In this session, we threw away our prepared questions and uncovered authentic leadership, which prioritizes individuality, self-discovery, and personal growth while trumping prescriptive formulas. By seeking to understand the ‘why’ behind our actions and nurturing our natural curiosity, we cultivate a leadership style that respects our unique journeys and encourages us to connect meaningfully with others. This authenticity in leadership—rooted in continual learning, self-awareness, and sensitivity to our environment—yields more impactful results than relying solely on procedural knowledge or expertise.
Welcome to our podcast with our guest, Gwen Kinsey. Gwen facilitates future-ready solutions with her clients at gwenkinsey.com.
Gwen believes finding the right balance between achieving today’s goals and solving emerging challenges is hard work. She’s not a doc-in-a-box kind of partner. Working together, she investigates ways to design an adaptive approach that helps you achieve both priorities. She’ll work with you to tackle important pitfalls and change dynamics that make bridging these two worlds difficult. If you want to explore a roll-up-our-sleeves approach to future-proofing, email Gwen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bill: Welcome to the LeaderONE podcast, Illuminating the Leader Journey, the podcast that travels beyond the confines of traditional leadership, venturing into the timeless wisdom of leaders who are redefining leadership for the 21st century.
In each episode, we navigate the landscape of authentic leadership, diving deep into the trials, triumphs, and defining moments of established and emerging leaders. But LeaderONE is more than just a podcast about leadership – it’s an enlightening journey towards self-betterment, a beacon fostering courage, life change, and understanding leadership in our interconnected world.
This week we’re privileged to host Gwen Kinsey. Gwen challenges us to shift our focus from the ‘how’ of leadership to the ‘why,’ arguing that our fixation on concrete ideas and processes often overshadows the essence of leadership itself.
Leadership isn’t about people barking orders, telling you ‘how.’ It’s about understanding the ‘why,’ the vision, and the underlying importance of leadership itself. It’s about being present, attentive, and making connections. It’s about asking questions, being curious, and expanding beyond the boundaries of our individual experiences.
As Gwen emphasizes, it’s crucial for us to remember that leadership isn’t a formula to be mastered but a sensitivity to be nurtured. It’s about discovering and practicing the essential qualities and behaviors that real leadership demands and using every moment as an opportunity to learn, grow and lead.
Join us as we embark on this journey of discovery, peeling back the layers of leadership and delving into the qualities, behaviors, and questions we need to ask ourselves as leaders. Get ready to redefine your understanding of leadership and embrace the opportunity to practice it in your everyday life.
So let’s jump in and unpack this further with Gwen Kinsey. Gwen, welcome to LeaderONE.
Bill: About a year ago, we came together to explore starting a podcast that we would co-host. We did one interview, and it just didn’t catch on for either or both of us that we moved it forward.
And recently, I interviewed Lance Secretan, and that ignited the idea to do a podcast again. And so I came up with the theme of “illuminating the inner leader’s journey.” Since we had had an early conversation about all of this, I thought I would go to you next to see where we go with this and what might happen.
Gwen: What might happen? I guess it depends, Bill. And the experience for the podcast, I’ve had other similar experiences, and generally speaking, it happens when we start with talking about what or how. And we skip over talking about why. So it makes it really difficult to sync or even to have a big-picture vision.
For me, I experience it like somebody takes a giant puzzle and dumps 2,000 pieces of the puzzle on the table, but they take away the box with a picture on it, and they take away the corner pieces and most if not all of the side pieces.
And then it’s like, okay, what do we have here? So part of what I’m wondering is maybe that’s just me. But I experience that a lot. And I think sometimes we just forget to take time to talk about that vision, and that’s why first and so we jump right into how.
Because we all have different experiences and perspectives, our hows are legitimate. We have good concrete ideas, but they’re coming from our head and what we already know, instead of giving something that doesn’t have a lot of form and just going with it.
I’m actually interested and kind of happy that we’re giving ourselves that opportunity today. It’s just to kind of what’s that vision? What’s the why? Why are we doing this? I was relating to it before we got on today. I am so sick and tired of people barking at me and telling me how.
I don’t care how. How works for you your way, and that’s great. But can we just back up a little bit and talk about something bigger than how?
Bill: I think you’re onto something, Gwen. I know what you’re saying. And for myself, having done two major interview series over the past ten years where I focused on questions and repeated them in each interview, I saw the value of having that question and giving a lot of deep thought to the questions I was asking. And so I came to this with the same idea and drafted some questions. But I’m kind of with you. I would like to take a different approach, maybe this time, and be more open-ended.
And the thing that was occurring to me since I did the work at Space Beyond Boundaries and the inner leader journey, as I’ve written about that and shared that experience more, I realized certain moments, events, and people have had such a huge influence on me. I don’t see many people discussing that in their journey. So I was coming at this to try and uncover some of those key things from various leaders, especially leaders like yourself, who have had a big impact on my journey and just exploring that a little bit.
