Alyssa Dickman leads a discussion of The Truth About Leadership by Barry Posner and James M. Kouzes. We look at the ten fundamental truths about leadership that tend to remain constant over time.
Alyssa, Kate Arms, and Nitya Shekar talk about the fundamental truths about leadership that tend not to change over time. We also discuss the three elements that create the conditions for trust, the relationship between values and employee engagement, and what love has to do with leadership.
Listen in if you have ever wondered what stays constant as leadership fads and trends change.
What is Leadership Arts Review?
Leadership Arts Review is a dynamic podcast about the art and science of leadership.
Kate Arms, Alyssa Dickman, and Nitya Shekar explore a different leadership book each episode to help you navigate all the theories and strategies out there and find the elements that work for you.
Alyssa Dickman [00:00:02]:
Welcome to Leadership Arts Review, a dynamic podcast about the art and science of leadership. Join us as we explore a different leadership book. Each episode, we will help you navigate all the theories and strategies out there and find the elements that work for you. We will share what we like, what we learned and what we recommend. I'm Alyssa.
Kate Arms [00:00:22]:
Nitya Shekar [00:00:23]:
Alyssa Dickman [00:00:24]:
Today's discussion is about the book "The Truth about Leadership: The The No-fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know" by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. From the book's description:
"In these turbulent times, when the very foundations of organizations and societies are being shaken, leaders need to move beyond the pessimistic predictions, the trendy fads, and the simplistic solutions. They need to turn to what's real and what's proven. To understand what the evidence tells us about how exemplary leaders get extraordinary things done, this work explores the fundamental, enduring truths of leadership that hold constant, regardless of context or circumstance. In ten time-tested truths, Kouzes and Posner reveal what all leaders must know, the questions they must be prepared to answer, and the real-world issues they will likely face."
So, as we get started today on The Truth About Leadership, it's a very strong title with the subtitle of The No Fads Heart of the Matter Facts That You Need to Know. I'm curious what your response was to the title and your overall impressions.
Kate Arms [00:01:33]:
So the response to the title was, oh great, another fad, another person who thinks they're going to tell you, this is the one book you need to read and you don't need anything else. And I'm going to all the secrets and somehow I know something different. I wasn't really thrilled with the title, but then I started reading the introduction and getting into the book and I just adored this book from start to finish because it said we've actually been doing this for a long time and we've seen a lot of fads and here are the themes that just never go away. And they went straight at that without trying to make it sound trendy in any way, shape or form. And I love that.
Alyssa Dickman [00:02:16]:
Yeah, I know. There's something that we've talked about in different circumstances, which is that idea that the context changes but the content doesn't, and that idea that if you're going to lead, there are certain guideposts and certain things that have to be in place, and then you take that into any situation that you find yourself in.
Nitya Shekar [00:02:37]:
My biggest observation with the structure of the book in general and calling them truths is that when you read them, each of the ten truths, they're not particularly earth shattering or shocking. And I think that's where their power lies, in that they're simple but not easy, if you will. I read each one and was like, Yep, that is true. And I found myself nodding, and I think that any leader who cracks open this book, who's been in the workforce for even a couple of years and engaged with any kind of leadership development or anything, will read this and find none of them shocking, all of them very simple. But I think that's what makes them so powerful is that they're simple, but you can work through a whole career, a whole lifetime, and never really perfect them. They're challenging, even as simple and obvious as they are. That's what I liked most.
Kate Arms [00:03:33]:
Yeah, I think that's getting to a point that we've talked about, at least informally offline. I don't know whether we've actually talked about this explicitly in the podcast or not, but I think we have that one of the advantages of having so many ways into this material is that you hear it differently every time and you hear it with language that resonates with you or don't. Because one of the things that happens as you're trying to get better as a leader is when you're flailing, it's really easy to go, "I'm sure there's a book out there that has a secret I'm missing." And most of the time the answer is, there's no secret you're missing. This is just hard.
