TTLS S2 1 | Authentic Self


Today’s episode is with Sheila Carmichael. Sheila is a transformational leadership strategist. This episode is important because of the parallel interests that both Sheila and I share in authenticity in the workplace. Sheila has a passion for authentic leadership and her expertise makes this episode shine.

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Dr. Kevin Sansberry II is a behavioral scientist and executive coach with expertise in toxic leadership, human capital strategy, and creating inclusive cultures of belonging to enhance organization performance. Over the years, Kevin has focused on providing research-informed solutions in various settings such as higher education, nonprofit, sales, and corporate environments.

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What’s In It For You To Embrace Your Authentic Self? With Sheila Carmichael

If your company or organization is suffering from low morale, high turnover or lack of productivity then this is the show for you. World-renowned leadership expert Dr. Kevin Sansberry demystifies how to detoxify an organizational culture to improve retention and bottom-line profitability. Here’s your host, Dr. Kevin Sansberry.

Welcome to the show. Our episode is with Sheila Carmichael. She is a Transformational Leadership Strategist. This episode is important because of the parallel interests that both Sheila and I share in authenticity in the workplace. She has a passion for authentic leadership and her expertise makes this episode shine. Let’s get to it.

We have Sheila Carmichael. I am excited to have you here to talk about authenticity and digging into toxicity as a leader. How are you?

I’m doing very well. Thank you for having me on the show.

One of the things I want to know about is what your story is. What have you been working on? Where have you come from as it relates to your vocation and how you approach work?

I share with folks my career success grew up in corporate environments. Leading, facilitating and training predominantly in the human resources environment. I’ve run the gamut of the different functions in HR and decided my passion was in the proactive work of helping individuals to develop and accelerate in their careers.

Toxic environments can show up subtly in a corporate environment. They’re not always overt, where someone is yelling and screaming.

Talent management is my wheelhouse. That’s my jam. I enjoy helping organizations with identifying the right talent for the right roles at the right timing so that succession planning. That’s where a lot of my knowledge and experience comes from. When you work in corporate environments, you get a lot of resources to help build your own leadership capabilities, strength and experiences. That’s my story. I’ve now taken that corporate experience and applying it to my own business, Transitions D2D so that I can put that more in a broader perspective and not enclosed in one particular organization.

One of the things you talked about was proactive work. I wanted to know from you, how do you connect the proactive work you’re doing to being authentic in general? How was authenticity evolved for you?

Personally, I’ve been in situations where I’ve had great leaders, thank goodness but there were times in which I didn’t have maybe the best leaders and they may not have known how to receive or accept me. Authenticity is a passion for me because, in those situations, I always found myself struggling with, “How do I show up?” Especially when you’re a leader of others or you’ve got influence across a very large organization. How do you ensure that you’re being your best and being true to yourself in those moments?

They tie well to that. Not only from my own experiences but helping leaders with identifying the right people in the right roles and the business needs that they have. How do you truly understand what those skills and capabilities are? Not only for today but in the future for your business model so that you are truly mapping out your succession plans and managing those plans in a way that’s going to be successful for both the individuals as well as the corporation.

TTLS S2 1 | Authentic Self

Authentic Self: You need to find the shoes that are right for you. That’s where authenticity comes in, playing your strengths and your values and your principles that are aligned with the corporation.


I’m interested in this topic. A lot of organizations can make a case for like, “Organizationally, we can make it make sense authenticity succession plan. The right people are in the right seats on the bus. I’ve heard those analogies. When you talk at the individual level, I’m curious from your perspective, what’s in it for me relate to showing up my authentic self or what have you? What if I’m afraid to do that? What’s the what’s in it for me on that one?

What is it for you to stay authentic? When you think about the environments especially in corporate, there’s a certain culture and code that they have as a part of that culture, which is great. It’s part of their secret sauce and their whole success model. However, if you’re not aligned to that and it doesn’t speak to who you are or allows you to play to your respectful natural leadership style, then what happens is that you’re pretty much walking.

