Nicole Berg: an unreasonable woman


Ogunte: What waves are you making Nicole?

Nicole Berg: George Bernard Shaw said: ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.’

I am the unreasonable (wo)man: an idealist with a dose of realism.

I am the CEO and Founder of Charis Coaching. We build strong and healthy succession pipelines, engaging and developing the hearts and minds of companies’ best people to become effective, modern leaders. We specialise in programmes for emerging talent, top talent, female talent, and gender bridging.

Charis (CARE-iss) is a social enterprise, we run a Buy One Gift One business model. Each programme or service purchased enables an equivalent personal leadership programme to be expertly and strategically delivered to individuals affected by gender-based violence in Greater London.

O: What is your best advice to anyone in a new venture?

NB: Based on experience, I would say:

  • Build a diverse superstar team who both challenge and support you, and unite them with a shared vision. Keep them engaged by finding out what they hope to get from being involved, and by enabling them to make a valuable contribution.
  • Have a plan – and don’t stick to it. Be proactive, and responsive. Always treat your plans as working documents.
  • Be clear about your vision and values, and don’t start to compromise them. Have people who hold you accountable. Mission drift is an ever-present possibility for a social enterprise, and it’s impossible to equally serve all elements of a triple bottom line. If you chase profit, you will get lost in becoming all things to all people. No business, social or otherwise, can be sustained this way.

O: What do you know now that you wish you’d known from the start?

NB: It sounds “cliché”, but your biggest weakness can honestly be your biggest strength. Instead of spending your energy hiding it, use it to your advantage. We serve the commercial sector, and my own background is in the non-profit sector. A glaring weakness – until I realised that I’ve learned a lot about engaging employees in a different way.

We now translate to the commercial sector the strengths of the charity sector, where teams are engaged without access to traditional corporate resources and methods. This results in higher engagement and retention, increased discretionary effort and productivity, and leadership at all levels. It’s our most powerful USP.

O: Tell us a story of change at Charis

NB: Charis’s pilot coaching programme showed a decrease from a high range to a mid-range of codependency - related to self-esteem, mental health, perception of control, and orientation to new experiences and change - after 6 months. None of our clients returned to abusive situations, despite opportunity and previously expressed desire to do so. In a pilot coaching workshop, all participants reported feeling more in control of their lives; prepared to face challenges; and confident in their direction. Here’s what some of the participants said:


‘I realise I can do it, and if I don’t do it, I’m sabotaging myself.’
‘I have new ways to cope with issues, new ways to think about things, new perspectives. I have more confidence in myself, in the way I’m going and steps I’m taking.’
‘I’ve learned to take compliments, and that it’s OK to be honest. I enjoy being heard.’
‘I’ve gotten a sense of accomplishment, some constructive ways to deal with emotions, and a feeling of positivity as I work through issues.’
‘It’s not how they do it [at the refuge] or how my therapist does it. It’s a different kind of motivation.’


O: If I tell you love, what does it make you think about?

NB: Some time ago I began hearing the phrase in my coaching network, ‘love is the opposite of fear’. I thought, surely not. Surely courage must be the opposite of fear. Fear keeps us stuck in our comfort zone and afraid to take a risk. Isn’t it courage that moves us forward?

Yet when there is courage, fear is still present. Love, on the other hand, has nothing to do with fear. It is the purest, most powerful motivator. ‘Perfect loves drives out fear.’ When fear paralyses us, love moves us to action.

O: What does your world look like in 2030?

This is a big question! In 2030, a new generation will have risen up into greater power. Millennials are increasingly becoming the decision makers, and in 2030 the older ones will be world leaders. This generation – my generation – is keenly aware of myriad social and environmental issues, and individuals and organisations are seeking and creating ways to make an impact. The boundaries between the public, private, and third sector are, and will continue to become, increasingly blurred. It will be important to allow for collaboration, whilst maintaining their individual purpose and function.

Leadership and the culture of business will also continue to change. John Gerzema, author of The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, observes that society is shifting to a more ‘feminine’ way of being, embracing characteristics associated with women, such as cooperation, empathy, nurture, and curiosity. I believe we are in the midst of a pendulum effect, swinging from heavily ‘masculine’ leadership and cultures (ambitious, competitive, gutsy, decisive) into a predominantly feminine way of being. Different sectors are swinging at different rates, and the danger for some will be sailing right past a healthy and ideal balance of masculine and feminine, and instead swapping one extreme for the next. As individuals and as cultures, we have a tendency to overcorrect.

The world of work in developed countries will also change structurally. More companies will embrace results-driven employee-centred amendments to policies such as parental leave, flexible working, and more. The developing world is another story; unfortunately, I foresee continued economic inequality between countries, perpetuating poverty and supply chain problems (a euphemism for human rights issues), and an economic climate of supply and demand for human trafficking. My goal for Charis is to be part of a much wider, and urgently needed, solution.

Connect with Nicole on and @charis_coaching

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