The image features a photo of Sharon Ehrlich and Katie Brown. Both women are facing the camera and smiling. Sharon has shoulder length brown hair, Katie has sandy-brown curly hair. The text reads: Sharon Ehrlich in conversation with Katie Brown, Episode 39, Take Action Now and Overcome the Not Ready Barrier,


Hello and welcome everyone to the Living While Leading Executive Corner. My name is Sharon Ehrlich and I’m an executive coach and I work with women leaders, particularly those who work in IT. I’m also podcast host of the Living While Leading Podcast.

This series is designed as a mentoring session where I invite some of the most brilliant minds that I know to talk about a certain topic. Today we have our guest, Katie brown with us and we’re going to jump right into it the topic, which is to take action now and overcome the “not ready” barrier.

Katie, why don’t you tell people who you are, what you do or what you want us to know about you.


What an introduction! It’s great to be here today and thank you for having me. My name is Katie Brown. I’m currently a principal account executive at Cloud Software Group where I sit in the Citrix business unit.

I’ve spent, almost feels painful saying this, almost 20 years now in B2B (business to business) sales. Typically, in the end-user customer experience employee experience base. The last 10 years of those have been in the SaaS (software as a service) world.

I’m very fortunate to have lived and worked in the UK, where I’m speaking to you from now, the UAE, the US where I lived in New York and Germany. And if I were to describe myself at work, I would say I’m quite a typical player coach. So, for anyone who’s not familiar with what that means, it means in addition to my role as an individual contributor, I’m responsible for mentoring other team members. I tend to lead recruitment activities and things like that.

Outside of work, I’m a board member for a leading charity that supports the rights of LGBTQ+ people who are seeking asylum in the UK and when I’m not working, I love hiking with my dogs and going to see live music.


Thank you for sharing that. Well, we are going to jump right into it. The first question I’m going to ask you Katie, is how do you differentiate between genuinely needing more preparation and simply fearing to take the next step?

The reason that I asked this question is because oftentimes, we don’t react and we don’t do things because we feel like we’re not we’re not ready. There’s a point where you have to declare that you’re ready, and I’d just love to hear your thoughts on that.


I think that’s a great question to start with Sharon. When we talk about not being ready, I think it frequently falls in the context of whether we are ready to apply or put our hands up for another role, maybe a career change or broadening our horizons at work. I’m looking at it in those contexts, rather than maybe delivering from a casting standpoint.

I think it’s really easy, particularly as women, to get distracted with what might happen if we take a risk. How we might be perceived how people will think of us and our failure. And the reality is — and I’m going to thank you for age for giving me part of this — taking no risks is the biggest risk.

If I go back about 15 years ago, and I think about some of the stuff I was doing somewhat blindly, there was a great fear in me and always took somebody to push me or invite me to do something. As I’ve gone through my career, it’s actually taken me time and a trusted network to realize that. So when I’m thinking is this that I need more prep, or am I just self-sabotaging and stopping myself?

I have a couple of people that I rely on. I have quite a diverse, trusted network, and that’s only about three or four people. And I’ll talk more about that as we go through, but I think it’s really important to make sure you’ve got the people that are your anchors. Not people that are going to tell you things that you want to hear. One of mine does to that and that’s quite nice when I’m feeling a bit vulnerable.

Actually, people that will just either tell you, you’re reaching too far or don’t look ridiculous, everyone thought you would have done this already. And you know, wherever you are in your career, I’d encourage people to seek those people out. They could be people you worked with before. It’s always good to find somebody that you have some conflict with at work, or at least a little bit of friction. Because that gives you another view. I think it’s important to separate the I’m frightened of looking bad from I really haven’t prepped because the reality is I think you get to leadership, you’ve prepped, right? That’s how you got to where you are.


Absolutely. And there are two things that I’d like to tap into there. Katie, the first one is that you said by not taking a risk that’s a risk in itself. And I can tell you as someone who wore the risk adverse shoes for quite a long time, I know exactly what you’re talking about.

That ties exactly into the next point that you made about having allies and a network the people who also asked you the hard questions, people who are going to push you and really make you think about why you’re hesitating and what’s keeping you from moving forward.

