Kathy Caprino on Self-Empowerment: An interview by Bob Morris

Photo credit: JAGStudios©2019

Kathy Caprino is an internationally-recognized women’s career, executive and leadership coach, Finding Brave™ expert, a Forbes senior contributor, writer and TEDx/national speaker dedicated to the advancement of women in business globally.

The author of Breakdown, Breakthrough and her latest The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss (HarperCollins Leadership, July 2020 and Murdoch Books, August 2020), Kathy is founder and president of Kathy Caprino, LLC  — a premier career and leadership coaching and consulting firm helping professional women reach their highestvisionsand goals. She is also the creator and host of the Finding Brave global career podcast which has ranked in the Top 100 Apple Podcasts in its category.

A former corporate marketing VP, trained marriage and family therapist, and seasoned coach, Kathy is a leading voice on LinkedIn and Thrive Global, and top media source on careers, personal growth, leadership and women’s career issues and trends, and has appeared in over 200 leading publications and magazines and on national radio and television.

Links to various resources are provided at the conclusion of this interview.

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Before discussing The Most Powerful You, a few general questions. First, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) years ago that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

There was indeed an epiphany I had soon after I experienced a brutal layoff from my corporate marketing VP role in the days following the tragedies of 9/11 that set me on a completely new course.

Back in October of 2001, I was sitting in the office of my psychotherapist, crying and feeling utterly lost as just that week, I had been laid off from my senior role at a marketing firm. While I should have been totally relieved and doing a happy dance all the way out the door, I felt the opposite – flattened and devastated. For two years in that job, and actually, throughout my entire 18-year corporate career, I struggled with challenges that I couldn’t figure out how to overcome, even though I appeared “successful.”

In my late 30’s, I became chronically ill with tracheal infections, and shortly after, I began to face a number of crises you hear about for women, but don’t think you’ll ever experience. Crises like sexual harassment, gender and age discrimination, zero work-life balance, controlling bosses, punishment for speaking up and being assertive, being marginalized for not “playing the game,” and more.

I knew I needed outside help and I pursued it, but for reasons I didn’t understand then, I just didn’t make the changes I needed to make. I couldn’t figure out what exactly to do to better in my career and be happier at work. As a career coach working with hundreds of people a year, I now know exactly why I was stuck and afraid to leave my career: fear of losing everything I’d worked so hard for.

The epiphany came when my therapist said this:

I know this looks like the worst crisis you’ve ever faced, but from where I sit, it’s the first moment in your adult life you can choose who you want to be in the world. Now who do you really want to be?

That question allowed me to finally experience “Brave Sight” as I call it, the first step on the path to becoming more capable to take the reins on lives and careers. Answering the question “Who do you really want to be?” helped me think not about who I had been, but what I could become.

That moment of brave sight helped me see that the sad, insecure person I was on that day was not the end of the story. From that one fateful conversation, I started taking braver, more powerful steps and embarked on a new path that changed me forever.

In response to my therapist’s question “Who do you really want to be?” I blurted out “I don’t know! I just want to be you!” We both laughed for a minute, and then he asked a very powerful question. He asked, “What does ‘being me’ mean to you?” I thought for a minute, and then replied, “I want to help people, not hurt people, and not be hurt.”

We began exploring what “helping people” might look like for me. After knowing me for several years, he shared that he had thought that I’d make a good therapist. He suggested I explore several master’s degree programs in Marriage and Family Therapy that were available at two universities near me.

From that powerful discussion, I embarked on obtaining my master’s degree in MFT, and became a therapist and later, launched my own career and leadership coaching practice.

Who and/or what have had greatest impact on the development of your thoughts about human empowerment? How so?

The list of people and ideas that have influenced me over these past 20 years is massive and simply too long to mention! Among them are powerful psychologists such as Carl Rogers; family systems experts such as Salvador Minuchin; happiness experts such as Shawn Achor; Viktor Frankl’s incredible work and his classic work, Man’s Search for Meaning; Harriet Lerner’s writings; Gay Hendrick’s books such as The Big Leap; spiritual development work from the Dalai Lama and Buddhist monk Pema Chodron, and so many more.

