Dan Pontefract, The Speaker Show

Episode 138

Dan Pontefract, best-selling author of three books, Adjunct Professor at the University of Victoria, Gustavson School of Business.

Episode 138

Dan Pontefract, best-selling author of three books, Adjunct Professor at the University of Victoria, Gustavson School of Business.

Ep. 138 – In discussion with Dan Pontefract

In this episode of #TheSpeakerShow, Sean Pillot de Chenecey interviews Dan Pontefract, a renowned speaker who has given over 300 keynotes and presentations, including four TED Talks. He writes for Forbes, Harvard Business Review and The Huffington Post, and is the best-selling author of three best-selling books: ‘Open to Think’, ‘The Purpose Effect’ and Flat Army’. His latest, and fourth book ‘Lead, Care, Win’ is out today!

Dan is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Victoria, Gustavson School of Business, and the founder and CEO of The Pontefract Group a firm that improves the state of leadership and organizational culture. Previously, as Chief Envisioner of TELUS he founded the Transformation Office to help organizations enhance their corporate culture, leadership, learning, work styles & collaboration practices.

In this dynamic episode, we discuss a range of his insights on issues including:

  • The importance of business culture
  • Why being a humane leader matters
  • How to define and unleash brand purpose
  • Seizing the moment regarding ‘The Great Reset’
  • Utilising the lens of community in decision-making

Episode audio & transcript

Connect with Speakers Associates

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (00:11): Hello! This podcast is care of Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau representing a select group of the business world’s finest thinkers and thought leaders. Founded in 1999, today Speakers Associates operate out of nine offices across seven countries covering the UK, Europe and Middle East. I’m Sean Pillot de Chenecey, author of The Post-Truth Business and Influencers & Revolutionaries, which are being followed by The New Abnormal. In this series, I interview a range of fascinating individuals, proudly represented by the bureau. These change agents and industry experts give an update on their specialist areas of knowledge, and also on their motivations and viewpoints regarding the future of business.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (01:03): So today I’m really pleased to be joined by Dan Pontefract. Dan’s a best-selling author of three books, Open to Think: Slow Down, Think Creatively and Make Better Decisions, The Purpose Effect: Building Meaning In Yourself, Your Role and Your Organization, and Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization. He’s also an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria. He’s also the founder and CEO of the Pontefract Group, a firm that improves the state of leadership and organizational culture. Previously as chief envisioner of TELUS, he co-founded the transformation office to help organizations enhance their corporate culture, leadership, learning, work styles, and collaboration practices. His career is interwoven with both corporate and academic experience, coupled with an MBA B.ed and multiple industries, certifications and accreditations. Dan is also a renowned speaker and has been invited to deliver over 300 external keynotes and presentations, including for Ted talks. He’s appeared on the front cover of T and D magazine and Chief Learning Officer magazine. He also writes for Forbes, Harvard Business Review and The Huffington Post. And finally, previous to his 10 years at TELUS, he held senior positions for 12 years with SAP, Business Objects, Crystal Decisions, and the British Columbia Institute of Technology. So Dan, hi, and how are you?

Dan Pontefract (02:35): Sean, what a delight to be here today. Thank you for asking. I’m fine. It’s a pandemic, with a little elephant in the room, but otherwise, yeah, all good.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (02:45): Yeah, exactly. And actually, and before we started, we are talking and you mentioning here I am in a rather gloomy UK, whereas you are in a gleaming perfect Canada.

Dan Pontefract (02:57): Oh no, every country and its cities have imperfections, but I’m on the west coast of Canada at little city. That’s the capital city of a province known as British Columbia, the city being Victoria named after, yes, that queen. And we’ve lived here for about seven years prior to that Vancouver for 15, prior to that was in Montreal in Toronto and born in Blackburn Lancashire as it turns out. But my parents immigrated to Canada when I was quite three.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (03:26): Yeah. Yeah. Sorry. That’s quite a journey, both sort of a literally figuratively, et cetera. So, I mean, on that one down, I mean, it was always good with these things to, to get a really clear understanding of your background in terms of your career path and how it is you got to where you are now being, you know, a highly renowned speaker and author. So perhaps just take us through exactly. Yeah. How you got to be where you are?

Dan Pontefract (03:52): Right. Well, I would say first of all, there’s a lot of people that have helped along the way that’s for certain, but I, even as I, we talk I had sort of a pension for being on stage. So I would be in, you know, the school plays, I was in theater for a while there. And when I’m referring to, as sort of the ages, 12 through 16 ish and yeah, through every kind of student council, I sort of ended up being president and every athletics team. I ended up being captain. So I suppose as a kid, I had some proclivity for being in front of people. I might not have known what I was doing or had any right to be speaking or trying to lead the crew, but I did. And always loved it. And so eventually, as I graduated from, you know, over here in Canada, we call high school.

