Thinkers50 Curated LinkedIn Live with Dan Pontefract | Lead. Care. Win.

 

Dan Pontefract is the author of four bestselling books, most recently Lead. Care. Win.: How to Become a Leader Who Matters. His other books include Open to Think, The Purpose Effect and Flat Army. Dan is a must-hear speaker offering a uniquely compelling perspective on learning, developing and leading in the real world of work. In this session he will give exclusive access to his latest thinking.

Transcript:

Des Dearlove:
Hello, welcome to another Thinkers50 Curated session. I’m Des Dearlove.

Stuart Crainer:
And I’m Stuart Crainer. And we are the founders of Thinkers50, the world’s most reliable resource for identifying ranking and sharing the leading management ideas of our age.

Des Dearlove:
As you know, if you tune in regularly, our belief and the power of ideas has been the foundation of our work. Since we launched the first ever global ranking of Management Thinkers in 2001. We published a new Thinkers50 ranking every two years since, and it remains the premier ranking of its kind.

Stuart Crainer:
So we are excited that 2021 a year in which fresh thinking and the human ingenuity are more important than ever is also a Thinkers50 year. Nominations are now open for both the ranking of Management Thinkers and the Distinguished Achievement Awards, which the financial times very accurately calls the Oscars of management thinking.

Des Dearlove:
The award short list will be announced at the end of July and the years’ finale on the 15th and 16th of November will bring all the excitement of the new ranking and the naming of our Thinkers50 2021 award winners.

Stuart Crainer:
Our theme this year is ideas with purpose and our guest today fits this description. He is Dan Pontefract. Dan is a leadership strategist, keynote speaker and bestselling author.

Des Dearlove:
And a giant professor at the University of Victoria, Gustavson School of Business, is the founder and CEO of the Pontefract Group, a firm that improves the state of leadership and organizational culture.

Stuart Crainer:
And is the offer of four books all with great titles, Lead. Care. Win, Open To Think, The Purpose Effect, and the brilliantly entitled Flat Army. He also writes a Forbes and the Harvard business review. His third book Open To Think was the 2019 Get Abstract International Book of the Year winner and the 2019 Axiom Business Book Awards, silver medal winner in the leadership category.

Des Dearlove:
And in a previous life as chief envisioner and chief learning officer at Telus, a Canadian telecommunications company with revenues of over 14 billion, 50,000 global employees, Dan launched the transformation office, the Telus MBA and the Telus leadership philosophy, all award winning initiatives that dramatically helped to increase the company’s employee engagement to the record level of nearly 90%.

Stuart Crainer:
In 2018, Dan was named on the Thinkers50 radar, and in 2019, he was shortlisted for the Thinkers50 Distinguished Achievement Award for Talent.

Des Dearlove:
As always, please send in your comments and questions as well as letting us know where you’re joining us from, anytime. We have 30 minutes with Dan Pontefract. So let’s get started. Dan, welcome. The virtual stages, yours join us.

Dan Pontefract:
Yes do, so kind of you to invite me to this, what an honor, I’ve always loved my affiliation with Thinkers50 and what you do. So a big hat tip from Canada to you over there. Jolly all England this morning, this afternoon.

Stuart Crainer:
Yeah. We’re disappointed you’re not wearing a hat yourself, actually, Dan. Yeah. So thanks for people already joining us. Please send in your questions. So what are you working on at the moment, Dan? I mean, you’ve got a constant stream of a great books emerging. The last book was in 2019. So another one must surely be in the pipeline.

Dan Pontefract:
Well, if anything, I learned from one of my mentors, Roger Martin, he said to me probably a decade ago, he said, “Dan, just keep on writing, because one day people will wonder, oh, he’s been here around forever.” So I just listen to Roger and keep doing what he tells me to do. Indeed, it keeps me first of all, out of the hair of Denise, my beloved better half. So when I’m writing, I’m not bugging her and it keeps me married. So that’s, a plus. I would argue that some of my thinking prior to the pandemic has been crystallized, because of the pandemic. And now I’m looking to a post pandemic world, which arguably all of us are. And the word that started popping into my head prior to the pandemic, just as I finished writing Lead. Care. Win. was agency and this notion of agency, although it’s been kicked around for years, to me, people, I would say, think of agency as one facet, call it individually agency, personal agency, I’m actually calling it human agency.

