Leadership Rising: Creating Solutions The World Needs With Development Coach, Nan Watts

30 Jun , 2020 podcasts

Leadership Rising: Creating Solutions The World Needs With Development Coach, Nan Watts

CMO Nan | Cultivating Leadership


With the current pandemic situation forcing more and more people to work from home, there’s a paradigm shift taking place, especially in leadership. Whatever veil or wall that people have put up between their personal and professional lives are long gone. Traditional leadership philosophies, tools, and methodologies don’t seem to be panning out, and people are shifting to self-awareness and really understanding what they can bring to the table. Joining Katherine Twells on the show is development coach and mentor Nan Watts. Nan helps leaders and executives connect to a deep understanding of what drives them so they can understand their purpose and create solutions the world needs. Today, Katherine and Nan talk about cultivating leadership in times of crisis and the importance of creating an identity of how you want to be remembered for leading during this unprecedented time.

Listen to the podcast here:

Leadership Rising: Creating Solutions The World Needs With Development Coach, Nan Watts

Cultivating Leadership In Times Of Crisis

My guest is Nan Watts. Nan is a sought-after thought leader and adult development, coach. She’s been working with rising leaders who are wondering how to navigate during these unprecedented times, whether they’re being pushed by challenging circumstances or pulled by a vision of something greater. She understands that we are in a moment of global crisis, but it doesn’t need to be a crisis of leadership. In fact, the opposite, it’s an opportunity to crystallize and activate the vision of what kind of leader you want to become. Therefore, catalyzing the next generation of epic change-makers as we head into what is an apparent new world. Nan is a certified executive coach with over fifteen years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies, multinational corporations, and nonprofit organizations.

In the last few years, she has coached over 2,500 hours, partnered with 450 senior leaders who are challenging themselves to grow, adapt and thrive in a world of constant change and disruption. Nan’s approach to coaching supports that great leadership is built on the foundation of strong internal and external self-awareness. Her goal is to enable a leader’s transition from a reactive mindset to a resourceful, adaptive mindset that enables them to run their internal operating system versus having that system run them. She’s a steward of the coaching profession and brings great insights, skill, compassion, humor, wisdom, and an uncanny ability to distill your words, thoughts, and feelings into the essential truth of who you are. Therefore, providing new perspectives and clarity on your path forward. Without any further ado, I sincerely hope you enjoy the conversation with Nan.

Nan, thank you for taking the time to join me in this conversation. I appreciate it.

It’s my pleasure. I always love chatting with you.

We’re going to go ahead, get into it, and get started. What I want to do first is ground everybody on you, your story, and a little bit about who you are. Share that with us, please.

If we cry and totally lose it, it doesn't mean we're lost at sea. It just means that we're sad and giving into the reality. Click To Tweet

I’m Nan Watts. I am a leadership development coach, but foundational to that is I’m a coach that helps people deepen and expand self-awareness and self-acceptance. That they understand what they’re committed to, why they’re leading, what’s driving it. It’s a way to help people to better understand their own internal operating systems. They run it instead of it running them. That’s who I am. How I got here? I can share it with you. I’m learning that our stories are important. When I coach people, I ask at the beginning of the relationship for them to share 2 or 3 origin stories that will help me understand how they got to where they are. That’s what I’m going to do with you.

How I got to this place and time began when I was young, when my parents got divorced and how that’s relevant because that was a time of major upheaval in my life. It was a difficult, challenging time. I was 13, 14, and I learned quickly what it’s like to have the rug pulled out. I found my way to a camera when I was eighteen. I recognize that I’ve always been connected to that frequency or that bandwidth that is my intuition. I have the sense and I was always intrigued. I bought a camera and I started to heal by looking through the lens of the camera and studying the world. I taught myself photography.

I studied light. I studied people. I learned the manual camera back then. That’s what we had, but it was a great way to learn. I started to see that everyone struggled. It was interesting. I had a real connection to psychology and sociology. Getting underneath the hood of why and what drives people, and why they do things. I wound up getting a degree in Applied Behavioral Sciences in school. I wanted to go into training and development. You couldn’t get a job in training development without experience. You couldn’t get experienced because you couldn’t get a job.