Dan Pontefract (04:42): I ended up at McGill university in Montreal and I thought I was going there to become a doctor. And I realized that perhaps my skills would be better suited, not in a surgical outfit, but in front of people, like I was as a kid, you know, trying to help. So I switched into a bachelor’s of art, bachelors of education degrees and became a high school teacher. And that allowed me that chance again, for it only lasted two years, mind dues on a chance to be in front of kids, high school kids and realizing then that, oh, I do like this thing called education, but maybe it’s the wrong audience.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (05:27): Well they’re the toughest audience you’ve ever had.

Dan Pontefract (05:30): I think my children aren’t the toughest audience to be there, honestly.

Dan Pontefract (05:35): Cause they don’t care. Well I suppose, right, cause there’s an attention span and classroom management and certainly things, whether it’s in a gymnasium, cause I would teach, some Physical Education or Math or English or Communication Skills, I mean sort of a jack of all trade, if you will in the classroom back then. Yeah, I would, you’re probably right. It was a lot to manage and learn, but then I went into higher education and so for about five years I’ve ran the downtown campus of, an Institute of technology. But what I was doing there was helping adults now, change their careers into a combination of high tech and business skills, et cetera. So, so they had to come to us with either a degree or diploma already and then help them through a shift or, you know, some sort of career change over a year or two.

Dan Pontefract (06:27): And that’s probably where I really learned that, you know, helping people in this sort of leadership culture engagement space was where I belonged and I was being paid to do it to learn, to be honest. So I’m probably 27 through the age of 32 at this time. And then I realized that I probably if I wanted be useful in life, maybe I needed some real world experience using air quotes right there. And I sort of entertained some discussions and offers with various high tech companies at the time. So now we’re Circus 2002 and I joined a rather, you know, for us a largest one in Canada had about 3000 people at the time, which eventually was purchased by business objects, which went then was purchased by SAP. So long wind away of saying in between, you know, early 2002 to late 2008, I was part of an organization where I was its head of all things, learning and leadership development and, you know, external education services like that for revenue for profit stuff.

Dan Pontefract (07:36): But I, again, using both the internal external learned how important culture was, why leadership matters and sure, my team size might have been about 120, but we’re talking about, you know, thousands of people around the world who also needed help developing their own skills and et cetera. So, so I’m still not yet quote a speaker and I’m still not by any stretch an author. So, but by 2008, when I switched from SAP to TELUS, which is kind of like BT in Canada, the best way to describe it.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (08:13): Okay.

Dan Pontefract (08:13): Yeah. There lied a humongous culture change opportunity. So roughly 50,000 employees around the world of which 35,000 or so are in Canada, really anemic employee engagement scores, like we’re talking sort of, you know, mid to high forties. And so half the company was quite engaged and the rest, you know, were not, and the opportunity was in working with so many different folks, Hey, how do we help an organization of this size publicly traded in New York and Toronto do better basically. And so that was a six year run as its Chief Learning Officer. But when I joined Sean, in 2008, I made a commitment to myself that I would be external in my learning and in my development itself. So I started a blog, which I had never done before. And it was actually called trainingrec.com could stand the training profession. It was a bit of a rec.

Dan Pontefract (09:18): And then, and then eventually, you know, by 2013 I had published the first book, but I began being asked and pushing myself out there to now speak about culture change, about employee engagement, about leadership and so forth. And it was all for free for many years. And then eventually I honed that skill. I mean, I would do 20 to 30 talks a year that were in conferences where I’d have eight people in the room. You know, I would do, chats that got a little bit bigger. But again, no headline or not a keynoter, just sort of like a conference presenter, if you will. Right.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (10:00): Yep.

Dan Pontefract (10:00): And eventually, you know, someone took notice and said, oh, would you like to do a Ted talk? Sure. Why not?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (10:10): Yeah.

