Our very special guests are global business guru Pepyn Dinandt and Military Cross holder, ex-army Colonel Richard Westley OBE. They teamed up and wrote the book Business Leadership Under Fire. This is such a compelling show, packed full of hacks and lessons.
Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services
The Leadership Hacker News
Steve Rush: Have you ever heard, focus takes you where it takes you? Inspired by a blog by Seth Godin many years ago, he had a focus of depth of field, and I’ll share a story with you around how and why focus is so important. Picture the scene. There are two runners, both have exactly the same capability, exactly the same pace and the same injury, an injured left toe. The runner who’s concentrating on how much their left toe hurts will be left in a dust by the one who’s focused on winning.
Even if the winner’s toe hurts just as much. Hurt of course is a matter of perception. Most of what we think about is, we had a choice about where to aim that focus, aim that lens of our attention. We can relieve past injustices, settled old grudges, nurse festering sorts. We can imagine failure build up its potential for destruction and calculate its odds. Or we can imagine generous outcomes that we’re working on. Feel gratitude, feel compassion for those that got us here and revel in the possibilities of what’s next, we have an automatic focus are instinctive and cultural choices, and that focus isn’t the only ones that are available to us. Of course, those are somewhat difficult to change, which is why so few people manage to do so, but there’s no work that pays off better in the long run than focusing on positive and progressive outcomes. Remember the stories that you tell yourself, your story is your story, but you don’t have to keep reminding yourself of the story you’ve told yourself before. If that story doesn’t help you change positively for the future, it’s probably not the right story in the first place. So, focus on the future stories that you want to tell yourself, and guess what? Those stories become a reality. That’s been The Leadership Hacker New. Really looking forward to our conversation with Richard and with Pepyn. Let’s dive into the show.
Start of Podcast
Steve Rush: I’m joined by two very special guests on today’s show. Pepyn Dinandt is a business executive with 30 years’ experience successfully leading and restructuring companies in challenging situations as CEO and Chairman. Or in Amsterdam, Pepyn has lived in a number of countries over the years, including Turkey, Ireland, Switzerland, South America, and UK, where he attended University and now lives with his family in Germany. And he’s joined by Richard Westley, a military cross holder, who’s commanded soldiers and operations at every rank from Lieutenant through to Colonel and environments of desperate situations, including Albania, Afghanistan, Balkans. He retired from the army in 2010, having been responsible for pre-deployment training for forces bound for Iraq and Afghanistan. Between them, they teamed up and wrote the book Business Leadership Under Fire: Nine Steps to Rescue and Transform Organizations, Pepyn and Richard, welcome to The Leadership Hacker Podcast.
Pepyn Dinandt: Hi Steve. Yeah, good morning. Happy to be with you.
Steve Rush: Me too. Hi Richard.
Ricard Westley: Hi Steve.
Steve Rush: So, a little bit about your backstory independently, and then we maybe find out how you kind of collided to come together to write the book. So, Pepyn, a little bit about your backstory?
Pepyn Dinandt: Well, after leaving University, I somehow ended up in Germany and after spending three years at McKinsey, which was my paid business school, as I like to say, I landed my first CEO role in Eastern Germany, which was then just, you know, unified with Western Germany. And I ran a company which had a revenue of 50 million euros, but also losses of 50 million euros. So that was my first contact with the challenge of rescuing and transforming businesses and challenging situations. And I had so much fun. I mean, obviously it was very tough at the time, but I had so much fun doing that, that I have kind of never left that type of challenge.
Steve Rush: Brilliant. And I guess it’s the thrive of being able to rescue those firms that has kept you in that space, right?
Pepyn Dinandt: That, plus the fact that you know, these are environments where you need to learn, because if you’re not willing to listen and learn, you know, you’re going to fail. These are always very, let’s say complex situations, they’re fast moving, they’re fluid. And you know, it really kind of sharpens your skills and obviously, you know, some cases have been more successful than others. You never have only just big successes, but I thoroughly enjoy helping teams be the best version of themselves and you know, rescue these companies, rescue these organizations.
Steve Rush: Yeah, and Richard, before what you do now, have you always been a military man?
