An interview with Catherine Schalk

Catherine Schalk

We had a chat with Catherine Schalk, CEO, and Founder of Inkwazi Kommunications.

“Have I always known what I wanted to do as a career? Yes and no. I wanted to be a schoolteacher when I was very young until I reached the age of 14 and a single moment changed that. From that day on, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so upon the advice of a wise and trusted friend, I went to business college, thereafter, took on my first job in the tech space. But my love for teaching never went away and I am pleased to say that teaching is a vital and active part of my work today. 

I have the privilege of teaching sales reps, sales leaders, entrepreneurs, sales enablement teams, churchgoers, unemployed individuals, and I spent 10 years being a Sunday school teacher as well. I have taught and continue to teach professionals and the underprivileged in Europe, Middle East, Africa, the USA, and the Far East. My passion is equipping people to overcome their obstacles whether professional or personal to achieve their goals.

Today I run a Sales Enablement consultancy, called Inkwazi Kommunications. Inkwazi is the Zulu word for Fish Eagle. I love what eagles stand for and I try to conduct my business and complete my work tasks with excellence, focus and the above and beyond attitude that eagles represent. Check us out at

My current position came about after a 20+ year career in Marketing, Sales, Operations and Sales Enablement for large and smaller technology companies such as PeopleSoft, CA Technologies and HP. I reached a stage in my life where pursuing a corporate executive career was no longer important to me. Living life and doing things that mattered to me became more important. I had also sacrificed my health and wellbeing in pursuit of a career in corporate and I was burnt out, so I needed to change.

Making the transition from full-time corporate employment to starting my own business was no easy task. It was much harder than I expected. The first step was untethering my identity which had become wrapped in what I did (my job title) instead of who I am. I had to dig deep to discover what my identity was because I had up until this point poured my life without measure into my work. When people asked me about myself, the first thing I would tell them is what my job was but we are so much more than what we do or what our job titles are.”

Advice for women looking to break into the industry

“Today, Sales Enablement is an emerging profession. More and more companies across all industries are seeing the value of having a team that is dedicated to boosting productivity (efficiency and effectiveness) of their sales force. Sales Enablement is not the same as Sales Training although it includes training. 

Sales Enablement partners with B2B Sales Leaders (at all levels) to equip sellers with the selling skills, commercial skills, and product knowledge to effectively discover new business opportunities, gain access to target buyers, engage customers in effective value-driven conversations at all levels within the customer organisation (from C-Level to individual contributors) and build a business case to justify investments.

My first bit of advice for anyone considering a role in Sales Enablement is you must love sales, salespeople, and the process of selling because if you can’t relate to salespeople and understand what they have to go through to be successful, you can’t do the role. That doesn’t mean you have to have been in sales yourself although that will give you more credibility, this is where extreme ability to empathize comes into play. 

Another bit of advice is to take the time to understand the role because it’s one of the toughest jobs in a company. Sales Enablement will be blamed when salespeople are unsuccessful, and they will get no recognition when salespeople are successful. To be in sales enablement, you must be able to take the knocks and bounce back fast. You must have that extreme amount of empathy mentioned above but not be soft on performance issues. You must be a master of detail but not stay stuck in the details and you must know when to adapt (say yes) and when to influence (say no). 

You must be able to engage business executives as well as work with individuals who will consume your learnings and content. Your communication skills need to be world-class and your emotional capital (a business term for emotional intelligence) needs to be highly developed. 

If someone is seriously considering a career in Sales Enablement, start following some of the gurus on social media, find a mentor (I would be happy to mentor anyone), study up on sales, access whatever learning you can, to master the skills mentioned above (there are other skills to master, of course, such as planning, programme and curriculum design, etc) and look for ways in your current job where you can add value to the sales team. 

Look for the quick wins, ideas, suggestions that you can make to sales leaders on how to make their jobs easier as well as the job of their salespeople easier and then try to implement those. Get your feet wet before you leap into a full-time Sales Enablement role.