I went into recruiting and I loved it. It was coaching. I was coaching back then before coaching was even a thing. I loved understanding what drove my clients, what they were looking at. Helping them to get clear on who they wanted to hire, who was going to be a good fit, and helping the people who are the candidates. They were called candidates at that time. I helped them understand why was this role good for them. There was a lot of exploration in that. I loved what I did. I wound up having my son and all of that got married. I didn’t love who I was working for. I was faced with a choice of how I wanted to be as a mom in the world with a young son and my husband worked a lot of hours, and I’m working for someone I didn’t want to be working for. I left and I started to think about, “What could I do that would align with how I wanted to be as a mom and also to contribute to the economic well-being of our family?”

I started a business as a photographer. I was taking pictures of my friends and their kids. I was getting lots of feedback that was good. I thought, “Why not? I’ll keep doing it.” I built a small niche business doing outdoor available light photography. I loved to be in nature. I could be with families. I loved being behind the lens. I loved capturing the essence of families and trying to bring the spirit. It wasn’t a stressful environment. I did that and event photography for fifteen years or something like that, which was great. It was wonderful because I got to have freedom, flexibility, creativity, contribute financially, and still be available for my kids. It was a wonderful thing. However, I started to slowly burn out on it. At the same time, Columbine happened in 1999, and September 11th happened.

It’s like everyone, my kids were young and I started to see the world is spinning on a different axis than I was familiar with. I felt intuitive that I wanted to make a change. It was time to make a change and it was time to do something that would have a greater impact. What was that? I thought about getting my Master’s in Art Therapy and my Master’s in Guidance and Counseling, but I didn’t want to go back to school. I didn’t like the first several years. I hired a coach and I loved the coaching model. I went through a lot of training, coaching, and leadership development. I had already started one business. I thought, “Start another one.” I then started my practice as a coach and have been doing that for the last several years.

It’s interesting because a lot of times people said, “You’re a photographer. How come you’re coaching?” I would think to myself, “How is that?” It’s true because it’s the same skill, different vehicle. I still am focused through the lens, observing, and I’m capturing the essence of someone or their story or what it is that they’re wanting to work on. I reflected back to them in a way that they might be able to see it and hear it differently than they might be imagining it in their minds. It gets clearer for them. With photography, it was a camera. With coaching, it’s a different set of tools that I use to do the same work.

I feel grateful. The idea was to be able to help people find what it is that makes them happy. In the end, people who are happier make a greater contribution. It seems altruistic, but that’s where we go. To try and find that alignment, that fulfillment, that seems to be alluding people is about aligning with what is important and understanding that and then aligning with it. I’ve been doing that for several years. In the last few years, I’ve worked exclusively in Corporate America, with global companies, and I work with senior managers too under the C-Suite. Working with leaders and helping them understand themselves so that they can understand how to lead during these rapidly-changing times.

CMO Nan | Cultivating Leadership

Cultivating Leadership: When we weave together and integrate the good, the bad, and the ugly, that becomes the whole and we can operate from that place of wholeness.


Nan, I love the way you told your story and especially the way you articulated this common vision through the camera lens and reflecting that back to the people that you coach. You connected the dots. Even back to our origin stories, it always starts in our childhood. That’s we’re shaped in many ways. Going through the divorce and finding that the camera was healing for you and utilizing that vehicle to be a healing force for others is such a beautiful thread. I find that whenever I talked to people, my own experience of my own origin story, you see how things have involved to bring you to where you are.

The other observation I would make about your story is there is a lot of coaching out there of different angles. There’s leadership philosophy, tips and tricks, tools, and methodologies. When you start with self-awareness and understanding what are you bringing to the party, and what is the nature of your own self-orientation, it’s a powerful place to play because you are helping someone fully integrate their gifts as a leader in the world. I think that’s it’s unique to every individual and the outcome is richer for everybody.

I would say integration is exactly what it is. I ask those stories so that I can hear how people got to where they are and find those threads. It’s not therapy, but it’s therapeutic. When people can start to make those connections and when we weave together and integrate the good, bad, and ugly then that becomes the whole and we can operate from that place of wholeness. Tools then are important.

We spend a lot of time and we have historically trying to compartmentalize our life and work. This is my work persona. Certainly, leaders have to feel sometimes, “I got it all together. Everything’s good.” Yet the psychology of our own integration, our own sense of self is our grounding where we’re leading from is a highly personal road. For leaders, if you don’t have a coach helping you mirror some things back to yourself, then there are going to be blind spots. The power of us bringing our fully integrated self into the workplace is the future of how we’re going to be more effective. It’s not therapy, but it’s touching on things that drive us from a personal level. It’s a powerful narrative to be in.

