The Best Questions to Ask Your Employees | Alain Hunkins


On this week’s episode of The Vibrant Leadership Podcast, we speak with Alain Hunkins, CEO of Hunkins Leadership Group. Alain has worked with 2,000 groups of leaders in 25 countries, has over 20 years in leadership training, facilitation, adult learning and development design, and organizational development, and his writing has been featured in Fast Company, Inc. Magazine, Forbes, Chief Executive, and Chief Learning Officer. Most recently, he wrote the best-selling book, Cracking the Leadership Code: Three Secrets to Building Strong Leaders.

We discuss actionable steps to connect and communicate with your team in a meaningful way, as well as:

  • The three main skill sets that facilitative leaders need

  • How to connect more effectively with those you lead

  • Barriers to empathy and how to overcome them

  • Powerful questions to ask employees in order to create deeper trust

  • Four types of needs that must be satisfied for employees to perform at their best

  • And more

Mentioned in this episode:


Alain Hunkins: Leadership is the performing art of getting people to willingly work towards achieving a shared purpose. Leadership is all of the behavioral things that can make that outcome happen.

Voiceover: You’re listening to the Vibrant Leadership Podcast with leadership speaker and consultant Nicole Greer.

Nicole Greer: Welcome everybody to the Vibrant Leadership Podcast. My name is Nicole Greer and I am delighted today to have Alain Hunkins with me. He helps achieving people become even higher achievers. For over 20 years, he has worked with 2000 groups of leaders in 25 countries. So I totally want to find out where you’ve been and what you’ve done, because I have wanderlust so I want to live vicariously through your life. He’s got a client of Fortune 100 companies, in fact, 42 of the Fortune 100. 

In addition to that he is a leadership speaker. He’s a consultant. He’s a trainer. He’s a coach, so he’s one of me, I love it already. And he’s the author of okay, everybody, get a pen. Everybody get a pen, write this down. It’s the next buy on Amazon, Cracking the Leadership Code, Three Secrets to Building Strong Leaders. It was published by Wiley in March of 2020. So it is a great COVID read. And his writing has been featured in Fast Company, Inc. Magazine, Forbes, Chief Executive, Chief Learning Officer. I’m running out of breath and Business Insider. So he is absolutely amazing and he has this really cool French name say it for me again.

Alain: It is Alain, Nicole.

Nicole: Oh my gosh. So cultured today. I don’t hang out with such cool people. All right, well, um, so I want to find out like, how did you get where you are? How did you build this amazing little mini resume I just read?

Alain: Yeah, well, it certainly was one step at a time. But you know, in hindsight resumes always looked like it was the straight line. But you know, certainly for me, nothing could be further from the truth as I was going through my life. You know, I’d say the common denominator for me, Nicole has always been people. I’ve always been fascinated by people. why they do what they do. I mean, similar to you, actually, I grew up in the restaurant business. My mother was a food service manager for Marriott. My first jobs were washing pots in the cafeteria dish room and then I moved on to food prep for the breakfast cafeteria, you know, slicing 35 cantaloupes and 200 bagels a morning and then wrapping them in plastic wrap.

Nicole: I totally get it!

Alain: You know what that world is like, and I tell you, everyone should have to work in food service at some point in life, because you know, if you want to learn about people, because you find people at their most primal when they’re eating, it’s really amazing. So I did did that through high school. And then I studied in college, I dabbled in a bunch of stuff, and really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after I graduated.

Nicole: Where’d you go to school?

Alain: I went to Amherst College up in Western Mass, which near where I live now. And so I ended up with an English major, that’s where my credits ended up. But I studied Buddhism and I studied theater and I studied psychology and I studied film history and all kinds of stuff that was interested in. And I ended up getting an acting internship at our mill at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater as an actor, because I’d done some theater and I wanted to do some more theater work. And I’ve been writing some plays. So I did an acting internship. And I decided I wanted to get more theater training. 

So I actually went to graduate school, I have an MFA from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s professional theatre training program where I was really three years under the microscope. Learning about behavior, human behavior, specifically as an actor has to do because that’s what actors do is they practice behavior, they step into other people’s lives and characters. From there, I moved back to New York City. And I always had this idealistic notion that when people walk away from a great work of art, they walk away changed. And while I believe that is still true, I found that the actual the business of theater didn’t do that enough. 

And so I got into doing a lot of teaching arts and education work in New York City, junior high schools andn high schools, teaching conflict resolution, teaching leadership skills. And that led me into getting a job doing corporate training, doing leadership and management training for an external training provider who flew me all over the world. I was doing a road warrior I was doing. Yeah, it’s glandt, the glamorous life of business travel, Nicole, so exciting. From one hotel to the next taxi to the next conference from an again. Anyway, no, I can’t complain. It’s been great. 

Nicole: I bet had some awesome meals and saw some awesome things.

