The Secret Code To Exceptional Leadership (with Ian Mills from Transform Performance International) Featured Image

The Secret Code To Exceptional Leadership (with Ian Mills from Transform Performance International)

In this episode, Tim is joined by Ian Mills, CEO and Founding Director of Transform Performance International—a global advisory firm offering solutions to clients’ business performance challenges. Listen to learn more about the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors linked to being a top performer and influential leader.

Interview Highlights:

  • Ian Mills is the CEO and Founding Director of Transform Performance International—a global advisory firm offering solutions to clients’ business performance challenges. This means helping them achieve more, more quickly and with more certainty. Clients have included world-renowned brands, such as Virgin Media, HP, and American Express. [0:11]
  • In Ian’s book, The Leader’s Secret Code, they unpacked what goes on inside the head of a leader that makes them distinctive, unique, or different to the leader that is right next to them. [3:49]

It’s the beliefs that you hold that cause you to behave in the way you behave. And it’s the way that you behave that will cause you to be the success that you either are, or you are not.”
— Ian Mills

  • Here’s a powerful belief held by high-performing people in whatever profession they are in: “If somebody can do it, I can do it.” So if somebody can be the number one performer in your company, or somebody can run a marathon, or somebody could write a book, you can do it too. [6:41]
  • If you think Steve Jobs or Richard Branson are great leaders, and you want to do things that they were able to do, then you can read about them. You can study them. You can meet people who’ve met them. You can learn things or elements about what they do and how they do it and what their attitude is that you can copy and paste into your world in order to replicate what they were maybe brilliant on. [8:10]
  • Leadership is a competing world. If you do 10 or 15 small things that are different from your competitors, it may shift you from being a senior leader to an executive leader, or from an executive team to the CEO. [14:04]

It’s the small things that often get you to where you might want to get to.” — Ian Mills

  • Before The Leader’s Secret Code was written, Ian and his other co-authors read the book called The Salesperson’s Secret Code. So in the world of sales, it’s easier to measure success but in the world of selling, you will find that the gap between the top performers and the poor performers is enormous. [15:11]
  • There are many exceptionally good leaders and if you are competing for promotion or whatever you’re competing for, then you’ve got to have something that gives you an edge, something that makes you distinctive. [15:59]
  • The very first book that Ian and his co-authors wrote was “The Entrepreneur’s Secret Code”, but it was never publicized. It became clear to them that they should focus on sales, because they believe that everybody sells. Whether you’re a CFO seeking to raise capital, or whether you’re a CEO seeking to inspire people, everybody sells. [21:18]
  • Top performers continue to perform at the highest possible level, which is driven by the underlying belief system. A classic example would be the balance between working hard and working smart. [25:45]
  • For many leaders, they perhaps just need to dial up their willingness and ability to be more emotional or share themselves more empathetic with others. Moving away from being factual, logical, and cerebral might end up being the difference that makes the difference. [28:37]
  • In order to make the book more interesting, Ian and the other co-authors interviewed these people they call “iconic leaders”. They tried to get them from different sectors, like the European Vice President of Twitter, the main Board Director from Jaguar, and military leader Major James Knight from the Royal Marines. [30:43]

It’s not about me as the leader, it’s all about you.” — Ian Mills

  • It doesn’t matter what you play, everybody’s got a goal. Nobody has ever perfected golf, and nobody’s ever perfected leadership. You can become a scratch golfer and you can become a really exceptional leader, but you’ll still have bad days. You’ll still get it wrong. The issue is—how do you get it right than you get it wrong. [34:13]
  • As young leaders, many of us will be focused on financial rewards, because we’ve got to buy homes, we’ve got to educate children. But once you satisfy those basic needs, then your motivation comes from a different place. The best of the best leaders recognize and understand that teams have different needs and different priorities. You cannot ever impose what you believe is important upon them. [36:00]
  • Ian’s advice for emerging leaders is to be insatiably curious and model people who do things that are exceptional. [38:21]

Guest Bio:

Ian Mills is the CEO and Founding Director of Transform Performance International —a global advisory firm offering solutions to clients’ business performance challenges. He has co-authored several books including, The Leader’s Secret Code, The Salesperson’s Secret Code, and 100 Big Ideas to Help You Succeed. Since 1999, Ian has been a leading light in the building of a globally successful performance improvement consultancy that has delivered solutions in over 60 countries. From Lima in the west to Beijing in the east, he has led behavior change and transformation projects with corporations such as Hewlett-Packard, Deloitte, and Maersk.