That is in my mind, the paradigm shift and that’s taking place. It’s how you think about who leaders are and what they should be doing. Leaders shouldn’t be, “I can’t be vulnerable. I can’t show that side of myself because then people think I’m weak or they’ll say it’s not leader-like or whatever story.” It’s moving to, “If I do show up, then it’s a part of my story. It gives people the power to do that themselves, the opportunity to be vulnerable. It’s what people are craving.” That’s the thing, it’s where we’re going. That’s the shift that needs to take place. It’s interesting because people are working from their homes. Whatever threshold, veil, or wall that people put up between their personal and professional lives is being long through.

You’re seeing the whole person. I was on a call and one of our associates, a fantastic gentleman, his son was climbing over his head and we’ve been deliberate in the company to say, “Kids, dogs, and your life are welcome.” During this time, you don’t have to push that away. We’re all in this together. You have your family and we’re juggling this, so bring it in. I don’t want that to leave post-pandemic. We’re going to dig into this. We’re wearing more mask, but the mask is coming off of our humanity and who we are. We can not have a podcast at this time and space in 2020 and not talk about what’s changed.

You mentioned about 9/11, Columbine, and how things happened that changed your experience of the world. They can be unsettling because we’re fundamentally creatures of habit and we want to control. We think we control and then something shows us how much we’re not in control. Here we are in the middle of its week eight here in California of sheltered home, which is amazing. People have gone through all levels of initial adaptation to the crisis, learning a new normal, or some people call it the new abnormal. How to function through this? How do you think this changes leadership for those leading? How does it change the way we lead?

Once we understand what we are committed to and what matters most, we can start prioritizing our time differently. Click To Tweet

I don’t even think we know yet. I can tell you from where I sit that loss of control is huge. I experienced it. I was in a crappy mood. Short of the fact that it was Mother’s Day and I wasn’t going to be with my kids. What does that mean? Which is small compared to how life has changed in every way. Our lives have been upended. Personally, I connected it to a loss of control. I didn’t have any control. What does it take you back to? I know for myself, and I’ve done a lot of internal work, it took me right back to that childhood place of how my whole life shifted and it felt out of control. As leaders, we don’t even know that people are exhausted. They are exhausted and it’s requiring. Here’s the thing that I think about that I keep coming up with. I was talking to a group of compatriots, fellow coaches who I respect and admire. When we think the greatest thing that a leader can do is notice their own capacity to be in this moment in time because we have to understand what we can be with before we can even start to understand how we can be there for the people on our teams or in our organizations.

What I noticed in my work was a tremendous amount of fatigue with the reality that this is not a sprint. This is not going to be just six weeks. Some companies are moving to work from home for the rest of the year, optional. People have offices in their dining room. They’re going, “I have to set up differently. I’m exhausted. I’m working more hours instead of less because I feel I can’t ever put my computer down. I’ve got my kids. I’ve got whatever going on and in personal life.” There seems like there is this big fatigue. The conversations I was engaging with was, “Why do you feel you need to offer hope? What is important about that? What if we had different conversations? Do you feel hope for yourself? How can you offer hope when you don’t feel hope for yourself? How can you offer relief when you’re feeling exhausted?” It’s understanding capacity and starting to understand what are my stories around? How much all of this is my responsibility? Do I have to break through and ask questions with people’s lives that I don’t ever want to know the answers too? Does that make sense to you?

It makes complete sense. You mentioned the exhaustion. People underestimate that when you are trying to carry that level of unknowing and uncertainty, that itself is an energy drain for people. You’re working through your mental and emotional processes. It’s like standing on a balancing ball and you have to keep adjusting because the ground is moving beneath you. You keep adjusting and it takes energy to do that. It’s true for all of us. As a leader, there is a sense of, “I need to supply that hope. I need to supply optimism and help create the space for my team and my people to exhale a little bit and know it’s okay.”

Everything is modeling, whether as a leader or parenting. We’re doing that at the same time when our kids are running around next to us. People are looking at how you’re handling it as somewhat of a lighthouse for them. You talked about this adversity and vulnerability challenge because on one hand, no one wants to see a leader burst into tears. That they’re completely lost at sea. That’s unnerving. On the other hand, there are times the leader doesn’t have all the answers because if you don’t show vulnerability, then your people can say, “How come I feel concerned? They don’t seem to feel concerned. Maybe something’s wrong with me.” There seems to be the sweet spot between total vulnerability. We’ve got shared adversity. What are your thoughts on that?