But if agency is just generally speaking guys, the ability to have autonomy, free will, have responsibility, make decisions, really important. I would argue self actualization like attributes. I argue that what the pandemic has really demonstrated is the intricate link that we humans need, not only of agency, but agency within the organization in two ways, the team which we were with and the organization of which employs us. And then the fourth dimension, I think guys is community. And so let me just try for a second here to sort of break it down quickly. So human team, organization, and community. Well, how’s it work? Well, let’s just take a look at the organizations that are getting hybrid work wrong.

What we’ve realized as a result of pandemic. Many of us that are management, I guess, knowledge workers, if you’re a Drucker fan, and that is, we can get the work done from home. Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t need or desire human connection. That doesn’t mean that we don’t want face to face, but that we have, I guess, almost on mass with a human sense of agency said, “no, I think we can do this boss/ organization.” And so the pushback, whether you’re at Apple and the employees that are pushing back to Tim Cook at all, or organizations that are getting it right, like Deloitte UK, Deloitte Australia, who are saying, “you know what? We trust you, here’s our new organizational norms.
The team can come up with some new kind of norms as well, if you want, but we believe you, we understand your sense of agency. So we’re going to allow us to figure out a more flexible way in which to get the work done.” All of that can have a benefit to the community. And so long winded way of saying, spend a lot of time thinking about this word agency and what can come of that post pandemic.

Des Dearlove:
Okay. I mean, you mentioned there’s a number of facets to agency. It’s an interesting lens, I think, to look at the whole kind of the whole business world and post pandemic through. Where does it leave leadership? I mean, I think of you as a kind of go to or leadership, where does that fit in? Presuming that’s one of the facets.

Dan Pontefract:
Absolutely. It does. I mean, well, any writer of business books and business thinking these days are certainly just building upon the greats of others, the namely Drucker, but one of those is trust. I mean, if the bourgeoisie was all about drawing blood from the stone of the proletariat, in this day and age, what the highfalutin executives need to do more than ever is to trust their team members by empowering them with more of that leadership based decision making collaboration, empowerment to make good decisions on behalf of the client, the initiative, the innovation track, whatever it may be. And that’s, I think just been demonstrated in somewhat spades, because the pandemic not being together all the time, but also exacerbated in the opposite and how so many leaders have left their employees out to dry, reprimanding, not promoting, firing and terminating and furloughing, because they didn’t see quote enough productivity.

It’s all kind of balderdash to me when we don’t first and for trust and create some of those environments of leadership that allow the failures to occur, the ideation to happen, that doesn’t maybe go all the way forward successfully. When we get to that point as, then the facets underneath agency, such as, you brought up the point of the Thinkers50 you theme this year of purpose. Then you start enacting other parts to your own humanism, and that’s where you get the engagement. That’s where you get the culture that can go kick some butt with whatever that’s put in front of them. And for the myopic leaders, executives in particular, can’t see that. Then I’m asking you as an employee, leave, go find the place of agency and purpose and trust and so forth that will allow you to feel fulfilled as a human being.

Stuart Crainer:
And trust is a really interesting concept. I mean, Rachel Botsman has done lots of work around the area of trust in recent years and our own experiences working with the Chinese company [Higher]. What’s interesting there is, there’s a high level of trust with the employees. There’s a lot of ambiguity in different roles and people are empowered and there seems to be high levels of trust. But then you look at famous American organizations, say something like Netflix, which has a very strong, is culture deck, which millions of people have looked at. It seems to me, there’s kind of a veneer of trust around a lot of American corporations. There’s a suggestion of trust, but it’s not actually backed up.

Dan Pontefract:
One of the lovely examples. I believe that where the Chinese get it right, and Americans get it horrible wrong, and I don’t know if Higher does this or not, but it’s the use of Guanzi, and Guanzi is a centuries old philosophy, if you will, leadership philosophy essentially of give and take. Where I will trust you enough to give you a long latitude of rope. And in return downstream, the reciprocity will produce itself. Doesn’t have to be immediate. It can be, years down the road.

And I think that longer term thinking that the Chinese have with Guanzi as an example, is so beloved to me, because they’re not thinking immediate, they’re thinking, well, this is a relationship over time that we’re building. Whereas, not to be too culturally di-sensitive here, but often North American analyst, quarterly earnings call mentality of what have you done for me lately, actually erode, if not completely eradicates that level of trust and or reciprocity of course, because we get so fixated in the moment of having to produce a result that we forget about the human emotion.

We forget about the human responsibility we have, to take care of one another. And that frightens me for the longer term, which is why I’ve said publicly, and this is not news to YouTube. China is in it for the long game. They’re not thinking about the immediate result of tomorrow.