Alyssa Dickman [00:04:10]:
Yeah, that's a great point, Kate, that it is hard. And to Nitya's point about these are simple but difficult. The idea of what does it mean to be a leader can be boiled down to a few different things around the mindset you bring around, the actions that you take, the behaviors you adopt, all of those things. And then what does that mean? To put it in an easy to read and easy to digest language that doesn't say, here, you read this book and you're done, you're a leader. But it does say, read this book. And these are the things to come back to and measure yourself against and think about how true is this truth or how closely do I hold this truth and what would it mean to dig a little bit more deeply into one truth or the other?
Kate Arms [00:05:03]:
And now I'm going to laugh because one of the truths is that challenge is the crucible for greatness. And here we are talking about...here we are.
Nitya Shekar [00:05:13]:
Yeah, I see this book, actually, as a constant reminder to leaders of what their job actually is, regardless of what they think their job is. You might think your job is building this product or bringing in sales from that new market or driving a new campaign. No, that's not your job. These ten things are your job is the truth.
Kate Arms [00:05:35]:
Take care of that other stuff. But you're going to take care of that other stuff through these.
Nitya Shekar [00:05:40]:
Yes. It's like that saying when people say customers first and it's like, no, actually employees first and your team first so that they then address customers. It's like, no, the way to that product success or whatever type of success you're after is through these ten things. And this is where your focus should be.
Kate Arms [00:06:00]:
So often, success is what is an emergent property of doing all the other things.
Nitya Shekar [00:06:05]:
Kate Arms [00:06:05]:
It's so easy to go, "I need to do the success thing rather than do all of the things from which success can emerge."
Nitya Shekar [00:06:13]:
Right. Creating the conditions of success.
Alyssa Dickman [00:06:15]:
Absolutely. And they do spell out leadership competence is different from technical competence. And the other thing that I think goes along, Nitya, with what you were saying is where they start and this idea that you have to lead yourself before you can have a positive impact on others. So we hear all the time that leaders have to start with themselves and have that self-awareness. I like the way that they outline it, that they word it in terms of asking that question of what difference will I make? That idea of starting with yourself and thinking of yourself as a leader in terms of the impact that you want to have.
Nitya Shekar [00:06:54]:
Yeah, in that first truth, Alyssa, with the: You Make a Difference. The thing I liked most was a quote in there that said someone is looking to you right now for leadership. And so you don't have to wait for an opportunity to be a leader and show up. And this is my leadership. It's constant in your vicinity, work-wise, in your personal life, there is always an opportunity to show up in that way. And it's like, we might as well embrace that. We make a difference. We just do. And let's just own that because someone is always looking to us for leadership.
Kate Arms [00:07:26]:
Yeah, I love the way that they start with that. And then in the epilogue, there's the piece about the worst thing you can do when you encounter a problem is think it's somebody else's. If you see a problem and you decide that you can be the solution, you can be the solution or at least part of it, but if you decide it's somebody else's problem, you're done and nothing's going to happen.
Alyssa Dickman [00:07:46]:
Yeah. There was something about the bookending of the truths that I really liked about kind of starting with you, what that means and how you bring that to others, and then again ending with the contribution that you want to make. Which one of the truths stood out to you the most?
Nitya Shekar [00:08:05]:
The truth that most stuck out to me was truth number eight, which is you either lead by example or you don't lead at all. And I think that's something that at a certain level, we all know. The phrase lead by example is pretty common, but I liked the way that this chapter spelled out what that really means and the connection between leading by example and integrity.
One of the concepts I liked a lot was you'd best be more concerned about being believable before you work on being interesting. That's a trap I feel that many leaders fall into, which is they're concerned about how they're showing up and how they look and do people like me. And of course, it's a very natural thing to want to be liked, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that.
But I liked that they said, actually being believable is way more important. Don't try to charm your way into trusting relationships or into effective leadership. Just say what you do, do what you say. I liked the way that that was put. It's just so concrete and seems so obvious and yet not something we always remember to do because of that spotlight effect. We're just thinking about ourselves and how we look, or was that a fun conversation? Whereas people are paying attention to what you do and whether you're going to walk the talk and whether you're, as they say, traveling that distance between your mouth to your feet. So that was my big one.
