Strong communication skills can elevate your leadership effectiveness and your career.  CEO Jill Nykoliation shares her general career advice, what she keeps in her 2 notebooks, the most common career pitfalls, and more. Listen to learn how to communicate like a boss! This is the 2nd half of a 2-part interview. Please see episode #75 for part 1.



Jill Nykoliation

Jill Nykoliation - square headshot Talk About Talk podcast

Talk About Talk & Dr. Andrea Wojnicki

Talk About Talk with Dr. Andrea Wojnicki



Dr. Andrea Wojnicki: Thank you so much, Jill, for joining us here today to talk about leadership and communication skills.

Jill Nykoliation: It’s such a pleasure to be here, Andrea, thanks for having me. 

AW: My first question is a big one. What is your leadership philosophy?

JN: My leadership philosophy. I would sum it up as, don’t lead through a rear view mirror. Yesterday’s behind us, I tell my team all the time – Notice what’s ending and let it go. Notice what’s emerging and step into it.

Leadership quote Jill Nykoliation

AW: Wow. So perspective, and being proactive, but also internalizing what has happened?

JN: What has happened and letting go is a big part of leadership. I’m really big on let it go. You can’t step into the new when you’re pulling all the baggage of the past. And we have to move so quickly. Everything’s changing so quickly, that the less baggage you have, the less attachment you have to past ideas, or past identities, the faster you can move into the future. So I tell my team all the time, is just notice what’s ending and let it go.

AW: I love that metaphor, I can actually imagine a team climbing a mountain, and they’ve got this big, heavy baggage.

JN: yes. 

AW: And their leader’s saying, drop the bag, drop the bag, like why are you carrying this uphill?

JN: You’re actually making me think of this, I think it’s the movie Ants. They were going to a new anthill. And one of the ants asks, why are we carrying all this crap? Aren’t we just going to get new crap when we get there? And it’s true. It’s like, why are we pulling all this crap from one anthill to another? And my daughter and I laugh about it. Don’t bring everything forward, let things go and be grateful, is a very Marie Kondo. Thank you. You’ve served me. Well, I’m gonna let you go.

AW: I love it, you’ve served your purpose. That’s what she would say, right?

JN: You’ve served your purpose and be really grateful. And I find when you say thank you to things, whether its business models, or its team members, or processes, you leave the animosity, and you leave the resistance, and you leave the fear of letting go. You just consciously open up your hands and drop it. 

AW: Do you have any specific examples?

JN: Yes, I lead an advertising agency and communication is changing all the time. And so for us, letting go, let’s say of production methodologies, where it used to be big and polished, etc. It’s okay, sometimes you need that. But most times, we need a piece of content that’s going to be relevant for, I don’t know, three days. And so let go of the process that made a great big Superbowl ad, and actually let it all go. What do we do to create this content that only needs to be relevant for three days? That’s a lot freer, it’s a different budget. So instead of taking what you had and whittling it down, drop it in, create a whole new process. Or advertising used to always be you start with the insight, which is more of an ethnography type of understanding. But now data leads. And so let that go, don’t resist that. Going, actually, what if we got a brilliant team of data scientists in here? And then we’ll look for insights. So letting go of the way it used to be done. When you and I grew up at Kraft, it was all about the insight. Now it’s data leads. But again, let go of the way you learned things.

AW: So as you’re describing that, I’m thinking of two things. One is that having this philosophy and encouraging your staff to adopt the same philosophy is enabling them and you to pivot – which is such an overused term.

JN: … it really is. But we really are! I think pivot is overused, and people are just making steps. But we know we literally pivoted in COVID. We launched two new divisions, and our business had our best year ever. In COVID when advertising is being stopped, we had our best year ever. Because we truly pivoted into the new.

AW: And the other thing that came to mind as you were describing this example was a growth mindset. So you’re also I think implicitly encouraging yourself and your staff to think of what’s next and what’s coming forward and what you can learn and first we need to keep in mind the consumer insights for example, right?

JN: Yes, exactly. And so for me growth mindset – so many people have heard that, but they don’t actually know what it means, because they go: but I’m afraid to grow. And so finding other words, less buzzwords. Like just notice what’s ending and then … I’ll do this in a staff meeting. What do we think? Sending it into the chat. What do you guys see is ending? That’s interesting to see … Oh, yes, then they’ll go – this is ending. Okay. What do we see that’s starting? And then so … And meanwhile, you’ve got them in a growth mindset. Most people aren’t actually actively growing and those of us who embody it, we can throw the shorthand at people, but short hands aren’t clear for a lot of people.

AW: I agree. cliches are powerful and dangerous at the same time.

JN: Right, exactly. 

AW: So if that’s your leadership philosophy, I’m curious if you may also have a communication philosophy.

JN: Yes, I do. Funny you should ask. (haha) I’d say there’s three things. One is precision. And that’s the big one. I love to spend time on that.  There’s precision, compassion, and frequency. Those are the three I’d say, form my signature style, which I have found to be quite effective, especially in this moment, where we’re all virtual.

AW: Can you describe or define what each of those elements are?