Dan Pontefract (10:10): And then. Yeah, and then, you know, book two came out, book three, book four. Forbes calls. HBR calls. And so this combination of me writing and speaking and doing my job at TELUS as Chief Learning Officer and then Chief Envisioner, just, I guess, spawned this multifaceted stool that has different legs that I am very humbly able to contribute to.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (10:37): Whoa. What an interesting way through. And, but as say going back again to say to the harsh reality, the brutal reality of turning up in front of a classroom and then keeping that entertained and informed, what a fine grounding finally. And so tell me now that, I mean the, I mean the most recent time, certainly that I saw you talk online was at The Recovery Summit that was organized by Speakers Associates, you know, a couple of months ago, which I think still is the sort of biggest, online event this year. I mean, it was, I think on the day it was viewed by, or during that week, it was viewed by nearly sort of 10,000 delegates. And it’s been viewed many times more since. Again, on that one, as I understand it, when I was, again, looking at your talk, again recently, you’re talking about where we are now, and you know, world when we are dealing with the realities of COVID and the impact of other issues that have impacted societies and COVID around the world, you’re saying, which I found was fascinating in shadows look opportunities, you know, don’t be afraid seize the moment.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (11:47): Can you just take us through your thinking there and what you were putting across?

Dan Pontefract (11:54): Well, it’s rather evident and obvious that the pandemic is a pretty significant tragedy at the time of this recording. Of course, Sean we’ve, as a global population have just suffered, you know, 1 million deaths as a result of this. So there’s nothing to make light of a situation that’s as dire as it is. However, there has been, there is with the pandemic right now and there will always be crises. This one just seems to be rather magnificently large, but for any organization, for any individual human being, there are shadows and within those shadows lurk the opportunity of what might I do; should I find the light step out and do something of it, with it, about it, for it, et cetera. And I think that’s the metaphor is that, you know, two years ago, I woke up at two in the morning, writhing in pain, wondering what had I eaten.

Dan Pontefract (12:55): And it turns out eight hours later, I’m on the operating table because my gallbladder had exploded. And I had no idea that was, what was happening to me. And it was a, it was touch and go as in hospital for six days. And that’s a, there’s a shadow. So I, although freakish, I just was bad genes, essentially. It was hereditary. You know, I took it upon myself then to say, well, that’s a rather humongous shadow. Perhaps I should, even though I’m relatively fit, I would argue maybe I should do some things that are different. And so, you know, I was a rather large ribeye steak fan and hamburger man. So goodbye red meat, just because I said, well, there’s, I’ve gotta learn from this. There’s the shadow. What can I learn? With the talk and where we are at in terms of, that our particular stage here with the pandemic, you know, the subtitle here is the Great Reset.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (13:53): Yeah.

Dan Pontefract (13:54): Of what I’m referring to because I got fed up as well with far too many people calling it the new normal, and there’s nothing normal about where society was. In fact, I don’t suggest that anything was normal of where we were with their proclivity for short-termism, distractedness, you know, I’m not really caring and about one another and sort of needing a dose of empathy, injected, not just a vaccine. And so my great reset metaphor is that, you know, we need to kind of get back to basics if you will, on that kindness and genuine empathy and the caring and the way in which that we really ought to be taken can care of one another in our community, in our organizations, in our environment and society in general. And that’s the opportunity I think we can reset, with this pandemic the way in which that we actually operate and view how life and work ought to, ought to be.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (14:58): Thanks, Dan. And then from the point of view of the great reset, I mean, as we were talking about this earlier on, I mean, naturally we know that the World Economic Forum is gonna be using that as the title of the next event at Davos in 2021. And so from the point of view of COVID 19 having, as they say, you know, torn up the script and when they’re looking at the great reset from the point of view of how to govern companies and live with others and take part in the global economy.

Dan Pontefract (15:27): Yeah.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (15:27): Fascinating what you are talking about there in terms of, you know, the need for empathy and community and a focus on the environment. I mean, can I ask on that last one, by the way, in terms of the sort of, campaigners around environmental issues, what sort of, activities mean taking place where you are in Canada over the last year or so? Cause naturally, you know, we look at those like extinction rebellion over here, certainly in Europe, and we see Greta Thunberg and the wonderful work many people think she’s been doing. What about in Canada, the reality on the ground in terms of actions taken by the environmental lobby and the impact of that on business?

Dan Pontefract (16:11): I live in British Columbia. One of the 10 provinces here across Canada and 20 years ago, a right of center provincial government instituted something known as the carbon tax, which was a tax on gasoline and other, sort of home consumer based taxes that are, you know, using natural gas or what have you. And that’s essentially the epitome of where Canada is. When a provincial right of center government can institute a carbon tax and of course there was flack. And of course there was, you know, there was opposing it, but, that’s the mindset I would argue that Canada certainly has its imperfections everywhere from the oil sands and Alberta, to other, you know, misdemeanors, if you will, from those that don’t quite see it the way of the green thumb and Greta Thunberg. However, I would suggest to you that there is a profess there’s a, an understanding that we, we must do more.