Kate Arms [00:09:28]:
Yeah. I love the way that credibility, trust, and integrity got addressed separately and differently. If you put them all together, the picture of do what you say you're going to do, apologize if you're not going to do what you say you're going to do, clean up any messes that occur as a consequence of you not doing what you say you're going to do, and stand for something, make sure that you behave in a way that is clearly in alignment with what you stand for. That...that's part of integrity.
And there was also a section that was talking about if you're not clear in terms of your communication and addressing the assumptions that people have or things that they may interpret as a commitment, that actually it's part of your integrity to address that as well. They pulled it apart in ways that weren't necessarily the ways that I would have pulled them apart, and they show up in these three different sections throughout the book.
But I really like that because so often we talk about trust comes first with leadership, and you have to develop trust and then nobody pulls apart what it means. And everybody comes up with one piece of like, this is what makes trust trust, and they actually pull it apart and separate it and put different parts of the book. So it really sort of lays out a much more complete picture, which I really like.
Alyssa Dickman [00:10:44]:
I had a really similar reaction, which was looking at the fact that there is one truth that's just about credibility and another one about trust and the idea that they put credibility first. I mean, technically, number two. But in terms of what you're talking about, Kate, with credibility and values and trust, and that was one that added a new perspective for me, like you said, of pulling that trust apart.
The other thing I really liked about trust that they put in there is that example of someone saying, I'm not sure I can answer that question for you, but I can tell you that I trust you. And that idea of leaders going first and trusting and what that looks like because I think a lot of times we talk about people who approach trust from two different ways.
The folks that go in with trust and say, I will trust you until you give me a reason not to, and others that are a bit more skeptical that say, I'm not going to trust you until you give me a reason to trust. And I think as a leader trying to gain the trust or earn the trust from others, you're going to be dealing with both approaches to trust.
But if you come in in terms of giving trust from that, I trust you. From the beginning, it just sounded so powerful to be in that position and to just tell people, by virtue of my role and your role, I trust you and how empowering that is and what that does to inspire folks.
Kate Arms [00:12:17]:
As you say that, I'm just putting together, for probably the first time, the idea that being trusted is an emergent thing. That all you can do is create the conditions for other people to trust you. And that these three things that get pulled apart in this book credibility, trust and integrity, they actually are what you can do to create the conditions that invite others to trust you. Because in credibility they talk about competence, being part of credibility and trust.
That's that piece of you coming in with trust, you leading with trust first, and then integrity being sort of clear and accountable and holding yourself accountable and standing for what you stand for. And the idea that those are things that you can do that create the conditions in which trust from others can emerge is really powerful to me.
Nitya Shekar [00:13:09]:
Yeah, trust is the outcome and credibility is the outcome and integrity is the outcome. Right? Those are not just things you do, they're conditions to create so that people trust is, I think, the recipe here because it's hard to do trust, right? It's more of an outcome.
Kate Arms [00:13:28]:
But I think that's the distinction that Alyssa is going for is you can actually do trust. If by doing trust you mean, I trust, I trust you, I am going to show up on the assumption that you are going to follow through and that you are going to be honorable. And so I think you can do trust that way that you can do credibility by saying what you mean having competence, and you can do integrity by standing for something and behaving in alignment with it, then whether you are seen as in integrity or credible or trustworthy, that's in the eye of the beholder.
Nitya Shekar [00:14:04]:
Yeah, that's actually really a good point. And the book makes a strong statement that it's your role as a leader to do that. I mean, there's a piece in rule number six about trust where it says if you're the leader in the relationship that person needs to be, you it's almost like they don't make it an option, really. They say, actually you have to go first. You can't sit back and wait for the other people to do it.
Kate Arms [00:14:29]:
Cool. Alyssa, if I can, I sort of want to go back to the question that you asked that led us into that conversation, which was the question about sort of which of these truths struck us? Because two of them struck me in very, very different ways. The first was the focusing on the future sets leaders apart. That sort of slapped me in the face as like we talk about leadership so often and in so many of the things we talk about, we talk about building trust and having relationship in this moment and are you open with your people?
We forget that the water we swim in that is required for us to be even thinking about leaders and leadership is we see a present thing that we want to turn into a future thing. And if we aren't thinking about the future thing, we're not leading and we can't possibly be leading. And it just felt like, how is it that we don't have this conversation far more often?
