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Cracking the Leadership Code with Alain Hunkins


Alain Hunkins is a sought-after speaker, consultant, coach and Author of the #1 Amazon best-selling book, Cracking the Leadership Code.  In this episode you will learn about:

  • The brain science behind leading people
  • Real life leadership stories
  • The importance of “empathy:
  • How to communicate more effectively than ever before
  • The key components to crack the code

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Music: ” Upbeat Party ” by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA


Find out more about Alain and his work below:

Alain’s Website:

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Twitter: @alainhunkins

Cracking The Leadership Code


Full Transcript Below:




Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you.

Our special guest on today’s show is Amazon’s number one bestselling author, Alan Hunkins. Before we learn how to Crack The Leadership Code, it is The Leadership Hacker News.

The Leadership Hacker News

Steve Rush: In the news today, research provides evidence that leaders who are more mindful are more prone to forgiveness and that mindfulness exercises can actually facilitate a forgiving attitude and environment in the workplace. While there are so much studies focused on mindfulness is a relatively very little research and a potential impact that mindfulness can have. Author of the report, Johan Karremans, who studied the link between mindfulness and forgiveness, says this is just one of the small steps that we can take, and of course as leaders, forgiving people when they screw up is a really important element of helping people learn too. The difficulty in forgiving another person often lies in the process of immersing oneself in the emotions and thoughts about what’s happened; which indeed could add insult to injury. The research was completed over five separate studies with five hundred ninety two (592) people in total. Karremans and the researchers found that the people who agreed with the statement such as, “I perceive my feelings in emotions without having to react to them” and, “I am good at finding words to describe my feelings”, tended also to agree with statements such as, “I tend to get over it quickly when somebody hurts my feelings”. The research also found that listening to guided, mindful attention instructions led to higher levels of forgiveness regarding a past event. Mindfulness might not just be helpful in reducing stress and improving happiness, as often it is seen stereotypically, but it also may be able to foster better interpersonal relationships and one that is a bit more forgiving.

Findings also indicated that mindfulness is positively associated with forgiveness because of his association with empathy. In other words, more mindful people are also more likely to report being better at adopting the psychological point of view of others, which in turn links to height and forgiveness. So as leaders, I’d like to invite you to think about the next time one of your colleagues fails or has not achieved YET what they’re trying to achieve. I want you to consider how well equipped you are to deal with that situation and how mindful you are being at that time. Mindfulness is a really key component that should be in all leaders kit bags, being self-aware, being present in the now and focusing on what’s present is a key attribute for all great leaders. That has been The Leadership Hacker News. If you have any news or stories, funny things, anything that is happening in the world of leadership around here, please share it with us through our website or our social media sites.


Start of Interview

Steve Rush: I am joined on today show by, Alan Hunkins. He is a TEDx speaker. He is the author of the number one bestselling book on Amazon, Cracking The Leadership Code. He is also the Managing Director of the Hunkins Leadership Group. Alain welcome to our show.

Alain Hunkins: It is a pleasure to be with you today. Thanks so much, Steve, thanks.

Steve Rush: So hitting number one on the business communication sales in Amazon is just amazing. Congratulations, first and foremost.

Alain Hunkins: Thank you, thanks so much.

Steve Rush: So what is the back-story? How did you arrive at number one bestselling author? Share with us your back-story and tell the folks who are listening in, a little bit about what you have been up to.

Alain Hunkins: Yeah, sure. You know, it is funny looking backwards. You know, hindsight makes everything look 20/20 like it was a straight line. But on the journey, I never would have dreamed I would have ended up here, but if I had to look back and I see a common thread throughout my life, ever since I was like five years old. I have always been burning to answer the question, why do people do what they do. I am just fascinated by people, human behaviour and I was as a kid, I then moved into college. I studied some psychology. I also got very involved in theatre and actually went to an acting conservatory for graduate school, worked as a professional actor and as an actor. You’re obviously putting yourself under the microscope in terms of behaviour and learning a ton about that, then got involved in teaching in schools and then moving from leadership training with children in schools to doing training, work in organizations, leadership training across the world.

And so it’s been 25 years working with over 2000 groups in 25 countries, and so for me, what led to the book was as I continued to work with more and more people. I noticed that there were these patterns of behaviour that were emerging and not just patterns of what successful people did, but also patterns of what mediocre people did, were mediocre leaders doing. And so what I wanted to do was be able to capture those patterns and then categorize them and bring them to life through stories and examples and then look to the research that supported those stories and examples. And that’s what led to the book, so I started with a blog post, you know, a couple blogs and just going blog after blog after blog.