Sometimes that comes in the form of your network. Sometimes we need a professional coach like me to do that. Sometimes it’s family, friends, spouses, but it’s really good to surround yourself with not just the people who make you feel good when you’re feeling a bit vulnerable, but also those who give you that proverbial kick in the pants to get things done. Let me ask you this, in what ways has the not ready barrier impacted your decision-making process in business?


There’s quite a few I could pick. I think I said in my opening that I play an active role in recruiting salespeople into our business. I’ve been doing that probably for six or seven years now. It was probably this that first highlighted to me again, how many more women, and men do it as well, but on the whole, you see it more and women see themselves as not ready for a role than male counterparts.

What I mean by that is as I would go through the interview process, you would see that a lot of the guys have kind of mapped out in their mind, well, this is what I’ll be doing and then I’ll be going here and then I’ll go there and it was almost normalized that that was the path.

If I think about how that has impacted my decision-making process because that wasn’t the path for me, what it really looked like throughout my career up until probably my mid to late 30s was just not putting my hand up for roles, sometimes opportunities through some false sense that I wasn’t ready.

By the way nobody ever told me I wasn’t ready. I decided I wasn’t ready. And I felt like I needed to demonstrate more of an over achievement before I could express the desire or willingness to take on what was perceived as the next step. How that manifested itself, and a real turning point for me was I was talking to a male colleague, and I don’t think I’ve ever said this to him. I’ll be forever grateful that we had this conversation.

I’d made up in my mind about 6 years ago that I needed to consistently overachieve by about 150% a year for five years, completely fictional. Nobody had given me this metric. And I was a fairly consistent 110 to 130% over achiever and I thought, well, you know, when I’ve done it for 5 years “Katie’s made-up stat”, then I can say I’d like to lead the team, because I’ll demonstrate I’ve done it.

In the meantime, I’m chatting to this colleague who says, well, you know, I’ve spoken to the VP of our region, and you know, I’ve talked to him about how I’ve done 80% here and 90% here, but I’m ready to step up and he agrees. And, you know, in that moment, Sharon, I thought, well hang on a second how are you ready? You haven’t achieved or overachieved and neither of us is right or wrong.

What I was realizing is my perception of what I needed to do while I kept being quiet and, and focusing on my own my own metrics of success versus the people that were going and having the conversations. Succeeding in that job didn’t mean consistently overachieving. It meant going and letting people know that you wanted a seat at the table that you wanted to develop yourself and I was completely blind to that locked in a world of head down, get on and that will drive you forward.


There are a couple of things I’d like to mention. First off, there is some data out there and I don’t remember the exact numbers that when women look at a spec for a job, they want to be about an 80-90% matched 1:1 with all of the different qualifications in terms of experience education. When men look at it that kind of put their thumb up in the air and say “oh, I’m about 50% there I’m applying anyway”.

And this is very telling, because going back to what you said, nobody has told us that we need to be a 100% match, ticking all boxes, but it’s something that we tell ourselves. And this self-talk can be very paralyzing, can’t it?

When you think about the conversation that you had with this colleague of yours, who sort of enlightened to you. When you’ve reflected back on your own behavior, did you do that with regret or did you do it with saying “okay, maybe I need to reframe or rethink how I’m moving forward in going after opportunities in my career.”


Oh, completely the latter. And actually, it led me to what I would describe as a pivotal moment. I felt like I opened my eyes to a different way of thinking and I wanted it to run around and tell all the other women around me “come on we’re doing it wrong, we’re thinking about this wrong.”

I think that there’s no point regretting the past and I don’t have the time machine. I can’t go back and change it. I’m really thankful to know it and I shout about it quite openly and try and invite other people to the table to have the conversation because if you don’t know it, you can’t do anything about.


Can you share a pivotal moment in your career where you felt you really weren’t ready—even with all the knowledge that you just described—but you still took action anyway?


It was actually quite soon after that conversation. I’m gonna say soon that was within like 3-6 months later, I was approached by a head recruiter for actually for a role in the business I work in now. It was a role that I absolutely was a terrible fit for me. It turned out that it wasn’t a good fit. I wasn’t interested.