Ricard Westley: Yes, I joined the military pretty much straight after school and spent 25 years as an infantry officer serving around the world. Almost exclusively in operations and training roles. I managed to avoid the major staff roles and the ministry of defense for my 25 years. And then I left earlier than I, perhaps needed to, but I was ready to move. And I spent the last 12 years working in a number of appointments in commercial companies and now run my own consulting business.
Steve Rush: Great. So, when did the stars align for you to both meet?
Pepyn Dinandt: Well, I have been always interested in the application of military best practices in business. And I had met about four years ago, a gentleman called Tim Collins. The famous Tim Collins and you know, I had been discussing these ideas that I had about this crossover between the military and business. And he introduced me to Richard, that’s how the two of us met.
Steve Rush: And then Richard, from your perspective, what was the moment you thought, how we are going to do some business together, we’re going to write a book. How did that come about?
Ricard Westley: Yeah, so Tim. I was working with Tim at the time, and he mentioned Pepyn. So, he would you be interested in a conversation. I said, well, I’m always interested in conversations, and I generally like meeting new and successful people. So, you know, Pepyn and I had initial discussions and then some supplementary conversations and started looking at some sort of solution for leaders. It was a discussion over a number of months really. And then the book was a nice fallout because at that time we were in lockdown, and I think Pepyn, and I were both looking for something else to occupy our minds. And hence the hence the book,
Steve Rush: Of course, when you think of the role that the military play versus the role that the commercial enterprises play, there’s such a lot of crossovers in this sphere of leadership isn’t there?
Pepyn Dinandt: Yeah, I think, you know, when we sat down and this is interesting because as Richard just said, you know, we started working together without actually having physically met each other. We were basically, you know, we got to know each other digitally and spend a lot of our early relationship on Zoom. So, you know, we used these experiences, both Richards and myself to kind of look at our learnings, our insights, you know, from good and bad experiences, as well as insights from research we did on successful leadership cases, as well as fade leadership cases and developed from that, the concept for, you know, the book, including obviously the nine steps and Richard being, you know, a very hands on guy than me. So ultimately being somebody who’s you know, a hands-on executive, I think developed a book, which is very much rooted in real life experience, has a down to earth approach. We believe is straightforward to understand because it’s nine steps, with which we try to really cover all angles that we believe is important for leaderships facing transformation challenges. And ultimately, we produced, we believe a very practical guide for leadership when transforming organizations.
Steve Rush: Yeah. It’s a very chronological approach to how leaders can really consider how to transform and continue to grow their business, which we’re going to dive into a moment. But I want to come to you first, Richard, just to explore the parallels from military leadership to commercial leadership, we’ve been very fortunate to have a number of major generals appear on the show already. And the one thing that’s been really consistent from them is that leadership as a behavioral almost has been drilled from the very moment you join an organization, but actually that’s often learned in the commercial organization. Been interested in your spin on things.
Ricard Westley: Very much so. I mean, the military has the luxury of being able to devote time and resource to training and developing their people. And officers go through the RMA Military Academy Sandhurst. Mottos, serve to lead and behaviors are really focused from the get-go. So, you know, a young graduate who spent three or four years at university in quite a selfish sort of environment is suddenly thrust into a very pressurized, initial six weeks of a yearlong course where they’re put under significant amount of pressure and strain to behave in the right way. And doesn’t matter how good or well prepared they think they are, or how fit and robust, or how intellectually gifted they are by about day 10 of the RMA Military Academy Sandhurst. You are so stretched physically, emotionally, mentally, you are quite exhausted, and you have to reach out left and right, and grab people and say, look, we need to work together here.
This is not about me. This is about us. And so that team bonding which then translates into the leadership of that team you know progresses and then going through your military career, you know, you are prepared for every new role you go. You are course trained and you are developed. And then at the collective level, you know, units or battalions or regiments will prepare for operations, deploy on operations, recover from operations, then start that circle again, that cycle, of course, in the real world, in the commercial world, companies don’t have that luxury. You know, they are on operations 24/7. And so, it becomes really important at that stage that the leaders make time to develop their people and to nurture their talent. So, I think there are things that both can learn from each other. The final point I would say is that business find themselves in very, very volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous circumstances most of the time, and certainly now, and the military is designed for that voker, uncertain world. And so, to me, it’s a natural progression for the military to talk to business because they’re comfortable and are designed for that voker world.
