There’s a code to being an effective leader. In this interview, I speak with Alain Hunkins, author of “Cracking the Leadership Code,” about how people become stuck and how to help people become the leaders others want to follow.

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so my guest today is a lab Punkins the
author of cracking the leadership code
three secrets to building strong leaders
I'm proud to say Atlanta is a friend and
not just simply a guest on the show and
land please introduce yourself welcome
and let everyone knows something about
your background place sure Jeff it is
such an exciting day to be with you so
yeah Jeff and I go way back
gosh 1995 so that's dating both of us
and so I have been passionate about
helping people Kindle the fire if
brilliance in themselves whether that's
personal and professional in fact I
think it's really hard to separate the
two of those out and I've been working
in organizations since 1997 I've worked
with 42 of the Fortune 100 companies and
have worked with leaders over 2000
groups of leaders in 25 countries and
what I found is that really doesn't
matter what industry you're in you're in
the people business so I found some
patterns and trends and I wanted to
capture those to help other leaders to
shorten their learning curve and all of
those notes have now made it into this
book cracking the leadership code and
I'm really excited to talk about how we
all can become better leaders and better
people and when I'd say leaders by the
way Jeff I'm not talking about a job
title I'm really talking about a state
of being in fact I think any time that
any of us are trying to get someone else
to do something in some way that takes
leadership and so we all play that role
in some way everyday and folks if you're
watching on camera and a small procedure
done last week he's got a bandaid on
show some mercy please nothing in the
comments area okay and just so you know
I've already done it for you okay there
we go so let's look at new leaders
people who are stepping up into leaders
into leadership what keeps an aspiring
leader stuck how do I get their feet in
the quicksand and how do we get them out
of there yeah so interesting research on
this I've been studying the research and
it turns out that only about 23% of
people believe their leaders lead
which is a pre shockingly low number
which has been that low for decades now
so clearly it's a lot easier said than
what keeps new leaders stuck more than
anything else is this mindset it's that
we think we need to fix something that
when we step into this role we have to
be this fixer in fact I'll tell you the
story about this guy Matt that I met
Matt is a district manager for a
national fast food franchise now I met
Matt the company had a hundred district
managers and Matt was ranked number one
out of all hundred so I asked him if
he'd always been a really high performer
and he know when I started I was like
84th and I was down there towards the
bottom for a while I said so what
changed and he said when I started I had
this idea that my job was to be the
fixer right I had been promoted I was
now a leader I was the district manager
and so every day we would get this
printout of key metrics called the hot
list and the first thing I do is look at
the daily hot list and see what was in
red not measuring up and I go into
firefighting problem-solving mode and I
would hop in my car and I Drive hustling
from store to store and I'd get the
managers and I'd show them the hot
listen tell him what was wrong and tell
him what they should do and just tell
him to keep going on that and I did that
I was driving around I was working
really hard and I was struggling and I
was stuck and he's and Matt said it took
me years but I realized that people
don't want a fixer is that people
actually want a leader and so Matt
changed his approach and what he says
now is when he goes into a store the
first thing he does with the store
manager is he asks them about themselves
but their lives about the person outside
of work and built relationship firsts
then instead of just like you got to do
this fix this do this he shares the data
of the hot list but he doesn't say this
is what you should do he says here's the
data what do you think we should do so
he asks first he listens to them and
then together they create this strategy
and so what Matt really modeled is what
I've come to understand is these three
secrets of building strong leaders which
are connection by building relationship
first communication leading by listening
and then collaboration co-creating
solutions together
and I think where so many leaders are
stuck they still hold on to this
Industrial Age early 20th century
mindset that we are in charge that we
have to command and control and the
world has changed so much since the
beginning of the Industrial Age so if
we're basically operating out of this
20th century early 20th century playbook
we are destined to struggle so I think
the number one thing is to shift the
stop being a fixer move into being a
leader who sees themselves much more is
a facilitator of drawing out the talents
that are already inherent inside people
and finding ways to bring that out and
move those resources to where they need
to be in order to be successful and I
think they gave a great example in the
match story of how simple it could be
