On Curiosity & Slowing Down with David Deane-Spread

Actionable insight about difficult conversations, the value of curiosity, and the importance of slowing down.

Referenced in this Episode:

David Deane-Spread, is a former commissioned officer in the Australian Defence Forces, a covert operations leader in law-enforcement and another discreet agency. He developed masterful coaching and development skills in government service whilst building and leading high-performance teams for high-risk operations. His passion for attitudinal competence and effective leadership behavior, together with his joy in seeing others develop has driven David to serve his clients for the past two decades.

Connect with David via HIS WEBSITE / LINKEDIN


Episode Transcript:

Liz Wiltsie:  So, I’m excited that David Deane-Spread is joining me today for LEAD the podcast. David began his career in the Australian military and has been an executive coach for many years. He’s built his ABC Model for Rapid Business Improvement out of his unique experience of motivating teams and building trust in even the worst of conditions. So, without further intro, I’m happy to welcome David Deane-Spread. Let’s get right into it, how are you?

David Deane-Spread:  Thank you, Liz. Fantastic. And thank you so much for having me on your program. I really appreciate that.

LW:  Yeah. So, in your experience, what’s the biggest challenge leaders face at work?

DDS: The biggest challenge, always, is dealing with the people when things aren’t going right. Either with the people or with the task. It is the biggest problem they have with their people when things aren’t going right or the person’s got something wrong with them, whether it be a family matter or whether it’s disengagement in the workplace. 

But dealing with those difficult situations, that is the toughest part for a leader. When things are going well, they get out of the way, let things happen. It’s when the crisis occurs or whether there’s a calamity of some sort in the business, or a worker out of sorts or change their attitude or they’ve got a negative attitude or complaining attitude, or think they can run the show themselves and don’t want the leader. All those sorts of personal challenges, person to person are difficult things.

LW:  So, what’s the number one tip, in your experience, for dealing with that?

DDS: Yeah, that’s a really good question. And the number one tip, really, is for the leader to slow down, observe carefully what’s going on, listen carefully at what’s happening. And then ask exploratory questions such as, you know, what’s going on for you right now? What can I do to help? Why have things changed? What’s changed for you? So, ask questions to discover what lies behind everything in a way that’s not confrontational, or interrogative. So, it’s going to be, “Look, I’m here to help. What can I do to help? Help me understand where you’re at?”

LW:  What do you think stops leaders from doing that? Because what you’re saying sounds sort of super intuitive and like, “Yes, you should do that,” but there’s just so many people who don’t. So, what do you think gets in folks’ way?

DDS:   Most of the time they’re in problem-solving mode. So, they see a problem, whether it be a behavioral problem or a situational problem or an operational problem, and they’re automatically primed to go in and fix it. And so, they don’t back off and slow down, and breathe, and listen, and really do it, you know, a minute on the spot reconnaissance, if you like. So, they try and fix, and normally the fixing means to tell. And they’re trying to help, they’re trying to, I mean, their intentions positive, but they go around they start telling. And they start saying, “Well, you know, come on, you can do that. You do that, go on.” And they try and fix it or they say, “This is what you have to do. Bang, bang, bang. And they want to get on with it.” And so that makes it worse. So, at the end of the day, really, what they need to do is to back off and take command of themselves, become composed. That’s one thing, and the other side of that is sometimes they don’t do anything, which is worse, even, because they don’t want to make it worse. They don’t want to worsen the situation, they don’t want to aggravate it, exacerbate it. And they don’t want to I look foolish because they may not know what’s going on. And they don’t want to reveal that they don’t know what’s going on. So, it’s the issue of vulnerability. So, and we have pointed to the Brené Brown material on that, and Simon Sinek, those guys have articulated it really well. But at the end of the day, it’s really being human, being vulnerable and saying, “Look, I don’t really understand what’s going on right now, help me understand.”

LW:  Yeah, yeah. Yes. And it’s just, it’s always amazing to me whenever you and I talk, how intuitive what you’re saying is and yet how much people get stuck. And how many people get stuck because, would you say that it’s, that in your experience, there’s probably more people that get stuck than don’t?

