EE081 – Alain Hunkins

Tony Winyard – Health, Breathing, Sleeping, Mindset & Movement Coach

Alain Hunkins is a leadership expert, speaker, author and coach with a recently released book called “Cracking the leadership code”. He connects the science of high performance with the performing art of leadership. He is also an excellent storyteller and some of the stories from Alain in this episode include the following:

“My prospective customers are aspiring leaders.  They have many faulty assumptions–they think they “earned” being a leader, that others “should” listen to them, and comply.”
“Other misunderstandings include that others understand them, they agree they care and will take appropriate action.”
“There is no absolute expectation. It all has to do with perception”
Advice from a comedian
“We’re no funnier than anyone else, we just take better notes”
Favourite quote: “Assumptions are the termites of relationships”–Henry Winkler
Cracking the Leadership Code now available on Amazon
“One of the most practical books on the planet when it comes to leadership and how to make a difference.”
–Barry Z. Posner, PhD, Professor of Leadership Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University, Co-author, The Leadership Challenge
 Sign up for the ‘Building Strong Leaders’ monthly newsletter here
View my TEDx talk “The Basic Truth Most Leaders Neglect” here
 +1 (917) 509-5523 phone USA
+31 (06) 1561 4258 phone Netherlands

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(Transcriptions are done using through a system of artificial intelligence; so every episode contains a few mistakes as AI is not yet perfect for transcribing the human voice. However, it is a very time-consuming process to go through each transcript and correct all the errors. So please accept my apologies for the number of errors, but I hope that these transcripts are useful to you.)

Tony Winyard 0:00
Exceeding expectations Episode 81.

Alain Hunkins 0:03
I feel the more that leaders can understand that it isn’t so much what you do, it’s how you do it. And if you can come from this point of view of… I love the idea of, Beauty and the Beast. Like the Maître d’. “Be our guests”. Thinking of it as a leader, is that you are the Maître d’, leading people, guiding people through this process.

Tony Winyard 0:26
Welcome to another edition of exceeding expectations where we help to give you ideas of how you can give your customers a much better experience, I guess this week is Alain Hunkins and he has some great stories. He has a new book out called “Cracking the leadership code”. And he talks about it from a leadership point of view, how we can help people and give them much better experiences. And leadership obviously involves so many different areas. It’s not simply managing a team of people in your work. It can be many other areas as well. So that’s this week’s episode with Alain Hunkins. If you do enjoy this episode, please do share it with someone, why not subscribe to us on iTunes or one of the other podcast platforms. And please do leave a review. Thank you.

Exceeding expectations. My guest today is Alain Hunkins. How are you Alain?

Alain Hunkins 1:19
I’m fantastic. Thanks, Tony. How are you?

Tony Winyard 1:22
I’m pretty good. And we just had a brief conversation before we started and you’re an American exiled in the Netherlands.

Alain Hunkins 1:28
Yes, exiled by choice, though. Yeah, I just wanted to give my I have two teenage children and my wife wanted to give the experience of living abroad. So we’ve been here, about a year and a half and haven’t loved the chronic cross cultural pollination that we’re getting here. Terrific.

Tony Winyard 1:43
And how different is it? And where is it you’re from?

Alain Hunkins 1:46
I’m originally from New York City and grew up there, born and raised, and then most recently was living in western Massachusetts, in a small town called North Hampton and then moved to the Netherlands in summer of 20. So I’ve been here about a year and a half.

Tony Winyard 2:02
And how different is that? How are you finding it?

Alain Hunkins 2:05
You know, some things, it’s certainly some things are the same in that, there’s grocery stores and it’s first world and it’s, there’s heat and there’s light and all that great things that you have. And in some ways, it’s so different in that we don’t have a car here and I love the fact that we have this very strong bicycle culture. And this the idea that also things are built to what feels like the human scale here much smaller on a much smaller scale. So I can bike from I live in the city of Leiden and I can bike to The Hague or, hop on public transport and it’s just the idea that people can be connected physically through public transportation and bicycles just, it just changes everything. So I just love that. I love that here.

Tony Winyard 2:46
How is your family finding it?

Alain Hunkins 2:48
My family my wife and I, I think we are thrilled we love it the most. Now granted we have teenagers here and so I think they are feeling a bit more they miss home. They miss their friends. And it’s hard for them, you know, they’re kind of forming their identities. And I don’t think they feel like they signed up to become European. Like, wait a minute, hold on, you know, we, we have our lives here. And so they’ve been good sports. They’re great kids, and they’ve been great about coming over and having the experience. I think they’re going to appreciate this experience more when they’re back. That’s my hope as a parent, that’s always your hope, right? Don’t you appreciate what I’m doing for you. But it’s been a wild ride. And we’ve gotten a chance to travel and see some pretty wonderful places while we’ve been here, too.

