James Kelley Dr. James Kelley, host of Executives After Hours, joins Tonya Dawn Recla to discuss personal and professional development. James lives in Dubai with is wife and kids and is writing his book, 90 Executives on Authenticity Leadership. Listen in to hear their conversation and learn how you can up-level your own development.

Hello, everybody. This is Tonya Dawn Recla and I am really elated to have with me today, Dr. James Kelley. First and foremost, I just want to highlight the fact that he’s in Portugal but he lives in Dubai. This guy’s got a pretty fantastic story. We brought him in today to talk about personal and professional development specifically as it relates to the concept of authenticity. So, I told him, “I’m just going to confess.” He got on the call and I’m like, “I’m going to confess to you that I already love you.” Maybe that’s a weird thing to say to a stranger but it was really fun.  You can just see it in everything that he does and his courage and bravery to just kind of step into spaces that most people shy away from. I am going to let you get a good read on him too because he’s got some powerful information to share. So, join me in welcoming him to this show. Welcome, James!

Thank you so much. That is like the most emphatic introduction I think, I’ve ever received. So, thank you.

I am nothing if not emphatic.

I’ve been this to my kids after being gone for two weeks. So I totally love it.

So I thought I had this whole theory that we should all like every morning that we wake up we should be introduced by somebody, that be awesome and today, we have.

I’d be like dad, my diapers full.

That’s life!

Yeah, exactly. Right away!

Perfect! Very cool! Let’s just jump in and ask you what are your super powers?

That is a fantastic question. I was really thinking about this. I’m having a big set up here so hopefully I won’t let you down. And this has come up a lot. In the podcast that I do which I feel like every Tom, Dick and Harry has one now, the feedback I get is that I am an exceptional listener and I think that is a superpower. That is something that a lot of individuals, by whatever reason, just kind of avoid, lack,  lack maybe a little bit harsh, but I try to listen and I would also say authenticity. I think that is something I am proud of. What you see is what you get. I have a theory that my authenticity is either 10 or 50 percent higher or lower depending on the time of day that it is in the situation I am in.  It is my normal authenticity.

Oh my gosh. Let’s quantify it. You know what, we like the nerdy side of people too. It’s very cool. So, what’s so cool about what you said was that the concept of listening as it relates to authenticity, I think, is a really important dialogue. We’re talking about personal and professional development. Part of that process is like what do I do naturally. What do I come by easily? Which we call those as predisposed superpowers. And what do I need to work to hone? That listening piece, in my opinion, is a cornerstone of authenticity because in listening to people, you see and hear what you’re energetically admitting that you may not even be aware of, being reflected back to you. And so, how can you know authentically who you are, if you aren’t aware of all the aspects and parts of you and how they would be received, alright? And so I think that I think that those tied together really nicely and in. And, I would dare say that that piece is probably missing from more authentic conversations.

Yeah. I think what I find is that most people are thinking about what they’re going to say and not listening to what they should be saying. I think it’s a really difficult skill, and I’m not saying I’m I’ve mastered it because you have to absolutely be in the moment to master, but it’s something that I really focus on when I’m listening or having a conversation with someone is what are they saying, what are the cues they’re giving me in their body language or the word choice. What does that really mean? And, by assessing all of those, the moment I’d may be able to say, here’s a point in question that we should be talking about. So, I’ll ask that question also. What’s up with this idea of authenticity and listening because to listen..

James, I’m going to jump in and I say I think you switched the mic.

I did not switch a mic.

That’s alright. Just speak a little bit louder. We’ll be good.

Or it could be that it’s my my Portugal connection.

So, you’re magical enough that will oversee that.

Thank you. Just call me Dumbledore. So, I think what’s really important, and I think you mentioned this about the idea of listening and being authentic, is that there’s a critical piece in there which is being self-aware, but people sometimes struggle with self-awareness unless they’ve been through some sort of Crucible. I really hate my head on and say listen. I mean, I was writing in my book today like I was finishing this chapter up I was reading it and I would argue over my research for this book interviewing 90 plus executives getting their stories down. The ones that had a crucible. The ones that had some sort of traumatic event. Those individuals were the most self aware. Good for them, had no major traumas in their life their life went along. I was supposed to go there successful by all accounts to how we would define success. Still, we’re not actually that self-aware. They didn’t really know what they didn’t know. Here’s an example. One of the questions I used to ask every guest that came on my show until recently  is that I would say, “What advice would you give your 25 year old self?” Now, what would you think would be the response? What would your response be to that? What advice would you give your twenty five year old self, if I asked you?

