Cracking the Leadership Code with Alain Hunkins

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Want to be a better leader? In this interview, Author Alain Hunkins shares his leadership expertise.

After the Interview:

About Alain Hunkins

Alain is the author of Cracking the Leadership Code: Three Secrets to Building Strong Leaders. Over his twenty-year career, Alain has worked with over 2,000 groups of leaders in 25 countries. His clients include Wal-Mart, Pfizer, Citigroup, General Electric, State Farm Insurance, IBM, General Motors, and Microsoft. A faculty member of Duke Corporate Education, Alain’s writing has been featured in Fast Company, Inc., Forbes, and Business Insider.

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This transcript was auto-generated from the original video recording using Otter Voice Meeting Notes. While the transcript has not been human edited, we hope it will still help you to quickly find or reference useful information from the interview.


Deliberate Leaders I am your host Allison Dunn, Executive Coach and Founder of the Deliberate Leaders podcast dedicated to helping leaders build strong, thriving businesses. Each episode we feature inspiring interviews to help you on your leadership journey. And I am super excited to introduce our guest today. Today we have Alain Hunkins with us, He is the author of Cracking the Leadership Code, which can be noted as the number one best selling Amazon new release in business communications. He also is the CEO of Hunkins Leadership Group and has over 20 years of experience in leadership training, facilitation, adult learning and development, design, organizational development and cultural change. He has facilitated leadership and behavioral change programs to over 2000 groups, and explains within his book, The Reasoning of Why Leading Well is so Difficult, a lot. Passion is the kindle the fire of brilliance in individuals, teams and organizations to create a better world. Thank you so much for joining us today.


Thank you for having me. I’m really excited for our conversation.


I love your passion and the way that your purpose is written. I think kindling the brilliance in individuals and organizations is so powerful. So what caused you to choose the word brilliant, because I think that’s an incredible word to choose.


So for me, maybe it’s having a lot of British friends, and they all say brilliant, but that’s brilliant. But everything No, that’s, that’s maybe not, for me brilliance is well, it’s like, I believe that if you think about, we use the word brilliance around diamonds and jewels, and I think that the potential inside of human beings is just enormous. And so many of us, I think, just tap at the surface of that. And so for me, it’s an every single one is different, right? So you have to like scrape away the dirt and grime to release this brilliance. And, and it’s interesting because I use the word, you know, kindling the fire. And if you think about kindling, like to get it going if like rub to this friction, like it takes work to actually get a fire going to get that spark. And so for me the work of personal development, which by the way, is leadership development, you can’t really separate those two out from each other. I mean, because how you show up as a leader is how you show up as a person and vice versa. So for me, that’s what brilliance really starts from, obviously a little passionate about it. See that?


Awesome. And I like to kick off all of my podcast interviews with the deliberate conversation. And, you know, I, I would love for you to share what your number one leadership tip is, for our listeners.


Oh, let’s start with the good one. Like having dessert first. Great. Let’s go with the big tip. Sometimes people say like, let’s do at the end, like start with a big start with it. Here’s the number one tip kind of out and get some feedback. Because you know, human beings, we are notoriously blind to our own blindness. And of course, you think you’re good, and so does your mom and your puppy. But you know, we could use some feedback, and not just from the people who love you, but from everyone. And the key to that, obviously, is when you get the feedback is to breathe and say thank you, and then take it in and then act on it. It’s the number one thing and it scares the heck out of so many people, because it means challenging your own identity. But I like to say around leaders as leaders have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and asking for feedback is putting yourself deliberately out of the comfort zone into the growth zone, because that’s where the magic happens.


Yeah. Feedback is the most missed opportunity of most leaders. And the one thing that I feel leaders are actually the most starved for.


Yeah, yeah, for sure.


You have a great leader tell him so and give them some feedback. Because they want it, I promise.


They want it. But so few of us have had good modeling of what that looks like about how to both give it and receive it. And so we end up putting these walls around ourselves. We walk around in these little cones of silence and just sort of go if I don’t call you out on your stuff, you won’t call me out of my stuff. And we’ll just be okay with that. Right. And unfortunately, that just creates this kind of muddling mediocre, middle over it’s not getting anywhere. So yeah, get feedback soon.