Alyssa Dickman [00:15:23]:
I had a really similar reaction that we work so much with folks on how do you want to respond in the moment, how do you respond rather than react, how do you be truly present with your people? And this idea of reading about Focus on the Future, I had a very similar reaction of like, oh yeah, that might be a place where I, as a leader and as someone who works with leaders, need to focus a little more attention with that idea of, yes, absolutely.
How you act in the present and how you build relationships is very important. And at the same time, for the sake of what yeah. In service of a better future. I think that's the kind of thing that this book articulating that so clearly is one of those things that just kind of is just a little lever to move some thinking forward and remind us at the same time of that really important part of leadership about that focus on the future, standing for a better future for everyone involved.
Kate Arms [00:16:31]:
Yeah. And in the Agile world where I am right now, there's so much focus in adaptability to the moment and responsiveness and there's so much resistance to long-term vision because the distinction between long-term vision and long-term planning gets in the way. If we sketch out a vision and we think this is where we want to be five years from now and this is how we think we might get there in a year over year way, feels like that's not A gile because that's setting us up with an outcome that we want. And this reminds me, and it sounds like maybe us, that without that vision, how do we decide what we want to do today? How do we decide what customer problems we want to solve and things. And so it's a really nice reminder that actually that vision is very, very important.
Nitya Shekar [00:17:23]:
And there also isn't a magic number of years that you need to set your vision for. If there are leaders working at smaller places or in very Agile cultures that are freaked out a little by the concept of a 15-year vision, well, then set a five-year one or a three-year one. Future doesn't have to really be for the rest of your life. I happen to work at a very large organization that does set ten-year visions and things, because that's appropriate. I think you can be future-focused without building a castle in the sky either, and have it be appropriate for your culture and for your stage of organization.
Kate Arms [00:17:59]:
I mean, the other thing about vision is that one way that you can solve the problem of getting too attached to a particular idea of what a particular future might look like is to have a slightly abstract vision. So your vision might be a great engineering company in this arena. And then if that arena changes because the market changes and technology developed by your competitors change and that sort of thing, you're still playing in that space. And your goal is to be great and to be building things because that's what engineers do. And that's a kind of vision.
Alyssa Dickman [00:18:33]:
Absolutely. The idea of focus on the future and defining what that future is. And I think the biggest point for anyone is make sure that you take some time to take that 10,000-foot view and to Nitya's point whether that 10,000-foot view is looking ten years out, five years out, great. If your 10,000-foot view is saying, where do we want to be next month or next quarter? Just as long as you spend some time balancing being in the moment, being in the present with your people and uniting them around that shared vision of the future.
Nitya Shekar [00:19:07]:
That shared vision piece is huge, Alyssa, because I think it's in the next truth. I believe in that you can't do it alone where they talk about this, but it's not enough to have a vision either, and just pick up a megaphone and stand on a podium and yell it at people.
Alyssa Dickman [00:19:24]:
Nitya Shekar [00:19:25]:
I know if only that would check the box, right? You have to connect it to what people themselves want, and they talk about how people have their own aspirations and their own dreams and hopes and visions. And unless those connect to your vision and you have that shared sense of commitment, there's really no point. I mean, it's not about selling your vision as much as it is having a vision and connecting it to your team's vision.
Kate Arms [00:19:49]:
This piece about the connection between individuals and the whole. If we feel like we've sort of gotten what we want to out of this piece, there's a segue that I'd like to take us on because the piece of this book that I've actually used to develop work that I did in my company after having read this book for the first time was in the values piece. And it's this place where the individual and the collective join or aren't joined.
There was a study done that they talk about in this book that showed that if you have employees that are aligned with and understand the corporate values, their engagement goes up. But if they understand their own values, their engagement goes up higher, even if they don't understand the corporate values or the corporation doesn't have explicit values. That actually the difference in employee engagement that comes when they know their own values is huge. There's this whole idea we talk about corporate values being meaningful and the idea that maybe they're not as meaningful as we think they are.