JN: Yes. So precision with words, we need to be specific with our words, because our words form a narrative. And then we work to make that narrative true. And so if we’re lazy with our words, we blanket things like, I’ll never crack this. Like, really? Never? Like, never? Really? Are you sure? Like, are the clients always like this? Or this process is always so screwed up. Always. Never. The question I ask my team a lot, my daughter too, is, Is that true? That’s interesting. Is that true? It’s never like never gonna happen. Or always. So I don’t like extreme words, because it will rarely ever..

AW:  hyperbole is dangerous

JN: That’s exactly it. All this is on my shoulders. Really? You’re the only one? There’s no one on your team that could absolutely can help you with that? We have a very familial, very collective culture. So when people say that, I go, oh, okay, is that true that it’s all on you? It might feel that way. But is it true? And is that the expectation? I use precision a lot.

AW: And that’s obviously very powerful and important when you guys are creating copy.

JN: Yes that’s true. We need to be precise when they’re writing words for a client. But it’s like the shoemakers, kids, when you use it for yourself, you get sloppy. So another thing is to be pithy. That’s something that I learned back when we were at Kraft, we had this facilitator, his name was Cavis and he had a rule. He said, Tell me the headline, and then you can talk as long as you want. And then when you had a crisp headline, you actually didn’t need to talk that long. But when you weren’t clear in what you wanted to say, Boy, you had a lot to say, walk it around, and people like, where are they going with this? And so again, when I try and write or when I speak, what’s the headline? So for example, I was on a panel the other day, and someone said to me, so, how’s your business doing? And I said we had our best year ever. And they go, why do you think that is? And my answer was, because catastrophe require sharpshooters.

AW: Brilliant, wow.

JN: This is a catastrophe moment, business wise. And my team is a team of sharpshooters. And I actually call them ninja navy seals, because I can’t decide which ones they are. So I put together navy seals, we are the elite team. Basically, you’re in a crisis. What our clients are saying is: get me out of this. We’re that team. So we’re doing extremely well in a catastrophe because this is the caliber you want. But that answer catastrophe requires sharpshooters, three words – it just said so much. So that’s what I mean by headlines. And then I can talk as long as I want. But I don’t know if I need to once you hear that.

AW: I’ve told the story, actually, in some workshops, I learned that the hard way. When I was a doctoral student, and I had the opportunity for the first time to present my academic research to my peers and some faculty members. And I got up and I spent all this time with my script and my slides. And I started talking. And about 15 minutes in, one of the senior faculty members stood up and said, Andrea, why are we here? I was thinking, I don’t want to tell you because there’s a punch line. No, no, no, no, I learned that I really learned the hard way. Right there. And then and I use it now, whether it’s a podcast, whether it’s a workshop, even when I’m writing newsletters, like you tell them what you’re going to tell them, and then and then go,…

JN: I was just working on this with one of my teams yesterday. When you work on a Keynote or PowerPoint, whichever form you’re using, Do not make the headline, a label. “Context.” “Agenda.” “Design system.” And like no! “The design system will evolve from last year in two specific ways.”

AW: Oh, brilliant.

JN: So reading the page is optional. If I just go through and read your headlines, I’ve got what you’re saying.

AW: Brilliant.

JN: Anything else is context. If you want people to get the point, then say the point.

AW: It’s respectful to your audience, whether they’re listening or reading, whatever, it’s respectful of their time, right?

JN: Yes. So that’s precision. Another communication philosophy I have is compassion. And I would say I lead from the feminine. I didn’t always do that. And it was brought to my attention four years ago. I made a structural change, and my coach whom I learned so much from. He was like, you know, Jill, now that you’re restructuring, it’s time to step into your natural style and which is… he goes, but you’ve been leading from the masculine. Because I grew up in a family of three brothers, you know, lots of boys in the house, the language of business is typically masculine, and an advertising is ultra masculine. And he said, “you’ve learned that’. That’s a learned language for you. But it’s not your natural language. And it was an epiphany for me, right? I’m not, that’s not my natural language. I did some really deep work to go, “Well, how do I show up naturally?” And once I gave myself permission to come as my whole self, my leadership took a whole new level. But also I dress differently, I show up differently. And my team just like, oh! And then my team’s performance went up to level two, because I came in my whole self, which means – because you know that people watch what leaders do. All of a sudden, I’m showing up as myself, which automatically signals they can show up as their selves. And then vulnerability just happens.

AW: Wow, I have to say what you just shared with me, I’ve got the shivers, I, I’m working a lot right now on personal branding. And I’m encouraging people to step into what makes them unique. And I feel like if I had been a fly on the wall, when your coach shared that with you, and you said that you kind of had an epiphany, and you had to do some work, to figure out how to show up, that I have a saying that I share, which is unique is better than better. And so you were you grew up in a household, and then you were working in industries were better meant masculine.

JN: Yes. 

AW: And now you’re embodying your true, authentic, unique self. And, again, I got the shivers. It’s like your superpower.