Thank you for that tip. What would you say are some of the challenges that you’ve seen individuals face in developing empathy within their teams?


So it’s big one, right. So let me do a little level setting first. So when I define empathy, empathy is showing people that you understand Men care how they feel. Now for all you listening to that you go got it pretty straightforward. I think I can do that. And I probably do that. And no doubt you do that in most of your life. However, the research would show that in a work setting, empathy suddenly gets to be in short supply. In fact, business solver did this great study a few years ago, a group of organized a group of organizations and they asked everyone, do you think that your organization and your CEO is empathetic? Turns out that 92% of the CEO said, our organizations are empathetic? Well, it turns out the employees only 50% said the CEOs are empathetic. So there’s this gap between what we think and what’s actually happening. So the couple big reasons, the challenges around empathy, number one, would be showing people that you understand them and care how they feel aka empathy. That doesn’t just happen like this, you can’t just go like, I got my to do list. Let me be empathetic for alliott, check, check, check, check, check. And so much of our life is fast. And think about the speed at which we’re doing stuff, you know, you’re processing two 300 emails a day, you want to get through stuff. In fact, a lot of organizations have drive for results listed as a core competency. And that’s all fine and well and good. I’m not like I’m not here to against results, you know, the challenges, a drive for results shouldn’t come at the expense of driving over the people who are trying to deliver those results. So the first is around, you’ve got to slow down sometimes. And 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. So that’s the first big challenge to empathy. And the other one, frankly, has to do with a lot of leaders are uncomfortable with emotions in the workplace. You know, some of us were brought up in a world where we literally heard things like this is work, you check your feelings at the door. And that was the policy right? Check your feelings at the door. And you know, the good news is folks like in Gen Y, and Gen Z came into the workplace said, Hmm, this doesn’t make any sense. Because the fact is, you cannot check your feelings at the door. Think about it, what you end up doing is you suppress your feelings at the door, you still have them, you just don’t show them. In fact, the Lloyd did this study found that 61% of US employees cover their identities in some ways, because they don’t feel safe being fully themselves at work. And you might be thinking, why is that important? Because when we wear a mask and cover identities, we cannot perform at our best. And so it creates a low trust and a low empathy and a low connection culture. So again, to recap, the big two barriers to empathy, time, and fear.


Masking who we are, and then you add a mask to that right and compounded. And actually, it’s a very, it’s a very real problem.


Yeah, cuz we’re literally now wearing physical masks, right? Because of COVID. And so yeah, people are feeling more and more disconnected. And I think in this day and age, especially, I mean, I love the fact that your show is called Deliberate Leaders, because as leaders, we have to be that much more intentional and deliberate. I was just talking with a client this morning saying, now used to be with it. But he was saying, you know, we had a team member was leaving the company, and it used to be you just all go out for lunch. And you can have lunch and someone would say something, and it was a way to celebrate closure. How do you do that online? Like you have to facilitate a whole meeting and it doesn’t feel the same? And you need a whole ratchet up your skill set to be better at doing that. So yeah, deliberation is key.


So this was not my next question. But it’s going to be now off the board for 200.


So knowing that right now, you know, we have to divert away from some of our normal practices, how can you best show empathy? Through zoom? Yeah.


