Leadership Conversations, as suggested by the subtitle, is comprised of a series of interviews on the topic of effective leadership by Anthony T. Eaton. The series consists of ‘conversations’/interviews with men in various industries, each of whom has a diverse set of experiences and leadership roles.
The conversational nature of the books helps one to understand the importance of several things, first and foremost the fact that leaders arise in a variety of contexts and have diverse histories and philosophies on life, business, and leadership. Some key themes run through these conversations, and they are important to note from the start: the importance of a skill set, compassion, empathy, courage, advocacy, emotional intelligence, inspiration, service, relationships, listening to people, and the need to challenge oneself and learn continually.
The first conversation, with Michael Thomas Sunnarberg, author of 21 Steps to Better Relationships, highlights the importance of knowing oneself and paying attention to one’s intuitions. Sunnarberg stresses the importance of understanding the nature of ‘power’ and how it plays a role in communication and relationships. One point I particularly like is the fact that, “Even the best intentions can create unexpected or undesired results”, since it is clear that living with intention is insufficient; we must live with good intention. Moreover, as Sunnarberg notes, “Leadership is something that comes from within you.” It begins with ‘us’.
The next conversation is with Rod Miller, a Certified Human Resource Professional, management consultant, and educator. Miller discusses his being an introvert and how he has learned to use his energy to work as an actor, early in his student career, and how it has empowered him in his leadership role. Miller stresses the importance of understanding that people are individuals with unique personalities. “You can tell products what to do, but you can’t tell people what to do.” People are rational and emotional beings and a leader must keep that in mind through all sorts of interactions. Such awareness will enhance one’s ability to mentor and lead ‘openly and willingly’.
John Saint-Denis, the co-founder of the La Brea Highland Association for shelter businesses, discusses the importance of using his ‘artistic design skills’ to foster social justice and education. Saint-Denis stresses the perennial lesson he continues to learn in his life: “… leadership is service.” One striking point that Saint-Denis makes pertains to his claim that he routinely ‘blurs’ business and personal relationships. What is so striking about that is that it reduces the possibility of the attempt to justify doing something ‘because it is business.’ It acknowledges the importance of truthful, honest relationships in no matter what one does. In fact, Saint-Denis notes that one problem leaders often confront is in not taking ‘appropriate responsibility’ but taking ‘complete control’. Leaders must take ownership of what they do.
In his conversation with Michael Pollock, an Executive Coach for Creative Media Professionals, Eaton finds that, in addition to setting clear and obtainable goals, a leader is passionate and communicates that passion to others. Such passion and focus can help leaders to resolve conflict, be that conflict in ideas or with others.
Eaton’s conversation with Richard Reily focuses on inspirational leadership, which can take place in a variety of contexts. Reily notes the differences between not-for-profits and for-profits. He believes that both require the same set of tools to be successful. Vision, direction, and inspiration must play a role no matter the type of organization or the individuals therein. Riley stresses the importance of learning from both good and bad leaders and explains that it is important to ‘give back’ and ‘transform’ followers into natural leaders. In short, there are opportunities to lead everywhere.
Joe Gerstandt, in the next conversation, centers on the importance of translating leadership from one’s personal life to one’s professional life, thus emphasizing the consistency that is necessary in the lives of leaders. Gerstandt, whose experience entails farming, the Marine Corp, and Fortune 500 companies, claims that authenticity is important to leadership, as is the ability to understand the importance of courage and diversity in organizations and society. This emphasis acknowledges the diverse, and democratic, nature of true leadership.
According to Eric Holtzclaw, author of Leadership: Unlocking the Potential of Consumer Behavior, and radio program host, The Eric Holtzclaw Show, 2011-2012 Toastmaster of the year, leadership entails trusting instincts, being a detailed observer and worker, and actively working on business. Comparing good leadership to chess, a leader must be able to plan strategically yet adapt ‘on the fly’. In doing so, the leader not only becomes empowered but also empowers others.
Next is Eaton’s conversation with Tim Kincaid. Kincaid is CEO and Founder of Kincaid Associates Coaching and Consulting, LLC and is certified by the International Coach Federation. Trained in journalism, public relations, business, and aviation, Kincaid claims that there are different leadership styles, but all types of organizations require good leadership skills. He notes the fact that both ‘corporate and higher education environments’ require the same leadership qualities, despite their differences. Arguing in support of servant leadership, and stressing the importance of emotional and social intelligence in organizations, Kincaid also notes the importance of paying attention to people’s needs. Clearly, doing so connects to the notion that good leaders must be adaptive and keep learning and pay attention to thoughts, feelings, and ideas in order to maintain their agility and grow. He concludes that “leadership… is a state of being…”
Tony Smith, who holds a Ph.D. in Education and is currently a Director at the University of Colorado, is an active researcher whose passion is in coaching/development. Smith, like others, notes the importance of a ‘special skill set’ that fosters successful leadership. For him, this combines with a passion for helping and supporting others, which he also fosters with whom he works. This requires balancing one’s ego with serving others, and getting out of one’s own way and identifying continually what motivates others since the world and people have changed and require new ways of being inspired so that they can empower themselves.
