Conversations with the Author of Cracking the Leadership Code – Alain Hunkins

When you understand the underpinnings of culture, you will be a more decisive and effective leader. Alain Hunkins is a thought leader and expert in the area of culture. We talk about this book, “Cracking the Culture Code,” that will unlock a new awareness in your leaders and impact your company. Alain Hunkins serves on the faculty of Duke Corporate Education. His clients include Wal-Mart, Pfizer, Citigroup, General Electric, State Farm Insurance, IBM, General Motors, and Microsoft. Today, Alain Hunkins gives you a playbook to understand your company culture that will improve your bottom line.

Don't miss an episode. Subscribe to Growth Think Tank.

Target Audience: Alain Hunkins is a Bestselling Author of Cracking the Leadership Code & CEO, Hunkins Leadership Group LLC. A sought-after keynote speaker, facilitator, and coach, Alain Hunkins is a leadership expert who connects the science of high performance with the performing art of leadership.

Share the LOVE and TWEET about this episode.


Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Alain Hunkins
Biggest thing that gets in the way it starts with mindset. I mean, I’m amazed if you look at the studies, only about 23% of people say that their leaders lead well. And I’ve yet to meet a leader who doesn’t intend to lead. Well, everyone’s like, I want to do a good job, but I have great intentions. So for me, where it starts is the mindset, which is where do learn how to lead. And there’s pretty good chance you learn on the job copying the leaders that lead you and they learn from, who they learn from, and so on and so forth.

Intro [0:30]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of them. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett [0:48]
What do you think about your leadership model? Do you have it all dialed in? Does your people really engage with the work that they’re doing? The mission of the organization the values in a way that you know that you’re all aligned together? Well, the reality is, our leadership models have to evolve over time. If you think about business 10 years ago, it’s nowhere near at the pace it is today. When you think about the people, there’s so many more things for them to focus on other than just getting the work done. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. this younger generation really does want to do something and be in purpose-driven work. And so what are you doing about that as a leader? Well, today, we’re going to talk about it with the author of Cracking the Leadership Code. If you’re not looking at this, I’m holding up the book right now. Alan Hankins is really a fantastic source of insight around leadership. He’s looking at the industrial age and how many of the things that we use today, as leaders are broken, we have not let go of that command and control and the fear one of the things I like about most in this conversation without Alain is really focus he puts on the needs of the employee and the connection that’s necessary for them to be in an environment to excel and you will get more by tuning in to the full interview. Make sure you keep tuning in to the podcast, if you haven’t already subscribed, do so now. Go to you can subscribe. That way you won’t miss a single episode. Here’s the interview with Alain.

Gene Hammett [2:30]
Hey, how are you, Alain?

Alain Hunkins [2:32]
I’m great. Gene. I’m really excited for our conversation here today. Thanks.

Gene Hammett [2:35]
I did I pronounce that right?

Alain Hunkins [2:37]
Correct. You did an awesome job. Yeah, I know. It’s not spelled the way it sounds Atlanta. So yeah, when I was growing up, I got called all sorts of names, some of which started with letter A, like a lane and a lawn and my personal favorite was Alien. Alien. Like, where’d you get Alien out of La? anyway? Yeah.

Gene Hammett [2:54]
Well, glad to have you here and to talk about your work around the book. Been taking it in here. If you’re watching on video, Cracking the Leadership Code, I love to ask a leader or a writer this one question, why did you have to write this book.

Alain Hunkins [3:11]
It’s funny, you know, I didn’t write this book as an I’m gonna sit down and write a book. The book actually wrote me in that the book is a distillation of 20 years of fieldwork, of working with leaders around the world. And the way it started was I was working with group after group and I found there was these patterns or behaviors that great leaders have a lot in common. And you know what mediocre leaders have a lot in common. And so I started taking notes, whether it was in coaching sessions, or trainings, workshops, and the notes turned into blog posts, and the blog posts ended up becoming chapters, and I found these chapters. And these notes, and these stories all had common themes. And the themes became what is now known as the three secrets to building strong leaders, which is the subtitle of the book. And those three secrets are connection, because there was a big theme around connection, there was a big one around communication. That’s the second one. So connection, communication. The third is collaboration. So the book was really built from the bottom up, as opposed from I want to write a book, what do I don’t know about leadership? It really is, it’s coming out of my work as a practitioner.

Gene Hammett [4:14]
When you think about leadership, what are the you know, things that get in the way of great leaders?

