The following transcript is from an interview between Brandon Laws and Alfred Dual on the podcast episode entitled: “The Leader Who Had No Title Book Discussion”
Brandon: Hey everybody, thank you for joining us for today’s podcast episode. I am Brandon Laws and today I’m joined by another Xenium HR Business Partner, Alfred Dual. This is his first time on the podcast so we appreciate him joining us today. Welcome Alfred.
Alfred: Thank you Brandon, be gentle.
Brandon: I will definitely be gentle. Alfred is also a member of the Xenium Book Club that we have at Xenium, which meets on a regular basis. We pick a book and spend about two months reading it and usually meet once in the middle of the book and will have coffee in the morning and discuss the first part of the book. Then we get together at the conclusion of the book and discuss the book in its entirety. We might do that over happy hour or coffee. We all prefer Happy Hour, of course, because we do like the social aspect of it.
Alfred is joining us to discuss a book we read about a month ago called, The Leader Who Had No Title – A Modern Fable on Real Success in Business and in Life by Robin Sharma. I think it came out back in 2010 and it’s a quick read, an easy read. It’s about 220 pages and just a really quick read and it’s actually written as a fable.
Alfred: You pick it up and it’s engaging right off the bat. Just like you said, it’s very easy to read. You can cruise through that book easily in a weekend.
Brandon: Yes, in fact, I think a book club member read it on a plane flight when they were traveling for family vacation. It can be read in several hours if you put your mind to it – it is a very simple read.
Let’s start out by summarizing the book for the listeners. Give a sense for how the book starts and then we will dive into some of the concepts. It’s written as a fable so it starts with the character named Blake and he is an entry-level worker, an Iraq veteran – what else Alfred?
Alfred: Blake is a very relatable character. I think that all of us have been in that entry-level position where you’re maybe not as mature in that role or maybe just don’t have a lot of professional experience. You just don’t know where to apply yourself. He had worked in a retail job and a lot of people start their careers in retail jobs.
Brandon: From the perspective, it’s written as Blake, and it seems like his life is spiraling out of control. His relationship isn’t good, the fact that he had just gotten out of the war, he’s just a mess. He’s bored, he’s depressed – so what happens next?
Alfred: He meets a very eccentric character, Tommy. Tommy is a friend of Blake’s dad and he is just an eccentric character. You can almost picture him as Jeff Bridges as “The Dude” in The Big Lebowski. We do have to say he has much more motivation than “The Dude” has. That’s where you really get wrapped up in the story. This eccentric character, Tommy, is now trying to motivate Blake and get him to see things different and shift his paradigm. It’s really interesting. I think he’s got a Mickey Mouse shirt on, his hair is kind of unkempt and yet he rolls up in a Porsche 911, and it’s red. It’s Blake’s favorite car. That was very interesting and just this person that Tommy is and the ideas he has. Of course we will see as we dig into it all the acronyms that they use.
Brandon: Yeah there were a lot of those. Not to give away too much to the folks who are listening, but the acronyms wore me down a little bit.
The story starts talking about the background of Blake and then Tommy enters the picture. He almost immediately starts talking about the title of the book – The Leader Who Had No Title. He gives that away to start. Then obviously the stories build upon that. But really, The Leader Who Had No Title – what does that mean and what did that teach Blake right off the bat?
Alfred: Leading without a title – there are so many different concepts that go into it. I think when you see that as it is, it instantly makes an impact. You instantly start thinking to yourself, “Can I lead in more ways? Can I lead in better ways in my current position professionally or personally?” As we are talking about these acronyms, Tommy’s got the letters, “The Leader With No Title” and he’s got it on a necklace.
Brandon: I just imagine he’s got a gold chain – “The Leader With No Title”
Alfred: Or a four-finger ring, something like that. Anyhow, leading without a title means not waiting for permission to lead. I think that’s one of the first concepts. So many times you have an idea that you want to put into practice or you think of a certain situation where you wish you would have done something differently. It’s like that kid in class who knows the answer but is afraid to raise their hand. It’s that same concept. Without waiting for that permission, the possibilities are endless.
Brandon: I’ve heard a lot of people say, “I’m not a leader” or “I have no aspiration to be a leader.” As the book proves, you can be a leader with an entry-level job. It’s just a matter of how much passion you are putting into it and how you are treating people. That’s what came out of this book for me.
Alfred: Yes definitely. And creating a great experience no matter what you are doing and no matter what position you are in. If you are treating people the right way, if you truly love what you do and you’re creating a great experience for whomever your customer is or whoever your client is, the results are going to follow. You get loyalty, whether it’s increasing an income or whatever that looks like, it could increase your revenue – it’s just going to happen if you take care of those two basic concepts.
Brandon: How much of leading without a title is about inspiring others? Not only your customer if you work in a retail environment, but also your co-workers – to inspire them to be better than they are and that they can get to that next level?