and there's also the times what's less
simple where the staff is already lost
and they're struggling and maybe you've
taken over the failing group they've
already got that label everyone knows
that they're the problem people so
you're writing because I'm here to be
the solution you do what I tell you to
do problem number one I know that and
we'll get this all better so what is
what does someone do with the group
that's labeled damage problem Oh
horrible horrible we go right back to
the three choices the three options go
right back to the connection yeah I'd
say we'd go right back to the cart with
connection and here's an interesting
thing around this and there's been some
great studies and about the power of
belief so they did these studies in
schools where a bunch of kindergarten
teachers were told that they had high
potential they told that certain members
of their class sudden students were high
potential and they should be on the
lookout for this sort of high potential
genius-like behavior in these kids and
they told them which kids it was and at
the end of the year the teacher liked
all those kids that are amazing they
really came along the names have been
assigned completely by random
it was basically it's the Pygmalion
effect that we see what we want to so if
you go into a situation where you think
oh these are problem people they're
damaged goods they don't know what
they're doing that is exactly what
you're going to get as opposed to
thinking they've been in a system that
has not supported them for a long time
and I think Peter Drucker one oh no its
edwards deming that once said you put a
good person in a bad system and the bad
system will win every time it is so much
easier for us to blame the person or the
team oh that's a lousy team they don't
under they're doing well what in the
leadership hasn't been creating the
environment to foster excellence you
know it's interesting we talk a lot
about employee engagement and how we
need our employees to be engaged and if
employee engagement is down that's gonna
impact so many metrics well why would
employees be engaged if leaders aren't
engaged I mean it starts from the
leadership we set the tone Albert
Schweitzer famously said example is not
the main thing in influencing others
it's the only thing so to me it's so
important that we start with believing
that people are capable because that
starts the ground the groundwork and
then from there we start to connect we
build relationships we find out what
their needs are what drives them you
know I write a lot about around
collaboration we all have basic human
needs that need to get addressed and
satisfied for us to perform at our best
some of those needs are the need for
safety whether that's physical safety
like what we're dealing with with
coronavirus the fact that people are
having to work at a distance because
it's not physically safe to be together
there's also psychologically safe so the
question is can I speak up in a meeting
and feel like there will be no
repercussions do I feel that's safe to
bring my whole self to work so that's
some psychological safety so there's a
need for safety there's a need for
energy we want to work in a high energy
work environment we also have a need for
purpose this belief that what we do
matters that we're contributing to
something greater than ourselves and we
have this need for ownership no one
likes to be micromanaged we all want to
be able to do the work in the way we
want to do it and have some latitude and
autonomy about how we go about doing
that so when we're starting with the
damage group we start with connection
finding out what their needs are and
then communicating through that so we
can create an
environment where they can start to move
towards being better and I think of also
the organizations we're not the damaged
environment but no you people can hire
for jobs mm-hmm and that's as much as
that's all we need to do such-and-such
and the notion of an institution having
a purpose in a mission well it's nice on
the website and it's a nice plaque in
the lobby but there's no connecting the
dots for people about how their work has
relevance to what the institution is set
out as its mission I'm not sure I
believe in institutional missions that's
a digression on my part but I think in
terms of why do this business start off
to begin with like what's their origin
story and why does this matter and why
does this job matter
do you see research would you have
experiences along those lines were the
nature of the business
gets conveyed and it's beneficial or not
conveyed and its destructive
yeah I've seen both sides and the fact
is every single job in the world has
meaning if we go hunting for it if you
think about it otherwise it wouldn't
exist now you could say some are you
know there used to that TV show dirty
jobs right the guys who clean out the
muck out of the sewers it's a really
valuable service to society it needs to
happen somebody's to do it that being
said I have seen leaders who approach
this from the point of view of they
really don't care I remember I was
sitting next to the CEO of a shoe
manufacturing company and we were doing
this whole I was facilitating a team
building for their top 200 liters and I
got to sit with him at dinner and I was
asking him about this big the big