Photo Of Ian Mills

An iconic leader is somebody who does something exceptional, but they would never call themselves perfect.”

— Ian Mills

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Read the Transcript:

Ian Mills

We’ve got to do things, but, you know, once you satisfy those basic needs, then your motivation comes from a different place. And again, I think the best of the best leaders recognize and understand that teams have different needs and different priorities. And you cannot ever impose what you believe is important upon them. You know, that will be short-termed.

Tim Reitsma

Welcome to the people managing people podcast. We’re on a mission to build a better world of work and to help you build happy, productive workplaces. I’m your host, Tim Reitsma. And today on the show, we’ll be unpacking the secret code to being a leader. Yes, there is a secret code, and today, Ian Mills is the co-author of a book on this topic — The Leader’s Secret Code. He’s also the CEO of Transform Performance International.

Hi, Ian! And welcome to the People Managing People podcast. It’s such a pleasure to have you here!

Ian Mills

Thank you very much, Tim. Pleasure to be here.

Tim Reitsma

I know we are connecting on different sides of the globe different time zones. You mentioned it’s 6:00 PM there and it’s 10:00 AM here. And so, we’re recording this just before the holiday season, so I know it’s a busy time of year, so thank you again for making the time for us here at People Managing People.

Ian Mills

No problem at all. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. Before we get into it you know, we’re going to talk about your book here in a minute, The Leader’s Secret Code, but why don’t you tell our listeners or viewers a little bit about yourself and what you’re up to? 

Ian Mills

So, I’ve been in business now for over 40 years. I’ve got a big birthday in January. I hit the big six 0. I’m living West of London, which is very cold right now. It’s going to be below zero overnight. So to celebrate my birthday, I’ll be going to Mauritius in January. So hopefully I’m going to hit some sunshine COVID permitting. 

So I started my career in sales. I eventually set up my own company called Transform Performance International. I’ve been lucky enough to do work now in some 60 countries for famous name organizations, like American Express and Deloitte and quite a number of others. So, it’s a privilege to be here and to share some of my experience. 

Tim Reitsma

That’s great. Yeah, thanks for sharing that. I know you’ve co-authored a couple books as well, and with the book that we’re going to be talking about today is really about The Leader’s Secret Code. And before we get into that I’m gonna throw a question at you. 

What does it mean to be a leader?

Ian Mills

Oh, what does it mean to be a leader? Well, different leaders will define it in a different way. So in my humble opinion, beauty’s in the eye of the beholder.

So what do I mean by that is that we all have a different perspective. We will have a different view. We all have different backgrounds and different experiences. So maybe I’ll reframe the question and ask, what does it mean to be an exceptional leader? Or an outstanding leader? Or a high-performing leader? Or frankly, whatever where you want to define a high-performance.

And that really is what the book The Leader’s Secret Code is about because what we try to do is we try to sort of unpack what goes on inside the head of a leader that makes them distinctive or unique or different to the leader that is right next to them. 

And often and many of you would have noticed this. It’s often the things you can’t see that set somebody apart. So if you think about recruiting leaders in an organization, most people have that going for a senior executive role, or a coach, or a brief, or a practice, or suited and booted, and they all look pretty similar, but there’s something that sets apart the top-performing the top-performing leaders.

So, it’s probably of no surprise that the secret code is the magic sauce that sets the best of the best apart, and more than happy to share what we found during the course of this discussion. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, well, let’s get into it. It’s, you know, I was really intrigued by the secret code and thinking, is it really a secret code?

And I like what you said about leaders and what makes exceptional leaders or high-performing leaders. There’s leaders throughout our working worlds, we interact with leaders all the time. And how do we know, or if that somebody is that high-performing leader? 