Steve Rush: Yeah, Pepyn, I wonder from your expense of being chairman and CEO on a number of businesses, whether or not there’s room for that preparation to take leaders out of the operation space and really immerse them into some intense training and support.
Pepyn Dinandt: Well, look, the practice in most corporations is unfortunately completely different to what Richard has described. In other words, people are not really prepared systematically for leadership. And in the book, we talk about the so-called career X point, which is an interesting phenomenon we’ve seen with many failed leadership examples where people, you know, over time, they do learn initially, and they advance in their career. But when you get to a certain level in organizations, you suddenly believe your now CEO, head of big division, have been successful in the past that you don’t need to learn anymore. When the learning line crosses the career line, which keeps going up and the learning line flattens, we talk about the career X points, and that’s when people basically start making mistakes in business.
Steve Rush: Yeah.
Pepyn Dinandt: And that’s why it’s fascinating to look at the crossover because especially the British military, you know, very, very actively train their leaders to be good, not many businesses do it that way. It’s more always, you know, advancement by chance, advancement by opportunities, but not those systematic.
Steve Rush: Yeah, that makes those sense. So, let’s dive into the book and the nine steps and maybe get some perspective from you as to how the steps within that book can help us and Pepyn we start with you. The first step in the book is that building platform, you call it establishing leadership. Tell us about that?
Pepyn Dinandt: So, Steve, you know, you coach leaders, you coach people that run businesses, you know, so you’re seeing a situation where there is an obvious problem with the business.
Steve Rush: Right.
Pepyn Dinandt: Financials are declining, for me, for us. When we define the steps, especially the first step, we said, you know, this is an environment. This is an opportunity. This is a window where you take that situation, and you call out a burning platform. And with that burning platform, you basically achieve two things. First of all, you establish yourself as the leader, that’s going to take charge of this situation. You know, that’s about conveying the fact that you are safe of hands, having simple messages on, you know, what’s happening and what’s going to happen and projecting certainty as a leader, in a sense of conveying to people. You have a plan; you’re going to get this done.
You’re going to save the situation. So that’s the establishing leadership part. The other part, and this is very often something that you see with formally successful businesses. You know, the organization, which is ultimately the people that work there are in the comfort zone. That’s very often the reason why the business in trouble in the first place. And one of the things you need to really focus on is to galvanize the organization into action, into a change mode by explaining why they need to change. And that’s why it’s so important to do that in the very first step. If you don’t get people in a mentally ready for small or big change, you’re going to have trouble later on with the other steps.
Steve Rush: Yeah. Complacency is a real killer in most organizations, but often people don’t even realize they’re in that comfort zone until others like you or I, or other people on their team pointed out to them and go, this is a problem [laugh]. So, step two, Richard, you call in the book analysis and determination of mission targets. So very much a military focus. Tell us how that translates?
Ricard Westley: Yeah, so the military has a command philosophy called mission command. What we would call you know, empowerment and it really centers around telling your people what you want them to do and why, but not telling them how to do it because they should have the technical skills and they may well be considerably more able than you to actually do the, what. What this chapter is about is really making sure that you understand the intent of your boss or bosses or board or shareholders at whatever level, making sure that everything you do and all the direction that you give to your subordinates is in line with that. And what’s required here is real clarity, real clarity of vision to make sure you’ve got it right. And then clarity of expression to make sure that everybody, you know, from other board members down to the people on the shop floor, really understand what you are about and why you are doing this, so that’s what it is. And chapter two really digs into that idea of getting the big idea, right. And then conveying the message as simply as possible to your people.
Steve Rush: And it’s that simplicity that often gets lost in translation, because my experience tells me that the more simple people can align to a common goal, purpose, mission, vision, the more likely they’re going to achieve it, the more complex it becomes, then people lose that through a bit of diffusion.
Pepyn Dinandt: Yeah, you know, Richard and I, we had a discussion about step one and two in the sense of what comes first, but we like to use the following analogy. I think, you know, if you’re going to be the new chef of a restaurant before you actually get told, you know, what the goal is, what the mission is, it’s good. That’s step one, to get to know the kitchen and the team before you do that discussion. Why step one first and then step two.
Steve Rush: Yeah. It makes sense. There’s been lots of debate about which comes first. And I think I concur with you that you have to, what if you just think of the chronological order, you get hired first before you decide what you’re going to do exactly. And it follows that same principle, doesn’t it?