What do I love most about my job? Teaching. I love teaching. That doesn’t just mean workshops, webinars, keynote presentations or other lecture settings. I mean every interaction (conversation whether it’s live or online) is an opportunity to teach, to add value. 

One of my favourite quotes and what I try to live every day, every interaction with humans anywhere and anytime is the Albert Einstein quote that says, “Try not to become a person of success, but try to become a person of value.” So, what I am trying to say is that I love to add value and in my line of work creating value, communicating value and teaching others to do the same is incredibly fulfilling.”

Challenges, Trials, and Achievements

“Not allowing my work to dominate my life has been one of my greatest challenges. My good friend Bernard Katompa who ran for president of the DRC in the last elections says, ‘whatever you do, it must be for life’, it should not consume your life, or destroy your life, health, relationships or mental wellbeing, it should enrich your life and if possible the life of others too. There was a time – for nearly 20 years – when I poured my life without measure into my work. 

And I did so for many reasons, some good and some not. My work mattered to me; I considered my work colleagues to be my family as they were often kinder to me than my own family. Doing my work with excellence was important to me so I always gave it more than 100%. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t work hard to progress in my career.

I have spent the last 7 years trying to undo the damage and the bad habit of working 7 days a week, 12 – 15 hours a day. I have had to undo the mindset that says, “if I am not working 24/7/365 then I am not doing a good job or worse my business is going to fail if I am not hustling 7 days a week”. This is still something I am working on but I am getting better at permitting myself to stop, to rest, to breathe, to step away from my workstation to see a friend, run an errand or just sit in a coffee shop and read for a while.

Burnout is something I know well. I have been at that point where doctors would sign me off for a year. I have experienced the loss of control of my body due to stress and exhaustion and it has taken me years to recover. I couldn’t take a year off because as I am sure like many women out there, I am the single source of income for my life so taking time off just wasn’t an option. As a result, it has taken me the better part of ten years to fully recover from that level of burnout. I heard once that if you hit burnout once you can recover but if you hit burnout again, you don’t come back and I can see why. 

Recovering from that level of burnout is itself a journey. I promised myself I would never let that happen to me again. I still work crazy hours a lot of the time, but I pay attention to what my body is saying now.

Mental health is something I have experienced. I have inherited bipolar from my mother who took her life when I was 12 as a result of her bipolar. I have experienced some incredibly difficult times when those down phases came on. You can barely function, you can hardly remember your own name or number, you have zero energy and motivation to get out of bed, let alone put a suit on and show up at work. 

This is one of many reasons why I valued my work for so many years, because during those down phases, knowing that I needed to get to the office, I got my ass out of bed, showered, put some clothes on and I showed up! My mental health issues taught me an incredible lesson and discipline of showing up no matter what, even though I might not have been fully functional or productive, the point was that I was there.

Today, I guard my mental wellbeing more fiercely. The years of a stressful and traumatic childhood followed by two decades of a very hectic and often stressful work life have had their impact on my health and mental wellbeing. Now that I am approaching 50, I realise that I need to respect my limits instead of pushing them. I need to pay closer attention to the signals that my body and mind give me when things are getting too much and I must take action. 

So, when I feel overwhelm approaching, I simply stop. I stop what I am doing, and I step away. It doesn’t matter what I do, what matters is that I change my sensory input by changing my surroundings. And depending on where I am (home office, client’s office, or other) I move to another room or location and I do something unrelated whether it is to call someone and just chat, get some food, run an errand, or take a walk around the block. 

I am not very good with meditation, I prefer to engage my body and mind in something more physically active, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Then I take a deep breath and I make a conscious decision to start the work again and I permit myself to focus on one task at a time before moving onto the next one.