Also in interviewing hundreds of thought leaders, bestselling authors, Pulitzer Prize winners, creatives, entrepreneurial experts and more for my Forbes blog “Career Bliss” and in my Finding Brave podcast, I’ve been influenced by each of these interviews and transformative ideas and concepts that support empowerment and growth.

Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

I love this quote and find it remarkably true. One small example of this from my own life is that in the beginning, when I was just starting out as a coach and therapist, I would see that my clients were experiencing rather amazing transformations and growth through the process of coaching, and sometimes it even seemed “miraculous” in terms of the new opportunities that were coming their way during and after the coaching process that they were then ready to embrace.  In the beginning, I selfishly wished I could get some credit for helping them! But invariably, my clients felt deep down as if they had done it all themselves, and of course, they had. And that’s absolutely the most empowering and desirable outcome that as a coach I want to help achieve – that my clients experience remarkable growth, and understand that it’s the work they did themselves that make these shifts possible.

From Voltaire: “Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.”

In my view, this demonstrates the idea that “truth” is not an end point or a final destination. As Shakespeare so brilliantly wrote, “Nothing is but thinking makes it so.” Truth is subjective, and truth shifts and morphs as we grow and develop. It’s so helpful to associate with and learn from people who are seek truth for themselves (which means, to me, exploring truths from the inside out, not as some objective reality that doesn’t shift or move).

Those who say they “found the truth” are often trying to manipulate us (and themselves) into thinking they have the RIGHT or only answer to key life questions (or to how to build a business, be successful, make great money, etc.) In reality, if you think you’ve found the truth, you might be sorely disappointed when the “truth” doesn’t deliver what you desperately hoped it would.

From Alvin Toffler: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

I have a personal take on this quote. I’ve often shared something powerful that I learned as a therapist and coach, which is this: “We are what our childhood taught us to be, unless we’ll healed and unlearned it.” So many adults are being held captive by messages they learned in childhood and early life (about themselves, the world, their worth, their power, etc.) and they’re not aware of how these messages and learned coping mechanisms are holding them back from greater happiness, reward and success today. As adults, we need to learn more deeply what we believe, then unlearn and release any beliefs and messages about ourselves and our lives that no longer support or uplift us.

From Margaret Mead:  “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.”

So true! I love to say that each and everyone one of us is as unique as our thumbprint and each person is so valuable in the world because of their uniqueness. My TEDx talk “Time to Brave Up” shares some key strategies for uncovering your uniqueness, including what I call “The 20 Facts of You” that helps people recognize what they’ve done in the world that is special and valuable, and also how to recognize all the influences that have made them who they are (ancestry, cultural training, relationships good and bad, perspectives, triumphs, traumas, etc.).  Everything that’s happened to you contributes to your specialness, and that uniqueness needs to be honored and leveraged in your work to bring you joy, fulfillment and impact.

From  Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I love this fantastic quote from Ms. Angelou and have shared it myself many times. And I’ve personally witnessed this idea in action more times than I can count. Humans are longing deeply for validation, acceptance, and inclusiveness – to be loved, understood and heard, and to be reminded that they are valuable, worthy, important and that they truly matter. When we can help others feel these things about themselves, they will never forget it and it will be a transformative experience that often changes the trajectory of their lives.

In your opinion, what are the defining characteristics of a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive?

I’ve interviewed some powerful thinkers on this topic, including a recent Forbes interview with Dr. Timothy Clark on How Your Leadership Can Build Psychological Safety Today. I’ve also just written a piece about 10 Questions That Will Help You Know If Your Leader or Manager Is Someone You Should Follow. These two pieces sum up my views (and in Dr. Clark’s case, powerful current research) on what is necessary for a culture to thrive.  According to Dr. Clark, and I agree wholeheartedly, humans need to feel these four things to feel psychologically safe:

  1. To be included
  2. Feel safe to learn
  3. Feel safe to contribute
  4. Feel safe to challenge the status quo

Without these, personal growth and professional development are thwarted and suppressed.

Now please shift your attention to The Most Powerful You. For those who have not as yet read it, hopefully your responses to these questions will stimulate their interest and, better yet, encourage them to purchase a copy and read the book ASAP. First, when and why did you decide to write it?