And so in the book, you talk about a belief system. And so let’s get into that. What’s, what are the beliefs and how did you come up with this code?

Ian Mills

So, just a very brief piece of psychology. It’s really quite simple and most people will get this. It’s the beliefs that you hold that cause you to behave in the way you behave. And it’s the way that you behave, that will cause you to be the success that you either are, or you are not.

So I’ll give you a little example. Let’s imagine you’re driving your family in a large urban area, out of weekend, looking to go shopping and you go into a high-rise car park or parking lot. Let’s try and be international. If you drive in there and you believe that there will be a space for you, you’ll be correct. If you believe that there won’t be a space for you, you will also be correct. 

So that’s the power of belief because what follows is your behavior. If you believe there will be a space, you’ll hang on in there, maybe for 10 or 15 minutes and statistically one will become available.

If you believe there won’t, you will leave and get grumpy that there is never a space in that car park. So, that’s an important concept to get your head around because one thing leads to another. So here’s a powerful belief held by high-performing people in whatever profession you are in. And it goes like this.

If somebody can do it, I can do it. So if somebody can be the number one performer in my company, or somebody can run a marathon, or somebody could write a book actually I can do it. Now, I can’t fix a switch and do it tomorrow, but if I believe that I too can do what they do, I will learn. I will listen. I will develop. I will read. 

I’ll go buy a coffee for top performers and find out what their secret was and how they got to where they got to. If I believe I can’t do it, I’ll sit on my sofa and do something entirely different and talk about the fact that you know, it’s not my talent. It’s not my ability. It’s not my zone. And you’re probably never going to get that. 

So, do you remember the Rubik’s cube given we’re at Christmas, you know, it was that kind of gift that many people were given some years ago that the puzzle? Lots of people never even touched the gift because they thought they could never do it.

Whereas some children would persist and pursue and find out, watch others and observe how people are doing it. And magically, they got to the destination. Well, it’s actually exactly the same from a leadership point of view. So if I go back to your first question, if you think Steve Jobs is a great leader, or if you think Richard Branson was a great leader, if you think Winston Churchill was a great leader and you want to do things that they were able to do, then, you know, you can’t buy them a coffee, necessarily. 

But you can read about them. You can study them. You can meet people who’ve met them. You can learn things or elements about what they do and how they do it and what their attitude is that you can copy and paste into your world in order to replicate what they were maybe brilliant on.

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, it’s a you’re kind of ringing something in my mind about when you say, you know, if you think you can’t do it, you won’t be able to do it. And I was out for a walk this morning thinking about, you know, an aspect of leadership thinking, okay, well, why am I struggling with this? And I was like, okay, I need to go find somebody who can help me out in this area.

And it’s, it is easy to say, no, it’s just not my strength, so I’m going to ignore. Whether that is one of the beliefs, like strategy or influence or communication but you know, it’s a challenge for us leaders to, to understand where we need to support ourselves and to kind of re-establish that foundation and go seek it and go find that help.

And do you find that when you’re working with companies that, you know, what’s kind of that attitude around leadership? Is it like, you know, you just have it, so you’ve got it? Or are people were working really hard at becoming a high-performing leader? 

Ian Mills

So, I’m going to give you an English perspective and the reason for that is I’m going to touch on football or maybe in North America, you call it soccer. 

So two of the most famous footballers are somebody called Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. And so a lot of people will say, are great footballers born or are they made? So I would maintain that Cristiano Ronaldo is made and Lionel Messi was born brilliant. And they’re both exceptionally talented sportspeople. 

So you could apply that to tennis. You could apply that to basketball. You could apply it to any sport, and again, you can apply it to leadership. So absolutely there are those people who are naturally at ease and very comfortable doing certain things that others find challenging.

And there were others who develop the ability and skills to replicate and do the same. And there are so many examples in, in, in leadership of people who also confuse people, because you actually, what you see is the end result of hours and hours, relentless practice. 

So, yeah look, you know, there’s somebody like Steve Jobs, you know, many people, if I say, you know, who do you admire as a presenter? You know, who can get on stage and can inspire an audience and you often get Steve Jobs. 

