Until July, 2015 Shawn was Executive Producer & Vice President for Leadership Solutions at Skillsoft. For over a decade Hunter has interviewed, collaborated with, and filmed, hundreds of leading business authors, executives, and business school faculties in an effort to assemble video learning solutions.
He started this journey as an entrepreneur, and later expanded that business for Skillsoft. Hunter originally co-founded Targeted Learning Corporation with his father Hal Hunter, Ph.D., which was acquired by Skillsoft in February 2007.
Shawn often helps transform organisations by helping the leaders to develop their skills, and today we are chatting about his upcoming book, Small Acts of Leadership: 12 Intentional Behaviors That Lead to Big Impact. So without further ado, allow me to introduce today's guest, Shawn Hunter.
Hi Shawn, thank you for stopping by Activia’s Expert Insights. Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and what you do?
I’ve spent about 20 years being an entrepreneur and content developer in the world of leadership and online learning. I spent most of that time interviewing brilliant people around the world. Then about 6 or 7 years ago I realized I had learned quite a bit and had some contributors of my own. So I started writing about my experiences. I also started a company called Mindscaling. We make beautiful online learning courses featuring bestselling authors.
When did you become interested in helping individuals and organisations with their leadership skills?
The funny thing is... I spent years producing learning content and was more interested in being an entrepreneur and running a successful company. It took me a while to realize that our learning experiences were making a big impact in the lives of our customers. I think that was really motivating to see the transformation in the people we worked with.
Your new book, Small Acts of Leadership: 12 Intentional Behaviors That Lead to Big Impact, is due out in October - could you give us an insight into the book?
My premise is that leadership is accessible to everyone. It’s not some mysterious black box. You don’t have to be an extrovert. You don’t have to command attention, and you don’t have to own the room.
Leadership is an act of kindness. Leadership is listening intently. Leadership is taking action when everyone is scared. Leadership is lifting people up. I outline 12 practices that anyone can take on every day.
Are you working on any other new projects you can share with us?
We are working on some new projects at Mindscaling that are at the intersection of physical and digital - what we are calling ‘Phygital”. Basically, we’re building human learning experiences that blend conversation, workshop, practice, presentation, along with online learning content so the ideas can be far reaching and cascade throughout organizations.
Why is it so important to adopt small, intentional leadership behaviors?
Small, consistent efforts, practiced over time, can yield big results for you, and the people around you. The reason New Year’s resolutions fail is not because the goal is too great or the intention is misguided. It’s because the gap between where we are today and the envisioned future is often so great that we cannot bridge it. If we resolve to spend five days a week at the gym, and we currently spend zero, then the gap is so great that we cannot immediately and easily cross it. This book is about small steps and tiny tweaks in how we treat ourselves, how we carry ourselves, and how we think about other people, and the world, that can change the way we think and behave.
Out of the 12 behaviours you talk about in your book, which one do you find the most useful in your own life?
I’ll pick two. I have a chapter called Express Gratitude, and another very different chapter called Defy Convention. I think about both of these ideas every day.
Gratitude comes easily to some people. Our 10 year old daughter, for instance, constantly shows a sense of thankfulness and gratitude. It allows people to more easily develop empathy and emotional intelligence. It also gives way to kindness, one of the most beautiful and powerful human gestures. Gratitude is a small act of leadership, but it needs to be practiced and exercised.
Defying convention is a very different idea. In the book I write about how it's possible to deviance from the norm in very positive ways. When we find new positive deviations, we can then model the way of others. This is what real innovation is about.
What is a notable thing you learned while researching for and writing Small Acts of Leadership?
I think the most important thing I’ve learned over time about leadership is that is not some strange, mysterious and inaccessible trait that only belongs to Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King, or Mother Teresa. When you break it down, leadership is in the small, intentional acts and practices that each of us can adopt each day.
Do you ever find yourself becoming a time management mentor for leaders?
Good question. Sometimes I have people ask me, “How in the world do you have time for all that writing?” The truth is I just make time for the activities that are important to me and I believe will make a difference. Everything we do is a choice. I believe it’s partially a myth that people don’t have time for what they want to do. I believe that everyone, over time, can gradually move to prioritize activities they enjoy, and make a measurable difference in the lives of those around them.
What is the main thing you wish more people knew about leadership?
That ultimately, it’s not about you. And once you understand it’s not about you, your work can become deeply gratifying and impactful. I coach youth soccer and I’ve been coaching for years. In the early days I spent more time on the field talking, and trying to get the kids to listen to my big ideas and motivating speeches. I was making the game about me. Now we focus on practicing the game, we focus on playing soccer, not talking about it. Most of the talking I do now as a coach is in small conversations with individual players - to reinforce what I see working for them, and to suggest small changes to help them improve.
I once read a great story about one of the most successful American basketball coaches of all time, Coach John Wooden. After several record-breaking seasons coaching his team, some students following him around to find out exactly what he said to his players. They were trying to figure out his secret to being a great coaching leader. It turned out that he never lectured the team, he never harangued them. Not only that, he rarely spoke for more than 20 seconds at a time. Almost all of his comments were short bursts of instruction to specific players. There you go - I think that’s a great lesson for anyone aspiring to leadership. It’s all in the small acts.
And lastly, do you have any final words of wisdom for our readers?
There is a simple truth about people who become great leaders. They step up. It doesn’t start at the top. You can’t sit around and wait for the culture to change, or the engagement to start magically happening. You have to make it happen. It starts with you and your own personal attitudes and behaviors. It doesn’t start with waiting for an executive decision, or a new HR engagement initiative. It starts with how we show up every day, in every interaction.
Shawn’s new book, Small Acts of Leadership: 12 Intentional Behaviors that Lead to Big Impact (Routledge) will be published on October 4, 2016, and you can pre-order it on Amazon. If you’d like to connect with Shawn, you can say hello on Twitter at @gshunter.