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Keys to effective leadership with Don Bailey

Why does an individual's fitness for leadership depend on their relationship to adversity? Why is trust so important to leaders – and how do they consciously harm it? In this podcast section, head coach Don Bailey shares keys to effective leadership that everyone should know about, from start level to C-suite.


  • Everyone within an organization needs leadership skills, but culture will dictate whether they really develop or not develop these skills.
  • Ego is a common obstacle to effective leadership while openness, humility and trust contribute to high performance leadership capacity.
  • Trust is the foundation of leadership, and it depends on both character and competence. Confidence can also be destroyed when there is a gap between the written and unwritten rules of an organization – what you say and what you do.
  • High-performing leaders have a constructive, positive relationship with adversity and can reap insights from their failures to become a better leader.

Keys to Effective Leadership, with Don Bailey

Welcome back to the Accenture Insurance Influencer podcast. In our last section we introduced Don Bailey from Bristlecone, a coaching, consulting and leadership company . Don Bailey shone a light on the insurance industry's leadership challenges.

In this section, we will take a closer look at what leadership is – and not. Let's start with Don's definition of leadership.

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

You have defined what leadership means to you, and I find it interesting that it does not necessarily focus on what leadership looks like. By that, I mean that when people think of leadership, it is a stereotype of an extrovert, charismatic, heroic and often masculine figure. How do we get past the stereotype?

I spent a lot of time thinking about it and I think your question really makes a good statement about some of our views on leadership. We have this clearly masculine view of it. A core part of what Bristlecone does is to work with female managers and how they navigate what is largely a man's landscape and r ules often written by men, for men . In it can be a very challenging dynamic.

T He neuroscientific world teaches us that effective leaders are not necessarily the big, bold, masculine, confident personalities. The world of neuroscience teaches us that effective leaders are great listeners, are empathetic in correct proportions. Are coaches, are mentors. They ask big questions. W hat's interesting is that so much that effective leadership is what we would often tie to more feminine qualities .

I think it is good for one industry —insurance – that is too long overdue to close the gender gap and to push more women into senior leaders, C-suites and board positions.

I will push it just a little bit, Don, because I know that sometimes, when women take leadership roles, if they behave like men , they are perceived as intrusive. While trying to set their own standard for what leadership looks like – listening empathy and what not – these qualities may not necessarily be recognized as strengths. They can in fact be perceived as weaknesses.

Can you talk about how to navigate there? Not just for women, but perhaps for people who historically have not come from the demographic that is made up of leaders. How do you show your leadership ability in a world that judges you in some way?

It is interesting because we are often challenged by the environments in which we operate. There are certain cultures that are much more supportive and promote everything we are talking about right now. And there are other cultures that just emit.

What I want to highlight, however, is that it is a balance. I think, on the one hand, that you have to recognize the environment you work in and you cannot work in a way that is completely foreign to that environment. I would also say that you must actually be disruptive if you are going to make progress.

So agreeing and playing by man's rules, sometimes, yes, can cause some friction and may send things along the way in the wrong way. I think it is a balance between playing the game, understanding the rules – but also being yourself, working with authenticity, with integrity. And in this case for a woman in the workplace, leaning to the innate skills that you have as a listener, as a great questioner, as a more empathetic personality.

Don, I want to clarify who may be the leader. Is leadership something that applies to every individual within an organization?

It does. It really does. Everyone must lead within an organization . C ulture dictate s whether they really do or not.

You make the difference, which is a real difference, between leadership and leadership. There are very few leaders in the world but there here there are many managers in the world, especially in large, upper middle, large organizations. The classic definition of boss: control of people or process. And if you go back to art and science for inspiration, my definition of leadership, those two things, it's jet engines and light bulbs. There are two completely different disciplines.

Often, the difference is not widespread enough within organizations. All too often eople says "Oh, our leaders, oh our bosses," and they see these as interchangeable constructions and they really aren't.

We must release leadership within the organization and let –– strengthen –– the middle management to work with more freedom, more flexibility, more creativity, more innovation . B because they have the answers. They are in the front line, they are closer to the business, they are closer to the people they are closer to the clients.

In your experience, what are common barriers to effective leadership?

We talk about everyone having an ego and the self plays an important role for all of us.