Des Dearlove:
We have a couple of questions coming in. Alongside trust, Erica asked alongside trust, do we also need to increase our tolerance of failure? Allow for more experimentation? I think this goes to the heart of your longterm versus short-term sort of focus as well, what you were making.

Dan Pontefract:
Yeah. I mean, I’m not plugging a book here, but I didn’t stretch, but I would just say my last book, I talked about nine leadership behaviors, leadership lessons. One of them was called remain curious. And so when an organization inculcates a systemic kind of open learning curiosity quotient from the executive down to the executive assistants, you are allowing the grace of failure to help the organization’s curiosity quotient.

So that, doesn’t have to be a percentage. I’m sick of people quoting the Google time of 20%, go and do whatever you want and figure out something from there. I’m just talking about a leadership behavior that people are feeling the trust to go out and try something, whether that is rearranging the front foyer as an executive assistant might do at headquarters, or something perhaps more concrete in trying something technological or process wise that will actually fundamentally help and improve the business, even though it may fail at first.

So for me, I think that’s a wonderful question and it speaks to your attributes or values, those words you usually have on the wall of a building. And if one of them is curiosity or learning, or something to degree of allowing that curiosity to produce failure to then actually change the way in which you might do business. How empowering is that, Des? I mean, come on. It’s a fantastic thing to think about.

Stuart Crainer:
Margaret from Jacksonville points out and a matter of trust and recognizing the work is key to the success of the organization. So I think that kind of recognition I think is really important. A word you use, Dan, I liked your phrase, the grace of failure-

Des Dearlove:
Yeah.

Stuart Crainer:
Which is a nice phrase, but a word you use a lot is care in the title of your last book. And I’ve talking to John Perro, Patrick Leer of Insiad, and he talked a lot about caring leadership. And there’s a king sense from your work in John Perro’s work, that’s been lost. Would that be a correct interpretation? And if so, how do we bring that back again?

Dan Pontefract:
Well, first of all, I miss my dinners with John Perro. That is one brilliant family, I must say. For me care, isn’t just equating to being more empathic, although that’s important, it’s not just about trust, which is important. Care to me, when you think about it comes down to you as a leader, as a human being curiously wondering about the dignity of that relationship. And as I’ve said, way too often to executives, when I hear that people are our most important asset, I usually lunge at them with a boiling hot latte and throw it at them, because it’s not about numbers on a spreadsheet and what our head count is. It’s about that we are in the people relationship business, and to think about the dignity of that relationship is to actually care. So that might be Stuart ideas such as civility. Are you saying gesundheit or bless you after a sneeze? Now, how ridiculous does that sound?

But that’s sort of what I equate to where we miss out on the dignity of the relationship. When a leader doesn’t know the names of their employee’ kids, and even just asking the question, “Hey, what’s your family life like,” and then, making a note to write down their names, “oh, it’s Michaela and Sandy,” “fantastic.” So next time I’ll remember that to ask about Michael and Sandy. Those little moments of dignity are what really creates the caring leader.

And so yes, you could argue leaders have to be strategic. They have to performance manage. They have to career develop their team. Of course, they’ve do. The 1.0.1 stuff, but the layer that’s been eroded, I think over, I don’t know, probably the last since Mil Freeman, uncle Mil back in 1970, 71, I think for the better part of 50 years, we’ve been slowly in and at glacial speed, eroding that dignity. And more than ever, we treat the employee like the proletariat and we have lost the meaning of what the relationship ought to be.

Des Dearlove:
Fascinating. Another word that you were using a lot, which we are hearing a lot. It must be well and truly in the ether, is the curiosity word. And it seems to me those two things, being interested in human beings, which is partly what you’re talking about. When you talking about the dignity of the relationship, it’s actually being interested in what other people are doing in the part of their lives that isn’t necessarily visible to us. It’s just taking an interest. What can organizations do to try and get some of that curiosity back?

Dan Pontefract:
Well, I mean, one of the things that I’ve been working with organizations on is sort of that humanistic behavior. So Des, when I speak to executives or working with an organization, and recently, as you can imagine, over the past six to eight months, it’s been on their hybrid work models. And the hybrid work model really is code for; we need to change the culture and which is code for; well, what are we doing with curiosity, with dignity, with care, et cetera. So if we just back up your question about curiosity, when I am asking them, how would they describe their curiosity quotient in a post pandemic world? It’s about allowing that sort of ability to create without reprimand, to ideate with time. And so you could look at a calendar and any executive and say, “well, where’s your creativity time on your calendar?”