Tony Winyard 3:31
You mentioned before when we were talking about the language as well, and I guess you wouldn’t have those sort of opportunities to learn languages the same?

Alain Hunkins 3:38
That’s the amazing thing.The thing about being in the Netherlands too, what’s great is it’s a foreign country, everyone speaks a different language, but everyone also speaks English, which makes it kind of a safe zone because the Dutch are wonderful. And as soon as they hear my terrible accent, they’ll just switch into English and say, let’s not bother, don’t hurt yourself trying to speak Dutch. They’re really, really quite nice. My kids go to an international school, my daughter last year, she took four foreign languages. And I love the fact that they’re getting exposure to that there’s a whole world out here. And there’s all this different culture to absorb and languages to learn. So it’s been fantastic.

Tony Winyard 4:15
And how has it been from a business perspective?

Alain Hunkins 4:17
From a business perspective? So I came over here, kind of not with a lot of work lined up. I’ve been working as a consultant and coach, leadership consultant coach, for many years. Most of my work is in the States. I have a few international contacts. And so I leaped in some ways over here, not exactly sure where would work would come from and then I just worked through my network and luckily was able to connect with some other people and companies and clients and was able to work and it’s actually been quite steady. So I’ve been super grateful for that. But it was one of these things that I wasn’t sure where the work would come from. And it turned out that where I thought it would come from it didn’t and where it did wasn’t not at all where I would have expected Which I think is often the case with, you know, when you when you pursue opportunities, you just have to kind of put things out there, throw things against the wall and see what sticks as it were.

Tony Winyard 5:10
You mentioned just then about coaching and leadership and so on. So take us back to where does that all start?

Alain Hunkins 5:17
I’ve been working in the field of education. First with kids, actually, I was doing leadership training in junior high schools in high schools for a couple years in New York City. And then I transferred into the world of corporate education and adult education and leadership and management training back in 1997. And I’ve been working as a leadership trainer coach facilitator, since then, and really have been fascinated by why people do what they do. I used to study psychology when I was in college, I actually then went and studied theatre. I actually went to drama school for three years because I’ve always been fascinated by you know, people’s motivation. And that was a really interesting way to look at performance and how people show up. So I’ve been really interested in people That’s the common thread. If I look in the rearview mirror, I see that I’ve always been fascinated by people. And so, for me, I wanted to know more about that. And I’ve just continued to learn. And along the way with working with different leaders and groups, people started sharing some amazing stories. And I realised I needed to start taking notes. So I took some notes and then realised I wanted to write these notes into something. And so I started blogging in 2011, kind of in earnest, and then really started going on a once a week blog schedule in 2013. And so the blog started piling up and then I started reviewing the blogs and looking for common themes. And from those themes, I noticed that I had some chapters emerging and those chapters turned into what is this new book that I have called cracking the leadership code, which is really a comprehensive guide on how to become a better leader.

Tony Winyard 6:55
You mentioned you had that sort of habit of doing a blog once a week. How hard or easy was that?

Alain Hunkins 7:03
Well, it didn’t start off with that habit of once a week when I first started in this, I really had been wanting to write just to give you a background. So I have this book coming out here 2020. I’ve been thinking in earnest about writing a book for at least 20 years. And so it’s finally coming out. So that tells you a sense of how long it’s taken me to get my act together as it were. So when I first started blogging, I was I started off in 2011. And I look back at some of those blogs. And first of all, the schedule was all over the place. I mean, I would post sometimes four posts a day, and then I would take a break for three weeks, and then another one, and the writing, the topics were all over the place and the quality of the writing was not very good. And it really took me a couple years to start to find my voice. And I also realised I needed to create a schedule and something that was more structured. And so I gave myself this commitment to start publishing a post every Saturday. I just picked Saturday, kind of a random day of the week, and I knew that Come Saturday, I needed to have something and there was something about creating the structure and having that internal pressure that just got me on the schedule. And the more that I wrote, I found, the better it got. And I started realising that people love stories. And so telling stories in my posts trying to talk more in the active voice than a passive voice, trying to, you know, I think the biggest hardest part of writing is editing, right? So it’s just how do I take out all the stuff that just isn’t moving the story and the thinking forward? And so just working at that over and over and over again over week after week after week really helped me to become a writer.

Tony Winyard 8:39
The content that you use for those blog posts, did that help with the content for the book?

