Author, Speaker, Podcaster, Blogger, Coach
Kathy Caprino’s accomplishments are almost too numerous to list: in addition to her books and speaking, she is a senior Forbes contributor and has a global following for her Finding Brave podcast.
Kathy embodies authentic thought leadership that comes from a place of serving and supporting others. In our conversation, she shared her thoughts about:
- Why you probably need to do more research for your book
- How to write blog posts that build followings
- Balancing vulnerability and credibility in your writing
- Questions to ask yourself if you want to be a “thought leader”
Where to find more:
- Kathy’s website
- Finding Brave podcast
- Kathy Caprino on Forbes
- Find out more about her newest book, The Most Powerful You
Kathy is one of the purposeful authors profiled in Get the Word Out: Write a Book That Makes a Difference.
Listen to the Interview
Read the Transcript
Anne: Kathy, thank you for joining me to talk with me about what you’re doing: your practices, your upcoming book, and your existing book. Let me start by saying, you are an executive coach, but you are also a blogger, a podcaster, an author. You are someone who is clearly making a big impact with your work and with your words. So I want to chat with you about how you got to this phase where you are now.
Getting to Her First Book
Kathy: Thank for having me here, Anne, I appreciate it. Let me start from the beginning —no, I won’t go that far back. After my corporate life, you probably have read, it was 9/11 and I went through kind of a breakdown. I became a therapist and then a coach. Pretty soon into that journey, I thought, “I’ve learned a lot in these four years or five years after my corporate life. I think I’d like to start writing.” That didn’t emerge out of the blue. I was an English major. I wrote on the high school paper. I went to Boston University School of Public Communications. Well, I started there, and I hated journalism. I took one class in journalism and said, “This what, where, when, why? Forget it.” I was an English major. I loved books and I loved writing.
My career morphed into a marketing career in publishing. So I didn’t write creatively, I didn’t write nonfiction—I wrote copy. I was still doing some form of writing, and I did market research in my corporate life.
Then I began to think, I think there’s something here to talk about. What are professional women’s crises? How are they different from men? Let me try to understand.
Expanding Her Book Through Research
K I wrote up a proposal. I went to see Janet Goldstein, who is a top editorial consultant—she was a top editor in her day. I’ll never forget it. We were in the Algonquin Hotel in New York. She said to me, “You’re a fine writer, and if you needed more help, you could get that. But I don’t think this idea is the big idea you’re talking about.”
I was crushed. I cried. She said, “I think what you really need is more research.” I really didn’t know what she meant. I thought I was writing this book Breakdown Breakthrough about professional women’s crises, and I thought I knew everything about that.
Thank goodness I listened to her. I did speak to a hundred women. I interviewed back then, when we didn’t have Zoom. I got on the phone and recorded it, and listened to 100 women’s stories. I want to say that was such an important step to do research—in the nonfiction world, I’m not talking memoir—to hone what you’re talking about. To have a model for change. To really have substance in what you’re sharing. That became Breakdown Breakthrough.
Getting Started as a Forbes Contributor
Kathy: In terms of starting a blog, I had a website and I thought, let me just try here. And I was scared to death to hit the publish button. I thought, who is going to care about what I have to say? I’m such an imposter. I’m just like four years out of being miserable. What am I doing?
But I kept doing it. There’s so many lessons, I think, in what I’m sharing—the fear, the imposter syndrome. But I kept doing it. And this was a pivotal moment, Anne. In the vein of being connected, not trying to things by yourself, really involved and engaged in organizations that are doing what you’re trying to do. I was a member of 85 broads, which was an amazing networking organization. It’s now Elevate, which is still amazing. They had a blog on Forbes – the 85 Broads blog. They said to their members, Hey listen, we have a blog, if you want to submit pieces to us, we will vet them, we’ll choose the ones we like, and we’ll publish. I immediately sent out one and they put it up, and it got a few views. I think it was the second one I sent, I’ll never forget, it was September 2011. And it got 80,000 views. It was a snarky look at:, don’t think LinkedIn is going to get you a job—meaning you have to get yourself a job. It was snarky, but as I found in later years, the posts that just come flying out of me, as if they’re from someone else, they’re the ones that go viral. They’re the ones that really speak to people.
I got one sentence of an email from the Forbes Women editor. She said, “Hello, would you like your own blog?”
Anne: That’s amazing.
Kathy: That’s the start of it. Now I’m a senior contributor after all these years, and 33 million views. That was the start of it.
