Leadership has to be about you. If you want to be a better leader, you need to know who you truly are. If you don’t, you will end up adopting a masquerade that prevents you from establishing authentic connections with your followers. Today’s guest is Minter Dial, an international professional speaker, author, and consultant in the worlds of leadership branding and digital strategy. Minter discusses with Alicia Dunams the importance of authenticity in your leadership, how pragmatism helps lead you to success, and why you should allow yourself to be imperfect while striving to be the best. Join in the conversation and discover how to tap into yourself and bring out the leader in you.
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Being Yourself Makes You A Better Leader With Minter Dial
I’m excited to introduce Minter Dial. He is an international professional speaker, author, and consultant in the worlds of leadership, branding and digital strategy. Minter had a successful international career at L’Oréal. He works with world-class organizations to help activate their brand strategies and determine the best way to integrate new technologies. What I’m excited about is his new book called You Lead: How Being Yourself Makes You a Better Leader. That’s available in hardcover, paperback and all of the things on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indigo Books. Minter, it’s great to have you here. My experience of you so far is a very multifaceted individual. You were speaking into being a man of many talents. I said that to you when I first connected with you. You said something about that you are a man of many talents but not good at all of them. Is that what you said or did I misspeak?
I’ve done many things but I’m not great at anything.
Let’s go back. The first question I like to ask anyone in an interview is, why did you write this book?
This book is my fourth. It was supposed to be my first. The way I embarked upon it when I first went to Dubrovnik to write the first 30,000 words in 2014 was this is the book of my life, but you can’t just do work. A leadership book isn’t about leading at work. Leadership has to be about you full-on. As you brush your teeth, as you’re having breakfast with your family, as you commute with the train conductor and you talk to that person and the stranger beside you, the team you’re working with, and everybody else, and you at the center of that. That was the idea. It took me five different, huge life-changing experiences to land this baby up in January of 2021. This is, in essence, the full version of me in work and personal experience.
This was your first book you started writing and it ended up being your fourth book. You have other books that you wrote before this. Do you want to share with us the titles of the other books?
The very first one and that came around because of a Skype message is a book about my grandfather. It’s called The Last Ring Home, which is also a documentary film. It’s on PBS. The second book, which came as an interruption for the book of my life, is called Futureproof. It’s all about how to help yourself through all the disruptive technologies. The third book, which was an interruption in the little chapter of my life came around because of another tragic event was how to be more empathic in life. The name of the book is Heartificial Empathy, Putting Heart into Business and Artificial Intelligence. I finally came around with my last book, You Lead. That was the journey with a few interruptions and hiccups in life.
In this book, you were speaking about how being yourself makes you a better leader. Specifically, I want to jump into that. How to manage ethics and politics specifically at work in the environment of global disruption? We’re in 2021 and we’re in a very complex work environment. I want you to speak into that and wrap in what you shared about leadership. As you said, leadership is your whole being. It’s how you show up from your family and the workplace out in the world. How have the social-political opportunities impacted leadership in how people are showing up?
A crisis by another word, opportunities by an attitude. First of all, the real message of my book as a leader, as anybody is to spend time figuring out who you are. Until you’ve done that, the chances are that you’re going to have a thing on your shoulder called a chip or some elements in your baggage that are transporting issues that you haven’t dealt with. You end up projecting a sense or an image of you that is not who you are. That gap between what you’re presenting in who you are is not good for your energies and the way you are. That’s the first point.
When it comes to things like ethics and politics, there are two points to it. The first is you have to be strategic and you’re not going to be stupid. You also need to know what your governance models are because you’re the entrepreneur and you run the company. That’s one gig. It’s privately held, 100% shares. That’s one type of environment. It would be silly to operate in a massive multinational where you are a middle-level manager, thinking that you have the same rights and liberties as a person who is an entrepreneur, privately held, 100% owned. There’s nuance in this. At the end of the day, you want to be successful and effective. You need to know and understand the constructs when you go. The strategic point is to figure out also what your company, the brand or needs are about, and remember that.