You know, all the kind of typical people. What most people don’t realize is that for their 15 minutes on stage they may well have spent a week practicing and practicing in order that the words and the script are in their subconscious so that they can concentrate on their audience.

And they look as if they are magicians and so I think why am I saying that? I think you know, if anyone on this of this podcast, or if anyone who is listening to this wants to learn to do things that are exceptional is to get into the head of other people around, not just what they do or how they do it and what their technique is, but why they do what they do and what it means to set themselves apart.

I’ll give you a quick story. Again, this is a slightly British one, but it doesn’t really matter. The person doesn’t matter, but there’s a man who’s a well-known cyclist. He as a young man built his bicycle out of the spare parts of a washer machine in order that he could escape from the bullies on the roughhousing estate that he lived in. He’s bipolar, he’s had a film done about him. He’s won a medal at the Olympics.

He lives in Scotland, so anyone who knows anything about Scotland, it’s colder than England. So when he was training for the Olympics, he once told me, he said, when I go out training, he said without exception, I will look at the weather forecast when I get back in to see whether I should have gone out.

So that’s an incredibly powerful coping mechanism because what that means is that when it’s snowing when it’s icy when it’s risky, he will continue to train. Whereas others might look at the weather forecast before they go out and think it’s snowing. It’s icy. If I break an ankle, I won’t make it to the Olympics and therefore they’ll sit at home.

So that’s a very small coping strategy that might be the difference that makes the difference. Now, is that going to make you a top leader? Okay, by a flick of a switch, absolutely not. But if you think about the aggregation of marginal gains, if you do 10 or 15 small things that are different to your competitors, you know, leadership is a competing world then that absolutely might shift you from bronze at the Olympics to gold at the Olympics.

Or it may shift you from being a senior leader to an executive leader, or from an executive team to the CEO. So it’s those kinds of things. I think it’s small things that often get you to where you might want to get to. 

Tim Reitsma

Often I’ve heard and I’ve often thought it’s the large things that get us get us and push us forward.

But I like what you say, it’s the small things. What are the few things that you can change in your day-to-day or your year to year as a leader and use that as a catalyst for changing yourself and how you can stand out amongst your competitors? 

Because I like what you said, leadership is a competitive field. There’s a lot of leaders in the marketplace. 

Ian Mills

Yes, it is. And you know, just to back up your point before we wrote the and did the research into The Leader’s Secret Code, we read a book called The Salesperson’s Secret Code. So in the world of sales, it’s easier to measure success.

You know, because, you know, you may just look at performance against quota. What you then find in the world of selling is the Delta or the gap between the top performers and the poor performers is enormous. It’s more marginal from a leadership point of view because most people who’ve got into leadership have gone through some assessment process. They’re generally quite experienced and therefore the gap between somebody who is in the bottom quarter and the top quarter is less significant.

So, so, therefore, you know, there are many exceptionally good leaders. So if you are competing for promotion or whatever you’re competing for, then you’ve got to have something that gives you an edge, something that makes you distinctive. And it’s rarely going to be the big thing. You know, if you think about the famous name companies and you think about the CEOs, well, you know, if they will compete against each other for some new opportunity, what is it that’s going to sway in that direction?

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, in different leadership styles resonate differently within different companies, within different industries. And so I think it’s important as a leader to understand, yeah how are you showing up every day and how do you want to lead your teams? 

Ian Mills

Yeah. You know, I, you know, I think big time, but I think you find that in entrepreneurial businesses as well. You know, there’s a difference between an entrepreneur and a serial entrepreneur.

So there are some entrepreneurs that were in the right place at the right time. Oh, and by the way, they made that happen. So kudos to them. On the other hand, there were those entrepreneurs who could do it time and time again. Now that’s something quite exceptional because to your point, it might be in a different market.

It might be in a different culture. It might be in a different economic environment. That’s quite exceptional. And exactly the same in big corporates. You know, I’ve done a lot of work in America and like I often think about some of the big-name companies in California, you know. If you think at a cultural level, you know, the US has a culture.

