The Potential for What? Podcast: Episode 7 – Nikki Gatenby

Challenge your limiting beliefs like an Olympian with Nikki Gatenby – The Potential for What? Podcast

In this podcast Jo Taylor MD of Let’s Talk Talent and our guest Nikki Gatenby author and discuss how limiting beliefs can stop us from achieving our potential and how having someone to hold up a mirror and challenge these beliefs can help us to unlock our potential.

They also discuss how to coach someone to live in the present but focus on the future and how, during the pandemic, people have had to find new ways to be connected and get their energy.

Find out how Nikki took the leap from an international role in a London agency, to starting her own agency in Brighton focused on staff wellbeing. Through her hard work and dedication, she was able to turn the business into a global success, and was even voted one of the best places to work in the UK for eight years. She also talks about the moment she decided to write her book, ‘Superengaged’, and how it opened up a new world of possibilities for her, leading her to become a non-exec and help other agencies with their culture and growth.

In today’s episode we talk about:

  • 🧠 How Cognitive Behavioural Coaching (CBC) can help to unlock potential by challenging limiting beliefs and negative thoughts.
  • 💪 How to build mental muscle by challenging our thinking and developing a new practice.
  • ⏸️ Why it is important to have an inner mentor and practice the power of pause when responding to situations.
  • 💬 CEOs and HR leaders should have conversations with their employees to encourage them to take ownership of their own career progression.
  • 🦸‍♀️How Nikki grew Propellernet into one of the best places to work in the UK.
  • 📝 And then wrote a book, Superengaged, to share her story.

About Nikki Gatenby

Nikki Gatenby is a non-exec director, author and cognitive behavioural coach.

Having led successful marketing agencies in London, Paris and Brighton in the UK with a track record for taking them global, her last agency went from Brighton to global, from offering marketing services to developing 2 successful SaaS technology products, hand in hand with being named one of the Best Places to Work in the UK for 8 years running.

Alongside, Nikki is a double best-selling author on the subject of engagement with ‘Superengaged‘ and purposeful work with ‘Better Business on Purpose‘, Having exited her agency in 2019, Nikki is now a non-exec director and cognitive behavioural coach. Helping founders to set their strategy and coaching the leadership teams to deliver on it. Nikki is featured as one of the Corporate Rebels Pioneers for progressive thinking and voted one of ten of the most inspirational people in the 2022 industry Benchpress survey.

How to listen to this podcast:

Links shared in this episode:

Related Podcasts

Related Blog Posts

Career Planning Whitepaper
Download our Career Planning Whitepaper and reach your potential

Transcript of Episode 7: The Potential for What? Podcast with Nikki Gatenby

Jo Taylor  00:04

Welcome to the Potential For What podcast. On this podcast we explore how a range of business leaders unlock the potential in people. We’ll hear how they’ve done it, find out what’s worked, what hasn’t, and why this is so important in getting and keeping great people. Most businesses focus on the here and now: that is, all about performance. But at Let’s Talk Talent we like to think differently, as we fundamentally believe everyone has potential. The question is for what? So let’s explore that together. I’m your host, Jo Taylor, Managing Director of Let’s Talk Talent, a talent management and organisational development consultancy based in London, the UK. I have a request: if you value this show, if you enjoy these stories, or find this wisdom or inspiration useful, please subscribe to the Potential For What podcast to listen to future episodes.

Jo Taylor  00:57

Hi, everybody, and welcome to the next episode of the Potential For What podcast. I’m your host, Jo Taylor, MD of Let’s Talk Talent. I’m super excited to be talking to Nikki Gatenby today. She is a non-exec director, author and cognitive behavioural coach. How are you Nikki?

Nikki Gatenby  01:15

I’m good. I’m good. I’m delighted to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me on.

Jo Taylor  01:18

Fantastic. So I’m really fascinated by cognitive behavioural coaching and how it unlocks potential. I want to start with asking you: how does it affect potential?

Nikki Gatenby  01:30

It’s really fascinating, because cognitive behavioural coaching is looking at the way that you think about events, so, cognition, because how you think profoundly influences the way you feel. And in turn that impacts upon your stress and your performance, your behaviour. So if we can challenge what we’re thinking – any negative thoughts, any limiting beliefs – that’s impacting how we feel, and then our behaviour, we can actually change our performance. And that’s it in a nutshell. And what I love about it is nothing else in the world has to change, apart from how we think. We are actually in complete control. So actually taking that approach, we are in complete control of unlocking our potential. And I find that fascinating.