Dan Pontefract (17:18): And in fact, we are doing more and if a provincial government, 20 years ago can institute carbon tax, then, you know, you can imagine some other things that have happened, you know, over the past 20 years from a federal level currently, with Justin Trudeau, the liberals are in charge and they’re doing everything that they can within this tragedy that is the pandemic to help our country see that we too need a great reset if you will. So that some of our federal systemic policies are certainly more interwoven with a green mindset than what we’ve ever done before. Because as Germany has proven and others across Europe, when you do inculcate you know, green thinking into your business development and way of life, it actually can produce quite stunning economic results. So that’s where I would say we’re at, we’ve made some great strides. There is an understanding, there are counteract efforts for certain, but we’re much further along than our friends and neighbors to the south of us and the US.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (18:29): Yeah. Yeah. And then what about, the point you made about community? We’ve seen again, say over here, on this side of the Atlantic, you know, lots of a, endeavors taken and actions taken by businesses and organizations to either prove or enhance their sort of community credentials, a lot of, focus on localism. Again. What about the reality that you see around you and the sort of things that you talk to your audiences about from the point of view of community, perhaps let’s give us some in info there on, on your view points on that.

Dan Pontefract (19:09): Well, you’ve actually alluded to it already, and that is the World Economic Forum in January of this year, prior to the world, falling off a cliff with the pandemic had piggybacked off of North America’s business round table act, which was to redefine the purpose of a corporation. And it is not shareholder return. However, it is quote stakeholder capitalism and stakeholders being the purpose of why organizations should exist, which in my, again, sounds like a bit of an egregious pretentious, book plug, but in my second book, the Purpose Effect, which was actually written in 2014 and released in 2016. I alluded to the makeup of an organizational’s purpose being just that. If we wanna deliver good deeds, we need to redefine who we serve. And if we’re only serving EBITDA, profit, you know, pure, pure revenue without any other possibility for thinking about the community, the environment society in general, then we’ve missed the boat.

Dan Pontefract (20:17): So although the BRT or Business Round Table and the World Economic Forum with Klaus Schwab, et cetera, I think they need a little more teeth into their statements because to me, it’s seemingly all about words and not action. And so back to your question with Canada, what I see are organizations that in fact are taking both the words and applying action. I’ll give you an example. Nutrien is a company based in Canada. That’s one of the world’s largest potash organization. And you think, wait a second, isn’t that bad? Well, actually, no, they and their CEO, Chuck Magro have taken upon themselves to redefine their purpose and to make sure that everything that they do actually affects in a positive way, the communities in which they serve across the world. So they are driving relationships at the community level and saying, look, when we make a decision, how does this affect from the fertilizers to the materials, to the grow up to the agricultural tech, et cetera. They now use the lens of the community in decision making. And that’s the difference when you, you talk a good game about purpose and, you know, stakeholder capitalism, it’s not as effective as when you actualize it and when you put it into motion and do something about it. So long windedly, I would say Sean, that the actions I’d like to see globally are less of websites and proclamations than the behavior change that’s required.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (22:00): Yeah, yeah, yeah. Fantastic. And then empathy. Yeah, perhaps again, take us through that. Why this do you think that empathy is important and perhaps a way that is, again, perhaps like your previous points, how that’s actually been put into action?

Dan Pontefract (22:17): Well, the low hanging fruit, I suppose, is always to look at a politician or a party and just to see where they sit and where they perhaps don’t. And so I think the world’s two greatest examples right now to juxtapose is the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (22:40): Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Dan Pontefract (22:40): When we have Mr. Trump refusing to, you know, be on the ground, if you will, for those that have been affected by civil unrest and empathizing, putting one’s intellectual and emotional self into the psyche of those that are writhe in pain. You see the result, you see the, not just the defensiveness, but the one sided approach and not being able to cognitively or sympathetically or emotionally suggest that you feel for that party, despite you not being either black or a woman, or what have you, you empathize. That’s key. If we cross a very large pond in the Pacific ocean from the US to New Zealand and Jacinda Ardern, it seems as though every time something happens that is, the country or a situation going awry, she’s there with an empathetic mind and heart, whether it is the Christchurch, mosque terrorist attack.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (23:49): Yeah, yeah.

Dan Pontefract (23:49): Where 49 lost their lives and 51 were marred just being there, listening and dawning a head scarf, Sean.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (23:57): Yeah.

Dan Pontefract (23:58): Just the act, is an act of empathy. But a cheeky example would be this year. And that of course was in 2019, this year in 2020, when it was time for Easter in the middle of a pandemic, she went to the podium and spoke to the children of New Zealand and said that she had given special dispensation to the Easter bunny to not be on lockdown, to show up in the kid’s houses to deliver eggs and chocolates.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (24:24): Yeah, yeah.