Alain Hunkins 8:43
Absolutely. Yeah. So the content from the book in some ways, some of those posts have been a little repurposed, because I was looking at what some of the common themes were. So the subtitle of the book is three secrets to building strong leaders and those three secrets are part two part three in part For the book, so part two, its connection is the first secret. The second secret is communication. And the third is collaborations because I found a lot of themes under those subheadings. And so there’s multiple chapters in each of those parts of those themes. So who would you say is the book really aimed at? The book is aimed at anyone who aspires to become a better leader, which I realised is a pretty broad market. But a lot of leaders end up in their roles, not necessarily by choice, but more of a kind of a happy circumstance of they were good at what they did. And then they got promoted. So I think anyone who aspires to become better. Now I’ve gotten some great endorsements from multiple thought leaders who are pretty well known in the leadership circles. And what’s been really great feedback is that the book really does cast this very useful wide net. And that’s because I’ve had this you know, 20 plus years as a practitioner, so I’ve really picked up tonnes and tonnes Have top tips and tools and techniques that people can use. So on the one hand, while the book has stories, and it’s super engaging, it’s also extremely practical so people can use it and apply the principles immediately.

Tony Winyard 10:14
And the book is released in a couple of weeks?

Alain Hunkins 10:16
It’s coming out. Yeah, it’s actually being released on March 24. The release dates being published by Wiley. And so it’s available kind of wherever books are sold, and certainly on good old Amazon.

Tony Winyard 10:28
So now that you have it, so I presume you probably finished the actual writing of it a few months ago. Are you now sort of aching to do another one? Or what’s happening now?

Alain Hunkins 10:37
No, not quite yet. I’m not actually taking I’ve been capturing some other stories. And I have some ideas for potentially books two and three. But right now I’m really wanting to get the word out on this one. I mean, what really fires me up is to see people take ideas and apply them you know, and to become, you know, better leaders and that’s leaders in your own life. By the way, it’s not just necessarily As a kind of formal title, in fact, most of leadership is informal. And so I’m really hoping to get the word out, whether that’s through speaking through coaching and training, kind of to build out on some of these ideas. Because, again, this first book is kind of 20 years of knowledge from the field, kind of feel like I want to bring that knowledge back out to people further, though, I do have some other ideas for some, some follow up potential books down the road, I try to always capture cards and file them away to be able to revisit them later. I have a friend who’s a stand up comedian, and I remember talking with him about the world of stamp comedy, and I said, you know, it seems like stand up comics are, are so much funnier than everybody else. He said, “We’re no funnier than anybody else. All we do is we take better notes”. I think that’s a good point for anyone who’s interested in writing, is just start taking notes every day is a goldmine for material if we start paying attention and capturing those moments, everyone’s got terrific stories.

Tony Winyard 11:59
What you just said about stand up comedian; I did a little bit of stand up comedy. And one of the things I learned in that process was to not edit yourself when you’re trying to write material just to get it down on paper and then do the editing the next day or something.

Alain Hunkins 12:13
Yeah, no, completely completely. It’s a completely different skill to create and then to edit and to realise, and I teach innovation stuff. And we talk about this as being divergent thinking and convergent thinking in the world of innovation. divergent is about just let the ideas flow because you don’t know which ones are good. You’ve just got to throw them out there. And the challenge is to silence that internal critic. That’s just saying, This is rubbish. This is rubbish. You know, just get that first rubbish draft out on the page. Don’t worry about if it’s good or bad, and just let it flow. And I tell you, I wish I was better at it. I still struggle with that internal critic, but I had a mentor who said that trying to write and edit at the same time, is like trying to drive a car with your foot on the gas pedal and the brake pedal at the same time. All you’re going to do is make yourself carsick. I thought that was a great way to describe it was just thinking about, you just gotta let it flow and be okay with a messiness. And the more that I do it, the more I realise, I go, Oh, I’m in that rubbish first draft ugly phase. And yes, it feels like rubbish. And you know what, I’m just going to get through this because the only way out is through it.

Tony Winyard 13:19
You talked a bit there about when you were writing the blogs and then writing the book, and I know that you’ve got a monthly newsletter and you’ve got a story that comes from that avenue about the newsletters, you sent to your clients?

Alain Hunkins 13:32
Yeah, so one of the things I wanted to do with the newsletter is to touch base with my clients on a regular basis. But it was one of these things of how can I touch base in a way that adds value? And actually, I found an eye you familiar with the writer, author? He’s a professor at Wharton named Adam Grant. He’s written Oh, yeah, so Adam Grant pretty, pretty famously well known guy. Anyway, he’s got this fantastic newsletter and the structure I love because what he does is he shares a few pieces on what he’s read that has been interesting to him with a quick digest. And then some links to the posts that I saw you too can tell is that something you want to click on learn more about. So we share some things that he’s read, and then a few things he’s written. And I love the format. So I shamelessly stole that format. And I put it into my newsletter. And what’s been great about it, it’s been a great way to add value. In fact, it’s one of the things that I found that really helps me help my colleagues to exceed expectations is whenever I get information, you know, whether it’s a new article or a piece of data or a white paper, one of the first things I stopped to think is Who else would benefit from this or who needs to know what I know because you know, information is not that important today, because everyone has access. Anyone who has internet access has access to all the same information, but we’re all drowning in too much of it. So I stop and think how can I curate that? How can I provide insight and give someone who I know is focused On, let’s say, innovation or creativity, and I see this article, let me send that to them or something around empathy and leadership. Let me send that to them. And it’s amazing how many of my colleagues and my clients really appreciate the fact that someone else is out there thinking about them and just sharing, you know, I’m not drowning them in this stuff. I send it once a month, and I’ll send four or five articles, but, you know, things that I’ve read through and I’m curating rather than just Oh, that looks interesting. Let me just share blindly is to stop and really think about what is it that I’m sharing, and then give them a summary so they can know if they want to learn more.