Pepyn Dinandt: Yeah.
Steve Rush: And in step three, you talk about the evaluation of the environment. I kind like this theater of operations. Tell us about that?
Pepyn Dinandt: You know, steps three is, ultimately very big step, but we like to keep it simple and practical. It’s the moment when you look as a leader closely at your competition or in the military term, your enemy, as well as your, you know, your customers, your market that you are serving, or in the military term, the environment that you’re operating in. And we’ve seen my own experience, learnings, you know, good and bad, but also from the research we did, we’ve seen a truly great business leaders, never underestimate their competition. Everything they do is centered around staying ahead of the competition. And, you know, I talk about the degree of skill and business acumen. So, what’s important is to know your business very well from both an inside perspective and from an outside perspective, know your strengths and weaknesses and those of your competition, because very often when people develop strategies and we’ll talk about that in step four, you know, they overestimate their own strengths, and they underestimate the strengths of their competition. And interesting under step three is the fact that you may find things. You may find out things about your business, about the competition, where the mission you’ve been set under step two becomes maybe not even only just difficult, but maybe even impossible. So, you know, we do write in the book that after step three, it may be necessary to revisit step two, depending on what you find out.
Steve Rush: Is it fair to say that there will be a continual revisiting of step two as their business and their firm or their mission if you like starts to evolve?
Pepyn Dinandt: No, I think if you do it properly, and there’s a great Chinese general called Sun Tzu who wrote a book, The Art of War two and a half thousand years ago, you know, and in my experience, as he says, if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of one hundred battles, but if you know, neither of the enemy, nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. So, in other words, if you do your homework properly and you really know your business well, and you really know your competition, well, I think you can then move on to the next steps. I think could be that instant
that instant where you need to go back once to step two. Yeah, but at some point, you just need to have done your homework. Otherwise, you’re in trouble as a leader. Anyway,
Steve Rush: I suppose it plays to the philosophy of having no plan B.
Pepyn Dinandt: Yes, exactly.
Steve Rush: Yeah [laugh] like it. Yeah, so in step four, I love title of step four, who dears wins. It’s a very common used phrase in the military. I think this comes from the SAS, if my memory is correct. And this is about strategy and tactics, Richard.
Ricard Westley: Yeah, and step four. I mean, I guess the theme that runs through step four is that simplicity rules. The military uses the acronym kiss, keep it simple, stupid, or keep it short and simple. But that strategy for me is about getting the big ideas, right. Giving clear instructions to your people as to what you want them to do. Supervising the execution, but not getting too close. And then having a good process for lessons identified in order to inform best practice. And the chapter actually draws on some work by Michael Porter, where he talks about cost leadership, differentiation and focus in niche markets in order to ensure that, you know, you can deal with your competitors, but stay on track. And as Pepyn says, it builds on, you know, you build on your strength and you attack your competitor’s weakness, which is very much in keeping with the military maneuvers approach, which is, you know, find the enemy’s weak point and exploit it whilst defending you know, your center of gravity.
Step four, gets into an idea about risk taking and how you manage risk, how you mitigate risk and accepting the fact that you can never rule out risk. So, it leads on to stuff that we talk about later, such as contingency planning. And it also indicates that occasionally you have to go back to your mission and say, okay, something’s happened. Something’s changed. Is the mission still valid in its format at the moment? And therefore, you know, am I okay to crack on, or do I need a little bit of work here so that I can get on with the other steps?
Steve Rush: It’s an interesting spin on risk too. Because research has provided loads of evidence over the years that those organizations and entrepreneurs and business leaders who avoid risk actually prevent growth and stifle innovation.
Ricard Westley: Absolutely, absolutely right.
Steve Rush: Yeah.
Ricard Westley: You know, from a military perspective, I always encourage my junior commanders to take risk. You know, my mantra was, go now with a 75% solution and tweak it. Because if you wait for the hundred percent solution, somebody will get there first.
Steve Rush: Yeah. And I guess that spins then into step five Pepyn in the book, which is around determining the best course of action. And I guess the question I had was, is there ever a best course of action?