Enjoy the ride.

Perfect! That means you took the time. You pause, and you reflected. I can’t tell you and this was in a large number, but it was a significant enough number for me to realize that when I asked that question for some people. Maybe there were peripheral issues why they didn’t answer that question, but they would say, “Maybe smile more. Maybe tell my wife I love her more. Maybe be one with my kids. Basically, it’s like all important stuff. But it wasn’t like, “I need to enjoy the life.” I don’t need to rush. I need to be more patient,  more kind more generous. There was like people with crucibles had a list of advice they would give themselves. Yeah, I screwed up at 25 but that’s okay. I now realized it. It was different. It was quite fascinating.

I love what you’re talking about because one of the things I was going to mention or that came up when you were talking was the idea of, it’s a defense mechanism, right? Thinking ahead like crafting the next response I am trying to stay ahead of the game and not being in the moment really does come from a defensive posture fueled by fear. It has to do with our confidence in ourselves. And, so what you’re talking about is so perfect that when you’ve been through things and you’ve survived and you have the cellular confidence to know that it’s going to be okay, like it may not look so at the minute, but you have enough experience with falling down and getting up and falling down and getting up that you don’t feel like you have to arm yourself like you’re going into battle. Put everything on every time. You really can just roll with it. I tell a big difference too. And, I guess they come on the show. In how they respond and in what questions they asked me how had it coming from the counter intel world. My husband and I teach due diligence and vetting concepts and stuff like that all around the world. We very rarely ask a question for the answer. We’re gauging a response and it’s fascinating, so I always ask people. Do you have any questions of me before we get started? And that tells me exactly where the guest is sitting prior to the interview. And then I can kind of if I feel it because because we have some folks who come on here who might be their first interview. They do some miraculous things that they’ve never really talked about. And so it just gives me an idea, but it’s all centered around confidence. And then you get the podcast host on here. It’s just a very natural kind of flow and you can tell the people who are confident in the ability to kind of roll with things.

You know what’s interesting about that as sidetracked in this conversation is that  I’ve had people who have their own podcasts who go to a ton of podcasts who are actually the worst guests. Because they have their eyeballs staked down so used to being the host.

They’ve ruined the whole like my whole stick of getting to know you they give you the whole spiel in like 15 seconds and you’re done. All right. Let’s turn back the boss up. I’ve got some questions. And so any of that aside. So I think that I do have authenticity to me. Whether you are doing personal development, but I think in life, the idea of going through a crucible is essential for your own personal development. I never want to minimize someone’s own crucible because some are big, some are small. You have to be aware that you had one to give yourself the ability to process that.

Which goes back to that awareness piece, for sure.

That’s a huge part.

So folks, I want you to really listen in to what he just said, because there I do see this growing trend within. We just got back from this amazing kind of social media event and within the helper woo woo change agents spaces. There seems to be this trend of my Crucible was worse than yours. The one upsmanship victim stories and it’s like coming from the military and coming from government. There are people all over the world that are doing amazing life risking things every day, but they don’t perceive them as that, right? And so, whereas somebody who gets up and they say, well, Public speaking is one of the most terrifying things for people and the stress is factor less or whatever it might be. The key is in the event. It’s the impact that it had on you; what you learn from it and what you chose to do with it.

It’s your choice. The only thing you have a full control in your life is how you choose to react to situations.  You can choose your attitude after something happens. You can choose your behavior . You can choose your words. But up until that point, you’re kind of a free spirit. So you could right now, tell me, go up myself and I can choose how I’m going to react to that.

Let’s try it. Let’s try it now. Let’s do it.

I’m going to sip my Jack Daniels and water right now and go ahead and give it a go.

I love it and I love this conversation because one of the things that I’ve really been pondering lately is this whole share your story kind of concept and there’s a balance.

And so as with everything.

There’s like, to a point, there’s a bragging line ,right?

