Small Acts of Leadership: Start with Purpose, Lead with Intention, Gain Confidence, and Become the Leader Everyone Wants to Work With


Shawn Hunter Small Acts of LeadershipShawn Hunter is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker, and the founder of Mindscaling, a company dedicated to creating beautiful and intelligent leadership development experiences for companies. He has been a speaker and advisor to Microsoft, Starbucks, Boeing, Canon, Treasury Executive Institute, Scotia Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Nintendo, the World Economic Forum, and numerous other companies. Shawn has collaborated with hundreds of business authors, executives, and researchers to create learning solutions.

In an exclusive webinar for LEADx subscribers, Shawn Hunter showed how to become a strong and confident leader who inspires others, how to develop a toolkit for personal and professional relationship building, and how to take initiative, overcome imposter syndrome, and step into leadership. The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Shawn Hunter: “Hello and welcome everyone. My name is Shawn Hunter. I'm the author of Small Acts of Leadership, 12 Intentional Behaviors that Lead to Big Impact.

I want to just share three poignant ideas from this book, and I'll open with this idea.

Small Acts of Leadership: I wrote this book to let you know that leadership is accessible at all levels. Wherever you are in your life, in your family, in your work, in your enterprise, in your activities, you can step into a place of leadership, regardless of where you are.

I'll give you a quick example and it starts with the little things, the small things. Even if you don't follow basketball, you know who John Wooden is. John Wooden is the most revered basketball coach in NCAA history. His UCLA Bruins won back to back 30 undefeated seasons. His basketball team went 88 undefeated games in a row. And if you were lucky enough to play basketball for the great John Wooden in the early 1970s, you'd be really surprised at your first day of practice because when you showed up, you thought you'd be able to show off your dribbling and you're shooting and you're passing abilities and your speed.

But actually, at the first day of practice, what he would do is he would have everyone take off their shoes and socks and he would instruct everyone how to properly pull on their socks so that they wouldn't bunch, so there'd be no abrasions. Properly pull on your shoes, lace each one and tighten them carefully and double knot them at the top. It's about the small things.

This book is about the little things, and I want to share three stories from this book that can help you get out of your comfort zone, take initiative and understand that you can change the environment that you're working in.

In 1856, William Bodey got up on his horse and he hiked high up into the Sierra mountains of California. He brought along with him some picks and shovels and he dug around for a couple of weeks and he found a seam of gold so deep, so wide, so long, so rich that he couldn't believe is mind, how wealthy he was going to be.

Within 20 short years, the town of Bodie, California, up in the Sierra mountains of California, Bodie, California, was named after him and they were so wealthy. There were 10,000 people living in the town. They had this beautiful Palatial Hotel and restaurant and casino. They had pool halls and saloons up and down the street. They had a gymnasium.

Remember, this is just before the turn of the 19th century. They had a gymnasium in town. This is how wealthy they were. Their mansions on the outskirts of town as everyone was getting wealthy from the gold rush there. But if you go to Bodie, California today, Bodie, California is managed by the National Park Service in what they call a state of arrested decay. See, everyone vanished from the town. In the 20s and 30s and 40s, people slowly drifted out of town until poof, there was no one left. But if you go to Bodie, California today, they manage it in this state where it's no longer falling into disrepair, but they're no longer trying to improve it. It's like a museum from the past.

And if you go there, you'll see the utensils in the drawers, you'll see hangs on the wall, you'll see the furniture left in place. You can go to the church there. You'll look in the workshops and the books, and the tools are left just as they were when people left. You can go into the stores and you'll find cans and goods and the merchants there. In the school house, you can even see the last markings on the school chalkboard before poof, everyone drifted out of town.

And I use this example of arrested decay because that's how many of us spend our lives. Ourselves, our teams, our whole organizations in fact can get trapped in this state of arrested decay. There's a study that Bain & Company did a few years back in which they surveyed 362 firms and found that 80% of leaders believed that their organization delivered “a superior product.” And meanwhile, only 8% of their own customers would agree with that statement.

Either we get sort of locked into this place of complacency and backslapping and cheering what we've done in the past and not risking anything new. They descend into this slow decline into obsolescence or inversely, we get completely overwhelmed by the tsunami of noise around us, constantly tethered to our devices that we take home with us. And the result is that we then model it for our kids. And our kids see that that's how we should spend their lives, not being present, not being focused, not being mindful of where you are and what you're doing and who you're interacting with, and people try all kinds of tricks.

Something I want to focus on that I share in the book is that when you destroy a fear, some sort of phobia in your life, it opens up possibilities that you did not imagine. If you're, for example, trying to be a better presenter, you'll study it, you'll work at it, you'll practice at it, and then you anticipate, “Oh, well if I get better at being a public speaker, then I'll be able to give more presentations for my team and I'll be a more effective communicator.”

