Welcome to Powerful Leaders, No Apologies.


Powerful Leaders, No Apologies Episode 10 with Qiana Nelson


Show Notes

Beth and Debbie talk with certified life coach and founder of QSN Consulting, LLC, Qiana Nelson, about her notable career trajectory and delves into the significance of her leadership superpower, aptly named “spirit,” and how leaving a lasting impression on people matters.

Links from the episode:

Choosing Leadership: Revised and Expanded: How to Create a Better Future by Building Your Courage, Capacity, and Wisdom: Ginzel Ph.D., Linda 

Mastering the Game: Strategies for Career Success: Jones, Sharon E., Poluru, Sudheer R.

The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Updated and Expanded: Michael D. Watkins.

[5:53] Getting the right people in your corner

[7:44] Sponsoring vs. Mentoring

[15:45] All about the obstacles

[25:13] Spirit superpower

  • Transcript

    Debbie Foster (00:03):

    Welcome to the Powerful Leaders, no apologies podcast, the show about women who are ready to own their power and change the world. My name is Debbie Foster.

    Beth Thompson (00:12):

    And I’m Beth Thompson. Our guests are fierce and fabulous women who are making a difference in their personal and professional communities. Are you ready to be inspired? If so, stay tuned and also check out our website@affinityconsulting.com slash powerful leaders. Here’s the show!!




    Welcome to another episode of Powerful Leaders. No apologies, Debbie, here we are yet again. I’m not even going to say the episode number because quite frankly I’m losing track of them, which is a great thing. That means we’re having fun. We’re speaking to a lot of amazing women and we’re just rolling with it.

    Debbie Foster (00:52):

    We are just rolling with it. And one quick, exciting thing. I didn’t even talk to you about potentially talking about this on this episode, but we have a few bonus episodes coming up that are going to be a little different than what we’ve done, and we’re pretty excited about experimenting with those. We won’t give away any secrets, but we’ve got a couple of things up our sleeve that we think are going to be really cool.

    Beth Thompson (01:16):

    I am excited. And speaking of episodes, Debbie, when you and I were first talking about the idea of doing a podcast and what the topic would be and who potentially some of our guests would be, Kiana, I’ve just given away the name, Kiana Nelson was one of the folks at the top of my list, and I’m so excited that Kiana is here today. Kiana and I go back at least 10 years. We haven’t seen each other in a while, so we were having a little reunion before we started recording, and we got all of that out of a little bit of that out of our system. So now we get to talk, get to shop, but Kiana was on my list near the top because I knew she would make an amazing guest. I’ve always admired you, Kiana, and just can’t wait for you to share with our listeners your career journey and what all you’ve been doing, and I don’t want to waste another moment on Chit Chat. Let’s get right into it. Qiana, welcome to the podcast.

    Qiana Nelson (02:12):

    Thank you, Debbie. Thank you Beth for having me. I am so excited to be here and very honored, Beth, that I made it towards the top of your list to be on this podcast because we share a lot of special moments and just as we talk, I’ve learned so much from you as well. So I’m happy to be here today. Thank you.

    Beth Thompson (02:33):

    Awesome, thank you. So let’s dive right in. So tell us how you got started in this crazy career that you’ve been on with your current employer, which I know you’ve been with for quite a while, but tell us how you got started and your journey to what you’re doing today.

    Qiana Nelson (02:49):

    Thank you, Beth. I’m really excited to share my journey and I’ll tell you this, it’s so amazing that I am coming up on now 20 years at this company, June of 2023. It’s been an amazing experience. As you mentioned, I, I’ve been at this company for a very long time. We’ve interacted 10 plus years ago and I’m happy to say I’ve been at this large solutions provider for a very long time. It’s a technology company by the name of C D W, and I’ve had a lot of great moments and I’ll be happy to share a lot of my experience and my growth throughout this company because believe it or not, this is the only corporation that I’ve ever worked for. So I’ve learned a lot along the way while also exploring many other things and getting involved in many other things that we’ll talk about that has shaped who I am today as a leader.


    I will also like to say that the things that I have learned along the way at this company really inspired me to do more coaching and development of people. And so in 2019, I started a consulting company, QSN Consulting, that has allowed me to coach and teach people in life skills but also career skills. So happy to jump more into some of those things as we have this conversation because I’ve learned a lot along the way that I like to also share with others. So their path can be probably much quicker than it took me sometimes to get to the places that I am today.