Eaton’s conversation with Tim Paynter focuses on ‘good leadership’ and unity. Paynter, an attorney, argues that handling aggression is an art and requires educating clients with compassion. He is also an advocate for social justice. Paynter claims that partisan politics has undermined the common good. Achieving that good requires good leadership—leadership that fosters unity. He believes that technology can help in this regard, noting his role in a radio show as an example. Overall, Paynter believes that a good leader must be willing to stand alone as opposed to following the crowd.
Richard Shapiro, the founder and President of the Center for Client Retention, works with Life is Precious TM, Communilife’s program to prevent the suicide of young Latinas. The program allows young girls to share their stories and it provides support for them and their families. Linking this to his work pertaining to customer satisfaction with ADP, Shapiro notes that it is important to create a work environment where staff enjoy working with their team members. He clearly believes that there is a direct relationship between customer satisfaction and good leadership. He recognizes that not all managers or heads will be ‘servant leaders’, but notes that emotional intelligence is key to the development of empathetic and supportive leaders.
The next interview is with James Robinson. Robinson, an activist and founder of GLBT Advocacy and Youth Services, argues that advocacy has been a key component to his leadership. Speaking about his own personal experiences, Robinson explains the importance of providing people who experience discrimination, particularly GLBT individuals, with an opportunity to find role models, support, and flourish in the world. He notes how this has been difficult in the society and culture in which we live. In essence, Robinson stresses the importance of finding meaning and purpose in one’s life despite the challenges confronted by people in their attempt to secure their basic human rights. Thus, communities need each person to be a leader and challenge the impediments to justice and fairness in society. While he notes the importance of role models, it seems evident that role models are leaders. They provide support, for example, and ‘inspire/encourage’ others. They have a vision, inspire, are flexible, and are passionate about the lives they lead and about others.
John Sparks, the founder and CEO of Online Image Works, discusses his new book about Twitter and online networking. With a background in education, Sparks claims that persistence, attitude, family, humility, courage, humor, and being a good follower are important to leadership. Claiming that a good leader knows when to follow, he argues that social media has both helped and hurt leadership. How it is used determines whether or not it is helpful or harmful. That said, being a ‘follower’ clearly doesn’t mean succumbing to the status quo; rather, it entails being a listener, an observer, and learning from others. Concluding that it is never the wrong time to do the right thing, Sparks hints at something near and dear to this review’s heart: the potential for each individual to be an effective, ethical leader.
Mind training is a component of leadership, according to James Lopata. The editor in chief at Boston Spirit magazine, and CEO and founder of innerOvation, helping organizations to identify ways to move forward in the 21st century, Lopata addresses the complicated nature of leadership in organizations. It entails team-building across different departments and indirect (as opposed to direct) authority. Ultimately, effective leadership occurs when people are inspired to choose to lead themselves. Mind training can aid in helping one, and others, to find their own strengths and focus. Actively engaged in the practice of meditation for over twenty years, Lopata explains how it has helped in the various areas of his life. While not a means-to-an-end activity, meditation helps one to ‘be’ and ‘be present’. Moreover, it inspires as much as it helps one to focus, both of which are important to successful leadership.
Chad West, an attorney and former Lt. Sgt. in the Army, discusses the impact his service has had on his leadership. Focusing on service, West stresses the importance of “giving back to your community” and serves a number of organizations. Citing the importance of growing and developing as an individual, and its impact on good leadership, West claims it is important to recognize one’s weaknesses, which can empower both the self and others. Challenging oneself continually is important. As he concludes, “remain humble.”
Eaton’s final conversation, with Croft Edwards, the founder of Croft + Company. Edwards, who also has experience in the Army, stresses the importance of authenticity (also near and dear to this reviewer’s heart) and the importance of knowing oneself, investing time and energy into what one chooses to do, and being an authentic, energetic leader. He stresses the importance of listening to what people say. What is important to them? What, and who, do they care about? In what ways do they want to be rewarded? Noting the importance of his own family, and the influence that his parents had on his conception of leadership, Edwards remarks that the challenge of large organizations is that they do need to be adaptive and versatile. It is clear that listening to people and identifying their needs can help them undertake leadership roles that help others become better leaders, to become someone they want to be a leader.
In summary, this book focuses on perspectives of men with diverse work-life leadership experiences. Despite these differences, it is clear that there are some basic themes each identifies as being at the foundation of leadership. Authenticity, mindfulness, listening, service, and helping others are just a few of the things that enhance the ability to lead. In many ways, it also is clear that leadership can be democratic in nature. It relies on engagement with others, helping others, and allowing others to be who they are and become inspired to grow, develop, and make the world, and the people in it, a better place. It can foster social justice. It can foster better understandings about people. It can celebrate diversity. It can change the world.
Joan Whitman Hoff, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy @ Lock Haven University (LHU)
Founding Director, LHU Ethics Center
A Series of Interviews about Leadership and More
Anthony T. Eaton
Leadership and More, 2016