Several years ago in my coaching and leadership training work, I noticed some very common, repetitive patterns among professional women and the challenges they face, and I decided to pull the lens back and try to put my finger on what’s underneath what seems to be a widespread experience of unhappiness, disillusionment and disappointment for so many professional women around the world, regardless of geographic location, education, socioeconomic level, role, title, field, etc.. I wanted to understand why thousands of working women globally appear to experience the same types of difficult and debilitating challenges, and why the men I worked with and spoke to didn’t seem to have these same challenges or to the degree women struggled with them.

In looking at the data that emerged from thousands of interviews, conversations, survey results and client sessions over the past decade, I asked myself these two core questions:

“What is missing from the lives of these working women who feel they can’t experience the joy, success, reward and impact they deserve and want? and

What are they experiencing through the coaching process that is generating transformation for them?

The answer that came from the research was this: The key missing ingredients are bravery and power.

It became clear from our discussions that what many women needed (and I what I needed most when I was in my darkest period in my career) was more bravery to proactively and concretely address what isn’t working, and more positive power to make the critical changes needed to create and experience more success and happiness.

When I talk about “power” I’m not referring to power over someone to force them to do something, but power to– to make the changes that can transform our lives. And power to experience more strength, confidence, authority and impact so that we can overcome the obstacles in the way of our greater success and fulfillment.

What also emerged from the research was this:

There are 7 specific and damaging “power gaps” working women face that prevent women from succeeding, thriving and reaching their highest potential. These power gaps are remarkably common among women of all walks, education levels, industries, fields and roles. And these gaps are prevalent among women in entrepreneurial life, as well as corporate professionals, consultants, private practitioners and other types of work.

Here are the seven damaging power gaps:

#1: Not Recognizing Your Special Talents, Abilities and Accomplishments
#2: Communicating From Fear Not Strength
#3: Reluctance to Ask for What You Deserve
#4: Isolating From Influential Support
#5: Acquiescing Instead of Saying “STOP!” to Mistreatment
#6: Losing Sight of Your Thrilling Dream
#7: Allowing Past Trauma to Shape and Define You

I refer to these challenges as “power gaps” because I have found them to widen and stretch with time (like cracks in the road that expand over time) that lead to a loss of what we need most to succeed in life – energy, positivity, confidence, clarity, commitment, connection and self-authority. The longer the gap is left unaddressed, the bigger it becomes, and the more our confidence, control and self-esteem diminish.

Were there any head-snapping revelations while conducting your research? Please explain.

While my qualitative research over 10 years and my interviews with women were revealing a huge proliferation of these gaps, the “head-snapping” revelations were these:

o 98% of more than 1,000 professional women from around the world whom I surveyed are experiencing at least one of these gaps

o More than 75% are facing three or more at the same time

o The average number that women are experiencing is 4. That is an epidemic of power challenges that we need to address if women are to thrive in their work and workplaces, and step up to the leadership and management roles they want and deserve

o The two gaps that are impacting the highest percentage of women are Gap #3: Reluctance to Ask for What You Deserve (77%) and Gap #6: Losing Sight of Your Thrilling Dream for Your Life (76%)

Many people deny the value of self-help books because, in my opinion, they ignore the word “self.” I agree with Edison quoted earlier: “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Benjamin Franklin in his Autobiography and Henry David Thoreau in Walden also offer excellent advice as do countless others. However, ultimately, it is up to each recipient of that advice to put it to effective use with a best effort.

That said, here’s my question for you. In your opinion, of all the advice you provide in The Most Powerful You, which seems to be the most difficult for people to act upon effectively? Why?

What a great question! I’d say through the 15 years of career and leadership coaching with women, the hardest pieces of advice to follow for them are

1) to believe with every cell in their body that they are valuable, important, and truly worthy of fantastic success AND

2) that they need to learn how to speak confidently, powerfully and comfortably about their special talents and the great achievements they’re most proud of, and they have to do this both publicly and privately, in their conversations, interviews, on LinkedIn, on their resumes, etc.

The reason this is so hard for women is that we’re culturally trained NOT to do these things. We live in a patriarchal society, and the corporate world at managerial and leadership levels are still dominated by men. In patriarchal societies, women are taught that being “feminine” means that we’re to be “pleasing, accommodating, malleable, soft, vulnerable, unassertive, and emotional.” When women behave in ways that seem different from these traits, there’s still pushback and punishment. (For more on this, see my Forbes interview with bestselling author and renowned couples therapist Terry Real.)