Alain: There where I have done some pretty amazing, cool things. And so what I found though, is as I started, and I’m sure you found this too Nicole, in your practice, is as you work with enough people over time, you start to see patterns emerge, right? The fact is, that all great leaders have certain things in common, and all lousy leaders have certain things in common and so and everyone has their own version of that story. And so I started writing stories down and taking notes and the notes turned into blog posts, and the blog posts turned into chapters and the chapters turned into what is now this book that was released last year, called Cracking the Leadership Code, Three Secrets to Building Strong Leaders. 

So, for me, what I’m really about is so many people. And when I define leadership, by the way, I’m not talking about just a job title, like you are the district manager, in my mind, anyone who is ever trying to get anyone else to do anything that takes leadership skills, and so all of us are leading every day, whether we have the title or not. And the fact is, most people who wind up in a leadership role got there, because they were a high performer who got stuff done. And someone said, Nicole, you’re a high performer, we’re gonna make you the restaurant manager. And you’re like, okay, right. 

As you know, Nicole, there’s a huge gap between being a high performer and facilitating high performance in others. So what my work is about is helping people to unlock the facilitative mindset, which is a mindset, a set of beliefs and behaviors, that makes achieving performance goals easier. Because look, our world is complex enough. We are we need leaders who can help to make things simpler, so that we can get to what we’re trying to do, right and how to use technology to do that, because this is the world that we’re living in. And gosh, knows, we know, with COVID, it’s that much harder. So that’s what led me to where I’m at today.

Nicole: Okay, I am so excited to talk to you. I can’t even stand it. Okay, so I want to hear about the facilitation mindset. Like, I want to understand that because, you know, I, I totally agree with you, I have this little diagram I use when I teach leadership. And you know, at the beginning, I talked about the fact that there’s like a belief system that people have about how the world works. And I think belief system and mindset, somewhat go together. 

Alain: Absolutely. 

Nicole: So tell me about this. What does the facilitation mindset do? What are the characteristics of it?

Alain: Perfect. So I’m going to answer your question with a little story, which I think will bring it to life. So this is a story about a guy named Matt. Matt, actually is a district manager for a national franchise. He’s the number one top ranked out of 100 district managers in the whole country. He’s ranked number one. Now, I asked Matt, I said, Matt, Have you always been a top performer? And he said, when I started no, in fact, I was about 84th. When I first got promoted to district manager, when I was a store manager, I got promoted. So Matt’s journey is the journey to the facilitative mindset. And let me explain. 

So Matt described when he got promoted, he was really feeling excited. He was full of himself, like I got this job. I’m now the district manager. And so he thought, his mindset the way he described, he said, I thought my job was to be the fixer. So every morning and you probably got this when you are a restaurant manager or something, is that they would get key performance metrics, right? You’d get a printout and they call it the hotlist. So everything that was in red was clearly not measuring up. 

So the first thing he’d do is print out of the hotlist. He looked for what was in red, not measuring up. And then he would drive he had nine stores. So he would drive from store to store, and he talked to the the tell the store manager, this is in red, you got to fix this, you got to go from certain This is wrong, you got to do this, you got to do, and he was working hard. And he was exhausted, and he was going nowhere. And he said he his day of epiphany, the day he hit bottom, because he was still floundering. And it was the day he realized that he had people on his teams that were quitting, and he didn’t even know their names. And he was like, wow, I need to change my approach. 

So so the first shift in the mindset is, it’s like, I think what the Alcoholics Anonymous say, right? Like, you have to realize you have a problem. Like, you have to come to that awareness like he’s hit bottom, he’s got to shift this, the way we’re working is no longer working. So the first realization is you have a problem, you’ve got to shift. And then what Matt realized was, no, he was going in and barking orders at people. And so he shifted his approach. And he started by asking people say, like, so Nicole, how was your weekend like, and actually talking to people as human beings, as opposed to you’re the store manager, and I’m the district manager. So that’s a first shift. 

The next thing, he still had the hot list with all the metrics, but instead of saying, Nicole, this is wrong, you need to fix this, he would share the data with you. And he’d say, what do you think we should do? So he believed by listening first and seeking to understand your point of view. And the third thing he do is he would work to co create solutions together. And so really, what Matt, and his story demonstrates is the facilitative mindset in action, and specifically, that there are these three overarching skill sets that facilitative leaders need. Number one connection. At its core leadership is not about a job title or position. It’s about a relationship between a human leader and a human chooses person to choose to follow. And it’s his choice following is a choice. 

So number one is connection. Number two is communication. So it’s the need to create common understanding. And number three, is collaboration is how are we going to work together to produce Something that is meaningful and a value. So to me those three skill sets connection, communication and collaboration, the subtitle of the book The Three Secrets to Building Strong Leaders. Well the secret is out, you now know what they are. So and that’s what we go into detail. Because as people hear that, and I hear connection, communication, collaboration. 

Well, first of all, it rhymes. It all starts with C, it sounds like common sense. And it all is. However, if you look at the research, only about 23% of people think their leaders lead well, which means that while connection, communication and collaboration might be common sense, it’s clearly not become common practice. And my goal is to help the other 77% get there.