Anne: There’s so much to surface quickly from what you said, because as you said, it’s meaty. First, there’s the Imposter Syndrome, because that comes up in every conversation, certainly every conversation I have with a female author. I think everybody feels it, we just maybe might be more willing to say it. Again, not a syndrome, it’s a totally normal state of mind that we all have when we’re trying something that’s stretching our boundaries.
The second was that you ask for help, you were intentional, you were trying things, you were stretching, despite that fear.
Third, which is fundamental to your story, is that this is all motivated out of a sense to help people. You’re doing posts trying to help people with their careers, that seems to be your motivator.
Kathy: Yes, I wish I could claim this: I read somewhere, turn your mess into a message. That is what I do. I got a lot of mess that I have cleaned up, that I have worked on, overcome. Now that I do all this research, I see it’s a universal problem for so many women—all of this mess I’ve gone through.
If I can help one woman bypass what I went through, it’s a good day.
Anne: The other thing that’s so interesting is the transformative situation of writing the book because you had to dig deeper. I like to think that in today’s modern, busy world, writing is a proxy for deep thought. It’s when we give ourselves permission to do deep thought, either let the ideas flow from our brain, like it’s from some other part, or to do the research and analyze and work through to something.
Writing Her Second Book
Kathy: Can I riff on that? Now all these years later, with my second book coming out, The Most Powerful You, here I am a writer. I write at least five posts a month for Forbes and my own blog and everywhere else.
I had the proposal, I knew the structure of the book. But once I got the deal, to sit down and make myself write it was physically one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was torture. I would procrastinate. Let me wash the floor. I think I’ve got to do another load of laundry. I’d find myself physically not sitting in the chair. I realize now why I struggle in the beginning.
When I don’t really have the structure set up, I’m at a loss.
Anne: You’re trying to start in the middle. You’re trying to start with the draft.
Kathy: Doing just one chapter, forcing myself through 7000 words, then it could flow more easily. But still not easy. We think, for me, when you think it’s all up here but then you have to put it on paper, you realize, what I have up here is not deep enough yet. It’s not a chapter. It’s three ideas.
Anne: We have this illusion of fluency and knowledge. There is the knowledge illusion—we think we know a whole bunch until we try to go and explain it. Then, it’s maybe I don’t know as much as I thought.
Kathy: That’s 100% right.
Anne: Let’s talk about your upcoming book. What’s your publication date?
Kathy: July 28th is the official release date, but April 28 is the preorder window.
Anne: Good. Describe it to me, because from just the little bit I’ve read, I’m excited.
Kathy: It’s called The Most Powerful You: Seven Bravery Boosting Paths to Career Bliss. Basically, Anne, what happened here is I’ve worked with thousands and thousands of women now in a lot of capacities. What I wanted to do is pull the lens back a few years ago. I wanted to understand #1, what are this mid-to-high level professional women missing when they come to coaching that they just can’t get on their own. Number 2, what am I helping them get, if I had to distill it down to two words? The words that came are bravery and power.
Once I thought, bravery and power. Let me figure it out. I started honing every phone call, every Zoom call: where is there missing bravery? Where is there missing power? When you get bravery, how does that shape your power and change your life. After watching and watching—and I used to be a market research person, so I think like an outline—what emerged were these seven damaging power gaps that professional women face that keep them from thriving in their work.
As we were talking about, books morph. What it morphed into is this: I featured 30+ national experts on everything you can think of from communication, negotiation, networking. It’s so not me, it’s so much bigger than me. It’s other people’s stories. I do want to say, and I think this is part of a nonfiction writer’s job, I did do a quantitative survey as well. Almost 1000 women have taken in. 98% have a least one of these gaps, and over 75% have three or more of these gaps at the same time.
It’s all about how do we become—I love to say this if I could—the flip side of the gap is bravery. There are seven ways: brave sight, brave speak, brave ask, brave connect, brave challenge, brave service, and brave healing. That’s what you get from the book.
Anne: That sounds terrific, and very timely. We’re sitting here doing this interview now during a time of everyone being shut in in a pandemic. It’s hard to think – this is our chance to re-envision some future, and what we want to be doing with our futures, and really assess, am I doing something meaningful? This book may land at a perfect time.
Kathy: I hope so. I hope it’s helpful.