Tony Winyard 15:37
And so how has the reaction been by people to that?

Alain Hunkins 15:40
Oh, it’s been really, really strong. You know, it’s interesting. If you look at the percentages of email marketing, and this is where data analytics is fascinating, is that you know, my email newsletter gets opened by about 50% of the people that get it, which is you know, for an email you You could call email marketing, because that’s what it is. for marketing that is an extraordinarily high number, you know, if you think about it, because what people also realise is when I’m reaching out, I’m reaching out and thinking, How can I help? How can I help? And that’s the consistent thing as opposed to Hi, you haven’t heard from me. Let me tell you what I’m selling today. Right? It’s such a different embodiment of your attitude. Like if you can reach out to people with the attitude of how can I help? I’m offering something to you here. And actually, I expect nothing in return. And if people read it, that’s great. And if they don’t, I understand. I mean, we’re all busy people. So it’s all it’s kind of putting it out there for the people who it’s going to attract. So it’s actually been working out really well.

Tony Winyard 15:43
Something else we were talking about is your how you engage leaders, as clients and as coaches in your training sessions.

Alain Hunkins 16:50
Yeah, so we talked about how can I help to exceed expectations? So I’m fascinated by your whole concept of exceeding expectations because we think about expectations I mean, to me, it’s so much about what is my belief of what I expect, because there is no absolute expectation, it all has to do with perception. So when I engage with leaders, and I’m coaching them, and one of the things I do, for example is I do a two day leadership training with a very small group of leaders, only four leaders, and we do some very specific, you know, one on one coaching feedback over the course of two days where they’re getting up and they’re practising and they’re getting feedback from me, they’re getting feedback from each other. But one of the things that makes it so successful is as we start, I asked them to state, what would make these next two days to success? So in other words, what I’m asking them to do is state your expectations and get really not as state them but actually clarify and distil them down to their essence. And I say if we can wave a magic wand, and then at the end of these two days, this was could go to your wildest dreams, what would you want, and then I have them capture that. So by making that implicit expectation explicit now I no longer have to guess I found that people are good at many things. But mind reading is not one of them. Right? So one of the things I find is that so I state that up front. And then at the end of day one, I check in with each person one on one, and I asked them, I just want to check in, how is it going against the deliverable of your expectation of what you’re hoping to get? Are we on track? Are we not on track? And then I follow that up with Is there anything that I could be doing differently as your coach? And, you know, occasionally, someone will say yes, but for the most part, people are saying, No, no, no, this is great. And I do the same thing on day two. And I know that the process is going to be filled with excellent coaching and feedback. So by the time we finish up, and then I do a final kind of exit interview, as it were, when I finish up with them, and I say, and I go back to what I and I scribe this on a flip chart, so I come back to their original expectations of what would make the two days success. And I asked them how do we do you know, everyone says, Oh my gosh, completely and we met that we exceeded Have these expectations. And a big part of that has to do with not just the content of how you exceed the expectation, but the process by which you take people through. I feel like the more that leaders can understand that it isn’t so much what you do, it’s how you do it. And if you can come from this point of view of, I don’t know, I love the idea of, you know, Beauty and the Beast like the maitre D VR guests are like thinking of as a leader is that you are the maitre D leading people guiding people through this process, and how can you make them your guests and just ask them, How is this working for you, you know, the sense of kind of hospitality in your leadership and checking in along the way to make sure that people are continuously getting what they want, because when they know that, you know, that they know they get it. They’re delighted, you know, and that’s one of the things that we want to do is when we create the light, we create the strong emotional reaction, and people will remember that I’m sure you’re familiar with Maya Angelou. this great quote writes, he says, people don’t remember what you say, they probably won’t remember what you did, but they’ll remember how you made them feel. And so taking the time and the care, to check in with people along the way is so useful to help exceed expectations.

Tony Winyard 20:16
And I love what you said there about by getting them to state exactly what their expectations are, then it’s very easy to know if they have been exceeded because they know exactly what it was that they stated up front.

