Home » Leadership » Authentic Leadership Insights: A Conversation with Dean Newlund
Aug 29 2018

This conversation with Dean Newlund covers leadership insights based on his years of experience as a leadership expert and trainer for large organizations. Dean is CEO of Mission Facilitators International, a 25-year-old boutique team-based development firm with offices in Phoenix and Bend. He has developed and facilitated hundreds of training programs for small to large organizations, for-profit and nonprofit, government agencies, and school systems in the US and in 19 countries. Dean is teaching the upcoming Oregon Authentic Leadership Training with Oregon State University in Portland, Oregon, starting October 31.

What kind of leadership qualities would you say great leaders tend to share?

“The things that come to mind when I think about that question are things like humility. And what I mean by humility is the ability to be vulnerable, to be self-reflective, to use your own life experience as a laboratory for being able to learn and grow.”

“Also, I think vision is important. A leader, by definition, is a person who sees a future that we all want to get behind. A person who sees something that maybe others don’t see.”

“Alongside that, emotional intelligence is also a really important characteristic. It’s your sensitivity, it’s your ability to self-reflect and be able to grow yourself, but also to be able to understand other people’s points of views, even though you may not necessarily agree with them.”

What is authentic leadership?

“These days we want to make sure that what we are doing has value. We want to make sure that when we purchase products, when we use services, when we buy things from different companies, that we align ourselves with different companies because there’s meaning and there’s value. That gets translated into what we expect leaders to be.”

“We don’t want just somebody who’s a great tactician, who can read a spreadsheet, who knows how to do an employee review, who understands the strategic plan or what a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis is. Those things are important, but we don’t need just that. We also need a person who’s authentic.”

“And so, what does it mean to be authentic? It means that you are being yourself. You are vulnerable, you are able to learn, you are able to share your personal life to other people, you speak from your heart, you’re not so prescribed in the words that you use and the way you communicate that it seems a bit too phony.”

“I think that authentic leaders have a clear brand, a clear message, a clear goal, a clear purpose in life. That their values and their behaviors and their actions and their perspectives all line up towards this large vision, this large goal that they’re trying to accomplish.”


“I think that authentic leaders have a clear brand, a clear message, a clear goal, a clear purpose in life. That their values and their behaviors and their actions and their perspectives all line up towards this large vision, this large goal that they’re trying to accomplish.”


What is executive leadership training, and why is that important? How is it different?

“Executive leadership is really just authentic leadership on steroids, in a sense. It’s more about communicating a clear message that’s appropriate to the style of the people that you’re talking to and the situation that you’re in. It takes into account things that are nonverbal communication. Most of our communication is nonverbal, so executive presence takes that component of nonverbal communication aiding in our message or clouding a person’s ability to hear it.”

“That means that if I go into a Fortune 500 company, I need to dress like those people. I need to put on a suit and tie or I need to be able to put on something that’s appropriate for that particular group. If I’m up in Bend, Oregon, three days without shaving and wearing my flip flops, in certain companies, is completely executive-presence appropriate.”

“So it’s really about having the right combination of verbal and nonverbal communication that’s appropriate to the situation. It’s about being authentic in a way that is going to be accepted by most people given the situation that you’re in. We trust people’s nonverbal communication more than we trust their verbal, because we sort of know you can’t fake it, or at least we sort of sense that you can’t fake it.”

How can managers develop their leadership skills?

“First of all, I would make the distinction between being a manager and being a leader. I think being a manager is really as the word indicates. You manage things and you manage people, you manage budgets and process and goals and workflows and schedules, and so you are sort of in charge of all of that. Leadership is a different type of individual. That’s a person who has a vision, who wants to engage people around that vision, who’s about developing themselves and developing other people.”

“The second thing I’d want to do is to ask, “Why do you want to be a leader?” You really don’t want to be a leader just for being a leader’s sake. I mean, the destination is not leadership. The destination is getting something done that’s going to help better people, the society, your team or your company. Leadership is a tool.”

“There may be some days that I want to get something done, and the best tool is to be a follower. Then be a follower or maybe be a team player, but being a leader is not the outcome. It’s where you want to go with it. What is it you want to do that leadership will help you get there? Once you’ve clarified that, you really have created a lot more momentum in that direction.”


“Develop those business relationships, but also develop some of those personal relationships that can come through having lunch every once in a while with somebody. Relationships are, in a sense, the currency of how leadership works.”


What advice would you give to someone who either is stepping into a leadership position or is already established as a leader?”

“So, if you are a manager and now you’re stepping into a leadership position, what I said before: what is it that you’re trying to create? What sort of outcome? Clarify that and make sure that becomes clear.”

“It’s also really important in the very beginning to do a listening tour, if you will. Go out there and meet the people whom you need to lead or you need to influence or you need to serve. Do nothing but collect information. Ask them: What are your pain points? What do you wake up in the middle of the night wondering about? What is my department helping you to achieve? Where are we falling short? If you could ask for anything, what would it be? What could we do? Not promising to do it, but understanding where your employees are.”

“And develop those business relationships, but also develop some of those personal relationships that can come through having lunch every once in a while with somebody. Relationships are, in a sense, the currency of how leadership works.”

What is a common misconception about leadership? There are a lot of people talking about leadership. Is there an area where the thought experts say one thing, but you would say something else?

“I think there is this misperception around leadership that we have to continue to rely only on data, facts and information in order to make decisions and in order to lead. I think that it’s extremely limiting, and I think that some of the major problems that we’re dealing with right now are out of the fact that we’re using an old school decision-making process that’s very, very limited.”

“And what’s missing is that we’re not encouraging and finding a voice for intuition. Intuition is a part of our brain that actually uses pattern recognition that doesn’t necessarily access language, but it’s enabled us to have a certain kind of wisdom where we sense something more broad than simply relying on the very thin band of information that comes out of our brain that is only focused on information and data.”

“If we can start bringing intuition into the board room and into the break room and not discount it as a ridiculous thought, I think we’re going to be much more creative and ground breaking. It’s about creating better things, and we have to be disruptive, which is about doing things differently. We can’t be status quo anymore. Innovation and disruption is the name of the game, and in order to get there, I think we have to be more intuitive as a process for leadership.”


“What we’re going to do is we’re going to engage people in learning through active learning and through active discussion. That’s our approach. That’s what makes us unique, and that’s why we’ve been doing what we’ve been doing so well for 26 years.”


How does your approach prepare people to lead?

“Our approach to prepare people to lead first and foremost starts with self-reflection, knowing yourself and understanding some new things that you may not have known. It has to do with creating the awareness to develop improved connections and relationships with people. It has to do with coming to learn everything with a kind of play and simulation and gamesmanship that in the process you begin to see things differently.”

“We are not academics. We are not going to stand in front of the room and say, “Okay, class, turn to page 14. Let’s read it together.” That’s not us. What we’re going to do is we’re going to engage people in learning through active learning and through active discussion. That’s our approach. That’s what makes us unique, and that’s why we’ve been doing what we’ve been doing so well for 26 years.”


If you’re interested in learning from Dean and advancing your own leadership skills, join him in Portland, Oregon for the upcoming Oregon Authentic Leadership Training. This training is split into three one-day workshops that focus on a specific area to develop your leadership skills:

You can take any of these courses individually or sign up for all three and complete the whole workshop. Click here to find out more or email pace@oregonstate.edu if you have any questions.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity but tries to remain true to the intent of what was said.