DDS:  Absolutely. They don’t know what to say. They don’t want to offend. They don’t want to get hurt; they don’t want to hurt. They don’t want to make the situation worse. And they are primed and trained to tell to solve the problem. They’re problem solvers. You know, they see themselves as problem solvers in the business. They probably know the business more than anyone else, particularly the small to medium-sized business. They know the business; they probably started the business. So, they’ve been around the business for so long they pretty much know most of the things that are going on. And so, they get into a problem-solving mode with the right, all the right intentions. And then they, they get pushback, and then they, “Oh, shit.” Okay, well, stop, you know. They don’t know how to deal with the first answer, and sometimes I asked questions, but I need the first level. What’s going on here? And the person might come back with, “Ahh, it’s alright, don’t worry about it.” And the uncertain leader will say, “Okay, then just make sure everything’s okay. Let me know.” Instead of saying, “Okay, now hang on a tick, I don’t really understand. Explain to me why everything’s okay when that’s happening. Let me understand, I’m here to help. But I do need your input. So please explain to me where we’re at.” And then, and they’ve got to persist carefully with more questions. But in a manner that’s going to get a response and engagement. So, if they, if they’re in a mood like this and look, “What’s going on here, you know, goodness’ sake.” That’s going to shut people down. And if the leader is not calm and centered and inquisitive, they can’t control the answers. You know, they can’t guide the answer. Does that, am I making any sense? 

DDS: Yeah, it can’t. It can’t happen. And the leaders, too many leaders move into problem-solving mode and providing answers, that doesn’t help. They need to actually understand where the other person is coming from, what they experiencing, how they’re feeling. Do they want help? And it’s okay for the leaders to say, “Look, I really don’t know that I can immediately help you right now, but can we get someone who can help you? What sort of help do you want?” 

LW:   Yeah. No, that totally makes sense. And you can’t, someone can’t feel heard either, if, you know, even outside of sort of guiding the answer to where you want it to get. Sometimes it feels like that exercise is about making sure someone actually likes, feels heard and understood, which can’t happen in that sort of scary face kind of way, right?

LW:  Right. Yeah. So, in that vein, sort of, what concept or you mentioned a couple of different kinds of luminaries in the field, but what concept, or book, or talk, that you have learned over your experience? What’s been most impactful for you in the way you think about this stuff?

DDS: Okay. So, I mean, a lot of it I learned from the leaders that I had, that I was following in the military. And I learned good things and I learned, I learned the things to do and I learned the things that I would never do. So, I had the experience of good and bad leaders, great leaders and not so great leaders. And then I also made my own mistakes as well. Lots of those when I was a young officer, all my men were older than me. Some of them are old enough to be my father. I mean, I was a second in command of the military, prison is my first appointment on graduation. I had my 21st birthday, on duty in the prison. And so, I was such a novice. Even though I’ve been trained as a leader, I didn’t have the practical experience.

LW:  Right. And 21 is young, goodness.

DDS: It’s very young. Yeah. I mean, that’s how it was, I mean, it is like that now. I mean, you’ve got guys coming out of West Point. They’re the same age. And they’re very junior leaders. And you know, they’re on the long, the long road to learn. It’s a learning road. So, I had a lot of personal experience, but one of the books that really gave me a lot of insight, particularly in the commercial side of things, was the book Good to Great, by Jim Collins, and a few other people that contributed to that. Now, he’s not an expert leader himself, but he’s a student of it. And he talks about level five leadership, which is now, I mean, we’re talking about 20-year-old material. 

But, look, the whole bit about leadership hasn’t changed for centuries, for thousands of years, the same things work. You know, we haven’t evolved to that point where leadership is different. And there’ll be lots of people telling you that it is, and it’s not. Management is change because of technology and complexity and what have you, but dealing with people hasn’t changed, and isn’t likely to. 

And so Good to Great is a fantastic book for anyone who wants to become a better leader. To read the evidence because it’s evidence-based. And the level five leadership which is that leader who is there for the people, not for themselves. It looks out of the window when things are going really well and looks at the people he can praise. And then when things aren’t going well, looks in the mirror and ask what can he do to help, and not a portion blind? And another one that, and this is an interesting one because there was a poem by Rudyard Kipling called, If.