Ultimately, when it comes to ethics and politics, these are deeply personal. Don’t go with the spin-doctor stuff. Don’t go with ethics just because you think it would be nice to have because ethics are deeply personal, especially as you become closer to the top of the pile of leaders, we understand what your own personal ethics are. You need to be real to that in front of the mirror in your own bathroom. If you’re not real there, when you’re out in the big public being interviewed by journalists who are going after you or on social media because they want to go after you, it will be found out. Transparency has happened. That’s not always good but that’s our reality.
Let the leash out and allow people to be who they are, and the customers will feel that. Click To Tweet
There’s an element of pragmatism when you’re trying to do it in a company. Understand your governance and liberties. You don’t want to be fired because being fired like being a failure. It doesn’t help. Secondly, dial into who you are. When you as the leader starts talking about the stories, ethics, and political standpoints you’re interested in bringing, you can’t make this stuff up. This is not like you’re having somebody do it for you. This has got to come from you. Otherwise, we’ve got the big, old BS spray, and they’re going to call you out for full of shit.
You championed this concept of human-first leadership. Can you explain to the audience what that means, especially in 2021?
Put it in Vogue and shoot it at a double-page spread. That’s who we are with the great retouching and all that. Now, companies are having to deal with social, customer service, sales, all sorts of different ways and every employee is a potential blogger.
They’re under the microscope. Every employee is a blogger and companies are under a microscope these days.
The issue is this. You can try to control everything or you have to allow for mistakes and imperfections. Nobody is perfect including yourself. Humanity and relationships are messy. The nature of relationships between a customer and a company has become messier because you can’t just tell the ad agency to go out and run the message. You’ve got shit happening through different channels. These people are maybe doing it digitally. They can still do backspace. Sometimes, they can delete but they’re still typing on keyboards. These are individual humans. Are they bringing their whole self to this work? Are they thinking of this black cloud that’s sitting over me, making me worried about every single comma that’s misplaced?
Humanity is about trying to figure out to create culture because culture is all about humanity, behaviors, and the language that you use. It figures out that we can accept our foibles and imperfections, and yet allow us to strive to be our best. It doesn’t eliminate the desire to strive to be our best but if you embrace your imperfections and the messiness of relationships. By the way, these words are coming out of my mouth as I speak. I can screw it up, add too many expletives, bump the microphone, and do stuff that doesn’t make it perfect. That’s important to be able to do that. I’m not having some overlord looking at everything I’m doing. You give autonomy to people. You let the leash out and allow people to be who they are, and the customers will feel that. That sense of authenticity starts being real.
The other stuff is a high process, constant regard on efficiencies, stress on performance. That inevitably not only has breakdowns in performance but breakdowns in burnout, mental health and health. To be exact, I experienced that personally. I don’t usually talk about this but it feels like I need to take it. I experienced that firsthand. I developed late-onset Type 1 diabetes. Thanks to the goddamn stresses and disconnections that I was experiencing at work, which led me to leave.
Speak into that a little bit more. I’m sure that globally, corporations are dealing with that. People are burnt-out and overwhelmed. Something that the pandemic has created, I know there are a lot of headquarters that are decentralizing the workplace and people are working remotely. That creates its own problems in terms of having several people in the household, using the internet, being able to do calls and all of that. One thing that I’m hearing is that headquarters and companies are liking this trend of decentralization because they’re saving money. If you would call yourself a futurist of work, would you say that working from home is supporting people in terms of mental health and physical health?
The answer to that is it depends. There are so many things that go into this. One of the feelings that I have out of this pandemic is that a lot of people are leaning into this notion of what matters. I’m going to spend my energies working for this company. It turns out that life is short. People do die. What am I going to do on this planet? Am I going to get out of bed, get that cup of coffee and rush to my desk to do what? What am I feeling as it happens? When you spend hours looking at yourself on a screen, you have an opportunity to use your word for self-reflection. You’re looking at yourself now and we’re also looking at ourselves in the bigger picture. What’s this all for? I think that there’s a greater need to understand why we do what we do, and to make sure that there’s a match between what our professional north is and what our personal north is.