JN: Yes. And then advertising is very in-person. It’s a team sport, we put things up and we build and we touch. And now we’re doing that through screens…  You really need to reach into the screen and be compassionate through the screen. So a couple of examples that you say of compassion. I know you talk a lot about listening. And I love that, and how I phrase it, I kind of amp it and go, can you hold space for someone? Because a lot of people go Yes, I’m listening. They’re actually hearing. They’re not listening.

AW: Yes.

JN: And I love how you’ve talked about the two to one ratio, you have two ears and one mouth, and that’s the ratio you should use. So I use my phrase, holding space. Because those words mean No, hold the space, you’re going to hold a container. Really? And how did you get to that conclusion? How did that make you feel? Truly let them get it off their chest, and dimensionalize it. If you’re listening, you notice, you’re often listening to respond. But if you hold space, you know, my job is just to hold the space is just to keep everything from interrupting you, including myself. And I actually have a container. It’s right here.  Actually, it’s a clear container. Sometimes I go, Okay, put it in the box. Look at that thing. Let’s just talk about and I literally put it in the box for some people like no, no one’s touching it, we’re just going to hold space for it. And that helps some people understand what I mean. But when you hold space, and people feel heard, often they just go, do you understand what I’m saying? Is the client saying, I don’t like this for XYZ? I literally hold space. When you hold space, then you can get a clear picture. And then what you say back is so much more informed. You have a full picture. When someone doesn’t like what I’m what we’re presenting, I can hold space, because I’m so confident in what it is. But I can wait. I can hold my point. I can hold it for 20 minutes if you want.

AW: So one question about compassion. And this may link back to what you were saying before about avoiding buzzwords and using a different word that may define what you really mean. What’s the difference between compassion and empathy?

JN: Empathy for me is I literally I can feel what you feel. 

AW: Okay.

JN: And compassion is more Wow, I’m observing how you feel, that must feel horrible. Tell me more about it. Not everyone is empathetic. I am. I have to protect that because sometimes I don’t need to feel what everyone’s feeling.

AW: Right.

JN: But I also made an assumption that everyone can, but it’s like sympathy versus empathy are not the same thing. One is literally I can walk a mile in your shoes. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh.

AW: And then that’s a bit of a burden.

JN: Yes, it’s a burden. 

AW: Yes, it is.

JN: My empathy can be …I think all of us have superpowers that can have negative sides.

AW: Absolutely.

JN: Okay. And then the third part of my communication philosophy is frequency. Frequency is important because just because we say it once doesn’t mean people absorbed it. We have to have full context. And so repeating things. So frequency of make sure you say things, you’re consistent. Second by frequency, what I mean is I literally get in front of people often. This is new for COVID times. We talk to our team every single Monday morning for half an hour. Without fail. Never miss. I personally talk to the team every Thursday, without fail, never miss. And knowing that we have that drumbeat is really important. Professor Tom DeLong at Harvard drilled into us that ambiguity is always perceived negatively. And that’s what we do as humans – if I don’t know what’s happening, oh, why aren’t they telling us this? Like, I don’t know. I didn’t think you needed to know or I thought you already understood. For frequency, we literally get an ever go more than a few days. I go. Hi. There’s not much to share with you this Thursday. But I promised you I’d be here every Thursday. And here’s what I got. And so even if I have nothing to say I don’t cancel, I can say there’s no news No changes. So they can have assurance. What we do every Friday, we call it Pulse –  get the pulse. Every Friday, we text our entire team and say how did it go this week? Good or bad? Any comments? And then every Friday they have a platform to anonymously tell us how things are going. They can communicate to us. How’s it going? Could be oh my gosh, shout out to this team. Or you know what, my home chair is really uncomfortable. Is the company going to upgrade our home chairs? It could be anything. And then we share it Monday morning. We literally put the comments up. Okay. Okay, how are we trending? Here’s the thumbs up comments. Here’s the thumbs downs. And here’s the asks. And everybody shows up, because it really is anonymous.

AW: Wow.

JN: Criticism is a gift. Even if it comes out as – like someone said to me, or came up through the feedback. Jill’s positivity is toxic.

AW: Oh, wow.

JN: Right. Oh, but then I thought … okay, is it true? No. We talked it through. What is toxic positivity? And why am I positive? Like as a leader? I don’t think you need me to come up here on Thursdays and say this is really hard. That’s not helpful. It is hard. I’ll say that, but I won’t stay there. But what I said to them, I’m grateful that you said it. Behind every criticism is a wish. I’m finding this really hard and I’m overwhelmed. Jill’s making it seem like everything’s going well, it’s not. I don’t know how to ask for help. And I feel like I’m the only one. And then I leaned in and I said okay, everyone has my cell phone number. But let me give it to you again, everyone, grab a pencil, text me, call me. I don’t know who you are. I’m going to wrap my arms around you. Everyone, energetically let’s wrap our arms around each other. Give yourselves a big hug that what we’re doing is so hard. And one of us, some of us are struggling. Look into your circles, find out who they are and help them. So I literally talk that way. That’s compassion. But frequency, you never go more than four business. You can say it to your boss anytime. But if you find it something you can’t say, either it’s too small, or it’s too frightening for you to say ,you have the anonymous ,we call it pulse. I can’t imagine running a business without it. Now we’ve been doing it for a year.