Dan Pontefract (24:25): That’s empathy.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (24:26): Yeah. Yeah.

Dan Pontefract (24:28): So again, low hanging fruit politicians aside here, when you are a caring, empathic, sympathetic leader, caring about what is maybe not going right in that person’s world, whether that’s the loss of a loved one, whether that’s a bad hair day, whether that a meeting went awry, whether the customer said they do something, but they didn’t, and the contract’s not signed. That’s our kind of duty of care as a leader. And when we don’t employ a duty of care, you get disengagement. And when you have disengagement, employees are disillusion, when they’re disillusion, then they’re not serving either the innovation that’s required to improve the company’s stature. They’re not serving the customer clearly, you know, they’re barking at suppliers and partners. They don’t really care about the community because why should I, my boss doesn’t. So I don’t, and then you get the trickle down effect, it’s just, it’s a bit and our, but it’s the way in which I see it.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (25:29): Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Fascinating. What about moving to something, linked to that but then you can also separate to it. You mentioned again earlier on about the importance of culture. Now, from the point of view of the work that you’ve done and do, from the point of view of transforming businesses and corporate cultures and work styles, et cetera. There’s been a lot of talk over the last couple of months, in all the usual sort of titles that we all read, about this issue of workplaces around the world impacting, impacted by the reality of working from home and the knock on effects in terms of the lack, therefore of the usual corporate culture, business culture, socializing culture, that businesses are used to, to help, to support the culture of the business. When you’re talking with your clients and with your audiences about how you build cultures anyway, how do you think this is gonna play out? And what do you advise companies let’s say, who are being heavily impacted by the realities of workforces? No longer being eyeball to eyeball, or certainly physically side by side in workplaces. How do you build a, well, how do you support a, sort of a business culture in that sort of environment?

Dan Pontefract (26:56): It’s a $99,000 question, right. But I think, idealistically at least, a pound or two answer for it.

Dan Pontefract (27:13): So there’s a, there’s an adage that is used far too often, which I loathe, and that is, people are our most important assets. And first of all, a human being is not an asset. A computer is an asset, a building you’ve purchased is an asset, the pens in the bin are an asset. But what I say is that you’re not in the people business, you’re in the relationship business.

Dan Pontefract (27:44): And cultures are built on relationships, not, I mean, yes, we’re people, but it’s not a business of people. It’s actually how a leader builds up the one-on-one relationship between she and someone below, you know, subordinates, if you wanna use that type of jargon, but also the relationships between and amongst the team. And that team and another team. That team and another business unit. That team and as I say, the customer, the externals, the supplier, the press, whomever. So if a leader is not already pre pandemic, nurturing the relationship by virtue of caring, by virtue of asking questions, by virtue that are, you know, just about the person, you know, how was your weekend? Oh, your son lost the football match. That that’s awful. How do you feel? Just actually going sort of above and beyond the call of the social contract that is between employer or employee.

Dan Pontefract (28:45): That’s how you nurture a relationship. And it’s not about foosball tables and free muffins and coffee in the cafeteria or in the lunchroom. Nice. Sure. It’s not about getting a 10 year badge or a tree planted because you’ve been at the company for 10 years in succession. Needed, but again, that’s not, that’s not it. I’m talking about how you actually relate how you develop that relationship. Is that not just by you having great informal chats, but maybe saying, oh, you know what, I read this great book, or, oh, I picked up this article for you, or, Hey, have you seen this Ted talk lately? You should go. And just caring enough to say, Hey, I’m thinking about you. What about Sean building other relationships? i.e., I’m your boss and I say, Sean, you know what I’ve been thinking about Cosimo and Juliet and Patrick over there. I don’t know if you know them, but I’d like to introduce you to those three, ’cause I think they might help you in what you’re doing with your career or your project you’ve been doing, working on. Sorry. So

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (29:54): Yeah. Yeah.

Dan Pontefract (29:54): So that’s pre pandemic. Now here we are in the pandemic and we have your question about work from home and thus we are all isolated, potentially psychologically, concerned about either our wellbeing, our children going to school, mom or grandmom that’s, you know, in the care home, let’s say. And so there’s other things are going on in the midst of, you know, our greatest single tragedy of our lifetime. So what is it that you’re doing as a leader to break through the digital divide of you not having that relationship and you have to find ways in which to do it. So could that mean you randomly phoning up your team for 10 minute? Like, just open chats, just, okay. How are you, you know, with an actual mobile phone, Hey, how are you or, other ways in which to get some of that unity and relationship building going, with your web cans on using Zoom, Skype, Teams, fill your boots of the various web sharing platforms that are there today.