I started seeing these patterns in the blogs start to emerge, and those patterns became the chapters and what became the different parts of the book. So that’s what has led me on this journey and ultimately, it’s all about helping people to become better leaders and from my take, when I say leader, I’m not talking about a job title or position. To me, leadership is very much a state of mind and a state of being. The fact is every single one of us need to influence others in the world to try to get things done, and whenever you are in that role of influence, you are a leader.

Steve Rush: Yeah, I agree and in my experience, I have often been quoted around, “leadership is not a role – It is not a job title”. It is just a set of behaviours that you carry and that of course can be demonstrated at any age, right?

Alain Hunkins: Absolutely and those behaviours can be learned. That is the good news. Right? We can continue to learn those behaviours as we go.

Steve Rush: For sure, yeah. I was intrigued to look at your TED talk and what I noticed about your TED talk which intrigued me the most was the principal about, as a leader you always have a target. Tell us a little bit, about how that came about.

Alain Hunkins: Yeah, sure. Back and I would say 2002; I had this wonderful mentor I’m still in touch with named Jeff. Jeff and I would meet for lunch every month or so and talk shop about leadership and life and on this particular day back in 2002, we were finishing up lunch and Jeff hands me this gift wrapped box, a little gift. He says congratulations on last weekend. See the weekend before I just gotten certified to lead a very complex training. I had spent years preparing for, so this was just way of thanking me. So I opened up the gift and inside there is this t-shirt and the front of the shirt said leader. I was really touched because I really felt seen and acknowledged by Jeff in that moment because he was a mentor and kind of like a father figure to me. So I said, thanks so much, Jeff and then Jeff, he had this shining baldhead in the light. He got this impish grin on his face. He said now turn the shirt around. On the back of the shirt. Is this large archery target, right? So I’ll never forget what Jeff said next. He said, welcome to leadership. He said, as a leader, you are always a target. Now, if you are a great leader, you are the target of people’s hopes, their dreams, their aspirations, even their envy. But if you’re a lousy leader, you’ll be the target of their disappointment and their criticism and their blame. So what type of leader you are going to be? That is up to you, and I think what Jeff captured with his t-shirt is what I have come to understand. As you know, leaders are in the business of managing people’s perceptions. In everyone’s mind, we want to think that we are the best leader. We are effective. We are well communicating, etc. But that’s our own intention. That is not how we are being seen, and so we have to understand, we have to cross the gap between our own intentions and how the people that we choose to lead actually see us, so that’s the story of the leader target t- shirt.

Steve Rush: It is a super story and a great metaphor because ultimately, we will attract what we set out to attract and a lot of that, of course is unintentional, isn’t it?

Alain Hunkins: Oh, completely. You know, I think it starts unintentional. I think the work and the process of leadership development is learning how to make the unconscious conscious. And you do that in part by doing things and screwing up. Right. You make mistakes and go, oh, let’s not do that again. I mean, I can think of lots of mistakes that I have made along the way. I mean, just as a quick example, I just think early in my career I was really keen for a new position. I had been volunteering for an organization and the executive director role opened up, and so I decided I was going to put my hat in the ring and step up to be the new executive director. Except it was through an election process, and I assumed that I voted in because I had the most experience. I was the most qualified. I was the most committed in my mind. I was a shoo in and I had this opponent for the job, a guy named Gary but Gary was new. I thought there is no way he is going to get more votes than me.

So we show up on Election Day. I make the long story short. Final score was thirty-eight votes to six. I first impulses. Yes, I have crushed it. I have won, and then I realized, no, actually, Gary, the 38 votes and I got six, so I got crushed and so that was a great wakeup call. I mean a horrible mistake and I felt terrible about it at the time, but you know, over time and all these tuitions you pay into the school of life start to pay dividends, and so what I learned from that experience, especially in debriefing with Gary, was Gary actually reached out to people. He built relationships with them. I did not do any of that. I assume that what I believed in and what I deserved would be mine, so I basically came into leadership with a sense of entitlement and I think the sooner that we can lose that or learn that lesson, the better off we’re going to be. Because leadership is not about being entitled. It is not about being in charge. It is really about serving the people who are in your charge.

Steve Rush: So you talk about that quite a bit through the themes of your book. So let’s get into the Cracking The Leadership Code and unpick some of those themes that kind of reoccur. One of the things that really intrigued me when I read the book was the whole principle about why old school leadership stopped working. Most leaders these days will recognize that we have had to transition. We have new ways of working. There are new ways of helping lead and create followers and indeed create more leaders. What was your experience about how that presented itself for you?

