Be a leader worth following w/ Tim Spiker

Be a leader worth following w/ Tim Spiker

Zack Hudson: Well, welcome to the Passing the Baton leadership podcast. So glad to have you with us today Sir! 

Tim Spiker: Zack, thanks a lot. Looking forward to talking with you and with your audience. 

ZH: Yeah, I’m looking forward to sharing your story. I’m actually reading your book The Only Leaders Worth Following and I’m looking forward to diving into it, but before we do, why don’t you let Baton Carriers know just a little bit about your journey. 

TS: I’ll tell you the story about how I started in the in this leadership development space. I was waiting tables at a restaurant in St. Louis, Mo (which is in the center of the United States for the international listeners) and I was invited to do it open house for a marketing company. I found a couple of things when I was getting ready to study marketing in grad school and I thought there would probably be free meal there. 

I got there and there was an open seat in the middle of the room. I thought it would be a little presentation, so I took the seat in middle of the room….and that turned out to be very important. Because I found out about 3 minutes in that I was at a recruiting event for an MLM company, and they wanted me to sell water purifiers to all my family and friends. 

And I’ve got nothing against MLM companies, but I wasn’t interested. But what happened just after that effort, is that I realized what was going on and started talking about what means to be an employee 

It was such a dark cloud of doom and gloom, and I just sat there with everyone else in the presentation and I just thought it didn’t have to be that way. 

How come when somebody says, “What’s it like to work for Zack?” 

Why can’t that answer be, “You can’t believe the results we’re producing.”  

“I can’t believe how much I’m growing.” 

“I can’t believe the wholeness of my life and my family is a part of this in a meaningful way.” 

Why couldn’t that be the answer? 

That idea launched me on my leadership journey to learn as much about leadership as I could. 

ZH: So tell me some things that you are excited about doing these days. 

TS: We ran into some research in number of years ago and ultimately with the group I was working with, I figured I’m not going to be able to speak freely because an unusual message, and we’re not going to be able to do that freely inside a consulting firm or even inside a company’s leadership development team. About seven years ago we took the plunge and went out and created an organization. 

What we’re excited about doing is bringing this unexpected message and an unconventional method to the marketplace. It’s just been a real joy over the last seven years. 

ZH: I’m currently reading your book The Only Leaders Worth Following and really appreciate the whole concept of the book, which is that ¾ of your leadership effectiveness comes from who you are and not what you do. 

So why is that number important to consider as we look at our own growth and how we invest in others? 

TS: Well, investment really is the is the keyword. When I say 3/4 of your effectiveness as a leader comes from who you are, not what you do. It kind of sounds like I stuck my finger in the air one day and that’s not actually what happened. 

This number is from hard statistical research that I got a chance to be a part of a number of years ago, and so it’s so critical when you look at that data and then you think about how we invest in leadership development across the globe. 

Are we really investing 3/4 of our dollars and our energy and our time in becoming more well developed from the inside out?  (I will say it’s not even close to that ratio honestly) Knowing the data becomes important if we want to be efficient and effective in order to take that 3/4 ratio into heart. 

ZH: I have a operations background so when I was trying to sell leadership programs it was always about showing the numbers and money besides just the soft and warm and fuzzies behind leadership. We were able to get some programs built out by showing the value. I think that ¾ number is very relevant in showing the true context around the focus of leadership the way it should be rather than the way we approach it sometimes.  

Let’s dive in the Who of Leadership. The first concept you talk about here is Others Focused. Tell us a bit about this as well as some tips on how we can begin to strengthen this in our own leadership walk. 

TS: At a certain level it’s pretty simple. It starts with the idea of even though I’m in the position of leadership, do I think that this is all about me and my enrichment in my next step? My promotion, and my accomplishments? Or am I showing up as somebody who is about the people around me that I’m influencing daily? 

The others focused concept is that it is not about my ego, my bank account, or my advancement. It’s about the people that I am bringing along with me. 