Dan Pontefract (30:59): Is it you being vulnerable? By writing to the team on Friday afternoons and saying, here’s my week here’s what’s concerned me. Here’s what’s gone well, looking forward to catching up with you the following week, just like little touch points. So you, I assume, first of all, Sean, that no one “goes to work thinking they want to do a bad job”. So if there’s a leader out there, who’s potentially concerned about productivity because now “people are working for ’em” and they could put, you know, a load of laundry in, come on. First of all, let’s get past that. Let’s be adults. But if that, if that leader is not thinking creatively of ways to develop the relationships in ways that are different now, you you’re gonna lose the plot post pandemic and what I’ve written about and been yapping about a fair bit now for my own home studio office here in various talks and facilitated workshops is that I see a great reckoning a day, a great day of reckoning happening, you know, post vaccine when the employee whom was treated inappropriately or where, you know, the boss really didn’t care is just said, this is enough.

Dan Pontefract (32:15): This is not worth it. I’m gonna go up and pick and choose where I wanna work next. And I see a great Exodus for many organizations of their top talent in particular, when that leader doesn’t care.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (32:27): How interesting. And in terms of both those issues, and again, alluding to the ones you mentioned earlier wrong with regards to empathy and community and environmental issues about businesses that have been, or organizations of any type that have been doing things that are in your eyes are great examples of actually how to do it. You know, that actually are, you know, through their behavior, living up to their purposes or visions or whatever, any ones that, that you would normally talk about that you would hold up as being great case histories of how to do it.

Dan Pontefract (33:10): Well in sort of the neck of the words of the UK and the EU one that was a 12 year transformation, it seems like it’s overnight, of course, as Unilever. And Unilever was in literally dire straits, Circa 2009 with two co CEOs. And the board looked around and said, yep, this isn’t gonna work. And they hired, rather famously Paul Pullman, whom one month later, beginning of 09, walked down to Fleet Street and said to the analyst, I will never give you guidance ever again. I am not here for the short term. I’m here for the long term and the stock tank like 18% that day, but it was a wake up call for many around the world, let alone the analysts on Fleet Street about what it is that Unilever was going to stand for. And ultimately, I mean, again, it looks like an overnight success, but it wasn’t through, through grit and leadership and on lots of folks that Paul inspired and also brought in the example of the sustainability living index becoming both their external purpose and their internal culture is one that I think many people need to recognize more than the in passing points that come across on the financial times, but that even with their, the successor of Paul, they’re doubling down on purpose during the pandemic has been nothing short of extraordinary.

Dan Pontefract (34:45): And so, you know, they get at times, called out on certain actions and decisions they’ve made, but they admit if they’ve faulted, but they also know that they’re on a greater cause in a sort of a revert to journey from where they were in 2008 and they’ve made, I would argue just wonderful strides and a case study for others to follow in terms of a social purpose.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (35:13): And then, I mean, in terms of the talks you give and I know you have a great reputation is a very sort of, you know, very inspired hiring individual. So what about when you are seeking inspiration yourself in terms of issues elsewhere? So you a, I can’t say, are you a great reader or what I know you sort of, you’re certainly writing several sort of, highly successful books, but yeah. What inspires you?

Dan Pontefract (35:45): A little bit of everything, to be honest, I have a constant flow of articles. First of all, that come up to me through an app that I have found probably seven or eight years ago called Flipboard. And so, yeah, it curates for me. And because I’ve set it up in a way in which that’s, you know, I don’t want certain flavors of topical news items. I’m looking for academic papers. I’m looking for stories from Africa and Japan, things that I wouldn’t normally, probably come into in my, you know, stream of consciousness or, you know, what I see or read on a daily basis with the newspapers or what have you. So, Flipboard is wonderful. Then, you know, the other weirdness part, I suppose for me, are looking back to the greats that have come before us and written, and whether that Marcus Aurelius or Charles Handy, brilliant UK prof., writer and philanthropist