But what you don't expect is that somebody in the room is going to see you, and they're going to see the way you present a piece of information or an idea in a really compelling way and then they're going to ask you, “Would you like to go to that conference next week and contribute on a panel discussion.” So it's the unexpected things that can often happen. So let me ask you this, what's a phobia you're afraid of? What are you afraid of?

Let’s say it's snakes. This is a common phobia that people have. There's a guy named Albert Bandura, and he is a psychologist and researcher and years ago he did some studies trying to get people to overcome their snake phobias. What he would do is he would bring them into his office, and he would talk to them about their phobias and get them to describe why snakes terrified them.

And then later, the next visit, maybe a week later, he would say, “Well, actually in the next room we have a snake and there's a handler in there with the snake. And I'd like you to stand up and we'll just go to the window and we'll just look.” And they go to the window and they'd start sweating, their hair would stand on end, and they'd be terrified thinking about this.

And then on the third visit he would say, “Okay, well we're just going to go in the room with the snake handler and you can wear gloves if you want to, or protective goggles or whatever you need to make you feel safe.”

Over the course of this treatment, he called it Guided Mastery, he was slowly able to eradicate that phobia from these patients. They would lose their fear. And then he called them later after they're cured of this phobia, and he would ask them, “Well, how's it going now?” And they'd say, “Oh, yes, yes, yes. I'm still cured of this phobia. I know I had a dream last night.” One woman said she had a dream that a boa constrictor helped her wash the dishes. Someone else started wearing necklaces again and someone else who was a real estate agent, started taking the rural listings or the suburban listings and was more successful in his real estate work.

But then a curious thing happened, which is some of the people that he ‘cured' of this phobia, they started reporting really unusual audacious behaviors that they were doing. Someone took a horseback riding lesson, someone else tried ballroom dancing, a third person tried skydiving, and they all reported being somewhat more audacious, assertive, confident in their work and life.

When you eradicate a fear or a phobia that's in your life, that slowing you down, what opens up are possibilities and capabilities that you don't anticipate, that you didn't expect. Unexpected wonderful things can happen.

Let me give you another example of stepping out of comfort zones, which is what you hear constantly. Instead of stepping out of a comfort zone, try changing the environment that you're in.

Here's the example I'll share with you. Last summer, myself and two other fathers, we took our four teenage kids and we flew to Seattle, Washington, and we unpacked our bicycles that were waiting for us. And we bicycled almost 4,000 miles across the United States.

We started in the high Cascades, crossing over the Cascade mountains, just north of Mount Rainier. We were crossing the Cascades in the middle of June, so the snow pack was upwards of 6, 8, 10 feet high as we crossed over the mountains and then on down into eastern Washington state and to Yakima. Then we went through Idaho and Bozeman and Paradise Valley and down into Yellowstone and took some breaks along the way. We met a lot of remarkable friends and remarkable sites.

Sometimes we were just so exhausted in the open expanse of the central plains that we'd take a break and lie in the middle of the road on the warm asphalt just to relax. We went up on Beartooth Pass in the northeast of Yellowstone. And at almost 11,000 feet it was freezing. We were wearing just about everything we own. We went on to Devils Tower, over the Bighorns, crossed South Dakota, Minnesota, and finally back into the northeast, back home to Maine.

And we just published a bout about this. It's called Chasing Dawn. Now, I share all this with you because when we embarked on this journey, when we set out to do this, we told a lot of people what we're going to do of course. We said, “Oh, well we're going to fly out to Seattle and we're going to ride across the United States,” and they'd say, “How is that even possible? How long is that going to take? What are you going to eat? Where are you going to stay? How are you going to take the time off work?”

I will confess to you that the most difficult thing about doing this entire trip, it was starting. It was getting to the starting line, it was convincing ourselves, it was convincing the party, the group we're with, our community, our jobs, our friends, our colleagues, our family that we could do it, and finally getting to the starting line because the actual doing of it, it was 58 days. It was almost two months. The actual doing of it, it just kind of became our day to day life. It just became what we did. You'd wake up and you encounter new people and new experiences and different adversities and triumphs.

The reason we went on this trip was because if we want ourselves and our kids and people around us to possess those traits of humility and problem solving and elation and joy and perseverance and grit and tenacity, well we thought we should put ourselves in an environment where we have to confront those adversities, we have to solve real problems. We have to persevere through difficult circumstances.

And I absolutely believe that when you embark on any audacious challenge that you're trying to do—whether it's start a new business, take on a new job, write a book, build a house, start a family, move to California and take that new position—when you start, the journey becomes much easier and people around you will chip in to help.