Alain Hunkins [4:22]
Well, I think the biggest thing that gets in the way, it starts with mindset. I mean, I’m amazed if you look at the studies, only about 23% of people say that their leaders lead well. And I’ve yet to meet a leader who doesn’t intend to lead Well, my everyone’s like, I want to do a good job, but I have great intentions. So for me, where it starts is the mindset, which is where do you learn how to lead? And there’s pretty good chance you learned on the job copying the leaders that lead you and they learn from, who they learned from and so on and so forth. So my question and the research I did was, who started this chain of behavior because organizational leadership hasn’t been around for thousands years. And it started with Frederick Winslow Taylor, who was considered the father of the field of management. But if you look back, this is the industrial age 1911 is when his book principles of scientific management came out.

Alain Hunkins [5:13]
In Taylor’s mind, he was a mechanical engineer. So the workplace was this mechanical engineering problem to be solved. And he took human beings, human beings, and he created human resources, like very big shift, saying you’re now parts of a larger system. And when it comes to the ideal workman, and I’ll quote him on this, because I could not make this up myself. This is what Taylor had to say about the ideal work person. workman at the time workman. He said, they should be quote, so stupid, that they more nearly resembled in their mental makeup the ox than any other type. Right?

Alain Hunkins [5:52]
So the idea is that just and Henry Ford said it was one of his disciples, by the way, why is it when I want a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached. It’s amazing how much of this Industrial Age command and control thinking has perpetuated and gone on. Turns out, Taylor’s work formed the basis of a little school, you might have heard of Harvard Business School, and it became the playbook of leadership for the 20th century. And so so many of us are still living out Taylor’s legacy. And until we stop and question, what’s not working, we’re not going to change because you cannot change what you do not notice. And so it seeps into our work, it seeps into our language, how many of us have said, we got to drill this down to our frontline employees? I mean, how many people stop and think, wow, you know, senior management hasn’t drilled anything into me lately. I missed that, you know, it’s just, it’s that mechanistic worldview. And if it stops seeing people as parts, and seeing them as human beings, and it’s funny, because I know that sounds super soft and fluffy, see that as human beings care about them. Yet all the great research that’s coming out of both neuroscience and biology and social science has pointed and proven that when people feel cared for, and they’re in in an environment where they can perform at their best they do, and it trickles directly to the bottom line.

Commercial [7:12]
Hold on for a second. Alon just said start with mindset. How often do you think about your mindset? I know you think about the projects that are necessary to move forward. I know you think about your calendar, the emails that are coming in, do you think about the numbers, you probably even think about your people? How often do you take the time to think about your own confidence, your courage, the clarity about who you are the personal values or have those mindsets can be transformed? In fact, I believe that they should be transformed, great leaders evolve over time, you’ve evolved? Are you willing to speed that up? A big part of that is focusing on your mindset. There’s some tricks I’ve learned along the trade that I have used with leaders within my own work to level up. If I can help in any way make sure reach out back to Alain.

Gene Hammett [8:05]
So agree with you. And the problem is I think a lot of people just don’t realize that they’re under that old view of leadership. There is a lot of people that are still fear-based leaders, authoritarians, and do it my way, but really evolved leadership. And and I don’t even know what the the really highest level of leadership is. And this the words that go with it, because I asked a lot of leaders, what do you aspire to be? And they have trouble coming up with the words of what they aspire to be? What do you think that leaders are aspiring for today?

Alain Hunkins [8:40]
I think that the best that those are calling the 21st century leaders, I think what they aspire to first of all, they start with a clear sense of purpose that they have their way they figured out what their Why is and what they and their organization are about. And they also realize that purpose is not a one-stop-shop it starts with them is that they know they have to bring people along to co-create the purpose with the people they’re leading. So I think they start with that purpose. And then from there, they realize that if you’re going to bring people on this journey, you have to connect because at its core leadership isn’t a job title. It’s not power, it’s not a position, it’s a relationship, and that people choose every single day, whether they are going to loan you their knowledge and their talents and their skills. And those are on loan and every day. Are we people that they want to keep showing up for?

Alain Hunkins [9:36]
I mean, it’s amazing because this idea of old school command and control. I mean, I looked at the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the average tenure of workers aged 25 to 34 in 2.8 years. So what is the compelling value proposition You’re giving me and if it’s just a mediocre work environment? I’ll go down the street for 10% more money. I mean, Another mediocre environment. So to me, it becomes this question of what’s the purpose? And then how are you bringing me along that we feel that we are achieving something that is bigger than just, I’m here for a paycheck. I’m here to increase shareholder value. Now, I’ve joked with clients about this, and I, you know, I’m sure you’ve had this conversations to Gene, where like, you say, what, what’s the reason for your company? Well, we’re here to increase shareholder value, like that’s it. Oh, yeah, that’s it like, well, then why aren’t you selling cocaine? It’s way more profitable than what you’re in the business? Like, wait, no, that’s not like, Yeah, well, that’s what you said. So what is your purpose, and that should be based on some values and what you’re trying to do to make a difference in the world, everyone’s role makes a difference. What they need to do is understand how it connects. And that’s where leadership comes in.