Alain Hunkins 20:28
Exactly. And I think another key thing, and a way to add value around that is sometimes when you ask people what their expectations are, they can’t actually articulate them all that clearly. And so I also see part of my role is, as people might just sort of share and spew a couple of different ideas is to look for the synthesis How can I take these disparate strands and weave them together? So for example, if someone is saying, Well, you know, I’d like to be able to give more feedback to my people, particularly in difficult conversations but then I’d also would like to feel more comfortable speaking to groups. Well, one thing that I’m hearing in between the lines there is there’s a certain theme of courage, right? The courage to get feedback, the courage to stand up. So I say so I’ll repeat that back. And I’ll ask, I won’t, I won’t presume I’ll say, so what I’m hearing here and tell me if I’m wrong. But what I’m hearing here is that you’re wanting to be able to step into a more courageous role as leader both in presenting and giving feedback, does that fit for you? And then I check, right. So and then oftentimes, when you say something like that people will go. Exactly, exactly. That’s exactly what I wanted. And it says, if you’re saying even better in using better words than they could have expressed themselves, and I see part of the role of the leader is to distil that out so that people walk away with clarity, because, you know, with clarity, people can take action and confusion. It’s really hard to take focused action. So part of the role is to create clarity for people

Tony Winyard 21:59
What would you say? Are the ideas or current themes you come up against when you’re coaching people in leadership? Are there common problems for a lot of people?

Alain Hunkins 22:10
Yeah, I mean, one of the common problems that I think a lot of people can relate to is the fact that we are living in such fast paced and complex times, and that there’s a general sense of overwhelm, that many people have. technology isn’t helping this. And what’s so interesting is I think people are now at a really good space to recognise that, you know, we have this amazing technology and technology and information technology can move at the speed of light, but people move at the speed of matter. And those are two very different speeds. And I think one of the big challenges that people have, is to recognise and have the discernment is when do you go fast, and when do you go slow, and there’s there’s a time and a place to go fast. And there’s a time and a place to go slow. And particularly the importance of going slow when it comes to building relationships, for example, to start a new team or kick off with a new project team. I mean, more and more people are working in situations where collaboration is the norm, you know, you have less and less people who work and as individual contributors working in silos, so you have more and more people needing to collaborate across functions across boundaries across time zones. So how do we create these strong and effective working relationships? And so it’s how do you use technology to enable the human process as opposed to the humans just enabling the technology? So I’d say that is a huge common theme that comes up time and time again.

Tony Winyard 23:46
And how often do the people that you’re coaching, how often are you facing where they have aspects of say imposter syndrome?

Alain Hunkins 23:56
Oh, some definitely do and it comes up time and time again as well. Yeah, it’s amazing how many people because look, I mean, unless you happen to have a life that was relatively scar and blemish free were major things like a lot of people, at some point in their life have had wounds that they’ve had to deal with. And unless you’ve done a certain level of, you know, kind of, we’ll call it personal work and self development, it’s very easy to carry around those limiting beliefs and those narrow messages that lead you towards those critical thoughts, and mindsets of I’m not good enough. I don’t know what I’m doing, you know, all of the telltale signs of imposter syndrome. And so for me, and I certainly recognise that in myself, you know, I was a very shy, not outgoing person for quite some time and, you know, really didn’t believe in what I could do. And what I have found in working with people, the first step in kind of resolving the imposter syndrome is winning. normalising people’s experience of it. You know, I think a lot of people when they feel that there’s the tendency to think, and I certainly felt this is, gosh, you know, I’m the only one who feels this, I’m going through this and to put yourself in this kind of in this isolation chamber. And that is just the worst place to be right is that so here’s the irony of that is that it takes a huge amount of courage to be vulnerable. And but when you do, and you can find people that will support you and you can trust is to start to get the feedback that know you’re actually really good. It’s it’s such an important thing for people to be aware of. And it’s interesting, because, you know, in some of the coaching work that I do, people will talk about how, you know, and they’ll sit down, and oh, there’s a great, you might be familiar with this. I didn’t This is a British term that I’ve heard a few times. Now, facial leakage is great term, right? It’s like that facial leakage, right your that your face is leaking, you know, and so if you have that self critical voice and then you sit down, you make that like, Oh, that was horrible facial leakage face, right? It’s terrible, is it’s so interesting because what we feel about ourselves on the inside is so much worse than how others see us. You know, we are our own worst critics. And the fact is, no one else lives inside of our head. No one else knew that we had a script. And so if we kind of go off off script for a couple of words, no one else cares. No one else is paying attention. And I think for us to realise that it’s all okay. And if you have good intention, and you’ve prepped and you’ve got created some clarity, and you have a clear central message and you have some supporting points, you’re in great shape, you know, you’re ahead of most, and so can we all get better? Yes, but don’t beat yourself up to the point where you’re just in this in this situation where you just start to debilitate yourself because for some people, imposter syndrome can be debilitating. For sure.

Tony Winyard 26:59
And as well as that being debilitating, what about faulty assumptions? Did you come across those quite often?