Your authentic shoes are disappearing and you’re walking in someone else’s shoes. If you can imagine putting on a pair of shoes to get ready to go out and maybe run or walk and these were not your true shoes, how would that feel? Over time, it continues to strip away. It can cause even more problems for you because you can’t sustain staying in those wrong shoes. You need to find the shoes that are right for you and so that’s where authenticity comes in, playing your strengths, values and principles that are aligned with the corporation.

It’s because now you can be more successful. You can sustain that. You don’t have to second guess it and have to like, “What are they playing?” I say this corporate game show called Guess What’s On My Mind. You don’t have to guess how to play in any given moment because you’re aware of your right shoes and playing your leadership style to its fullest potential.

Thank you, Sheila. I appreciate that analogy. I love analogies. Walking in someone else’s shoes is an excellent one. As we think about leadership from that purview, talk to me about your experience related to toxic leadership, whether it was professional, personal, coaching and research, all of the above. Share with us your entry point into the topic.

When you asked the question, tons of examples started playing back on my own experiences as well as clients, both internal and external that I’ve supported. In the common theme, I’ll speak to that and that shows up that things are toxic. It’s when your voice starts to disappear. I can recall in a position that I was in that my voice started to fade away. My confidence started to strip away, I felt like I had to follow some particular script for this particular role and it continued to de-energize me if that’s such a word. It kept pulling from my engagement into wanting to think about how to make this a successful role for the organization.

Toxic environments can show up sometimes subtle in a corporate environment. They may not be as overt as some things are, where someone is yelling and screaming. I believe those are a little easier to deal with because you could easily say, “You’ve crossed a boundary here along the way.” The common theme of those experiences is when they’re subtle and something as simple as the positioning of someone standing in front of you and their hands on their hips.

If it’s something that’s pulling away from your own thought process and self-esteem, it’s toxic.

It’s almost like they’re trying to have an authoritative pose or taking an idea. That’s ridiculous and stupid and you would think, “Is that toxic?” Yeah, it is. If it’s something that’s pulling away from your own thought process and self-esteem, it’s toxic. I believe there are levels of toxicity. There are not just one high ten level. There are multiple levels of it. It can come in many different ranges.

It erodes over time, people’s confidence and employee engagement. Your background with HR, we all can write books about all the stuff we’ve seen and heard, all that kind of stuff. I don’t know if you share the same opinion but to be honest, I think not everything is tin but the small toxicities are the worst because they’re like death by 1,000 cuts in a way. It builds up.

I’ll share with you two examples if you don’t mind. Early on in my career, I remember a leader would have this little stick in their office, which was weird. I’m like, “Why do they have this stick in their office?” Every time I walked into the office, they would take this poker stick right across the table and I thought, “That’s a level ten toxic environment.”

TTLS S2 1 | Authentic Self

Authentic Self: Ask yourself those tough questions to help reset: Are those the right shoes that you should be wearing? Or maybe you need to keep shopping for another pair?


In those situations, you know because your natural instincts kick in to defend yourself. Here’s another example where they’re not so overt and they’re not at a level ten, where you continue to be innovative. You’re asked to come up with an idea, you’re working on your team and then the idea is, “No. That’s not quite what we’re thinking about.” You think, “Okay. That’s subtle,” but you keep asking again like, “Give us more clarity as to what it is that you’re looking at.”

This is that game show, Guess What’s On My Mind. You go in again and, “That’s not quite what we’re thinking about,” or even worse. The subtlety, the little things. You put something out there and no one is giving you feedback. No one is giving you any understanding of what is working well or not working well.

It’s one thing when people are engaging in that conversation with you. That’s great. Even if it’s not what you wanted to hear because at least you can do something with it. A toxic environment can also occur when people are not communicating because then you’re at a higher level of Guess What’s On Our Mind because nobody is telling you. They’re being very passive. “It’s fine. It’s okay,” but there’s no action as a result of it. There are no adjustments as a result of it.

All of a sudden, it fades away and enough of those over time, you start wondering, “What is it that I’m doing wrong?” Then you start second-guessing your own decision and thought-making process. Whether it’s high or low, enough of those lows, you start second-guessing yourself and going, “What is going on here? Why is this happening?