Jo Taylor  02:11

So what limits- you talked about, that sometimes we can limit ourselves in our potential. When you’re coaching someone, what are those sort of limited beliefs that perhaps are, in a way, the angel and the devil on our shoulders?

Nikki Gatenby  02:24

A lot of the time – and I work with a lot of CEOs, a lot of people that can tend to work in isolation that can be quite lonely – they are having challenging thoughts about, “I’ve got far too much to do”, or “I’m just not enough”, or “I’m not good enough”. And these things can get in the way of our performance, because we end up so it’s like a self fulfilling prophecy that we become not enough. But if we can think about that and say, “Okay, how is that working for us? Why is that thought there?” It’s there for a reason. Tends to be there to protect us in some way, shape, or form, but if we instantly jump to the negative, it’s actually not serving us very well. So can we challenge that thought and that thinking into a way that will help us rather than hinder us? And it’s fascinating when we start talking about this, because they’re very personal thoughts. Apparently you have about 70,000 thoughts a day, they’re not individual thoughts, there in what I call ‘playlists’. And we have these recurring playlists, and people can be woken up by their playlists, either about work or about money, or about weight or whatever. And it’s that recurring one liner, that’s really good to challenge to say; “Let’s have a look at it. What- why am I thinking it? What’s it doing for me? And how can I help it to serve me better?” So instead of, “I’m not enough”, we can change it, and it has to be something you believe and can believe, to “I am enough”. It’s very simple, but it’s just that self talk. And things that are constantly getting in our way, if we practice them, they will always get in our way, because we get better at what we practice. If we change our practice, we can get better at something else. So it’s learning to build that mental muscle that’s actually going to help us in a positive way. And it can be really simple to challenge how we’re thinking, it can feel very hard. It’s a bit like a press up: a really simple manoeuvre, but actually really hard to do well. And it’s quite difficult to coach yourself through it. So it’s really useful to have someone to hold up a mirror and go “Okay, let’s work this through together”. So challenging those limiting beliefs can feel quite difficult. But if we practice a new way of thinking, we can hugely impact our performance. And a lot of this comes from Professor Steve Peters, who wrote the Chimp Paradox, which I’m sure many leaders will have – sorry, listeners – will have read. And he talks about the fact that most of the GB Olympic team were being trained by people in a physical sense. He trained them in a mental sense, and Victoria Pendleton and Chris Hoy put their medal haul at his feet, saying: “he made such a difference to the way we think; that impacted our performance in the way that nobody else could touch.” So there’s kind of Olympic level proof points here, but I see it every day in the work that I do.

Jo Taylor  04:50

It’s super interesting. I remember going to a talk by Dr. Steve Peters and being really amazed. He showed this video of someone giving evidence in a trial. And they were saying on the surface, this person gave evidence, and there was nothing that you would think… this person was really telling the truth – it was really believable. But then when he slowed it down, and he showed all of the kind of nuances, the sort of unwritten elements, the tics, and everything, you could see how uncomfortable, how pained, how discombobulated that person was. And in some way that sort of feeds into potential, doesn’t it? Because sometimes when you’ve got a high potential or a CEO, who’s, in a way, gone through their career, and got to a certain point, there’s an expectation, isn’t there? It’s that expectation versus reality. How do you kind of coach that, to enable someone to kind of live in the present, but also focus on the future?