On Thought Leadership
Anne: I know that to get to this point, you and I chatted a bit before we started recording, about how you get to a point of authority. How you get to doing this work. Clearly you built this book not only out of a huge body of research, but also out of your experience working with people over many years. You had a quote, I don’t have it in front of me, about “the struggle is part of the process” on an interview on your website. Let’s talk a little bit about how you would advise somebody who was trying to build an area of expertise, and to get to a point of having some power and authority. Obviously, you have a book on it.
Kathy: I’m realizing I remember, I did a webinar with Jason Miller, who was the cofounder of a great marketing agency called Peaceful Media. He’s funny. It was how to not be just a wanna-be thought leader, but how to be a real thought leader. It was based on a post I wrote about the ten questions to ask yourself if you are ready to be a true thought leader. We were joking about it. I don’t really love that – I use that term not for myself, like “I am a thought leader.” I have a problem with that term. I see it as you lead with your thought, You are on the cutting edge, the frontier, of thinking. That’s how I see it. I think we banter around that term an awful lot.
Anne: Yes, we do. Please, let’s talk about thought leadership.
Kathy: I’d rather talk about it as —I wish I had those 10 questions in front of me—you’ve got to ask yourself:
#1: Why are you writing and what are you trying to get out of it? I’ll never forget: there’s one individual (nameless) who teaches people to build their mailing lists. Years ago she told one of my colleagues who went to one of her courses,”Just write a book. It doesn’t matter what you say, it doesn’t matter how good it is.” I just want to throw up in my mouth.
For those of us who take it so seriously, we agonize over every word. I want to ask people who think this, “Are you really just trying to get money? Are you trying to get your client base? Are you trying to get your business to sell? Forget it.” Because it’s very transparent. We can see it. We can see that there’s nothing here for me to read. #1, why are you doing it?
#2: I think there are some minds that are so brilliant, they’re minds for our time. I don’t have one of those. My mind is I can think critically and analyze critically what I’m seeing, and turn it into a model for change. I can turn it into a methodology. That’s my maybe superpower. What is yours?
What is it that you’re offering? If it’s just your musings, I think you have to rethink. What Janet Goldstein basically said —I don’t think this is a big enough idea.
We all want to think we have the next best screenplay or book, but we all don’t. Part of it is, have you gone outside yourself? Have you done research? Research is easy to do at this point. You can use Survey Monkey, do a Zoom call.
Have you gone beyond the boundaries of what you think?
I think the best writers don’t just come from what they think. They’ve amassed a lot of information.
I look back at my first blog, my first year, I was pretty terrible. Very long, rambling, no headers. You also have to understand how people digest content. I will share, I’m an extravert. I talk too much, I give too much. Everybody has said, tone that back, it’s too much. Even this book, it’s like a good movie that gets edited. We all need good editors. You‘ve heard this a million times and I’m sure you teach it: kill your darlings. Kill your babies.
That one chapter – I have a chapter that’s cut out of the book. Two chapters! No, no, it’s so essential. But once I cut it out, I didn’t even miss it. But nothing’s wasted. I’ll use that chapter another way.
Anne: I have a file called “Things that need a new home.” These little homeless chapters.
Kathy: It’s not wasted.
Anne: No, they’ll be adopted somewhere. Just not the book.
On Building a Blog Following
Kathy: Those are just some tips about how to refine your writing. Can I talk for a minute about how to build a following?
Anne: Yes, please do.
Kathy: When I look at the things I have written that have over a million views, like one on LinkedIn that got so much attention they sent a film crew here when they were just starting their platform. Now everyone can write, 580 million people, but in the beginning it was only a few.
That one was 6 Toxic Behaviors: How to Recognize Them in Yourself and Change Them. That one came flying out of me in 20 minutes. I put it up on LinkedIn thinking, who is going to read this? No one is going to want to say they’re toxic. And Anne, it was overwhelming. I got, I think, 1000 comments. They were saying, “Oh my goodness, I am toxic. I see from your article that I am toxic.” It was a movement!
Why do things go viral? Number one, you’re speaking truth in a way that isn’t varnished and prettied up. You are revealing yourself. You’re not afraid to show the warts.
Number two, you’re saying it in a way that inspires people to do something.
How do we do that? I think there’s some empathy in the writing. You might be presenting hard stuff, like, hey people, you’re toxic. But you say it in a way that they can hear it. I think empathy is crucial. You are not talking down to them, you are not talking like the expert. You are right there with them realizing you’re toxic, or whatever it is you are talking about.
