The ON Leadership Conference is just weeks away and one component of the show that I am most excited for is the Lighting Talk Speaking round, giving the attendees the chance to sit through three 20-minute TED-like talks to glean lessons, frameworks and perspectives from change champions. One of our Lighting Talk speakers is Carole Ann Penney, a strategic career coach who helps mission-driven professionals navigate their career and leadership journeys with purpose and resilience.

I first met Carole Ann just about a year ago when we were both presenting at the RI Conference on Values-Based Leadership. We immediately connected over our shared passion for embracing a values-centric life and choosing work in alignment with our core purpose.

Learn more about Carole Ann in our quick catch-up below!

If you have not yet grabbed your ticket, you can do so by clicking here.


To begin, can you tell our readers a little bit about your business, Penney Leadership—the clients you work with, the services you offer, your reason for starting the business?

In today’s world where change is more common than ever, I believe that we all need to be equipped with the tools to guide ourselves and our teams through the unknown with both clarity and adaptability—and that’s exactly what Penney Leadership is here to do. I help mission-driven leaders confidently navigate their work and lives with purpose and resilience. I work with clients through one on one and group coaching, interactive workshops, and speaking engagements to help them develop their meaningful career paths and authentic leadership.


You enacted a profound change of your own by choosing to start your own business; what beliefs/values did you rely on to spark your change?

My business, like everything I do, is rooted in my core values of purpose, curiosity, connection, growth, and heart. These are threads that I uncovered during my career as a nonprofit leader, and when I really started to tune into them, I heard the call to create a business that would allow me to fully align with my values in service to others. My work allows me to coach professionals to develop their sense of purpose and grow as leaders, to listen to them with deep curiosity and connect them with practical resources and tools, and to share an authentic connection with them by bringing openness and heart to our work.


What are the top leadership challenges you see through your work, and how do you think we can begin to move the needle positively in these areas?

What I’m seeing through my work is that we are hesitant to claim our identity as leaders. We feel as though “Leadership” is something outside of who we are—that it’s a someday destination, when we know the answers to every question and how to navigate every situation. I hear a lot of questions about developing leadership skills as though we are each a blank slate, starting at the beginning and adding one skill at a time.

Meanwhile, my daughter came home from preschool last week and proudly told me that she was the line leader of the day! We need to recognize that leadership is not a destination that we arrive at. Leadership is a practice, and we’ve all been practicing it for the whole of our lives. My work focuses on helping each of us to define the foundation of our leadership so that we can ground ourselves in our unique style and build skills upon that framework.


How do you define leadership?

I think about leadership for the better part of everyday, and I’ve recently come to my own definition of what it means to me: leadership is moving forward through the unknown. My definition surprised me by its simplicity and its universality. By this definition, we have the opportunity to be leaders of people, projects, ideas—and our own lives. It’s not a job title. It’s not just about work. And it’s not about knowing. It’s about how we show up when we don’t know.


What’s one thing you are most excited about right now as it connects to your work?

There is a lot of attention being paid right now to the topic of authentic leadership. From research articles in Harvard Business Review to local trainings, I’m seeing it come up more and more. I think it’s a game-changing topic, and one that requires time and reflection. On the surface, “authentic leadership” seems like a simple term that we can all get behind. Who wouldn’t want to be an authentic leader?! But as Scientific American pointed out in an article this summer, there isn’t a common definition of what it means to be “authentic.” I’m interested in the ways that we can reflect on this concept as individuals and as peers—to help each of us develop our own sense of what it means to us to show up as authentic, purposeful, and adaptable leaders.