Pepyn Dinandt: Well, that’s a good question, Steve, but if we take a step back, one of the fascinating things for me, you know, looking at the crossover between military and business is that. Step five is something which in the military, in the best practice cases of the military is always done very, very, very well, but in business, not done very often. And the reason it’s the following, you know, in business, a situation is typically where the leadership and the let’s say top team develop a plan and then basically give the plan to the organization to get done. But what we say in step five is that, you know, if you want to do it properly, what you do is, you sit down as the planning group with the execution group and you get, you know, you brief them on what you want to happen, and they are allowed to give their feedback.
And you know, you have to take the time to get that feedback. You, you know, you really have to also be open for a reality check of your plan. And the SES here is brilliant because, you know, in their mission success cycle, which is plan, brief, execute, debrief. The brief part is so important where the guys that have planned go to the guys that are going to execute, present the plan, but get feedback from the people that will be executing the operators and then maybe even change the plan because they see that from an execution perspective, things that are not well thought through maybe even unrealistic. And this reality check, that’s step five. Entails is something whereas a leader, as a CEO, you need a healthy ego, you know, to be able to deal with that. Because it means that somebody may criticize your plan. You know, one of the people that you are going to be hiring or that you’re going to be entrusting with opening the French office of a company that is up to now only sat in Britain. You know, he may be telling you, well, this plan’s not going to work because ABC and you have to be able to accept that criticism and go back and redo the plan. So that’s why step five is critical. And it’s unfortunately not seen so often in business, you know, not well done in business.
Steve Rush: And I love the notion of healthy ego. Again, similarly, there’s been a lot of research that, and in fact, to be fair, there’s been lots of publicity and things written, ego is a bad thing, and it is if it’s overplayed and it’s not helpful, but having a healthy ego gives you confidence, direction and purpose. And I wondered what your spin on that would?
Pepyn Dinandt: Every leader need ego. By definition, a leader has ego, but the problem that we have, and we saw this when we did the research, especially for the bad leadership cases, you know, many of these leaders are egocentric. And we see this, for example, again, in the military, the special air services I think is very, is a great example here. You know, you can have great leaders that haven’t healthy ego that are, let’s say, aware of their own limitations, are open to criticism. And basically, as you, in that podcast mentioned, you know, they don’t have a centric ego, but rather a healthy ego. And I believe that that you know, good business managers, good business leaders, not necessarily founders entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos, but the people that are entrusted to lead these businesses in the second-generation. Key is for them to have a good, healthy ego, because it’s so important to creating a learning organization.
Steve Rush: Yeah.
Pepyn Dinandt: And that stops you from, at some point in the future, getting into a problem where you need to do transformation.
Steve Rush: And that also will help you find other people around you who bring additional strengths and characteristics, which is leading into step six, which is about building and managing that excellent leadership team. Richard, this is essential in the military as well as in the corporate world, isn’t it?
Ricard Westley: Yeah, it is. And you know, this, whole idea of pulling together and then maintaining a high-performance team is absolutely crucial to mission success, as is, you know, spotting and nurturing potential. And we’ve already mentioned you know, committing time and resource to developing your people to make sure that team that you’ve selected is then maintained and developing your team to make sure, you know, they’ve got clear aligned, you know objectives and values. Those teams need to be encouraged to communicate frequently and effectively, they need to be collaborative, you know, that sort of collaboration breaks down the silos that can often slow up business. And that team needs to build trust through relationships, but it also needs to be able to learn and adapt. And we get onto that in step nine, but it is, it’s about making sure that you get the right people and that you don’t default to just people, you know, but actually getting the right people and the right job, and then giving them the responsibility
Steve Rush: And step seven plays into that lovely, doesn’t it? As part of that whole organizational structure in order to get the right people in the right place to get the best results. Pepyn, what’s your experience of making sure that in that space you’ve got the right people?
Pepyn Dinandt: Yeah. Look, I think, in my own experience, very often you come into a company that is in trouble and you have to very quickly, you know, go through your steps and act. So, one of the key questions is to look at the culture of the organization and to try to understand, because often, as I said before, these companies have been successful. So for example, find a customer centric culture in this company, or is a very technical culture. It’s important to understand, you know, what you’re dealing with because ultimately, as I said before, the organization is, another way of saying, you know, five thousand people, ten thousand people, you know, whatever the size of the company is, you need to get them to do something different. So, is it a dynamic organization or is it a company that is clearly in the comfort zone?