Alain Hunkins: Yes, What is interesting because I think most of us would recognize that we need to shift and there’s got to be this new style of leadership. But what I found was not a lot of people are talking about is why. Why do we have to shift and where are we coming from? Where is the shift coming from? So I did some digging into the backstory of where the whole school of command and control leadership came from and it dates all the way back to the beginnings of the industrial age. So what I was fascinated by and I read some biographies of some of the biggest people at the time, one being a man named Frederick Winslow Taylor, who is considered the father of scientific management, which was all about. Okay, we now have factories. They had not existed before the beginning of the industrial revolution. How we are going to manage all the people in the factory. We’ve got hundreds of people like thousands of labourers. What are we going to do? And so he created this model that was all based on command and control, where literally and this has to do with the fact that 95 percent of the employees at the time were all doing the same repetitive manual labour.

So literally, it was management’s job to think and it was labour’s job just to shut up and do what they are told, and that mind-set, that command and control mind-set became the foundation, the template for how we lead. In fact, his book, Taylor’s book, The Principles of Scientific Management, became the core curriculum for the founding of Harvard Business School in 1911 and other business schools beyond that. And in fact, that book was voted the most influential management book of the 20th century in the year 2001. So realizing, oh, my gosh, we are all living out Taylor’s legacy for better and for worse. I mean, obviously, there were some upsides, but that only worked up to a very specific point. No one is working in that industrial age life anymore, so we obviously need to shift and the challenge is, while we’ve tried to make the shift, unfortunately, too many leaders are still working from this antiquated playbook that dates from the early to mid-20th century.

Steve Rush: …and what do you think stops people moving away from that old school autocratic style of leadership? What you think the key reasons could be?

Alain Hunkins: You know if I had to boil it down to one word, and that is tricky, but I would say the word is “ego”. There is something that we all get a little drunk on our own power and when people get into that role of authority, it is so easy to fall into the trap and I am sure we all heard it as kids because I am your dad that is why. I am your mom that is why. We just kind of wield authority because we have it.

Because, let’s face it, it takes a lot less effort to tell someone just shut up because I say so than it does to inquire and say, hey, what’s going on? I mean, I will give you an example. I remember when my son Alexander, who is now 16, when he was about three or four and we had to get out of the house. We were getting somewhere and as four year olds, want to do. He was having trouble getting his shoes and his pants and everything on to get dressed. Instead of doing the nice thing, I found myself getting a bit testy with him. Come on, we got to go. Come on kind of raising my voice. And he definitely responded to me with a big puddle of tears, and I felt horrible. And I remember debriefing this with my wife afterwards, and she said, yeah, well, in the moment you were trying to kind of move him along, she said, but what were you doing 20 minutes earlier? To make sure that you created an environment where he could succeed, and that lesson really struck with me, so I’d say the number one thing that so many of us default to is just go just do. Short term it is easier but if we continue to go with that power struggle, command and control, it is going to get in our way. So I’d say that’s the number one thing that, you know, it’s so easy to default to that, you know, they’ve said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, so we have to be really mindful that we don’t get too full of ourselves and our egos don’t get too inflated.

Steve Rush: Sure is a really good lesson, and of course it might get stuff done short term, but it’s never going to be sustainable and it’s certainly not going to create the right habits and the innovation that we need for the future, Right?

Alain Hunkins: Oh, completely. I mean, that is why there is a huge difference between. If your goal as a leader at most compliance. Yeah, go ahead. Command and control all day. You will get compliance to a point. If people are desperate for a paycheck, you will get compliance. Now, granted, if they have alternatives, like many people do today with LinkedIn and Glassdoor, they’re going to find the grass greener somewhere else but if you want compliance, command, control, but you’re never going to get people’s engagement. You are never going to get their commitment. If you operate from that mind-set for sure.

Steve Rush: Another key part of Cracking The Leadership Code for you was empathy, and it’s one that really strikes home for me because I’ve studied this too.

Alain Hunkins: Yeah.

Steve Rush: …and in fact, a part of my book, Leadership Cake the “E” in the Cake is empathy, and you call this the basis of connection. What is the reason you focus on that as part of cracking the code?

Alain Hunkins: Oh, my gosh. I mean, it is so important. Empathy to me is the basis of connection and by the way, the subtitle of the book are The Three Secrets to Building Strong Leaders. And those three secrets are connection, communication and collaboration. So empathy for me is the basis of connection because at its core, what is leadership? To me, at its core, leadership is a relationship between two human beings and the most human and basic of connections is empathy and briefly defined empathy is showing people you understand them and that you care how they feel. I mean, Theodore Roosevelt said it very well. He said people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And until we feel valued and recognized, it’s really hard to do anything else and I think particularly in the middle of this coronavirus pandemic, this need for empathy and human to human connection is more apparent than ever. I mean, everyone is, you know, socially isolating, social distancing. We are hungry for connection, and so to skip through that and think that we can somehow proceed with business as usual is ridiculous. I mean, this is such an opportunity for leaders at all levels to reach out and connect with other people or maybe the most valuable thing you can do right now is to stop and hold space for people and say, how are you feeling right now? What is on your mind? How can I support you? And those three questions with the power of just listening and being able to hold that for people is incredibly, incredibly powerful and helpful.