I said I’ve been approached roles like this before. I don’t think I’m a person. During the conversation she pivoted and suggested I might be a good fit for a director role of what was then Citrix. And you know what Sharon? She was talking me through everything, and I was thinking, not only do you have no idea about this business, it’s outside of the realm of what you do. It doesn’t sound like you’re a good fit. But what I have in my head was the conversation I’ve had with this colleague, and I thought, you know what, what’s the worst that can happen?

I’m going to tell you now the whole interview was an absolute disaster. I was late. If anyone knows me, you’ll know that I arrived 10 days early for everything. So I don’t know how I managed to be late. Looking back I don’t think anything about me screamed leadership. It screamed I’m absolutely terrified, I’m not ready for this.

The reason I call it a pivotal moment and the reason I can laugh about it now is it did a few things to me. It made me aware of an organization that I later went thought I’d like to work there. I qualified myself out of the interview. My view at the time was what the leader was looking for was just unrealistic and nobody existed with that. And I thought this isn’t going be a good fit for us. But I definitely liked the look of this organization.

After a few months of reflecting on the fact I was open to other jobs, I went back to the recruiter and said, I’m now actively looking for other roles. And I’d really like to work for your company. Do you have any open roles? If not, you’re one of three companies I’m going to go to.

And the reason I described that as pivotal is it took that I’m being approached by somebody and allowed me to reframe it in a way that made sense to me. When I finally interviewed with the person who went on to be my manager and my leader, I inadvertently made my intent clear in that very first meeting, because what I said to him was, hey, congratulations on getting the job.

You know, I went up for it and well done. And he wasn’t aware that I’d applied for his role. And I’ve never gone into a job before saying, I want your job, even if that’s what I thought because you don’t want to say that to me, at least for me. I never wanted to say that it sounded too threatening and aggressive.

He sort of took a moment and said, oh, all right. Well, you know, brilliant, thank you. Thank you for the congratulations. I set my stall up before I was even hired. This is what my aspiration is. This is why I came to your company. And I want to be somebody that’s there to support you and be kind of an extra pair of arms and eyes and take on additional responsibilities. And I think that’s really important to do. I think as women, we don’t always make it clear when we want to go outside the roles of our responsibilities or what our long-term goals are.


My guest last week, Ragna Ghoreishi, spoke about this as well. She talked about taking charge and being the director of your own life and just articulating what it is you want to do. If you don’t tell anyone they just don’t know. You can grind 14-15 hours today, but that doesn’t mean that people are going to make the association between you working really hard and you making the next step in your career.


Another thing that I’ve noticed is that there’s this aspiration where leadership is like, it’s the pinnacle of success. Therefore, if I’m not a leader, I’ve not succeeded. But by the way, I see that more in men than I do and women. I think whatever you want to do, don’t let it be defined by what somebody else’s success looks like. Success is what it looks like for you. If you can find an organization or startup your own business where you get to completely control, that for me is the absolute pinnacle of leadership. You’re leading your life the way you want to.


I think this is a very interesting notion about defining what success looks like for you. As you know, I was a corporate citizen for many years, actually, decades. And it’s very easy to get caught up in the hierarchy. Just looking at the organizational chart and going on here and I want to be there, but that doesn’t necessarily bring you joy or fulfillment or development in the way that you need to develop.

It’s very easy to fall into that trap, so to speak, without really taking a step back and saying well what do I really want for myself? Is it really to be the executive director of the globe? You know, when a on calls 24 hours a day, or do I want to do something right, actually manage real life, manage my time and navigate my career as well?

Katie, how do you cultivate a culture within your team or your organization that encourages action over perfection?


I think having worked in the matrix organizations with a lot of cross-cultural teams, I’ve been exposed to this a lot and I’ve learned a lot and I think there’s probably two or three top things I think about it.

The first one is embrace and encourage failure. I know that as I grew up, you wanted to try really hard to do well, I was never encouraged to fail. I think one of the greatest assets you can have for yourself and actually for an employee is the ability to have the resilience and toughness to fail, fail fast and then course correct. Very few organizations, certainly UK headquartered organizations foster that.