Nicole: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. All right. So I love it when we tell secrets on the Vibrant Leadership Podcast. It’s really fun. Okay, and so I just, I just want to slow down for a minute because you this is just rolling off your tongue. So everybody, he said that Matt had to make a human connection. And it’s all about connection, he had to start asking them how they were doing. 

Number two, Matt had to share the data instead of just bark out orders, right? He had to lead. Don’t miss what you said, you said lead by listening. Oh, you think tweetable. Everybody tweet that out, put hash tag with both our names and then co create and collaborate. I love that. Okay, so we’ve got the secret. We know the mindset. Okay, so now I want to understand how do people do this? Like how do you first connect? What are the connecting tricks and tips and techniques?

Alain: Love the questions because they are super brass tacks practical. I love that about you Nicole. We want to know like, how do I do that? I get it in theory. But what do I do? So if you want to connect the basis of connection, I always said it’s a human thing, right? It is about empathy, right. And my definition of empathy is showing people that you understand them, and that you care how they feel. Now, the good news is that we’re all wired for empathy as human beings, it’s in you. In fact, if you ever heard a baby cry, especially if it’s your own baby, and you have that, I got to reach out and take care of the baby. That’s the empathetic response, inactions like that’s why we are what they call open loops, we are designed to be influenced by those around us. Now, that’s the good news. 

The bad news is we don’t have empathy for everybody, we only have empathy for people that we think are in our empathy circle. So loved ones, family, good friends make the cut, but people that we don’t feel connected to or a strangers other. So if I just see my employees as worker bees, you need to get a job done. You don’t have empathy for them. So this is the challenge. And in fact, there’s been really interesting research done by a company called business solver. And they asked a whole group of organizations and they ask the CEOs and the employees, do you think you’re an empathic organization? 92% of the CEOs said, Yes, our organization is empathetic, well, then they ask the employees and the employees that only about 50% of our CEOs are empathetic. 

So there’s this gap. So I think people understand intuitively, look, showing people you understand them and care how they feel that is common sense. However, leading with empathy, especially in an organization is hard. And here’s why. Two big reasons. Number one, showing people that you understand them and care how they feel. Last time I checked, you can’t just check that off your to do list like that, like everything else, like information, email moves the speed of light. But human relationships are messy, and they’re slow. And they take time, and you need to shut up and listen sometimes. 

So this is the thing. And a lot of us work in organizations where we literally have as a core competency drive for results. Now, I have no problem with results, like I work in for profit corporations all the time. However, driving for results should not come at the cost of driving over people who are trying to help you to deliver those results. Right? So part of leadership, wisdom is knowing there’s a time and a place to go fast. And there’s a time and a place to go slow. And knowing the wisdom to know when to go and do which one have that difference. That’s the first big reason. 

The other big reason that people are uncomfortable with leading with empathy is a lot of people have grown up in a world especially if you’re older, like me, you know, like, is that you grew up in a world where people used to say things like you might may have heard this too, Nicole, is oh, no, you check your feelings at the door, right? You don’t bring your feelings, this is work, that somehow there was work and there was life. And then we went to work. We don’t do the whole emotions thing, right? Because that is not appropriate that is not professional. And so we check our feelings at the door here. Well, if last time I checked, you can’t literally check your feelings at the door. What people do all the time is they suppress their feelings at the door. 

So in other words, they put on a mask, they cover their identity, they don’t feel safe, bringing their whole selves to work, which creates a low trust, low empathy, low connection culture. So those are a couple of the big reasons that get in the way of connecting. Number one thing you can do so let’s flip it the other way. Like what can you do as we talked about what you can’t do? What can you do to become more connected and more empathetic? Number one thing you can do is listen with purpose, which is different than the way most people listen, right? Most people listen to respond. Listen to negate, listen, to tell you how smart I am. Listen, because someone told me I’m supposed to fake listen, we all know that fake likes. Mm hmm. Right. 

So we have to, as opposed to listening to really understand, which means taking your own agenda and putting it to the side even temporarily, but just really trying to step into that person’s shoes, to see things from their perspective, and understand their point of view. So that’s the number one thing you can do. And it’s the key and you know, coaches learned this in coaching school, is to learn to start asking, really, I call them these juicy, open ended questions. And here’s a really simple thing. And especially this is really useful. Now in pandemic times when you’re working with people remotely. Is here are three questions that really will start off conversations. I call them the three check in questions. So if you’re meeting with an employee actually can be anyone doesn’t have to be an employee, anyone who care about who you are leading in some way. 

First question, How are you feeling? And we’re not saying I’m fine. How are you? I mean, like, no, how are you feeling? Really, and I think, if nothing else Coronavirus, has opened up a conversation where people can actually be a bit more genuine about that. Because, you know, life sucks sometimes for people and it’s got to be okay not to be okay. Sometimes, because that’s the world we’re living in. So let’s admit it. So how are you feeling is question number one. Question number two, what’s distracting you? What’s on your mind? What’s what’s keeping you from being present? Because there’s plenty that is distracting people these days. So acknowledging that and saying it’s okay to name that is question number two. 

