The Who and What of Leadership with Tim Spiker
Recently I had the great privilege to discuss with Tim Spiker, who has served as a keynote speaker, author, leadership coach, small group facilitator, researcher (both qualitative and quantitative), and in-house leader development manager.
Here are a few notes from our discussion. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.
Your book Who Not What talks about the fact that 3/4s of your effectiveness as a leader comes from who you are not what you do. What is a broad view of the message of the book?
We found that you can teach people tactics and practices and skills to be a leader, but the research data says that the foundation for enthusiastically following somebody is not those things. It’s something deeper.
In the book and in our conversations, you talked about a ‘Well Developed Who’. Talk about that.
The two aspects of a Well Developed Who are being inwardly sound and others-focused. High moral character is incredibly important in the development of trust, but good leaders are inwardly sound and others-focused, in that order.
Could you talk about the relationship between the Who and the What of leadership?
The analogy I use in the book is that of a very strong tree. When we draw a line between the Who and What of leadership, the Who is everything that lies below the surface, like the roots of a tree. The What of leadership, or everything above the surface, is given nutrition by the Who. As a result, the Who is what makes the What effective.
The phrase that keeps going through my mind is, “People follow a leader only as closely as they trust him or her.” John Maxwell would say people that buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.
It’s hard for us to keep in mind the idea of becoming versus managing. The best question is: ‘What am I doing everyday to make myself a more trustworthy person?’
In one of the chapters in your book, you talked about myths and misunderstandings. Could you talk about some of the myths involving Who Not What?
One leadership myth is that being inwardly sound strictly means having good character. That’s not true. Being inwardly sound is far more than that. Secondly, there’s a temptation to say that Who Not What has only recently become the best way to lead. Though it has become more culturally acceptable recently, it has actually always been the most effective way to lead.
Now that we know the principle of Who Not What, what are some practical takeaways from this leadership truth?
We can apply it as followers by choosing genuine leaders. Another place to apply this is by involving the Who in the nature of our conversations that are used to develop great future leaders.
This might explain the incredible emergence of executive coaches in that industry.
The Better than Average Effect means we generally see ourselves better than we are. So it is important to assess yourself with a leader you feel comfortable with. If you don’t have these conversations in the workplace, then you may need to reach out in the world of executive coaching.
What are some specific steps a person could take, if they are in an unhealthy work situation to become a better Who Not What leader?
Engage with the first Habitudes book, The Art of Self-leadership. To amp it up, take a book like that and walk through it with other people. Another possibility is to find a leader you trust to become a coach or mentor.