Steve Rush: That is right, and now more than ever, people are seeking understanding. They are seeking that their view of the world; they want people to understand, what it really feels like for them and of course, that is the core tenants of empathy, isn’t it?

Alain Hunkins: Oh, completely and also and I can’t remember where I saw this in the last couple of weeks, but I saw this around the pandemic. Is realizing that, yes, we are all having this shared collective experience and that while we are all in the same storm. We’re not all in the same boat realizing that different people are dealing with the situation in many different ways, whether that’s health wise, whether that’s financially wise, whether that’s just quality of life and living at home wise. So having some empathy, understanding that, yeah, we are not all the same, though, we can connect and relate to each other. The fact is, I don’t need to know every single thing about you and be exactly like you, Steve, to understand and care about your experience. It is the most human of elements for us to be able to have.

Steve Rush: It is so true of course.

Alain Hunkins: Sure.

Steve Rush: Originally, you know, fifty thousand years ago when we lived in caves and our language was not particularly well informed, it was still having that core understanding of how the people felt and behaved. That created that community that existed even back then.

Alain Hunkins: Oh, yeah, for sure and that is back then, our world was probably limited to about one hundred and fifty other people, and that was about it.

Steve Rush: Sure.

Alain Hunkins: Just think about how we are now connected at this global scale. It is really tremendous.

Steve Rush: So if I have a leader who is listening in to us speak today and they maybe having some challenges in communicating with the people they work with ,or the team, and of course communication, helps build empathy. How do we go about cracking the communications code?

Alain Hunkins: Yeah, so communication is trickier than it looks. You know, the fact is the human default setting, again, because we are all different, is that we all hear things and understand things in our own way, so the first step to becoming a better communicator is to recognize that we don’t communicate for communication sake. That the goal of communication is to create shared understanding between all parties involved, and the reason that is so important is because shared understanding becomes the platform from which we take all future action. So if we have 100 percent accurate understanding, we can make better decisions and get better results. If we have poor understanding. We are going to make poor decisions and get poor results, so some things that we want to do. First of all, knowing that misunderstanding just happens. It is like bacteria in the water. It does not mean to harm you. It is just there. You got to filter it out. We have to learn how to filter misunderstandings out of the environment, so in the book I go through six core actions you can take. I will just share a couple with you today, so one action you can take to create understanding is first have a very clear central message and put it out upfront. Be explicit, it should be no more than eight words, tops and it should basically be the summary of exactly what it is you’re trying to say.

How many of us get emails, and the subject line doesn’t relate at all, to what it says and then you are fishing through and going, what does this all mean? And you read through paragraph. We all know those people. You know some of us try. Some of us just hit delete. Right. We do have time for it. All of which to say is the more that you can clarify your central message, the more people can understand what is even the field that we are playing in. I have read some studies that somewhere between only 10 percent and 20 percent of what we share in terms of content actually gets remembered. So by having a clear central message, we can make sure that people are walking away with the right 10 or 20 percent as opposed to their own version of that 10 or 20 percent, so that’s one key thing. Another key aspect to communication is what I call asking for a receipt, and what I mean by that is that communication can never be one way. In fact, it needs to be three ways that we put it out there, so we share what we want to say, and then someone should come back and say, this is my understanding of what you said.

And then the third way is back to that person. Say, yes, you’ve got a right or no, you don’t and here’s why. Right, so it is that back and forth. In fact, a great example of asking for a receipt comes from the fast food industry. So back in the 1980s, the fast food industry had some real problems with her whole drive thru process. Was very, very common for customers to drive up to the intercom, place their order, and then they drive up to the window to pick up their food order and to be filled with mistakes, and this went on consistently throughout the industry for years, and then suddenly the mistake rates just started to plummet. You might be wondering, well, what do they do, where they change? What new technology do they introduce? It was actually really simple. What happened was after the customer would place the order; the employees started repeating the order back. So if I get that right. Let me just check this, please. Its two hamburgers, one cheeseburger, two orders of French fries and three Coca-Cola. Is that right? Right, so it is something as simple as that to confirm the understanding. Now, what is amazing is so many of us have meetings on a daily basis with other people, and then the meeting ends like, okay, Is everyone clear what we’re doing? Great, and we just go off, but we have never stopped and explicitly and overtly confirmed what it is that we say we are going to do. And look, if a Taco Bell franchise will do this for a ninety nine cent taco. Don’t you think that our own decisions, our actions and our own businesses are worth the same level of quality? So asking for a receipt is another very simple, practical thing you can do to improve your level of communication effectiveness.