So what’s distracting you? And number three. How can I support you? And then the key is you ask those questions. And then the key is to shut up and listen, and really, really listen to them. Which is really hard for people because so many people get into these leadership roles and think, what I’m supposed to have the answers, I’m supposed to be the teller in chief like, no, that’s old school leadership, commander in chief is telling people, facilitator and chief is asking people, so flipping the script, and asking people, what is it that they need, because they’ll tell you, you know, adults are resourceful kids are resourceful too, for that matter, but you’re probably working with adults. 

So is asking people what they need. And then you don’t have to play the guessing game anymore, right? Too many leaders are trying to figure out and it’s really a lot of work, and it’s not very effective. So it’s taking that time to understand where people are coming from. And like we said before, lead by listening, and then together, you co create some kind of solution together.

Nicole: I love it. Okay, so that was just a bunch. Okay,

Alain: That was a bunch.

Nicole: It was a bunch and it was a good bunch. Okay. So, basically, what you said is that, in order to connect, you have to have communication skills of listening, and asking and cheat you call them juicy, open ended questions.

Alain: Juicy questions. Yes.

Nicole: Question. Okay. So I love juicy, juicy good. In my coaching training, we called them powerful questions.

Alain: Yes. Yes. Same thing. Powerful, juicy. pick your poison.

Nicole: Yeah, yeah. So So I do want you all to write this down. So get your pen, you know, to bring a pen when you’re on the Vibrant Leadership Podcast, you might be jogging along, you’ll have to get a pen later. But anyways, how are you feeling? What’s on your mind? And how can I support you? I think those are genius, open ended. Powerful, juicy questions. I love it. 

And what we’re not going to do, oh, you had a great line. I didn’t want everybody to miss it. Because it was so good. You said we need to drive results, but we can’t drive over people to get them. That’s tweetable. Y’all tweet that out. That is fantastic. And then I love what you said about how people put on a mask. I totally think that’s true. You do need to help people be authentic at work, right and, and have good relationships. And we can all think of somebody who really, really cared for us. And then we work like a dog for them. 

Alain: Yeah. 

Nicole: I mean, that’s the truth. I worked for a woman named Nancy Freeman. And she cared about me, I knew she cared about me. She knew that I knew when it’s time to work, it’s time to work, when it’s time to, you know, tell her what’s really going on. There was a time for that. We got it all figured out. And we did great things together. So I love love your approach. 

Alright, so let’s go to the second part where we were talking about how we need to connect, and then we need to share information you said. So tell me about what you think. But like one of the things I always try to get leaders to do is like, share their business acumen, share the numbers at a deeper level, you know, help people be part of the decision making with regard to where the strategy’s going, tell me what you’re thinking.

Alain: Yeah, I would agree that, you know, I do think that leaders need to share a lot of things. And the thing that I’m going to caution leaders to watch out for, though, is get out of the business of trying to share share information and get into the business of trying to share insight. Okay, and I’ll just give you an example what I mean by that I’m sure everyone can relate to this one, how many of us have been to can be any business meeting and there’s some subject matter expert, let’s just say they’re in finance, because they’re fun to pick on. 

And they’re nice people, and they get along with us. And they come in, and they’re going to do a presentation on let’s say, its last quarters earnings, just, for example, this generic example. So and they come, they are so prepared. And now the first thing is they put up an Excel power an Excel file up on the PowerPoint, and they say, I know you can’t read this, but because the font is like seven point, and there’s just literally 75 rows of columns, right. And so you think about it, all the information. They’re sharing tons of information with you. But right now you are overwhelmed. You are drowning in information, and you have zero insight. 

So obviously, I’m giving kind of a slight exaggeration, but some people are saying that actually is not an exaggeration. That was my meeting this morning. So that’s your case, I’m I’m sorry, that may have been you. But here’s the thing is that we have to realize part of leading the goal of communication is not to communicate, the goal of communication is to create shared understanding. And part of that is the wisdom to know your audience, you’re like, how much do they already know? And yes, you’re the subject matter expert, which means you probably have 87 really good supporting points to make your argument. 

However, for this audience, are you going to pick argument number three, number 22, and number 47, and put those three together, because for this group, those are the most three powerful things, and people can’t remember more than three. So that’s wisdom. That’s wisdom in terms of giving people insight. And it’s also an example of what I call teaching less, so people learn more, because you don’t want people know is the point of your presentation to show people 85 pieces of data? No, you want them walking away, taking some kind of action. So for a lot of people, that is more work than they’re used to thinking and they they’re doing different work. 

And so I like to say sometimes is that lousy leadership is lazy leadership. And the first thing you need to do is step back. And think from your audience’s point of view, whoever you’re talking to, what can I do to share insight to create shared understanding, because the reason shared understanding is so important, because that becomes the platform on which we take all future actions. So if we have a solid foundation of understanding, guess what, we’re going to make good decisions, we’re going to get great results. But if our foundation is like a teeter totter house falling apart, now we’re gonna make some bad decisions. And we’re gonna end up with some bad results. 