Here’s the thing that comes up for me, if we cry and we totally lose, it doesn’t mean we’re lost at sea. It means that we’re sad and giving in to reality. That’s the thing about, “If I were to cry, does that mean I’m any less connected to my point of view and what I believe in as a leader?” No, it doesn’t. It means that in the moment I feel tender. I feel sad. I’m feeling scared. I’m feeling empathy, whatever is seeping in. I’m feeling it. That’s the shift that I’m speaking about and how we perceive. If a leader breaks down or shows vulnerability, does that mean that they have lost their stature? Does that mean that they’re any less “leader-like? Are they still not setting the high bar and the vision of where you need to go?

I look at things differently. Crying is a way to regain equilibrium. You lose your equilibrium for a minute, but you gain it because there’s a lot of energy and I agree with you that I would say this is just a generalization. It’s my story and I’m sticking with it. You can lop off 20% of people’s capacity right off the top on any given day because of the stress of the pandemic. Whatever is slowly sucking the gas out of someone’s tank, whether it’s a concern for your kids, concern about how you are leading, concern about your own well-being, and concern about somebody in the family. Fear you have about the world and fear you have about whatever frustration you have with leadership in our country.

It’s slowly eroding on people. It’s like eroding the fiber. I think that if someone gives in to it, you have an opportunity too. You’re not giving more energy into trying to hold that back. You’re putting energy back in the tank, being able to own it and regain. Believe in your own resiliency. Because you cry now or you feel sad, that doesn’t mean you’re going down forever. It means I’ve got to go there so I can come back here. I can regain my equilibrium.

As we talk about this, Nan, it brings to life the fact that we have collective adversity. It’s obvious, it’s in front of us. We’re surrounded by it. We talk about it. We have to manage many things around us economically and relationally. Take the pandemic away at any given time. We’ve always known the saying, “Be kind because everyone is fighting a great battle.” The battles were not obvious. The battles were someone’s going through a divorce, going through an illness, and someone is feeling depressed or whatever’s happening and you don’t know it. They have to show up with the mask on. In some ways, this collective adversity gives an opportunity for everyone to come together. It’s all on the table and embraces the humanity of it that would be needed at other times but, people are afraid to reveal that part of themselves. Maybe there’s a muscle that we’re building through this that is good for us, to take with us.

What would be the muscle? How would you define it?

The ability to see our humanity more often. To have our radar up more and to acknowledge that is the human condition. That we do beautiful things and the human spirit is inspiring. I want to talk about the silver linings that are coming from this. It’s not moving your kids away if they come on screen for a video call. When the vaccine is here and we start to feel more comfortable and calmer then return to some sense of a new evolved, I’d like to think it’s an evolved normally. How can we keep the things that embrace that we are human? We love that about our teams and knowing more about them. That is the opportunity that this gives us to take that with us in the future.

The longer this goes on, the easier it’s going to get. It’s going to start to seem like the new norm. A lot of people said, “What happens tomorrow if we get to go back? Will we return to our own habits?” I would encourage people to think about finding something to anchor themselves and to remind them of how good this felt to be in the community and to be with other people so that we don’t return back. For leaders, you could be leading your own life, family, community, an organization, and a team or a region. There are lots of ways to define that. We are all leaders at this point. It’s all hands on deck. We all need to keep that conversation alive and not try to figure it out ourselves. The question is, “When we come back, how do we want to be? How will we remind ourselves that there was real comfort in this connection?”

This show is about the CMO Summit and its origin. It’s been about the power of the community. It’s been fascinating because, at the beginning of this year, my mindset was all about we need more physical time together. Technology has swung too far and we need to be together. We had everyone together for a big meeting and it was fun and great. Everyone was interacting and this whole thing happens and we become completely separated. Yet, we’ve embraced videos more. People are reaching out more. We did a pulse survey on our engagement not too long ago. People have talked about culture improving since the pandemic. People fail. Even though we’re separated, they’re feeling connected because there’s way more reaching out and the vulnerability in the conversations. They’re real and rich. It’s been fascinating for me to watch how in our separation we’ve created a community.

Here’s my hope and I’m not sure if I know the answer that when people start to experience community on a continuous basis then we won’t have to ask how we’re going to keep it alive. Once you experience what it feels to be in connection with people, I don’t know if people are going to want to go back.