Every state has a different culture. Every organization has a different culture. So if you go to California and you walk into Google’s office and you drive down the road and you go to HP’s office, you’ll find a different culture as soon as you walk into the lobby. And then when you go to a department, you’ll find a different culture again.

So being able to master that and connect with those different people in those different environments is a tremendous skill. And in my opinion, the best of the best leaders have the ability to navigate that effectively, efficiently.

Tim Reitsma

Let’s, let’s talk about the secret code here for a minute, and let’s give our listeners a little bit of background into the research.

So I, I started reading the book and was really amazed that you, your team, and software, I’m guessing comb through over 700,000 items written on leadership. And so I’m curious, why did you start there, and then what did you do with those findings? 

Ian Mills

So, I was almost going to say The Salesperson’s book was the practice territory.

It really wasn’t because actually, it was heavier lifting at the world of sales than it was in leadership. And the reason for that is we did nearly a thousand interviews for the sales book. Most of which lasted between one and one and a half hours. So if you can imagine transcribing all of that data, that was a gargantuan activity, and The Leader’s Secret Code, we did more of the work digitally which meant that you know, we were able to do the research in less than a year.

And not only was it more efficient it has a greater degree of accuracy, you know, because you’re not transcribing interviews in the way that we did in the first book. So a couple of things academically, we didn’t need to interview anywhere near the number of people that we interviewed in order to prove a point.

So, you know, I’m not a I’m not a statistician but our academic advisors said you need less than 1/10 of the volume of data. So the reason that we actually went out and gathered that volume of data is that we believe from our point of view in our business, it gave us greater credibility.

So, so our clients are more comfortable with the breadth and depth of what it is we what it is we did, but, you know, you know the background to it actually goes back several years and I’ve touched on this already, but I was part of an elite group of entrepreneurs that, I loved going to their events but it wasn’t really in my target market.

But I always used to hear the stories of these really successful people that really inspired me. And I wanted to dig deep into not what are the behaviors I could observe or the skills that they evidently have, but what is it that as I said earlier, is going on inside their head, that means that they cope when others don’t cope, that they excel when others don’t excel.

So that’s what got me on the journey. And in fact, actually, the very first book, which we never publicized, it was going to be The Entrepreneur’s Secret Code, but it became clear to us that actually in the business that I run, we should focus on sales. Now, a really important point for you here, Tim, is that we believe that everybody sells.

So whether you’re a parent persuading your children to eat vegetables or go to bed on time, or whether you’re a CFO seeking to raise capital, or whether you’re a CEO seeking to inspire people, everybody sells. So think about it more about the influence. So that’s why we wrote that book and I’ll publish, you know, the obvious next move is to focus on leadership.

Now here came the challenge, because you know, I’ve been in business for, now 40 years. You know, when we wrote the first book, I’m thinking, well, actually I think there is a secret code and I know what it is, but our academic advisors said no, you can’t do that. You know, you have to do the research.

And the risk is that the research may not find that there is an answer. But I can tell you right now, and I guess fairly obviously because we have two books out to the marketplace, is that absolutely was a common mindset amongst the top performers that was noticeably similar that set them apart from others.

So that’s why we were able to call it “secret code”. That’s why we actually have the code in the book you know, you know, we’re not going to keep it a secret. That’s available to anyone to embrace, do what they wish to do with it. And you know, we’ll continue to build upon it over time. So, you know, as you would imagine, COVID is an interesting period, you know, because a number of people have asked me, well, has the code change?

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. I was curious about that as well is, you know, we’re a couple of years into this pandemic, with COVID, with new restrictions and, you know, businesses thought, Hey, we’re going back to the office. Well, wait a minute. No, we’re actually not going back to an office and it’s had to, mean, it’s stretched everybody in the work world. And though even those not in the work world. So, has it changed the leader secret code? 

Ian Mills

So, so we don’t believe it has. Now, I’ll tell you the reason why. And by the way, the code hasn’t changed. Some of the behavior may have changed. So, so a classic example, what are the things that we hear time and time again from leaders?