And this is an example of that, how many of us have had the experience of you’re in a meeting, and people are sharing all kinds of stuff in the meeting, all kinds of data is flying around. Oh, and time’s up. And we just leave the meeting. And then Nicole, you and I are in the hallway afterwards, like, what did we just agree to what and we had like the the meetings after the meetings, and there’s like 10 mini meetings going on 10 different versions of reality now. And we’re all going off and taking 10 different decisions going in 10 different directions. And we wonder why it takes so long to be able to do anything? Well, that’s just an example of why we need to create shared understanding. 

So if you walk away, I know, that’s a whole lot. But I would just say to our listeners here, if you walk away with nothing else from this section, is strive for creating shared understanding and insight, and get away from trying to share information and communicate stuff. People don’t need more stuff, right? We’ve got you know, all the Self Storage Units are bursting at the seams. Don’t give them more stuff. Give them insight. If I had a mic in my hand, I drop it right there. Mic drop.

Nicole: Yeah. Yeah. Drop, it looks like a nice mic. So I totally, totally agree with what you just said. Because I think too, a lot of times when people come into meetings, they come like with all that information is like ammunition. 

Alain: Yeah. 

Nicole: Right. And we’re not here to shoot anybody, you know, with our PowerPoint and our statistics, what we’re here to do is, like you said, you know, like, teach me a little something about this, that helps me gain understanding how to do my job better. 

Alain: And I love what you just said there about this idea that people come into these meetings with ammunition like interesting metaphor, because people haven’t built the connections based on trust. That means if I’m coming into a meeting with ammunition, that means that I’m on the defensive already, because I’m scared, you’re gonna shoot me down. I don’t have trust. 

So I have to come prepared with all this stuff. And so this is and this is why I say connection comes first, right? Because if we have connection, we’re not trying to prove how smart we are to each other. Because we already have the jobs. We’re not worried about that part. We’re just trying to get the job done now. We’re not trying to prove that you are worth being in this room. And that is what the leader sets the tone around.

Nicole: Yeah, so um, I’m curious, when you went through your coach training did, I was introduced to this thing called dialogue, group coaching format where you would glean the genius in the room. And I teach it all the time now. But essentially, it’s what you’re saying is like, you know, you get in a room with all these people, it’s like, you’re smart, you’re in charge of finance, you’re smart, you’re in charge of operations, you’re smart, you’re in charge of whatever, why don’t we just get in the room and relax and enjoy each other’s company is what I’m hearing you say, you know, understand each other’s struggles. 

And then put all of our genius together, because that’s what you and I are doing right here on this podcast, you know, collaborating, trying to bring great information to people. It’s fantastic. I love your approach. Okay, so the third one was collaborate. So we’ve got them in the room, they’re not doing the ammunition thing. They’re not, you know, they have empathy for each other. And now they’re collaborating. Are there more skills right there that leaders need to build?

Alain: Yes, there is. Yeah. So for collaboration, there’s a lot in collaboration. And I’ll just kind of break down a couple of areas of this. So the idea is that, you know, different people are motivated by different things. And what’s important as leaders is they’re not, it’s not a one size fits all solution. So and and many of us grew up learning the golden rule, right? Treat others the way you like to be treated, which is fine, well and good for some things. But when it comes to motivation, it actually doesn’t work. 

Because what motivates you may not motivate somebody else. So we actually need to move to the next level, which you know, the Platinum rule, right, so treat others the way they’d like to be treated? Well, the only way you can know how people like to be treated is if you know, if you find out if you ask them, somehow, you know what their needs are, you find out what makes them tick. And every single person is different in terms of what their needs are. 

However, what I found in my research and working with 1000s, of leaders over the years, is that there’s four main categories of needs, that people need to have satisfied in order to work at their best. And so let’s go through our four. You got your pen, you’re ready to go. 

Nicole: I tell you to get a pen. I’ve got my own, I got it.

Alain: Exactly. So the first need that everyone has is a need for safety. Right. And you think about it, that’s physical safety, which is why a lot of people are working from home right now in the middle of a pandemic. The other piece of that is psychological safety. So is it safe for me to speak up? Do I feel like I’m being included? Or am I being excluded? So how we create psychological safety? So that’s the need that people have for safety. Then people have a need for energy, right? Like everything, either starts to enhance people’s energy or drain their energy. 

So think about what are the things in the course of your day that enliven you? What are the things that drain you, I’ll give you an example, how many of us have been to and I can be on a zoom call now. But a zoom call that has gone on for let’s say, we’re hitting like, minute 95, like we’re over an hour and a half in and we’re still going, and there’s no break in sight. And you know, inside part of you is like, you’re holding on to the armchair for dear life. Like, I’m not thinking about anything right now. 

I can’t call it you know, it’s because what we know is physiologically, biologically, people really cannot maintain their focus on anything for more than 90 minutes. So as a leader, are you building breaks into your agenda? Right? So yeah, it’s going to take you more like I don’t have time to take a break. Like, you don’t have time not to take a break. So it’s just realizing, and the same could be true with sending emails at all hours of the day and night cycle. But we have to send these out. 

