July 29, 2021

The alchemy of truly remarkable leadership with Dr. Jonathan Westover | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader

The alchemy of truly remarkable leadership with Dr. Jonathan Westover | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader

In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Dr. Jonathan Westover, Chair of Organizational Leadership Development at Utah Valley University and author of The Alchemy of Truly Remarkable Leadership.  Dr. Jonathan Westover shares how you can tap into your own personalized leadership journey, expand your leadership potential, and grow as a leader while also helping others grow. 

Some highlights:

-How experiencing different cultures influenced Jonathan Westover’s outlook on leadership

-The meaning behind the title ‘The Alchemy of Truly Remarkable Leadership’

-Why there are no short-cuts, quick fixes, and one-size-fit-all approaches to growing as a leader

-What it means to lead with a ‘bluer than indigo’ mindset

-Not everyone can be Elon Musk: why emulating exceptional leaders is not a good strategy

-How to uncover leadership blind spots through Johari’s Window

-Dr. Jonathan Westover on a Growth culture vs. Performance culture

-Why journey and process matter

-How to nurture a purpose-driven culture and motivate people 

. . . . .

Also Mentioned in this episode:

-Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor and author

-The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win by Dave Ulrich

-Carol Dweck, psychologist and author of Mindset

-Anyaele Sam Chiyson, author

. . . . .

Connect with Dr. Jonathan Westover:

The Alchemy of Truly Remarkable Leadership on Amazon

Human Capital Innovations website

Jonathan Westover on LinkedIn

Jonathan Westover on Twitter

Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:


More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website: 



Mahan Tavakoli: 

Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm really excited this week to be welcoming Jonathan Westover to the podcast. Jonathan is a department chair and associate professor at Utah Valley University. He has been published in academic journals, has written for magazines including Forbes, The Economist, USNews World Report, HR.com, Washington Post, USA Today, and he has just released the book, Alchemy of Truly Remarkable Leadership

Jonathan's insights on leadership are essential in, what he says, for ordinary everyday actions that produce extraordinary results. And it is so true. A lot of times we're looking for the magic cure or the magic solution, but there are critical elements of effective leadership that if applied on a consistent basis, can have extraordinary results, and that's what we talk about with Jonathan on the podcast. 

Thank you for the feedback, keep those coming, mahan@mahantavakoli.com. Feel free to leave a voice message for me, partneringleadership.com, microphone icon, you can leave me a message there. And for those of you who enjoyed the podcast on Apple, don't forget to rate and review so more people find this podcast and learn from brilliant insights, including from Jonathan Westover. Here's my conversation with Jonathan.

Mahan Tavakoli:

Jonathan Westover, welcome to the Partnering Leadership podcast.

Jonathan Westover: 

Thank you so much. It's a real pleasure to be here with you today. 

Mahan Tavakoli:

I am thrilled to have you because I love your book, Alchemy of Truly Remarkable Leadership. And I was mentioning to you, Human Capital Innovations podcast has become one of my favorites. So I’m binge listening to them, absolutely love it. Now, Jonathan, whereabouts did you grow up and how did your upbringing impact the kind of leader and person you've become?

Jonathan Westover:

Yeah, interesting question. So I moved around a bit in my childhood. I was born in Columbus, Ohio, and then when I was about five, my family moved to Salem, Oregon, where I spent most of my time in school. After my junior year of high school, my family then moved to rural Northwest Missouri, a little town called Hamilton. And that's where I graduated from high school. 

And I went to a year of college there and then eventually, I ended up transferring, and then ending up out in Utah, where I did all of my degrees and in grad school. And then I've been here ever since for the last 20 years. And, you know, I'm a professor now at a university here.

So moving around a bit as a kid and being in very different types of places, I don't know, it taught me the importance of difference. So even though I didn't experience as much difference as perhaps a lot of individuals would when you're in a heavily diverse population, just going through those transitions of seeing culture difference across different places, I think was pretty impactful to me. 

Just realizing even at a young age, that there's not actually a right way to do things. There's lots of different ways and lots of different perspectives. And I remembered, you know, from very early on, kind of being tuned into that. So I attribute a lot of that just to the fact that we moved a bit.

And then eventually I ended up, after Missouri, before transferring in university out to Utah, I spent a couple of years living in South Korea, and that really opened my eyes to the world and understanding that there's a lot of things I had no clue about. I had, you know, narrow perspective on things and all of a sudden that became more expansive. And I feel like that really set the foundation for moving forward in life. 

Professionally, in terms of my personal life, my family, and you know, all of that, you know, we're all this big amalgamation of all these experiences and they definitely set us on a trajectory. And I come from a relatively poor family. I never knew it at the time, but I suspect we were pretty much always below the poverty line when I was growing up. But, you know, I was safe. I had loving parents and they were well-educated. So even though we were poor, I always knew that I would be taken care of. And I always, I never questioned whether or not I would go to college and seek advanced degrees and things like that.