Gwen: So here’s what I love about when I talk with you, Bill. One thing that we both connected on early on when we met one another was we both value questions and inquiry. And I love that because questions for me are what ignite my curiosity. And that’s really what interests me and connects me. When questions are spontaneous or when there’s something again, that’s outside of just that sense of here’s what everybody is kind of…
Again, it gets back to always talking about leadership. Well, what’s underneath all that? Why is it even important?
And what I connect with your work now is that whole concept of the inner journey because that’s what’s missing. The hard part about that is it can’t be formulaic. It’s something that is a part of a discovery process. And so talking about what is… that’s like comparing Columbus’s journey to Lewis and Clark, right. It’s different. And each might be appropriate for what they were discovering at the time. That’s kind of a silly metaphor that just popped into my head. I was trying to figure out how do I even describe that. But that essence that you used and that I used to uncover and discover is rooted in the questions that we ask. And so, where’s that in all of our conversations?
Bill: Yeah, exactly. I love the spontaneous questions that come up. And I apologize if our cat here is chiming in in the background. Hopefully, you don’t hear him. He’s very loud here for me. But as I sit here with this. Hopefully, I don’t go too far off-topic.
Gwen: It’s okay if you do. What I love about our conversations, the spontaneous things that come up in the space always trigger more questions for me and more discovery opportunities. I love that.
Bill: Okay, good. What came up for me, Gwen, as I started thinking about talking with you was the aspect of your leadership that I experienced over and over again. And that is, for ten years, totally unexpectedly and out of the blue, I’ll get something from you that relates to what I’m doing and thinking about. Somehow you’re paying attention here or there somewhere. And it always leads me to the next step, something that opens a door for me. And I’m continually amazed at how you do that. And so when I thought about talking with you, I wondered, you must also do that with other people. And I wondered, how do you do that? When did you start doing that? Has that always been part of your leadership?
Gwen: So I take a deep breath because when you say that, to me, it’s profoundly validating.
The reason it’s validating is that part of being present and being a leader is attending to the present and what’s in the space and attending to individuals and making those connections.
You have to do it intentionally, right? And you can’t force it. I describe it as my radar. I have my radar on. You can’t walk around being in that state all the time. That would be exhausting.
But on the other hand, just being purposely open. I even hate using these words because it sounds so canned and so blah, blah, blah. But again, it’s that ability just to make a connection. And it has to be two-way because otherwise, it’s forced. And it’s not necessarily that space of what happens between people. And you do that for me as well. So that’s the other piece that is to this is that it’s not just about me attending to you. It’s how you attend to others. And that, to me, is leadership.
It’s that ability to read the entire space, not because it’s a formula, but because you’re being sensitive to it, you’re being open to it, and you’re just allowing. Does that make sense?
Bill: That does. I love that, Gwen. That is very well said. What’s coming up for me, Gwen, is what I started to talk about in terms of how you provide leadership for me. Is there a story behind that in your journey, where you started doing that, became open to it, or how did that happen? Do you know?
Gwen: I think again, I don’t know. Part of it is just being curious and trying to understand and make sense. And maybe part of that is rooted in early, early on in my career. I did have a very specific goal in mind, but there was no program, no formula, no help with that. And so, it was up to me to figure out how do I create experiences for myself that help me to learn? And frankly, some of my best learning came as a result of mistakes I made along the way. But I recognized them for learning at the time. And so instead of feeling guilty or feeling like a failure, I went, okay, what am I learning here?
And that’s my approach. I’m curious. I try to figure out what am I learning here? How can I use that going forward? And again, that being attentive and being open to understanding and seeing other people and the best in them, as well as seeing maybe perspectives that they have that are new for me. And so it’s not like there’s I don’t know what an answer is. I don’t know how to answer that question because I think it’s just a different way of being.
And it’s not like I did it intentionally. It’s when you get smacked upside the head enough times. If you’re smart, you go, okay, what just happened here? What am I learning? What can I do with this? The hard part is, how do you instill that comfort with uncertainty to the point where other people are comfortable doing it too?
We become so fixated on information and expertise, and I’m not downplaying either. They both have their role that we’ve forgotten how just to ask questions, be curious, be attentive to what else we’re observing and what else is maybe something that’s just out of the bounds of what our experience is and get curious about it.
Because that’s, I think, how we learn. And I don’t know how that translates into leadership.
In fact, that’s one of the hang-ups I have right now when I look at LinkedIn to keep up with my network and what’s going on. I can barely look at it anymore because everybody’s barking about being a leader. What does that even mean? And why is it even relevant?
Which gets back to where I started thinking about our conversation, which is why it is important? What’s the underlying thing that we’re really going for? Why does this matter? And I’m not discounting it. I’m just curious because I think that’s the stuff we’re not discussing. Instead, we’re barking about how to be a leader, and that’s meaningless.
How do we help people? And you do some of this already, Bill, with your inner leader journey. You’re starting to peel that onion and talk about what are the qualities? What are the behaviors? And you can’t just read those in a book. It takes practice. It takes experience.