AW: So I was just listening to a podcast WorkLife with Adam Grant. And 

JN: I love that! 

AW: It was the interview with Brené Brown. And he talks about you know, in companies, they often provide for customers a suggestion box. Right now we need to have an internal complaint box, an issue box. 
JN: And we have one! That podcast was fantastic. 

AW: It is. So I wanted to ask you more about buzzwords. But before we do that you mentioned you know the effects of the pandemic and COVID and working from home a few times and and it sounds as if you had many of these philosophies and exercises and structures that you had created for your organization before COVID and maybe COVID. And the whole experience of working from home has reinforced the significance of these things. But is there anything that’s changed in terms of your leadership and or communication philosophy?

JN: Yes. So I’d say I turned it from like a dial of 4 to like 9.5 Yes, we would have the Mondays we never had Thursdays too, and they’re different. One is Mondays is report back what you said, and Thursday’s is super personal. Thursday’s are intimate. I never did that before. I had everybody physically with me. And I never met them every Thursday, I have to say every Thursday, Why would they come? And I never got so intimate. They see me without makeup on. I actually I’ve talked about some ways how I’m coming in. I’m like, Okay, I’m coming in and I’m a four right now. And I’m but I’m here. I lost my energy today. And so, but we’re here, I let them see me not at my best. But I’m like – but we’re here and I’m gonna pull energy from you this afternoon because sometimes  you pull energy from me and I’m gonna pull energy from you … I was up all night helping my daughter with a biology exam and I’m like, I don’t know, I’m taking grade 12 biology all of a sudden, I’m exhausted. So I see my level of compassion is way up. Vulnerability way up. Frequency, I turned that up. And it’s going back to vulnerability. I named things. For example, one time I said to my team, alright, coming in like five today and I said, we went through the stage of adrenaline. Then we went to endurance. And now we’re in monotony. I think this is a late fall last year . We were in monotony. My executive team texted me and said, don’t name it! I’m like, no, I’m naming it.. So we’re going to talk about how do we stay inspired through monotony? My meals have gotten sloppy. I’m not dressing up for you guys anymore. I said, I’m just sinking into monotony. And I said, but people hire us to be creative, inspiring. So we cannot sink to monotony. We can’t. Our job as sharpshooters is to create brilliantly creative, persuasive answers. So how do you be creative when you’re bored, and you’re scared, and you’re numb? Maybe you’re feeling that too? Alright, let’s name it. And we can’t let ourselves go there. I never used to talk this way.

AW: Do you tell your staff regularly where you are on a scale of one to 10? Like Brené Brown?

JN: Yes! She said she comes home to her husband like, oh, we’re both at seven. Oh, we have a 30% gap. So I do. And I do that with my executive team. We meet every single day at 230. We never did that before. So nothing goes longer than a day. Yes.

AW: I’m hearing a lot of inspiring messages for leaders. And for everyone, frankly, Jill, I’m really inspired by your self-awareness. And I’m really inspired by your vulnerability, as you call it. And as I’m sure as apparent to the people that you’re with, and then that has so many positive benefits for your organization, and then for your clients. And you said turning up the dial, and I am seeing a dashboard with all these dials with all of these philosophies that you’ve talked about. And you can turn them up and down. And right now, a lot of them are being turned up.

JN: Yes. 

AW: So there are so many leadership and communication buzzwords out there, right? We’ve talked about authenticity, but there’s resilience. There’s servant leadership, there’s inclusiveness, there’s optimism, there’s transparency, there’s a growth mindset. How do you as a leader navigate all of this advice and rhetoric? Because I know that you’re reading and you’re listening, and it’s really overwhelming. How do you decide what matters?

JN: Such a good question. As we talked earlier, buzzwords are helpful short hands. But they also give us places to hide. And so what I try and do is not use them if I can. Again, back to my point about precision. Buzzwords usually aren’t precise. They’re fat words. They catch a lot of things. They’re bulky. And so I like to use plain language. And I learned this from my CFO at an agency I was at before I started this one. She wrote like no other finance person. She used such plain language. But I remember thinking, I so appreciate the way you’re writing. And she said, because I’m writing finance for creative people to understand. And so that imprinted on me to go What’s the clearest I can be? So short answer: I try to avoid buzzwords because they’re actually lazy. Precision is something I say to my team. There’s the butter knife. The steak knife. The scalpel. We are the scalpel.

AW: Okay, Jill, I have to say that your metaphors are blowing my mind. Oh my gosh.

JN: I say that, literally. And so we launched our precision marketing firm, we called it The Scalpel. And I say to my guys, this is called scalpel. We’re always pushing ourselves to be the scalpel. So let’s just call it that. Let us be the scalpel. But that’s what I mean by being precise. Buzzwords are rarely a scalpel. They’re usually butter knives.

AW: It’s true. Like you said, use plain language.

