How to Practice Dynamic Leadership (Interview with Simon Banks)

In a recent interview granted to his old University, Avondale University College, the author of A Thousand Little Lightbulbs and a keynote speaker, Simon Banks uncovers how leaders of organisations can obtain leadership management that will help their organisations grow faster.

Read through to hear from the horse's mouth. You won't regret what you did.

Alright, welcome, Mr. Simon Banks. We really appreciate your time to spend a bit, have a bit of a chat with us about some leadership management issues.

Yeah, thank you, I'm glad to be here.

Let's just get the ball rolling. I've just been really interested in your take as to how you've seen leadership change over your leadership journey?

Yeah, I really like all the questions you set out as well. So, there's probably three or four key things.

I think one, is the idea that you have to know everything, I think there's often this idea that you're the leader, you're the highest paid in the company. You need to know everything, but that's impossible because things move so quickly.

So, I've seen really good leaders say, “look I don't know, but let's find out.”

So that's a shift from pretending you know everything or sort of trying to bluff your way through.

It’s key to remember that leadership's around developing others, not just developing yourself. You can often go on these leadership development programs and  it can be very inward focusing but really it's around developing the people around you and your team.

And I've heard a quote, which is you're not a leader until you've developed another leader who's developed another leader.

Leading a company is about creating those future generations of leaders. So very much that human element, I think, getting the best out of everyone, which leads to that.

So. it's more than just being, you know, making the tough decisions and because you've got great organisations or these living entities full of people and you can have the best technology and have the best platforms, the best systems, but all problems and successes always come back to people.

The stories I've heard from the people I work with is, when a leader can be vulnerable and actually be honest and not put on this big, you know, tough man mask that makes a huge difference.

Yeah, fantastic, that's really good, appreciate that. So, how in your role, in your business and your leadership, how and where do you find inspiration?

Oh, this is one of my favourite questions. And one of the things I do so much of with all the people I work with. You have to be an inspiration seeker.

Inspiration will not come after you, it will not come to you. You have to go after it with a sledgehammer.

I think that's a Jack London quote, the author, yeah. Seek inspiration with a sledgehammer.

And look, if you sit on your backside every day and which most of us do or just do the same thing day in and day out and don't put in any time to seek inspiration, you won't find it.

Think of it like exercise. People say, "Oh yeah, he/she’s really fit, he's so lucky". It's not luck. He just makes the effort or she makes the effort, I should say, to be fit.

So it's like that with inspiration. I'd like to call myself an experienced seeker.  I like to search out and try and do new things constantly. Possibly to my detriment, sometimes around trying to focus. But I really like to always seek and do new things.

It's important to spend time out of your comfort zone and continually challenge yourself. And I'm not saying panic zone here, like throwing yourself off the deep end, but also we always find when we step out of our comfort zone we're capable of much more than we thought.

So not only does it change your mindset, but also you get more done as well. And keep on constantly try new things and open your eyes.

That's a big thing because inspiration is everywhere. If you open your eyes and look for it, most of us spend our time in a little world like this and there's this amazing world going on around us that we can so easily ignore because we're just so focused or sucked into this little vortex of emails, calls or social media.

Leading on from that, then how do you encourage innovative ideas?

Yeah, this is again, one of my key things that I like to talk about and one of the things I spoke about at the CPA roadshow last year.

And my talk was around look at the world with traveller's eyes.

Imagine when we go and travel, from the moment you step off in say a new country and that might seem a long way away now that we're speaking over Zoom and can’t travel, but the moment you step off in that new country, new location, the moment you get out of the airport, your sensors are on overload.

I mean, the air smells different, the air feels different. You're hearing different sounds, dialects. You look at all the different patterns on the sidewalks. You're taking lots of photos of windows and doors for some reason.

There's all this inspiration. We see things because we have traveller's eyes.

So my number one thing is to open your eyes.

And this other one I'm really keen on is this idea of creative confidence because it’s my strongly held belief  we all have  creativity, we all have this superpower, which is our creative curious and imaginative mind.

As adults, we're really good at going, "Creativity is not for me that's for kids or other people, or those sort of lofty types. I'll just be the serious, down the middle type of person".

We get really good at working out one part of our brain and not working out the other.

We've all got these ideas but often it comes down to, I don't have the creative confidence to share those ideas to try something which might not work, but what works the first time you try it?

Think of when you're writing an assignment, if you write it the first time you don't go, "it's perfect".