And I’ll probably see it and be make a degeneralization, but they’ll often say, I’m struggling with leading my team at a virtual environment or a hybrid environment. So, so not always, but sometimes what they’re expressing is a limiting belief that putting a barrier in front of them that actually doesn’t really exist.

So it’s a little bit back to the car park point I made earlier. There isn’t a space for me. I’m not good at it. I’m great face-to-face. I’m not good on a stage, but I’m good with small groups of people. So, so what I think it’s done is it’s put people into environments that they’re not familiar with, which is then causing them to doubt their ability to perform at the highest possible level.

So, that’s more of a behavior issue. But what it’s doing is tapping at the underlying mindset and belief system of the person to sometimes think I may have been a marathon runner, but I can’t run, I can’t run a marathon right now. So, so what that means is then their own self-development or the way by which they’re supported by colleagues, coaches, or whoever they kind of engage with may need to have a different focus to rebuild their confidence or their attitude around what it is they’re capable of doing.

So, so we have to see that going on in the, in the market. On the other hand, what we do see is top performers continue to perform at the highest possible level, which is driven again by the underlying belief system. So, a classic kind of example would be the balance between working hard and working smart.

So, when you’re faced with challenge and you know, let’s think about a sector that might be under threat, the hospitality sector and the COVID environment has to be the worst hit. So what do you put more effort in and work harder? Do you move from working five days a week to six days a week?

Do you work in, for 10 hours to 14 hours? Or do you trade that off against working smart, finding new ideas, finding workarounds, being creative about what it is you do? So what we know is that those who have that underlying belief system, that yes, I’m going to put in a bigger shift, but I’m going to spend more energy and effort on being creative and innovative and working smart to get to where I might want to get to, are going to rise above the water.

Tim Reitsma

You said something earlier about limiting beliefs. And I think even in my own journey is in leadership is often those limiting beliefs get in the way and get in the way of that, of our future. And in the book you have seven core beliefs — fulfillment, strategy, communication, influence, control, resilience, and empowerment.

And when I was going through this book and going, well, I, I have limiting beliefs around a few of these areas that I don’t understand. You know, as an example, maybe I don’t have enough influence. So, is that a hard stop, or do I continue to say, okay, if I don’t think I have an, hold influence, how do I gain more?

And so is there one belief that really stands out as, hey, whoever’s listening, an emerging leader, an existing leader, somebody wants to understand leadership — where do we start? 

Ian Mills

Well ok. So, a couple of things. So effectively we had 14 measures and they were paired up as you write this suggest, so that, so they’re balancing.

So I often to try and simplify this, I say, this is a little bit like the Coca-Cola recipe. If you buy a can of Coca-Cola, you can read the ingredients, you will know what they are. So if you look at our coach, you can read the ingredients and get it pretty quickly. The issue is what’s the optimal blend that makes Coca-Cola tastes like it tastes? Or a Mars bar or whatever that thing might be.

And this is exactly the same with leadership. It’s about, everybody will exhibit all 14 but which ones do you need to dial-up and which ones did you need to dial down in order that it tastes better for the people who work for you in your organization? So, it goes back to the marginal gains discussion.

It’s often small things or a number of small things or small adjustments, maybe a better metaphor is the, I’ll go back in time, the dials on a radio so that the same takes taste, so the sound is perfect. That’s how I would put it. So, let me think of it, let me think of it, an example I might I might give you. 

So possibly around communication that might be that might be a good area to think about. So, so it might be for many leaders they perhaps just need to dial up their willingness and ability to be more emotional or sharing of themselves more empathetic with others.

So the member already do that, but they don’t do it enough. So moving away from being factual, logical and cerebral and a little bit more emotional, and that might just even that one change could end up being the difference that makes the difference. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. It’s showing up and in an authentic way. And I like what you said, that, that cerebral to more that empathetic and taking that step in, yeah, it seems a little vulnerable and maybe a little scary as a leader to share a little bit, but, you know, imagine if you showed up and said, Hey, you know, Hey team, I’m, you know, I’m struggling with X, Y, or Z today. So, you know, I just need a little bit of, I may be a little delayed in responding. 

Ian Mills

Exactly. You know you know, and I like the way you put vulnerable.