The challenge is that you are a house and your ego is not the house. Your ego is permanently residing in your house and the ego must have a nice room on the second floor at the end of the corridor. The ego should not be laid out in the garden. People should not come to your house and go, "Oh, that's the self. I'm confronted with this. "So the ego goes over the stairs, the second floor, the end of the hall. Good. The doorbell rings. You will hear the ego's step coming down the corridor and trying to get down the stairs. You have to hit the ego at the step to say:" No, no "No. I can do this. You can go back to your room."

And so much of what I work with when I'm working with a new client just trying to Understand the presence of the ego and where it lives. With some people it is right in the garden and it is not a pleasant thing to get in touch with. But if that is what I meet, it is what their direct reports and their colleagues meet.

In these cases I try to share some books and other references on the context of the ego and how it should exist in our lives. I I am a permanent resident, should have a nice and comfortable place on the second floor and it would be engaged when needed – but not always.

They t is a fantastic analogy, Don. It is thinking of a messy garage sale, or maybe a lemonade stand, depending on the inclination of your ego. So ego is one of the biggest obstacles to leadership. What factors contribute to successful, effective leadership?

Openness and humility. It's something we start with in all our coaching commitments, is an assessment of openness and humility. If there is no openness and humility, we really will not get that far.

The ego likes to tell us we are fine. The ego likes to tell us that everything is good, that we are incredibly capable, that we are better than we are, that it is the fault of other people. I am challenged when someone says maybe you can get better, you may not see yourself exactly who you are, you may not really understand your brand within the organization. And if we made progress with all of these, you can really be a highly influential leader in this organization and in this industry for many years to come. It would be a game changer.

I It is interesting to me that the greatest, most powerful leaders I sometimes have are the ones who are the most open and humble. Sometimes you come down a little and you have people who are a little more closed.

There are perceptions that it is not OK to be open and humble when it comes to leadership conversations. So the more we can demystify this conversation and remove that stigma from people and just leave them vulnerable to say, "I don't always know what I'm doing; I don't always know how to get involved in the room; I don't always know how to drive change; I do not always know how to lead the team through adversity, the better we will be. So openness and humility are really key.

A nother concept that is important is trust. For me, how fast can I get any confidence that we can actually trigger the openness and humility that really allows them to flourish and flourish as leaders.

Can you talk about the role of trust in being a leader?

Confidence is really that foundation, right? It's something we talk a lot about at Bristlecone. And we want to define it.

Definition, trust: positive predictability. When you have a relationship with an institution person or leader (in this case) where you have positive predictability, you are very likely to know that this person will deliver, will act, will engage in a certain way and it will be in a positive way. It is a definition of trust.

W e create trust —or destroy it, frankly in two ways. Our character can create or destroy confidence and our skills can create or destroy confidence.

  • C haracter . H onesty, integrity, authenticity . T here are things we can show that can inspire great confidence in an organization. There is also o vulnerability, another character-based trust creator.
  • knowledge . Leaders create trust when we are perceived know what we are doing. When we are perceived to be competent in developing a plan, implementing a plan, implementing a plan.

P ositive predictability is, I believe, the core of every leader's effectiveness within an organization, and we create and destroy it based on our character and competence.

I It is important to understand the destruction part of trust as well, as there are many behaviors that "leaders" engage in each day that honestly serve to destroy the trust they have with the organization. And being aware of this is critically important when it comes to being a leader with high impact.

What are some examples of things that people do to destroy that trust?

One of the great ones we are talking about is the written and unwritten rules of any organization.

In If you think of an organization that you may have worked in, there are what we call written and unwritten rules. T He wrote rules tend to be fairly straightforward. These are the rules that every executive leader would stand up and talk about in a stump speech. That would be what they would talk about with external stakeholders. Then there are the unwritten rules. The unwritten rules tend to be the reality of how the place works tend to be what people lean on more than the written rules.

An example of might be, the written rules say we want leaders who are innovative and creative and disrupt the status quo – and the unwritten rule is that these people do not do well. The unwritten rule is that the people who keep their heads down, the people who maintain the status quo, the people who are not too distracting, the people who do well are the ones who are promoted.

