Courageous Communication & Holding Space

David Deane-Spread on Curiosity & Slowing Down (Episode 4)

Actionable insight about difficult conversations, the value of curiosity, and the importance of slowing down.
David Deane-Spread on Curiosity & Slowing Down (Episode 4)
In: Courageous Communication & Holding Space, Trust Building, leadership
And the number one tip really is for the leader to slow down. Observe carefully, what’s going on, listen carefully, what’s happening. And then ask exploratory questions. - Episode 4

About David

David Deane-Spread is a former commissioned officer in the Australian Defence Forces, a covert operations leader in law-enforcement and another discreet agency. He developed masterful coaching and development skills in government service whilst building and leading high-performance teams for high-risk operations. His passion for attitudinal competence and effective leadership behavior, together with his joy in seeing others develop has driven David to serve his clients for the past two decades.

Pronouns: he/him

Connect with David


Episode Transcript

Liz Wiltsie: Welcome to What's Leadership? I'm Liz Wiltsie. The more I learn about leadership, the more I'm convinced there's not a one size fits all solution. So I am on my own learning journey and I invite you to join me. EbonyJanice reminds me that being open about my journey is important. Each episode features someone I admire with actionable insight to share. So please join me as I ask what's leadership?

I'm excited that David Deane-Spread is joining me today. David began his career in the Australian military and has been an executive coach for many years. He's built his ABC Model for Rapid Business Improvement out of his unique experience of motivating teams and building trust in even the worst of conditions.

So without further intro, I'm happy to welcome David Deane-Spread. Let's get right into it. How are you?

David Deane-Spread: Thank you, Liz. Fantastic. And thank you so much for having me on your program. I really appreciate that.

Liz Wiltsie: Yeah. So in your experience, what's the biggest challenge leaders face at work?

David Deane-Spread: The biggest challenge. Always is dealing with their people when things aren't going right with the people or with the task. It's the, it is the biggest problem they have with their people when things aren't going right, or the person's got something wrong with them, whether it be a family matter or whether it's a disengagement in the workplace.

But dealing with those difficult situations, that is the toughest part for a leader.

Liz Wiltsie: Yeah.

David Deane-Spread: Well, there's, they get out of the way and let things happen. It's when a crisis occurs or whether there's a calamity of some sort in the business or a worker's out of sorts or has changed their attitude, or they've got a negative attitude or complaining attitude.

Or think that can run the show themselves and don't want the leader. All those sorts of personal challenges, person to person, are the difficult things.

Liz Wiltsie: So what's the number one tip in your experience for dealing with that?

David Deane-Spread: Yeah, that's a really good question. And the number one tip really is for the leader to slow down. Observe carefully, what's going on, listen carefully, what's happening. And then ask exploratory questions. So such as you know, what's going on for you right now, what is it? What can I do to help? Why is this, why has things changed? What's changed for you? To ask questions, to discover what lies behind everything in a way that's not confrontational.

Or interrogative. So there's got to be, look, I'm here to help. What can I do to help? Help me understand where you're at.

Liz Wiltsie: What do you think stops leaders from doing that? Cause what you're saying sounds sort of super intuitive and like, yes, you should do that, but there's just so many people who don't. So what do you think gets in folks way?

David Deane-Spread: Most of the time they're in problem solving mode. So they see a problem , whether it be a behavioral problem or a situational problem or an operational problem, and they they're automatically primed to go in and, and fix it. And so they don't back off and slow down and breathe and, and listen, and really do it.

You know, my new on the spot reconnaissance, if you like. So they try and fix. And normally that the fixing means to tell. And they try to help. They're trying to, I mean, their intention's positive, but they go around they start telling them, they start saying, well, you know, come on, you can do that. You do that go on.

And they're trying to fix it, or they say, this is what you have to do. Bang, bang, bang, and they want to get on with it. And so that makes it worse. So at the end of the day, what they need to do is to back off and  take command of themselves, become calm and centered. That's one thing.

And the other side of that is sometimes they don't do it. They don't do anything. Which is worse even.  They don't want to make it worse. I don't want to worsen the situation, but I'm going to aggravate it, exacerbate it. And they don't want to look foolish because they may not know what's going on and they don't want to reveal that they don't know what's going on.

So it's the issue of vulnerability. So we point to the Brené Brown material on that, and Simon Sinek. Those guys have articulated it really well. But at the end of the day, it's really being human, being vulnerable and saying, look, I don't really understand what's going on right now. Help me understand.