You need to understand this because then you have to organize yourself to take that plan and make sure you develop the structure that has maximizing the business impact from what you’re trying to achieve. My own experience, Steve is that in general, smaller units are much more effective than large units. But the thing that ultimately guides, you know, the structure that you’re going to be implementing is, what you are facing in the market. In other words, are you competing against smaller competitors who are organized in smaller entities? Is it a local market? So, you know, once you have all this information, you can then develop and define the structure that you believe.
Steve Rush: Yeah.
Pepyn Dinandt: Is going to be most effective. But what you need to do is, change it, only for the sake of getting it out of its comfort zone. So typically, I find larger structures, more functional organizations, and typically I define them smaller. And I like to call these business units that have, you know, delegated responsibility, or as Richard said before, you know, where the people leading these smaller entities take responsibility and have freedom.
Steve Rush: Yeah.
Pepyn Dinandt: And degree of decision making.
Steve Rush: That makes load of sense. So, step eight, Richard, there’s two words in there that have really interesting connotations. Campaign delivery. So, for me, when I read that, the first thing I thought of is, oh, this is wrapped up in a campaign strategy at IE. There’s a start and end. There’s lots of moving parts all in the right places. And of course, the one thing that’s essential in every business is you have to deliver, what does it speak to?
Ricard Westley: Yeah. So, you’ve got your plan and you’re probably feeling quite proud of your plan. But how can you stress test it? And how’s it going to survive contact with a competitive arena. And that’s absolutely based on the military assertion that, you know, no plan survives contact with the enemy because your competitors or your opponents on a sports field for that matter, they have a vote. And have you contingency planned against their likely responses you know, what is the market going to do when you introduce some new product or service in there, which disrupts, what is their default setting going to be? And how do you plan against that? And this whole idea of contingency planning is that, of course you can’t plan against every possible contingency. And I always in the military planned against the worst case and the most likely case, because if you’ve got a contingency plan for those two, anything else happens in between, you can sort of tweak it, but it is about war gaming and red teaming.
And this is not confined to the military or to business. One of the examples we cite in step eight was the way that the British Olympic Committee approached their metal chances and the matrix that was created by the likes of John Steele and Peter Keen in the committee that they would go and pour over, you know, twice a week to make sure that actually they weren’t missing something. And if they need a contingency plan against, you know, an outbreak of, you know, foot and mouth in the country just before, what were they going to do? So, war gaming and red teaming, you know, which businesses should do, but often pay lip service to become really important. And finally, it comes down to accountability. Yeah, it’s the leader’s responsibility. You know, you take the credit when things go well, I’m afraid if they don’t, then you’ve got to be held accountable. And it’s all down to you at the last at the last count.
Steve Rush: When you start to get people to think about plan for the end planned. The mindset will take you to what you know, or broadly what you can anticipate. But I bet that’s changed in the last two years. Me included by the way, got caught out big time with how the pandemic through that perspective to us. And I wonder if in the future organizations will be more thoughtful to that because of what’s happened in the last few years.
Pepyn Dinandt: I think Steve, you know, step eight is, obviously, it’s the execution of the plan, but it’s so much more than that. And, you know, I learned for example, an interesting military term, which I believe is also very applicable to business, which is UDA. You know, this is something developed, I think during the Korean war where they saw that the inferior U.S. jets were winning against superior Russian jets flown by the North Koreans. And somebody figured out that the reason was because the pilots flying those American jets were much more in tune in what was going on in the world, let’s say, applying a concept that was later called UDA, which is observe, orientate, decide and act. In other words, they were, you know, able to adjust to what was going on in the field. So as Mr. Von Moltke a famous I think Prussian General once said, you know, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. And that’s why we also emphasize in step eight that a leader needs to be close to the action. Needs to see what’s going on in the field with his plan so that he can adjust real time. You know, as Richard just said, have a contingency plan, but make sure the leader is leading that change of plan together with this team.
Steve Rush: Which is why step nine is also then so important, which is that final after-action review.