You do a reread, don't you? You might do multiple rereads. So be open to trying new things but you need that creative confidence to be able to work in that space.

IDEO which is a human-centred Design Firm and they run the D school out of Stanford. They've got a book called Creative Confidence. And once you develop Creative Confidence, you see the lights go off in people.

“Oh, I can try new things. I can do new things. I can experiment. I can say something which might be a half-baked idea, and I'm not going to have the fear of laughter”,

But look, Uber was a half-baked idea, Airbnb was a half-baked idea. No idea is ever born fully formed. As much as we would like to, you don't go, “All right, tomorrow I'm going to launch a fully formed Airbnb”.

It doesn't happen like that. You iterate and you try new things and keep building big on that.

If we are to keep these ideas going, we just need to get rid of the "No"s and the "But"s in our organisations.

If you listen out in a meeting, think of the amount of times you hear the "No"s and the "But"s

  • “Oh no, but we've tried that before.”
  • “No but that's good for other people”
  • “No but that's not the way we do things around here, Simon”

We need to shift that to a "Yes" and "And". And this doesn't mean you say yes to everything. It just means you allow ideas to thrive and move forward.

The ideas are there, it's more around creating that environment to get them out and develop that creative confidence.

So, with all of that, then I know for a lot of leaders, they think it's every horse has to be a winner. So how do you cope with a failure or even a criticism?

Yeah, a good theme. It comes down to that cultural piece and I'd get rid of this mantra fail fast, which has like become the new sort of version of agile or similar that we all like to hang our hat on.

And fail fast will be on a failed poster somewhere in 20 years that someone will pull out from behind the fridge in the canteen but I think get rid of fail fast and replace it with experiment quickly.

Okay, yeah.

Let's use Masters' Hardware which Woolworths put out to rival Bunnings three, four, five years ago.

They didn't go with one shop and test it. They went with a hundred shops and tested them at once.

If they had done a small scale shop, tested it, got that right, got the mix right, listened to their suppliers, listen to their customers, I imagine it would have made a huge difference as they lost a huge amount of money at that time.

So, start small, experiment quickly. And then if it's not working out, be ok with killing your (idea) babies.

Don't be scared to put a line through it. And it's a great way to think of; "is it going to be economically feasible?" Is it going to be technologically viable? And most importantly, is it desirable as well?

That's a great lens to look through but experiment quickly, start small, iterate rapidly as you go and kill the horse, kill the horse before it starts to race if you're not getting the feedback you want.

Brilliant, oh, that's great. How then as a leader, what are some steps they can take to ensure that their vision can become a reality, that it goes from just conceptual to actually down there at the grass?

There's a great saying, stop starting and start finishing.

I don't want to pretend I've got all the answers on this but I really liked that saying. See your project through to the end.

There's a great saying, stop starting and start finishing.

I don't want to pretend I've got all the answers on this but I really liked that saying. See your project through to the end.

Because when you create goals with someone and you say this is what I'm wanting to do, that's a really good way to keep you accountable. This also creates that extra momentum to get things done.

And look, something, which is nothing new, you break that task down.

These massive, huge visions. You break it down into smaller steps and start working on those smaller steps. And for me, if you've got something which is your vision or similar which is really important to you, block out some time for it, where you do your best work each day that you contribute to that.

With writing, bringing a new project to life or doing something might be more creative or a different style of thinking, find the time of day which works for you, block it out. And make that your number one thing you do that day.

I'm not sure if that's around bringing your vision to life but it's probably a few little tips around productivity and getting things done.

No, that makes a lot of sense. That's great. One of the things I'm really passionate about is as a leader, I think one of your key responsibilities is making sure when it's your time to leave that there's not a big vacuum left behind and that you, you need to be investing in developing the leaders to fill that space.

What, what do you see as some of the keys to developing that next generation of leaders?

Letting them be leaders.

I would say give them the responsibility to make decisions and give them some really great coaching because not everything will be a winner, and let them shine.

When you've got your own brand, which I do to some extent as a keynote speaker you can want to do everything myself so my advice is to let go, outsource as much as you can. And your role as a leader is not around I you doing everything but letting the people around you do everything to support you and let them shine.

I guess that's probably my best tip.

And look, I haven't worked for a lot of large organisations but I have worked with many large organisations so constantly seeing that transition. As such, my thoughts are a little bit different, but the majority of my audiences are leaders so have some insight in that space.

Absolutely. Now I really appreciate your time today, Simon. Thank you so much for those gems, we're really appreciative of it.

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