#254 – Helping Leaders Grow and Thrive With William Attaway

Thomas Green here with Ethical Marketing Service. On the episode today, we have Dr. William Attaway. William, welcome. Thank you so much for having me Thomas, it’s an honor to be here. It is very much my pleasure. Would you like to take a moment and tell the audience a bit about yourself and what you do? Sure, I’m a leadership and executive coach. I’ve been coaching leaders for over 20 years now and I’m a husband of almost 25 years and I have two daughters, one of whom just went to college and one is in high school, so a lot going on in my world these days. Well normally I start off something along the lines of, you know, what’s your passion in terms of what you want to talk about, but I’m presuming leadership is a fairly strong topic there. Just a little bit. I was invited to my first leadership conference when I was 15 years old. I had a high school teacher who saw something in me that honestly I didn’t see in myself and I went and I listened and I learned and I was hooked and I’ve been a student of leadership now for well over three decades.

Well, if it’s possible, what have you learned in 30 years, is that too much of a question to ask you? Can you summarize the 30 years of experience in the next couple of minutes for us. That’s A long list, let me tell you. Having not just studied but also lead both in the business world and in the nonprofit sector as a pastor of a local church for 25 years. I can tell you that there are leadership principles that are transferable, no matter your context. Doesn’t matter where you lead. There are principles that apply. The one thing that I talk about probably more than just about anything else is the importance of learning posture, a teachable spirit. Because I believe that when a leader has that, when they never stop learning, what that does is not only does it help them to continue to grow and get better, which we know is the key to success, but it also sets a model for those that they leave, right? People want an example, they don’t just want words. And so when they see a leader who is continually growing, that’s gonna cause them to want to be like that. They want to continually learn and grow as well, because nobody wants to be left behind.

So I would say one of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned in both in my study of leaders and in my practice of leadership, it’s the importance of that learning posture, that teachable spirit every single day. It’s a choice that you make, it’s not something that is forced upon you. So would you say that is the same or different than leading by example? Leading by example starts with a teachable spirit, I believe, because that’s what you want people, whatever you want people to do, you have to lead out in that. I think that’s really important for us to bear in mind. I think it was Albert Schweitzer who said that leading by example is not the main thing in leadership, it’s the only thing. If we’re not leading with the example that we want our people to follow, we’re missing the boat. You cannot lead like too many parents try to parent, which is, do as I say, not as I do, that doesn’t work in leadership. Sitting in a corner office and sending out missives and directives for people to do what you say, if that’s leadership, it ended a long time ago. I would argue that’s not real true leadership.

Well, thank you for that. You mentioned the quote and also the fact that you started very young in learning about leadership. Who have been some of your, should we say, inspirations or mentors on the topic. Boy, that’s a very, very long list Thomas. You know, one prolific writer on leadership in our day, is a guy named John C Maxwell and I’ve learned a ton about leadership, both as as a student of his books, but also as a part of the Maxwell leadership team and getting o learn from him a little in a little closer way. He has written over 100 books I believe to date. That’s pretty astounding. I’ve written two, so that’s something that really inspires me and astounds me all at the same time. As I look throughout history, there are so many leaders. I read not long ago, a biography of Calvin Coolidge by Amity Shlaes. Such a phenomenal book about a leader that a lot of people don’t know a lot about truly, I think he is one that we can learn much from, because he led during a time of adversity and in circumstances and situations that were not of his choosing.

This was not something that that he would have chosen to lead in and yet he did. So in a way that I think make him one of the greatest presidents in the US. Well, you said that you’d written two books, if you if we, you know, make it relative to 100 it doesn’t sound as impressive, but if you if you make it relative to the vast majority of people, it is quite impressive to become an author. So, congratulations on doing that. Your leadership book. How how did you find the writing process? You know, for me, it’s a discipline. Writing has been a part of my life for for quite some time, most of that never sees the light of day the light of day, but but it’s a discipline that helps me to process experiences in my own life. What I tried to do in my most recent book that was published earlier this year, was to capture a lot of the learnings that I have experienced in my own journey, but also from the leaders that I’ve coached for the last 20 plus years. You know, in so many different context, whether they’re in academia and education, whether they’re in the C suite, whether they’re small business owners and founders and entrepreneurs, whether they’re in the military or in government service, it doesn’t matter the same.