    Beth Thompson (04:20):

    Well, it sounds like this may become a series and not just one episode, so we need to explore a little bit further. You’ve done amazing things in the 20 years, and one of the things I think for me looking at your career is you’ve taken every opportunity that you have seen and really embraced it, and you’ve built this amazing career for yourself as you’ve grown up through the ranks of and the growth you mentioned. I would love to hear more about your approach to the different opportunities that you pursued and then kind of the logic behind them because you have had an interesting path in your 20 years there.

    Qiana Nelson (04:56):

    Yes. So today I am a sales director and my primary responsibility is developing the foundational skills for our newest sales reps coming into the organization and throughout my career I’ve learned a lot and one thing that I like to tell people is everything that I’ve tried to accomplish and do, I’ve always thought about what tools am I adding to my tool belt. Now, Beth, you give me credit for accomplishing a lot of things, but I’ll tell you starting out early on I was allowing things to happen to me versus making things happen. And later on in my career, I really started to see things accelerate when I started to be more intentional about making things happen. So early on, I just did my job. I really wanted to show up and be the best person that I could be. And throughout that time, I didn’t always have a plan of how I was going to get to the next role.


    I didn’t even know what the next role was going to be for me and I was allowing people to tap me on the shoulders, and those taps came from people just realizing that there were things in me that I didn’t necessarily see for myself. And so once I started to own some of the things that people called out for me, I started to realize and be more intentional about how to make things happen and how to go about getting the right people in your corner, getting the right mentors, the right sponsors, and just being a sponge to take in all the things that I can learn along the way. So there’s so much that I have learned and I continue to learn. One thing in my career that I always try to be is a person that’s always learning. I don’t want to be the smartest person in the room. I want to be the person that allows others to speak, but also the person that is allowing people to challenge me because what challenges comes growth, and I’m growing every day that someone is challenging my thought process or giving me different ideas

    Beth Thompson (06:56):

    Already. Some gold nuggets you’ve laid out for people that are listening that especially those that are earlier in their career and thinking about what’s next for me? I love it already. How many were seven minutes in and you’ve already given some great advice, so this is awesome.

    Debbie Foster (07:12):

    I want to ask you a question because something you said about finding a mentor and finding a sponsor. I very recently had a conversation with someone not on this podcast talking about the difference between a mentor and a sponsor, and she said to me that a sponsor is someone who talks about you when you’re not in the room. And I thought that was such a cool description of something we all should have a sponsor and who sponsor can you be? So I’d love for you to just dig a little deeper into the sponsor part.

    Qiana Nelson (07:44):

    Yes. So I’ll give you an example of me sponsoring someone and how I feel. I’ve been very fortunate in my career because of sponsors that believed in me. So I remember I was sitting on a call one day with a group of leaders and one leader mentioned that they were looking to feel a role. And for me I was thinking, I’m like, there’s a person that I’m thinking of that they don’t know that I should just mention their name. And honestly, one thing that I do want to tell you is when you’re thinking about a sponsor, you want to think of someone of influence because it’s great to have sponsors, but if they have no power or no influence, they can talk about you all they want, but if they can’t influence anybody to give you an opportunity, unfortunately it’s probably not going to be the best sponsorship for you.


    That person’s probably more of a mentor. So make sure you, as you’re looking at sponsors, make sure it’s someone of influence. So at the time, I didn’t realize how much influence I had, and sometimes you don’t know the influence that you have as you are talking about someone, but as they were explaining the role, I said, have you thought about this particular individual for the role that you’re looking to fill? And it’s like, no, I don’t even know who that is. I’m like, well, I honestly think you should consider having a conversation with this person because they sound like they could be a really good fit for what you’re trying to accomplish. And make a long story short, that particular director went out, had a conversation with this individual, and they hired them. And it’s so funny, the person came back to me and said, I received this call from this director, didn’t even know that this person knew who I was, and they talked to me about this role that I’m so excited for.


    And one thing that I have learned is I don’t always need the credit as long as the final solution and the end result is the best. So I’ve never told that person that I’m the one that gave their name because it didn’t matter to me that I got the credit. All that matter was that that person got the job and the director came back to me and said, that was the best hire that I ever made. And so those are the type of sponsors you want for you when you are speaking or thinking about getting a job or I’m sorry, Debbie, you mentioned having someone speak about you when you’re not in the room. That’s an example of sponsorship. And what I have learned from my own personal career and growth is I didn’t start by saying, you’re going to be my sponsor. I didn’t ask someone to be my sponsor.