Gene Hammett [10:47]
One of the things that you write about a lot in here on around connection is empathy. And I felt like it’s a it’s a really powerful tool to use when you when you leverage it genuinely. What gets in the way of real genuine empathy today?

Alain Hunkins [11:03]
Great question. So there’s a few big things I’d say one of the big things that gets in the way that I think just about anyone can relate to is impatience. In the fact is, I mean, if I define empathy as showing people that you understand them and care how they feel, right, it sounds simple. But the fact is, when we’re in our lives, we can’t think of empathy, showing people that we care about them as some item to check off on our to do list, right? Because all of us are swamped, our plates are full. And in our digital age, information travels the speed of light, right? We can send emails, hundreds of them a day, and human relationships, showing people you care, empathy takes time, we have to show patience. And in a lot of places, you know, we say, I’ve got results to deliver, you know, drive for results in many organizations is a core leadership competency. The problem is driving for results shouldn’t come at the cost of driving over the people who deliver those results. And I think that so I think impatience is one of the big ones. Another big challenge is fear.

Alain Hunkins [12:14]
A lot of leaders are really uncomfortable with feelings in the workplace. You know, it’s funny, I was working with this guy, his name’s Bob, he’s a managing director at a consulting firm. And he was totally honest. He said, You know, I don’t ask my people how they feel. And you want to know why. Because if I asked them, you know, what might happen? They’ll tell me, I don’t want to know, right? He was totally honest, I agree. I appreciate the honesty.

Alain Hunkins [12:37]
So for, and I’m sure you’ve experienced this too, Jean, like, there’s lots of leaders who have this against all beliefs, check your feelings at the door policy, this is work, you’re here for work, you got to check your feelings at the door, which is a funny thing to think because if you think about you can’t actually do that. What we do instead, what do we do we suppress our feelings at the door, which is exactly what’s happening. In fact, Deloitte did a study on this, and found that 61% of us employees cover their identities in some way they put on a mask, because they don’t feel safe, bringing their whole selves to work. The problem with that, of course, is when you ask, you’re disconnected, which means you perpetuate this low trust, low connection, low empathy, low performance culture. So I think impatience is a huge one fear is another one. Another one that gets in the way, is power. And there’s been great studies about the fact that basically, I’ll get to the nub of it is that the more powerful people feel, the less empathy they have for people around them, which is why when we look at, particularly political leaders, we described them as being out of touch, right? So that sense of you know, power, people get intoxicated with that, and they start to forget that leadership is a relationship. They think I’m in charge, you have to do my bidding. And then here we are, hello, Frederick Winslow Taylor, we’re back, you know, so these are sneakers, he, these are really sneaky, and they get in the way.

Commercial [14:03]
Hold on for a second here. Alon said empathy takes time. A lot of people, leaders specifically want to get more done, they want to be really tuned in with the next thing, the next thing, but to truly have empathy, at a genuine level, it takes time. That means taking a beat. That means really focusing on the other person, really trying to understand how they’re feeling, what they’re going through. Being able to notice those things, as you look them in the eye without words being said, Imagine if you had the power as a leader, to truly tune into someone so that you could ask a question that says, Hey, how are things going? You don’t have the energy you normally have bouncing around here. That question will give you something that you can actually go deeper into that person. It will build trust, it will build a connection. It will allow you to feel really something amazing inside the organization and create that feeling over and over again, with many people, people will stand up for you, there’ll be loyal, the retention rate will be high, creativity will be high innovation will be high, resilience will be high because people feel connected to the work back to the interview.

Gene Hammett [15:22]
Well, I want to go into some of the mistakes that are commonly made. I know we talked about the leadership model from the industrial age is broken. So what is it? How do we realize it’s broken? And how do we move forward as leaders?

Alain Hunkins [15:38]
Okay, well, realizing it’s his first realize like, what is that inherited history you have? So that’s a piece. So that’s broken? Now the question is, so where do you start from? And I think you start by realizing, okay, so leadership is a relationship do I know my people? Do I know them as people first before we get into tasks and roles and boxes on an org chart? So we start there, and you build that through empathy, as we discussed, you also build it through your credibility, the fact is, how you show up, makes a difference. Because if people don’t believe you as the messenger, they’re not going to believe your message. And probably the simplest thing you can do to increase your credibility, and this is a simple thing any of us can do is show up on time, right? So you can start by showing up on time. I mean, how many of us have had?