That’s what it means to be Other Focused. 

ZH: What are some ways that maybe we’ve been caught up and we become…. Maybe I don’t know that self-centered is the right word, but that’s what I’m gonna go with right now that turn it from more of focusing on ourselves to be more focused on others. 

TS: Yeah, I think it’s fine to self say, self-centered and honestly using words like self-centeredness, is why we started the company, so that we can freely talk about those things because most of the business and consulting world know these things exist, but they don’t want to openly talk about it. 

You know some of the ways that we combat that sort of thing is just being exposed to the concept that the very best leaders that most of us have followed are generous with their time. 

They talk about people who told them the truth, even when it was hard. But they did it in a way that showed that they cared about them. They weren’t trying to abuse them. There is story after story about leaders or other focused around us, and one of the things that we work on in a pretty specific way around this is the idea of being curious. 

“Am I a curious leader?” We got to expand that idea out from intellectual curiosity to the people around us. 

  • How do they see things? 
  • How do they feel about things? 
  • What are their perspectives? 

Use this simple phrase when engaging with others: 

“Tell me more about that.” 

Whether you are a leader, or practicing for when you will be a leader, there is an exercise that you can do here. 

Twice a day for seven days, (14 times this week) I’m going to say, “Tell me more about that.” 

I’d say about 98% of the time when I use that phrase, I learn at least an edge of something that I didn’t know previously. It may be just a perspective or an idea that somebody else has that I didn’t know about. That improves relationships and it gives me more information as a leader. Time and time again, leaders tell me that they struggle because they have so much imperfect information. 

And so these are two things that come out of being others-focused: 

  • I’m interested in you. 
  • It improves the relationship and improves the information. 

ZH: Yeah, we’ve talked something similar here, Passing the Baton about how to become more likable with others and that’s one of the ideas that we share. Just asking questions and just being involved in the other person, not really sharing so much about yourself, because people like to talk about themselves, right? 

And they walk away saying, “Tim was awesome!” but may not have said anything, you just asked questions the whole time. 

TS: I’ve heard this phrase many times were like, “You’re so smart,” meanwhile you’re thinking to yourself, “I didn’t say anything.” 

So just taking a genuine interest in others and fighting against that battle against self-interest. It’s going to be a battle for life that will never end but, it’s worth the fight because of the type of relationships and information that it produces. 

ZH: So the next concept that we need to work in order to grow our Who of Leadership is called Inwardly Sound. Tell us about this idea here. 

TS: One of the analogies I like to use with Inwardly Sound is to imagine that we’re going out on the ocean. We’re going to get out on this boat and we think about the hull of that boat. You want it to have integrity. 

Essentially, we want to be able to take a beating and still be together. You want to be able to be able to survive waves and wind and weather of all kinds. You want to be able to count on it.  

Take that same idea and apply it to a person.  When somebody has integrity to the extent that I can count on them that when the challenges of work in life come at them, they’re not easily blown over. They can take a punch and continue because they’re clear and who they are. They are settled in here. They’re not insecure in seeking out everybody’s approval all the time. 

They have that centeredness and subtleness about them. They are port in the storm to use another analogy around water, but not just because they’re a friend. I’m saying they are a port because they’ve done the work to understand who they are. 

That’s a leader who’s inwardly sound. 

ZH: I think focusing on the core who we are helps us be better leaders in the workplace and in our personal lives as well. What are some of the benefits for leaders that leverage the power of the “Who” they are in their leader? 

TS: There’s a connection point here. When we become more inwardly sound and others focus, we become more trustworthy. 

We trust the person who’s about us and not about themselves more than the person that is self-centered. 

There is a deep connection between being trustworthy and engaging.  

There’s a very direct connection between these two things. We’ve got 300 studies worldwide that connect engagement to performance. We discovered the who not what principle through this research, but this arc of leadership is what I’ve just been describing. The connections between Inwardly Sound and Others Focused to trustworthiness, to engagement and eventually to performance. 