Pepyn Dinandt: Yeah, and the after-action review is something for me personally, that was completely new. I learned this from Richard, you know, Richard can maybe add to this because he was very instrumental in bringing that to the British military, but this is a very interesting concept. And this is by the way for the SAS, their last step in their four-step model. So, you know, when you have finished your transformation program, be it, you know, a cost take out exercise or a relaunch of a growth initiative. You know, you sit down with everybody which includes the boss, but also the people that have been, you know, executing parts of the plan and you have an open and frank and honest discussion as to what went right, what was good, but also what did not go right? And what can we learn for the next time?
So, it’s seldom a business leader. I have to say that is, you know, able to sit there in the room and take constructive feedback, open bracket, maybe sometimes criticism, you know, of their plan and then take that and think about it and, you know, change things for the next time. But as I said before, this is something which is so important to do, right. Because you create with it, the ultimate learning organization. And I, myself, you know, as I said, this has been a great, interesting learning for me personally. I have seen it in very successful organizations where this is practiced. Maybe not so systematically as we describe it here in step nine, but it’s definitely something I would recommend for all companies to do because it’s so powerful.
Steve Rush: Yeah, and it stops repeating mistakes in the past and focuses you on building on the strengths that you’ve achieved as well.
Pepyn Dinandt: But also, you know, just a signal from leadership to do this, to you know, sit there and take criticism. I think it’s so powerful for the organization because it just sends a signal. You know that there is a culture of openness where if it’s constructive, if it objective, you know, people can step up and say, look boss, I don’t think this is the right way. I think we need to do it differently because 1, 2, 3.
Steve Rush: It’s a really pragmatic nine steps. I’m really delighted that we were able to dive into them and get into them and we’ll allow our listeners an opportunity to find out how they can get a copy and dive to learn a bit more about your work later on. But first I’m going to turn the tables a little bit. And this is part of the show where our listeners have become accustomed to where we get to hack into your leadership minds. So, I’m going to come in turn and quick fire, top three leadership hacks from you both. Pepyn kick us off?
Pepyn Dinandt: My top three leadership hacks. One, you know, as I said before, absolutely paramount to get your first step right in a transformation situation. If you don’t get that right, you’re in trouble. Second, the plan is nothing. The planning is everything, you know. So, I love that saying from Benjamin Franklin, fail to prepare and prepare to fail. And three, if you want to be a really good leader, then you need to have a healthy ego because that is a key to being very impactful and leading a learning organization.
Steve Rush: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, Love it. Richard, what about your top three leadership hacks?
Ricard Westley: First thing I’d say. Two leaders is a need to learn to listen and really listen. Not, listen to respond, but to really listen, to understand their people because otherwise they’ll miss so much more than just the technicalities and the practicalities. They will miss stuff that involves culture and culture is important. Second one is, you know, whatever you do, issue clear instructions, let people know the intent, the why, and empower them to get on with it. And thirdly, you are there to make decisions. And as my first colour sergeant said to me, you know, at the end of the day, Mr. Westley, you have to make a decision, good decision, great. Bad decision, regrettable. No decision, unforgivable.
Steve Rush: Yeah. And bad decisions lead to learning as well [Laugh] you know.
Ricard Westley: Indeed. Yeah, yeah. You’ve got to fail to learn and thrive.
Steve Rush: That’s it, yeah. So, the next part of the show we call it Hack to Attack. So, this is where we ask our guests to share an event, a story or experience where something has particularly not gone well for them in their work or their life, but as a result of it, they’ve learned. And it’s now a force of good in what they do. What would be your Hack to Attack Pepyn?
Pepyn Dinandt: Yeah, look. First was when I was a, you know, first time CEO I had come from McKinsey, and I thought as many McKinsey do, that I could walk on water and do it all alone. But I was lucky because through fortunate circumstances, I very quickly learned that it’s individuals that may play the game, but teams that beat the odds. And that’s been one of my mantras ever since. And the other one is that later on in life, I learned the hard way that not every mission is accomplishable, yeah. So as a leader, you need to be brave enough to stand up to your board, sponsor, owner, and explain that this mission that you have been set is impossible and will not work as envisaged, you know, and not many leaders are brave enough to do that.
Steve Rush: That’s very important lessons learned there, and I can particularly resonate with the last, because there comes with a fear of particularly if you’re leading somebody else’s strategy, letting them know that they’ve also screwed up in the process.
Pepyn Dinandt: Yep.