In order for that to happen, the bosses who are running these remote teams are the ones who need to do it themselves on them. Many older leaders like myself were brought up to say, “We’re the cheerleaders. We’re the go-getters. We’re the vision givers. We’re going to set the path. Go for it. I’m going to exhort you. I’m going to tell you the story. I know everything.” Unless they dial into what they’re feeling through this, they will ipso facto, burn out people and themselves in the process because they’re not being real with themselves. They’re going to adopt a masquerade, an image that comes from an old-time that is no longer relevant and certainly no longer useful.
With that said, you can still inject and provide energy and be optimistic. Be understanding that not every day you’re going to be great. When you recognize that, then you’re not going to try to go with your A-game all the time. You might even admit that it’s not so great, “At least, I’m not feeling great because of something.” By admitting that vulnerability and having the courage to admit that it’s not always perfect, it’s going to allow Alicia to say the same thing, then you’re going to connect on a different level, a real level.
You can’t do that 100% of the time because that doesn’t do anything. It’s like listening all the time. Listening is great, but the tyranny of listening is you do nothing. You have to find a balance like the tyranny of being sad or openness. If we spend all our day having to worry about everything we’re saying and what everybody is feeling it all the time, we will struggle to succeed. In most cases, that’s not the issue. The issue is being more open, empathic and real. You’re never going to be 100%. We’re all laid in within perfections. I don’t know if that answers your question.
It does because I always say that life is a management game. What I’m hearing you say in terms of we could be great listeners but if all we do is listen, we’re not maybe opening our mouth and creating action in that type of way. In your book, you talked about leader superpowers are listening and empathy. Since you were giving those little bits of binaries there, listening and empathy, what’s the counter to listening and empathy? I’m curious.
You need to decide. If you’re the leader, you’re responsible. You need to have a responsibility for this. If you hear something and you don’t decide to do anything, that is a choice you’re making. Be aware of your choices. Be aware when you’re listening and when you’re overriding somebody. Be aware because sometimes you do need to interrupt somebody. The whiner who’s always whining, “Jim, I appreciate that you’re not having a good day. That’s been the case for ten days. I’m sorry to hear what you’re saying. You need to get off the pot and get going.” That also is the reality. You can’t accept everything. Otherwise, everybody is going to be sitting on the pot.
Pragmatism helps you get towards success. Click To Tweet
I call that being a kind disruption.
Ultimately, the way you say things is so important. At the end of the day, at the table are adults. They’ve seen Jim and they too are fed up with it. If you’re not able to call that out, at some point, there’s going to be Jemima and James. They’re going to follow up. You’re going to let that happen. You need to be responsible for what you’re doing and how you’re acting. You need to be modeling the behavior you’re expecting for others to do. That doesn’t mean that you need to always be 100%. It’s finding that balance. If you’re always pretending to be 100%, you are superficial. A, not believable, therefore and B, you’re going to hit the wall as I did.
When you speak in terms of leadership, you talk about how much of you to bring to the workplace as a leader. I’ve heard that saying, “Bring your whole self to work.” I think that’s a name of a book by Mike Robbins. What does it mean to you to bring yourself or how much of yourself to bring to work?
It’s a little bit controversial now, but I loved what Dr. Seuss said, “You are you.” The issue at the biggest level is, “Do you know who you are? Do you have a precise idea of who you want to be?” We don’t do that work. We’re all intelligent people. We have general ideas, “I want to be healthy, wealthy, successful, happy, great family.” If I said that, pretty much everybody who is reading probably is like, “That’s what I want.” That is what everybody wants. You’re not everybody. You are you. What is it that specifically defines who you want to be? The issue is that we are programmed to do. We spend a lot of our time doing which fastens who we are, which your experiences are important to you, experiences the way you feel and do things is important.
Until you spend a considerable amount of time thinking about your precise north of who you want to be, then you’re jumping to the how-to of the action plan. Just like your listening in empathy, and the question before, it’s the opposite. You do need to do stuff, but I believe that rather than being the efficiency of doing, think of the effectiveness of listening. Through better listening, you will then do. If you can just wait out, listen with openness and without judgment, by gum, you’ll do so many shortcuts in the future. It does take time and presence of mind, much less knowledge of self to get into that position to understand who you are, who you want to be, and then you can bring other people along the same journey. I’m not sure if I fully answered your question.