And as you both know, working with execs as well, way too often, it’s back to back to back to back to back to back meetings without any creativity, time blocked off. So what’s the organization doing Des, to allow blocks of creativity time or curiosity time, whatever you want to call it, that is just kind of mingling and whether that’s face to face virtual or both, just to kind of kickstart ideas.

And then, do you have a budget potentially that is earmarked for allowing the organization to kick the tires around an idea? These kind of systemic, again, behaviors or what I call organizational norms that allow the organization to say, “yeah, one of our best practices is to provide time focused, time creativity, time what have you, with our employees, with budget to see where it, whatever it is might go. Now here’s another examples.

So curiosity can come through job crafting. We haven’t even talked about that yet. So job crafting is what well, it’s the ability to allow the team member to sort of try out different portions of the organization’s hierarchy, or divisions, and get them in there and meeting new people and trying new things. So imagine they had a one day a week, 20% time of going out and working in a different job. And if they worked in that different job and working in that different team, what might spark some new ideas for that team when, Sally shows up and she’s there on Mondays.

Again, when we think differently from the construct of what we think work is, and we kind of look at it as almost, this is not to be pun, like a free agency model that can actually stimulate curiosity and creativity in ways that normally we wouldn’t have even thought of. So I think it just becomes a cultural organizational norm when we put it at the forefront and say, we’re going to invest some time and some money into doing things differently, that allows the creativity and the curiosity to be unearthed.

Stuart Crainer:
Julie Greenfield’s got a slightly different perspective. She says, caring is a two way street, and we need to understand what our leaders are going through and ask care about them and their lives too.

Dan Pontefract:
So true, Julie. I know Julie, so thanks for showing up. The fact of the matter is we too often believe that a leadership to employee relationship is the only relationship and that the leader has to take care of the employee if you will. But I’ve often found that some of my best interactions have been when I’m out there asking someone above me, “Hey, how are you doing?” And so whether that’s a VP, a CEO, or what have you just taking the time to ask that question? And I would say Stuart more often than not, I don’t want percentage, it’s a shock that someone has asked them a personal question, about how are you doing?

No, no, not that how you doing question? No, no, seriously. What’s up right now with you. And so if there’s a lesson for that in an executive team, wherever that may be in the world, I think a CEO ought to be either providing that type of coaching and counsel, which they far too often do not, or hiring the type of coach to come in to allow that, how are you doing serious type of conversation to ensue.

Des Dearlove:
I mean, one of the things that seems to come out of the pandemic is this, it does feel like we might be at a sort of inflection point for sort of the style of leadership that we’ve kind of applauded in the past. One element of that is this ability to show weaknesses, flaws. Also, leaders who are prepared to say, “I don’t know what’s going to happen next,” because we look to leaders for certainty. Do you get a sense that there’s a change in the wind, change in the air?

Dan Pontefract:
Yes and no, Des. I mean, what a brilliant question and you’re touching, it seems like you’ve kind of read my material so kudos to you. I’m just kidding. Love you, man. The things that I harp on often is all right, do you need to wear a Teflon suit to work? And the metaphor there, of course, is nothing ever sticks to me. Well, if nothing ever sticks to you, how do you think employees, your team members are going to look at you if in fact you’re showing up in this Teflon suit each and everyday.

So why are you not bringing to work again? Wherever the work may happen? The personality of what’s going on in your life? No, not the dark secrets. No, not all of your failures, but enough to provide an element of what it is that makes you a human being, whether that is your likes, whether that’s Manchester United, whether that’s your dislikes, Chelsea football club, but it’s just allowing you to have a portrayal that you’re not just a business manager, a business executive or whatever it is, that is your role.

And again, go back to a great point Des, about failure or mistakes. Are you willing to admit the mistake and apologize for it? And so too, are you able to ask for assistance, even though you are a leader? I don’t see that happening enough, at least in my world. And I’m privileged to work with many different organizations around the world. And so that’s one of the empathy points that I bring up, is that actually to be empathic, head, heart, hands, is what I often talk about.

You actually have to open up yourself to what’s going on in your head, how you are feeling and the things that you’ve done wrong, or the hand metaphor is asking for assistance so that it doesn’t go even more sideways. And again, I don’t know, I’ve got to demonstrate that I’m solid and stoic and that I don’t make mistakes. And I don’t need to ask for help is sort of the opposite of what employees are yearning for in their leadership.