Leadership principles are transferable. So I tried to capture those, but in doing that, it forced me to reflect so on so many of those conversations and dive deep for the nuggets and try to make those accessible. When I write, I try to write in a way that it feels like we’re sitting across the table having coffee. I want it to be conversational, I want it to be accessible. And most of all, I want people to be able to take something and go apply it. If you can’t do something with what we’ve talked about, then that’s not ultimately helpful. Thank you for that. The book is catalytic leadership, is that right? And if that’s the case definition for you, how would you describe that term? You know, when I went to university, I went as a pre pharmacy major, I had worked in a pharmacy in high school and I love the idea of helping people in a tangible way. And so I thought this would be a great career choice. So I went and studied chemistry and inorganic chemistry and I got to organic chemistry and decided that this is not really what I want to spend the rest of my life doing.

This was not this is not something that I was that I was wired and gifted for. But in my brief chemistry studies I discovered the power of what’s called a catalyst, catalyst is something that you introduce into a mixture to incite or to accelerate significant change or action. I mentioned earlier, I’ve been a student of leadership at that point for a number of years and I begin to connect the dots on those two things and think, you know, every great leader that I’ve ever studied or learned from is catalytic, they want to incite or accelerate significant change or action, they want to make an impact, they want to make a difference. And I began to to develop even then my ideas around what it needs to be a catalytic leader as opposed to, you know, a leader of mediocrity that we’re so accustomed to seeing in so many different walks of life. Well, thank you for that and regarding the book, who should buy it? You know, Maxwell has said that that leadership is influence nothing more, nothing less. If that’s true, then, if you have influence in any area or any arena of your life, whether it’s in the workplace, whether it’s at home, whether it’s in your community or different social endeavors.

If you have influence with other people, you will find helpful principles in this book. That was my goal. Uh, it’s written from the perspective of somebody who has coats leaders and, like I said, a variety of different context. So I’m bringing and we’ve in examples from different contexts, but truly the principles apply whether you’re leading in the c suite of a multibillion dollar corporation or whether you’re leading in your home, so if you live in a cave and don’t have interactions with anyone, it’s not for you. That’s right. Are you proud of what you created? That’s a that’s a great question. Nobody’s ever asked me that Thomas. Yes, yes, because I think it reflects the benefit of so many conversations with leaders that I hope will benefit an even greater number from that perspective. Yes, I Think five years from now, I’m gonna look back at it and say, man, I want to rewrite so much of that because that’s how it was with my first book, because you’re constantly learning, you’re constantly growing and there’s things that, that you would say, hey, you know what, I didn’t know this then, but I know it now.

I’d love to put that there. I’d love to change this and adjust this. So from that perspective, um, yes, but I think there’s gonna come a point in the not too distant future where I’m gonna look at it and say I want to make it better. So there’s potential for a 2.0 edition coming soon, I hope for the rest of my life there will be, because I think that’s what catalytic leaders do. They seek getting better. They want to make what they’re leading better. They want to make their own leadership better. You can’t lead anyone, any place you haven’t been. So if you’re not getting better, guess what, the people you lied aren’t gonna get better. The organization you lead is not going to get better. And how long did it take you to create start to finish? Mm I started it uh well Out of it and I started putting words on paper about four years ago, I got serious about it during the pandemic. Uh and said I want to leverage this time and make it useful when you’re you’re not able to do this or that or this or that.

Okay, well let’s not focus on what we can do, let’s focus on something that we can do and and make it useful. And so that’s when I really got serious about it. So at The beginning, when I started in that, in that serious vein during the pandemic, I might have had 3000 words on paper. Um but you know, you lean in and my goal was 500 words a day every day, just keep cycling cycling cycling. Um and one lesson that I learned from another writer that I have never forgotten. Don’t try to write and edit at the same time, that is a very real temptation for me. And when I heard that it really that that light bulb just went off, I was like, oh yeah, okay, so I was just 500 words and many of them were not good words, you go back in the editing process, you’re like, what was I thinking? Um, but rewriting is a different thing than writing and For me, the discipline of just 500 words a day, just turn it out from that for that intense season. It was a period of about four months. Okay, well, congratulations on, let’s say turning something that could be perceived as a negative into a positive or finding an opportunity there well done.