LW:    Yeah. I know it well, yes. 

DDS: And my mother sent that to me, she said, “Read this whilst you’re on the plane going to your army training.” And I’ll tell you what, I read it, and I loved it. I mean, it’s so good, it’s so true. And it’s just about being a human who cares. Human who can work with anyone, who’s willing to work with anyone, willing to learn, and willing to help.

LW:  Yeah, no, it’s lovely. It’s lovely.

DDS: Yeah. So those experiences and those, the study, I mean, I think, learning about leadership, I mean, I’ve been doing this for a long time now, and I’m still learning. And I think until I know, the entire population of the planet, which I never will. But if I was to learn all of the idiosyncrasies, and what makes each one of those people tick, I might be able to say, “Yeah, I know everything about leadership,” but that’s not going to happen.

LW:  So, what should I’ve asked you that I didn’t?

DDS:  Oh, gosh, you know, that’s an interesting question. There’s so much that I could be asked. And there are a lot of things that you could have asked, and I’m glad you didn’t. But really, I suppose that the main thing, one of the biggest questions that I think matters is, how long does it take to become an effective leader? 

And I think that that’s an issue that a lot of people don’t talk about. I mean, the universities now, globally, are offering masterships, you know, master’s degrees in leadership. And I worry about that because it’s very theoretical. And leadership is not something you get out of a book, even though there’s some good stuff in the book, but leadership is a practical thing. It’s something you learn. And I mean, I was trained as a leader, to be a platoon commander and, you know, theoretically, I had all the knowledge but I didn’t have the experience. And it was only when I was making mistakes that I really learned. I learned the most by making mistakes. And so how long does it take to become an effective leader? 

A while. Your degree in leadership won’t equip you to deal with somebody who just comes to work today, and, you know, somebody ran over their dog, well, he ran over his dog on the way out of the driveway. Or he’s come to work today and his wife told him she’s leaving, or their partner said they’re going, and he’s now upset. I mean, the program at the university won’t tell them how to deal with that. Or how to deal with the person who’s sabotaging the team because of their negativity. You know, you actually look to learn how to do that. And it’s one on one and everyone’s an individual. So, I don’t think you can come out of a program saying, “I’ve done the study, now I’m a leader. Now I’m an effective leader.” I think we have to recognize that we’re going to work our way into it. And most of our best learning will come from the mistakes that we make, we should be willing to make those mistakes. So, I hope that answered your question, your trick question. 

LW:  My trick question. No, that’s a great answer. So yes. So, David, that’s the end of our interview. And I want to say thank you and there will be lots of resources. David has shared with us a guide, do you want to tell us about the guide that you shared with us?

DDS: I wrote a book a few years ago for my clients called, The Wheel of Effective Leadership Behavior. And I’ve sent that to you in a PDF form that you can send out to your listeners. 

And it talks about the 12 traits that a leader has, that people would endear them to follow that later. And it’s based on 12 historical figures, and they’re a unique capability, unique traits. And I’ve arranged them in a way and describe those within the book. And also, the 12 traits, they will begin with the letter C, like courage and commitment, collaboration, those sorts of things, clarity, candor, those sorts of words. And there’s 12 of them. 

But also, the good thing about the book is that there’s a way of testing yourself and measuring yourself in at the back of the book, and how you can also get your team to rate you. And then how do we deal with each one of those characteristics, those traits? How do we prepare for them? How do we deliver them? How do we practice? How do we rehearse? How do we rehearse to be courageous, for instance? How do we rehearse to be candid? How can we rehearse to deliver on commitment? 

So, it’s a very useful book, my clients love it. I never write books to become bestsellers. I write them for my clients in a way of capturing my thoughts and my, my IP, I guess.

LW:  Yes. And I’m excited that we’ll get to share with our listeners here, so. 

DDS: Yeah, no, it’s fantastic. It’s my pleasure to do that. Thank you so much for interviewing me. I really appreciate it. 

LW:  Thank you.

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