JN: Plain language. They say, Oh, we should be vulnerable, we should show up as our authentic selves. And it doesn’t seem vulnerable … Their mistake is they think that means being personal. Right? And vulnerability and personal. They’re two different things.

AW: Yes, it’s orthogonal. So Jill, as I was sharing with you, I’ve been asked so many times what I think the number one most important communication skill is and I used to say quite easily listening. But over the last couple of years, actually, even before COVID started, I was hearing things from my coaching clients and from my podcast listeners that made me really think about this, I guess more completely and it’s not just listening. So now I say there’s three superpowers. Listening, storytelling and communicating with confidence. And there’s different reasons why each of those show up on my list, but I’m wondering, what do you think about this list?

JN: Okay, so I love your list. And the way I hear those things, so listening we talked about I say that as hold space. Truly listen, so that that means like listen for it with a capital L. Hold space. Confidence, I love.  I would say that’s pretty much precision. Confidence builds when people talk with precision. You’re very confident. When you’re not confident you use lazy words, because you’re not really sure. You’re coming in like a butter knife. So I agree with confidence. Storytelling. Absolutely.

AW: Yes, an advertiser, of course.

JN: But you think about way back to the cavemen, they drew pictures on cave walls. And they told stories. Why? Because that’s how we remember things. We don’t really remember data points, but remember, you string them in a story we remember, or even my metaphor of a butter knife sticking your scalp like I say, \\ you should be precise with your words. Yes, when I put it in  a metaphor of like, a butter knife isn’t really cutting much. It’s a butter knife. It spreads things, you spread peanut butter. You’re actually not cutting much. When something needs cutting, you get the steak knife. And then, you know, I’m getting heart surgery, I want that guy to have a scalpel. I want them to be really precise. So I’d say storytelling, metaphors are helpful. Personal experience relevance. So putting yourself in a story.

AW: universal truth.

JN: So relevance is really important to storytelling, but I love your three, you said listening, confidence and storytelling.

AW: Oh, gosh, I could I could talk to you about each of those three for an hour.

JN: But I think each of those is a skill that you could do a whole deep dive lesson on in communication. How many people listening on this podcast have actually gone to school on how to hold space for somebody?

AW: Yep, exactly. You actually just made me think of something which is recently I’ve been talking to some tech entrepreneurs, and they’re talking about how the leaders of organizations that they’re talking to the tech leaders are saying that the skills that are needed in the workplace most are these interpersonal and communication skills, right?

JN: So well, because it’s how you get the most out of everybody. And what my job is a leader is to communicate the vision. And but it’s also to make people feel safe. Because you can’t be brave, if you don’t feel safe. You can’t take risks. It’s hard to innovate if you don’t feel safe. I realized as a leader, when people feel safe, they go out and do extraordinary things. And then I take that as a big responsibility is how do I in this environment, all environments, but this one particular is like, Oh, yes, you’re right. I am studying, I am going to school and things because the softer stuff, gets people gets their guards down. It makes innovation happen. It makes collaboration smoother, because if we don’t trust each other, and we don’t feel safe, we don’t show up. Here’s a dumb idea. I’m not going to say that if I feel like I’m being judged, right? The CEO gets up and says, guys, I made a huge mistake. Or what I did, I snapped at somebody … I was just so frustrated. I waited a few minutes. I said, Okay, I have to stop the meeting. I was short with you. I’m so sorry. And they’re No, no, it’s okay. I said no, it’s not okay. Please don’t dismiss it as okay. I want to apologize to you. I want to apologize to everybody on this screen. That wasn’t kind, it was unnecessary. And it wasn’t anything you did. It was me. My frustration came out on you. And then on my Thursday, huddle, I talked about it – hey, I had this thing. And I threw my frustration on to somebody, and I apologized. And we thereby want to make sure everyone here knows that. I know it happens. I did it too. Let’s make sure we have it. We’re going to do it. Make sure we apologize as quickly to the incident as possible. Because we’re human. We’re going to do it. But that’s also like showing them It’s okay,  we can make mistakes. It’s not okay to do that. It’s okay to apologize. 

AW: Wow, you’re creating an environment. That’s just so psychologically… I’m trying to avoid buzzwords when I’m around you. But it’s psychological safety.

JN: That’s a motivator for me. Yes. 

AW: So I have a prediction Jill. You’re going to be flooded with resumes after this.

JN: We’re growing.  So I don’t mind. 


AW: So but speaking of your staff, I have a question for you specifically about that. What skills do you see lacking in people that sometimes may end up halting their career progression?

JN: Curiosity.

AW: ooo….

JN: I think curiosity is missing from a lot of people. Because again, they’re showing up with wanting to prove how much they know, show off what they know, or afraid to say I don’t know. So again, it’s something I model. I don’t know how this works. Someone explain. I see it all the time. And actually back in Kraft, one of the sales guys said to me, this is where I actually picked up on the power of this…One of the sales guy said to me, You ask a ton of questions. Oh my gosh, too many? He said: No, I’m just making an observation. Because I wanted to know the whole system of things. Even now, like corporate lawyers, because I always say, before I sign this, what does this mean? What does my signature mean on this?  And she says Jill, you’re the only person that I advise that actually, they go Yes, it’s okay to sign it. Okay. I go, okay. I know. Thanks for telling me it’s okay to sign and I do trust you. 