Steve Rush: Yeah. Richard, how about you?
Ricard Westley: Yeah, I’d harp back to a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia that very nearly failed. I mean, very nearly failed. It nearly brought down the UN and the British Prime Minister, John Major offered his position up to the cabinet because of what had happened to us. And we managed to model through and the town that we were defending did not fall unlike Srebrenica just up the valley and sadly but I would say what I learned from that is, you know, the depth of mine and other people’s resilience and how you have to keep working at that and keep topping up their resilience banks when times are tight. I learn to never give up, to keep thinking, keep moving, and again, keep contingency planning at every level,
Steve Rush: Really powerful lessons, particularly in times of crisis like that as well. You can rely on those foundations to help you through, can’t you?
Ricard Westley: Indeed.
Steve Rush: So, the last part of the show is you get to do a bit of time travel and all the years of wisdom you’ve been able to attain in your more mature days, you get a chance to bump into yourselves at 21 and give yourselves some advice. What would Pepyn advice to Pepyn at 21 be?
Pepyn Dinandt: Well, by the way, I wrote the book or we wrote the book or the idea for the book came about of providing my younger self, something useful and practical to work with. But to answer your question directly, I think for me, knowledge and experience, you know, the realization that these are greatest weapons in times of trouble that, you know, the good and experienced people that have trained it and done it a hundred times before. They are so valuable to you as a young person. And as a young man, I would advise myself to adopt the scout mindset. So be curious, be open, be grounded and learn. So, to listen and learn from those more experience around you, because typically, you know, young you, does not know at all, even if you think you do.
Steve Rush: And the scout and soldier mindset are those kinds of different perspectives. And we can use a metaphor of almost a kind a growth and curious mindset versus a fixed and closed mindset, right?
Pepyn Dinandt: Yes, exactly.
Steve Rush: Yeah. Richard, 21. I guess you were heading off at Sandhurst, weren’t you?
Ricard Westley: I was pretty much passing out at Sandhurst at 21.
Steve Rush: Oh, yeah [Laugh]
Ricard Westley: What I would say to myself there is, the one thing I really learned is the most, for a military commander, but also in business, I guess that one of the most important information requirements you have is time. How much time have I got and when do I have to achieve this by? And so, I would say to young RJ Westley at 21 or 19, get better at time management. Because I don’t think I was terribly good at it. And of course, I was fueled with the mindset of most young infantry officers that wanted to go and earn their spurs, go and prove themselves and yeah, and go into violent situations and win. And I guess what I would say to that young person is be careful what you wish for.
Steve Rush: Yeah, very good advice, indeed. So, I’ve had a ball talking, I could spend the rest of the day diving into these subjects because as you probably already know, I’m a bit of a leadership geek and you have an enormous amount of lessons that we can learn from. So firstly, thank you for sharing them so far, but if our listeners did want to get a copy of the book, learn a bit more about the work that you both do now. Where’s the best place for us to send them?
Pepyn Dinandt: Well [laugh], there is a website, http://www.businessleadershipunderfire.com where they can learn more about the book. And then there is a link on the website to go directly to Amazon where they can then order it. I think that would be the recommendation for your listeners.
Pepyn Dinandt: Perfect. And we’ll include that link along with any social media links that you have in our show notes. So as soon as people listen to this, they can dive straight in and find a bit more about what you do. It just goes without saying, to say, thank you ever so much for coming on our show, joining our community here on The Leadership Hacker Podcast. Pepyn, Richard, thanks very much.
Pepyn Dinandt: Steve. Thank you very much.
Ricard Westley: Absolute pleasure. Thanks.
Steve Rush: I want to sign off by saying thank you to you for joining us on the show too. We recognize without you, there is no show. So please continue to share, subscribe, and like, and continue to get in touch with us with the great new stories that we share every week. And so that we can continue to bring you great stories. Please make sure you give us a five-star review where you can and share this podcast with your friends, your teams, and communities. You want to find us on social media. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter @leadershiphacker, Leadership Hacker on YouTube and on Instagram, the_leadership_hacker and if that wasn’t enough, you can also find us on our website leadership-hacker.com. Tune into next episode to find out what great hacks and stories are coming your way. That’s me signing off. I’m Steve rush, and I’ve been your Leadership Hacker.