Really simple. Well, I should say, it’s really simple, not necessarily easy for some people who are like, gotta go, gotta get things done. So what we know is showing people that you understand them care how they feel is empathy. So how do you do that? You’ve got to listen, like really listen, not just listen to respond and give your answer, but to listen. And the cool thing is, you can ask a good question. You don’t need to know what the answer is, but they will fill it in. So here are my three simple questions if you want to show some empathy. And I suggest using these questions when you’re checking in either one on one or if you want to check in as a team. I wrote an article about this, but they’re super simple. You won’t need to read the article, because it’s just three questions. Question number one, check in let’s say you and I are meeting Alli, question number one of Alli. How are you feeling today? And it’s not just I’m fine, how are you but actually give you space to say what’s really going on? You know, and that, you know, the silver lining in COVID is that people are actually starting to talk about these things, because we’re literally facing sickness and disease and life and death in the face in a way that we used to sweep it under the rug. But now, how are you feeling because some days are really hard and different people are dealing with different stuff, whether it’s you know, sick relatives or Someone’s out of work, or my kids are trying to remote school on the table next to me. I mean, there’s so many things going on. So question number one is, how are you feeling? Question number two is, what’s on your mind or what’s distracting you because there’s plenty of things that can be distracting you from being present to whatever it is the task is at hand. So that’s question two. And then question three is, how can I support you? So the cool thing is simple questions that will take you literally five minutes. Now you have to get out of the mindset, like that’s a waste of five minutes of work time. Like, one of the things as leaders, we have to learn how to do is we have to realize to prioritize effectiveness over efficiencies, investing that five minutes in the human being that you work with, is such a great investment that will pay dividends in once they put on their task role of I’m now the VP of sales or the head of operations, right? So we want to invest in the person first by checking in. So it’s again, going slow first, so we can go fast later.


I think those are fantastic. Three questions. in, in my world, we do it as a compass check. Great. So it’s, you know, North what’s going really well, you know, south, what, you know, how are you doing? What’s not going so well. And then, you know, the second question that you have is, you know, like what taking off courses your east and west, but what distractions do you have? So, I love that. That’s awesome.




So your book states that only 23% of people think their leaders lead well, which is a horrifying statistic, since we have so many leaders out there, right? So, in your experience, what makes you believe that this is the case?


Well, that came from a study done by Ketchum Communications. And there’s other studies out there. In fact, a more recent study from MIT said that only 12% of people strongly agree that their leaders have the right mindset to lead them into the future. So the state of leadership has been poor for quite some time. If you look at just a meta analysis of all the studies, it’s been pretty low for a long time. And part of it has to go back to the first question, which is around feedback. See, once you have the job, and the title and the power and the role, if you don’t want to grow, who’s going to call you out on it? Right? So unless you’re the kind of person that says, you know, what, I actually want to get better, there really hasn’t been this investment on the part of leaders to go, I want to change. And this has to do again, psychologically, you know, there’s something that we call the there’s a couple different ways to put it. There’s a great way it’s called the bias that if you ever watched Garrison Keillor used to have this show Lake Wobegon, and he’d say, you know, Lake Wobegon, we’re all the children are above average. So everyone thinks they are above average. And and 95% of drivers say that you have above average driving skills, if I had a room of 100 leaders, and I said, How many of you think you are good or above average, the 95 hands are going to go up in the room. So it’s this self fulfilling prophecy. And unless they are in a place where they are open to honest feedback, they’re going to keep doing what they’re going to be doing. And there’s no need for them to change. And if you’re in a hierarchical power based organization, for you to call that leader out, will be a career limiting move. So people don’t call it out, and they just deal with it. And then you have global employee engagement rates hovering at around 15% of employees are strongly engaged. And at the same time, something like 65% of people are either actively or would consider looking for another job. So that’s why this leadership is pretty poor.


Do you think that it has become a better or worse, given our current state of hybrid working, you know, off site type of stuff? Do you think that we’re heading in a different direction? So I’d say our US statistics for engagement have actually been rather good. But I’m, I am concerned that I there’s going to be a significant improvement, or it’s going to match up to the rest of the world, which is not good.


Yeah, yeah.


