with greg layton

The Inner Chief is for leaders, professionals and small business owners who want to accelerate their career and growth. Our guest chiefs and gurus share powerful stories and strategies so you can have more purpose, influence and impact in your career.

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In this episode, we meet with Kristen Podagiel, Managing Partner of McCullough Robertson and talk about how to never die wondering and failing fast.

We talk all about:

  • How she has made every post a winner in the law profession
  • How she boldly leads change with a very personal and caring style
  • The future of the law profession
  • Asking yourself, “If not you, then who?
  • Getting comfortable being uncomfortable to accelerate your impact and career

Book Recommended by Kristen Podagiel

Flying without a Net, Thomas DeLong

Kristen Podagiel on Boldly Leading Change

  • I've never really been hung up on formal authority. I just never really got what everybody saw in titles and authority. In my career I was never afraid of singing out, offering suggestions, speaking up and saying, “I think we should do this differently.”
  • I always say, “Never die wondering,” so I certainly won't
  • I have been passed over for promotions a couple of times and that stuff always stings. I've watched other people get roles that I had been secretly or not-so-secretly been coveting. How do you cope with disappointment? Why was I so disappointed? What story had you gone and told yourself that that role was going to be… how was that role going to suddenly change something in your life? Because it's sort of testing, is that actually true? Was that role really going to make you a happier, better, more important, more valued? Could you still lead? Could you still do challenging, interesting work, wherever you were and whatever the title was?
  • The feedback that I've received is around the trying to do too much too fast. And for me, that stings because it's true, when you know in your heart that it's actually accurate, but also because it really does challenge my personal ethos around, “If you're not growing, you're dying.” That sort of constant growth and evolution and never settling and those sorts of things. But also recognising that not everyone's hardwired exactly the same way, of course. And you actually can't lead some change unless you can build sufficient coalition and get people on the journey and all those sorts of things. So yeah, it hurts because it's true.
  • It's the series of decisions that I've had to make in my role through COVID-19. Just the sheer complexity of decisions, the sheer number of decisions, the speed with which decisions had to be made, and it was affecting absolutely every aspect of the business. You not only had the business side as well, you also had the human aspect in terms of people being rightly concerned about the safety of their kids and their elderly parents and their own safety, and just that perfect, perfect storm of all the cards being thrown up in the air
  • It's an immense privilege to serve a group of people where there is so much uncertainty. I really looked at it and went, “You know what? I don't have all the answers and I'm okay with saying I don't have all the answers.” What I've got to offer my people is my honesty, the fact that I can be authentic about it. I was blown away by how that was perceived and just countless thank yous and letters from staff and clients, just saying how valuable that was to them when they were going through this sort of multifaceted challenge. It's been pretty defining for me.
  • I do ascribe to the idea of failing fast. We didn't get every decision we made, right. But we made a decision on the information we had at the time. Sometimes that information had changed within hours, but you make a decision on what you've got at the time and then not be afraid to change the decision, alter the decision, and keep on pivoting, keep on pivoting.
  • “We didn't have to learn how to pivot. We had to learn how to pirouette because the information before us was changing minute-by-minute.” You couldn't overthink it because you had to make very serious decisions and we knew that they had impacts on people's lives, but make the decision with what you've got and admit where you don't know all the answers and don't be afraid to go back and say, “You know what? The situation's changed again. And we know that yesterday, we told you this, but today it's changed a bit and here it is today.”
  • My mom and my dad weren't lawyers. They weren't in the management of a company like this. But the lesson that plays over in my head so often from them, was that anyone can complain, but it takes someone a bit different to bring a problem with a solution or an attempt at a solution. I have young kids now, and I think actually I'm going to add to that when I teach my kids this, which is anyone can complain and bring a problem, it takes a special person to come with a solution or attempt a solution. And it takes someone even more special to take that solution and implement it. Because that's the real hard yards.


  • I'm a big believer in just try something. Any form of movement is movement forward because it'll either teach you that it's not the way to go about it, or it'll teach you that it is the way to go about it.
  • “What would scare me most to do right now?” And you sort of look at it and go, “That's probably exactly what I should do.”
  • It's that constantly stretching yourself. At the worst, you learn something about yourself or you learn that that's not the way to go about it, but sort of sitting there and just getting stuck in your own head and stopping the perpetual motion, won't get you there. So for me, it's just try it.


  • I always ask people what they love and also what they hate about their current role or their current workplace. It doesn't sound like a particularly complex question, but I think it's easy for people to come up with an answer to it, but their answers always tell you volumes. Probably more than any other question that I've ever come up with because it shows what motivates them and what really switches them on in a workplace.

“If not you, then who?” Which is really, I mean, it comes back to that piece with mom and dad in terms of that advice around… There is, we say here in our organisation, “There's a leader in every chair.” So absolutely anyone can make a difference, but will you choose to make a difference? Because that's the determining factor

Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders

Be cool. For me, probably no one is born knowing any of this, so no one gets there without making mistakes. But if you want to be a leader, you are going to have to get comfortable with discomfort, and not knowing and not being the expert in the area, that is just part and parcel of it. So the faster you get comfortable with being uncomfortable, the faster you'll get there.