While the empire comes first approach may have worked in the past, it’s not going to get where we want to go in the 21st century. We need a new model which disperses power and not collect it. Joining Patrick Veroneau on today’s podcast is Kevin Hancock, the author of The Seventh Power: One CEO’s Journey Into the Business of Shared Leadership. Patrick and Kevin dissect the concept of shared leadership, highlighting the importance of having every individual share their voice in order for any organization to succeed. Tune in to learn more about this new leadership model.
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Shared Leadership: Celebrating Individual Voices With Kevin Hancock
In this episode, we’re going to talk about leadership and the importance of voice, not the leader’s voice, but the leader allowing other people to have a voice. My guest is Kevin Hancock, who is the CEO and President of Hancock Lumber, as well as the author of the book, The Seventh Power: One CEO’s Journey Into the Business of Shared Leadership. On this episode, I talk not only to Kevin about his book, The Seventh Power, but we also talk about how a diagnosis for Kevin of spasmodic dysphonia prevented Kevin from using his own voice, and relying on those in his organization to elevate their voices. What he found in that experience was how important it was to have other people be able to share their voices for an organization to succeed. Why don’t we jump into that conversation?
Kevin, I want to thank you for taking the time to be on the show. I enjoyed so much reading your book, The Seventh Power. One of the quotes that you had in here that I pulled off said, “Our growth only ends when we call off the search.” To me, this book seems as though it’s an outline for that search, as well as a roadmap in terms of the seven lessons that you’ve outlined here, and some of the great stories. I was hoping you could start out by giving the readers an opportunity to hear what was your motivation for writing this book?
Thanks for having me. It’s always a pleasure to be with you. The motivation for writing the book, it’s become clear to me that we need a new leadership model for the 21st Century. The leadership model that dominates goes back thousands of years. It’s that ‘power to the center, command and control, the empire comes first’ approach. While it might have worked 100, 200 or 1,000 years ago, it’s not going to get us where we want to go in the 21st Century. We need a new model that’s about dispersing power, not collecting it and making other voices strong. I believed that. I’ve been practicing that within my own company, but I felt something bigger was at play here. I set out on what turned out to be a series of adventures, as you pointed out, Patrick. It took me from the Navajo Reservation in the Arizona desert, all the way to Kiev in the Ukraine, looking for some clues about what this new leadership model might look like and might be about.
You’re not just somebody that wrote a book, you’re walking the talk. You come from experience in terms of this needing to re-look the model that was being used, command and control.
The backdrop, as you know, Patrick, about a decade ago, I acquired a rare voice disorder called spasmodic dysphonia that made speaking difficult. I’m the CEO of a lumber company in Maine. We have 560 employees. Our mills do business all over the world. Quite quickly, I had to find a different approach to leading that didn’t include a lot of talking. That led me down this path of sharing leadership bit by bit until it became a broad vision of everybody can lead, every single person in this company leads us.Leadership is an inside job. It's about working on ourselves and modeling and mentoring what it is we want to see. Click To Tweet
When power is dispersed and leaderships share an organization’s performance, it could expand exponentially. That was the vision I had. I’ve spent the last several years trying to fulfill that within our own company, and our performance took off including most importantly to me the employee experience as defined by the employees. We have been the best place to work in Maine for several years. I had seen firsthand what was possible through my own work. I felt though this was bigger than a lumber company in Maine and my own experience. That’s what pulled me out into the world to do more research, which became the basis for the book, The Seventh Power.
One of the powers that you talk about is culture, which is what you spoke to is you’ve created that culture. One of the other powers though that I resonated with me was around change and where it’s created from within. To me, that is something that seems to be the piece as I’ve seen it often that’s been missing in regards to impactful and durable leadership change. It does need to start internally. I wonder if you could speak to that.
That is where it starts. That was my big epiphany or tipping point. When I was a younger manager and leader, I thought that leadership was about paying attention to what other people were doing. What ended up happening, however, with my own voice condition, which started to force change upon me. The pattern I started to see, which is the most powerful change I could create was from me changing. The entire orientation of leadership to me needs to be flipped. My primary job as a leader, as I got a line from Gandhi, “Become the change I wish to see in the world,” and to focus more on getting myself–right, and trusting that when I do that, that starts to create the cultural conditions for others to do the same. The short idea there is leadership is an inside job. It’s about working on ourselves and modeling and mentoring what it is we want to see.
There was a quote that I’d used for many years that was attributed to John Quincy Adams. It was, “If your actions inspire someone to do more, dream more, learn more and become more, you’re a leader.” What I love about that was there’s nothing in there about a title. It’s about your actions. Your actions inspire people to do those things. It speaks to what you’re saying. In doing a lot more digging on that one quote, you’ve come to find out that it’s attributed to Dolly Parton. I love it even more because if you think about when’s the last time you heard something bad said about Dolly Parton? She always seems to be on the right. Her actions do inspire people in many different ways. To me, it’s even more fitting. It speaks to what you’re saying, this idea of, actions are what inspires us. Those come from, “If I’m not comfortable with who I am internally, how can I ever be there for other people?”