picture mission and purpose and he
turned to me said purpose we sell effing
shoes so he didn't say F and he actually
said the F word said we sell effing
shoes that's what we do like you're like
whatever you know you know this is a job
I'm just here to make money and it was
pretty clear in my interactions with the
people around him that that was the
culture of the company it was like this
is a job we're going off to the shoe
salesman coal mines today
that's this is what we do whereas I'll
tell you another example I was working
with a manufacturing company that makes
medical devices and I was tore I write
about this story in the book actually
there's a woman and I got to tour the
factory across from the corporate office
and she was doing this amazing work that
was both
manual labor manufacturing but also very
high-tech and her name was April and I
said gosh she got super breaks in April
it's amazing the work that you're doing
and the tour guide he'd explained that
what she was making it was basically
some kind of a catheterization device to
help with diagnosing heart patients and
I said that's amazing work that you're
doing can you explain exactly what
you're doing here and I thought she was
gonna go into some technical explanation
of well we take this piece and we add
this this she turned to me she said well
I help people save people's lives what
do you do
right so April's response though Jeff
was no accident because what that
company does is every quarter they have
a company-wide Town Hall and they bring
in some of the patients that have been
served by their products and they share
how their lives have been changed so
people have a direct link a line of
sight to see how what I'm doing makes a
difference and I think the issue for
many of us it isn't what we do it's that
we don't see the line of sight we
oftentimes work in an organization
that's pretty complex so we may be one
or two or three or four or five levels
removed from that end user in terms of
making the difference to them and we
don't even realize what the difference
that we're making so it goes on and it
has a lot to do as you said before with
the origin story and do we continue to
tell these stories and not just once or
twice but we have to remind ourselves
again and again again I know you've been
in a married relationship for a while
I don't think Sharon your wife would be
oh well I said I love you on our wedding
day Jeff I think that's enough I mean it
hasn't changed right I mean the fact is
we need to say these same things again
and again so reminding people of the why
we do what we do is something that we
should be revisiting on a frequent basis
I agree wholeheartedly and I always
think about organizations and some of
shadow behaviors that show up that
undermine what they ostensibly talk
about is being important to them and you
know when you have leaders who are
subverting the various intentions that
they proclaim or important it's
fascinating to point out the congruence
is between what they say and what they
do right
totally totally so interesting things so
generally leaders and reality generally
are mirror up mirror images of each
other so the way leaders generally think
about stuff it's like oh I say this it's
really important this is what I do not
as important and then what we measure
not at nearly as important whereas from
the flip side the way reality or
followers take it all what are you
measuring because I'll figure out how to
give you the measurements you want
because and if I have to game the system
I will and then I follow your behavior
and then oh did you say something I
forgot what was that all right so we
flip it and so you talk about these
shadow behaviors and the kiss congruence
I think one of the biggest issues
particularly because leaders say oh like
you know people are our greatest
resource or our greatest asset I mean we
talked about this I think one of the
biggest things that I see leaders
struggling with time and time again
especially in this day and age is let's
just call it what it is it's impatience
right the fact is that to build
connection with other human beings takes
time and showing empathy and my
definition for empathy is showing people
that you understand them and care how
they feel isn't just some item you can
check off of a to-do list now yeah you
can send out emails at the speed of
light in our digital age information can
travel that quickly but human
relationships take time and showing
empathy means showing patience and our
organizations are giving this this
message like you've got results to
deliver we got a drive for results in
fact I'm sure you've seen many
driving for results is considered a core
leadership competency and I get that you
know we can't just sit around here we're
not in the group therapy business like
hey is everyone feeling okay about
everything that's not why we're in
business and leadership wisdom is
knowing when do you go fast and when do
you go slow because yes you want to
drive for results
but driving for results shouldn't come
at the cost of driving over the people
who are trying to work with you to
deliver those results it's funny you
know we've been talking about leadership
and then there's management and the
management people more often than not
are the ones who are promoted because
they were the most competent person at
that time they've gotten their rewards