It’s like, no, you don’t, because you’re just basically having people who can never unwind and recharge. So that’s not you know, you wouldn’t run a NASCAR race on one tank of gas, like you need pitstops. And like people are the same way, so. There I just worked a NASCAR metaphor into there. I wasn’t expecting that.

Nicole: Concord, North Carolina. Where the Lowes Super Speedway is.

Alain: There you go. So anyway, so we’re digressing slightly, but so we’ve got the need for safety. We talked about the need for energy. So people have a need for energy, and what can you do to enhance people’s energy. One way to enhance people energy, by the way, is to get them involved and engaged, maybe ask them how they’re doing right again, as opposed to talking at them, maybe talk with them, again, turning your monologue into a dialogue. That’s another way to enhance energy. 

So we’ve got safety with energy, the next thing that people have a need to accomplish his satisfy his people have a need for purpose, the sense that what they’re doing is bigger than themselves that what they’re doing matters and is contributing to something larger. And so how are you connecting whatever it is into something larger? Because when people feel that what they do matters, they bring more of themselves and more energy to it. So that’s the third one’s purpose and the fourth one is ownership. 

Last time I checked, no one ever said no, I loved about my boss is how much they micromanage me, right? said no one ever, right? And so the fact is, people want a sense of freedom and a sense of autonomy, that sense that I am a bit of a captain of my own ship, and they want some space. So yes, you need to define the parameters and the guardrails but within that need to give people some space and only ship to be able to make their own decisions, especially in this world where people are having to solve problems in real time all day long. 

I mean, we no longer live in this industrial age where, you know, go to the assembly line and just turn this widget for eight hours a day. I mean, people are having to think for themselves. And when people get those needs met, and again, just to recap, the four needs safety, energy, ownership and purpose, they are more likely to thrive, they are more likely to bring their best selves to work. And so when they do that, they are better able to collaborate and create better outcomes.

Nicole: That’s fantastic. Okay, so going slower. We’re gonna have safety, everybody needs to feel safe. They need to have energy, purpose and ownership. Did I get it? Right?

Alain: You got them all four. Yes, you did.

Nicole: Okay, fantastic. Okay, I love the thing about energy, you know, the name of my company is Vibrant, which means pulsating with energy. And yes, I think it’s so important to understand that people that are energized, excited, full of purpose and ownership and feel like they’re not going to get into you know, another thing through in their sight. psychological safety. Don’t want to overlook that. 

Alain: No.

Nicole: So this thing where, you know, like, I feel like, if I put my opinion out there, if I, you know, do different things like that, where I assert myself, I’m not going to get spanked, right.

Alain: Totally.

Nicole: It’s really important. Okay. Yeah, so energized people. That’s what gets you results. Absolutely. Okay, so, we’ve been just doing our own thing here. But I sent you some questions ahead of time. And one of them was, do you have like a definition for leadership? You know, like, if we were gonna put together your dictionary, what would you put in your dictionary for your definition of leadership?

Alain: Yeah. So I would start by saying, and I like I’ll say it through once, then we can break it down if you want your choice. Okay. So I’d say leadership is the performing art. Okay. Okay. Notice that the performing arts will cover that leadership is the performing art of getting people to willingly work towards achieving a shared purpose.

Nicole: Wow. Okay, say it again.

Alain: Okay. So leadership is a performing art, because it’s something that you say or do, it isn’t just a thought. So it’s the performing art of getting others. So others are involved, to willingly notice willingly, right, means that they have to volunteer that they give themselves freely like volunteers, they willingly the performing art of willingly working with others to achieve again, to there is an achievement, there’s an outcome, but there’s got to be a shared a shared purpose. So purpose being something greater than ourselves, like we talked about earlier. And so leadership is all of the behavioral things that can make that outcome happen.

Nicole: I absolutely love it. I love the performing part. And so I love too that that’s like who you are. Right? Yeah. Really beautiful. Yeah. And I do think leadership is an art form. I think, you know, when you know, people always want to differentiate leadership and management. Yeah. And I think management is more task oriented, you know, like, I’m pulling the levers and looking at the KPIs or whatever. But I do think the leadership part is definitely an art. So what are the most? Well, we talked about what the most important skills are of a successful leader, what you said they were lousy leaders, or lazy leaders? 

Alain: Yeah. 

Nicole: So talk about a little bit about why leaders struggle, because, you know, a lot of times the coaching clients that I get, are people who come to me who are leaders, or they were put in that leadership position, because they were a high performer, like you said early on. They were like, oh, no, no, I gotta get other people to do this. So So talk about that lazy party.

Alain: Yeah sure. Yeah. So if you think about it, so why is a lousy leaders are lazy leaders, lazy leader are leaders is because one of the things that separates out high performing leaders from others is intentionality. Right? So if we think about, you know, you can’t be lazy and be intentional at the same time. So let’s just take a look at that through the lens of the three connection, communication and collaboration. So I would say that lousy leaders put tasks first, right? Because they’re meant they’re really managers, right? Like, we have a job to get done. And they see the job that has to get done, as opposed to actually the job gets done by people. 