If you’re a leader in your organization doesn’t foster that naturally, then it’s your job to protect your team from the noise above and give them the guardrails that they can feel comfortable to do that. I would always have 9 times out of 10 people who failed a lot and managed to pick themselves up than somebody that only knows what success looks like. That’s probably the first point.

The second would be employ a diverse team. I don’t just mean background or ethnicity, I mean, socioeconomic status, look at different genders. Try and get people who naturally speak another language as their mother tongue. Because we learn differently when we see other people doing things differently.

And an even if multi-lingual teams is not something that’s available to you, if you I don’t know if you’ve seen the TED Talk by Lera Boroditsky, about how language impacts the way we think. Because I’ve lived and worked in different cultures and because I have German as a second language, I know straightaway if you want to be direct ask me a question in German. If you want me to dance around it and sugarcoat it asked me an English.

I’ll never forget the Dutch colleague deciding to send me his own version of a performance assessment when I was in a matrix leadership role and asked me to fill in his annual review. It wasn’t his job. It wasn’t my job. It was something he proactively did to take control, but it really threw me because I’m British.

I’m supposed to tell you lots of really good things. First, how do I do this in a way that’s meaningful to you as a Dutch person? Actually, in the end, I just said to him, look, I need you to tell me what you want. Do you want me to be really brutal and honest, or do you want me to kind of give me your plus points as well? And he said, well, no. I want you to tell me how I can improve. I don’t need you to tell me how good I am.

I think this concept of letting people know it’s okay to not be successful for me is something that’s really important. I’m not saying never look for perfection, but it also goes actually no, I am sorry, I would correct that. It goes back to the comment before about not taking a risk. Perfection is the enemy of good. If you’ve done a degree and if you look at the entry qualifications for most IT sales roles, IT roles, corporate roles, a degree is a prerequisite, or at least it still is today.

That concept of getting it right and making it as good as possible for submission. To me completely goes against what you need to behave like in the business world. You just need to do it. You need to trust your guts a little bit. And then you need to be humble enough to learn what the outcome of that was.


This this idea of failing forward or failing fast and being able to recognize the failure, speak about it honestly, assess it, and then pivot, recalibrate whatever it means or at the minimum, pick yourself up and dust yourself off and then get on with is quite a big deal.

I think a lot of people are not lucky enough to work in a team or an organization that embraces failure, as you’ve described it. The benefits of failure and the way that you can use failure to your advantage. I think those folks who do should consider themselves very lucky and for those who are in leadership roles — if you’re looking at failure in absolute terms, as in good or bad — maybe this is an opportunity to reframe how you approach failure with your teams. Think of that as teaching opportunities or at a minimum of coaching opportunities to get people on to the next level.

Katie, how do balanced the need for thorough preparation with the urgency to act in a fast-paced business environment? Now you work in IT and that machine moves quickly. Decisions are moving quickly. You are probably working from quarter to quarter, with quarter ends being frenetic and trying to get things closed and move things through the pipeline. How can you manage the two because they almost seem to contradict one another. You’re on this train that’s barreling through, and you also need to be prepared. But you don’t want to waste your time being over prepared because you don’t have the luxury of time to actually do that.


It’s really funny because I think if you if anyone’s been watching this for 15 minutes, they’ll know from the speed that I speak that my brain goes really quickly. I’m not a doctor, I don’t work in a medical setting. So actually, the urgency that that we see in the business world is urgent. But it’s not life threatening.

I’m a really great believer in the problem of more haste less speed. As a leader, you have to learn to manage the noise. Everybody is going to tell you that what they need is urgent and you need to distinguish between what’s urgent and what isn’t. What’s going to get you to your goal, what’s going to make your boat go faster.

I think it’s really easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day minutia and look at all the detail. It’s really important, to step back, sometimes to remember why you were hired and what your purpose is. Whether that’s your purpose for yourself or your purpose for yourself and in the broader context of where you work. And this is really where that ability to trust your gut comes in.