Alfred: It starts with leading yourself by showing a great example and being positive. As you do that, and we’ve talked a couple times about positive psychology and that aspect of you have everything going in the right direction. If you have a goal and you’re executing five things every single day that help you head in the direction of that goal, you’re going to hit it. That just catches fire with people around you. Whether that’s encouragement, recognition, whatever that looks like in that particular instance, sometimes it’s just listening to someone and slowing yourself down to listen with empathy and care. There are so many different ways. You can look for opportunities in every situation to lead as best as you can.
Brandon: Going back to the broad concept of leading without a title, have you ever reached a point in your life where something like this was a big ah-ha moment for you? Something where you actually put it to practice, where you were leading without a title? Maybe this was earlier on in your life when you were not so established in your career.
Alfred: Maybe now is a good time to pull a specific thing from the book – when Tommy meets Ty, the ski instructor. Ty’s whole concept to him is when you’re going down the slope and you’re so scared because it’s steep and it’s fast, faster than you’ve ever been, steeper than you’ve ever been, your initial reaction is to cling to the mountain because you’re scared! In those moments when you’re doing something like that, you almost have to go against your initial reaction and just lean forward, lean into things. I thought that was a great analogy.
It’s funny because two weeks ago I was at a wedding for a good friend and I completely bombed the toast. I got up and I gave the toast and I meant to incorporate this in there somewhere but I got distracted a little bit. Then of course in your mind you’re thinking, “I’m messing this up, I’m messing this up.” Long story short, it did not go as planned. The points I was trying to bring up was that whole concept of lean into challenges rather than clinging to safety, clinging to what you know.
My good friend Derek, we grew up skateboarding together. Derek was the wild one out of everyone. He would do anything. Whenever we would build a new ramp – “Who’s going to go first and test this thing out?” Derek was all about it. Not only would he test it out, but he would try and gain as much speed as he could and just commit everything to it. I was a little more of a timid kid when it came to challenges like that. We had built this quarter pipe and we were only 12 or 13 so you can imagine the construction on this thing – it’s not the best.
Derek gets up there and drops on this quarter pipe and just rides it out. So I’m like, “Gosh, I can do that.” I get up there and I’m standing on top of this thing and as you’re looking down at it you start thinking, “I’m going to get hurt, I’ve never done this before,” all these things go through your mind. As I go to drop in for the first time, of course I lean back and the board flies out from underneath me, I smack the back of my head; I’m a little shaken up. Derek tells me, “Oh no man, you just gotta go again, you gotta go again.” I get up there again and he tells me this, and this still rings through my head no matter what challenge I’m going through, and it’s Derek just telling me, “Dude, just commit, just commit.”
It’s a choice – in that moment you have that battle within yourself. I’m either going to commit and lean into this and just go with it or I’m going to cling to safety, cling to what I know. And sure enough I just committed and rode that thing out. Before you know it you’re up there and you’re doing it over and over again because it’s such a rush! And you look pretty cool too.
Brandon: Exactly. We are living in this circle all the time because it’s our comfort zone. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this concept before but growth happens on the very outer edge of that circle. Not too far away from it because that could be catastrophic. Growth really happens when you’re on the outer edge and you’re committing – you’re leaning into it a little bit. I think you can spark some major growth that way. It can be gradual growth, but at least you’re making some progress.
Alfred: Exactly. You’re trying things that you haven’t tried before. That’s the whole thing about leadership. If you just think about the first four letters there – Lead. You’re out in front, you’re pushing limits. Sometimes it’s different spots depending on the situation where you lead from the front. Sometimes it’s necessary to lead from the back and sometimes it’s necessary to lead from the middle – side by side with others. It’s just determining the times where it’s appropriate to lead from those different places.
Brandon: The theme throughout the book is that regardless of the level of position you’re at, you could be at a CEO level or at an administrative level – every single role out there serves a great purpose, but it’s your choice to make the best of it, to be positive, to have a great attitude towards other people, to help people grow, to grow yourself. Those are all choices regardless of what level you’re at. I think Sharma really hit on that point because throughout the book, these people that Blake is meeting are massage therapists, house keepers, owners of a business – he really hit on every single level and that point really comes through, at least from my perspective.
Alfred: It’s the whole idea of mastery. You touched on it – mastering whatever it is that you’re good at. I think the last teacher was a former CEO and then built a garden on top of a library. It was something odd like that. The interaction they have in the book is there to serve a purpose – they aren’t very realistic interactions but at the same time there’s that whole concept of mastery and owning what you do – love what you do, love others and love yourself.
Brandon: I want to hit on one of the key areas in the book, and that is Turbulent Times Build Great Leaders. I think that was actually the name of a chapter. I want to focus on this area a little bit because I think experiences help in terms of how great of a leader you are and it could also change your world view, whether it pertains to your world view or inspires you to grow. I want to get a sense for what you thought of that chapter and if you can relate to that in any way.