    What I did was show up to those meetings with my mentors and they eventually became my sponsors through the way that I would come to the meetings and show that I’m prepared and they saw my growth. And so through the trust that we built, through the conversations that we had, many of my mentors became my sponsor and sponsors. And not only that, many of my mentors were possibly managers. Then they got promoted to directors and then they got promoted to VPs. And guess what? I have almost been riding their coattails because as they’ve gone up and created a platform where they have more influence, they are bringing me along the way because they’ve had a longstanding relationship with me that they trust what I’m saying, they trust what I’m doing and they see my progress. And they can speak about that from their own personal experience.

    Beth Thompson (11:15):

    Debbie, do you now know why Qiana was on my shortlist? It’s becoming very apparent, right?

    Debbie Foster (11:21):

    I do. Good work. Good work.

    Qiana Nelson (11:22):

    Thank you.

    Debbie Foster (11:24):

    Good work. Well, we love to hear about what is inspiring you because obviously you are pretty inspirational. Just I’m kind of like almost starstruck with some of the things that you’ve already said, but what inspires you? Are you reading any books, listening to any podcasts? Tell me how you get your inspiration when it comes to professional development.

    Qiana Nelson (11:44):

    Yes. So my inspiration, it comes from many different places, believe it or not. I’m inspired to do great things by looking at my daughter. She inspires me to continue to show up and be great so that she have has the best role model in her life. And so whenever I can sit back and smile and I see her do something that I taught her, it inspires me to do more because I know that I am making an impact and I have a lasting impression on someone that could make an impact in the world later on. So that that’s one thing. But when I think about some of the books that I’ve read along the way I, I’ll share a few. One is Mastering the Game Strategies for Career Success by Sharon E. Jones. And what I truly appreciate about this book is you’ve probably heard people speak about playing the game.


    I’m not going to play the corporate game, I’m not going to play the political game. And when I hear that, I think about this, I’m like, that’s fine. You don’t have to play the game, but guess what somebody is. And you can’t be disappointed when they make it a little bit further in their career because they were willing to play the game. And so when I read this book, it just gives you tidbits about mastering the game, things to think about as a leader. And what I really like about this book, if people choose to go out there and get it, there’s several different rules to consider as you are mastering the game. Rule number one is success is intentional. And as I mentioned earlier on, I was allowing things to happen to me versus being intentional about how I went about mapping out my career.


    This doesn’t mean you have to plan out a five year career plan. It just means if you want to do something, sit down, write it out, think about who can help you get there and be intentional about making it happen. Which reminds me of a course I recently took, which is Choosing Leadership, and there’s a workbook to this course, which is Choosing Leadership by Linda Genzel. And one thing that she mentions in this book or she mentions, it’s a phrase that she says, if you don’t write it down, it doesn’t exist. And so you can have a lot of great things in your head, but if you never write it down and be intentional about making it happen, it’s probably going to fade away. And then you forget about it in our busy, busy lives. So I’m the person, I’m going to write it down, I’m going to create a plan so I can make it happen.


    The other book that I just want to call out, which is really something to consider as you are getting a new promotion, taking over a new team, joining a new company is the book called The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. It really just gives you a structure and a framework and things to think about when you are meeting new people, when you’re interacting with new people, because we all know a big part of being successful with working with others is building trust. And trust comes from a person feeling like you are credible in what you’re doing. You have a balanced thought process. You’re not just flying by the seat of your pants. You actually have things that you’re trying to accomplish and you sound like you know what you’re doing because when you know what you want to do and you write it down, you can deliver that message with more confidence. So I just encourage people to think about the first 90 days because it will help you put some of your thoughts into a structured approach and allow you to really navigate how you want to operate in this new space.

    Beth Thompson (15:29):

    Great. Great. Recommendations.

    Debbie Foster (15:31):

    Yeah, those are great. Really good. So we talked about a lot of great things. What about obstacles? When did people count you out? Tell us about how you overcame something in your career journey.

    Qiana Nelson (15:45):

    Yes. So it reminds me of a presentation that I built probably about five years ago. And when I was telling my life story as I was navigating and thinking through some of the challenges that I was faced with throughout my life, what I kept coming back to was this phrase of what did you expect? So let me talk to you about how I got to that phrase. When I would do something great, someone would always come to me and they would act shock. How did you accomplish that? And I’m thinking in my head, what did you expect? Did you expect me to just show up any kind of way? And so for me, when I was growing up, people probably already assumed that maybe I wouldn’t be as successful because I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. My parents were very young when they had me.