Stuart Crainer:
When we were talking earlier, Dan, you were talking about you were reading a lot of philosophy. And I was thinking, you mentioned self actualization earlier, the Maslow aspiration of people’s lives. And this is different terrain from the usual business book [offers] we talk to.

Dan Pontefract:
Well, I am the opposite of my last name, or at least I’m trying to be Stuart. In Latin Pontefract means broken bridge. I am trying to build bridges. And those bridges I’m trying to build right, are between the history of our society, whether that is the philosophers, whether that is the Druckers, whether that is the tragedies, to what is actually happening today in the mind and psyche of employees and organizations. And so, the organizations and leaders that are at the forefront of thinking about the human and employee condition are the ones that are going to prosper, I argue. And those that are the Jamie Dimons and so forth of, you shall get your butt back in this seat so we can see you hammering on the keys of your keyboard, I think are in for a reckoning.

And I’ve been around the block a few times. I’ve been two years on my own, but I’ve got 25 years of working in big, large organizations, not withstanding working with organizations the last couple years everywhere. I think that this idea of the great resignation, although it’s catchy is slightly poignant. I’m more interested, however, Stuart and Des on the great reconnection. I think now more than ever, we need to reconnect and our leadership with what matters most. And that is when you serve the employee, they in tune serve the customer, which produces results. And we’ve got to it backwards.

Des Dearlove:
Someone’s joined us from LinkedIn and I’m making a comment about, I think your idea of perhaps doing a different job, moving between the organizations and person says, “i exchange several scarce personnel within three organizations, they joined involuntary basis and this was great, but these sorts of organizational [Phillips], if you like, ways of getting people to mix more and be more curious, we’re not just talking about, cause I mean, obviously it was a big thing when Google had their 20% discretionary time, you’re not talking about it in that sense, there must be other organizations doing interesting things. Are there companies that you could point to, that do some of this stuff well?

Dan Pontefract:
Well, you’d be surprised and shocked perhaps, but the federal government of Canada has implemented for 363,000 employees, a free agency program. They actually call it free agency or free agents, I should say, sorry. And when working with the federal government have been privileged to do last couple years, they have roughly speaking any given year, like 300 to 400 roles. I mean, it seems insignificant to 363,000 employees, but they have a full more program that they’re building up that allows these 400 odd people to take three to six month stints in different departments and units across the government to build up rapport, change their idea of what it means to be a federal employee, build up relationships, et cetera. So if a 363,000 employee organization can implement something like free agents, please tell me you can’t.

Stuart Crainer:
So you’re optimistic?

Dan Pontefract:
Half full all the time, my friend, half full.

Stuart Crainer:
So when can we expect the new book then, Dan?

Dan Pontefract:
The Age of Agency I reckon will be either the fall of 2022 or the spring of 2023, perhaps more the fall of 2022, because it’s in a bunch of diagrams, a bunch of sketch notes. And I think I just need to pump it out.

Des Dearlove:
Sounds good. And in the meantime, are you got anything else sleeve? I know you write for Forbes, you write for HBR. You working on anything we should be looking out for, that’s going to pop out the pipeline a bit sooner than that?

Dan Pontefract:
I’m in the process of basically open writing this book. So whether on LinkedIn, for example, I’m asking for all types of feedback and opinion. So as opposed to the other four, where I did independent individual private interviews, et cetera, and research, this one’s basically an open book. So I’m asking the masses for their opinions on what they believe agency means for themselves, the team org and community. That’s fun.

Des Dearlove:
That sounds interesting. Fascinating.

Stuart Crainer:
You can open innovation in book writing.

Dan Pontefract:
We’ll see. If it fails miserably, we’ll chart it up to me trying something new and learning from it.

Stuart Crainer:
Yeah, yeah. Well, we’ve talked about failure, the grace of failure, right?

Des Dearlove:
That’s a good title for a book, actually.

Stuart Crainer:
Definitely a good title for a book [crosstalk]. Well Dan, thank you very much as always for the conversation, check out work at danpontefract.com. We recommend all his previous books, especially my favorite one is, Flat Army, Lead. Care. Win, comes a close second, actually I think. So worth checking out all his books. They’re all incredibly readable and very, very practical. So Dan’s is strongly recommended. Thanks very much for your time and insights, Dan. Next week we are joined by Christian Bush, who’ll be talking about serendipity. Dan Pontefract, Thanks very much.

Dan Pontefract:
Stuart, Des, my pleasure. Good to see you. Hope to see you in the flesh in the fall.

Des Dearlove:
Thank you.

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