The other thing about immersive learning experiences, like this bicycle trip for example, is they're deeply memorable. I can tell you, I can sit down with our son and we can go through every single of the 57 days. We can tell you where we stayed, who we met, what the weather was like, what the road was like, and sometimes our lives drift by if we're not in a mindful state, and I can't even tell you what I did last week or the week before, for example. That's the second thing I want to emphasize.

It's easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.

You have to do it. The doing is the learning. That's the important part. And I'll give you one quick story from the journey. We were approaching South Dakota, and for days leading up to the crossing South Dakota, people said to us, “Well, you're not going to cross the Cheyenne reservation, are you?” And we said, “Why? Why wouldn't we do this?” And they said, “Oh, well it's the Indian reservation. It's full of thieves and addicts and it's dangerous and they'll steal from you.”

And so we wondered to ourselves, “Is this really true?” And in fact, one hotel proprietor, I said, “Well, when was the last time you were on the reservation?” And she said, “Oh, no, no, no. I haven't been there in a decade. There's no reason to go.” That day when we embarked across the Cheyenne reservation, it was 94 miles from west to east, so we're going to try to cross it in one day. And I can tell you that every single moment of that day was rich with beauty and friendly people and people honking and waving and smiling and welcoming.

They were the most generous, open, thoughtful people that we had encountered on the trip so far. In fact, at the very end of the day, as the light's fading and twilight's falling on the eastern edge of the Cheyenne reservation is the Missouri River, and there's a big bridge that goes across the Missouri River. And we were approaching the bridge, we're just maybe a half a mile away from it and up ahead in the road there was an enormous Lakota Indian, about six and a half feet tall, jet black hair down to his waist. And he was striding directly towards us with something in his outstretched hand.

I kept thinking, “Oh, what is happening here?” And I was at the head of the line, so the seven of us were in a bicycle line and I was at the front. And so I veered gently to the front of the road to kind of go around him. But he changed, he changed his direction to stop and meet us in the center of the road. So we stopped.

And what he was holding was a sprig of sagebrush. And he held out the sagebrush to us and he looked at each of us individually and he said, “This is for you. My brothers and my sister. This is for safe passage from our land. Thank you for coming.” And with that, he turned, and he walked back to his car and we rode across the Missouri River, across the bridge and out of the Cheyenne River reservation. It was the most wonderful, sort of magical moment of welcoming and blessing and safe passage from that land.

But the point is that had we followed all the admonitions, all the warnings, we never would have gone, or we would have looked for the destitution and the crime and the addiction, and we would not have found the beauty and the openness and the honesty of the people there. The message is to keep an open mind and find your story.

In summation, I'll give you three key ideas from this book and from my experience in sharing leadership stories:

Our actions matter. They have consequence. And most importantly, our words matter. The things we say to other people, not only shape their opinion of us, but our own words shape the way we think and see the world. So our actions matter, our words matter in the way they land on other people. Be aware of your emotional wake.

When embarking on anything, whenever contemplating something you want to accomplish, just start. Just start. It won't work out the way you think it will. It will constantly change. You'll meet people along the way, they'll jump in, they'll help you. If you're trying to do a difficult project—write a book, do some research, give a presentation—whatever it is, start. It won't turn out the way you think it will and you'll constantly learn and be supported along the journey.

Be mindful of your narrative. The narrative that you tell yourself about who you are in the world. The most important piece of this ingredient, I think, is to remember to be compassionate to yourself. Okay, let's unpack that for a second. Most people will say they are much kinder to other people than they are to themselves. You know what happens, you go to a meeting, you sit in an interview, you leave, and then you say, “God, why did I say that? I'm such an idiot. I look like a fool. I'm an imposter. I don't belong here. I don't have what it takes.” That kind of thing.

A lot of people beat themselves up to this kind of deprecating, difficult, harsh rhetoric they use on themselves, but they're very kind and gracious and open to your friends and your family. So think about that.

Think about if your friend came to you and said, “I just had a really difficult meeting and my boss doesn't understand what I'm trying to accomplish.” You would build them up. You would say kind things to them. You would say, “No, no, no. You do have what it takes. You have the confidence, you have the skills. You're a strong, bold person.” You would build them up.

Use that same kind of talk on yourself. Self-compassion is extraordinarily important in remembering and recognizing that you do belong. Building yourself up is an act of leadership. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others.

So those are the three big takeaways. One, our actions matter. Two, start. Just start because it won't work out the way you think. And three, be mindful of your own narrative.

That's what I wanted to share with you today. My name is Shawn Hunter. The book is Small Acts of Leadership, and I hope you have a wonderful day.”