    None of my family worked in corporate America. And so I was challenged with the, I would say, lack of expectations that people had for me. And so I felt like I always had to go out and prove myself. I deserve to be here. I deserve to be the best that I’m going to be. And those were some of the obstacles that I’ve had to deal with in the fact that people didn’t expect me to be where I am today. And so they didn’t always necessarily give me the credit or they were shocked when I was able to accomplish something because they made the wrong assumption about me. And when someone make the assumption about you without giving you an opportunity, it already creates a obstacle for you because now you’re trying to prove yourself to someone that never gave you, I guess the right starting point.

    Debbie Foster (17:33):

    Yeah, that’s really good. And I know I don’t know all of this story, but I think this is a great, I’m going to kind of combine two things together. This podcast is powerful leaders, no apologies. And the apologies part really came from Beth and I kind of exploring just some self-reflection on how we apologize all the time for things that we actually are not sorry for. We definitely apologize and need to be focused on apologizing when it comes to things that we should apologize for. But one of the theories behind why women apologize more than men, which is a fact, is that there’s an assumption that from a young age, little girls are taught to apologize, say you’re sorry for that. And it’s something that gets much more ingrained in us from a female perspective than for whatever reason it does with younger boys. And I know from Beth that you do some work with youth. And so I’m going to try to smash those two things together and talk a little bit about from your perspective, this idea of apologizing unnecessarily and the work that you do with young girls, which I’m assuming has something to do with empowering them about the way they think. Tell us a little bit more about that.

    Qiana Nelson (18:52):

    Yes. So when I really gave some thought about what am I not sorry for or why shouldn’t I apologize, and it was very thought provoking because I don’t want this to sound arrogant or cocky, but I said, I’m not going to apologize for my greatness. And the reason that I’m going to talk about this, and I’ll get into what I try to do with the youth is because early on I would downplay my greatness because people around me were not at the same level, and I didn’t want to exclude them or make people think that I was trying to be better than them. So I downplayed a lot of things. And so when I would work on a project at work and someone say, Kiana, that was great. I would always say, oh, it was nothing. It wasn’t a big deal. And I’m downplaying my greatness and things that I should be very, very proud of, which leads to something that happens in a lot of people’s careers.


    They don’t know how to promote themselves. And so when I talk about not apologizing for my greatness is because I allowed myself to be sorry for being better than others. And unfortunately, when I’m running very, very fast, I can’t be sorry that some people can’t keep up, especially if I’ve tried to give them the same opportunity because we all are trying to accomplish things and we all operate at different pace. But I can’t apologize for how hard I work and what has allowed me to be successful in the things that I’ve accomplished because of my greatness. But I will tell you what I’ve tried to also do is showcase how proud I am, but also continue to remain humble. Because if you remain humble, you will continue to learn because you’ll also realize there’s so much more that you can do. As I’m talking to the different groups that I work with, one is big brothers and big sisters.


    I’ve been a big sister for many young females. I also have participated in a group called Beyond Sports, which their mission is to help student athletes get the professional skills and life skills and navigate their lives as athlete, but also transitioning into being professionals. A big piece of helping people to get to where they want to be is the confidence. And I think sometimes we don’t have that confidence because we are trying to fly under the radar or we don’t want to come off as trying to be arrogant. And it’s not arrogant. You are just confident in what you do. And when I think about how I show up to others, I’m always trying to show up in a confident way, but also make sure people understand there’s so much more that you can continue to learn. So for me, I’m not going to apologize for being great.


    I’m not going to apologize for my hard work and what that has afforded me to be able to accomplish. And I want others to stand up tall and not be sorry for their hard work and what their hard work has allowed them to accomplish in their skills. And if you can build that confidence in youth and people, that’s half the battle to accomplishing something. Many people don’t believe that they can get there because there may be other people around them that have told them that they can’t. So a big part of getting to where you want to go and achieving your goals is believing in yourself, being confident in your abilities, and having a great positive mindset.

    Debbie Foster (22:33):

    Wow, that’s amazing. I love that. I love the story about working with youth, and I think that’s such an important part for all of us. I know just this past weekend I saw Beth with her grandkids, and I know that that’s some of what we’re trying to pour into the next generation is confidence and independence and building skills, and we can do that. Being a big brother or big sister is amazing, but you can do that even just within your own family and within the people that you interact with. So I love that. And before I turn this over to Beth for our last segment, I just want to point out a couple of things. So you have an amazing background, which no one’s going to see because this is a podcast and don’t, we’re not sharing the video, but you have a really cool sign behind you that says you are worth more than you know, are capable of more than you think, and loved more than you can imagine.