CMO Nan | Cultivating Leadership

Cultivating Leadership: Find something to anchor yourself in and be reminded of how good it feels to be in a community with other people and keeping the conversation alive.


I’ve noticed in my neighborhood and California, our lives before this is you’re on the freeway, you’re exhausted and you come home. You go for walks. The neighbors are sitting out of their house because they want fresh air. We’re then talking and people have a glass of wine. They’ve slowed down. I’m like, “Wow.” I walked down by the water. There was a group of boats around and there were two young men playing the guitar, doing a little concert. People were gathered on their boats at a safe distance. It was beautiful to see that. My sons and I were walking. It’s like an outdoor concert. I’m serious, I have not seen that at all. Before, everyone was running too fast. Let’s talk about that space because a lot of my podcast interviews prior to this time, there were some common themes. One of the common themes was this space for leaders to contemplate, have a vision, and to think about where they are and where they want to take their organizations. Over and over again, I would talk to guests and leaders about, “It’s important. It’s critical, but we’re over-rushing.”

“I can’t possibly find the time.” This was something. It’s interesting because this is my thing. It is time is a bully versus time as a resource. It’s definitely been a theme in the work that I’ve done. People would come into a coaching call, I’m rushed and barely have an hour to spend, “I can’t believe I’m doing this in the middle of the day.” When they slowed down and they have the opportunity to hear themselves think through the conversation and sort through whatever they’re bringing into the moment, in the end, they’ll say, “This was great.” “What’s great?” “I had time to slow and I could hear myself think. I’m getting some clarity.” I would say, “Tell me again how this isn’t important.”

It’s critical. The mindset, when we’re in coaching, we’re seeking to see what the development opportunity is, but what’s the shift? What needs to happen in your mind and then your behaviors to move you to meet that? If you want to be more strategic and you want to be in connection with people. This pause that we’re all on circles back to the world of 24/7 is never going to change. We have to understand who we are in that and what’s important to us. The slowing down, I think what will happen to people are getting a chance to think about what is important to me. Do I need to be at every meeting? Do I need to have hour meetings? Do I need an hour a day to think? I can see that if I pull out and put it down. I go out of my yard or I do whatever. For an hour, I’m going to come back and be a better version of myself with more clarity. It’s taking that pause. Each of us understands what we are committed to and what matters most, then we can start prioritizing our time differently. We start to think that time is a resource.

This will change cultures because people are realizing they don’t need everyone in the office all the time. They don’t need their teams in the office all the time. I don’t need to have an hour-long meeting. We don’t need to have back to back meetings. What were we doing? We were unconscious about our habits as a whole and this is causing a greater consciousness around time. It’s happening. I feel it and it was frustrating. The virus is telling us something. If it could talk, it’s speaking to us. It’s causing incredible pain. It’s hard to think of it as a good thing. If there is a benefit, I’m thinking about this as that saturated pause that I refer to it as where we get to evaluate, we get to smooth more consciously in our lives.

When things are moving along and we’re in our habits, things are cruising down the highway, we were ingrained in those grooves. It takes disruption, sometimes that disruption is a pain to make us wake up and think about what matters. I had a severe illness when I was 29 and it changed the trajectory of my life and my leadership. As difficult as that time in my life was when I look back, I’m grateful for what it taught me. I don’t think I would’ve learned it without going through that. Here we are as a society, as a world, a global community going through the same level of adversity and how will that shape our understanding of what matters to us. How we spend this precious time and resource of our energy. It’s going to be fascinating to watch how we return on thinking about that.

It’s important for a leader to understand how we make meaning out of things. Click To Tweet

The scene in that movie, Thelma & Louise. When they’re driving down the highway and one of them says, “Something crossed over me, I can’t go back. I’m not going back.” I’ve talked to people that they’ve woken up from a dream. They say, “I can’t go back to the way I was doing things, the frenzy, and the stress. The story I was telling myself that I have to and I have no choice.” We have a choice. We don’t have control. This is an important distinction. We don’t have control of what happens, but we have a choice on how we respond to it and what we create from it. Where we are sitting is the choice of how we return to the new way of being right.

It’s a great time to do the work that I’m doing because you get to help people think about that. How do I want to be as a leader? It’s not just on leaders. Circling back, there’s a phrase that I share with most people I work with. It’s, “We are each 100% responsible for our 50% of any relationship.” That is true in leadership. What I find is I coach many leaders that are often leaning into the individuals on their teams, they’re 50%. “I need to develop them. I’ve got to figure this out.” That’s assuming that they’re creative, resourceful human beings. That they’re capable, which is why they’re on the team.