What I’m hearing you say is that self-awareness is key. There is a distinction. I was listening to someone. There’s one thing about being empathetic versus sympathetic. Sometimes people want sympathy versus empathy. That’s a distinction. It’s not only self-awareness of yourself but it’s also social awareness. That’s an important part of emotional intelligence. As we talk about your book and the work that you do in the world, I want to hear some tips that you have for leaders out there who are reading. Maybe 1 or 2 of your favorite tips that are in your book.
Time management is a radical one. It’s all the more complicated. Time is the same 24 hours we’ve had for quite a while. The experience of time has changed. It changed before the pandemic and has turned upside down during the pandemic. The issue is that it’s not because we’re doing that we’ll be successful. We have this idea that if I fill my day with lots of things and the to-do lists is being knocked off, that we are accomplishing things. Intellectually, we justify all our activities but the reality is we need to have a lot more of not-doing time. For example, when I was the head of L’Oréal for Canada, I had a large team, lots of activities and plenty of stress. With Sandy, my assistant, I decided that I would need to have 50% of my day with zero meetings.
Why? Because I felt that that was enough time to do three things. One, to write strategic notes and do strategic thinking uninterruptedly. The second was to allow people to come into my office randomly, open-door, to be welcoming and embracing like, “Alicia, thanks for coming in. What’s up?” Not feeling like I got to step it in two seconds because that’s stress, and I’m not going to tell you the real thing and having that downtime. The third thing is allowing me to do things like I’ll decide to go out, visit clients, and listen to them. Listen to people on the street as we were at that time talking about hair and fashion, instead of being the person that’s closed off in the office. As you go up the ladder, everyone tends to close you off. You’re isolated. It’s bad enough being in the isolated worlds that we are in COVID times. As a boss in general, we’re always isolated. It’s even worse now.
How do you find out what’s going on? What do you need to have that random serendipitous experience? Go out there, see what’s going on, smell the roses, and allow the signs to come to you. I’m a literary guy. At university, I studied Trilingual Literature and Women’s Studies. In the process, I discovered so many things. One of the beautiful things was from Marcel Proust, the French philosopher writer. In his book, which is called Swann’s Way, Du côté de chez Swann, he wrote in French, “Les signes sont dans les cygnes.” That means in English, “The signs are in the swans,” but in French, the words signs and swans sound the same. One is with an S and one is with a C. The point is sometimes you need to allow the signs to come to you. Where are the swans in your life? Are you allowing the signs from the swans to come into your life, and allowing the connections and the neurons to be there? Otherwise, you’re just going to do the normal average stuff. Normal average stuff is one other great way to run into the wall.
I felt that normal average stuff. When we have busy days, we often live on automatic or on default. It doesn’t leave room for creativity, innovation and imagination. From a neuroscience perspective, when we live on default, have the same biases and make snap judgments, it’s the convenient and lazy way to live. When we’re up here in the executive functions of our brain, we are in a place of being thoughtful, collaborative, innovative and creative. That’s the real juiciness of life. That requires more energy for us like storytelling, for example. It requires much more to learn someone’s story versus to make a snap judgment about them and keep moving. It takes more time to sit down and connect with someone than to make an assumption about them.
What you’re talking about is we need time for these creative endeavors. I moved from the West Coast, from California to Miami Beach. I love the difference in time change because I start my calls after lunch. I went kayaking. The whole morning is for me to exercise, relax and have that creative energy playful time. I can then be present for my calls in the afternoon. What I’m hearing from you in this exploration of you leading is that self-awareness is key. Designing the way that we want to work and lead is key. That top-down autocratic, “You must do this. You must do that,” that squashes our creativity and burns us out. Something I get to be mindful of with my team is giving them the freedom to be able to have that creative time and also work gets to get done as well. It’s this fine balance and management. Those are some of the things that are landing for me.
I’m an early bird. I love to get up at 5:00 in the morning. I’ve developed my routine, which is essentially trying to make sure that I tap into my own discretionary energy. If I can lean into that, then I feel so much stronger and fuller when I present that afterwards. Many consultants have, “You gotta, coulda, woulda.” If you’re not doing it yourself then you’re not being real in the mistakes that you make. I like to get up at 5:00 in the morning, generally. I meditate, stretch and feel my body. I’m not saying this in a sexist way. It is something that men aren’t good at doing in general. They don’t get in and feel themselves. They’re on the go and that’s exciting. It’s not only men. It’s not that women don’t do this but that’s a generalization. I certainly fell into that trap.