Alfred: Definitely. Not only do turbulent times build great leaders, but I think you really see a definition of who is a leader and who is not. I love Dilbert, the comic book strip. My favorite comic book strip is this picture of Dilbert, Wally, who is this smart aleck – does as little work as possible, always drinking coffee. Then you have Dilbert who is this loveable, hopeless office worker, and his Boss who doesn’t have a name, he’s just called Boss. He’s the incompetent leader with zero leadership skills. They are in a meeting and the Boss has got his fist clenched and his eyes shut and he’s shaking and getting ready to yell. Then you have Dilbert sitting there wide-eyed and Wally sipping his endless cup of coffee and he says, “The next thing you hear is something called leadership.”
I think that’s a turbulent time for that person in showing that that is not leadership. When you hit a turbulent time, it’s not letting your emotions get the best of you. It’s not yelling, and it’s not being disrespectful. What it really means is that you start to shape your influence and your voice as a leader. That turbulent time defines whether you are a leader or a manager. I think there’s a solid difference there. It’s that real influence and influencing others versus that borrowed or implied power that we see in the workplace. A lot of people that are in leadership positions use that implied or borrowed power. It’s a really deep concept and when you’re in those turbulent times, leaders are truly the ones who are side by side with you, moving with you through it. They get a plan, they rally their troops and then they are there to move the process forward, whether that’s picking up someone who has fallen down or just keeping that project moving forward.
That’s one thing I can say, that any great leader in my life I would walk into a fire for. But that’s not what makes them a great leader. What makes them a great leader is the fact that I know that they would be standing there right there next to me walking into that fire with me. I think that’s the biggest different between someone who is a leader, and someone who is just managing a process.
Brandon: Do you think that the whole leadership thing is something you’re born with, like a talent that some people have a knack for or do you think it’s through experiences, knowledge and skills learned on the job, or an attitude. What do you think all this comes down to?
Alfred: In some aspects there are some natural leadership abilities that are I guess you could say more obvious than others. I think what this book is getting at is that anyone can lead and everyone has a leadership voice and that’s where the experience comes in because you find your leadership voice and what that looks like. Just because you’re not a very outgoing person doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not a leader or you’re a very vocal person. There are other ways that you can lead.
Brandon: I think we touched on a lot of the good parts of the book. There are many more nuggets throughout the book but I don’t want to give away too much because I think it’s worth reading.
Alfred, give your overall thoughts on the book. How easy to read it was. I know I have my opinions about some of the writing in it – I think it was a great book overall. The dialogue throughout the book was written in a way that I don’t think normal conversations happen, but I think it worked to get the point across really well. I think the storytelling helps it stick in your mind. I don’t know what your thoughts are.
Alfred: In terms of an easy read it was a breeze. It was enjoyable. You can kind of go through it and that first whole part of Tommy and his character really hooks you to the book; that part was written very well. It has you going through because you’re waiting for it to pick up momentum again, the same momentum you first read it with. The acronyms do get a little overbearing. Luckily at the end of the chapter they give you all of the acronyms together so that helps. The way that the book was written, just like you said, great book – you can definitely tell he’s not a novel writer but at the same time it gets those concepts through. You’re able to grasp it at a very easy level and I think it was written like that for anyone to be able to grasp those concepts because anyone can lead without a title.
Brandon: We had a group of 13 people reading the book so when we came together for discussions I thought, because of the stories and the concepts in it, that we were able to have some really good discussion around it. The stories in the book helped us relate to it so we each had our own stories to tell as a result. I think, at face value, if there’s anything that it was great for it was bringing everybody together to share our stories and talk about how we are going to apply it in the workplace. We are all a bunch of employees who are trying to grow and improve the business. I thought it was great for that reason.
Alfred: I left reading the book feeling like I’m going to change my company; I’m going to change Xenium. I still believe that, and it’s great! I get up on most days, not every day, but most days I’m up at 5:00am just like the book suggests.
Brandon: That’s another part we didn’t touch on but that was a great part of the book where they talked about the seven actions that leaders take. One of them that you’ve implemented in your life is getting up at 5:00am.
Alfred: It’s amazing how much you can get accomplished and taking care of yourself. I have 14 daily commitments and they are all centered on the three things that are most important in my life which is my faith, my health and my relationships with others. Of course your family is tied in there with your others. It’s just kind of cool to look up at something every single day and know that I nailed these 14 things and it’s helping me towards my goal and really sending me on my way. It’s absolutely amazing.
Brandon: Our guest today has been Alfred Dual. We appreciate you coming on the podcast and talking about the book. I encourage listeners to go on the blog and we can start a discussion on this book. I think it’s a worthwhile read. We will put a link up to the book and some other information so you can access it as well. I’ll put Alfred’s information out there, too, so if you have questions for him you can reach out to him, too. Again, Alfred, thanks for being on the podcast today, I appreciate it.
Alfred: Thank you for having me, it’s been a pleasure. Hopefully we will get some good discussion going!
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