And just to give you a little example. So in order to make the book more interesting, we interviewed these people we call iconic leaders. So what we meant by an iconic leader is somebody who does something exceptional, but they would never call themselves perfect. So there’s something about them that is really good.

And what we try to do Tim is we tried to get them from different sectors. So yes, we had European Vice President of Twitter. Yes, we had a main Board Director from Jaguar, but we also had a ballerina or a military leader Michelin star-rated chef, in order that we’ve got different zones.

So the military leader was a man called Major James Knight from the Royal Marines. And by the way, in the UK, the Royal Marines is the elite military function, for want of a better phrase. Not only that it’s got what’s called a Military Cross, you know, which is an award for I’m not sure of the exact definition, but extreme bravery where you can’t possibly tell anyone what you’ve actually done.

So he’s quite an exceptional individual. So I don’t know about others, but I always thought that you know, the world of military is going to be quite controlling, quite autocratic, quite command and control. And James is absolutely not like that. And he’s got this fantastic phrase which, which is, be interested, not interesting. Be interested, not interesting. 

And I love that because actually, that’s a belief. So that belief is that actually, I need to ask questions. I need to be curious. I need to show genuine curiosity to know everything about who you are, why you do what you do, what your family is, what motivates you, what gets you out of bed in the morning?

So it’s not about me as the leader, it’s all about you. I loved that. I thought that was a fantastic learning point, not only for me but for other people that I work with. And it also surprised me that you have that perspective in a world where I thought it was command and control. And the other thing, just back to the humility bit he would often lead young men who might die that day.

But he’s scared too. So how do you, as a leader, back to this sort of openness, transparency, vulnerability, you know, when you are struggling as well and you believe you don’t want anyone to see that, what’s your best way of building resilience and vitality and coping and leading? What’s the right move to make? 

And it’s not a linear thing. It’s not a black and white. You can’t buy a little book that says, you know if your fellows are about to die, you know, don’t allow a tear down your cheek. You know, you’ve got to know your audience, know your people. You’ve got to build trust. You’ve got to demonstrate empathy.

You, you, in the right moments have to show vulnerability. And that’s why being a top leader I will use golfers as a metaphor. It doesn’t matter what you play, everybody’s had a goal. Nobody has ever perfected golf, and nobody’s ever perfected leadership. You know, you can become a scratch golfer and you can become a really exceptional leader, but you’ll still have bad days. You’ll still get it wrong. So the issue is how do you get it right both often than you get it wrong? 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. That’s a great piece of wisdom that you’re bestowing on our listeners is — be interested, not interesting. And I like that. Yeah. We’re not perfect. I read a stat years and years ago that, you know, we’re human. We’re about 80% perfect. 

And I don’t know if that still stands true or even where I read that, but it’s always been the back of my mind that we are going to make mistakes and it doesn’t matter. 

Ian Mills

You know, but don’t you think Tim, that’s what makes leadership so interesting. You know, if it was, if you could buy a playbook and you could get it right every day, how boring would that be?

Tim Reitsma

Oh, that everybody would be doing it and it would be boring. It would be waking up in the morning and, you know, it’s yeah, doing the same thing over and over. And that’s what makes leadership really interesting, is we have the opportunity to lead people and people are interesting and dynamic and ever-changing.

Ian Mills

Yeah, I think so. You know, and I think, you know, for many people, it’s the challenge, it’s the unknown, it’s the unknown and unknowns, that, you know, it kept people out of bed in the morning, you know. You know, different challenges for different people. And actually to me, it doesn’t matter why people do what they do and, you know, and I really believe that over time, that changes, you know, as a younger leader, many of us we’ll be focused on financial rewards, you know, because we’ve got to buy homes, we’ve got to educate children, you know. 

We’ve got to do things, but, you know, once you satisfy those basic needs, then your motivation comes from a different place. And again, I think the best of the best leaders recognize and understand that teams have different needs and different priorities. And you cannot ever impose what you believe is important upon them. You know, that will be short-term. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, we all hold different belief systems, and as a leader, it’s you spend more time listening than talking. I think that’s something that a piece of advice that I received early on is listen to your team, listen to the organization, your customers and absorb that and ask those good questions. So it’s so important. 