Alain Hunkins [16:24]
Oh, you know, I know we have that one on one schedule, but I’m gonna have to push that off, again, because I had this important meeting with a client or so and so. So what are we modeling? Because leaders, we have it backwards, we think what we say is the most important, and then what we do is important, and then what we measure is important, when in fact, people flip it the other way around. So what do we measure? Because people know how to game systems, they look at that. And then they look at what we do. And then they look at what we say. So understanding the credibility and what we’re measuring is super important. I’ll give you a funny example. On this one, I was working with a sales team, and that the leaders of the team before I worked with the team, they said, Oh, we want our salespeople to be more collaborative, because they all get these great ideas out in the field, but they’re not sharing them with each other.

Alain Hunkins [17:12]
So I’m in a conversation with them. It’s great, can I ask you a question? Talk to me about your sales compensation structure, the structure was totally built around competition. And I said, and the thing was before they told me about this, there was this incredibly uncomfortable pause, like, um, do we have to talk about that? They thought that somehow bringing in someone to do leadership training was gonna make their teams collaborative, when in fact, everything they were measuring was completely counterintuitive to making that happen. So I got to look at what do we measure? Bring? What are the structures we have?

Alain Hunkins [17:46]
So we’ve got that to build the basis of connection. And then from there, we have to look at what is our mission? What’s our purpose, how we communicate that in a way that people don’t just hear the information, but they understand it, and that they are inspired to be a part of and to take action? And then how do we create these environments and systems that support people so they can show up and do their best work. And in my research, I found there’s four main needs that all employees have to be satisfied in order to become more effective. We all have a need for safety. So right now through Coronavirus, there’s physical safety, but there’s also psychologically safe safety. The sense that if I speak up, I’ll be heard the sense that I can say, Hey, I don’t understand this, or I think I made a mistake and feel like that’s okay, and not a career-limiting move. So we’ve got safety, we’ve also got energy, people want to work in high energized workplaces. So what are the things that you’re doing to make that happen? For example, how many of us have been through a meeting that went on for literally two and a half hours with no break? And you know, you know, you hit 90 minutes and you’re going, gosh, I cannot keep this up. So you know, this instituting a 90 minute rule, let’s let’s put brakes in every night is super simple. But a lot of leaders forget about that, because they just haven’t thought about it.

Alain Hunkins [19:09]
So you’ve got a need for safety and need for energy, then people have as we talked about earlier, this need for purpose, what are you doing to talk about why we’re doing what we’re doing? And how do you how often do you repeat that on a regular basis? Are you, for example, bringing your customers in to talk to your people about the impact that your service or product is having on their lives so that people can see that what we do makes a difference. And I’m not just widget master three in the widget master factory, right? So otherwise, jobs become drudgery. And the fourth need we have is this need for ownership. No one loves a micromanager. No one even likes a micromanager. So giving people autonomy and freedom so that they can do what they do in the way they want to do. It doesn’t mean they get to decide exactly what they do. But they have a lot of latitude and autonomy and freedom and how they go about doing it. So If you start to do those things, it will make you a better leader. And your teams will get better, your organizations will get better, and your customers will be happier.

Gene Hammett [20:11]
Well, I love the way you’ve organized this and explain it in your professional life. They the question I have to take this just a little bit further is, there’s a lot of elements, of leadership that is counterintuitive. Let’s walk through one or two of those that really would be new for our audience that would help them understand to maybe break old habits.

Alain Hunkins [20:34]
Cool. So typically, when you show up to a meeting, let’s say it’s a month, it could be really any kind of status business meeting. What’s that? I’ll ask you this question. put you on the spot here, Gene for a second. What’s the first thing? Well, we have our business meetings? What’s the first thing we talk about? Usually?

Gene Hammett [20:52]
When my team, we talked about how everybody’s doing,

Alain Hunkins [20:56]
that’s, that’s your team, what most teams talk about. They’re like, let’s look at last month’s numbers, right, let’s look at the sales. Let’s look at the metrics. Let’s look at the numbers. And so we focus on the numbers. And the amazing thing about so this is counterintuitive. We and why do we do it? Because that’s that’s how we grew up? You know, it’s the business meaning, you know, we’re important people have to talk about numbers, you know, profits down by 20%, we got to talk about that first. Funny thing, right? Because the numbers are just a lagging indicator, they are a lagging indicator of the behavior of your team members. That’s what created those numbers in the first place. So yeah, so like you said, the first thing I want to talk about is let’s flip that around. So instead of talking about numbers first, and then business issues, and then maybe get to the team, let’s flip that. Let’s start let’s talk about the team. How are the people on the team? How are you doing? Where are people at were their strengths? Where do we need to move people to then we start looking at what are the projects that we’re working on? And how do we make those happen, then, I’m sure we’ll have time we’ll get there because no one gonna wants to leave without knowing that stuff. Then we get to the numbers. So it’s flipping the order of priority around so that we have humans first, numbers last instead of numbers first because otherwise, people feel like they are just slaves to the numbers. And that is not where people are going to do their best work.