Feeling my body stretching, my muscles, my breathing and my heartbeat in the morning is such a wonderful way to start. I love to do exercise in the morning, but then I also love to write between 5:00 and 8:00 in the morning. There’s nobody distracting me. There’s the peace. All I have is the birds outside me and I’m writing. I’m in the flow, in the moment and in touch with myself. I know where my bum is on the chair. I’ve got that. It’s real to me, then I got to go do stuff. The day is never 100% perfect. The day isn’t always as planned. That’s fine as long as I feel like I’ve started the day off well and I know what I want to achieve like the big thing.
The big thing that I always want to do is make sure that at the end of the day, I did something that corresponds to my personal north. I have a very strong personal north that is imprinted in my brain. It’s always with me. I don’t escape from it. In fact, I put it on every morning. Therefore, it’s more obvious to me. Until you craft that strong north, it’s still abstract. What I’m saying is all, “Yadda-yadda.” Once you get it, then all of a sudden it’s the difference between not taking LSD and taking LSD theoretically.
I’ve never taken LSD. I haven’t experienced it. I don’t have anything to say about it.
You can imagine. It’s a different thing.
When you said that, you don’t truly know something until we fully embody it.
There are other things that are similar in our biology that the first time that it happens, it’s like, “That’s what that is.” Until you’ve had it, it’s always out there. For me, having that north is that same feeling. Once I’ve got it, the fire tickles me. I know when I’m in line. I know when I’m offline. I know how to say no. I say yes sometimes to pragmatic where you can’t just do dogma, but when I’m on it and it’s in me, wow.
A two-part question here is, how do you find your true north? The second is what you said, “because I’m all about alignment.” We were in alignment with our true north. Maybe we still say yes to things that are not in alignment. You said it was pragmatic and being practical. I think as long as we’re self-aware that that’s not in alignment with my true north, this is either what I got to do at this time, or I’ll reframe it in a way that this is a stretch opportunity or this is an opportunity for me to grow. As we established right at the beginning, an opportunity is another word for crisis. If a crisis is not aligned with my North Star, let me shift it into an opportunity. This will be a big journey for me. That was a two-part question. Did you get it all?
I think so. As with most of my answers, I probably haven’t answered them properly all along, Alicia.
There’s no properly. We’re just going with the flow.
That’s what conversations are, by the way. First of all, the north that I have has varied over the years. It has moved. The first time I did it was roughly in 2004 and I did it in French. Even from one language to another, it was taking wordsmithing. Each word in your phrase that describes your north, who you want to be is important. In the beginning, I threw it out. My wife and other people who know me and provide tough love mentor need that. It’s an evolving journey. It’s never perfect anyway. This idea of perfection allows us to have wobbles because if you get so dog collar rigid on it then you will come up against problems. You won’t even allow for the meandering because rivers meander. If rivers meander, our north can meander. That’s a big part of it.
Life is made up of a lot of things like hiccups. Big stuff happens. Life-changing experiences can happen. Death will happen. Until you dial into that fatality, that reality, it’s always going to be a little bit off-kilter. I want to share another story, which was odd for an Englishman to arrive in America. I became an enormous fan of a band who decided somehow in a serendipitous random way that embracing death was an important part of being present, being who you are, and enjoying life as you go. It’s no surprise to me that grateful is in the word. If you can be grateful about every day, it makes for such a better world. The way you will understand to be grateful every day is to know that life is short and that we will die.
Until you have that, your north is still going to be a little bit not straight and not proper because we’re still going to have these extrinsic ideas, “I need to have a house with four cars and a back pool.” The reason for that is it’s bigger than the neighbors. Interesting. It’s having this internal understanding of who we are and that when we die, all the toys we have don’t go with us. How do you construct your north? In the book, I have a specific exercise but there are many different exercises you can do. The easiest idea is to have a strong idea of who you want to be in twenty years’ time.