Ian Mills

Yeah, I’m with you. And I, you know, I think it’s sort of, it’s almost listen beyond the words. You need to think about your gut instinct, your intuition. What are the, what’s the body language? What’s the emotion, if you think about emotional intelligence, what are the reactions that you notice in people when you touch on certain themes or topics or whatever that might be?

And what are you going to do with that information? You know, that moves from our I’m jotting down all the things you say through to, actually, I’m listening to the vibe and the emotion, as well as the words that you’re transmitting. Very powerful, you know? And I think those are the, in my opinion, the big ingredients of the best of the best leaders.

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. And so I’m thinking as we, as our time comes to a close, I can’t believe we’ve already you know, been on for over 30 minutes. 

And I know we could go on for a lot longer, but what’s the one piece of advice that you can give to an emerging leader? Whether it’s from the secret code or just from your experience what’s that one piece that you’ve held onto through, throughout your journey, or that you’ve heard?

Ian Mills

I got to give you 2, if I may and so the first one I’ve already touched on, which is be insatiably curious, not because I say you need to be insatiably curious, but begin to believe that understanding people and what they do and how they do it and why they do it and being intimate with that will be the difference that makes the difference. 

And I think I’ve already touched on the other one, you know, which is about modeling people who do things that are exceptional. And go beyond reading a book, pick up the phone to them, buy them a coffee, or have a virtual whiskey with them to uncover how they do what they do in order that you can replicate what that might be. 

But make it a bite-size piece of learning. So, you know, okay, you can’t do this now, but just as an example. If you admire the way that Steve Jobs walks up and down on this stage without looking at any notes speak to him about that. Yeah. Master that element of what he does. And I think that again could be, you know if you find the thing that you want to learn and become world-class at, that it’s a powerful technique.

Those are the things that I would focus on. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, that’s, that’s great. Insatiable curiosity and modeling find somebody who you admire, move beyond a book you know, don’t move beyond too far from the leader secret code, because it is such a great read, but find someone, yeah, buy them that virtual coffee if you can, or in person. 

Wherever around the globe, I think that’s one of the gifts of COVID is a connection from around the globe. And it picks something that you want to learn on. And I have somebody in mind that I’ve been meaning to reach out to. They speak about optimism a lot in social media and throughout their organization. So I’m going to give myself a self-imposed action to go and reach out to this person and 

Ian Mills

Oh, tell us how you get on. Love it. Yeah. Well, you know the minor points on it, Tim? 

You know, the iconic people that we interviewed? Well, we had to do the same thing. You know, we have to get a ping them a note or pick up the phone and say, look, I love the way you do something, you know? Could we have a chat? And, you know, the mindset generally goes, these people are, you know, sometimes famous or busy or senior.

They’ve never have enough time, but Hey, absolutely they have time. And generally, the best of the best people are willing to share their wisdom. You know, why would they not? That’s part of the reason they got to where they got to. So, you know, I’d encourage everybody to give it a go. And if you get rejected on one, just try another.

Tim Reitsma

That’s a good challenge for our listeners today is where the, wherever you’re listening to this find that leader or put aside that limiting belief that, oh, they won’t have time for me. Pick up the phone. If you’ve got their number, LinkedIn, wherever you can get their contact information and just send off a note because you never know.

You might get silence, but you might get somebody who is saying, yes, I can give you 15 to 20 minutes. You know, people are really protective of their time. So be very specific about the learning that you hope to gain and grow as a leader, and so… 

Thank you so much, Ian, for coming on. That’s you know, I found it a high-impact and lots of great resources here in this podcast as well as in your book. And so, again, thanks for coming on. 

And for those who are listening, we’d love to hear your feedback. We’ll put Ian’s contact information in the show notes as well as the link to his book. I highly encourage you to go pick that up and like, and subscribe to our podcast, and check us out at peoplemanagingpeople.com.

Subscribe to our newsletter where we will also summarize this podcast out there. So again, Ian, thanks again for coming on and I wish you all the best.