So for me, I mean, I look at all these things. And I mean, for me, as an individual leader, and listening to this, I get overwhelmed, like, Alright, that’s the world. I can’t control the world. But I would just take it okay. In my organization, in my company in even with my team, what am I doing what because that’s where I have influence. That’s where I have control. That’s where I have power. So what am I going to do to make this the best culture it can be? Well, first thing I want to do is get some feedback on the current state of the culture and then figure out what do I need to change and improve to make it better? And that’s where I would start in my organization because I wouldn’t worry about global engagement surveys or even us engagement surveys, I’d look at what do I need to do and frankly, if I want my employees to be engaged, I bet Being an engaged leader. I mean, I always think we talk about employee engagement. Do we ever talk about leadership engagement, because there’s a lot of leaders that are just kind of phoning it in. You know, and, and I’d like to say that, you know, lousy leadership is a result of lazy leadership, because you have so many people who wind up in leadership roles, because they were high performers, who got stuff done, like, oh, you’re a good salesperson will make you the sales manager, right. And now, you’re in this different role. And guess what, what got you here is not going to get you there. And there’s a huge gap between being this high performer and knowing how to facilitate high performance and others. So you’ve got to shift your mindset, and what you spend your time doing. Like, I’m always amazed at how many leaders say, I just don’t have time to spend with my people, because I got other stuff to do. Like, their job.


That’s your job. And in fact, why do you think of it as spending time This isn’t an investment, this is this is what’s going to pay dividends, because if your people succeed, you succeed. And I know people here that know, like, that’s kind of right. But to stop and take, you know, take an audit of your day, like they say that, if you want to know what people value, look at their back, and this is a little analog days, but look at their checkbook register, right? Because that’s where they spend their money. Now, if you don’t want to know how, what a leader values, look at their calendar, how are you spending your time? So you say you’re leading people? How much time are you spending with them? What are you doing to build into them? You know, these are, these are critical differences that have to happen.


One of my favorite exercises to do when working with leaders is to have them, you know, analyze the time that they spend for about two weeks, and often they come back in and they say that I haven’t done it. And I said, well, let’s, let’s say I’m going to go back to the office with you. I’m going to follow you around for two weeks. Are you doing leadership things? Are you doing ownership things? You know, and what they’re spending their time on? They have plenty of time. We all have plenty of time for sure.


Well, this is the whole it’s the I’m sure you know, as a coach, you get into people’s limiting beliefs like I you know, that’s a huge flip, I don’t have the time to spend, it’s like, well, you know, where are you spending your time because what we do or don’t do is a choice. And just, and I think it’s so much more empowering to realize that everything, this may not be completely true in the world, you may not have a choice about everything. But if you believe that you do, which most of us do in more ways than we think suddenly your ability to influence the things around you goes way up.


Absolutely. So talk to me about execution. What do you do to ensure that the strategic plans actually become a reality?


Yeah, so great question. So if we think about strategic plans, you started, you have a vision, and you have to turn the vision, maybe unshaped, somewhat this, somehow we want to start putting that into some parameters around things. But what really gets down to execution? And this is where I think so many organizations fall short, is that we have to put in milestones they tell like What will a wind today look like? What will progress look like today? Turns out the number one thing that motivates people is making progress towards a meaningful goal. Yeah, and so if we don’t, yeah, we all do, right? It’s like, because when you have like a think of those days, when you are on fire, brilliant, at your best, like, yeah, look, I can see I’m moving towards this goal, I feel it in my bones. And so when we are designing a strategy and looking at people to execute on that, we need to build in these milestones. And equally important, is when we get to those milestones, we want to celebrate them with people. You know, there’s so many organizations where let’s say, we have our annual sales target, and we call it Work, work, work, work, work, work, December 31. We hit the sales target. Okay, great. Next year, let’s go again, like and it’s just like, the expectation is, you know, it’s a little bit like Sisyphus, putting pushing the rock up the hill, and then just get back out, like, people do better when they are in an environment that is positive that celebrates them. So as a leader, think about how do you see your overall strategy and then breaking the plan and the project down into concrete tax tasks, easy for me to say, to ask to be able to figure out progress and then celebrate the heck out of that progress as you go?



I absolutely love the concept of finding every reason to celebrate that you can right and it doesn’t have to be in big ways it can be you know, we were talking this morning and a client that I’ve worked with for years said the first thing you taught me was it’s all the small wins. And we do dance parties two or three times a week because we’ve got that task done and we hit that milestone and just, you know, celebrate so big fan of celebration. Excellent.


Yes. Absolutely.


And what, what are the keys to developing the next generation of the leaders of our world? And that’s, you know, I mean, it’s just an easy question, if you could, you know, touch on.


