As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Dean who has over 40 years of national and international experience. He has worked in Europe and Asia for 8 years and has lectured, consulted in 14 countries. He has authored 11 books. He has been on faculty at University of Iowa, Penn State University, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Fordham University and The American College. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa, a MS degree from the University of Pennsylvania. In 2018 Peter received an Applied Neuroscience Certificate of the Science of the Art of Coaching endorsed by ION, ICF and the Association for Coaching. His most recent book is entitled “Cultivating Leaders: How Men and Women can use the Power of their Brain to effectively lead together.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My father was a combat marine in the 6th Fleet in the Pacific during WWII. I grew up listening to many tails of leadership and bravery. Part of the message of those stories was that boys must deal with peril at a young age so they may develop as men. Never cry when hurt, sad or afraid was one message. Another message was to hide your emotions, repel the emotions of others and reject any hint of being feminine.
My mother exhibited other behaviors which seem to me to be leader-like. Giving full attention to others when listening; empathizing with the other person in an effort to understand the other person; demonstrating respect even if she disagreed with others; being open, agreeable and conscientious.
My dilemma was which style of leader should I be. The Answer was both ways of leadership.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take always’ you learned from that?
I was asked to do a lecture at the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur, India in 1973. I knew my lecture material cold so I needed to do little preparation. I was introduced, in English, by one of the professors and I was off. I concluded my talk and received a great response. It only then became clear that the 200 students did not speak English and were responding positively out of respect. The professor wanted his students to hear English. So I guess the lesson is to know your audience before you speak.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There was a time when I was searching for my voice. That is the way in which I would contribute to the world. Yet I was very insecure and had low confidence. I knew I wanted to speak to groups of people but I was lacking something. Here I was in the military learning how to shoot and I was not confident in speaking. A gentle professor friend at Fort Holabird, during one class asked me to join him at the head of the class. He asked me to just stand there next to him as he conducted the class. Two hour later, the class ended and he called me to stay. He asked me how it felt to be in front of the class. I told him it was embarrassing at first, but I got used to seeing the students’ faces not the back of their heads. He said, you can see a lot when you see their faces and gave me an assignment to speak in front of the class next time. That one incident propelled me in the direction of becoming a professor.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Coaching men and women to lead together where both have and use empathy skills, intuition with mastery of facts.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
I believe you have to convince others by being there with your presence and humility. I designed a number of masters programs in the 1980s and 1990s. Each time I started an initiative I was very attentive to the needs of my faculty and staff members. I had to be there everyday and on weekends doing what had to be done. Slowly they began to believe that there was going to be a masters program that they could teach in that would pay them a good fee. At Penn State it took three years for them to believe. For the American College it took a year before they believed. Belief is powerful.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Yes, all the time. And I did give up — but after 10 minutes I would start again!
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Focus on self and others in carrying out the plan and being agreeable, open and conscientious to the changes that have to be made along the way. The leader has to see how a policy or accomplishment in the short-term and the long-term will turn out. For example, one policy change can affect the entire organization in a negative way.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Listen to learn what they are experiencing. Empathize with any emotions they are experiencing. Give full attention to them without faking it. Always show respect in conflict situations especially if you disagree with them. Plan for the future by building in their awareness what the future could hold if we just hang on a bit longer and then a bit longer after that. You have to set the standards that define the team culture.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
For me it’s very simple. In sharing difficult news it’s important to be honest and consistent in delivering the message. A leader needs to accept responsibility for failure and share credit for success.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Life itself is unpredictable. A leader needs to create a vision for success and make sure his or her team are all on the same page. Once that vision is set, there needs to be an expectation that nothing will go exactly as planned. When you expect the unexpected, it’s easier to pivot when you need to.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Deal with the fear by using it to energize you to confront any obstacles you have to deal with turbulent times. Acknowledge the fear and do it anyway!
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Firing the most talented because they are too expensive and hiring the least talented because they are cheap.
If you are firing a lot of people, check out your hiring skills.
Thinking that yelling or any other unjust behavior directed at people is forgotten.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
If something goes wrong in your sphere of work, ask first what did I do to cause that to happen — even if you were not involved. Good leaders take responsibility for everyone below.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
Leaders must understand the full spectrum of emotions from anger to joy. The workplace can be very emotional. It’s important to be in touch with how emotions impact the work environment.
Understand the brain differences in men and women and know that there is much more available for leaders in the skills that lay between the extremes of masculinity and femininity.
Leaders must understand the temperament of people in order to understand how they can shift as a leader to make the situation be more effective and efficient.
Learn to balance your position power with your personal power.
Hold authentic conversations without defensiveness.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If on your calling no one responds to your very good idea, go ahead alone to succeed without creating a political firestorm.”
How can our readers further follow your work?
The Leaders Edge / Leaders by Design website
Amazon Books Peter J. Dean, Ph.D