Alain Hunkins 27:07
Yeah, yeah. So there’s all sorts of assumptions that people I mean, this is the nature of it. There’s a there’s a book called The leaders voice and by these two guys named Clark and Crossland, and they talk about these four fatal assumptions of leaders. The first is that others understand you that that others agree, and that others care and that others will take the appropriate action. And I love that I mean, the whole sense that others understand you the fact that everyone is hanging on your every word. The fact is, no one’s hanging on every word except you. No one else lives in your head except you. And so we have to realise that we need to not frame things from our own agenda. And this goes back to exceeding expectations, right, is that when I get up, I can’t be thinking, you know, what’s my agenda? I need to build my agenda based on the agenda of my customer, my colleague, my office, Whoever that other person is, why are they there? What’s in it for them to listen? You know, where have they come from? Where are they going? What are their pain points. And I’ve I spent some time to understand that, that is so key if I’m operating from this assumption that what I have to say is valuable because I’m the leader, I’m in the trap of my own ego, right. And that is another huge assumption that leaders have is that we assume, because I have the title or I am in charge is that you will listen to me. And at best when you operate from that place of ego and that assumption, at best, you will get compliance, but there is no way you will get people’s commitment.

Tony Winyard 28:39
In the book “E-myth” where I think he talked about something along the lines of you often get people who are great at doing something and then suddenly they’re thrust into a management position, and then they’re awful, because they were good at doing the task or the skill or whatever it was, but they didn’t have the skills to be a manager. Which is very different to being a leader. Is that something you come across?

Alain Hunkins 29:04
Yeah, no, for sure. And there’s definitely you know, you see it, you know, time and time again where people what you know, and I think Marshall Goldsmith has a great title of a book says, What got you here won’t get you there, right? The fact is, if you have great individual technical expertise, that’s fine as an individual contributor, but those aren’t the primary skills that you need as a leader fact an interesting exercise and we can try this right now. And certainly, the audience can try this as well is if you think about the best leader you’ve ever worked with in your life, and this doesn’t have to be in a work situation by the way this could be in school, it’d be on a sports team anywhere if you think about the best leader you’ve ever worked with. And you think then what are the top and let’s do a short list like the top three to five qualities of that leader so you can just go ahead and think through those for a moment.

Tony Winyard 29:53
Definitely one is listening.

Alain Hunkins 29:55
Okay, great. So you got listening is one what would another one be?

Tony Winyard 29:59

Alain Hunkins 30:00
Empathy, listening empathy. And then what was the third one listening empathy? What was the third one being?

Tony Winyard 30:06
And I guess courage,

Alain Hunkins 30:07
Courage, interesting. So now you just go ahead and gave the answers. But if we were to put those into one of three categories or buckets, right, so the qualities you just listed, would they fit into one of these three buckets? The first bucket being intelligence, right? people’s IQ, second bucket being their expertise, right, that their technical functional skills, and the third bucket Let’s call their people skills. Now what you mentioned, right listening, empathy, and courage to me, all three of those fall in the people’s skills bucket. Right? And so what differentiates great leaders from average and mediocre leaders, again goes back it isn’t what you know, it isn’t what you do. It’s, it’s how well do you work with other people that at its core, leadership is a relationship between a person who chooses to lead and a person who chooses to follow and that’s at its core. That’s what leadership is simple. Is that and it doesn’t involve titles and power and control. And it can, but it doesn’t have to. And so recognising that if leadership is a relationship, then I need to work on my relationship skills and that ultimately, I don’t care what business I’m in. I’m in the people business because I’m leading people. And so yes, I need to be a student of human psychology because I’m working with people. And so any leader who thinks that they don’t have to learn that stuff, is kind of cutting off their nose to spite their face.

Tony Winyard 31:32
And so going back onto the subject of exceeding expectations, have you ever been on the receiving end of a great customer experience?

