PETER: So, in terms of leadership, when did you first come across the idea of there being these two levels?
DAVID: Well, the thing is when a lot of people talk about leadership, they talk about leadership skills, the tools and techniques, which NLP is brilliant for. But what I’ve started to realize was that those are kind of bolt-on skills, if you like. Because if the person isn’t aligned inside of themselves, then it doesn’t matter what you bolt on outside. It’s simply not gonna work.
PETER: I guess it’s like trying to build a house on weak foundations?
DAVID: That’s it. So, a good leader has their own inner values aligned, which is important because our values are pretty much in place by the time that we get to age seven. That means that if I hadn’t worked on my values over the years, I’d be working with values that were 51 years out of date, because I’m now 58.
PETER: And the world’s a very different place today than it was in 1970.
DAVID: It very much is! So there’s that aspect to it. I think the other aspect to it is that if a person has unresolved negative emotions, like anger, like sadness, like fear, like guilt, that’s also gonna get in the way and prevent them from being in the ultimate leadership state. I think it was Harvard Business Review in the late 80s that calculated that as much as 80% of all conflict in business was as a result of an inappropriate semantic response.
PETER: What’s an inappropriate semantic response?
DAVID: That’s where somebody says something, and the other person responds with a negative emotion, like anger, sadness, fear and guilt.
PETER: Like if the boss if having a bad day, and they bite someone’s head off?
DAVID: That’s a good example. And it obviously means that they’re going to not be able to provide appropriate leadership responses. And that was the late eighties, way before email and instant messaging, when people actually used to walk to somebody else’s desk and actually saw them. Or at the very least phoned them up, rather than just send them a text.
PETER: Often at 3am, these days it seems.
DAVID: Yes, there has been a big blurring of work and personal time, especially after lockdown. So inappropriate semantic response now, when you can’t even see the person or when you can’t hear the person, when they are just reading what you’ve written, is probably going to be even more widespread and negatively impacting than that.
PETER: So if they are coming from that place, trying to learn leadership skills won’t help much?
DAVID: No, and that’s why a lot of people are confused as to why they are reading the books, but not seeing the results they want. Because if the person’s got personal limiting beliefs, such as I’m not good enough, or I’m not really a leader, or whatever it may be, then it doesn’t matter what skills are bolted on, on the outside. They aren’t going to work. They’re not going to be activated. So, that was really where I got the idea of using NLP, and particularly TimeLine Therapy, to enable people to resolve all of that inside of themselves. Because once you have resolved the inner leader issues, and you have really congruent goals about yourself as a leader, then we can move to the second level.
PETER: And that is the outer leader?
DAVID: Yes. And I think that there’s a couple of key skills you absolutely must have as a leader in today’s world. The first would be influencing skills, and the second would be presentation skills. We’re starting to see organizational structures changing. The old command and control isn’t there anymore. The days when you said “you do this” and they did, that’s gone.
PETER: We’re definitely starting to see things flatten out.
DAVID: That’s right. It’s becoming like more a matrix structure. I used to see this when I worked at Reuters in the late eighties, in the City. For me to be able to deliver the result I was being paid for, I needed the assistance of other people in other departments that didn’t work for me. I couldn’t just say, “do this”. So when you can’t just order people about, what have you can you use?
DAVID: Precisely. You’ve got to influence a person to do what you want them to do, to deliver the result that you want. And that’s why I think influence is really the ultimate leadership ability. And also then being able to speak, being able to present. To be able and comfortable to get up in front of your team or department, and be able to influence one-on-many as well as one-on-one. So I think those are the two core outer leadership abilities.
PETER: And you’ve actually tested this out with some major players, haven’t you?
DAVID: Yes. We designed and delivered the Inner Leader programme for companies like Reckitt & Colman. And we’ve done the Outer Leadership program for people like Microsoft and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. The presentation skills particularly helped out the team at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
PETER: Helping them motivate and engaging their people more?
DAVID: Yes, because an engaged team member will show more initiative and commitment to delivering. There’s the third aspect to helping leaders improve their team’s results, which is team alignment. That’s where you work with the team and the leader to align the values within the team.
PETER: What’s the thinking behind that?
DAVID: I think the majority of people make the mistake of thinking that everybody’s values are the same as theirs, and they’re not. S with a team, the first part of that process is where everybody discovers what everybody else’s values are, and commits to respecting and satisfying their fellow team members. And then, you have the team collectively decide, what do we want our team values to be?
PETER: So you have a common set of values?
DAVID: That’s right. And then, we help each individual in the team work out “how do I satisfy the team’s values while satisfying my own values?” Plus, quite often there are corporate values. (laughs) What I always thought was quite amazing was Microsoft. This was quite a while ago, but they would say, if you want to be with Microsoft, this will be your number one value: empowerment. So they were quite forcefully saying, you will have empowerment as your number one value if you want to work here.
PETER: One of those things that sounds good on paper, but which is actually a contradiction in terms!
DAVID: Definitely. So you’ve got these three levels: individual values, team values and the company’s values. And each individual in the team is asking, how are we going to satisfy the company’s values, while satisfying the team’s values, while satisfying my own values? It takes work, but the result is a very high-performing team. So those are the three things that we can do with NLP within a company to literally create leaders.
PETER: As in, people who ARE leaders, as opposed to just having the title?
DAVID: Yes. It’s true that there are people that are just natural-born leaders, but if you asked the natural leader, how do they do what they do? They have difficulties answering that, because they just do it. So from that point of view, it’s not transferable. So, if you’re in a leadership position, and you’re not a natural leader, then previously there’d be nothing you can do. You’ve either got it, or you haven’t, whereas with NLP, what you’ve got is a specific and structured approach that you can do – on those three levels – that enables anyone to become a natural leader, which is a very exciting.
PETER: David, thank you.