So lousy leaders, put tasks first, intentional leaders, put people first because they understand the priorities. So that’s around connection. When it comes to communication. lousy leaders are focused on information. Intentional leaders are focused on insight, like we talked about before, right. So this sense of the difference between, you know, are you just trying to push information to people that’s lousy, like, I sent the email, you should know what to do. That’s lazy, right? It’s like, no, no, how do you know? And again, one of the problems that I think a lot of lousy leaders have is like, but I’m efficient. 

Again. This is very industrial age mindset. Oh, you know, I’ve got this new initiative, and I need my team of five to be on board. I’m going to send them all the same email, here you go click send to all five go efficient done. Versus if I step back and I had a one on one meeting with all five of them, you know, it’s going to take me more time. But the outcome is going to be so different. Because I’ve invested one on one relationship time with them to make sure I create ownership to make sure I get buy in to make sure I answer whatever questions. And if it’s that important, it’s worth the extra effort. So that’s effectiveness instead of just efficiency. 

So anyway, that’s lazy leadership, and lousy leadership around communication. Lousy leadership, and lazy leadership around collaboration, is that all of us work in some kind of a leadership culture. lousy leadership, creates culture, by default, because they don’t think about it. They’re like, it is what it is. Whereas intentional leaders create culture by design. They’re the ones who are thinking about things like safety, energy, ownership, purpose and going, what am I doing as a leader to promote these different things to make sure these needs are being met? 

So for example, a lousy leader, a lazy leader, might have a meeting, and go, so what do you all think? And then the same two people speak up, and no one else talks, and then the meeting’s done? They’re like, well, thanks for the meeting everyone, and they just leave and they never stopped to think, wow, we had a meeting of 10 people in here and only two out of the 10 of them spoke up. So that’s just bad leadership.

Nicole: Yeah, they need they need the magic of dialogue is what they need. I’m gonna do a podcast just about that. Anyways, go ahead.

Alain: Make Walter Isaacson very happy. That’s right. He’s the dialogue master. Um, yeah. So that’s what it’s so really, if you boil it down, in a nutshell, it comes to intentionality. And so in my work, I’m all about teaching leaders the skills and these are fundamental skills and behaviors that can be taught. And if you look at any high performer in any field, now, let’s give you an example. I actually cite this, and you might have heard of coach John Wooden. So you know, so John Wooden was the coach of you know, UCLA men’s basketball team. 

And the first day of practice, when he had recruited, he was the best of the best, and he’d bring in the top High School recruits would come in from all over the United States. And day number one of practice, before they go out on the court, it’d be in the locker room, and his first lesson was to teach them how to put on their socks. Okay, so these are high school, All Americans, and some of them are thinking, what the heck coach, like have you lost your mind, like I’ve been putting on socks since I was three, I’m I’m an all star recruit, what are you doing? 

And his argument was, how you do anything is how you do everything. And if you don’t put your socks and shoes on correctly, you’re gonna get blisters, you can’t compete at a high level, if you can’t compete at a high level, you can’t practice at a high level, and you’re not going to win a championship. Everything started with the smallest details. And to him that was a fundamental. And so for me is I think about there’s fundamentals around communication around connection around collaboration. And these skills need to be practiced and repeated daily, just in the same way that you know, a basketball player is going to practice their dribble drills or pianists are going to practice their skills, you need to practice these intentional skills of effective leadership.

Nicole: Yeah, that is fantastic. Oh, I just got so happy when you said John Wooden’s name I have, I have a son who’s 27 now. And you know, all the time he was growing up, he was probably like you he, he wanted to play baseball, he would play football wanted to play all the sports. And he’s not playing any of them now, but he is very successful. But I got him a John Wooden book. And like, he wasn’t a big reader, but he actually read this book. And to this day, we talk about that book. So that’s just a great, great memory. So everybody, buy this book. Okay, tell us the title of your book. Again, I want to make sure everybody gets it, get your pen.

Alain: Sure. It’s Cracking the Leadership Code. And the subtitle is The Three Secrets to Building Strong Leaders.

Nicole: Okay, get that and then buy a John Wooden book too. Okay, cuz you just really want to because it’s awesome.

Alain: Yeah. And if people want to find out more, they go to You can actually download the first chapter right there to give a little preview of the book. So you can see my writing style and see that it works really well. And you can learn about the other stuff that I do that helps leaders out there as well.

Nicole: Yeah, awesome. Well, I want to hear a little bit about your TED talk before I let you go. I know that you did a TED. So let me hear all about that. I did a TEDx talk. And I just thought that was the most fabulous experience. So tell me about your experience and what you’ve shared, because we want to find you on YouTube, too.

Alain: Yeah sure, so it’s, if you go to, you can find my TED Talk. It’s called the basic truth. I mean, or you can put in my name, but like the basic truth, most leaders neglect. And so this talk, a lot of the ideas that we talked about today are in the talk and really, you know, TED talks are all of 13-14 minutes. And the real the basic truth. The one thing that leaders neglect, is that at its core leadership is a relationship based on connection. And so if you want to be a better leader, start and end, and everything in the middle, have connection. So it’s really about that. 