Alain Hunkins 31:40
Yeah, in fact, I write about this story in my book under the chapter of empathy because I had this amazing experience that stuck with me and I’ve actually shared it with with Coach when I’ve been coaching with audiences when I’ve been training as well. And speaking is, so I remember this is a number of years ago. It’s vivid though. I remember My son was about six. My daughter was three. We were living back in Massachusetts and I was running with a day of errands and I picked up my son from preschool and my daughter had been out we’ve done a bunch of errands, gone to the library, dropped off some books picked up some dry cleaning. And then I took my kids to a grocery store, there’s a chain of grocery stores I don’t know if you have them in the UK we have in the states called Trader Joe’s. Anyway, so Trader Joe’s is pretty well known and there’s a Trader Joe’s that’s not that near my house. It’s actually about a 40 minute drive so it’s quite a bit ways away but because of the circuit of where I was going to pick up my kids and all the other errands I thought oh, there’s a few things Trader Joe’s we like so let’s go over there. So it’s not a place I go to on a regular basis. So I get to Trader Joe’s and I get out of the minivan with my two little kids who are you know, buckled out of their car seats and I get out of the car and I’m checking my pockets and I’m looking at my wallet and I realised my wallets missing I think oh my gosh my wallets missing that lose And I replay the day back in my mind and I realised, no, I didn’t actually need my wallet for anything. I just probably left it at home. So I had my cell phone I called my wife she was at home. She said, Yep, your wallets here. Well, now I have another problem because I wanted to go shopping at Trader Joe’s. But I don’t have a wallet. So I thought, Oh my gosh, I’ve made this whole trip over here for nothing. That was stupid. I thought what can I do? So I thought, you know, because I travel a lot for work. I’ve actually memorised all the 16 digits of my credit cards and all that three digit number on the back. So I thought, let me ask if it’s possible. Is it possible if I gave them the number they could call it it? I mean, I thought it’s worth a try. You know, it probably won’t work. But let me go and ask. So I go inside, I go over to the managers booth and there’s a woman there named Carla. And I asked her and I explained the whole situation away, I lost my wallet. And she listened to the whole thing. And she says I’m sorry, sir. But, you know, we need to have a physical credit card present. We can’t do that. And so you know, it’s a failure. I’m ready to walk out of there. And then Just as I’m ready to turn around and walk away, there’s another man there. And I remember him very vividly that these large eyes and these large glasses that make his eyes almost look like an owl very vivid face. And I see his name tag it says Peter, assistant manager, and Peter says to me, says, Hey, you live in North Hampton, was that right? Cuz he’d heard I’d mentioned that. I said, Yeah. And he said, that’s, that’s a long way away with the construction on the bridge, because there’s been construction. So it’s like, Yeah, it is. I said, Yeah, I left my wallet. And so Peter said to me, he said, Well, you know, why don’t you just go ahead and go shopping. And when you’re ready to check out just call me over and I’ll put it on my card. And I stopped and I had to stop for a moment. Go wait, what are you saying? He said, Yeah, just go ahead and shop and I’ll put it on my credit card. Now he’s the assistant manager. So I’m thinking that they have some kind of special Trader Joe’s corporate card. So I said you have some kind of corporate card you can do that for and Peter said no. On this, put it on my personal card and you can pay me back the next time we were in the store. This is a complete stranger, right? And I said you would do this, you would do this for me. Are you serious? He said, yeah, of course, this happens more often than you think it’s really not a big deal. So it was amazing. And so I went shopping and $73 and 42 cents later, Peter pulled out his card and he swiped it. And you know, there was there was no collateral. He just trusted me that I would take care of this and, and I even told him I said, Look, I’m leaving town on a business trip tomorrow. I can’t get over here for another week. He said I was no problem with whatever. So I got home The first thing I did, I told my wife this entire story. And I said you’ve got to go back over there tomorrow. So I wrote a check and she kind of went over there with a thank you card to Peter the next day. And the amazing thing is not only did obviously Peter exceeded my expectations there, but I have this soft spot for both Peter and Trader Joe’s as a brand and I go shopping there way more often than I ever had before. And what I have found is in telling that story to other people. It’s amazing how many people have come up to me afterwards and have told me their own version of a Trader Joe’s story of someone going above and beyond and exceeding expectations. So there’s clearly something in the organisational DNA of that company where they do that. And so I just think it’s a great example of just where I was totally blown away with someone who definitely went way above and beyond. And people have said to me, Oh, come on, you know, I can’t necessarily give away money. I’m like, Yeah, but the principle is, what can you do? What can you do to exceed expectations? So you may not do that, but what can you do?

Tony Winyard 36:33
Exactly. It’s that mindset. Yes, that’s a great story. And there’s certain companies that I hear people refer to time and time again, when it comes to that kind of attitude. I’ve heard stories of Trader Joe’s before another one is Southwest Airlines. And the shoe company; Zappos.

Alain Hunkins 36:56
Zappos. Yep. I write about Zappos in my book as well. Yeah, Zappos is Known for delivering these Wow, they call it the wow experience, you know, which I think is a great term. You know, I write in my book around, you know, one of the things leaders need to do is how do you create delight and and create positive intentions? That’s all part of this wow experience. And there are things that we can do that will wow people we know that there are things we can do just think what will wow you right? For example, surprise will Wow, people, you know, going above and beyond Wow, is people having a positive attitude. Wow, as people. So those are all replicable, replicable behaviours that you can do. And add into your repertoire of your toolkit if you want to exceed expectations. Well, and if you think about when you how you feel when you been wowed by a situation that you just described with Trader Joe’s, it makes you feel so good. So if you can do that on a regular basis for your clients, you’re just going to get great client relationships. Absolutely. Absolutely. And to me, and this is why that Trader Joe’s story ends up in the chapter in my book around empathy is it starts with creating This connection and my best definition of empathy is basically it’s understanding people and knowing that you care how they feel, right? It’s, it’s the old, you’ve heard the expression. I’m sure everyone’s heard it, right? People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. And while that might sound like a trite cliche, it’s true. And the amazing thing is, there’s all this wonderful research that backs that up. So what in the past had been considered kind of soft and kind of a little cushy, touchy feely? Oh, that sounds all great. But where the business results? Well, you know, companies that have, for example, high trust cultures versus low trust, outperform their competitors by 286%. Right, that data isn’t in my book, and I backed it up with the research. So if you look for it, there’s all sorts of there’s there’s a hard case for all of these soft skills like empathy, like trust, like exceeding expectations, because it just makes sense because we’re human.