and they're measured by task and task
delivery so it's no wonder that that's
what they tend to focus on because
that's how they got to where they are
and get leaders are different it's not
about motivation at that point it's
about inspiration at that point and that
involves hurt space more than it is
today we're going to produce two
thousand four hundred and twelve widgets
that's going to be up to widgets from
last week you think you can do it yeah
and we're laughing about this but we've
all been environments where this is how
it's done yeah yeah and it's crazy yeah
so it's interesting because people say
oh well you know I'm not a leader I'm a
manager well if you are influencing
other people and their experience of
work you are a leader you may be doing a
very bad job at it but you are leading
again Gallup has probably got the most
famous research on this you know they
spent over twenty five years
interviewing over a million employees
around the world including 80,000
managers and they wanted to find what
made the most successful employee
successful and by success they measured
it by higher levels of productivity
higher levels of profitability lower
levels of turnover and higher levels of
customer satisfaction and loyalty and
they found the number one factor that
created the most successful employee was
what was their relationship with their
immediate supervisor so whether you call
that person a manager or a leader it's
the immediate supervisor that person
sets the tone they found that 70 percent
of the difference between labs good in
great culture is directly attributed to
that immediate manager or leader right
there and so I know I used to joke I
used to say I got into
leadership because I thought that
leaders make a difference and what I've
found over over 20 years of research and
practice is that leaders don't make a
difference leaders are the difference
and so you if you're in that role
congratulations because that
responsibility it's been it's like it's
that target on your back and you have to
know that whether or not you know it's
there it's there the responsibility is
with you and you can either ignore it in
which case you're now creating a culture
by default or you can embrace it and
create a culture by design and be
intentional about it and when Ellen
mentioned the target on the back in his
TEDx talk he does he tells a very funny
story about coming off of a weekend
where he was stepping into leadership
and he received a gift of a t-shirt from
someone who on the on the front that
said leader and on the back he was
encouraged to turn around and there was
the bullseye and was was reminded that
you're always the target it's a question
of what kind of target you want to be
yeah exactly exactly thank you for that
mentor moment of wisdom Jeff you
inspired that story yeah and with that I
just want to point out that there are
other things that people can be doing
better to model the connection the
collaboration and what's the third see
communication communication how can they
communicate better great question so
communication is really harder than it
and the reason why is we all think I've
got two years they're in good working
condition I've got one mouth I've got
fingers that type in eyes I can see I'm
communicating well well that's what we
unfortunately communication ranks is the
number one biggest challenge in
workplace environments and the reason
why I think George Bernard Shaw said it
best when he said the greatest problem
with communication it's the illusion
that it's taken place so we're
communicating yes
the goal of communication isn't
communications sake the goal of
communication is to create shared
understanding and the reason that shared
understanding is so important is because
understanding becomes the platform on
which we build all future action so if
we have common shared solid foundation
understanding we can now make great
decisions to get great results but if
our platform foundation is rickety and
shoddy we're gonna make poor decisions
we're gonna get poor results and so as
leaders we have to understand that the
default setting for communication is
actually misunderstanding
miscommunication and it's our job to
make sure that we keep bringing people
back to alignment to make sure that we
are aligned between what you say what
you mean and what I hear because way
easier said than done I'll give you a
quick example of just how easy it is to
fall into one of these traps because
we're wired for misunderstanding all of
us even me and I teach this stuff so my
wife Mary and I have these two friends
named Pam and Charlie who live in
Washington DC and they drove up to visit
us for the weekend in western
Massachusetts now our house has got a
very narrow driveway that widens out at
the end so we can park our two cars I
decide so when Pam and Charlie came to
visit they parked their car right behind
our two basically blocking us in which
really wasn't a problem until I had to
leave to go to the airport at which time
I said Pam can you please move your car
and park it out in front of the house
and she said you want me to park where
they just go park your car in front the
house you're sure yeah please if you
don't mind she said okay I'll park my
car in front the house and she goes off
and I didn't think anything else I