Dan Pontefract (36:48): and so on. I just, I really enjoy going back and reading where things were or what prognostications were from folks like that towards the future to see how we’re doing. And then, you know, there’s some very inspiring writers and thinkers this day and age that give me pause for wonderment and, oh, I’m certainly not as good as those folks, but learning from them as well, and being able to, and whether that’s, how to be an anti-racist with Kendi recently, whether that’s, you know, Roger L Martin’s, new book that comes out tomorrow, funny enough, that we’re recording today, about efficiency and the economic efficiency and him giving me, you know, an advanced copy to read several months ago. Like I’ve just flabbergasted by the talent that exists today. And because there’s so much, it’s hard to wade through, but it’s along the way of saying Flipboard, I go to the greats of the past, and then there are a few certainly today that I make sure I catch their latest writing.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (37:55): And on that last point, you mentioned there about the book that focuses on efficiency. What about the reality of events and by which, I mean, sort of, you know, speaking engagements, et cetera. I mean, certainly over the last couple of years, there’s been acquired a lot in the business press around the world about how certain events and certain sort of, styles of putting on events really work. And a lot of others are just quite frankly, yet another conference, you know, where yet more speakers just get, give, you know, yet more of all the usual talks that we’ve all seen, no doubt many, many times now, from the point of view of events that you have been at, speaking at, or perhaps even a attending or whatever, or heard of, let’s just go, go back to perhaps just to slightly prior to sort of a C19, when one could actually stand up in a whole and give talks to a large audience or whatever or perhaps even smaller events, what type of events and what approaches worked for you? There, any sort of things that you can look back and say, you know what, wow.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (39:08): Now that was a fantastic event that the organizers did in a particularly interesting way that really meant ever got a lot out of it. Any of those that you can think of?

Dan Pontefract (39:19): Yeah. It gets a, it gets a bad rap. I would argue Sean, but, and I’m not sure it’s the right way to describe what it is that these events aspire to be, but the so-called, you know, “unconference” is something that I’ve enjoyed being a part of,but again, I think the way in which they depict it is just frankly wrong. So it, to me, an unconference should be labeled more the, you know, the participatory, inclusive, interactive conference. And by that you see that actually happening far more over the last, well, the pandemic era that you did prior to with the face to face. So what I mean by that is I’m really enjoying the keynotes, these days from the confines of my home studio, because I can do the unconference, which means I often bill myself as an interactive keynoter, which means first on the pandemic, and I’ll speak to your question about the face to face world.

Dan Pontefract (40:21): If it’s a 90 minute keynote, let’s just say it doesn’t matter actually the time I will have essentially two cameras set up in my studio. I have a wall mounted screen, and I have one camera that’s on the screen and I sit or stand kind of stage right to the screen. And so it’s, it’s trying to mimic as much as you can “the face to face keynote”, but then embedded inside of my slides, when I’m chatting, I have audience participation through surveying and polls that go right into the slide that everyone can see or that you’re participating. But camera two is when I kind of after 10 or 12 minutes of a bit, I’ll show up on camera two. That means I’m physically walking over to another camera. And then I’m engaging with the audience, meaning I’ll either pose a rhetorical question for them to think about and we’ll discuss in the chat, or if they, like, they put on their cameras and the audio, and we have a actual discussion and it’s sort of like, okay, 10 to 12 minutes of Dan and then let’s have a chat and then let’s go back another 10 or 12 minutes of Dan and come back and have a chat, repeat and rinse if you will, or repeat for five or six times. That’s

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (41:34): Yeah, yeah.

Dan Pontefract (41:35): That’s what I’m getting at about the so-called on-conference when you have an opportunity in front of a live audience face to face, and this is what I tend to try and do is to sort of again, have Dan up front, but then get into the audience and make sure I have my, my cordless mic. And I’m running around the audience with a handheld mic, asking people for their thoughts on what we just talked about and getting audience engagement going. That’s the far better approach, I believe to not just a singular keynote, but the way in which, a conference ought to be conducted. And you might have again, where I’ve seen this work is to a degree, the Drucker Forum in Vienna, where, you know, you have two or three speakers in the one segment, and they do sort of a 10 or 15 minute bit, and then, and then they sort of engage with the audience a little bit, but then at the end, they’re all there on stage and sort of a panel ensues. And there’s a facilitated discussion with some facilitator to then wrap up, you know, the segment that was whatever they did for 10 or 15 minutes strategy or whatever operations or what have you. So, so that’s a really long-winded answer. I apologize, but just to give you a flavor that sort of shows you the what I would hope both pandemic related conferences and post pandemic related conferences become.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (43:01): Very, very interesting. And then in terms of where you are now, and I know you mentioned it again, your writing again, something else at the moment. So to talk us through, you know, what you’re up to at the moment what’s coming up for you, things that are on the horizon, any events you’ve got booked in, et cetera. So yeah. What’s gonna be happening in the world of Dan over the next sort of a three to six months?

