David Neal: leadership is not about you (#42)

I have a small confession to make. Ever since starting this podcast I’ve wanted to talk about the topic of leadership. In fact, it was my interest in leadership that got me interested in interpersonal communication to begin with. We have waited a long time to talk about leadership in depth but today we’re finally doing it. And it was worth the wait! 

In this episode we talk to David Neal about the nuances of what good leadership looks like. David challenges our thinking on topics like micro-management, boundaries, reputation and owning our mistakes. This conversation truly delivered. 

David Neal has a decade of experience in the Australian Army, with most of his experience in leadership roles. He is currently a Director at Eighth Mile Consulting which helps organisations improve their people, process, product and profile. They are good people, helping good people.

We hope you enjoy this thought-provoking conversation with David Neal.

If this episode resonates with you then you might want to download David Neal and Jonathan Clark’s free eBook: Growing Good Leaders.You can also check out Eighth Mile’s online leadership course or drill deeper into specific leadership topics with their short courses.

You can listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or Simplecast.

Show Notes

1:39 – from enemies to best mates.
6:12 – there is nothing noble about being harmless.
7:06 – avoiding or engaging with conflict.
7:27 – what makes a leader?
8:50 – good leadership looks different in different contexts.
11:40 – the leadership style in the military.
12:59 – how values and beliefs impact team performance.
15:12 – navigating the conflicts that arise from having a diverse team.
15:35 – definition of leadership.
16:30 – diversity is contextual. What are you trying to achieve?
18:43 – are you trying to be right or correct?
20:36 – leaders represent people authentically in forums where they cannot represent themselves.
22:18 – trying to be right disengages people around you.
23:41 – it’s better to lose the battle and keep the relationship, especially with your kids.
25:07 – extreme ownership and admitting mistakes.
27:28 – where the name Eighth Mile Consulting came from.
29:18 – owning our mistakes turns our weakness into a strength.
31:39 – owning your faults increases your credibility and your ability to influence.
32:55 – steelman and strawman debating tactics.
36:01 – influence starts by listening, not speaking.
38:14 – it takes discipline to shut up and listen.
41:55 – I don’t have time to listen.
44:02 – why boundaries give more freedom.
52:14 – boundaries with children.
54:46 – just do what makes you happy is terrible advice.
56:46 – the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
58:18 – sometimes leaders only have bad options to choose from.
1:00:14 – leadership is not about you.
1:02:44 – a leader’s reputation is their influence.
1:06:1 – making an unpopular decision that you believe will be best for the long term.
1:10:49 – reputation is based on your character but not fully in your own control.
1:12:57 – how to become more self-aware as leaders.
1:15:30 – everyone is a leader.
1:16:11 – how to create a safe space for people to speak up.
1:18:55 – empathy saved the world.
1:24:7 – our ego can be our greatest enemy.
1:26:12 – connect with David Neal.

Links to References

Jordan Petersen and Don’t be harmless 

8 Mile | Eminem’s Final Rap Battles (Warning: strong language) 

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink  (Author), Leif Babin  (Author) 

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini  (Author) 

Debating Terms: Steel manning & Straw manning 

Sam Harris versus Jordan Petersen – Part 2 – Steel Manning 

Lieutenant General David Lindsay Morrison 

Sin by Commission & Sin by Omission 

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara  

Cuban Missile Crisis 

Key Quotes

“Nothing ever good happens after 2:00am.” 

“Be very careful picking your fights.” 

“There was more benefit to be had working on the same side than against it.” 

“You really do need to focus on your communication and your language.” 

“The law of nuclear weapons is that when everyone has nuclear weapons nobody uses nuclear weapons.” 

“Micro management has its place when the time calls for it.” 

“The old adage….Men always want to fix a problem and women wants to talk about it.” 

“Really competent leaders, they adjust, they are like chameleons  – context matters.” 

“The best leaders in the military adjust to their context.” 

“There is a common misconception about the military.” 

“If you want a robust plan you need input and mechanisms to pressure test the plan.” 

“There is a distinction between values and beliefs.” 

“Some people build their team on unified beliefs and that is a dangerous game to play…” 

“If you want to build a robust plan…you want to the most solids plan you can get , you want to surround yourself with common values and different beliefs.” 

“I don’t agree with you but I do respect you.” 

“Diversity will blow up a team if you incorporate it incorrectly.” 

“One definition of leadership is the ability to influence others.” 

“Another definition of leadership is the ability to positively influence people towards a goal that actually means something.” 

“Sometimes we lose sight of what we are actually trying to achieve and we tick boxes.” 

“Conflict is caused in different ways, some conflict is necessary and some isn’t.” 

“Is this the hill you want to die on?” 

“If you want to bring people together, you need to represent people authentically.” 

“How often do we let pride and ego get in the way of being closer to correct?” 

“People lock their identity on the need to be the right or the smartest person in the room.” 

“Why do we do what we do when we know what we know?” 

“If you take all the knives and put them on the table there is only limited damage that the other person can do.” 

“There is power in acknowledging and owning the narrative.” 

“Steel manning is a powerful influence tool.” 

“The most disciplined people are the most controlled people.” 

“The best leaders are the ones who always speak last….they are learning, getting context and will bring it together in the end.” 

“It takes so much discipline to just shut-up and listen.” 

“What if the reason you don’t have time in the here and now is because you didn’t have the chats earlier?” 

“If you give people a list of tasks and the context changes, all that list of tasks need to change.” 

“If everyone knows the effect they are trying to achieve, they can adapt their plan when the context changes.” 

“If the boundaries are well articulated the faster things scan move.” 

“If people don’t know the rules and boundaries they freeze.” 

“Children are like blind people feeling themselves around the room.” 

“There is a mindset that discipline and boundaries are inhibiting to creativity and innovation and it couldn’t be further from the truth.” 

“Discipline yourself or the world will do it for you.” 

“You owe it to your children to assert boundaries….you cannot just go out and do what you want.” 

“Quote by General Morrison: the standard you walk past is the standard you set.” 

“Excellent leaders can live in the grey.” 

“I’d rather be disliked in the short term, for a longer term gain.” 

“Leadership is not about you.” 

“Don’t worry about your reputation, that is what people think of you, worry about your character….that doesn’t work as a leader because your reputation impacts your influence.” 

“Your character directly influences your reputation but you can’t ignore your reputation.” 

“Some of the best leaders I have ever seen have not had a high position but they had a lot of influence.” 

“Because it is not easy not many people will do it, because not many people will do it, it is higher in value.” 

“Everyone is a leader, if you are a parent you are a leader, if you have any influence over people you are a leader.” 

“Rationality alone will not save us.” 

“Empathise with your enemy.” 

“If you were in their shoes, what would you do?” 

“Who is telling you what you need to hear, rather than what you want to hear?” 

“Ego and pride will hold the most capable people back.” 

“Ego is your understanding of who you are as an individual.” 

“If you want to start a bar fight, attack someone’s value system.” 

“Never shame a man unless you want an enemy for life.” 

About the author

Divan and Mark are co-hosts of the Candour Communication Podcast where we discuss interpersonal communication and all the human stuff that gets in the way.