This dynamic also applies to why women are so reluctant to ask powerfully for what they want and deserve, because in our society, women are often trained NOT to put their needs and desires first, before others.

Do C-level executives encounter the same gaps? Please explain.

While coaching people of all levels, and also when interviewing very illustrious, so-called “powerful” people, even celebrities, I’ve seen this: Every single person – no matter what level or degree of power, can experience one or more of these 7 power gaps.  I’ve worked with C-level executives, many of whom were wealthy and perceived as “powerful,” and “confident,” as well as millionaires and others whom society deems powerful, yet they were experiencing several gaps at once. No one is “immune.”

To what extent do the power gaps that women struggle with differ significantly from those that men face?

Data and research from many different sources confirms that women struggle far more than men in most if not all of these gaps.  From my coaching work, the gaps that appear to have the largest degree of difference between men and women and where women struggle much more, include:

Gap #1: Not recognizing your special talents, abilities and accomplishments
Gap #3: Reluctance to ask for what you deserve
Gap #4: Isolating from influential support
Gap #5: Acquiescing instead of saying “STOP!” to mistreatment

Regarding Gap #5, research has shown that 8 of 10 women will experience some form of sexual harassment in their careers, and 4 of 10 women have faced gender bias and/or discrimination.  The prevalence of sexual harassment and the damage it causes for women today in the workforce is extreme.

You place a great deal of value on “internal exploration.” What is it and how best to conduct it?  And when and how frequently to conduct “internal exploration” or is it — or at least should be — a never-ending process?

Internal exploration is absolutely essential if we wish to build a happier and more impactful life and career. So many people have never been trained or taught to look at or critically understand who they are at their core, including their intrinsic values, their core beliefs, their mindsets about a wide variety of issues, and their deepest fears and insecurities, as well as the coping mechanisms they use to ward off pain and anxiety. You simply can’t move forward in the powerful, positive way towards your highest goals without getting in much deeper touch with who you really are, what you believe and what’s in the way of the success you say you want.

Here’s one of several of your statements that caught my eye: “Understand that you are not your past. You are all of it. — your past, present, and future.” In which circumstances would sharing that insight with someone else be most helpful? Please explain.

It’s the human condition for us to only focus on what’s at the tip of the noses—meaning, what we’re dealing with right now, right in this moment. I hear from so many people who have been fired, or have a narcissistic boss who is mistreating and hurting them, or they’ve been passed over for a promotion, or not moving forward in their interviews, etc. and they’re devastated about it.

When we’re struggling, we internalize the challenges and think “I’m a loser,” or “I don’t have what it takes to succeed.” In most cases, this is far from the reality.  But to overcome pain and challenge of what’s happening in the moment, we need to see the totality of who we are – everything (all the good and great as well as the “failures” we’ve learned from) that we’ve done, created, achieved. And when we do that, we realize that this difficult point in time will pass and doesn’t have to define us. You can overcome this and become a stronger, more confident and powerful version of you, even (and especially) because you’ve experienced this hard challenge.

In your opinion, which of the material you provide in The Most Powerful You will be most valuable to both men and women?

All of it! Men have written to me that they too are experiencing these gaps and need help to overcome them. And for all those who lead and manage others, including parents, athletic coaches, teachers, advisors, etc. there are essential steps and lessons in the book about the specific conditions and behaviors that are necessary within our cultures and ecosystems for individuals to thrive.

In the end, each and every one of us impacts others in our lives and work, and we all need to do our part to understand more critically how to build work cultures and ecosystems that uplift, empower, strengthen, and support people’s growth and development. And we each need to do our part to grow in our own bravery and positive impact so that we are shining our lights very brightly in the world and helping all those we serve and interact with to do the same.

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Kathy cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Kathy’s new book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss

For book ordering In Australia and New Zealand – https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-most-powerful-you-kathy-caprino/book/9781760525385.html

Other sites:



Kathy’s Forbes  blog – https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino

Kathy’s personal blog – https://kathycaprino.com/blog

Kathy’s 16-week online career growth course – The Amazing Career Project

Kathy’s 17-week Amazing Career Coach Certification Training

For leaders – see Kathy’s article in Leader to Leader on Help Your Workforce Close Their Power Gaps and Achieve Exponential Growth


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