I appreciate you spelling that dichotomy out of the fact that some of the toxic behaviors you’re going to see will be the classic. I know when I see it and I know when I feel it type of situation but then there also may be the covert toxicity that occurs when you’re passive-aggressively being impacted. You’ve got the passive-aggressive, aggressive-regressive, over-aggression or whatever you want to call it.

For readers, that’s an important distinction because as we think about toxicity, the way I look at it is, it’s different for everybody. Thank you for explaining that. As we discuss this, I’m sure people reading this are probably like, “Let’s say I find myself exhibiting somebody’s toxic behaviors.” Based on your experience in authentic leadership, what suggestions do you have for people who want to reset their authentic leadership style?

Check your thoughts, check your feelings and check your senses.

It’s a good point because it’s so easy to start picking up on those behaviors, thinking that they’re okay. This is the norm. This is what we’re supposed to do. You look up and you see that there’s this consistency of this low toxic behavior and you think, “Is that what it’s going to take for me to get a promotion, merit increases, bonuses and all those kinds of things?” You start thinking you’re going to tweak your own natural leadership shoes. We’ll go back to that example.

It’s like going shopping. You think, “Maybe I need to stop wearing this style of shoes and I need to start wearing another style of shoes.” You try them on and I’m sure folks will appreciate this and you go, “They’re okay. I can tolerate it and it may be a little tight somewhere or it doesn’t quite fit. If I walk in them a little bit, I’ll get used to it.” You don’t want to do that.

When that trigger hits that you know this is uncomfortable and not quite fitting me well, that’s the trigger. When you find yourself starting to practice those behaviors thinking that it’s the norm to reset back to you and ask yourself, what’s driving this and what’s motivating me for this, it doesn’t align with who I am. There’s a slew of other questions based on the circumstances and the situation but you need to get clear. That’s step one. Get clear as you’re trying to think, “Where is this coming from and why am I doing this?” Ask yourself those tough questions to help reset, “Are those the right shoes that you should be wearing or maybe you need to keep shopping for another pair.”

Don’t settle for the shoes that don’t fit.

Don’t do it. I love that.

A lot of these behaviors and reactions happen pretty quickly because you describe the stick. That’s fight or flight in a way because it’s like, “Who has a stick like that?” Let’s think we’re in that moment and we need to respond and restore our focus. Let’s say we report to somebody who’s exhibiting toxic leadership. How did you restore your focus and respond authentically at that moment?

You probably could reference where this research comes from this 90-second role. You put enough space and we’ve heard other leadership gurus speak to the stimulus and the response. Here you’ve got this thing happening in the environment. If you put enough space between your response to that environment, it can help you with the focus of where you’re going.

It’s one thing to say, “Sheila, What’s that mean? Do I get to hit the pause button? Yes. At that moment, it doesn’t mean you have to hit it for days on and it could be the research shows 90 seconds. Maybe it’s for ten seconds to take a deep breath and ask yourself as you’re processing this at the moment. My favorite coaching question is what is this situation asking of you? If you pause with that thought in your mind, it will help you to reset and refocus the way you want your now response to be in the moment. If the stimulus is coming at you and the stick is coming out, as you said, you’re going to react.

It’s going to be a fight or flight type thing or a freeze or fawn but if you take a moment and ask yourself this question, “What is this asking of me?” That’s not only in a work environment, that’s also personally when you’re dealing with things with our children, spouses, significant others and whatever it might be. If we put that space, “What is this situation really asking of me?” Then you can go in your own closet and find the right shoes. Are these the pumps, flats, running shoes, the Stacy Adams or whatever they might be, and you can get the right shoes to put on how to respond in the moment?

The one thing I loved about that is that practice when people think back of times did the 90-second pause. I guarantee you they’re like, “I’m glad I did that.” It’s because where I was going to respond, it was massively different at the end of that 90 seconds. The goal of the show and your work is to ensure that we’re able to be transformative and have leaders who are modeling authentic leadership. When you think about that frame, share with readers some practices that you’ve observed from leaders who model authentic leadership consistently. What does the other side look like?

The key thing is to not make assumptions and not hold the heavyweight of the expectations of what this culture you think is asking of you, which could be an assumption. You need to check, validate or clarify what you’re processing and what you’re thinking. Is this real? Is this the actual truth or the reality?”