The big push within our organization with our managers has been to encourage them to pay a bit more attention to themselves and a bit less attention to others. When I say attention, I don’t mean a lot of focus and energy. We have to show up for everybody around us, but when you want to change something, all you need to do is sit down, close your door and look inward and work on yourself. That’s an empowering concept too. Think about it this way, in that older, traditional model, where someone else has to change for my world to get better, think about how limiting that idea is, how debilitating that idea is. The power I need is beyond my control. The whole concept of this leadership model in my book is the power you need is sitting right inside you. It lives within you.
I did an episode very early on where I talked about the most important leadership tool that I thought you might be able to possess is a mirror to look at yourself.
There is a music passage in my book at the end of one chapter from one of Michael Jackson’s songs. The line I took, “I’m looking at the man in the mirror and I’m asking him to make a change.” That’s a brilliant mind.
We hear a lot about mindsets right now. Growth is fixed. The fixed mindset is that belief that it’s other people that are at fault here. The growth is about saying, “How do I change things? What do I need to do first?”
In fairness, to help people think about this in a different paradigm, the 24/7 connectivity of social media and television media has made people feel overwhelmed and less in control. If you sat and watched the news all day, you would feel a loss of control. One of the things I’ve push though and I talk about in my book is the world in real life is more manageable than the world through a screen. When you shut that screen down and focus on what’s in front of you, the ability to control, impact and influence what’s in front of you is greater than we might think.
All we can do is if we build out what we’re talking about, I’ve concluded that change is a three–step process. We change the world first within us, then beside us. As a result of the change, we created within us, it impacts people beside us, which then impacts people beyond us, within, beside and beyond. You’ve got to have the discipline, the fortitude and the insight to know where to do the work. It can be scary to realize, “I’ve got to start with myself.”
I will often attribute that back to intentional vulnerability where I have to put myself in that position of being vulnerable. If I want things to change, it requires me to do that. To me, that’s the greatest sense of courage or demonstration of it. When I make myself vulnerable, it speaks of my greatest strength and not a weakness.
I try to talk openly about this within our company. I’ve never seen a weakness or a problem within our company that I could not trace it back to me. Something I could have done or didn’t do that could have helped influence a different outcome. For example, Patrick, we had a situation at one of our stores a couple of years ago that I was disappointed in how things were handled. Five or six of us came together as managers. What I ended up doing on the meeting is I went in the room, and talk about the list of things I felt I had done or had not done to contribute to that poor outcome. Spontaneously, everybody in the room did the same. We made so much progress. The only thing that happened in that room is everyone talked about what they could have controlled, meaning within them, what they could’ve done differently to helped create a different outcome. When you’ve gotten that vulnerability, it creates a whole different culture. The only finger pointing ever turns inward in that example where I’m pointing at me.
When I hear you tell that story, it reminds me of the work done around psychological safety. There was an environment there where people felt as though, “This is okay to talk about deficiencies or what we didn’t do well, or my responsibility in this without feeling as though I’m going to be punished or retaliated against or ridiculed,” whatever it might be. There’s a safety component there that’s created.
That makes me think about, for me, the mission of all of this, the goal or the outcome. I articulated that in a form of a question, Patrick. What if everybody on Earth felt trusted, respected, valued, heard and safe? There are about 7 billion people on Earth. Let’s say, pretend all 7 billion of them now felt trusted, respected, valued, heard and safe. What might change? Everything like change. The root of all evil lies in the absence of people feeling trusted, respected, valued, hurt and safe, and not judged, honored exactly as they are, which makes me think of one of the big lessons or chapters in the book, which is dedicated to this idea that listening is for understanding, not judgment.
There’s so much talk about listening and the importance of it. The critical question there is why are we listening? The conclusion I’ve come to is we need to be listening simply to understand. It’s meeting people where they are at that moment and understanding where they’re coming from. When you give up judgment, the world gets so much lighter. It’s much easier to interact with people when you stop trying to be the judge of what’s happening.
I love how you broke out each of those. I will often think in terms of valued and heard, when people don’t sense those, you either run into experiences or situations where people disengage. They pull back or they engage in ways that are unproductive to the group, the society, wherever they are. We’re living that right now, and I truly believe that, where people don’t feel valued and heard wherever they are. Some people pull back and other people act out in ways that are unproductive as well. We see one of those two things happening. Your chapter in there on the power of listening, I believe it’s a superpower. We need to learn to listen to understand. There’s a curiosity that we’re not listening to try and have the right response, but we’re listening to try and see it from the other person’s perspective. I would agree with you, I see too much now that we listen to undermine, and not listen to understand.
That’s a great way to put it. In any group, people are going to be cautious about sharing their true feelings unless they’re confident that it’s safe. Think about the power of this. What if you had a company where everybody that work there could say what they honestly thought? I gave a talk centered on this, Patrick, you’d love it, to manufacture a company a couple of years back. I had a gentleman who worked there who waited to talk to me afterwards. He said, “I loved that vision. I’m going to tell you, the last time I said what I thought around here, I got sent home for a week.”