And that then set me on a trajectory to do a lot of really cool things, to travel the world, to teach both at a variety of different universities, but also consult in a wide range of organizations. And I have to thank my parents for that. They instilled in me very early on the value of education, the value of critical thinking, the value of challenging the status quo. That's something that I definitely learned from my father and I think it's served me well.  Sometimes I'm a bit of the thorn in the side of people in organizations, but I figured that's healthy to a certain extent. 

Mahan Tavakoli:

Being a thorn in the side to make positive happen in the world is always a good thing. And it also shows in your writing that the diverse experience that you've had has gotten you to appreciate the beauty in the different cultures. One of the things I love in your book is that you have these words from different languages and their meaning. For example, Fika, Swedish coffee break, where there is an element of connection. Ubuntu, from Zulu, talking about the connection and compassion in humanity. So I wonder what were you trying to convey in your book with including these words from different languages, connecting to humanity? 

Jonathan Westover:

Yeah, and that's really it. So in my book, The Alchemy of Truly Remarkable Leadership, there are 15 chapters, and interspersed between chapters, I have little, kind of management and leadership nuggets, just a paragraph, on kind of related topics that bridge between chapters.

And then I also insert these words, this vocabulary from cultures and countries around the world. There's a section of my book all about inclusive leadership. And even though it's a section, I really feel like it's important for that to be a foundation for everything that we do as leaders. 

And I think that probably, at least I hope that plays out in the way it reads. Even, you know, even in other chapters outside of that section, that throughout, you get that feeling that, you know, this is really essential that we open our minds, that we rely and lean on other people and their understanding.

And over time, as I've encountered different cultures and worked and lived in different countries, these different vocabulary words or proverbs, they've stuck out to me. I don't know if it's a function of me living and working in South Korea as a young adult, where I was learning the Korean language, but I just really learned to love language and the deep cultural meaning that's embedded in a lot of this language that, frankly, I took for granted. 

English is my first language. I never even thought of language that way until I started to experience different cultures and realizing the richness there. So my hope is that just these little nuggets of exposure to these different cultures and languages, each of which I think have deep meaning that contribute to the overall tone of the book and kind of the pacing and the trajectory, you know, of our individual personalized journey to discover our own leadership.  You know, that's why I included them, and hopefully, it will aid in self-reflection. And as we try to consider how we can better implement, you know, some of those ordinary everyday practices that will lead to extraordinary results, as is the subtitle to the book. 

Mahan Tavakoli:

Each of them, Jonathan, are a beautiful dot with its own meaning, but standing back and seeing all of them, is a story of what you're trying to convey, which I really appreciated. Now you also chose the word ‘alchemy.’ What does alchemy mean? 

Jonathan Westover:

Yeah, so, well, let me start with a little bit of background. So, you know, as I was putting this book together, I'm an academic, I teach at the university, I do a lot of academic research. Like, 99% of everything I've written up to this point in my career has been scholarly, academic in nature. So journal articles, academic books, things of that nature. 

And then about a year ago or so, maybe a year and a half ago, I decided I really should start to try to translate this into, kind of, everyday parlance, not research dense language. So anyone could pick up and get nuggets and ideas and figure out ways that they can implement and improve their life.

So that was the main motivation behind this book. So over the last year and a half, as I've started to write for different outlets, like Forbes, and various magazines at HR.com, and places like that, I started to refine my thinking around how do I convey these messages and this research that I've done over decades so that it can reach the end of the row, it can really speak to everyday individuals and leaders in a variety of organizations? So that was the main purpose, the main goal. And it was a bit of a challenge just because I'm so used to writing academic research. And it was a lot of fun to try to figure that out. 

So I actually, I had the book written before the title was set. This happens sometimes, right? And I'm always jealous of people who can like, figure out, like, a title and then write for the title, but that wasn't what I did. I wrote the book, I had it all pretty much set and in place. And I was toying around with a whole bunch of different iterations, different types of approaches to the title, each of which had kind of the same core components.

But I just couldn't, I was wrestling with that word, to what to put there. That was like the last piece. I just couldn't figure out what I wanted to put there. And finally, I settled on ‘alchemy’ because I really just liked the nature of the word as it relates to change, and turning something that's of value, but making it even more precious. 

And the word alchemy refers to this medieval practice, it's kind of a pseudo-philosophical- scientific kind of an approach, and a kind of a spiritual approach that individuals would use to try to take base components and turn them into precious metals. That's that kind of the core meaning. 