How do I ask the questions and help facilitate that? I don’t have to figure that all out. We’d come back together, but this is about the new mindset and the shift in how people lead. It’s a great time to work with leaders to think about, “How do we want to do this? How is it going to look going forward? How do I leverage my teams? How do I bring them in?” Asking those questions, “How are you?” What I’m finding too is, this might be a little off-topic but I think it blends, that people are experiencing the full range of emotion in a day. How often I can be in grief, anger, and sadness. They might feel fear.

Some people feel inspired and they’re getting connected to something that’s important or wanting to be part of having an impact. We move through this on this full spectrum of emotion. Conversations I’m having is back to capacity. How do leaders help tap into who’s got capacity and having it be dynamic? To be able to have the conversation, “I’m down today. Maybe I’ll be up tomorrow.” How do we leverage our teams differently and come back? Where are we going?

It connects back to the community conversation because we’re all connected working towards this greater goal. Sometimes you have more strength and sometimes I have more strength. The more we’re connected to each other, the more we know, “I can do more,” or “I need more help.” You understand that the more you’re in the community because you start operating the high minds. This common mind of, “How do we get there together?” versus, “I’m on my individual path and I have to climb this mountain.” We’re here to climb the mountain together. There are great gifts in that.

Everything is changing. I do believe that whether we like it or not, every system, government, healthcare, and banking is crumbling. We saw it crumbling before all of this happened. We need to rebuild. How do we weave the intergenerational conversation together? I see this as a time for inviting younger leaders and rising leaders who got to be leading a lot of this change and helping them to give them a sense of agency. That they can be part of the epic changes that we are all facing into. What is each of our roles in that? I see myself at this point like that wisdom of I belong with you. I’ve got the wisdom. I have for the benefit of the years.

I feel well-positioned for this time. You’re well-positioned for this time. We’ve got to bring everybody together in conversation so that we can build anew because that’s what is happening. That’s the exciting part about this work and leadership in the broader stroke is, how do we have those conversations? The walls and barriers are breaking. The other thing that’s interesting to me, and this is one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in my training as I lead in my own life, as I do my work, is a group of people will only grow as much as the leader has the capacity or the capability to tolerate that development. That’s back to understanding if we’re going to grow and expand, what do we need to be with? That’s the mass.

I think the intergenerational conversation is interesting because as we think about the marketing narrative. We’ve looked at generational differences and generations are shaped by the things that happen to them in their world. It affects the way they think, how they process, and how they lead. I know you’ve been shifting a lot of focus in your work to these rising leaders and being able to mentor the leaders of tomorrow that are coming onto the stage with a new way of being. How are you thinking about that mentorship as you focus on the rising leadership of the next generation?

I see it all connected. My kids are 32, 30 and 26, so they’re in that. I’ve had a front-row seat and I’m passionate about the generation. It goes beyond to rising leaders, people well into their 30s and 40s. I think you spoke to it. It’s like understanding the lens. How they make meaning out of the world. They were brought up in a different way and much of what I do and is important for a leader to do is to understand how we make meaning out of things. It’s helping them understand how they’re looking at it. What do they want to do? What’s important to them? How do they want to find their voice? Helping them to know themselves better, what they’re committed to. How do they want to be part of the change? Do they feel like they can have changed? Each generation is, “What does that mean?” What would you need to confront to work with younger leaders? What does someone in my age need? What do we give back? What are we giving to?

I believe that they are going to be running everything in a chunk of time. Let’s give them a leg up and helping them understand themselves and what’s important to them. I wish someone had done that for me when I was younger. I have no regrets about my path and I believe everything I’ve gone through. I love my story because it is me. Sometimes I wish I’d gotten a little bit more of this when I was younger. I want to help facilitate that if I can.

If anyone wants to find you around this narrative of rising leadership, what’s the best way to find you?

The best way to find me is NanWattsCoaching.com. I’m building a new website, so that will be up. They can find me on LinkedIn, Instagram. They can reach out to me via email and give me a call. I love meaningful connections and conversations, which is one top priority for me. I love to hear from people. That’s how they can find me.