That’s why this matters so much in leadership. 

ZH: Another analogy that I think of is trust is the key to a door. It’s hard to get in when the door’s locked and if trust is the key, without that it’s hard to get through to have engagement in a meaningful way. 

TS: We do a little exercise with our clients where we read an email to them and we tell them to imagine it’s coming from a trustworthy person and not trustworthy person and then we ask them to rate their engagement afterward. 

And Zack, we don’t change a single word in either email. It’s the exact same email. 

On average with the groups that I work with, the average increase engagement by changing the trustworthiness of the leader is 275%. 

ZH: Wow. Yeah, I can see I can see that.  

TS: Imagine somebody you really trust is. And they say, “I’ve got a great opportunity for you,” and now imagine somebody you really don’t trust saying the same thing.  

We see that totally differently, right? 

ZH: That’s right, they’re like, “Hey, sit in the table in the middle of this conference room and have a free lunch on me. Trust me.” 

TS: Yeah, that’s right. 

So these is a big connection between trust and ultimately the results that we’re able to produce as leaders because of that discretionary effort of engagement. 

ZH: I love the power that comes from being Inwardly Sound and Others Focused, so let’s break down a couple of misnomers as we start to wrap up our time today. 

Isn’t others focuses the same as being customer centric? 

TS: Oh man, I love this question because I’ve seen this go off the rails. Many times in this conversation, people will be repeating back Inwardly Sound and then they will say and “Outwardly Focused.” 

And I’m like no, it’s Others Focused

It’s about the people. 

It’s important in business for us to be customer centric but customer centricity is a great strategy for many businesses, that’s exactly what it is. It’s a strategy. 

if I’m just focused on customers and I’m not paying attention to the human beings around me that I’m actually leading then I’m not really an Others Focused leader. I’ve actually taken all of the personal sacrifice that goes into being Others Focused and just taken that out of the leadership equation and I’m not going to have that trust that we’re talking about, so there’s no problem.  

Focus on your customers, sure, but being Others Focused is not about customer centricity. It’s about all the people that you’re leading in influence. 

ZH: Alright, I will throw another one at you. 

So all I have to be is Inwardly Sound and Others Focused and that’s it right? I’m going to be an exceptional leader after that. Is it that easy? 

TS: It is not, but the What of leadership still matters. When you think about the What of leadership, think about vision and driving, culture, strategy, execution, and motivation. 

The analogy that we use around this to see the connection between the Who and the What of Leadership is that of a tree. 

The root system is the Who of Leadership. everything we see is the What of Leadership. When we say, “Who not what.” We’re not saying that the What of Leadership doesn’t matter. We’re e answering the question about what is the foundation of your leadership? Where does it begin? 

It begins with the roots and ultimately impacts the What of leadership. We need to have a really healthy and effective What. So much of that is impacted by Who we are. 

I’ll tell just a quick story to make the point. 

If I’m in charge of strategy, but I am also an insecure proud, and non-curious leader. Imagine who I don’t have in the room to talk about strategy. I probably don’t include anyone who’s smarter than me. Imagine who I don’t listen to because I’m not humble. It’s about my ideas and if I’m not curious about other people’s ideas, we’re not engaging. So you see how Who impacts my ability to be a strategic thinker. That’s the connection between the two. What really matters and it’s deeply influenced by Who. 

ZH: Thanks for hanging out with me today. I definitely recommend the book. Where can our listeners hang out with you, and where can they find the book? 

TS: you can find the book on Amazon and all the other kinds of electronic resources there. 

Online, you can find us at if you’re interested, you can be a part of our contact list and all the things that normally go along with that, so I would love to have anybody join along with this from the leadership side who would like to be a part of it.  

ZH: Thank you so much for being on the show with us and appreciate your time. 

TS: Zack, thank you so much.