Alyssa Dickman [00:20:56]:
Well, I would say that they're still meaningful, but they're kind of a tent pole from which people need to figure out their own connection. So it gives a good starting place and then it's just as important for everyone else to figure out their own values and how they map to those so that they can move past as the authors talk about move past compliance and they can feel a part of something bigger. So I don't have to have the same four values that the company says it espouses, but I do have to see a connection between my personal values and those values that are written on the wall or wherever they are.
Kate Arms [00:21:45]:
It's interesting, as you say, that and connecting back to what we were talking about earlier in terms of shared vision and what I said about sometimes your vision can be abstract. It doesn't need to be so concrete. It's striking me that actually this sort of big value statement is part of articulating the vision and not necessarily needing to be used in the same way as values. It's a way of defining, okay, we want to be a great engineering company. How will we know we're a great engineering company? We will know we are a great engineering company because people will look at us and be able to see evidence that we are in integrity and good for the planet. And all of these things are actually how people are going to know that we are great.
Nitya Shekar [00:22:24]:
Right. That's the what and the how distinction. Yeah, it's what is that vision? The values help you see how.
Kate Arms [00:22:30]:
Alyssa Dickman [00:22:31]:
There's another theme through this book that I kept thinking about that they keep bringing up in terms of the relationship between the leader and their followers and also the idea that the leader needs to keep these truths in mind and then needs to help followers also find these truths for themselves. And that a leader's job is ultimately to transform their followers into leaders. So it goes along with I know things that we all work with our clients and folks in our organizations about in terms of what does it mean to be a leader? And let's start with who you are as a leader and then how do you apply the learnings that you're going through? Things like those values, discovery? How do you then help someone else discover that about themselves and learn these same things? So it feels like you could almost go through the book twice. Once for your own sake, individually and then again to say okay, and now how do I bring the learnings of this and the different truths to my followers to grow future leaders, right? Yes.
Kate Arms [00:23:48]:
It's interesting because there's that piece of leading by example and there's acknowledging that challenge is how you grow people. There's a piece of learning we haven't talked about the learning truth, but the learning truth in here is about continuous learning and that the best learners make the best leaders. And so creating an organization where you are leading by example, you are demonstrating learning, you are stepping into challenge for deliberate practice and modeling that and then encouraging people with you to do the same in your footsteps. Really powerful stuff.
Nitya Shekar [00:24:26]:
Yeah, the deliberate practice piece of this truth really stood out to me. This is the 9th truth, right? The best leaders are the best learners. There's a throwback to earlier in the conversation when I believe it was you, Kate, that said this stuff is just hard. It's not that there is a magic truth out there somewhere that we still haven't cracked it's, that these are the things we've known always and will probably always be true and we just have to keep working at them. I really liked in the d eliberate practice section where they talk about what deliberate practice actually means and the fact that you have to keep repeating it, you have to keep getting feedback. It's challenging. And the last one is, unfortunately, you have to just know that it's not always going to be much fun to do.
Alyssa Dickman [00:25:09]:
I wrote that down too.
Nitya Shekar [00:25:11]:
Yeah, it's just true. And again, sometimes it can be fun, sometimes it can be really rewarding. A lot of times it's just you just have to put your head down and keep going and keep listening to the feedback and accept that this is a lifelong process of learning as it will be also for the people that you lead. And in order to be that effective teacher, if you will, growing future leaders and imparting this them, you have to keep learning. Otherwise that cycle doesn't keep going.
Kate Arms [00:25:36]:
Yeah, I'm laughing because I'm thinking about a workshop that I led on Monday and it was about speaking up when things are difficult and you would recognize all of the content. I drew deeply, heavily, from Say What You Mean, which we discussed in an earlier podcast episode and it was for International Women's Day this week. I'm offering it again. I so offered it for women this week. I'm offering it again for everybody later on. But it was just women for this group. And the people who attended ranged from the most junior people in the organization to one of our VPs. And it was only a small portion of the organization, but that range was covered.
And I was in a conversation with the VP at one point when she had been dropped out of a breakout room, because the technology happens to everybody. Everybody suffers from the same technical dropout. And we were talking about the fact that she has exactly the same butterflies in her stomach when she wants to challenge something that she's ever had in her career. It's just that the scope of the problems that she's willing to step in and challenge herself to talk up against are bigger than they ever used to be. But the feeling and the experience, it's the same.