It’s funny, but it’s not funny. People have learned that you can’t say what you actually think in many cases. What unproductive ways of human capacity and potential of the truth lives in all voices? I write about this a bit too. You think about a picture of a faraway communist capital, a monolithic parade where everyone’s marching and chanting in unison. That’s not alignment. That’s intimidation, force and fear. That is not alignment. Alignment comes from the diversity of thought. That’s where alignment comes from when everybody feels like every idea is valued. That’s how you create support for decisions and outcomes.Change is a three step process: we change the world within us, beside us, and beyond us. Click To Tweet
Back to your story about that person that came up to you after and said, “I got sent home for a week.” I think about that and I speak to it now in the work that I do is saying that even if I wasn’t the recipient of that, it’s set a ripple effect because other people saw what happened when I spoke up. They learned through that to say, “I don’t want to be like Jim. Jim’s no longer here when he spoke up, so keep your mouth shut.”
That’s exactly what happened. An important point that we talk a lot about with our managers is the pivot point is how you respond when someone says something that you don’t totally agree with. What we’ve tried to do here at our company is get over the need to respond at all. Here’s what I mean by that. We’re talking about a subject and you, Patrick, make comment in a huddle with a lot of employees. My general response is going to be this, “Patrick, thanks so much for sharing that.” That’s it. I don’t need to qualify what you said. I don’t need to validate it. I don’t need to denigrate it. I need to honor that you were willing to say it. You already said it. The fact that you said it makes it powerful. Once people start to see we’re not searching, there is no right answer, people will start to speak with their authentic, true voice. The irony of my journey is I had to lose a piece of my voice to end up on a mission of trying to honor everyone else’s authentic voice.
There was a story that you told in here when you were in Kiev about how that whole thing transpired in terms of how you found out about that in the beginning. I was shocked to hear the number of people that were involved in this in Ukraine. I never had thought about it, Holodomor. There was an interview you have with a woman. I was wondering if you could speak to that because I will tell you, as I read that, I welled up. If you think of the life that we’re living now about how difficult things are, and then you read this. It puts things in perspective in terms of our spirits, what we can handle and still move forward.
I’m glad you’re asking me about this, Patrick. One of the core things in my book is that throughout human history, leaders, those who had the most power, have overreached and abused it. They’ve gone too far, which has consequences clearly for those who they overreach against, but also ends up collapsing the empire. The leaders get greedy. They go too far. I wanted to write about an example of this. I came across a true historical story of the Holodomor in the Ukraine in the early 1930s. The Soviet Union had formed against all odds about a decade before Stalin had replaced Lenin, and had come to power. The Soviet Union was rolling out its first five–year collective plan. The Ukrainian peasants weren’t going along. They were used to their independence and running their own farms. They had some of the most productive farm land in all of Europe. It was the breadbasket of Europe. Stalin and the Soviet Communist Party in response to this recalcitrance, decided as crazy as it is to say as horrific to respond by starving the Ukrainian peasants to death.
The communists went door–to–door, took all the food sources, goats, pigs, wheat, everything, and blockaded a large section of the Ukraine for about 24 months. As the breadbasket of Europe, about 7 million Ukrainian citizens died of starvation, which Holodomor translated means forced starvation. I got it in my head, and this is a lumberman from Casco, Maine, that I would go to Kiev in the Ukraine and interview a couple of the last living survivors of the Holodomor. I ended up connecting with the Holodomor victims’ memorial in Kiev. I made plans to travel there. They took me out and we interviewed one gentleman, Mykola, one woman, Hanna. I simply recorded their stories, honor their stories. They both were born around 1925. They were old enough to have remembered the Holodomor and yet still be alive now. Both are in their 90s. I have a big chapter at the end of the book about that story with the subtheme being overreaching has consequences.
What gives me goosebumps in that story was given these two individuals a global voice for their story to be heard. To tag onto the end of that, that’s an example where corporate leadership needs to have the old model of corporate leadership, which was about staying in your lane, keep your head down or worry about your own product or service. While we’ve got to be exceptional at that, the world needs something bigger and broader for corporate leadership now. We need corporate leaders to get out of their lane to think about their roles more broadly and to engage bigger topics like, “What if we lead differently?” That’s what the book is about.
That story to me is powerful and I hope people will have a chance to read that because one of her lines was, “I’m still around.”
It was surreal, Patrick. We’re on the eighth floor of a Soviet–era apartment complex. The elevator has got 8 million wires sticking out of it as we turn up. I spent two hours with her. I asked her thoughts about Stalin. She paused and she said, “Stalin is dead and I’m still here.” She slapped her leg and had a big laugh.
For those that are reading and in leadership roles who might be saying, “I don’t have the time right now to develop or to focus on developing leadership, or to work on my team or my organization to focus on the importance of leadership.” What do you say to that?The truth lives in all voices. Click To Tweet
I would say I’m sure you can prove you’re right. Anyone who wants to be too busy for that will easily be able to. Anyone who wants to fight time to prioritize it will easily be able too.
Kevin, I have appreciated this so much. I love reading your book, and the time that we’ve been able to spend together, I have a great deal of respect for you. Thank you for that.
I’m always honored to be with you, Patrick. I appreciate the way you give a louder voice to important leadership ideas. Right back at you.