    You also have a sign that says you are superwoman, or she is Superwoman, whoever she happens to be. It could be me or you, or it could be Beth. And finally, you have a couple of other signs there, but I love the one that is a little bit lower that says, if your actions inspire others to dream more, do more, become more and become more, you are a leader. And it sounds to me like that quote that is just over your left shoulder really describes what you are trying to aspire to as a leader, as we kind of grow and continue in our leadership journey. So I love that. So speaking of leadership, Beth,

    Beth Thompson (24:04):

    This is a perfect segue into the final segment of this episode. I don’t want this one to end. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this conversation, but we ask every guest to tell us what your leadership superpower or superpowers. I have a feeling you have more than one are as women, we don’t often brag about ourselves, but this is your opportunity to toot your own horn and share with our listeners what your superpowers are.

    Qiana Nelson (24:31):

    Great, thank you. This is an amazing question and something that I encourage everyone that’s listening to this podcast to really think about this and own your superpower. Before I give you my superpower, Debbie, I want to add one more thing to that sign that you read about inspiring people. Another piece that I’ve thought about as I look to inspire people around me is I want to inspire people to do things that they didn’t believe that they can. And I truly believe that’s a big part of leadership is helping someone to understand that they can accomplish more than they believe that they can. So I just wanted to add that because it was on my heart to share that with you.

    Beth Thompson (25:12):

    That’s good

    Qiana Nelson (25:13):

    Thank you, Beth. So my superpower, my superpower is spirit. And I’ll tell you how this came to me. So in 2019, I was in my career and I wanted to take it to the next level. And many people go out there and they get executive coaches. And I decided to do the exact same thing. I didn’t wait for anyone to tell me I needed an executive coach or a life coach. I just said, you know what? I want to invest in myself and I am going to invest and go get a coach. Through my coaching that I went through, there were six words that I received. One is nobility, brilliance, spirit, warmth, inspiration, and warrior. When my coach gave me these words, and it was done through this exercise that I don’t want to spend a lot of time going through the exercise, but I was given those six words and I could accept all of the words except for one in the beginning, which was spirit.


    And I’m like, that’s very powerful. What do you mean spirit? And my coach explained to me that when you leave the room, Kiana, you are still there. Whether you know it or not, you leave a lasting impression on people. And at the time, I didn’t accept it cause I’m like, that’s too powerful for me. That is a powerful word. And after he said it to me, I started to notice some things. I had one of my leaders on my team was explaining how he was coaching his team, and this is the statement he said, I thought about Kiana, what would you do in this scenario? And when he said that, I’m like, there’s the spirit. He is thinking about how I would handle a situation if I was there. And so for me, I’ve owned now my superpower of spirit. My goal is to leave a lasting impression, to say something that maybe you think back to that helps you in life.


    And I hope today there’s some things that your audience will hear that will help leave my spirit with them and think about maybe how they’re going to navigate something or maybe think about, oh man, I don’t believe in myself. And they may say, wait a minute. I remember Kiana said, have the confidence. Be great at what you do. Don’t apologize for your greatness. Maybe my spirit will be left with someone from this audience. And so I own that today. I own that my leadership power is the spirit that I leave with others, and that little voice that’s in people’s heads that’s thinking about what would I do if Kiana was here with me? How would she handle this situation?

    Beth Thompson (28:11):

    Well, mission accomplished, and I can tell you that your coach was money well spent and a very wise investment made in yourself. Thank you so very much for being part of this episode. I’m sure where there’s going to be a lot of chatter and water cooler talk about the spirit of Kiana Nelson. So thank you so much. We appreciate having you on the show. Thank you, Kiana.

    Qiana Nelson (28:34):

    Yes, thank you so much, Beth. Thank you, Debbie. It was an honor to be here and I look forward to hearing more from your powerful leaders that you have on Future podcast.

    Beth Thompson (28:46):

    And that’s a wrap. Thanks for listening to Powerful Leaders. No apologies. Be sure and subscribe to our show and help us spread the word by sharing our show with your network.

    Debbie Foster (28:57):

    And check out our show notes@affinityconsulting.com slash powerful leaders for resources and ways to connect with us. See you next time.