It’s got to be engaging. Maybe some humor. Maybe you understand how to balance information with reveal. Even when I’m doing a Forbes Interview, it’s all about what the person is saying. But the first two paragraphs are usually a reveal of some sort. I’m so excited to talk to this person about whatever it is because I struggled or still struggle with this. As revealing as you can be while realizing that…when I was a therapist I learned, be careful what you share.
Make sure that everything you share is for their benefit, not your benefit.
On Writing to Serve Others, Not Yourself
I think that writers do get great benefit out of their own work. But if we’re sharing something because we’re angry about something and it comes across in such an unbalanced way, you’re just going to push people away.
Anne: Yep. You could have an article about toxic behaviors that is a rant. The rant might get a lot of clicks because people want to pile onto that, but it’s not going to do anything. Or you could do something that inspires action and is a constructive take on it. You let yourself be a little bit vulnerable, but that doesn’t erode your authority. In fact, in that situation, it adds to your authority.
Kathy: That’s a really good point.
Anne: People get caught up when they want to be a thought leader, they’re focused on the leader and not the thoughts. I’m a thought leader now, I look awesome. Then they try to write like what they think a thought leader writes like, and it’s all downhill from there.
On Vulnerability and Credibility
Kathy: You’re funny. I’d love you to talk more about, you don’t want to reveal so much that you erode your credibility. Tell me more about that, because in writing this book, I wanted one chapter to be fully my story about mistreatment, which is pretty rough. It did, in the end, erode some of the credibility.
Anne: It’s tough. I think you want to show up human. In fact, people are more receptive to difficult ideas if you show up human as opposed to expert. There’s this thing, the Pratfall Effect. People who are more likable if they spill coffee on themselves – there’s some research on this. If you let yourself be human, but you want those human pieces to be in an area that doesn’t erode your own credibility. So, I can spill coffee on myself, that doesn’t affect my knowledge about writing.
Kathy: Good point. It’s a balance. I also noticed this one chapter that’s been very reworked, on acquiescing instead of saying stop to mistreatment, I think that we do, even if we’re angry, there has to be some emotional balance in what we’re writing. We can write the deepest, most harrowing stuff. If we’re still unhinged from it, if we’re still sounding very wounded from it, that’s what people hear, not the message you’re trying to communicate.
Anne: Right. You write in your journal, you construct a new narrative—you do that for yourself. When you’re publishing for the world, you’re not writing for yourself, you’re writing for the reader, so you have to approach it differently. You have to step out of that space. So go ahead and first do that inner writing. There’s enormous value in that, there’s enormous healing in constructing a new narrative. But … But that doesn’t belong in your book.
Kathy: We’re saying this, but it was something I really just learned in having written a whole chapter of my story, which I’ve never done. I’ve written a short blog post with my story. People, if you’re listening, you might say, I think I understand what they mean, but you kind of can’t understand it until you’re doing it. It may seem fine to you and then someone reads it and say, Wow, you sound really unhinged or angry still. One person, who was a panel reader said (now all of this has been revised, of course): “You sound like you’re wanting your day in court.” They didn’t want that. That’s not helpful to them.
Anne: Memoirists really need to watch for this. How often have you read a memoir and it’s like, Ooh, here’s comes the self-justification.
Kathy: Memoir is hard. I’m not there yet.
Anne: Memoir is hard. And it’s true, you can hear this, but it’s not until you’re actually engaged in the process, then you realize it. You may have said, “I felt totally even-keeled when I wrote this.”
Kathy: I did! That’s the thing!
Anne: Words don’t have – people, all they have is the words. They’re going to project their image of how you feel on it. Perhaps you even have moved past it, but based on the story you’re telling, people are creating a story and an image of what you’re feeling.
Kathy: That’s so right.
Anne: This has been a great conversation, Kathy, thank you so much.
Kathy: I hope everyone finds it helpful.
Anne: I think they will. You’ve got a great story.
Kathy: Thanks. Can I just say, it’s a beautiful journey to write, but it’s work. It isn’t going to the movies, it isn’t eating popcorn, it isn’t a swim in the ocean. It’s work. If you are scared to put that work into it or that seems too hard, I’d ask you to think again.
The world needs our messages. But they need them refined, not just a regurgitation of raw thought.
Anne: Right. Not raw thought, or the easiest top things you have in your head about a topic. If you want to make an impact, you have to work.