Steve Rush: Love that, super. Any other nuggets of communication code cracking you can share?

Alain Hunkins: Yeah, another really useful one is the idea of making all of your implicit assumptions explicit. The fact is human beings are good at many things, but mind reading is not one of them, and so if you’ve ever caught yourself saying something like, well, I sent the email, they should know what to do or doesn’t senior management realize what a stupid process this is? That is really clear in your mind, but no one else is living there except you, and so whether it’s something like checking in to see, are there questions that people need clarification on? For example, this is a really good time to make your explicit assumptions around. So we are all working remotely now from home. What is our expectations about how often we are going to communicate? And when are we going to communicate and how? So are we going to be doing this all via email? Are we using slack? Are we using text? Are we using WhatsApp or using Zoom?

This is a great time to step back and be really clear with the people around us. What are the right modes of communication? What is urgent look like? You know, urgent might mean I get back to you within one minute, five minutes, eight hours, and 24 hours. What does that mean? It means different things in different contexts, and so we can’t just assume that we’re all on the same page. Right, so clearly, when we don’t have those things aligned, it creates conflict, creates conflict at work. It creates conflict in marriages and in families, with friends, so the more we can clarify and make our implicit assumptions explicit, the more clear and effective our communication will become.

Steve Rush: Those are super hacks, thank you for sharing those.

Alain Hunkins: Sure.

Steve Rush: My experience also tells me that you have to practice this; this is not something that is going to come natural to you because we all have our own way of communicating. Which is often very different from other people based on their experiences and their belief systems and so on. So it does take practice, right?

Alain Hunkins: Oh, completely. All of this takes practice. These are all skills, and the way any practice works is you start and then you try it, and then the key to all of it is to be intentional. Right, so if you look at the power of habit formation, you know, there is some mythic studies that say it takes 21 days to create a habit. Actually, it can vary. That is not actually true at all, but if you want to develop a habit, what we do know is that you do need to start somewhere. Right and so today is as good a day as any. So pick whatever you think will give you the biggest bang for your proverbial buck and pick something and then find ways to build some successes into your habit. So don’t try to climb Mt. Everest all in one day. Just take one-step at a time. So, for example, if your habit is you want to work on cultivating the habit of appreciating someone, just think, okay, today, can I be intentional? Who is one person that I can appreciate or thank in a very explicit way? And then tomorrow practice it again, and then maybe the day after I’ll say I’ll do two people and just continue to build that until it feels like it’s happening on muscle memory. So if you think about high performance athletes or great musicians, when you see them performing, they’re not thinking, they’re just responding because they’ve got so much muscle memory that is built into that, and in some ways, the practices and skills of leadership are no different. We want to be able to make this automatic and intuitive, and so when we are doing it, it looks like it is the easiest thing in the world, but all that easiness comes out of a lot of practice and hard work.

Steve Rush: And repeat and repeat and repeat until we’ve got that muscle memory, that tactile foundation, that means that you just don’t get it wrong anymore.

Alain Hunkins: Exactly, and then also, a great way to check in with that is to ask for feedback from other people. In fact, I would say and you can call this a hack, but the number one thing that I think will help you to accelerate your leadership development is to get honest, constructive feedback from people who will give you the truth about how are you showing up. And so ask for the good, ask for the bad, ask to the ugly, and then when you get that feedback, don’t defend it. Don’t try to justify or blame or any of that stuff. Just say thank you. Thank you for the feedback, and then as you ask more and more people, you will see some patterns start to emerge. You know, when nine people start telling me, hey, Alain, you know, you can come across kind of rude and directive when you are under stress. It is nine against one, even though I think I am not rude, I am not arrogant. Well, nine people are saying that maybe it is time for me to stop and listen. Right, so being able to get feedback is a great and probably the most useful tool to accelerate your leadership development.

Steve Rush: It sure is, and you don’t have to like it, but you do have to listen.

Alain Hunkins: Yeah, I like what you said about it, but you don’t have to like it. You know, I think what you are touching on. I like to say that leaders need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable in so many situations like that. You know, it is not going to feel pleasant. It is not nice all the time, but if you are not stretching and growing, you are not learning. And so part of that growth goes out of your comfort zone to the discomfort zone. By its nature, the learning zone is not all comfortable. So go for it and grow. Like you said for sure.

Steve Rush: In your book Alain you talk about, motivation as being in search for the magic pill. Is it really a magic pill?