Oh yeah. And in and I’ll share with you I went to this conference I won’t name the conference, but it was a while back now and I was really excited because some of the lineup were people that were pretty impressive on paper. I went with the intention of getting guests on the show. Why else would I go, right? I’m sitting there listening to some of them and it was a women’s event. It wasn’t that long after the elections here in the States and all that stuff went on. I was listening and every single woman on stage didn’t just tell their story but they went back and relived in some of these stories. I’m talking they were childhood like and it wasn’t. I sat and observed the audience and I felt like I was in a funhouse. Everybody reacted at the appropriate time, with the appropriate, “Oh no. Aaahh. Yeah. Good for you.” I was like, “is this happening here?” It was such a bizarre experience. I was so irritated and I was like, “what is going on?” Which is always my sign that I’m moving into a different space, when I start to get irritated.  And I’m like, “okay. So let’s instead look at the gift that it was and be like, “what is this telling me?” How do you share the story in a way that is authentic? In a way that does good in the world because what I saw there was an affirmation of the victims. I don’t care how they labeled it. I don’t care what pretty pictures they put on top of it. Those women were stuck in those stories. They weren’t stuck in them from just a victim place now, in my opinion, it was worse. Now, it was not just the victim’s place, but now they’ve built a business on top of it.


It was. I don’t think this is a good thing. My opinion about it, but I felt like there was an opportunity there. But I’m going to anyway and you should listen. I felt like there’s an opportunity to say, “can this be done differently? There’s no doubt we connect in the stories. We connect in those stories. How do we make sure that especially as leaders, as people who are saying we were going to be a part of these movements and involve and everything else how do we continue to hold ourselves accountable to doing it better?

Tonya, I would only add that within those stories, you create shared experiences and whether it was glorified or monetized, I guess the bigger question I would have is so you you have a different set of skills that allow you to kind of sift through some of that. For most people the common denominator is pain, fear and transformation. And so, if these stories can be told in a way that does impact these individuals and the audience, I’m for it because I think that you have to relate people where they’re at in their life. But, I totally agree with you. I don’t disagree with your statement there. I think it’s right, but I take a different perspective only because I’ve had women and men on who have told horrific stories about their life. It’s well rehearsed, well-timed, great punch lines. But it did. It’s their story. They own it and it is doing somebody good and they’re finding a shared interest with somebody in the audience. I don’t know the overall harm. I think what you’re saying is that, “can we take that and have learnings from that and give people tactics or strategies out of it?” Is that kind of what you’re saying?

Well, you’re actually not disagreeing with me quite as much as you would think because that’s the conclusion I came to. And it’s like you still have to do it. I will always challenge it in the sense of, “can we operate from higher and higher vibrations, higher frequencies because that’s the space that I play in?” It’s can we do it in as authentic of a way as possible? How do we move beyond the story? I think that there are a lot of people who do that really well. Like I said before, I completely own that when I’m getting irritated in a situation, it’s typically because I’m not stepping into a space. That’s why I went to where it was like, “okay, what am I not talking about? What am I not sharing?” I’m using them as an excuse. I’m using that judgment as an excuse for me not to. That’s the conclusion I came to. There are short stories to be shared. There is value in that and I may be over those stories. Obviously, if I can share them in a way where there’s a life lesson and a learning point, and I should be over those stories.  And there’s value in sharing them anyway.

So, it was funny . I was actually I reached out to Arianna Huffington to come on my show and she did respond which was nice of her. She said no but she did respond. And I said, listen, “I honestly don’t want to hear about how you fell over and hit your head on the ground. Everybody knows that story. What I want to know is what led you to that point. Like I was very clear about that story is great, but that’s not the story I want to hear.” I had another on the show recently in a Mogadot. He’s the chief business officer for Google X and his son died suddenly at 20. There is a routine surgery and he tells a story everybody is like you know what. That’s a really horrific story. I would be dysfunctional if my kids died. But what I want to know your journey to that point. Because your point of the people tell the same stories again and again and at some point, I actually wonder, “does it mean the same to them in a moment as it does now and they’re telling the story?” It seems so transactional not impactful.