Commercial [22:17]
Hi, let me pause here for a moment. If you are listening to this on YouTube, make sure you continue to get this information by hitting the thumbs up, subscribe, hit the notification bell because we want to make sure we continue to serve you as a leader to grow to the next level. Don’t forget, subscribe, do it now.

Gene Hammett [22:34]
I love that your research and writing is very much in alignment with the work I do. Just so you know align a lot of the conversations with fast-growth companies is I asked them the impossible question. I told you earlier that they really understand their role and leadership are different. Because of their fast growth. And the way they think differently is I win this possible question I give it to them is as a leader, what’s more, important your employees or customers 94% will say its employees. Give me just a little bit of why that works so well. And today’s leadership models.

Alain Hunkins [23:16]
Well, look at work so well in today’s leadership models, because we have to look at how the business landscape has changed. You know, when you start back, I’ll go back to Henry Ford is a classic example, when Ford was pumping out the Model T, that assembly line only produced one type of car for 27 years, they did not change what they were doing in terms of processes, systems, and product, you know, and as I said, famously, you can get it in any color you want, as long as it’s black, right. So think about how slow business cycles move. Well, things are happening all the time, in real-time. And so we have to empower and I kind of hate that word, because it sounds a little buzzword II. But we do want our people are the ones who are going to come up with great ideas. And so part of this fast growth leadership mindset is no longer we are the few keepers have the great ideas and are going to dole them out to our worker bees to institute and execute.

Alain Hunkins [24:19]
In fact, they have great ideas. And it’s our role to be more facilitators to create a culture where people are continually going through the problem-solving process of first clarifying what is the problem or the issue. And then let’s generate a bunch of ideas around that problem or issue. Then out of all those ideas. Let’s pick the few and develop them and refine them. prototype and beta test those and start implementing them as quickly as we can. So we have rapid cycle implementation. You know, in the world of Agile Software, they talk about this all the time. So it’s the idea of Yeah, it’s 80%. Let’s get out there. Let’s do some A and B testing. And then when we learn something We’ve clarified a new problem. And we go through that creative problem-solving method and innovating again. And so that kind of rapid cycling demands a new type of worker, and it demands a new type of leadership. And this is what leaders need to understand to be able to lead in this new emerging world of work.

Gene Hammett [25:21]
Love that. Well, I remind the audience in case you are not seeing this, all they have the book cracking the leadership code, Alon, you really give us something to chew on here as leaders, and hopefully, something to actually develop stronger leaders inside of organizations. So thanks for being here on the podcast.

Alain Hunkins [25:40]
Thank you so much, Gene. It’s really been my pleasure. Thank you.

Gene Hammett [25:43]
What a great interview, I love having authors on the show, get to read their book, Cracking the Leadership Code, Alon is a really powerful person. I love the research around this that many people believe is the only way to lead. But when you think about the secrets, he talked about, connection, communication, and collaboration are the keys to leadership in today’s world, I can’t disagree. Now, I think there are some other elements that are necessary. And we went through a few of those today in the conversation. So hopefully you are evolving as a leader, and really pushing your boundaries, pushing past the fears, pushing past complacency. And really looking at your next evolution as a leader.

Gene Hammett [26:27]
Those defining moments is where I come in my work as a coach is helping leaders identify where they really want to go, what’s, what kind of thinking is holding them back? What are the specific things that they can do to shift may be small to be playing at a higher level, play to win, build the kind of teams that really fuel the business forward, and are fully aligned? There’s a lot of work that it takes to be a fully evolved leader. And I help leaders all the time with that.

Gene Hammett [26:57]
So make sure you reach out to me at [email protected] if you think about your job as a leader, it’s not to manage the work. It’s to lead the people. And finally, lead with courage. I’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.


GTT featuring Alain Hunkins



And lastly, please leave a rating and review for the Growth Think Tank on iTunes (or Stitcher) – it will help us in many ways, but it also inspires us to keep doing what we are doing here. Thank you in advance!

If you want more from us check out more interviews:

Transformational Leadership Productivity Tips Best Selling Author Interviews