W hat happens are these unwritten rules dictate the behavior and finally the culture of an organization. T hatred destroys trust within an organization much wider, and especially for the leader who supports the unwritten rules and speaks the written rules. That gap is what is a destroyer of trust within an organization.

I because someone came to you with that situation, where do they have these unwritten rules to keep their heads down and was this new leader introduced just to create change? What are some ways they can manage that gap in a way that does not destroy trust, which builds trust?

T here are many very interesting change models out there that talk about how change happens in an organization. One of the things that a leader must do when entering an organization to create change is to first understand the dynamics of change within the organization. And I would tell you that in addition to the confidence talk we just had, the leader as a change agent is a basic skill for all leaders in the 2000s.

In in connection with this issue, we must also talk about how change is blocked within an organization. Sometimes it is change fatigue : “ We seem to announce change all the time. Nothing seems to ever gain momentum or sustain itself. So that fatigue is a blocker to change.

There is also something that neuroleadership has posted there called the SCARF model . Change threatens people's sense of:

  • Status
  • Security
  • Autonomy
  • Family, or community feeling
  • Fairness [19659197] The SCARF model explains a lot about why no one wants to change: because they perceive this threat of change in one of these SCARF elements.

    As a leader, when you join an organization it is important to ask many questions and understand people's beliefs – because their beliefs drive the current behavior. And until you change their beliefs, you can't actually create any lasting change in their organization. These beliefs will be protected with these SCARF elements.

    For example the change I am about to announce will threaten some people's sense of status. I have to know, I have to think about it. I have to engage these colleagues with an understanding of this and a discussion – an open, transparent discussion of it before we go into change. Too often we just announce where we are going and these SCARF elements stay where we have been. And understanding why change happens, why change doesn't happen, what blockers should change within an organization, is crucial for a leader going forward.

    In the first section of our conversation, you said that you gained a lot of your leadership skills through failures and shortcomings. I think it is very scary for some people that you have to fail to become a leader. And failure may not be something that is welcome within some organizations. Can you comment on how to navigate it?

    We can come back to some of these written and unwritten rules. You have the written rules that say failure is good. Fail fast. You have a lot of neat, agile phrases about the power of failure within the organization. These are the written rules. Unwritten rules are often, you can't fail. You should not fail. You will be seen differently if you fail. And again, we have to close that gap.

    Failure is a fascinating thing. It scares people. People really do not believe that failure is beneficial. And that's the way of thinking.

    Much has been written now about fixed ways of thinking, growth thoughts. So the fixed mindset that our skills, abilities and intellect are largely fixed – that's what they are and y cannot change these things. The growth is that our knowledge, abilities and intellect can actually develop. It won't make Don Bailey Albert Albert Einstein, but it could be better. In t can be developed. I can be a better version of myself – skill set, attributes, intelligence – tomorrow than I am today.

    Failure is required for growth. The mindset of growth embraces failure as something useful. They see failure as an opportunity and not as a threat. It is made to be the core of what drives people.

    I want to ask my coaching clients, "What is your relationship with adversity?" And until you find a constructive, positive mindset with setbacks, you will not get to the next level. You will not reap the insights from these failures and become the better leader tomorrow.

    So within an organization, how do you promote or support failure, when failure can be very expensive?

    It is a that provides a balance. I am talking about a normal distribution curve. You have a flat part of the curve on the left, and then you have this larger mass in the middle and then a flat part at the end. So this normal distribution curve, I look at failure that way.

    If we work on the tail on the left side, which means there is very little to no failure in the organization, that is a problem, it will not go well. This means that we do not take enough risk. We do not challenge ourselves. We will not go outside our comfort zones. Not good.

    Flipside, if you go to the far right of the normal distribution curve and you look at the data that is there at the far end: too much error, far too much failure. Big problem. This will not work. We fail every day. Everyone fails. There is no good end to that dynamic either.

    So : too little, not good. Too much, not good. We must spend time in the part of the curve where we balance failure and success. That's the only way it works.

    You mentioned beliefs and ways of thinking as part of being a good leader. It sounds like a big part of becoming a leader actually starts with changing yourself. And change is never easy – at least I haven't met anyone who really likes it. So how does that inner journey change when someone goes from capable leader to high performance leader?