I agree. And I think we can just constantly challenge all of us to do that. That was so much about me in that moment, obviously. So I’m going to take a quick pause here. We’re with James Kelley talking about personal professional development and authenticity. We’ll join back in with him and ask him a couple of more questions before we’d let you all go today. So stay tuned. We’ll be right back with you.


Awesome. This is the Super Power podcast and you’re joining us today with James Kelley. We’re talking about personal professional development. What I love about this conversation is how we’re trying to get the causes of listening and authenticity but not just like lip service to those. How do we get in the nitty gritty about being authentic? I think that ties back into what we were talking about before the break about how to tell the story in a way that serves? What I really want to ask you because you have such a wealth of information about people you’ve interviewed, in your own experiences, everything else, like, what is your take on the line or is there a line between the personal and professional development and as it relates to being authentic?

So it’s taken very to send your question correctly it is easily I hear it in my head is at what point is being too authentic in the professional arena. Not appropriate.

Or is there is that even a question?

Yeah. I mean, I think there is a question like I’m not going to walk into an office and talk about something overly personal or whatever that might be for you, like my wife and I having sex. That’s none of your business. There is a line to the whole thing. What I would say is that authenticity is kind of made up of four core components.  I have this this model that I’ve created. So when you think about the workplace, I’ve already hung my head on the crucible part but I think that to be authentic you have to also realize that you have to have self-awareness. You have to be honest with yourself and with your coworkers. This is a really important one because to be authentic, this goes down to even white lies. And so there’s there’s a book called Lying by Sam and I’m told even the last name of his but it’s basically all about telling white lies, the big lies and why that is wrong with people around you. I’m in the working environment of the professional environment. We quite often tell people what they want to hear because of our own fear of them being unhappy with us. The other big idea about being authentic in the workplace is this idea of compassion. This is something that is definitely getting bigger and more relevant in the professional environment. Having compassion for your employees and your coworkers are really quite important. Sometimes in the US we are so wrapped up in being competitive and winning, and winning big for lack of a better term, that we lose sight on the human part of the business, right? The people you work with your customers, your clients. We put money way above just human connection. So the last part of being authentic is being relatable. That to me in the workplace is important. These are all things you can do on a daily basis. To be authentic to yourself means you have a true spirit, a true heart around these ideas of being self-aware and growth. To be honest your coworkers, not in a malicious way but in a good way. I’m sure, Tonya you’ve had someone who asked you a question about professional like, “should I do X, whatever that would be?” And you said, “yeah sure.” But in your mind you’re thinking, “Hell, no! You would not do that.”

That would be a very bad idea!

It’s so hard for us. We don’t want to be that person to burst their bubble, but the reality is I’ve been in situations where I’ve been fired from a job because I wasn’t good at it and they said to me basically like this is not for you. And at that time, it hurt but in hindsight, they were absolutely correct. So that’s a form of being authentic. Being relatable is really important. If you’re in the C-Suite, if you’re a leader or an executive, the ability to relate to the janitor, the admin, the other C-suite, the mid-tier professionals is really important. That’s funny those shared experiences no matter what level in your organization because in doing that you build trust. When you’re honest, you build trust. To wrap this up, in the professional setting, is there a line? Yeah. I don’t want to know about me having sex with my wife. I think that’s a lot. But what I would tell you is that I’m an open book so if you asked me a question, I would answer it honestly. I am not uncomfortable because I don’t care if you judge me if I’m being true to myself and true to my heart. That’s me. I think, every person has to find that line for themselves. It’s when you feel like you have two identities: the public self, private self. It’s when those two are very distinct for you that it’s a very difficult world to live in. We talked about this before we started about your old job in the intelligence industry where you had two lives essentially you had to lead and how complex that can be and exhausting. And could you say to what so forth and so on. So that’s kind of my long winded answer. I went on too long.

Not at all. And I appreciate it because that is the key there. My biggest takeaway in that is the concept of being honest and I think the defensive posture, the fear posture for a lot of people is what I was going to be authentic, I tell everybody everything. We hit up against that a lot with the due diligence and vetting firm that we created because it’s about transparency that’s one of the core concepts is the transparency philosophy and how transparency expedites trust. Trust is a journey. It’s a process. Being transparent really does expedite that and immediately people go to sharing their deepest darkest secrets. We’re talking about business. It’s in the B2B space. What we’re asking people to do is to be honest about what their company can do and what it can’t do. Don’t take on clients that you truly can’t serve. It’s just a bad idea. And be forthcoming about that.