AW: It’s not exactly plain language, right?

JN: It’s not exactly in those legal contracts. What exactly is this document saying like in plain English? So curiosity is a big one. I tell anyone – just learn as much as you can, but you learn not just by watching but by also asking,

AW: Your focus on curiosity and asking questions and replacing buzzwords with plain language reminds me a lot of my favorite professor on the planet, Jerry Zaltman. He’s Professor Emeritus now at Harvard Business School. Yes, these are all things that he repeated over and over again, I had the privilege of spending a lot of time in his office just, oh, he’s such a generous intellect. That’s, that’s how I describe him. He’s smart, but he’s so generous. And he advocates all of these things, Jill, that you’re talking about.

JN: I Well, his book on metaphors is fantastic, deep metaphors. And anyone listening should be getting that book about communication, because we realize what the roots are.

AW: I’m pulling books out of my bookshelf, pulling books out of it.

JN: I But yes, I am a massive fan of his even before we spoke, I use his methodology of ZMET quite a bit about deep metaphors for brands because it gets into the underpinnings of what we’re really thinking. And so for me, you know, whether in a metaphor of container or a metaphor of balance, if you understand the deep metaphor underneath people or underneath their language, then you can use language more precisely. So I actually credit his work a lot with going to the root of what you’re saying.

AW: Yep. Universal patterns.

JN: I Exactly. 

AW: So Jill, I’m really curious as you’re speaking, you sound so confident, and yet I know you’re vulnerable. And I, I kind of grew up with you at Kraft, so I know what it was like in that environment and learning the lessons that we learned collectively and individually there. I want to talk to you about confidence and imposter syndrome. So do you experience it? And specifically, I’m really curious, how do you boost your own confidence?

JN: I It’s a wonderful question. And I think it’s an important one because that feeling of not enough is universal. And that could be in work or at home or in a relationship. Oh, my gosh, am I enough? But showing up at work with imposter syndrome? Absolutely. I had it. I don’t have it anymore. I can confidently say. Do I have self doubt sometimes? Yah. I’m like, ooh, shoot, am I ready? But imposter syndrome is a big one. And I had it. Yes. In my late 30s. It was kind of getting rampant because my career was going really quickly and jumping into new space. And I joined an advertising firm from being a director in North America at Kraft and I was now at an advertising agency. I’m like, What do I even know about advertising? I was like, going behind the curtain of Wizard of Oz. And like. Now I have no idea. You know, when Dorothy goes behind the curtain, and there’s this little man pulling all these levers and like, …

AW: another perfect metaphor, Jill, thank you.

JN: I am one day away from being found out that I don’t know anything. Wow. That’s literally how I felt. And then one of the partners said to me, what you have is imposter syndrome. I’m like, what, that’s a thing? I’m like, Oh, this is exactly what I have. I’m like, Oh, I didn’t know it’s a thing.

AW: What a relief, right? It’s validating.

JN: I So I was like, oh, okay, there’s comfort in numbers. But then, how do I get over this? I went back in my brain and picked up some advice that I got from a mentor when I was 30. And he said, find out what you’re uniquely good at, and make room to do that most often. So I’m going, with imposter syndrome, I took for granted what I was uniquely good at. What came naturally to me is a gift. I was just barely trying, it’s just the way my brain works. Isn’t it the way everyone’s brain works? No, it wasn’t. So like, Oh, I have unique gifts. Okay, so I need to,  I can’t have someone value something that I don’t value myself. So I had to go back to the way I can carve out a consumer insight or craft a brand strategy, that is a unique gift of mine. And I need to stand square in the acceptance of that. And so that was a big part of that.

AW: So can I just ask you a specific question about that. I’m trying to think of how that would manifest. So for example, if you’re walking into a meeting with a bunch of senior potential future clients, right, and you’re feeling a little bit of imposter syndrome, like why are we even pitching on this? Or why do they think I’m the one when you say to yourself, I have this unique ability?


JN: Yes, so a couple things. Don’t take what your unique gifts are for granted. Back at Kraft our VP Carl Nanni, he, at the time when I cracked something really big. He wrote me a note, I still have it to this day, he wrote me a note. And he said, I wanted you to know that you are the best in Canada at crafting insights. It meant so much to me. When you give compliments to the person, we often give compliments about the person to somebody else, I’m really big believer in give it to the person. So he wrote that to me. And I remember the feeling it gave me was like, I know, Oh, wow. No, I am. But as like, who might have voiced that. So I went back in the box, and I went, Oh, my gosh, I have this. He said that and I knew it. And I still didn’t step into it. So I brought that back out, put it in my office, so I could actually look at it and really just as a touchstone, I am the best at this, that I was age 30 when he said that, I’m how old now… own it. And I’m only … you know, decades gone by. So I say I actually just step into my awareness. Meditation is a big one, because you get to block out the noise, all those jitters come up. And you can just meditate.  Whatever people want to do, you know. I do 15 minute…

AW: Do you do guided meditation?