Alain Hunkins: Arrrgh… there is a search for the magic pill but the great secret to motivation is there is no magic pill, and so it is interesting how some people tend to have their go to’s to think, oh, this is what motivates people. In fact, I often tell the story about the famous film director Alfred Hitchcock, and a Hitchcock was known for his disdain of actors. In fact, he was quoted as saying all actors are cattle. Right, and then later on in his life, a journalist said to him, is that true? You said all actors are cattle. He said, no, I was misquoted. I never said all actors were cattle. What I said was all actors should be treated like cattle. Right, so it turns out 1965 Hitchcock was working on a movie called Torn Curtain, and the leading actor in the movie, Paul Newman, who at the time had been nominated for two Academy Awards, was already a bona fide Hollywood star, and Hitchcock and Newman were working on this. And Newman was a method actor, and he really like to get into his character very deeply and Hitchcock just wanted him to find his spot and read his lines, and so Newman came to Hitchcock one day and said, But, you know, Mr. Hitchcock, what’s my motivation in this scene? And Hitchcock said, Everything you need to know is in the script, and Newman came back, as you know, he’s Paul Newman is, you know, pretty defined.

He is going to say what he said, honest mind. No, but really, what is my motivation? And the story goes that Hitchcock turns to Newman and says, you motivation. Mr. Newman is your salary. Right, so the idea there being that Hitchcock is operating from that old school. I am giving you money. Shut up and do your job. Well, money motivates some people in some situations, but it is not a one size fits all solution for motivation.

Steve Rush: All right.

Alain Hunkins: And so in the book I go to through the whole section on motivation is basically humans are all operating with some basic fundamental human needs and there’s different models of human needs. But in the book, I go through four broad places of human need, that people have a need for safety. People have a need for energy. People have a need for purpose, and people have a need for ownership. And what I go into depth and we can talk about some of these and you can decide which ones to talk about, Steve, is that there are things that we can do, some hacks as leaders, tips and tools and skills we can have to help people to get those needs met. And while we can’t directly motivate anyone else, what we can do is we can create the conditions where motivation is more likely to happen, where people can motivate themselves.

Steve Rush: And there has been lots of studies over the last 10 years about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation, but when it comes specifically to ownership, how does that play out?

Alain Hunkins: So if we think about it, ownership. So the idea of ownership. I love to use this example often, which is like if you have ever rented a car, which many people have in some point in their life. When is the last time you took your rental car to a car wash? Right. No one has ever taken there. Right. Why would you. You would never take a rental car because it is not yours. It is somebody else’s to take care of, so the sense of ownership is that you want people to be able to own solutions, own their own challenges and if we operate from the idea that as the leader, it’s our job to fix things and give advice and jump in and help people to get things done. What is going to do? It’s been to create at a certain point a system of learned helplessness, where in some ways it’s like where the parent and they are the child. So one of the things that if you want to build a sense of ownership in people, one thing is ask them to step up.

And I’ll give you a classic example of this. Actually, this came up this a couple of weeks ago. So one of my clients is a man named Peter who owns a small business, and Peter was really distraught because through all of what’s been going on with the economic downturn, with the coronavirus pandemic, is he’s looking at the financials. He is like; there is no way we can move forward with the whole company. I am have to lay off about 50 percent of the company, and he was struggling and struggling with how am I going to do this? How is going to be equitable and fair? And I said to Peter, I said, Peter, you don’t have to go with the answers. Do you ever think that maybe you should just be honest and share your challenges with the company? So he did. He actually did a companywide Zoom Call. Explained, was very transparent about the financials, and the amazing thing was. The company just innovated and came up with these solutions that Peter never would have come up with, that involved people doing some job share, some people deciding they were going to take unpaid vacation or time off, and they created a solution where they didn’t have to lay anybody off, but again. It is an example of the reason that happened is because Peter asked, and so it is a great example. If you want people to take ownership, create an environment where they’re in charge of what they can be in charge of, and then see how you can support them to create their solutions and then to implement them.

Steve Rush: By giving control to those people; it makes it more collaborative and therefore you create more ownership. Right?

Alain Hunkins: Oh, absolutely. Right, because when you create collaboration and ownership, what you give people is a sense of autonomy. I love Daniel Pink in towards the book. He’s got this fabulous book. You are pretty familiar with it, it called Drive.

Steve Rush: Sure, yeah.

Alain Hunkins: In Daniel Pink’s Drive. Pink talks about the three major drivers of motivation. Right, so there’s mastery that people get better at what they’re doing, that there’s autonomy, there’s freedom to do what they want and also purpose that what they do matters. Bigger than themselves, and so this sense of ownership really ties deeply into the sense of both autonomy and mastery, is that when people own what they’re doing, they can see how they can make progress towards it as well as they have this freedom to create things as they see fit.