I absolutely love to be thoroughly prepared, but the reality is if you spent an hour preparing, nine times out of 10, you probably could have just picked up the phone had a conversation with somebody and ask them the questions you needed.

Sometimes you have to take a bit of a risk. I think there’s an element of experience that’s going to come into that, but I think the real thing here was manage urgency. You define what’s urgent, don’t let other people tell you what is urgent.


I think we can print that one on a T-shirt. You define what’s urgent. I really like that and that it’s extremely powerful and really meaningful advice. Often times when we are living in this way where we are busy doing things, we’re just doing as opposed to being. Most of that doing is not coming from us. It’s because we are responding to all of these demands that are coming from different sources, stakeholders, family, whatever the case is, and having the ability to manage that is something that takes a bit of skill.

I will be completely honest with you. I was a yes person for quite a long time. Until it made me physically sick. And then I realized that I couldn’t be that person anymore because I just couldn’t scale it. I’m just one person. And there was a time when I just had to start to say no to things respectfully. you Sometimes saying no and offering up the solution or just saying no and understanding that no is a complete sentence. And that person was responsible for trying to find the next person to corral into whatever it is that they wanted to do.

When you talk about managing the noise, I think we probably need to tap into that a little bit more just because that’s not an easy thing to do Katie. You have quite a lot of experience behind you now. With maturity, there comes this confidence that you can manage the noise and you can say no to people. What would be your advice for someone who’s a little less junior or earlier in their career and finding that they’re getting mired in a lot of this “to do” stuff that’s keeping them from really doing the impactful things?


There’s an element of that nature of your career, right? You have to sometimes be in the mire of things and step out of them as you mature through your career. But what I would say is you want to serve your customers in the best way that you can. And that sometimes means you’ve got noise from your peers, you’ve got noise from your execs, you’ve got noise from your customers.

I always like to make things really simple — because we can get really caught up in complexity. If somebody’s asking you for something and you’re going to escalate that up or you’re going to stress about it and spend a long time doing it. Just stop yourself for a moment and ask why. If you don’t feel comfortable enough to push back on the person making the demand of you to ask why — just take five minutes to articulate how you would then ask for help from somebody in your business.

Because they’re going to ask you why and what is going to happen if you don’t do it, and why you need to do it. And if you really need to do something and you need additional resource, just understanding the impact should help you get the additional resource you need internally. But it also sometimes just makes you realize that there isn’t a reason. There’s a reason because somebody else has got to do that or they don’t understand something.

I think we sometimes underestimate how much miscommunication and misunderstanding creates chaos for people. Sometimes it’s just not your job to fix that for someone else. It’s their job or it’s their manager’s job. It’s not bad for you to say to them, I can’t help you with this. I want to help you but I’m not the person. So just ask yourself why the same way that if you try and tell a child no, they’re going to ask you why just be really clear in your head. Why you would do it, or why you shouldn’t be doing it.


What advice would you give to your younger self Katie, if you could?


Stop waiting to be perfect for everything before you put your hand up for it. Make yourself uncomfortable. This is a prime example. By the way, I will never watch this back. I don’t want to see myself on camera. I don’t want to hear myself on camera. You might then wonder why I’d said I was so delighted to do this. I enjoy sessions like this. For years I never wanted to be on camera because I didn’t want to see myself afterwards. And then, actually again, at Citrix, I saw somebody who really felt uncomfortable on camera and I thought oh, that’s one of the most knowledgeable people I know and I’ve never seen them look so unhappy.

It’s not so bad for me when I do it. Why don’t I do it? Throw yourself into more things. Find someone that’s going to push you a little bit because you know what staying sane and what you think is comfortable is never going to make you grow. The worst thing that’s going to happen is your blush, you’ll get something wrong. It’s not going to kill you. Maybe you’ll learn something, maybe you’ll make some new connections.

Without sounding like Nike, just do it. I was so frightened of looking like a fool or doing something wrong. And you know what? That’s only in your head. Nobody else is thinking about you like that.


We’re going to end on that note. Thank you everybody for tuning in. Katie, thank you so much for your words of wisdom and sharing with us. You really dropped a lot of knowledge here and a lot of experience and I hope that folks found the conversation valuable.