I think some authors maybe struggle with the promotion of a book, so they think when they get the book done, you know, that’s everything that’s I’m done now, but there’s a second half of it, have you got any thoughts on the promotion of the book? You know, I think for me it’s not about self promotion, I think that’s where a lot of others struggle because they feel like they’re they’re self promoting and like look at me, look at me, aren’t I? Great, that’s not that’s not my heart in this. What what I wanted to do was leverage so many of these conversations and so many of these learnings over these decades, you know, In such a way that they become accessible and helpful for other leaders. This is a book, I wish I had had 25 30 years ago and I’m writing to that, that version of myself. So Like Hey, if you’re a young and emerging leader that you’re gonna find some helpful things here, if you’ve been leading for 2030 years, you’re gonna find some helpful things here because all of that is incorporated in in the book. For me, it’s not about self promotion, it’s about helping people get better, you know, that that’s what I do with the coaching that I provide a coach’s job is not to say look at me, coach’s job is to say look at you, how can we help you become the best version of yourself?

How can I help a leader get better and to intentionally grow and thrive, that’s my goal. So from that perspective, promotion then becomes about trying to help as many people as I can. And so that’s why I’ve done this year since february. I’ve been on a podcast book tour talking about the book and the principles, because it’s not about me, it’s about helping other people, thank you for that. In terms of misconceptions, what would you say are the biggest ones in your field in leadership? I would say one of the greatest misconceptions is that leadership is about telling other people what to do uh and it’s really about that corner office where you’re just sending out emails and this is and directives telling people do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that, that’s not leadership. Another misconception is this concept that leadership is about getting things done. Um That’s a half truth. Leadership is about getting things done through other people is leading other people to accomplish goals.

And so I think I think to put those two together, you have to understand that leadership is really about serving people that you lied, it’s about understanding and listening to them, seeing them as individual people like actual three D. Human beings not just cogs in a machine that accomplish a task. When a leader begins to to perceive their team that way they begin to treat their team differently. And when they do that, what they find is that when you invest in and pour into someone that you lay, you pour into them that way as an actual person, you care about what’s going on in their life, you care about their dreams and helping them to achieve the dreams that are in their heart, wow, you’re gonna see an acceleration not only effectiveness and efficiency among the team but of every person on the team because who doesn’t want to be treated like that, who doesn’t want to be valued and seen that way. I think too many leaders have fallen into the trap where they don’t see their team members like that, they see them as cogs in a machine. They see them as as a means to an end, do this, do that and then you get to keep your job.

Well that’s not leadership. Thank you for that. Have you got any? Um Should we say favorite case studies the way you’ve worked with someone and you made a big difference that you’re that you would like to share. You know, I remember a number of years ago now. C suite leader that I worked with who was struggling with feeling that he had kind of gotten stuck. You know, he had this this ascent in his career. Things have gone so well. He had accomplished so much, but he got stuck and he didn’t know what to do now and he felt unfulfilled. And so we began to to talk and as I walked with him through that we began to explore what it was that significance really meant for him. What what is it, what is the legacy impact for you? What does that look like? And as we explore that over the course of months, um he discovered what that was. He discovered that that for him it’s not about just accomplishing more awards or more money or more, you know, a higher title or whatever this is, this is different for him. It’s about pouring into other people and about his legacy not being a title, but instead being impact in the lives of others.

Okay, great. Now, what are we gonna do with that? And so we walked through what that looked like and and and game plan some different ideas for what he could be doing. And I’ll tell you that today we still stay in touch and today he is that person who is creating impact and legacy through his influence in a way that’s different than what he was doing when he was in the C suite. But he has such a wider and broader impact and reach than he ever did sitting in that office. I love that. I love to see a leader choose to intentionally grow and that’s what he was doing. He wanted to grow beyond where he was and now he’s thriving. Now. He’s thriving because he’s doing exactly exactly what he’s designed to do. And he knows that would you mind sharing what your significance or your legacy, what that would be at the end of my life. I would love it if those closest to me were the ones who valued me most. I think too many too many leaders. Too many writers.

Too many people in the public eye will often sacrifice those closest to them on the altar of public acclaim or on the words of other people. And the challenge of that is that that one day somebody else is going to be on that list right of up and coming somebody one day somebody else is gonna sit in the chair, you sit in, they’re gonna have the title that you hold but the people closest to you know your best and if if they respect and value me most, if I’ve been able to add value to them in such a way that they feel the most valued part of my life, I think that’s success. So you got your priorities straight then I try. It’s a it’s a it’s a constant challenge and struggle. You know, I mean anybody who leads anybody who has influence with other people, there’s always the temptation to to do more and to reach out for the things that will be the immediate tangible reward. The relationships with those closest to you. That’s not the immediate tangible reward. That’s the long term, that’s the long game.

