ADVICE: Learn at the right time – Don’t upskill for the sake of it

Kaylene Ledgar’s experience with education has shaped her entire career. Despite not getting her ideal grades when finishing high school, she excelled in her public service career of 26 years, built her own business from scratch, and is now a world renowned public speaker, mentor, coach and more. In this interview, Kaylene shares her approach to learning and how she has used non-traditional educational experiences to live a life with no regrets.

  • How did you get your career off the ground? What role did education play?

After failing my HSC, my dream of becoming an accountant, fizzled away. I found myself unemployed until I found work in a factory production line. I was not happy and struggled with depression.

My dad suggested I sit the Australian Public Service (APS) test, as it would provide security for my future. Within a few months of completing the test, I was offered a traineeship in the APS. The traineeship included classroom and on-the-job learning. At the end of the traineeship I became an APS level 1 officer, doing administration work and mail. This was the start of my 26-year career in the APS.

  • How have your personal experiences with the education system shaped the way you approach leadership and business today?

Over the years the most valuable learning experiences have been the ones where I have learnt on-the-job. There is no better training than doing. The key is to have clarity as to what you are being asked to do and knowing where to find answers if you are unsure.

As a leader I have found it necessary for the growth of my team members to allow them the space and support to learn on-the-job. This doesn’t mean giving them a task and walking away. You don’t want to throw them in the deep end without something to hold on to. You provide clear leadership, scope for their task and deadlines. They developed their skills quicker when given this opportunity and it allowed me as a leader to focus on other tasks.

There have been many times over working life where I have attended short and long training courses and while extremely valuable at the time, I haven’t had the opportunity to put it in to practice in the work place. In my leadership and my business, providing learning at the right time is key to ensuring return on investment. I’m a learner at heart and an advocate for professional and self-development, however from a business perspective you don’t want to waste your money or time upskilling then not having the opportunity to apply it.

  • How did you go from having a fear of public speaking to becoming a professional public speaker? 

There came a point in my career where I had enough of watching others move ahead of me and win promotions that I was simply to scared to apply for. My problem was not the skills for the job but my fear of speaking to two or more people at a time. I had a deep fear of speaking in front of the two-person interview panel.

Deciding it was time, I decided to enrol in a Toastmasters International Speechcraft course, an eight-week public speaking course, in hope that it would give me what I needed to face an interview panel.

Over the eight-weeks there were times where I nearly gave up, however I didn’t and with the support of the Toastmasters I learnt how to manage my nerves, gather my thoughts and speak with confidence. After just eight-weeks, I felt ready, still extremely nervous but ready to do the job interviews. I had applied for three jobs and was successful at securing interviews for all. To my amazement, I won all three jobs, one of which was a double promotion which took me from an APS 4 to an APS 6 in one move.

With only a taste of what I could achieve from facing my fear of speaking, I joined the local Toastmasters Club and continued to build my skills and confidence as a speaker. In Toastmasters I had the opportunity to learn by doing, joining the Club Executive and then moving beyond into District Leadership roles. The self-paced learning suited me, as did the opportunity to learn on-the-job.

The more I immersed myself in Toastmasters the more opportunities I received at work. I quickly moved into leadership roles and this is where I thrived. What I loved most about leadership roles in APS and Toastmasters, was the opportunity to mentor, coach and support others to develop their skills. This led me to find my passion as a speaker, trainer and a coach.

Now I am comfortable and confident speaking to large and small groups. I am a certified World Class Speaking Coach and help others build confidence speaking. I now run workshops as well as provide one on one coaching, this would never be possible if I had not faced my fear of speaking.

  • What advice do you have for others facing a similar ‘fear’ in a task they’re facing at work?

My fear of speaking was not my actual fear. My fear was the fear of failure and while I overcame my fear of speaking, the true fear, fear of failure stayed with me and showed up in other parts of my life. It wasn’t until I started to dig deep and look within that I found my true fear – then I was able to work on my limiting beliefs and made true breakthroughs.

When I work with clients, I share with them the six keys to overcoming fear of speaking:

  1. Purpose, you must have a deep seeded need to want to overcome the fear. For me it was winning the job interview.
  2. Mindset, you have to look within and uncover your limiting beliefs. Once you have you can work on reframing your thoughts.
  3. Skills, you do need to develop skills. For me it was learning how to put a speech together, how to think on my feet and how to manage my nerves.
  4. Content, you need to gather your knowledge and experience. This allowed me to have something to say.
  5. Practice, practice and practice some more. You can’t breakthrough your fear of speaking if you don’t speak.
  6. Feedback, you need feedback on your strengths and areas where you can improve.

With these six keys you can overcome your fear and realise your true potential.

  • What made you decide to start your own coaching business?

As a leader I soon realised that my passion lay with coaching and mentoring. While I enjoyed my career in the APS, I wanted to follow my passion. On my 46th birthday, with my dad’s help, we hatched a plan for me to leave the APS and start my coaching business before my 50th birthday.

This changed the following week when my dad was diagnosed with Liver cancer. During dad’s short illness he told me that he had ‘no regrets’. He was grateful for the life he had lived and while he would have liked more time he had ‘no regrets’.

Two months after dad passed and lots of soul searching and talking to mum, I handed in my notice, retired from the APS to follow my dream of having my own coaching business. I want to be like my dad and when my time comes, I want to be able to say I had ‘no regrets’.

I am now in my second year of my coaching business. I have published two books and am working on my third. I am running workshops and coaching one on one. I am loving my new career and I have ‘no regrets’.

  • What were the biggest challenges in starting your own coaching business and how did you overcome them?

My biggest challenge was getting over my own limiting beliefs and yes, the fear of failure.

This is where I had the true breakthrough with my fear, finally shifting the limiting belief from failure to learning. Everything I do in business comes from a learning mindset. I create, I test and I learn.

Whether it is creating a new program or implementing a new marketing strategy, I do it with a learning mindset. Each day, each new idea I am learning. If I don’t nail it the first time, that is ok, it was a test. What did I learn from it? What can I do differently? What will I try next time?

Another challenge I had as a new business owner was working out what works for me. When I first started, I listened to all the advice offered and I tried to do everything. I was struggling and did start to doubt my abilities and dream.

Once I woke up and realised I had the choice of what to do and what not to do in my business, everything started to fall into place. I looked at all the ideas and suggestions provided from others. I took time to identify what resonated with me. I created a vision of my business and lifestyle. Then I started focussing on what mattered to me. While I can confidently speak in front of large groups, I much prefer smaller intimate groups where I can create greater personal connections. I love my one on one coaching and the idea of online courses. My business is growing in a direction that connects and works with me.


About the expert

Kaylene Ledgar is a Holistic Life and Communication Coach and author. Kaylene works with entrepreneurs and leaders from around the world to overcome their limiting beliefs, reconnect with themselves and find their direction in life.

Kaylene is particularly passionate about helping others face their fear of speaking and accelerate their career. Kaylene says “You don’t need to fear speaking; speaking is a learned skill and you can master it.”

In 2003, Kaylene made the life-changing decision to face her fear of speaking. Fear of speaking used to consume her, but now with hundreds of speaking opportunities under her belt, she is a motivational speaker who inspires others through her stories. Kaylene shares tips and tools to speak with confidence in her book “Speaking, It’s NOT Worse Than Death”.

Kaylene believes that when our actions match our values, we find our true path. In 2019, she decided to close the door on her 26 years career in the Australian Public Service to be a full-time coach, author and live her true path.

Kaylene sees a world where fear does not hold us back. A world where we share our stories and lessons to support others. A world where communication brings us together.


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