Dan Pontefract (43:32): Well, coincidentally, we today, late September and my fourth book releases as well, late September called Lead Care Win: How to become a leader who matters. And if we’ve discussed a little bit of all three of my previous books think of a three legged stool, one is culture that was Flat Army, one purpose that’s obviously the Purpose Effect. And one is a better form of thinking which is open to think the seat is sort of this caring, nurturing, empathic type of leader that connects the other three books and kind of topic. So, so I’m very excited about this. It’s a bit of a departure I’m hoping it’s my, as certainly not the same, but analogous to where the beetles looked at one other and said, we need to do something different. And so they created pepper so this is my so-called Pepper. That is not hard back. It’s not 90,000 words, it’s paperback, uh, it’s 38,000 words, and there’s an accompanying online learning program, for each of the nine lessons that are in the Lead Care Win book. So it’s been fun to put this together and use all of my prior chief learning officer experience, hopefully put to good use.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (44:52): Very good. I have to say, will you be dressed in a, sort of a relevant, sort of what pepperish type of thing?

Dan Pontefract (45:00): No, for sure. I’ve recorded 76 videos.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (45:04): Whoa.

Dan Pontefract (45:05): Yeah. For this learning program, they range between three and 20 minutes and I have 76 outfits, Sean.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (45:14): Oh my god.

Dan Pontefract (45:14): Which says something about my closet, sadly.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (45:19): Fantastic. But you said, and so that is, exactly when, cause we’re now in late September. So,

Dan Pontefract (45:25): The book is 29 September, and the corresponding program comes out three weeks later. I think it’s the 21st of our October, that’ll land as well. Yeah.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (45:35): Fantastic. And so on that, by the way, in terms of, just to be clear about tracking you down on online, and I know you’ve got a, is obviously a very excellent site has to be said, but in terms of social media, where can, where else can I

Dan Pontefract (45:51): I actually did my first TikTok. That was so exciting. I felt like I was 14. It was great. So you, you name it, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and now TikTok. Yeah,

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (46:06): Very good. Okay. So I mean, as we begin to sort of wine down towards the end of this and has been a really, has to say sort of fascinating talk. In terms of, you know, key takeaways and insights. So, any sort of, you know, specific sort of, elevator type pitches or, you know, key sound bites you’d like to perhaps leave the listeners with?

Dan Pontefract (46:31): How about two. And first is the title of this book coming out, Lead Care Win actually is it’s a play on words and it’s essentially this if you lead and care while leading, you will win, it’s not about winning the race. It’s not about winning the margin or the profitability targets, right? It’s about winning as a human being. So I actually put almost confrontational word in there just to remind people that yeah, if you really wanna win, you’ve gotta care as you lead. So it’s kind of go doing the reverse there. So there’s that, but the second thing I’ll challenge people with is twofold. That is I urge you to declare your purpose in two ways. One is what’s your personal declaration of purpose, but also if you are a leader, if you’re a leader of an organization, if you’re a CEO or up in coming inspiring leader that wants to be a leader of a unit, have you declared what your organization or unit’s purpose is?

Dan Pontefract (47:41): And so I think it’s important for you as a person to go through that exercise. What’s your one or two line pithy statement that, that depicts and defines and demonstrates how you will act, how you will behave so that you can hold yourself accountable, acting as it’s north star, if you will. But so to the organization needs to depict its purpose. And I think again, be held to a higher ground, that’s not just words, but that statement then is defensible in how you act when you are making decisions and working in the environment and whatever the case may be. So I’ll just leave you with this. My personal declaration of purpose is as follows. We’re not here to see through each other. We’re here to see each other through, and that’s my life’s work, Sean.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (48:33): Absolutely fascinating and incredibly inspiring. Well, look Dan, that was really raging and thank you so much for sparing the time, but I’m aware that time is against us. But it’s been so absolutely brilliant talking with you. So, what can I say apart from Dan Pontefract, the best-selling author, renowned speaker and highly sought after consultant. Thank you very much, indeed.

Dan Pontefract (48:59): Thank you, Sean pleasure is all mine. I assure you.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (49:11): Thank you for listening to The Speaker Show podcast. Please leave a rating on iTunes. We’d really appreciate it. And also it’d be great if you could subscribe to the podcast itself. You’ll find it also on Google podcasts, SoundCloud, or your favorite podcast app. Thank you.

Podcast host

Sean Pillot de Chenecey speaker

Sean Pillot de Chenecey

Foresight strategist, author and podcast host Sean Pillot de Chenecey is an inspirational speaker, who’s also consulted for some of the world’s biggest brands.

Sean has a very deep level of knowledge regarding the genuine issues impacting brands from a cultural, social and business perspective.

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