Nikki Gatenby  05:50

It’s fascinating, because there’s many ways that we talk to ourselves, that limits our potential. The first being how we treat ourselves, and we’ve talked about a little bit of that, and I’ll go into a bit more detail. Second is, we can tend to outsource our happiness sometimes. And that’s a fascinating way of thinking about why we’re happy. We give others control. And thirdly, we can rely on someone else to find our path forward. So let’s just dig into those a little bit more. In terms of how we treat ourselves, I was listening to Jimmy Carr the other day, ironically, I don’t know if you heard him on the Steven Bartlett ‘The Diary of a CEO’, but he is a philosopher, as well as a comedian, it’s really powerful stuff. And he was talking about the fact – if someone, when you were a teenager, gave you a car, and said “This is the only vehicle you’re ever going to have in your life. Treat it as you see fit.” How would you treat it? How would you drive it? What fuel would you put in it? How regularly would you give it a checkup? How would you expect others to treat it? How would you ensure it stays in tip top condition for as long as possible? You know, if you’ve got this car for 70, 80 years, how would you treat it? And you can see where I’m going with this Jo. You know, we have our body, we have our mind. How are we treating ourselves? How are we driving ourselves? Are we overdriving ourselves? How are we fuelling ourselves? Are we using really good fuel? Are we using really good food? How regularly do we check in on ourselves, both mentally and physically? How do we let others treat us? And how do we respond to them? All of the analogy works beautifully. And coming from a comedian, who I have now discovered is also a philosopher, it was really powerful stuff. And he’s just written a book, ‘Life After Laughter’, which is just fantastic in terms of his approach to life, and his being a comedian. And there’s a lot of these elements in it, in terms of how we treat ourselves can be our first limit on our own potential.

Jo Taylor  07:34

I think you’re absolutely right. I think I always find that myself, that I’m my biggest critic. I treat myself- or beat myself up much more about things than anybody else would; a client, a friend, a partner or anything. Because it is something about limited belief that there’s this perfection. And I think what comes with that is purpose. If you’ve got that purpose and that passion coming together, then, hopefully, that enables you to work through, but you’re right, that changes. So what I was like at 20, the core of me is exactly the same, right? But going into my, you know, my 50th birthday this year, it’s a different person that sits in front of you today, but that’s okay. But the core is the same.

Nikki Gatenby  08:21

Yes. And on that journey, I do quite a lot of work around inner critic, but also balancing that with inner mentor. And most of us haven’t had the opportunity to think about who our inner mentor could be. A lot of us know who our inner critic is. And we listen to that voice. But it’s really fascinating to think about who could be our inner mentor. Who could we project forward to, to who is us in the future? As you were just saying, and ask that person advice, because we are taught at school to read and research and prepare and bring the outside in, which is absolutely fantastic. But the balancer of that, is bring the inside out. We have a lot of answers inside of ourselves. And often we look to others to give us the answers, and if we give our time- if we gave ourselves time to stop and think and ask ourself a different question. What would my inner mentor say? My inner critic’s going crazy saying this, what’s the balancer? We can actually unlimit our potential for laughter, for going further than we thought possible, for helping other people on the journey, because we’re not putting our critic in the way of our future. So how we treat ourselves is so important.

Jo Taylor  09:25

It’s really interesting that you say that, because one of our past people on our- on the podcast, is a lady called Tiffany. And I interviewed her a couple of weeks ago, and we were talking about this in terms of sort of future skills. And one of the books that she recommended, which I’ve actually bought, is ‘Screw Work, Let’s Play’ by John Williams. And I haven’t started it yet, but it’s this weekend’s, with a sickly dog, that’s this weekend’s workbook. But in it, it is saying to you, it’s saying fundamentally: what makes- what brings you joy? And if you can do more of that, which is exactly what you were saying, then your potential is limitless, in effect. It’s not driven by necessarily work or home, it’s a combination. And I really liked that concept when you look at potential, because when you look at it from an HR perspective, it’s very much driven by traits, behaviours, attitudes. And what you’re saying is that it’s in our control, much more than we think it is.

Nikki Gatenby  10:30

Yes, yeah, absolutely. And, you know, what brings you joy, beautiful. I talk about, we tend to outsource our happiness to others, and think other people have control. But if we think about what we actually can control, we can control what’s going on inside our heads and our thoughts. And how we think, and how we react, we are actually in control of. But there’s a real power to putting space between what someone else has said to you, and how you respond to it. And I worked with my coach on this, Sally-Anne Airey, who’s a wonderful coach, and she talks about the power of pause, and the fact that if you could just give yourself a beat, before you respond to a situation, you can actually give yourself a lot more thinking time to respond in a way that you authentically want to, rather than going to your inner critic, and just instantly being worried about something. If we are more inner mentor, or more about joy, or more about our own happiness, we can have a much different life. And again, nothing else needs to change, except how we think and feel.