Accept your imperfections, and yet allow yourself to strive to be your best. Click To Tweet
Imagine yourself, Alicia, in twenty years’ time. Where are you? Who are you sitting with for that birthday in twenty years’ time? What are they saying about you? “Alicia, happy birthday. I love you because this is the kind of person you are.” Who’s at the table? Where are you? What are they going to say? You start projecting yourself into that way. You write down the phrases, not just, “I get it.” It takes hard work. You get that and then that’s going to be a raw material. From that raw material, you put it into a filter and a distiller. You shake it up. You want to come up with a phrase that says, “I want to be known for the person who.” Mine is, “I want to be known for the person who always elegantly elevated the debate and connected dots, people and ideas.”
There are gazillion North Stars out there. Don’t get fixated on the perfect North Star but the one that resonates with you. Find the words and the concept. That’s an exercise that can help you craft your north. The thing is you don’t just find your north. You have to craft it and lean into it. There needs to be intentionality because these are words. What are you putting meaning behind those words? All of a sudden, that becomes how I want to be in the future. It doesn’t matter what I’ve done until today but at least now, every action I do every day has some portion of that that’s leading me in this zig zaggy, not perfect straight line towards being that person and a solid destination. It’s a concept.
I love how you said, “Connect dots, people and ideas.” That was powerful. I have a three-word phrase for 2021. I want to engage, explore and empower. Every year, I come up with a North Star for that year. I went through that exercise you were sharing. I had a vision of where I’d be for twenty years from now. It got me a little teared up and I appreciate you for that. With that, how can people find more about you, Minter?
My parents didn’t come up with the name but it certainly has helped to be a weirdo, strange name as far as Google is concerned. MinterDial.com is where I write. I’ve been blogging since 2004. I have a podcast at Minter Dialogue. I’m using the last name to a good effect. Otherwise, @MDial on Peloton, Instagram and Twitter. I’m out there. I guess you can find my books on the company that comes out of Seattle.
Your local indie bookstores will say that.
I was going to mention Bookshop.org, which is representing independent bookstores. Otherwise, I love to hear from random people. Every day, I have a green meeting. That’s another of my tips. The other one is the big one on time. I practice empathy every day because empathy is a muscle. I can easily run out of it. My wife will be quick to call me out and I’m not being empathic every day. What I do is every single day, I have a green person meeting. That green person is someone I don’t know. This time I’m talking to you, generally. On balance, when I’m meeting somebody, I want to hear their story, lean to them and learn from them. I have a green person every day to meet somebody, expand my brain and practice empathy.
Am I your green person now?
I think that’s fantastic. I’m sure your wife doesn’t call you out. She calls you forth.
She’s a beautiful and crazily strong woman.
Minter, it’s been fantastic to connect with you and learn more about your book. I want to hear one word. What’s one word you are feeling at this moment?
Thank you so much, Minter. It’s been wonderful to connect with you. Thank you for reading. See you next time.
- You Lead: How Being Yourself Makes You a Better Leader
- Amazon – You Lead: How Being Yourself Makes You a Better Leader
- Barnes & Noble – You Lead: How Being Yourself Makes You a Better Leader
- Indigo Books – You Lead: How Being Yourself Makes You a Better Leader
- The Last Ring Home
- Heartificial Empathy, Putting Heart into Business and Artificial Intelligence.
- Swann’s Way – Amazon
- Minter Dialogue – Podcast
- @MDial – Instagram
- Twitter – Minter Dial
About Minter Dial
I serve as an energizing keynote speaker, conference animator/emcee and consultant on branding, leadership and transformation for blue chip companies, conferences and events around the world. Author and filmmaker of the award-winning “The Last Ring Home” (Nov 2016).
Co-author of the award-winning “Futureproof, How to get your Business Ready for the Next Disruption” (Pearson, Sep 2017). Penned “Heartificial Empathy, Putting Heart into Business and Artificial Intelligence” (Dec 2018) that won the Book Excellence Award 2019 in the category of Technology and was a finalist for the Business Book Awards 2019.
My latest book on leadership came out Jan 2021: You Lead, How Being Yourself Makes You A Better Leader, by Kogan Page. I’m board member at SBT Human(s) Matter and the ECV School in France.
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