This one’s from the profile but I think it’s related and it is, does my personal life really impact my career and work. Have you got anything that you’d like to add in addition there? Sure one of the things that I’ll often talk with leaders about is is these plates that we will eat off of often in a meal like thanksgiving or christmas the plates that have the little partitions in them where your food doesn’t touch. I love those plates. I think they’re fantastic because I don’t want my food to touch. I like my food to have its own flavor, each piece of food so that I can enjoy it not mashed together with everything else. I know what it does when it gets down here. We’re not gonna talk about that. I’m talking about what happens up here. I love those and there’s this idea that we can do that with our lives, that we can put up these partitions in our lives and that what happens at home doesn’t affect what happens at work and that doesn’t affect what happens in the community or on the ball field or whatever. And that’s a that’s a myth. That’s not true. The fact is, every part of our lives affect every other part. We can try to fight against that reality or we can accept it and understand that that we are designed to be integrated where every part touches every other part and that can be a positive thing.

And so I will often coach leaders in this and say you’re trying to compartmentalize this part of your life and not let it touch anything else and what you’re doing is you’re affecting the whole in a negative way. Be very careful of that, that’s not how we are wired. You mentioned five years from now, you might want to look back on your, on your book. Have you got anything that you’re current currently trying to work towards goals wise, the number of things actually there’s always a project in the works, that’s my wife for people that I work with, they’ll tell you there’s always something coming. I’m actually launching my own podcast uh in a few weeks that I’m excited about and that’s taking the principles that are in the book and catalytic leadership and exploring them a little more in depth and interviewing other leaders from a variety of different context and talking through what this looks like on a Tuesday at 10 o’clock, like how can you take this and and put feet to it in such a way that it’s going to make a difference again. My goal is to add value to leaders. I want to see them choose to intentionally grow and podcasts are a great way I believe to learn.

That’s why I listen to so many of them and love being a part of them like yours. So have you got thinking about your first episode or your first guest or something like that? You know, the first couple are already in the can and ready to roll. I like to plan ahead to my planner. So my goal is to stay, you know, about a month out uh and so that I’m not under the gun, so to speak. It’s just like with writing, you know, my goal is to stay ahead in such a way that I’m not not under the pressure. There’s there’s enough things that create pressure intention in your life if I have the ability to choose a different path uh in a way that’s gonna through planning not create that kind of artificial tension and pressure? I’m gonna do that? Well, I wish you all the luck with the podcast. Have you got any thoughts on what makes a good host? That could be useful for me? I’m taking notes. I’m watching you. I’m watching so many of the other hosts that I’ve been on their podcast because I’ve learned so much during this journey of being on this, on this podcast bookstore this year and and and watching and learning and listening. I have learned so much from the questions that you ask from the demeanor and the tone of your of your conversational interview.

These are all things that I’m watching and picking up on and learning from. So thank you for the opportunity to learn from that. That’s very nice. I appreciate that. Is there anything that I should have asked you about today? I think this has been pretty, pretty inclusive of what we, what we talked about. I mean if I was gonna to say what’s the most important thing that you would want to people walk away with one thing, it would be what I started with and that’s the importance of a learning posture of a teachable spirit. You know, you can if you have that in every aspect of your life. If you walk into every circumstance, every situation, every meeting, every relationship and conversation with a learning posture with a teachable spirit you walk in with that, that will take you to success faster than anything else I know because you will see every one of those things as an opportunity to learn something. Now sometimes you learn what not to do. That’s okay. That can be incredibly valuable. I have learned some of my greatest lessons from people that I’ve looked at and watched and learned from and thought not doing that, that’s helpful. So if you approach every opportunity from a learning posture, this is going to take you into a place of greater success and impact and influence with your leadership.

Well, brilliant closing thoughts. If people want to buy the book will follow you, where should they go? You can go to Catalyticleadership.net, that’s my website. You can find out more about the coaching and speaking that I do. You can get the book on amazon, you can get it paperback and digital and kindle, you can get an audio book. And I would love to offer your listeners an opportunity to get a free copy of the book. If you go to Catalyticleadershipbook.com, and you’re willing to cover the cost of shipping if you’re in the domestic us or if you’re international, you can get a digital copy for free. I just love to put this in as many hands as I can. My goal, as I said, is not to say, hey look at me, it’s to say, hey look at these lessons that we can learn from together and grow together into better leaders to choose to intentionally grow and thrive. That’s my goal for every leader that I work with. So my goal is to put these lessons into as many hands as I can. I’d love to offer that to your listeners. Well thank you for that, it’s a very kind offer. And again, congratulations on everything you’ve achieved and all your learnings and William, thank you for being a great guest today. Thomas, thank you so much for having me.