Jo Taylor  11:26

Do you think that’s changed during the last couple of years, with people being more isolated? You know, I’ve definitely found it, as a sort of founder of a business that, you know, before, I would be going out, and I would be kind of getting my energy through connection. Do you think that’s had an effect on the way people view themselves both internally, but also that kind of limits their potential or career development, in effect?

Nikki Gatenby  11:56

Yes. I don’t know about you, but when I first started at work, it was like a paid-for university because you were still learning loads, you were being paid, and you had this entire social network of really brilliant mates, because you were in an office together. And I really feel for people who are just starting out in work without having that experience. Although, the introverts in my life are having absolute bonus time, because they’re getting the space to think. And you probably come across Susan Cain’s book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’. It’s an incredible book, and as a kind of a learnt extrovert myself – I was incredibly introverted as child, but through work, I’ve become more extrovert – I can absolutely see how people have thrived by having space and time to themselves, but others have been- felt closed down by it. So I think that the hybrid model is going to be played to both people, but it’s not black and white, there’s whole shades of grey. But I think we need to be more cognisant of the different types of ways that we think, and we feel, and we get our energy. Like yourself, I like to bounce off other people now and I’m really- and I’m doing it all day. Through a screen, it’s hard. Going out and meeting people is lovely, but actually, I’m not sure being back in an office the whole time would work for me anymore, because of the level of interruption. I quite like that focused time. So, there’s been a lot of disruption, and for a lot of people, it’s been really hard feeling so isolated. But actually, there’s a lot of people that have gone, “this is working for me now”. How can we get to the middle ground? How can we make sure that we can all be served, by the way we’re working?

Jo Taylor  13:25

When you’ve run businesses, and you, you know, you’re a non-exec director, so when you’re sitting from that sort of 35,000 feet view, and you’re saying, “Look, we’re looking at succession, we’re looking at our highest potential, how do we increase, you know, those- the marginal gains, ultimately?” What’s your advice for people who are listening to this podcast who may be CEOs, who may be HR leaders, that are noodling this topic and thinking “What- Okay, that’s all very well, but what can I do?”

Nikki Gatenby  13:55

Yes. I am naturally curious. I ask questions non stop. And sometimes I have to say to people, “I’m doing this because I’m curious, not because I don’t believe you, or I don’t understand what’s going on, I just want to find out more.” And sometimes we have to share what we value for others to understand our behaviour. But I know that not everybody works like that, and is wired like that, and it took me quite a long time to realise that, because we don’t all see the world through the same eyes. And when I was running my own business, one thing that was game changing for me was having a conversation with each person, to not outsource their progression to anybody else. To own their own career. We can, as leaders, put in springboards and safety nets for people, but the thing that’s going to unlimit their potential, is for them to take responsibility of their own career. As a leader, you’ve probably got 50, 100, 2,000 people’s careers within your remit. You do not possibly have the headspace to help every single one of them reach their potential without them being on the journey with you. So my- the biggest game changer for me was having that conversation with people saying, “This is your career. I’m in charge of my career, you’re in charge of your career. Let’s actually both grow together.” And you could see the light bulbs coming on, it’s like, “Okay, it’s not like school anymore. I’m not served something that I have to take in and regurgitate.” We need to learn to improvise more, as we come through our education. We need to learn to challenge authority more, we need to learn to think, “actually, what’s my perspective?” And come inside and think about what I think, not just what books are telling me. So there’s that whole thing about being the master of your own career. And having that conversation with people, for me, has been game changing. Because then it takes a lot of pressure off the leader as well, to fix everything. We are not – well, we are fixers, we do quite a lot of that – but ideally, people can help fix their own future.

Jo Taylor  15:37

So when was your light bulb moment in your career, in thinking about how you could realise your potential? And you’re still realising your potential and everything that you do. But, you know, were there moments that you thought, “I’m having real fun here” or “I’ve learned from that experience”?