Liz Wiltsie: Yeah. Yeah. Yes. and it's just, it's always amazing to me. whenever you and I talk how intuitive, what you're saying is, and yet how much people get stuck and how many people get stuck. Cause would you say that it's, that in your experience, there's probably more people that get stuck than don't.

David Deane-Spread: Absolutely. They don't know what to say. They don't want to offend, they don't want to get hurt. They don't want to hurt. They don't want to like make the situation worse and they're primed and trained to tell, to solve the problem. They're problem solvers. You know, they see themselves as problem solvers in the business. They probably know the business more than anyone else, particularly the small to medium sized business. They know the business. I probably started the business or they've been around the business for so long.

They pretty much know most of the things that are going on. And so they're getting into problem solving mode with the right, all the right intentions. And then they, they get push back and then they, Oh, shit. Okay. Well stop. They don't know how to deal with, the first answer to, and sometimes I ask them questions, but only the first level. What's going on here? And the person might come back with a, it's all right, don't worry about it. And the uncertain leader will say, ah, okay, then just make sure everything's okay. Let me know, instead of saying, okay, now hang on a tick. I don't really understand.

Explain to me why everything's okay when that's happening. Let me understand. I'm here to help. But I do need your input. So please explain to me where we're at.  And they've got to persist, carefully with more questions. But in an, in a manner that that's going to get a response, and engagement. If they're in a mood like this, what's going on here, you know, that's going to shut people down.

And if the leader's not calm and centered and inquisitive, they'll get that kind of control the answers.

Liz Wiltsie: Right.

David Deane-Spread: You know, they can't guide the answer. am I making any sense?

Liz Wiltsie: No, That totally makes sense. And you, can't someone can't feel heard either if, you know, even outside of sort of guiding the answer to where you want it to get.

Sometimes it feels like that exercise is about making sure someone actually like feels heard and understood which can't happen in that sort of scary face, kind of way.

David Deane-Spread: It can't happen. And the latest too many leaders move into problem solving mode and providing answers. That doesn't help. They need to actually understand where the other person is coming from, what they're experiencing, how they're feeling do they want help?

And it's okay for the leader and say, look, I really don't know that I can immediately help you right now. But can we get someone who can help you? What, what sort of help do you want?

Liz Wiltsie: Right, right. Yeah. So in that vein, sort of what concept, or you mentioned a couple of different, kind of luminaries in the field. ut what concept or book or talk that you have learned over your experience, what's been most impactful for you in the way you think about this stuff?

David Deane-Spread: Okay. So, I mean, a lot of, I learned from the leaders that I had, that I was following in the military and I learned good things and I learned things to do. And I learned the things that I would never do. So I had the experience of good and bad leaders, great leaders and not so great leaders. And then I also made my own mistakes as well. Lots of those. When I was a young officer, all my men were older than me. Some of them are old enough to be my father.

I mean, I was a second in command of the military prisoners, my first appointment on graduation. And I had my 21st birthday, on duty in the, in the prison. And so I was, I was, such a novice. Even though I'd been trained as a leader. I didn't have the practical experience.


Liz Wiltsie: And 21 is young. Goodness.

David Deane-Spread: Very young. Yeah. I mean, that's how it was. I mean, I it's like that now. I mean, you've got guys coming out of West Point. They're the same age and they're very genuine leaders and on the long, the long road to learn, it's a learning road. But, so I had a lot of personal experience, but one of the books that really, gave me a lot of insight, particularly in the commercial side of things was, the book Good to Great by Jim Collins and, a few other people that contributed to that.

Now he's not an expert leader himself, but he's a student of it. And he talks about level five leadership, which is now. And when we're talking about 20, 20 year old material, but not  the whole bit about leadership, hasn't changed for centuries for thousands of years, the same things work. You know, we haven't, we haven't evolved to that point where, leadership is different and there'll be lots of people telling you that it is, but it's not.

Management has changed because of technology and complexity and what have you, but dealing with people hasn't changed and isn't likely to. And so, Good to Great is a fantastic book. for any anyone who wants to become a better leader to read the, the evidence, cause it's evidence based, and the level five leadership, which is that leader who is there for the people, not for themselves.