What are your strengths, weaknesses?

Be courageous. You really have to be willing to say to not follow the money to be able to say I don’t know that that’s my expertise. And for us we solve that conundrum by having an amazing network of people who are willing to operate their businesses in transparency that we can refer to. We have phenomenal referral partners. And so that’s done. Let’s take the Super Power Experts business model for example. Part of the reason for that is when I got thrown into like this intuitive coaching space that I never dreamt I would be in. I found myself wanting to play all these various roles for people that I wasn’t really equipped to play nor did I really want to. I didn’t know who to refer them to. It felt like, my good enough was better than nothing and it just felt icky. I was like, what? Is this ridiculous? There’s phenomenal people in these arenas. Let me just go find them. And that’s what I did. It changed my world forever because I didn’t it was able to go, “Yeah, that’s not me, but let me tell you who that is.” it’s like let invite him over here. I’ve established trust that person and so that was a good transfer. It was really seamless. So now we all work in that collaborative space together and it truly has freed me up just on a very selfish level to be able to focus on the things I really want to focus on. I know that we can serve those clients. No, you’re great. Go ahead.

Two quick comments: one, I love the word icky. That’s awesome. Two. I love what you just said though. You basically summed up the idea of being self-aware knowing when you’re good and bad at. Here are my strengths and weaknesses. Let me bring in people who support my weaknesses because if I can bring in those people, I’m going to shine. Because it goes on comfort.

Yeah. It’s the funniest thing in the world. I had to go through that. I had to work through what does that say about me if I say I can’t do this. It’s quite the opposite that occurs like what you just said, I look like a freaking rock star. I can connect to people all over the place. I interviewed a woman the other day and she’s like, “you are absolutely a network, like a connector.”  I was laughing. When I first started on this path and I heard the guidance very clearly to create something collaborative, I laughed. I don’t play well with others. Thanks anyway. God laughed at me, yet I was like, really watch this. And so now, it’s the most freeing and powerful place to be because I don’t have to know. I don’t care what does that Henry Ford is like. I just make sure I surround myself with amazing people. I’m bastardizing his cloak, but that’s the concept. I don’t need to have audience. I know amazing people.

You’re saying to just have the confidence to know you don’t know and be OK with that. That’s the hardest thing. It’s human nature to feel vulnerable when you don’t know something when you’re in position of power. You’re going to be authentic then you have to truly understand the fact that you have respect and compassion and confidence in yourself as a human being. To put people around you who are better than you. Every great CEO you listen to says that. I don’t know this, that guy does. That’s why I hired him.

That’s exhausting. Exactly. And I think when you talked about earlier is part of the reason why I came to that the way that I did was because I had a career where I had to lie. I had a career where I couldn’t be authentic. I had a career where I had a kind of shaved truths and stuff. It wasn’t fun. It was exciting initially like the mysticism and the mystique of it all. But it got old really fast and I’ve already been there, done that. Like, no thanks. If I can’t build something that bleeds over talking about the personal professional development. It started with showing up that way in my marriage and showing up that way in our parenting and showing up that way with family and friends. That’s really the strong foundation that I get to stand on. That creates the courage in that. I love that you’re affirming that after all these amazing people that you’ve talked to and having the experiences that you had, it really is that easy. Know yourself. Be willing to admit that you don’t know everything and then find that people who do.

The authenticity from a leadership perspective is really the 21st century model because we want to work for people who we trust, who we respect and who we relate to. We want people to inspire us by their stories and empower us to be greater than ourselves. There’s transactional leadership.  There is servant leadership. They all kind of overlap in different ways. But for me the premise is I lead someone if I lead a team I want to know who I am with all my warts. Because once they do they realize I’m not judging them for their warts either and that I’ll help them with their warts if they want. I’ve got medicine for that.

I get that all kinds of imagery happening in my mind.

But the point is that when you become that leader who’s authentic and real then because if you think about if you think about leadership. I mean it’s almost like a faceted complex process. But the people who inspire you are the ones who are just the most down to earth, re