didn't thought that was a little hard so
I get my suitcase I get in the car and I
start to slowly back out of the driveway
checking my mirrors and then just out of
the corner of my eye I see the strangest
thing Jeff cuz it's it's it's Pam's car
and she's parked her car in front of the
house as in directly in front of the
house as in on the flower beds directly
in front of house as in flower beds
being crushed by the wheels of her car
now now at that moment I was just
thinking Oh Pam what were you thinking
when I say Park in front of the house
what I mean is park your car on the curb
on the street like where else would you
park a car but clearly she had taken my
words litter
and so I was suffering from what a
psychologist would call the projection
bias which is when you unconsciously
assume that other people have the exact
same meaning in your mind as you do now
we'll see the projection bias at work
all the time you hear it when people say
things like well I sent them the email
they should know what to do or you know
doesn't the senior leadership realize
what a stupid process this is so the
question is how can we get rid of these
misunderstandings so here's a really
simple tool that anyone can use really
I call it asking for a receipt so you
think about why do we have receipts
right so receipts are proof of a
complete transaction and if you think
about in life when you ask for a receipt
you might skip getting a receipt when
you go to the store and get a candy bar
but you would never dream of buying a
house without getting a receipt so in
communication asking for a receipt is a
way for you to confirm that your
information hasn't just been received
but it's actually been understood and
there's a great story that brings this
to life from the fast-food industry so
back in the 1980s you remember they
started the drive-throughs in all the
fast-food restaurants and at the
beginning the drive-thru process was a
nightmare it was very common and you
drive up to the intercom you'd place
your order and he'd draw it up to the
window to pick up your food and the
order would be filled with mistakes and
this was common across the industry for
like two years and then all of a sudden
they fixed the problem that
drive-through mistake rates just started
to plummet you might be thinking what
was the newfangled technology there was
such an easy fix the employees started
repeating the order back to customers
before oh sorry
you want three cheeseburgers and three
fries and three Pepsi's is that right
three yes yes yes okay and then they
make the order confirming understanding
before taking action the way I see it is
look if Taco Bell will invest in this
simple technology for $0.99 taco don't
you think that our work deserves the
same level of clarity so it's a good
example of the commitment on the part of
a leader to make sure that we are
confirming getting understanding before
we take the next step of action so how
many of us have meetings where we don't
do that right well the meeting ends and
we're like okay everyone knows what
they're doing right good good bye see ya
and so instead of taking that extra five
or ten minutes ago
let's go around the circle what's
everyone doing just to make sure we're
all clear and on the same page and we're
aligned so that's an example of how you
can ask for receipt and get with a
communication and when employees respond
in their thought process of what does
she think I am a [ __ ] you know and I'm
I'm sure you're Sibel that response
because I've worked in offices like that
of course well here's the thing this is
why it's not just what you do it's how
you do it so there's a big difference we
saying me saying all right everyone
let's go around the table just to make
sure we're on the same page as opposed
to having some more tact and subtlety
and saying hey everybody you know I know
that for me I have experienced walking
out of here and not being clear
so if you don't make a big deal out of
it and you treat people with respect as
opposed to thinking okay again this is
the difference between talking at people
and talking with them which goes back to
the mindset do you see yourself as the
fixer or you the facilitator the leader
who's bringing things out and I feel if
you embody that and you've already built
a connection based on empathy and
credibility and Trust people are gonna
go along on the ride with you because
they know they're the kind of person
that they want to follow you know I have
the idea of our sharing some of our
failures and I'm gonna go first to
acknowledge one of my failures because
I've had a couple of businesses where I
played fix or NGO leader in chief and
didn't really take the time making
connection with my people as a result
all I was doing was hammering them over
and over and over again and eventually
what starts to happen is they become
numb to it that's what happened to me
and the result when the being I divorced
my first business partner just because I
didn't feel supported I was doing well
the sales he was doing all the
complaining with the co-conspirators and
we were ostensibly you know there were
employees but
he wasn't into it because I overwhelmed
him and I overwhelmed them and I know
you know me well enough to know how that
could very easily have been part of my
persona in the early years that we knew
one another yeah and certainly before