    Effective leadership is strongly correlated with the leader's relationship to adversity. Adversity, as we always say, either just left us or is about to find us sometime in the future.

    There is no such thing as a journey without resistance. So the key for leaders is to take a look at their relationship to adversity. Examine their relationship to adversity, as that is the answer to this question.

    W hatred we have learned is that the learning we have, the insight we gain from a leadership standpoint comes from our failures as a leader – not from our success as a leader. [19659006] When we are successful, our egos tell us, "Well of course we are successful, because we are good," and we move on. We do not tend to investigate it.

    The really important part of that is when adversity finds us. What is our way of thinking when adversity finds us? Do we have a student's way of thinking about adversity? Do we reap insight from adversity, become better as a result of adversity? We are best when we embrace and are not threatened by the hardship that comes our way.

    W When there are adversities in my life, I say, "Why is this resistance my life right now?" Because there's a reason it's here and I have to find an answer to it. I have to find a learning in it. I need to improve my relationship with that adversity in a way that drives my leadership beyond where they could have been. So great leaders, from my perspective, have a very productive relationship with adversity and have throughout their journey.

    And if you don't & # 39; not have it as part of your mindset, how do you grow it? How do you get started?

    This is interesting. I'm not sure I did it 10 years ago, 11 years ago, and I was challenged by it. At that moment, I went through a divorce and it really focused my mind on this resistance concept.

    Our ego tells us, "It's not my fault, it's somebody else's fault." And so I hired a trainer – it will sound incredible self-service – but I hired a trainer and he did an extraordinary job of helping me on an awareness journey. Help me to understand who I was deeper and help me understand how others perceived me.

    It was an incredible help for me. I worked with this level of blind certainty, this blissful ignorance with which we go through life. And this coach changed my life. He never said what I would do. He showed me who I was and capable of doing in the world. And I embraced it.

    I think it's something that leaders in the industry really need to embrace significantly more than they are right now. I see it through my coaching. The first time anyone hears that they have a coach who has hired them, they see it as this gut punch, like something demoralizing that has come way , there is something wrong with him or her .

    It really should be the opposite. There are brain surgeons who hire brain surgeon trainers to go into surgery with them. And if it's good enough for them, I think it's something we probably want to think about too.

    It's a good analogy. If a brain surgeon needs help, you can all use help. That may be part of it – that leadership is usually seen as having all the answers: "I know exactly what I'm doing and I'm the unthinkable leader." And so it sounds like coaching is a recognition that things have to change there.

    That's it. I think it really is and this ties into a comment you made earlier about this masculine way of thinking and mystique that permeates the industry. People would not hesitate to see a doctor if they have a broken leg, but mental illness is put into another category.

    Coaching kind of games to that world as well. People see it as a soft science. And one of the things I'm really trying to relate to through my own experience, but also through the conversation you and I have, is that it's not a soft science. I mean, there are very clear, distinct understandings of what leadership is and what it can be. It is not an art . It is very much a science in this day and age, and leaders would be well served to gain access to the distinct insights that are and are available.

    Don, this has been a fascinating conversation . U Unfortunately, that's all we have time for. Thank you so much for giving me time to share your expertise.


    • The SCARF model identifies five elements that inhibit change, because change can be perceived as threatening someone's status, security, autonomy, family (sense of community) or justice.
    • Failure is crucial to growth, and growth's mindset includes failure as an opportunity to improve.
    • Neuroscience teaches that effective leaders are empathetic listeners in the right proportions and ask good questions. They are good coaches and mentors.
    • Effective leadership can be challenged by the environment and culture within an organization – you cannot work in a way that is completely foreign to the environment. At the same time, disruptions are necessary to make progress.

    For more guidance on building trust and developing leadership capabilities :

    It merges the conversation with Don Bailey. Don & # 39; s a partner at Bristlecone, a coaching, consulting and leadership development company, and previously held executive positions in Marsh, Allstate and Willis.

    Keep your eyes open for our next section, a conversation with Rick McCathron . Rick is the chief insurance officer for Hippo Insurance, a nurse who takes a new look at homeowners insurance. That episode goes live in two weeks.

    Meanwhile, you can catch up season one and two of the podcast .

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