And I’ll just tell you a funny story, which actually starts at the TED Talk. And it’s also it’s the, it’s the beginning of the TED Talk. It’s also the beginning of the book. And so the story, true story, which is in 2007, the leadership of a large well known organization had a problem. See, what they found is that their customer service was not keeping pace with their customers’ expectations. And so they knew they had to act. And they did a whole bunch of market research surveys, and they put together an 87 page strategic transformation plan by which they found out we need to do something about the wait times in our retail locations. 

Because people were waiting on line too long. That was the big complaint. And so basically, after 87 pages of strategic planning, and the leadership team coming together and coming up with all sorts of different strategies, here’s what they decided to do. They decided that in all of their retail lobby locations, to deal with the issue of wait times, they were going to take the clocks off of the walls. That is true story. That is what the United States Postal Service did, with you know, 10s of 1000s of locations, they took the clocks out of the post office lobbies, because customers were waiting on line, too long. And they thought that was gonna solve the problem. 

Now, the question I have is, like, were they did they forget that, like, people have cell phones or watches? Or maybe they thought people would be thinking they were in a casino and going like, hey, you know, put all my money on forever stamps, you know, sure. Like, you know, or maybe they just thought like, what a beautiful beige wall. This is, you know, whatever we know, is that so I tell that story to kick off the idea that, oh, and a lot of people hear that story. They go like, you know what, that’s not that far off. 

Because in my company, we do kind of crazy stuff, too. And the point of the story is to show that the state of leadership overall is pretty poor. And the good news is, you know, I know we talked about a ton of stuff today, it isn’t about doing it all. It’s not all about doing it all at once. But it’s picking one thing. So you want to be a better connector. Listen with purpose. And if you want to be a better communicator, teach less, learn more, you want to be a better collaborator. take breaks every 90 minutes, don’t do them all. But pick one, and start doing it and get intentional. 

And so my hope and wish for everyone listening is that realizing that leadership isn’t some magic thing. That’s, that’s the province of heroes. Leadership is a series of behaviors that any of you can get better at, and you can start doing it today.

Nicole: Beautiful, well, here’s what I think i think you should buy the book, hire him to speak at your company conference and get the TEDx link and put it out to everybody in the in the leadership team and get them watching and leave the clocks in the lobby. That’s what I would do.

Alain: Leave the clocks in the lobby for sure.

Nicole: So I got one last question. I know we were wrapping it up. But I do want like, like, there’s there’s somebody listening to this. That is a new leader. And they’re on the struggle bus. So what’s the one piece of mentoring special advice you would give that person? What do they need to do first thing tomorrow? 

Alain: Okay. Well, there’s there’s actually two things that jumped to mind. Number one, yeah, number one is, you’re probably thinking like, I have no idea what I’m doing. Neither did anyone else. And neither everyone is making it up. So that’s the first just like, take a breath. Everyone has been there done that, there’s no way to do this. And there is you’ve got a certain level, you got to fake it till you make it at a certain level. 

So it’s like you’ve already got the job. So just invest in yourself and trust you’re doing the best you can the first thing I’d say. So that’s my little pep talk to you. Number two, if you want to start to close the gap between where you are and where you want to get. Ask for feedback, ask the people around you and say, what can I be doing? Again? How can I support you? Or, you know, let’s say you’re a new leader of a team, take everyone out one on one for coffee for lunch and say, if you were me, what would you do as leader of this team? And then again, shut up and listen and take a lot of notes? Or what could I be doing differently to serve you better? 

Because it’s amazing, you know, 10 heads are way better than one. And so whatever you can do to get feedback. And then the key piece, of course, is to act on that feedback. Because when the third or fourth person says, you know, you need to speak up more, you got to start saying, you know, I think there’s three or four of them, there’s only one of me, maybe they’re right. And by the way, when you’re asking for feedback, don’t just ask your mom, don’t just ask you know your puppy, ask people who are going to tell you the truth, because otherwise you’re not going to get a really wide sample size. 

So asking for feedback is the number one thing I always suggest to help you too. And that’s true for leaders anywhere along the journey to accelerate your learning curve.

Nicole: Fantastic. Okay, give us your website address, and we’re gonna call it quits. It was awesome. Great to be with you today. I’m so grateful for your time.

Alain: Oh, Nicole it’s been my pleasure. Yeah. So go to And if you have any questions because you’ve listened this far along, you are now part of the End of the Podcast Club, which means you can email with any questions. And I do answer all emails received. So thanks so much. 

Nicole: That’s fantastic. All right, everybody, have a great day. Thank you.

Voiceover: Ready to up your leadership game? Bring Nicole Greer to speak to your leadership team, conference or organization to help them with her unique SHINE method to increase clarity, accountability, energy and results. Email and be sure to check out Nicole’s TEDx talk at vibrant

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