I have yet to meet a single person who has ever said to me, wow, you know, I had this amazing leader and, you know, I loved about the most is the way they would micromanage me. Said no one ever so recognizing. Right, so recognizing that autonomy and mastery are keys to ownership. Yeah.

Steve Rush: So usually this part of the show Alain. We will start to hack into your mind to look for your top three hacks. Now you’ve shared bunches of superb hack, ideas and thoughts that will start to get the grey matter working with our listeners. But if you had to nail your top three leadership hacks, what would they be?

Alain Hunkins: All right. Hack number one, and this has to do with becoming more credible. Simple, simple, simple. Show up on time. Right, does not really get simpler than that. Yet maybe the most important thing, you know, they say that 80 percent of life is showing up because let’s face it, timeliness is the easiest thing in the world to measure. You’re either there or you’re not. So hack number one. Show up on time.

Hack number two. Listen, so much of everything that we have talked about around communication and around connection and empathy boils down to. Are you listening to understand? Are you listening to tick a box? And the goal of listening should be to truly and deeply try to see the world through somebody else’s eyes, to hear things through their ears. To step into their shoes, so hack number two is start cultivating a listening habit. And I’d say hack number three, read, you know, learn something new as much as you can. I have found that all great leaders are great readers. So whether that is audio books or actual books or Kindle books, read and learn, because there so much out there, I feel the more that I learn, the less I know, because the world is a big place, and we live in a time where there is so much information that is accessible to you so easily. And if you’re not taking advantage of, somebody else’s is, so learn, read and lead. Hack number three.

Steve Rush: Great stuff, so if we were to now start thinking about what we affectionately call now as The Hack to Attack. This is a time in your life, where maybe things have not worked out well, you may have screwed up, but we are now using that lesson as part of our life’s work. What would you hack to attack be, Alain?

Alain Hunkins: Sure, so my hack to attack is recognizing the power of authentic, vulnerable communication. And I’ll tell you, when I learned that was when I got curse out in front of a room of 300 flight attendants, so I will tell you the story on this, so I was working with a group of 300 flight attendants in Chicago. It was a two-day customer service training and I was both the master of ceremonies as well as one of the lead designers for the training. And I was getting ready to kick things off on the first morning, and before we were getting started, the audience was filling in. I was just walking around in the crowd getting to know people and found out that people were literally coming from around the world, and so there were some people from the UK, there were some people from the US, there were people from Europe. There was a table that had flown in all the way from Japan. They were up in the front, and one person said to me, oh, look, we literally just flew in from Japan all night. So if we fall asleep in the front, please don’t take it personally, because the Asian table up here, we’re really tired, so I meet with everybody and then it’s time to get started, and so as we start, I welcome everybody to our training. And I’m telling everyone, thank you so much for coming in from around the world, and we have people from the UK, from the US. Up here, we have the Asian table, and so I go on and on with this, and then about five minutes after I am designed to start, I am going to be interrupted by a marching band. Now, this is all pre-planned.

I know this is coming, so five minutes in, the marching band comes in. Boom, they go off, do their thing, so while they’re doing their thing, the guy that two tables back in the audience raises his hand and he asked me to come over. I walk over to him while the band is playing. And he says to me, who the F do you think you are? So he does not say f, he actually says the word. Who the F do you think you are? I am like, I am sorry. You call yourself a leader. You are a racist. I am like what, and he starts cursing me.

Who the f do you think you are? You call that the Asian table. What kind of racist are you? You would not call that the N-word table. Except he did not say the N-word table. He actually said the N-word, and he just coming on and on at me. And at this point, you can imagine my brain has exploded out of my head and I’m just trying to keep my balance, not fall over, because I’m getting curse at in front of this entire room. This is going on.

Steve Rush: Right, yeah.

Alain Hunkins: And I managed to after properly, I have no idea how much….it might have been half a minute or a minute. I managed to extricate myself from this guy, and I go back to the back of the room where my colleague Cynthia’s back there, and I said, Cynthia, the band is about to stop playing in about three minutes. I just got totally cursed at. What comes next? Where are we? What are we doing? Like, literally, I had a complete amygdala hijack where my brain was just not functioning, and she said, okay, we are in Chicago. We are with a group of flight attendants. This is a customer service training. Oh, okay. Thank you, so I went back up on stage and I knew I had about 30 seconds left and I did not have a clue as to how I was going to handle this. This was not in my playbook. I was not expecting this at all, and so what I ended up doing was as the band finished, I just turned to the audience and just spoke from my heart, and I said, folks, before we go further, I just need to say I know today and tomorrow is all about customer service. And sometimes in customer service, things get screwed up and you have to make a customer service recovery. Well, this is one of those moments.