Sure. And after we get through this, I’ll tell you about how we’re going to solve global climate change and world peace. So how are we a next generation of leaders? Okay. So it’s a really good question. I think the first thing is, we have to shift our basic belief about what leadership is, okay. So leadership, it starts with this idea that leadership is no longer a title. It’s not a position, it’s not about authority. It’s realizing that democratized leadership in that, anytime that anyone is trying to get anyone else to get anything done, that takes leadership skill. And it takes a mindset that can do that. And so for me, I think of this as getting out of the mindset of the leader as the commander in chief, and instead being the facilitator, and Chief, now the word facilitate comes from a French word faasil, which means easy. See, our world is getting more and more complex with technology and the speed of and everything, not to mention the pandemic. Everyone is pretty, it’s pretty complex, right? And it’s overwhelming at times. And what we want are leaders who can make things easier. And so for me, I see there’s three main skill sets that we want to develop in everyone, because everyone is a leader, because we’re all leading with that definition. We’re all leading every day. And those three overarching skill sets of which there are practical tools you can teach. And I’m happy to talk about the tools too. But there’s three overarching skill sets. The first is around connection is that I don’t care what business you’re in, you’re in the people business, because everything happens through people. So how do you build human to human connections? Because leadership is that relationship between a person who leading and a person who chooses to follow? So that’s the first The second thing is around communication? How do we develop communication, so people are so eager to create clarity and shared understanding between each other, because until we don’t, until we have shared understanding, we’re missing an important element, because the shared understanding becomes the platform on which we can take all future action. So that’s the second piece of the third piece is around, how are we going to collaborate? And you know, in this world where we have technology that enables everyone to have access to the same information, it’s not about having the information, it’s about what how do we get the right information to the right person in the right place at the right time to meet whatever need whether that’s a colleague or a customer. And that’s what so this whole world is becoming more dynamic about? What do we need to do to create an environment where people can perform at their best to be collaborative. So to develop the leaders of the future, we have to teach them to be better connectors, better communicators, and better collaborators? Excellent. After that, we’ll solve climate change.


There you go. I, I think that is fantastic. And the key, I think, here is that we can all from where we are work on those three areas and make a significant improvement.


Every day, every single day, there’s an opportunity like, Who are you? Are you having a meeting with someone? So how are you going to connect with them? How are you going to communicate with them? How you gonna collaborate with them. And if you could keep those three C’s, you can see them show up all the time every day.


Right? That’s fantastic. Um, within your book, you talk about peak moments. And I just want to have you share what are those moments? And why is it so important to acknowledge them?


Yeah, so I got this idea of peak moments. There’s a great TED talk by Daniel Kahneman, who’s a behavioral economist at the University of Chicago, and he talks about the difference between the experiencing self and the remembering self. I’ll just give you an example. So let’s say you go like if I said to you, where’d you go on your last vacation? And let’s say you said, I went to the Grand Canyon. And like, tell me about it. What you’re going to remember is, well, there was this amazing sunset, and we were standing there is this I was just, it was great. Now what you’ve somehow very carefully just edited out of all this is like, Oh, yeah, but like, it was like the plane was delayed on the way there. And like, all that stuff, you know, and then my kid got sick and like, you don’t remember that stuff. That’s the in the moment you were experiencing that. So I share all this as context. Because if we think about peak moments at work, not every minute or hour or a day is created equally, that certain moments have an emotional weight, that if we can capture that and leverage that to our advantage, it is going to create the remembering self of know for employees. Oh my gosh, this is the best decision I have ever made. I’m going to tell my friends, I’m gonna tell my mom and dad that like this is the coolest place ever. I’ll give you an example of a peak moment and there’s many of them But one for example, it would be the first day on the job. So in my book, I write about the story, I’ll tell you. This is an actual story of a client of mine. And he told me he got this job. He was very excited about starting it was, you know, it seemed like a great opportunity. And he shows up to meet his new boss in the lobby of the building, and he gets down there. And he’s just like, come here at 9am. And so he gets down there at 830. He’s waiting nine o’clock, no one shows up. 915. No one’s there at 930. Someone comes down. He’s like, Hey, are you Alexander? Yeah, sorry, Bonnie couldn’t get in today. She’s out on a business trip. I’m here. I’ll take you upstairs. So go up, right goes up to the already He’s like, Okay, I guess I got forgotten about gets to the office like, Okay, the first thing I have to do is we have to get your security badge so you can get it out of the building. So they go back down to the lobby to the security desk, and he’s got to wait online for an hour to get his whole badge works, we can badge in and out. So he gets the badge goes back upstairs and the guy’s like, just wait here. Someone from IIT is going to come by and set you up with a laptop. So again, he’s just sitting here waiting and waiting. And so the IT guy shows up at this point, it’s like one in the afternoon. He’s hungry. No one’s taking him on a tour. No one’s showing him like where the bathrooms are anything. He went, he got done with the day he quit, quit the job, right? Because that was so again, versus Can you imagine if you had an onboarding experience that was just so amazing where you were welcomed, they were thinking of you, you would feel so different. And so whether it’s the job interview, whether it’s your first day on the job, whether it’s your first performance review, or your first project team meeting, these are peak moments. And if we can make people feel valued and esteem and built into them in those moments, it is going to completely change their sense of commitment and loyalty to their work and ultimately to the organization.