Tony Winyard 38:53
We’ve touched upon this in the last couple of minutes, but what does the phrase exceeding expectations mean to you?

Alain Hunkins 39:00
To me exceeding expectations is having someone understand what their belief is. And beliefs are those things that we… if we feel firmly about something we believe it. So I have a belief and exceeding expectations is a way for you to challenge that belief in a positive way. So it’s the sense that I have this belief and you’re exceeding it is, Wow, you have gone above and beyond. From a positive point of view, obviously, you can go on the other side, too. But that’s what to me exceeding expectations is around, because we all come in with a baseline belief of something, and that’s what our boundary of expectations is, and so when I can have a positive way, that’s how I will exceed it.

Tony Winyard 39:47
That’s the most concise definition I’ve ever been given.

Alain Hunkins 39:50
Well, there you go. All the years of writing and distilling things down I’m pretty concise about how stuff so my book is 280 pages of action packed distil down wisdom because it came from 23 years of experience.

Tony Winyard 40:05
And that was what I was about to ask you about, about the book. If people want to find out more information about you and about the book and so on.

Alain Hunkins 40:13
Yeah, sure. The book is called “Cracking the leadership code”. And the subtitle is, Three secrets to building strong leaders. If people want to learn more about the book, you can go to And while you’re there, you can download chapter one for free. And that page is a sub page, that’s the book page of my website, which will be And you can learn more about me and the work and the services that I do work with clients, both from a training, coaching, consulting and speaking point of view, because my work is all about helping people to become strong leaders by growing their connection, their communication, and their collaboration skills.

Tony Winyard 40:58
And is there any sort of Social media people?

Alain Hunkins 41:02
I’m not super active on Twitter. And I don’t even have an Instagram page that tells you something. But I’m very active on LinkedIn. So if you want to connect with me on LinkedIn, happy to connect, and I also share posts there. And also there’s opportunities to sign up for my newsletter when you download the chapter, the book, and as I said, I put out a monthly newsletter that has articles on leadership and behaviour that I’ve either read or written that a lot of my colleagues and clients find valuable.

Tony Winyard 41:31
I know you’ve got a quotation you quite like and you almost touched upon it earlier on when we were talking about some things. What was the quote that you like?

Alain Hunkins 41:38
Yeah, so we’re talking about you know, we talked about leadership as a relationship. So this quote comes from Henry Winkler and Henry Winkler, who played the Fonz on TV, Fonzie. And what Henry Winkler Fonzie says is “Assumptions are the termites of relationships”. Or maybe he would have said it is “Assumptions are the termites or relationships, hey”. That’s a fancy way to say it, but I love that because it’s true, right? I mean, relationships all work well on paper. assumptions are what get in our way. And so assumptions are the termites of relationships.

Tony Winyard 42:08
And if you were to recommend a book to anyone, which book would it be?

Alain Hunkins 42:11
Well, you know, I’m bit biassed right now because I have my book being released. So I have to recommend mine, because it really do I fit in. But that being said, my book is built on. I feel like I stand on the shoulders of giants that have come before me for sure. One of my favourite leadership books, and both of the authors I was lucky enough to have them endorse my book, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner have written the book and it’s now in it’s sixth edition. And it’s timeless and it’s so useful. It’s called “The leadership challenge”, and it’s in it’s sixth edition. And it is a great primer on leadership and I owe a huge debt to both Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. They’re terrific scholars, educators and leaders in their own way.

Tony Winyard 42:56
Well, Alain, it’s been superb, the information you shared and the stories. And yet, it’s been a really interesting episode. So thank you.

Alain Hunkins 43:05
Thank you, Tony. It’s been an absolute pleasure speaking with you.

Tony Winyard 43:11
Next week, Episode 82 is with Vicki Wusche and she’s gonna help us to manage our money better and how we can exceed expectations or exceed our own expectations by how we use our money, and how we think about money. And she gives a couple of examples that might well really get you thinking about money and the way the government handle it for us and how we think about mortgages, and many other areas. Especially in this time that we’re experiencing right now, with the grants and handouts that we’re being given. She gives us a new perspective on that. So that’s next week’s episode with Vicki Wusche. Hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s show. Please do share it with anyone who you feel would really benefit from some of the information some of the nuggets that were given by Alain. Please do leave a review for us on iTunes. And why not subscribe as well and hope you have a great week.

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