JN: I do my own, Ziva meditation, so I can do it in a cab. I can do it in an airport, people can be talking at me, it’s it’s meditation for busy life, but acceptance. Step square into your gift, but accept that every one of us has a gift and find out what yours is. And if you don’t know, ask others not what you’re good at, but what you are uniquely good at and then free up time to do it more often, and it will blossom even further. I also before big meetings, I always like to do a huddle and we get the energy positive even on zoom before we do a big pitch. 10 minutes we’re going to edit to energetically bind ourselves together. We’ve got this. You have that feeling of invincibility because we know what we’re doing. And if you come in not so solid, you’ll get it from the others. And then the good old fashioned Amy Cuddy power pose has served me well. 

AW: Exactly. Superwoman.

JN: I had a really big talk I had to do in Cape Town. Really important. It was quite defining for my career, it would open up doors. And I did a full on like, arms out in the air, like you could not be bigger, be big and be bold, chest out, arms wide,…

AW:  expansive.

JN: expansive. And if you do that for two minutes, your brain will go Oh, okay. Okay. We’re confident. We always think it’s mind over matter. Sometimes it’s form will inform your confidence. So I, I do that, too.

AW: Wow, I love your answer. I just want to touch on one thing when you were saying find out what is unique about you, and that you seem to do more easily that you may take for granted. 

JN: Yes.

AW: I’m encouraging my clients to actually email people. I encourage them to ask, what do you admire about Jill? And also, what makes Jill Jill?

JN:  Hmm. Those are perfect. Those are great questions. 

AW: I actually did it recently, I emailed 10 people because I was preparing for teaching some some senior women and I said I wanted to be able to tell them that I had done it recently, myself. And it’s it’s shocking how they’re consistent patterns from all of these diversity, different people about what they see about you. One more question before we move on to the five rapid fire questions.

JN: Yes.

AW: I can imagine that you probably get asked by your staff, and maybe people even outside of your organization for career advice. Do you have any advice that you find yourself repeatedly giving to people? 

JN: Yes, I do. And I wrote about this one in particular on LinkedIn went like 70,000 views like, oh, okay, but what I said was, carry two notebooks. When I was 29, one of my mentors told me that and I do it to this day. Everyone knows I carry two notebooks. And one is for the tasks amd writing stuff. Yep, that need all your meeting notes, everything you got to do planning your day. The other one is for personal epiphanies. Because they happen all day and then you’ve put them in your other notebook they get lost in a sea of like 14 things I have to do today and and so I carry two notebooks. One is like for floors 1 and 2 of the apartment building. Yep, change the lighting and Yep, do this to garbage day, tomorrow, blah, blah. And the other one is like my floor 10 stuff. Somebody says a quote in a meeting, you’re like, Oh my gosh, that’s huge. Or read this…I mention the book, I should read that book, but it’s stuff that’s about personal growth and epiphany is put somewhere else. So then what I do I do often as I go through them, not caught in the clutter of things that might tasks that must get done. They become these beautiful volumes of growth, and reflection, and insight and awareness. That’s what I’ve been doing since I was 29. If I give one piece of advice. It’s keep two notebooks. 

AW: Wow. You know, Jill, that is relevant for absolutely everyone.

JN: Yes.

AW: I really hope Jill, you may have considered this. But I hope that someday you can publish this list of personal insights, because I think it would be incredibly powerful.

JN: Thank you. You’ve given me a thought maybe, maybe I will. Maybe I will. 

AW: So you’re good at identifying insights you could do like the Pat Flynn thing – put everything out on post it notes , and you’ve got an outline for a book.

JN: Yes, that’s a good one. So thank you. So my second piece of advice for people is to work on projects with senior leaders, there’s always a special projects that they don’t really line up with the org chart. Raise your hand for those get access to senior thought leaders. And what I tell people is treat them like professors in a class. People are going to call me to say will you mentor me. Instead just sign up for a project and you will work with me close up hands on in real time. That’s better than a Can I meet you for coffee for 30 minutes? Sure. But why don’t you just say, I’m working on a project with you. And that’s what I had in my career. I mean, Irene Rosenfeld. She met with us every Friday afternoon two hours for about two years. And I treated it like going to school, how does she talk? How does she question even? How does she present herself? Do you have to ask people to be their mentor? No. Just decide that they are your mentor. That would be a second piece is get close to leaders by saying, Yes, I’ll help you that project.

AW:  Well, that’s great advice, because people can see that it worked for you. And it’s also as you said, uncommon. People are very apprehensive about going off the proven track, right, the expected track and you see this in accounting firms and consulting firms and agencies, there’s like a certain hierarchy that you have to follow and taking a side route can often propel you.

JN: It propels you. You started at Kraft, and you went this way and propelled and I was starting at Kraft and I went a different way by working on projects and was working with Irene on CRM projects that completely transformed my career. And I remember a VP at the time said “for smart girl, you make dumb career decisions.” 