Before we go further, I need to apologize. I said some things earlier that some people found really offensive and if that’s true, I’m really, really sorry. That was not my intention. That is not what I meant to do. That is not why I am here, and I practically broke down in tears saying all this to them. I was just really horrified that anyone could ever think that of me. I said, so if you want to talk to me off line or during anything, please let me know, so the amazing thing as I finished all that Steve was, you know, I let it go and I thought it was all done, and we continued on with the training, but over the next two days. Out of that three hundred people, literally twenty five, must have come to me and said, I just want to come over and tell you how much I appreciated how real you were with us, because, you know, we go through a lot of these kind of things at work and you being that authentic made such a difference. And it was from all of the consistent feedback. Again, twenty-five people all coming up to me saying some variation of that same thing, so what I learned there was when I let my guard down, I show up in a much more powerful way, because up until that point, I think I still was relying on all of my bells and whistles and shiny. You know, I am a performer. I can make this all happen. I can do a good job, and I was afraid of letting people see kind of what I call the vulnerable, the less than perfect me. And I think, you know, as leaders, if we can let our guard down, if we can take off the superhero cape and let people see that we’re human like them, it actually makes us stronger. I know it is a paradox, but it actually takes a lot of courage to be that vulnerable and when you do that, You never know who you’re inspiring.

Steve Rush: And what a great lesson, and if it wasn’t for that individual being quite foul mouthed and cussing at you, maybe that wouldn’t have informed your future operating style in the way it has.

Alain Hunkins: Yeah, absolutely. I guess, and you know, all these things, you never know when the teacher will appear, I look back on that, and I am super grateful for the lesson and like we said earlier, was it comfortable? Absolutely not. It was horrible at the time but there is definitely some gold to be mined from all of that to mine.

Steve Rush: One or two more final nuggets from you Alain. I would like us to think about doing some time travel now; and I’m going to ask you to time travel back to when you were 21 and bump into Alain at 21. What advice would you be giving Alain then?

Alain Hunkins: I love this question. I love, love, love this question. I thought long and hard about this. And for me, when I was 21, I was still so much caught up in the idea that talent and merit will speak for itself, and what I didn’t realize is that the world is made up of human beings who seek and crave relationship. But I would have told 21 year old Alain is you need to build and sustain relationships. I look back; I have friends from high school and college who were really close and I did not maintain those friendships. I did not maintain those relationships, and I look back to the beginning of my work career and I thought the work itself would be enough and I had later in life. It was a lesson that I had to learn. I would say in some ways the hard way is that keep building relationships and no go to the people who energize you. And if they energize you, let them know that in whatever way you want and continue to cultivate ways to stay in touch and have those, because I find the older I get, the more important those relationships matter. And if I take that at a really kind of meta level that I think, you know, I’m now 51 and I’m what I consider on the downslope of this journey of my physical being. What am I going to take with me when I am done in this life? It boils down to it is the quality of those relationships, so I would say to the 21 year old, cultivate, sustain, maintain and nurture those relationships because they’re the most valuable things in the world.

Steve Rush: That is Super advice and still relevant for most people who are listening today.

Alain Hunkins: Yeah.

Steve Rush: So let’s think about how the folk listening to the show today can get hold of a copy of The Cracking The Leadership Code and more importantly, get to know a little bit more about the work that you’re doing Alain.

Alain Hunkins: Yeah, for sure. So if people want to learn more about me in the book, The Easiest Place, because my name is difficult to spell. I have a different URL for the book, but you can find me from there too, so it is That will take you right to the book page. While you are there, you can download chapter one of the book to get a little free sample and preview of what it is all about and from there that links right to my webpage, which is so you can go there. You are also welcome to link with me on LinkedIn, which is Alain, A-L-A-I-N. Hunkins, H-U-N-K-I-N-S and obviously I do work in the fields of leadership coaching both one on one and group and organizational, as well as leadership development training and speaking. People can find out all about those things and be in touch if they are interested.

Steve Rush: What we will also do is include those links to our show notes and on our Website, so as soon as folks finish listening to this, they can go ahead, click on the links and learn more about you.

Alain Hunkins: Fantastic.

Steve Rush: So only leads me to say a massive thanks Alain. We have had a super time talking and listening to some of the stories. Again, a huge congratulations on the success of Cracking The Leadership Code and I just want to say personally a huge thank you for being on The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

Alain Hunkins: Oh, thank you, Steve. It has been an absolute delight being with you here today, really. Really a pleasure, so thank you so much.



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