With Bipolar, the other thing that is vital to wellbeing is sleep. I try to make sure I get 5-7 hours of sleep a night although my work sometimes doesn’t allow much sleep. Sleep deprivation is enemy number one for anyone struggling with depression of any kind. 

Understanding mental health in the workplace

Business leaders need to understand that only 25% of their workforce will manage and guard their own time. The rest of their employees will pour themselves without measure into their work to get things done, to keep up with workloads, respond to emails and requests as timely as possible, attend every call and every meeting. These employees will work long hours, sacrificing their families, their friendships, their health and wellbeing to do their jobs. 

The other 25% understand how vital their wellbeing is to their work, they work smarter, they delegate and ask for help, they balance their personal and work lives more effectively, and they will only increase their work hours when it’s needed – this 25 % will manage themselves, but business leaders need to help the other 75%.

Business leaders need to do a much better job of supporting their staff to maintain a more effective work-life balance. If I could wave a magic wand, I would move the entire world to a 4 day work week, I would ban email access after hours, I would limit the time for internal meetings to a maximum of 50% of the workweek and I would reset everyone’s expectations on response times to emails and requests. We have got to stop this 24 hour, 7 days a week lifestyle that the world now expects us to live by and its business leaders that can set the example and reset the expectations companies have on their employees.”

The Impact of Social Media

“Like most things, there are pros and cons. On the positive side, social media has liberated many suffering from mental health problems. Mental health issues such as depression are for the most part no longer seen as something to be ashamed of and social media has helped in this regard. 

It has given us access to information about mental health, it has given people a chance to share their stories, it has helped people find support and it has offered a lot of information on how people can empower themselves to manage their mental health issues.

On the negative side, social media has put a lot of pressure on people to be continuously ‘on’ which means you never switch off and it’s on top of your existing workload, adding to the mental load. The Social Media bubble is slowly bursting and the perception that you’ve got to be posting daily to be successful, to be relevant, and to grow your business is slowly ebbing away which is good news. Social media should be one tool in the box to promote yourself or your business, not the only tool.”

Women in the Workplace

“I think historically, women have felt that they have had to work harder to prove themselves and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I believed I had to do the same. But what I realised is that I enjoyed working hard, I wanted the best outcomes and it didn’t matter to me what my male counterparts were doing or not doing. I just focused on the work and didn’t contribute to office politics unless I was bringing a solution to an issue because that’s the best way to navigate the politics. You can’t avoid politics completely so just focus on being the solution rather than a victim to it.

It’s very easy to say all this, when its less than 100 years ago, women didn’t even have the right to vote. We can be grateful for the women that came before us and paved the way for us to choose our paths, to take on jobs, earn incomes and ultimately advance into positions of leadership. I believe every industry still has a very long way to go before there is absolute equality in opportunity, pay, and status.

One of the biggest obstacles for women is how we see ourselves. We are the first to disqualify ourselves from something like putting ourselves forward for a position in a company, stepping up to take ownership of a project and we do this because we question ourselves significantly more than men. We judge ourselves as not worthy, not good enough, not equipped enough, not experienced enough and so we back away or we don’t present ourselves with the level of confidence that a man would. A man wouldn’t even question whether he should get the job, why do we? Women need to build their self-liking, self-competence and self-assurance.

Another challenge we face as women is the shift in the agenda from gender equality to diversity and inclusion. Diversity is a wonderful thing, but it does mean lowered focus on increasing women in leadership, women in sales, finance, construction & engineering and every other historically male-dominated industry. I believe women will need to take more ownership in creating their path.

The most exciting thing that the digital world offers us is ‘opportunity’. To me, digital is both an equalizer and a differentiator. We can all benefit from it, but we can choose how to engage it and how to stand out from the sea of sameness. Digital has opened and will continue to open up the doors of opportunity for single moms, entrepreneurs, stay at home moms, single women or anyone that has a great idea and can learn how to monetize that idea. And the other good news about digital is that digital doesn’t care whether your male or female.”





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