Looks out of the window when things are going really well and looks at the people he can praise and then when things aren't going well, it looks in the mirror and asks, what, what can you do to help? And not a portion blame. Yeah. Yeah. And, and another one that, and this is, this is an interesting one because there was a poem by Rudyard Kipling called If.

Liz Wiltsie: Yes. I know it well. Yes.

David Deane-Spread: My mother sent that to me said, read this whilst you're on the plane, going to your army training. And I'll tell you what I read it. And I loved it. I mean, it's at a site good, so true. And it's just about being a, a human who cares human, a human who can work with anyone. Who's willing to work with anyone willing to learn and willing to help.

Liz Wiltsie: Yeah, no, it's lovely. It's lovely.

David Deane-Spread: Yeah. So, so those are the things, those, those experiences and those, the study of it. I think learning about leadership. I mean, I've, I've been doing this for a long time now. I'm still learning. And I think until I know the entire population of the planet, which I never will, but if I was to learn all of their idiosyncrasies and what makes each one of those people tick, I might be able to say, yeah, I know everything about leadership, but that's not going to happen.

Liz Wiltsie: So what should I have asked you that I didn't.

David Deane-Spread: Gosh, you know, that's an interesting question. There's so much that I, I, I could be asked and there are a lot of things that you could have asked and I'm glad you didn't that really, I suppose the main thing, one of the, one of the biggest questions that I think matters is, how long did it take to become a, an effective later. And I think that that's a, an issue that a lot of people don't talk about. I mean, I, I, the universities now globally are offering masterships. You know, master's degrees in leadership. And I worry about that because it's very theoretical. And leadership is not something you get out of a book, even though there's some good stuff in the books, but leadership is a practical thing.

It's something you learn. And I mean, I, I was trained as a, as a leader to be a platoon commander and, and, and, you know, theoretically I had all the knowledge, but I didn't have the experience. And it was only when I was making mistakes that I really learned. I learned the most by making mistakes. And so how long does it take to become an effective leader?

Awhile. Your degree in leadership, one equip you to deal with, somebody who had just come to work today  and, you know, somebody rang over, ran over their dog. Well, he ran over his dog on the way out of the driveway, or he's come to work today, and his wife told him that he's leaving, she's leaving.

Her partner said they're going. And he's now upset. I mean, the program at the university, wont to tell him how to deal with that. Well, how to deal with the. the person who's sabotaging the team because of their negativity.

You know, you can look to learn how to do that. And it's one on one and everyone's an individual. So I don't think, you can come out of a program saying, oh, I've done the study. Now I'm a leader. Now I'm an effective leader. I think we have to recognize that we've gotta work our way into it. And most of our best learning will come from from the mistakes that we've made. We have to be willing to make those mistakes. I hope that answered your question. You're a trick question.

Liz Wiltsie: My trick question. No, that's a great answer. so yes, so David, that's the end of our interview. I want to say thank you. And there's a lot, there will be lots of resources. David has shared with us, a guide. Do you want to tell us about the guide that you shared with us?

David Deane-Spread: I wrote a book, a few years ago, for my clients called The Wheel of Effective Leadership Behavior. And that's, I've sent that to you too, in a PDF form, which you can send out to your listeners. And it talks about the 12 traits that a leader has that, that people would, endear them to follow that leader.

And it's based on 12 historical figures. And their unique capability, unique traits, and I've arranged them in a way and described those within the book. Also the 12 traits that they all begin with the letter C, like  courage and commitment, collaboration, those sorts of things, clarity, candor. Those sorts of words and there's 12 of them.

But also the good thing about the book is that there's a way of testing yourself and measuring yourself and at the back of the book and how you can also get your team to rate you.

Liz Wiltsie: Great.

David Deane-Spread: And then how, how do we deal with each one of those, those characteristics, those traits, how do we prepare for them?

How do we deliver them? How do we practice? How do we rehearse? How do we rehearse the be courageous, for instance, how do we rehearse to be candid? How do we can, can we, rehearse to deliver on commitment?

So it's a very useful book. My clients love it. I never write books to become bestsellers. I write them for my clients and a way of capturing my thoughts and my IP, I guess.

Liz Wiltsie: Yes. And I'm excited that we'll get to share it with our listeners.

David Deane-Spread: Yeah, that's fantastic. It's my pleasure to do that. And thank you so much for interviewing me. I really appreciate it.

Liz Wiltsie: Full show notes from this episode, and every episode are available at If you're intrigued by this episode, please subscribe.

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