Alyssa Dickman [00:26:52]:
Yeah, I really liked the Truth about best leaders are the best learners and how important, how much they stress, the authors stress about continuing to learn. And that idea that to what you just said, Kate, that we need to keep learning the same lessons, it's not a linear thing, it's more of a spiral, and that we go through these cycles and the next time we come up to the truth about being a learner, where are we now in terms of our learning? Has our style changed? Do we need to go deeper into something? Does our practice need to change? And then we continue learning, but we keep coming back to similar subject matter, but we come back to it with now a different perspective. And so that idea that continuous learning doesn't mean one and done, doesn't mean, oh, I took that class, and I took that class and I've put it into practice, I'm done. What does it mean now, a year later, to come back and look at that same topic again?
Nitya Shekar [00:27:56]:
Yes, because not only do perspectives change, as you so rightly said, Alyssa, leaders situations change, their remits change. They're suddenly responsible for way more than they used to be. Kind of coming from your example, Kate. I'm thinking back to a workshop I led before on communication and listening in a past life, and another one that had to do with presentation skills, executive presence and such.
And I remember having a handful of leaders who would come back to the class over and over again, even though technically in the system, they'd gotten credit for it how that stuff goes, right in companies, it's like, all right, they've taken the class, it's done, it's on their transcript. But this group of people would keep coming back every six months, sometimes every 18 months, to retake it. And of course, it wasn't exactly the same class either, because I, too was changing it and evolving it based on new research and stuff. So the course itself was changing a little bit too. But the point was they would keep coming back. And at first I was lightly amused by it and I just thought, oh, they just really liked it and they want to take it again.
But at a certain point, I started checking in with them and saying, hey, I noticed that you don't see these classes as one and done the way that some people do. They're like, all right, I took that. It's done. I've learned the skills. And I said, Why is that? Can you just tell me why? Because I wanted to know. And they said, well, of course we enjoy the class, but the bigger point is our jobs keep changing. And so what it means to listen effectively actually changes over time when you're leading a team of ten people versus leading an organization of 60 people or 250 people. And in some of these rapid growth companies, that's how fast the remit can change. And suddenly you go from being responsible to North America product marketing to being responsible for global solutions in marketing in a span of two years. I mean, it's absolutely rapid like that. And so they say, I can't do the same thing I was doing 18 months ago when I first took this class.
I was so blown away by that. I mean, I was certainly touched and happy that they kept returning to the class, but it said a lot more about them than it said about the class, that they saw their journey as continuously evolving and learning and knowing that something like presentation skills or any skill really looked different at different stages of their career. So that's just a beautiful example, I thought, of seeing learning as a main part of their job.
Alyssa Dickman [00:30:21]:
Nitya Shekar [00:30:22]:
What did you think, though, of the piece where it said which comes first, learning or leading? And this book takes a really strong stance that it's learning that comes first. And I was curious about that.
Kate Arms [00:30:33]:
It's interesting because I hadn't really given it much thought until you asked. But I think I agree with them because I think that if I think about human life from the beginning, we're wired to learn, and we learn for ourselves as infants. But as soon as we start having an impact on other people, which we do, as soon as our parents and adults around us respond to us, then we start implementing what we've learned to try and change their behavior. And so I think that it's very chicken eggy and that it's very, very close, but I think that the learning comes first.
Alyssa Dickman [00:31:10]:
That's interesting because I guess I didn't read it exactly that way. And when we go back to something you said right at the beginning, Nitya, was that someone is always looking to you for leadership.
Nitya Shekar [00:31:21]:
Alyssa Dickman [00:31:21]:
So from a chicken egg standpoint, I think there is a little of they just go hand in hand to be willing to step out there and try something, learn from that experience and at the same time keep learning through whatever style works for you. And they make a big point of saying there's no one right learning style. So I think it is a little bit of hand in hand because at the same time you could end up holding yourself back and waiting to lead because you feel you haven't learned enough. I can't lead until I take this communications class or I can't lead until I've completed this workshop. So I think from a coaching perspective, I'm sure we've all come across working with people who are holding themselves back for that exact reason that kind of.
Nitya Shekar [00:32:14]:
I'll lead when yes, learned all the things.