I love that. I I’ve had an experience like the one you just described. Yeah, I did not quit. I stayed there for a while.


There are more those kind of those horrible first days are actually I forget the actual steps, they’re more common than you’d think it’s amazing how many people have really been first experiences.


A good takeaway, anyone who has a new employee starting, like give them a peak moment, make it something good, right? It’s a great way to start things for sure. Yeah. A lot. I’m super excited to hear about cracking the leadership code number one bestseller in its category. I can see it behind you. on display back here. What is next for you?


Wow, great question. So what I’ve been doing is I partner with the technology company. And we’ve taken the content from my book, not all of it, obviously. But we’ve taken the content from the book. And they had this wonderful micro learning technology platform. And we’ve created this 30 day Leadership Challenge. But I’ve been running for people to actually practice and embed these skills daily over 30 days. And it uses positive psychology, it uses gamification. It uses habit formation. I’m just right now in my third cohort, we have 90 leaders from 17 countries around the world going through this. So people can check it out on my website, I’ll have upcoming open challenges. I’m also I also bring it in house, I’m working with a couple companies right now to bring it in house as well. So that is super exciting. Because, you know, especially in this day where we’re virtual remote, and also the idea of sitting in a four hour eight hour training classroom, I don’t know if that’s going to ever come back. So this whole sense of this bite size drip fed micro learning, I am drinking the micro learning Kool Aid le and I’m a big fan. So I’m just thrilled to create these experiences. And literally, I was talking to someone who just finished the challenge other day, the great stuff, but like I said with connection, communication and collaboration, it isn’t just in your job. So one woman in this challenge is a manager for a retail company. She’s got three kids, her youngest is nine, her middle is 12. her oldest is 14, she’s in the nine, the 14 year old are doing well. But the 12 year olds really having a hard time with these kind of depressed. And obviously I mean mental health is big right now for a lot. It always is, but particularly now. And she said, You know, I went through this challenge. And one thing we do is we talk about gratitude, and like what are your wins for today? So what’s a win. And so she started doing this with her kids. And she said after a month doing this with her family, she’s totally seen a turnaround in her 12 year old, I cannot thank you enough for what this has done. So, you know, obviously that warms my heart because the goal is I want people to be better leaders in every aspect of their life goes back to my mission, right to create a vibrant and alive world by kindling the fire of brilliance. So anyway, I’m excited about this challenge. So if people want to learn more, they can learn more.


Well, congratulations to you. I’m a big fan of micro learning environments. And do you think it is the wave of the technology of the future and building it through technology so that you can get it when you need it where you need it?




Yeah, that’s awesome. A lot. Thank you so much for joining us here on deliberate leaders. It’s been a true pleasure to Talk leadership with you. And I’m headed off to make sure that I’m creating connection, better communication and collaboration.


Awesome. Alli, thank you so much. It’s really been my pleasure.


Thank you.


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