that so what I've learned over the
course of time is as quick as intuitive
as I I can be I have to slow down at
times in order to make sure that
everyone's engaged in the process and I
don't want up losing them you got one
for you I have one I have more than one
but I'll start with one yeah it's
interesting you know I talked earlier
about this sense of driving for results
shouldn't come at the expense of driving
over people that deliver the results and
I could have been talking to the mirror
at the time because I'm thinking back
early in my career I was oftentimes I
was facilitating for large groups
sometimes where I would be facilitating
four five six hundred people or even
over a thousand and when I would do is
I've had these teams of support
facilitators sometimes up to 40 or 50
people and I was basically in charge I
was leading that and in that particular
environment you know I like to think of
myself as this caring empathic person
I'm really but when I was in that role
where I was so focused on the client and
the outcome I really started driving and
I'll say steamrolling over people to the
point where I literally got feedback
from one of the support facilitators
saying oh you realized that after the
meeting that you lead five people break
down in tears and two of them said they
never want to work with you again and
that was some of the hardest feedback to
hear and you know realizing and it was
from someone I trusted and I heard that
my first reaction was want to get
defensive like no no no but you don't
understand I and I realized that wasn't
the first time that I'd heard that kind
of feedback about being kind of a little
arrogant a little arrogant and and and
being driving and being too quick too
quick time too sharp and not really
including people and I took that
feedback to heart and I had to step back
and apologize and I really shifted my
approach when I was working with a team
to the point where I was you know this
whole sense of building connection first
it's such this absolute law of how do
you have a relationship without human to
human connection so I always look for
ways to find that human connection first
even when I'm hiring let's make my
dentist I go in I mean everywhere I want
to create some kind of a human
connection not only cuz I think it gets
better results I have a lot more fun
doing it and it's a lot less stressful I
feel like I'm I'm now working with
people instead of for them or they're
working for me I just feel like it's a
much more yeah it's a much much more
joyous way to work and to live so that's
one of the big wake up call failures
that I had that I learned a lot from you
he's one of my favorite word's every
person like coach you know it's always a
problem word for them fun the notion the
notion that you can have fun in the
process of doing work isn't supposed to
be about fun yeah back to the 19th
century the 20th century yeah it's true
it's amazing how many people think that
it's this drive drive drive again we use
these mechanistic tools like driving
like we've got a you know we got a drill
stuff down into the front lines I mean
when's the last time you said gosh you
know no one from senior leadership has
drilled anything into me lately I missed
that I mean I mean in fact is we don't
we're not machines we need to create
some space for Humanity and it's so
important to do that in folks winners
find the way to win and losers have lots
of excuses for it and one of the ways
that they find the way to win is they
understand their biggest asset are the
people not the problem they work within
people and support their people being
great and through that and evolving from
the mechanistic approach it's just a
different tone and tenor you get better
hello this has been fun it has been fun
using your f-word again we're back to
the f word fun guys that's right that's
the F word that you can use folks how
could people find out more about you the
work that you do I'll have a link to the
salute to the
on Amazon in the shownotes find out more
about you yeah
easiest place to go is actually the book
has its own website which is which is easier to spell
than my name that'll take you right to
the book website and then when you're
there you can download the first chapter
to get a preview that will also link you
right to my website pages so you can
just from there navigate and learn more
about the work that I do I do coaching
consulting training and speaking either
with individuals teams and/or
organizations all under the umbrella of
helping people to become better leaders
you can also connect with me on LinkedIn
as you like as well and could you spell
your name for them fo sure it's Li the
French al AI n honk ins hu n ki NS which
is Ella hankins comm you can find me
there fabulous and folks I'll be back
soon with more I'm Jeff up in the big
you can find out more about me and my
website the big game hunter dot us Kevin
go explore there's a lot there that will
help you and the meantime I hope you
have a spectacular day and one encourage
you be great take care


Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1800 episodes and his newest show, “No BS Coaching Advice” and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.Career Angles | Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

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