. [crosstalk] That's a great superpower.

Nicole Bianchi: I formulate what that plan is. Thank you. That's what [crosstalk].

Polly Yakovich: That is truly a superpower.

Nicole Bianchi: Thank you. Well, I'll tell you, I don't have 100% success rate.

Polly Yakovich: Yeah. That would be impossible.

Nicole Bianchi: That would be impossible. But I have a high enough success rate that I know that it's something to be proud of. Yeah. Thank you.

Polly Yakovich: That's so great. Nicole, where can people find you, buy your book, hear more from you, read about it? How can they get a hold of you, follow you, all that stuff?

Nicole Bianchi: Absolutely. So follow me on LinkedIn, or connect with me on LinkedIn. I would love to do that. It's @nicolembianchi. My book is available on Amazon, the ebook as well as the soft copy. The hardcover is being released later in September as well as the audio. So the recording for the audio's done, they're editing it and putting it all together, and then that'll release with some really fun early praise on the front cover from Dan Pink, will be releasing in late September. And then if you want to look me up, I'm at, and you can learn a little bit more about the work I do there.

Polly Yakovich: Great. Thank you so much. We'll link to all of this in the show notes as well. Such a great conversation. Thank you so much for joining us.

Nicole Bianchi: Thank you, Polly. It was wonderful. I appreciate it.

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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