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Ep. 86: ‘What the heck is Leadership and why should we care?’ with Gary DePaul

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Gary A. DePaul is an accomplished speaker, with over 100 talks, workshops, and seminars. Gary A. DePaul is an accomplished speaker, He is an author, and his books include Nine practices of 21st Leadership, What the heck is Leadership and why should I care & several books on HR and Talent Development. Gary is a performance consultant using analysis, instructional design, knowledge management and performance support interventions. He is also a researcher on subjects such as Leadership, DEIB and allyship, HRBP development and performance improvement. Gary is an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina, and he is also a podcast host. His show is called The Unlabelled Leadership Podcast


Podcast Episode Summary


Leadership is misunderstood. Gary is passionate that in the 21st century we get clear on the distinctions between Management and Leadership, and we immerse ourselves in the practices that can yield qualitatively different experiences of Leadership. In this podcast Gary’s latest book, What the heck is Leadership and why should I care is explored and one vignette an audio clip Gary shares illuminates the difference between management and leadership in nano seconds. 


Points made across the podcast episode 


  • Leadership started for Gary after being laid off from a company called Lowes and after a meeting with a gentleman by the name of Jim Hill who is a performance consultant. He encouraged Gary to “Think Big” 
  • You never know the impact of your comments to another but in this instance, Gary took to heart the encouragement to think big and he decided to write a book.
  • When you have enough people practising Leadership in an organisation it gives you a clear competitive advantage. 
  • The challenge for 21st Leaders is the often-held belief of traditional leadership thinking. Our thinking about leadership has not evolved 
  • Leadership is not the domain of the person at the top, wisdom or the second version of leadership says anyone can practice leadership 
  • There is a famous definition by Mary Parker Follett, that says management is the art of getting stuff done through people. It is often considered a definition of Leadership
  • Management is a role Leadership is not. 
  • Leadership is not a role, but it is something you apply to a role. 
  • Gary provides a technical definition for Leadership which is to help people mature, mentally and morally 
  • David Marquett says Leadership is not about you but other people it’s about creating a work environment in which people can be at their best and Ron Karr from the Velocity Project says Leadership is about making people succeed beyond their wildest dreams. So Leadership is really about helping others build character that is revolutionary from Traditional views of Leadership 
  • Gary shares an audio clip that illuminates the difference between doing managerial tasks and practicing leadership. Michael Junior is the compare. 
  • The first clip sees a person asked to perform a task and he willingly obliges. The second practices leadership through a managerial task by encouraging the person to sing from his history, context where meaning is infused in the piece. The result is transformational 
  • Gary shares an example of firing someone, where in one instance the manager can slave a script and execute the task perfectly or he can choose leadership and simultaneously give the person a “why” for the termination, help that person learn from the experience and grow. 
  • The important thing to take from Gary’s 7 principles of Leadership is that it is not about you. They appear so simple, like for example the first principle “believe in others”, yet putting that principle into practice is beguiling challenging. 
  • An executive for example believe that a person on joining an organisation must prove themselves before he believes in them. This is counter intuitive and can have the opposite affect that a person doesn’t perform. 
  • It is so easy on a team to have in-groups and out-groups when you have people that might be a little different from you and you inadvertently exclude their opinions etc. 
  • In a workforce reduction project, an executive warns against unwittingly firing minority groups and it turns out that is what happened. Further investigation proved that managers were reluctant to give Black people feedback and so their performance suffered, and they then suffered termination. Another example in Gary’s books showcases making assessments of people without due diligence to see if anything else might have been contributing to the workers seemingly being “lazy” So believing in others might sound simple but it is often much more nuanced. You have to dig deeper to understand what is driving people to behave as they do and your job as a manager is to remove those barriers. 
  • Learning & Leadership go hand in hand. To practice the 7 principles outlined in Gary’s book, What the Heck is Leadership and Why should I Care, involves practice. 
  • The Seven Principles include: Believe in others, Connect, Put Others First & Sacrifice Ego, give up Control, Encourage Change, Collaborate, Practice. 
  • Gary studied 16 books academic books written on Leadership in the 21st century and from his analysis he derived the 7 principles from the patterns he saw repeat. He then wrote a book called the 9 practices of Leadership which showcases how to do Leadership. 
  • Gary illuminates one of the 9 practices called Facing the Lion which incorporates listening and feedback. He shares that we comprehend so much faster than for example what we can read out loud and so when it comes to listening to another person the brain is nearly always focusing on how to respond rather than carefully listening and enquiring into what is being said for meaning. 
  • Giving up or ceding control and sacrificing ego is a tough challenge for Leaders especially those new to Leadership. 
  • Often employees feel they must ask for permission from line managers or leaders and the way to cede control is to ask for example “well how would you do it” very quickly initiative and learning can flourish. 
  • Psychological safety, play and purpose are the wholly trinity on teams. If you as a member on a team believe that the Leader is not allowing for psychological safety to be the outcome necessary for great work, then you can initiate psychological safety by admitting “I wish I could do this better” or “I made a mistake” it is uncanny how quickly people row in behind you. 
  • It be being vulnerable and allowing vulnerability it encourages others to do the same. 
  • In response to phenomenon observed on teams Gary explains the “Fundamental attribution error” You need to study this idea, learn from examples, and not assume you know it. 
  • We get in our own way. We assume as Leaders that we are the authority on so much and we fail to recognise the brilliance of others. 
  • When you can recognise that you need the contribution of others, like those closest to the customer and you can contribute by way of your managerial experience then you can accomplish great things together 
  • Gary explains group thinking and the importance of contribution and different contribution by team members. 
  • Gary quotes Jack Zinger who says that “we take too long to train our leaders” and Gary adds to that by saying when we come into management, we do not express enough interest in Leadership we are all about the doing. Instead of taking more than 10 years to assume a Leadership mindset combine Leadership training with management training in combination. 
  • A good practice for people coming into roles is to assign them a mentor and a better practice is to do that from outside of their discipline 
  • Important to exercise our emotional and social intelligence in addition the exercise we already devote to our intellectual intelligence. 
  • Gary would love to see a de-emphasise on technical functional skills, more emphasis on trying to avoid outgroups, championing ideas and enquiry. He wishes organisations were more attentive to biases, to championing leadership not just with executives but with many more across an organisation. 
  • Gary would like to see organisations model values that are around Leadership to allow for innovation, creativity, and improved performance. 
  • At the end of our conversation, I ask Gary for a Leadership hack and he offers his 4-step process to Leadership -material from Marshall Goldsmith 

  • Foundation: You must read about leadership & acquire knowledge about leadership 
  • Feedback: How am I doing? – what are two ideas to help me be a better listener for you? 
  • Let people know about your blind spots 
  • Follow up. Am I doing what I said I would?


Resources shared: 


Books written by Gary A. De Paul- 

  • What the Heck is Leadership and Why Should I Care
  • The Nine Practices of 21st Century Leadership 


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