Alyssa Dickman [00:32:18]:
Yeah, I think it's great that learning is emphasized and you do need to continue to learn. The flip side of that is that if you are kind of putting yourself behind a gate that says I will lead when I learn this, that and the other, number one, you're missing opportunities to lead. And number two, you're not really giving credit to those leading experiences as learning experiences.
Nitya Shekar [00:32:46]:
Yeah, so true.
Alyssa Dickman [00:32:47]:
I wanted to ask your reaction to the role of love in leadership. Were you surprised to read that one of the truths was just about bringing love to your approach to leadership?
Kate Arms [00:33:02]:
I wasn't surprised that somebody said that leadership has love and that the heart is involved. I was really pleased that they were so direct about it. In one of my early experiences learning about leadership, I was introduced to David Whyte's work and his work about bringing heart and soul into organizational life. He struggled really hard to have people hear his words and to see this just addressed so clearly that if you don't actually care about your people, you don't actually care about the future that you're building together, people won't follow you. They might comply with your instructions, but they won't follow willingly and with enthusiasm. To just have it addressed so cleanly was just nice to me.
Nitya Shekar [00:33:53]:
It flew directly in the face of conventional wisdom. I mean, I'm sure that there are people who hear the word love in a leadership or business context and just completely shut down or think it's too soft or anything like that. But that conventional wisdom that emotions don't belong at work or that you shouldn't get too attached to anyone or anything. And to separate the brain and the heart, frankly, I think all of that is pretty outdated anyway. But it's amazing how conventional work culture persists.
And even now there is a resistance to using words like love because I think somewhere deep down we still think that love and care are going to cloud our judgment. Whereas I think this particular truth, number ten, tells us, no, it doesn't cloud your judgment. It's going to be there anyway. I mean, as they say, you don't love someone because of who they are. You love them because of the way they make you feel. And so for all your visions and strategies and all things that you're doing, people are paying attention to how you as a leader make them feel because we're human and that just happens. We might as well lean into it.
The book does say we will work harder and more effectively for people we like and feel connected to and so why not just embrace that instead of trying to shut down that part of ourselves and say, how can I use this to build connection here and move forward together, all making each other feel valued and positive?
Alyssa Dickman [00:35:27]:
Yeah, I wanted to ask because I was really happy to see it included in something that's saying, here are the ten truths that you need. And that last truth saying that leadership is an affair of the heart. And as you've both said, bringing in the emotion, bringing in the care is just something that I've always been drawn to in terms of the kind of work we do, is helping leaders see their people as people. And not just job descriptions and tasks that need to be completed, but this idea of putting others in the center and relating to people as people. And with all of the other truths combined, understanding where people's values are helping. Them see a vision for the future and realizing that at the core of that is love and care, and that that's what motivates people to keep moving forward. Yeah.
Nitya Shekar [00:36:25]:
You know, it's interesting. It's not such a huge logical leap to say when we care about people and demonstrate that they feel taken care of and heard and valued and are therefore going to be more committed and connected to their work and show up better and move things forward in a better way. It's not that hard to see that line.
Kate Arms [00:36:46]:
We call it things like employee engagement and...
Nitya Shekar [00:36:54]:
Alyssa Dickman [00:36:55]:
Create language that is more comfortable, yes.
Nitya Shekar [00:36:58]:
Than love or something. Right.
Alyssa Dickman [00:37:00]:
Kate Arms [00:37:03]:
And this is the other piece of this that I love about this. When we talk about love in common parlance, we sexualize it and romanticize it. And what this context does is it says, okay, sure, sexualized and romanticized partnership is a form that love can take. But love is actually all around us because love actually happens every time we open our hearts to someone else and that they receive what we offer and we receive what they offer and that that's so much bigger than do I have a partner and a ring on my finger?
Nitya Shekar [00:37:41]:
Alyssa Dickman [00:37:42]:
Seeing what others have to offer and helping them offer that in a way that benefits that individual and benefits an organization and helps move everybody forward towards this greater vision is what love is all about in this context.
Kate Arms [00:38:00]:
Yeah. I mean, if you took that sentence that you just said and you just changed the word organization to family, nobody would question the word love exactly.