Nikki Gatenby  15:55

Yes. When I took the leap from international role in the London agency, to start to work with the Brighton agency and grow that. That, for me, was an absolutely. Because a lot of my friends in London, were saying, “Okay, so you’re gonna go from this big international role, and London agency, where you’re leading X, Y, Z, and you’re going to go to a small search agency in Brighton, and it’s going to be based on wellbeing? Are you mad?” And this was 15 years ago, and wellbeing, at the time, was a bit of a novelty, and a bit of a “Are you sure?” Whereas, you know, the values of the other businesses have been about high levels of creativity and brilliant execution, which I was going to take with me, but what I could see, with working in a highly competitive creative agencies, was it’s fascinating to work with really intelligent, really creative people. It’s also hugely competitive, and there was a lot of burnout. And I myself burnt out. And I just thought, “This isn’t how we should be working.” One of those rules in your head, “I shouldn’t be doing this.” It’s quite limiting in itself. “But how can I do this differently?” So when we started Propellernet with, you know, with wellbeing being very much at the core, that changed dramatically, because I believe people who are feeling good, and taking care of themselves, and take care of each other, will be able to do better work. And we took Propellernet from Brighton to global, from marketing services to SAAS technology products, one of the best places to work in the UK for eight years. And I know, people feeling well was massively part of it, and feeling like you’re part of the decision making process. So that was kind of a first realising potential for me, that I could take a leap, which was deemed by others to be in the wrong direction. And actually, it’s like no, I’m not listening to that. That’s limiting for me. I think this is huge. I think I can make a massive difference here. So let’s not outsource my happiness to somebody else saying what I should and shouldn’t do. Let me take the ownership of it. Let me be in charge of my career. And I loved every minute of it. It was brilliant. The second thing was when I wrote Superengaged. I often stood on stages, talking about the business, talking about the growth, and 9 times out of 10, people would ask me, “Have you written a book? I want to find out more”, and I would always say, “I’m too busy to write a book.” What I meant, was I was too terrified to write a book. But then, eventually, I thought, “Okay, I’ll write the book. Let’s get the story out there.” And when it landed… the minute you hit publish, it’s quite a moment, you kind of- there’s shivers down the spine. So “Oh! Are people going to love it or hate it? Am I going to get trolled?” My husband’s a great leveller, he went, “You’re not famous enough to get trolled, don’t worry about it.” But when the feedback came back from super engaged, people got in touch and said, “Can you come and help us do what you’ve done?” That was the start for my springboard to being a non-exec. And I wasn’t really aware that that was something I would or could be doing. But I started, very gently, to work with some other agencies and help them with their culture and their growth. And it was fascinating for me. And again, that kernel of “Ooh, I can go and do this.” Love Propellernet, amazing place, love London, love working in different agencies, in Paris all over the place. But taking that leap and believing in yourself, and not quite knowing if it’s going to work, for me is fascinating. And I found a quote from David Bowie, that kind of sums it up. And I’ll just read it out to you. “If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel capable of being in. Go a little out of your depth. And when you feel your feet aren’t quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.” And that, for me, just being just on the edge is really exciting. Not all the time, because you’re gonna go pop, but just those moments where it’s “ooh,” that’s really exciting for me just really on the edge.

Jo Taylor  19:24

I love that. I always call it feeling uncomfortably lost, that sort of knowing that you can do the job, and 30% where, you’ve got that stretch. I love that. I love that quote. Thank you so much. So, Nikki as we come to the end of our time talking, and we could go on forever, I’m aware you’ve got a busy life and busy things to do. How can people find you if they’re interested in talking to you? How do people connect with you?

Nikki Gatenby  19:51

So I have two books out one called ‘Superengaged’, if you go to, or there’s my most recent book, which came out in November, ‘Better Business On Purpose’,  so, either one of those, there’s subject matter around the book, or I’m on LinkedIn, Nikki Gatenby, just Google me and I’m there. Best places to find me are on those sites or on LinkedIn, and I’m very happy to chat about any of these things, potential being a fascinating area for me.

Jo Taylor  20:17

Brilliant. It’s been an absolute pleasure, as always, talking to you. Thank you so much, and I wish you huge success going forward. I can’t wait to see the next part of your journey.

Nikki Gatenby  20:28

Thank you, Jo, it’s been lovely to talk to you. Appreciate it.

Jo Taylor  20:30

Thank you.

Jo Taylor  20:34

Thanks for listening to the Potential For What podcast. If you’re hearing this message, you’ve listened to our new episode all the way to the end, and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. We hope you enjoyed this episode, and if you did, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Please share this episode with others who may be interested in this topic. As always, you can head over to to check out all the links and resources in the show notes and to sign up to our email list.