And we have some responsibility, I think, personally, to look for opportunities to practice as we lead our everyday lives. And we’re so busy trying to fix things, tend to new information, and keep up with all this other stuff that we forget that those moment-to-moment opportunities are always there. It’s up to us, though, to follow them.
And that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn how to explore those qualities. That’s one of the reasons why I continue and love to engage with you is because you provide those opportunities. And for me, that’s rich, and that’s learning.
So where’s the value for that? When we talk about the inner leader journey, are people finding those opportunities? And are they exploring them? And how can we support that exploration, or how can we support them? Especially when they make mistakes? Because no one wants to be judged or seen as not being perfect. And that’s part of what holds us back, is we have these, in my opinion at least, we have these artificially inflated ideas about what leadership means or what it means to do X, Y, or Z.
And we look to these impossible standards and think it’s about knowing when that has nothing to do with it.
It’s about how do we tackle that discovery process on an individual basis in a way that allows us to learn and grow. And I think when we do that with others, the leadership comes out of that.
It’s not as a result of anything. I know I’m no smarter than anybody else. I don’t have any better experience. And if you were to put my resume up against somebody else’s, they’d go like, well, what are your credentials? Right? So it’s not that. So what is it?
Bill: You covered a lot of ground there, Gwen, and I agree. I’ve questioned whether I should call my work leadership or not because it feels like it’s so much beyond that. I feel like everybody’s talking about it, and it just becomes meaningless at times.
But you talked about the power of asking questions, and this made me think of the blog post I wrote this week on how questions just opened up a conversation in a totally amazing way. And that was when I was trying to explain dialogue to my partner Mari, and she wasn’t catching what happened, what I had experienced at a workshop. And so, I decided to read the dialogue procedure to her, which quoted a lot of work from David Bohm’s On Dialogue book.
And at the time, Mari was still learning English. She hadn’t mastered it yet. So I would read a sentence, and here and there, she would chime in on what that meant to her. And I’d say, no, no, that’s not what it means at all. It means this. But she would catch part of that, but she would still explain something else to me based on what I said. And I would realize I was missing it too! And everything came together to open up the whole conversation for us in ways we didn’t expect.
Gwen: So what did that feel like when that happened?
Bill: It felt like something stunning, amazing, and almost miraculous. It was like suddenly you had a whole new understanding of something you didn’t have just moments ago. You don’t know how you got it and where it came from, but it’s there, and you just know it, and you feel it. And that is so really accessible if we just really listen to each other and ask questions and not just prepare ourselves to say what we want to say next, so to speak, as we so often do. It’s really that inquisitive curiosity, in repeating what somebody said or what you think they said, your understanding of it and just going back and forth at that level changes everything.
Gwen: I’m curious because initially, when you described the conversation or the dialogue that you were having, you said that, and again, Mari’s learning English was part of that, but when you continually told her, well, that’s not what that means, what was happening and what happens? I’m just curious to know what changed? What was the switch that got flipped to go from focusing on what you disagreed with to that AHA moment?
Bill: I don’t know if I can explain it. If you read about it in Bohm’s book On Dialogue, he expresses it as if you’re listening to each other. And I won’t get this right, but he talks about the truth will emerge unannounced. That’s the only way I can explain it or express it. I think the truth just shows up unannounced. You’re not sure how or why it happened, but it’s there.
Gwen: So this is going to sound weird, and I realize it’s been a while, but when something similar like that happens to me, I notice that I’m listening. But I experience stuff in my body, like maybe a prickly sensation around my hairline. Or I sense a change in my energy that there’s a little excitement, or I don’t know what creeps in that. It’s like, oh, what’s going on here? What’s this? And that helps to call my attention to maybe asking a little more about that. So asking you to go back and recreate that moment that’s probably foolhardy.
It’s hard to do, right? But just are there other times when you notice? I mean, physically, do you notice that shift in your own energy when you’re having a conversation with somebody, and that little tiny spark happens, and that becomes like, oh, let me follow up with this. Because for me, that’s an indicator, too, of when I’m interested and when there’s a potential there that I want to go further. I want to explore that more.
Bill: Unfortunately, I don’t sense things in that way. I know Mari senses things in that way. And going back to that time, I really can’t. I’d just be guessing or making it up if I tried to express what I felt or how I experienced that.
Gwen: That’s fine. So when else has it happened for you?
Bill: It hasn’t happened that often. Not to the degree it happened that time. That was probably the most intense and most revealing experience I had with that. I think part of it is not being in conversations to that depth or how we were having that conversation.
Bill: Well, we will wrap up this episode here a little unexpectedly. Gwen and I had planned to talk further, but we were interrupted by my cat, who insisted on joining the conversation too!
I hope you enjoyed this episode with Gwen Kinsey. She shared many fascinating and innovative insights that will give us all something to consider. So Gwen, thanks so much for contributing, and I hope you will all join us again on our next episode!