AW:  Wow.

JN: What do you mean?, and he goes, you’re always going off the trail.

AW:  Wow. And look at you now.

JN:  Do you think I want to be like the president of Kraft? I’m going where all the learning is. When I actually left and started an agency, that same VP emailed me and said, I never understood your career choices when you were at Kraft. I understand them now.

AW: Wow… to your other point, you probably weren’t even conscious. It’s just what you do. You just do what Jill does.

JN:  And I was drawn to it. So I just knew it was right for me. 

AW: And now you’re sharing that with other people in terms of career advice, which is very generous. Okay, moving on to the five rapid fire questions here. And we are going to make these rapid. 

JN:  Okay.

AW: First, what are your pet peeves?

JN: Entitlement. I can’t stand entitlement.

AW: Oh, wow. I wish people could see your body language. She’s…

JN:  It just it doesn’t… It doesn’t go well. No.

AW: Okay. Second question. What type of learner are you?

JN:  Visual?

AW: Speaking of metaphors… you even talk visually! I think I think us marketers over-index on being visually oriented.

JN:  Yes. 

AW: …said the podcaster. Okay, question number three, introvert or extrovert?

JN: I’m an extrovert. 

AW: There’s a shock!

JN:  Everything is energy. Even our words. Everything is energy. So it’s like, even through a computer, you needed to get it out even more. That’s why … we can’t let the screen be the block of your energy. It’s just it’s just an obstacle. Yes, but everything is energy including how you communicate. And I am full body.

AW: You know, I heard that. One thing to do if you log on to a zoom meeting early is to practice what frame you have – with your hands. So move your hands right and left and up and down.

JN:  That’s a smart idea.

AW:  and then use it like make it your challenge your your stage.

JN:  Yes, that’s I’m gonna use that. I love that

AW: the research shows if your hand goes off the side, it’s disconcerting for people because they want to they want to see what your hands doing. Right? So you’re out of frame. 

JN:  Yes, I’m using that. Thank you. 
AW: Glad you learned one thing here. Question number four. Communication preference for personal conversations.

JN:  Yes, Whatsapp. I’m full on WhatsApp. And I use it to its full capacity. So I’m a big, big voice to text person. Everyone who knows me. I’m constantly dictating, but I use that. I also do video clips. I’m like, Hello, like, my daughter…. Everybody knows I’m WhatsApp and I’m voice and I’m video and lots of emojis. Anything that’s expressive.

AW: Love it! Okay, last question. Is there a blog or podcast or an email newsletter that you find yourself recommending the most lately?

JN: Yes, I absolutely love Dr. Chatterjee’s podcast, Feel Better Live More. Absolute go-to, he’s a functional medicine doctor in the UK, deeply empathetic. Like his empathy is his superpower. Empathy. He has a holistic view on health. So mental, spiritual, physical, and his guests are phenomenal. So Arianna Huffington, Dr. Gabor Mate, Peter Crone, Ester Perel, Matthew McConaughey, people who’ve done the work. And so he’s got four principles – sleep, relaxation, nutrition, and movement. So I talk about those with my team all the time. Yes.

AW: Jill, I’ve really, really enjoyed this time. And I know we took more time than we planned.

JN: You have amazing questions.

AW: Is there anything else you want to add?

JN: So if I was to leave your listeners with one thought about the power and importance of communication as a leader, I’d say this. Leadership is more than just telling people what to do, or telling them things, or directing them. Communication is key to that. You have to communicate the context of things, explain things to people, not just tell them what to do, but why are we doing it? What is your role in it? And where is it going? What are the dependencies because then people understand the importance of things. And it comes from a task and then it elevates the purpose. So when you communicate – context. Also know that catching people doing things right is so powerful. Send little notes, a quick text to say you noticed, and I’m so proud of you. And here’s why. So catch people doing things right. And again, be specific. I loved it when you did this, it had an impact on me of that. That goes so much further than any criticism. Third is help people find their voice. Think about when you were younger. I don’t know, it’s gonna sound stupid. Or maybe everybody knows this. Is everybody else thinking this? Is it just me? So what we can do as a leader – the one question that’s so powerful I find is, Andrea, what do you think? Seriously, what do you think? I’m curious as to what you think. You’ve got a unique point of view. So you’re saying as a leader is, I see you, I value you. And it also is an invitation that some people might need in order to say something. They may not know how to grab the mic. Sometimes you have to offer the mic.

AW: Right.

JN: I find that one question. What do you think? And then hold space and let them answer.

AW: Well, Jill, thank you so so much, I was smiling the whole time. And I really, really enjoyed getting caught up and hearing some of your perspectives and insights and advice about leadership and communication. And I thank you so much.

JN: You’re very welcome. This was a pleasure. It was such a pleasure to catch up with you. And your questions are brilliant. And what you do is important. Communication is a skill that we stumble into, and we rarely study it and yet it affects all of our lives. Yes, and we don’t study it. So you did. You studied it. And you’re bringing this to …you’re unpacking it and teaching people, so what you do is important. Thank you for that.







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