I only have 1 or 2 more questions for you. One other thread I had to add on the mentor-mentee intergenerational piece. I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to Chip Conley, Modern Elder. He talks brilliantly not only about how do you rediscover your gifts in midlife, but how much he’s learned in working with the younger generation. Sometimes we tend to think in this linear, “I’m older, so I’m going to teach you.” You then suddenly find how much you’re being taught by the younger leaders and by your own children, “I’m supposed to know what’s going on. You totally taught me a massive lesson.” It’s this beautiful back and forth learning with all of us no matter what your age or what your experience.

I saw Chip Conley speak at New Leader Summit out in California. I brought his book and I follow him. I appreciate his perspective, how we went into Airbnb and they weren’t looking at him for the technology piece, but they wanted that benefit of the longer view. It’s quite interesting. Brian Chesky, I saw the letter he wrote to his company about the layoffs. It was beautiful. I’m sure that was hard. I imagine Chip had some influence on that, how he showed up as a leader in a difficult time.

My kids, I always refer to them as my Buddhas. They’ve taught me more about life than myself. No one’s going to hold a mirror up faster than your kids. I’m learning. I feel excited and energized at 61. I’m sitting in such a great place and ready to be a part of whatever is coming next in a way that I can. I’m engaged in the conversation and working on what that is for me. I want to model that for people that this is life, it is ongoing. We learn, transcend, and transform. That’s what it’s about. It’s the journey of it.

CMO Nan | Cultivating Leadership

Cultivating Leadership: A group of people will only grow as much as the leader has the capacity or the capability to tolerate that development.


The journey is embracing the narrative of you’re always evolving. As leaders, we start to think about the post-pandemic leadership model. It keeps going back to setting the tone, creating the space, and being the role model of what intention will we set for how we will lead in the future. The gifts we talked about. How will we take space into it? How will we increase our humanity and leadership? How can we evolve everything and spiral upward? It doesn’t mean that we will return to some levels that we were before, but maybe we’ll do it differently and with a different lens on the world to come back to our conversation on photography. We’ll look through a new lens. You’ve talked to many leaders in your time, coaching people. Things are changing fast, but is there some valuable piece of wisdom you would leave our readers with as we think about leading for today and tomorrow?

I think it’s a potent question and I’ve been posing it to people. I’ll throw it out there. A year from now, we’re sitting here and we’re having a conversation. I’m asking you or I’m asking whomever, “How do you want to be remembered for how you navigated through this unprecedented time as a leader? How would you want to be remembered?” These are the moments that people are going to remember. Forget about what you think you should be doing and think about how is it that you want people to reflect on who you were and how you showed up at this moment in time.

One of Stephen Covey’s questions always begins with the end in mind. I’ve asked my team to go through this is to make this space for contemplation and to ask some clarifying questions about what they’re learning, how they’re evolving, and what they’ll take with them? I think your question is beautiful in that you’re setting the tone for an intentional and deliberate walk forward. You’re saying, “This is what I want to be about. This is the identity I want to create, and this is how I do want to be remembered for leading during this unprecedented time.” That question is a gift. I hope everyone reading this will take some time and think about the answer for themselves. That will be valuable.

It can become the compass by which we navigate if we know.

That’s a beautiful, perfect way to end this conversation. I want to thank you for taking the time. As I have got to know you, you have this wisdom about you, which is why you do what you do. You have a wonderful way of marrying back what’s coming up for people and the things that they do need to be curious about and enter into an inquiry. I’ve enjoyed everything that you’ve shared. I know that everyone reading has gotten much out of it. Thank you, Nan, for being in the conversation.

Thank you for inviting me, Kathy. It’s my pleasure. I always love chatting with you.

Thank you. I know we’ll be talking more soon. We’ll have to do this again post-pandemic and see how everything has transpired.

That would be awesome.

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About Nan Watts

Nan Watts is an Executive and Adult Development Coach who has been coaching in the Fortune 500 for over 15 years. She has worked with Multinational corporations and no profits and has coached over 2500 hours helping her clients to crystallize and activate the leadership qualities they want to embody. She is an expert in helping leaders respond resourcefully to the dynamic changing world around us and works to cultivate the inner awareness that leads to outward action. Most recently she was been working with rising leaders to help them develop a strong perspective and skill as they enter into ever-increasing roles of responsibility. Her robust experience in helping others see a more powerful path forward allows her to share leading practices that produce strong leaders who are self-aware as they move into creation narratives for the greater good of their organizations.


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