Alyssa Dickman [00:38:08]:
Kate Arms [00:38:09]:
Alyssa Dickman [00:38:11]:
And now to put this book on the Tree of Leadership Wisdom. Is this book at the roots (foundational knowledge)? Is it the trunk (main body of practical wisdom)? Or is it branches and specific tools?
Nitya Shekar [00:38:24]:
I characterize this as a roots book, which is not what I thought it was going to be when I opened the book. I thought it was going to be filled with models and frameworks and equations of various kinds. But actually, to me, this is a set of ten fundamental truths that inform practices and behaviors that come with leadership. These are the truths to hold in your mind that define what being a leader is all about. And to me, there's nothing more roots than that.
Alyssa Dickman [00:38:54]:
I can completely see categorizing it in that way. For me, I was looking at this as a trunk book and seeing it as a book that's full of concepts that you can lean on again and again, kind of as that trunk, the things that hold you up as a leader. And when you need a reminder of what's important, that you could basically open this book to any one of these truths and say, how am I going to live this truth today?
Kate Arms [00:39:27]:
I'd love that you disagreed with each other and put it in the two different places for those two different reasons, because that's exactly the conversation that's been going on in my head, is that I do believe that this covers all of the foundations and that if you infused your work with all of these truths, you would be extracting all the nutrients from the context that you are in. And that's roots. And there's nothing theoretical about the presentation. And I often think of r oots books as sort of theoretical and first principles, and these are not as abstract as that. They're actually sort of concrete things that I feel like I've been given actionable ways to approach from the way that they have presented each of these truths. And so I think I land more in the trunk. But I love that we've articulated exactly sort of where that is. It's so foundational, and it's also actionable, and that's where this book is.
Alyssa Dickman [00:40:26]:
And now it's Thinkaway time. Each of our hosts will leave us with one thought, idea, question, or practice to think about and take away. My Thinkaway would be to look at this story that they tell. Twelve frogs on a log. I've heard it before in a different way. I think there's less frogs, the idea being there's six frogs on a log and one frog decides to jump in. How many frogs are left on the log? And the answer is six, because of the difference between deciding to do something and doing something. And so my Thinkaway would be to think of those frogs on the log and what is something that you have in the past decided to do that hasn't happened? And how can you go beyond deciding to do something and jump in the water and see what happens and know that you're going to make an impact and you're going to learn from it. Where is there an opportunity for you to jump off the log?
Nitya Shekar [00:41:28]:
My Thinkaway has to do with the fifth truth in the book, which is you can't do it alone. And one of the things I loved in this truth is this statement which says one of the reasons people want to follow a leader is because they know that they'll be better off as a result of being in that relationship than they would otherwise. I've never heard it quite articulated like that, that they know they'll be better off as a result of being in that relationship with that leader. So my Thinkaway is to encourage listeners to consider their relationships in their lives, whether with their own leaders or with the people that they lead, and then think about that question what are you doing to make those people feel like they are better off as a result of being in that relationship than they would otherwise? It's a question that people may think about in personal relationships, but I don't know if people think about it that way in reporting lines or at work. Am I doing my part as a leader to make them better off being with me than not being with me? It's such a reminder that following a leader is a choice that people make. It doesn't just happen because they happen to report into you. So that's something to chew on and think, what are you doing to make that happen?
Kate Arms [00:42:40]:
So a couple of places I could go and the one I'm going to go with is deliberate practice. Deliberate practice. It's not fun. It's mentally draining. It's going to the place where the challenge is and looking there for the learning and doing the thing. You're learning badly this time, hopefully better the next time. So my Thinkaway is: is there a place where a little more deliberate practice would lead you into more greatness.
Alyssa Dickman [00:43:23]:
This was Leadership Arts Review. If you enjoyed this podcast, please leave us a review wherever you find your podcast. You can find more information and additional resources on our website at podcast leadershipartsreview.com. And continue the conversation by following us on Twitter under Leadership underscore Arts, at Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn under Leadership Arts Review. Leadership Arts Review is a Four Impala production. Music adapted by Four I mpala from Nathaniel Weyburn's Sanctuary of the Sky Gods under license.