Is this just my own little gremlins and thoughts swirling in my mind to respond in this way? Vulnerability is key even at that moment just expressing. “I want to make sure I’m clear and understanding the behavior that I’m observing. I want to make sure I understand the question that you’re asking me. Here’s how it’s coming across to me,” and now you’re owning your piece of it, which is your emotions, thoughts or whatever it is you’re sensing versus coming to the wrong conclusions, reacting in the wrong way, making these assumptions, and there’s no time in between for you to process that through. That can literally happen in less than a minute.

If you pause and communicate. Engage in a conversation. “I want to make sure I understand where this is coming from. I’m observing or I’m sensing.” Owning your piece to it and putting it out there to get that quality check. If what you’re thinking is what you think you’re thinking, feeling or sensing, that’s the number one pearl of wisdom I would extend. Check your thoughts, feelings and sensing.

Thank you. I appreciate that because it puts the making it about you, the person and not about other people. I always tell people, “You can only clean up your side of the street.” I appreciate your insights, being able to dig into authenticity and knowing more about the work that you do. What other words of wisdom would you leave our readers with as we look at wrapping?

I would say when I was speaking that, I couldn’t help. My music library consumes all types of genres. One popped in my mind, check yourself before you wreck yourself. That went off in my mind. It was like. “That’s it. You need to check your thoughts, emotions and the way that you’re feeling.” I’m not saying that they’re not valid and not acknowledging that you can’t experience those.

Absolutely, we’re humans and we’re complex but if we don’t check where all that is coming from and put voice or some conversation around it, now we’re holding it in and then it starts to build up. It keeps feeding into our own little self-speak around it like a full course meal like, “I told you, see.” You’re looking for the toxicity in the environment versus trying to level yourself up to the best person that you can be.

TTLS S2 1 | Authentic Self

Authentic Self: The key thing is to not make assumptions and not hold the heavy weight of the expectations of what you think the culture is asking of you, which could be an assumption.


Before we go, I want to give you space to share with readers any initiatives you’re working on and further, how can we get in touch with you?

I am literally excited about something I’m building. Taking my three-phased systems and you can see a glimpse of this on my website. It’s called 3D Authentic Presence. The three phases are, how do you discover who you are? We go through different changes in our life. Marshall Goldsmith said, “What got you here won’t get you there.”

How are you constantly evaluating and checking at different stages of your career and of your life? What are the things that are important for you? How you’re showing up any types of your superpowers that may not be so super anymore and maybe some you hadn’t thought of. How do you put a definition to those so that you can define what your authentic shoes look like now? I’ll go back to that analogy. Shoes wear out. Sometimes you got to upgrade to a different style of shoes.

How are you defining what’s your new shoes for now and then making decisions to activate them? You can put on a pair of running shoes doesn’t make you a sprinter. How are you putting that in that whole system? I’m in the middle of building the coursework for folks to be a part and learn an online course on how to put in their 3D Authentic Presence.

If you’re looking for something like that and it’s intriguing for you, please go to my website There’s a contact form or you can email me directly at I’ll get you on our mailing list and we’ll go ahead and send it out when we get ready to launch the program.

Thank you, Sheila. I appreciate you being here.

Thank you.

I want to thank you for reading the show. Until next time. I’m Dr. Kevin Sansbury, signing off.

That’s it for our episode of Toxic Leadership. Head on over to iTunes, Spotify or Google Podcast to subscribe and post a review for the show. All inquiries for consultation with Dr. Sansberry can be made through Follow us on Instagram for resources, tips and videos and be sure to head on over to and pick up a free copy of Kevin’s gift and join us as the next episode.

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About Sheila Carmichael

Recognized as a global executive coach and leadership strategist, Sheila applies over two decades of talent management experience to her unique coaching brand. Her philosophy is grounded in her vision for helping clients to increase their authenticity by rethinking the way they currently think about leadership.

Sheila’s passion for authentic leadership enables her to accelerate awareness and accountability around presence, influence, and confidence. Her customized process starts with an understanding of the business context and defining clear objectives for successful sustainable results, which includes options for assessments and stakeholder interviews. Results gathered are leveraged to map out specific action plans with clear objectives, targeted for achieving goals and success.

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