And then, since then, of course, we've, you know, used the word figuratively all the time and ultimately, that's what I'm doing. I'm not changing anything into gold, of course, but I want everyone who has a chance to read the book, to recognize the potential within and go through the process of self-reflection, and goal setting, and self-discovery to where they can take something that's already precious, and through mindfulness, and spiritual practice, and self-reflection, and application, and refinement, over time they can turn it into something even more valuable. Their truly remarkable leadership. So ultimately that's why I settled on the word. And I feel like there's kind of this magical spiritual component to it that I think is valuable.

Mahan Tavakoli:

And you also counterbalanced that with a great subtitle, ‘Ordinary everyday actions that produce extraordinary results.’ In a day and age where everyone's looking for the hacks and quick fixes, you are not promising hacks and quick fixes. 

Jonathan Westover:

No, we all know those don't work. So they sell books because people are so anxious to find the quick fix, but they always leave you empty because there's just no substitute for the hard work, the consistent sustainable effort over time to refine ourselves, and refine our character, and refine our various capacities. And leadership's no different. 

We all have leadership potential. I don't believe in the born leader. And there's a lot of research to back that up. But we all have leadership potential and some of us have natural abilities that we often relate to leadership or different aspects of leadership, but that's not the same thing as saying, you know, there's born leaders and there's people that aren't born, and they're just followers. We all can and should develop leadership capacities and capabilities, and we can lead and drive change within our homes, within our communities, within our organizations, society as a whole. 

And so, yeah, I chose that subtitle because I don't think there's any quick fix. I don't think there's anything, even though I use the word alchemy, I don't think there's actually anything magical about how you all of a sudden become a great leader. It's through the tried and true principles, exercise over time, where you will start to stretch and grow and learn of your potential and expand yourself into it. 

The other reason I use the main title and subtitle the way I did, and really the way the book is structured, that perhaps is a little bit different than a lot of, you know, the thousands and thousands of leadership books that are out there, is that I want people to discover their own personal alchemy. I don't believe there's prescriptive one-size-fits-all approach to being a successful leader. 

Some people have tremendous success as that charismatic leader. Others are kind of the quiet type of powerful leader. And you have every kind of different variation of personality type and skillset, there's no one right way. And a lot of leadership books tend to promote kind of a recipe for leadership and I just don't believe in that. 

But I do believe as we do the work, we can discover our own components, right? Our own ingredients that go into our unique recipe. And then we can start to leverage that and build upon it, so that we can be true to ourselves and be authentic in our leadership approach with those around us. 

Mahan Tavakoli:

Which is actually one of the other things I appreciated about the book, is that every section ends with self-reflection questions for leaders. So we reflect on ourselves and our own journey in learning from what you're sharing in the book. 

Now I want to touch on a couple of the chapters you have in the book. One of them, helping others become ‘bluer than indigo.’ What is that all about? 

Jonathan Westover:

Yeah. So as I mentioned in the introduction, you know, I spent about two and a half years in South Korea and learning the language, learning the culture, one of the things I really tapped into really early on were a lot of these Eastern proverbs and idioms. This is one of those idioms and it derives from Confucius and Buddhist teaching. 

You think about indigo, the color indigo, now that's not a word we use often to describe color in everyday, our everyday language, you know, in the US, but it's a deep, vibrant blue. It's what many would describe as the bluest of blues. Okay, so think now with an Eastern mindset for a second, and the amount of deference they give to those who are senior, those who are leaders and teachers, those who are in positions of authority. 

And this teaching is that unlike what is often common in leadership where it's ego-driven, it's about me, and it's about what I accomplished through my people, and then I leveraged that, right? To move on to the next rung or whatever. The whole idea from this Eastern philosophy is that if I am a true leader, if I'm a true teacher, then my entire goal in everything that I do is to help others to become bluer than indigo or deeper, more vibrant blue than I am.

Okay, so if I consider myself indigo, I want everyone on my team to become bluer than indigo. That means I'm going to invest in them, I'm going to empower them, I'm going to lean on them, and give them stretch opportunities, and allow them to grow into their own capacity and capabilities.  It's a fundamentally different approach to leadership than I think what we often hear in kind of the dominant portrayal of leadership in our culture here in the US, so it's something that resonated with me immediately. 

I probably learned that idiom, you know, within the first couple months of being in country. You know, that was over 20 years ago. So, you know, it's always stuck with me and I believe it's essential as we try to understand our connection with those around us in fulfilling our leadership. Our own leadership potential is fulfilled as we develop those around us.

Mahan Tavakoli:

And Jonathan, that's what I was wondering about when we think about the Elon Musk's of the world and the stories that are told, and the narratives we hear. They run slightly different than the helping others become bluer than indigo. So are they the exceptions and this is the rule? Or what would you think about the narratives we typically hear about leadership success versus leaders that help their team members become better than themselves?

Jonathan Westover:

Yeah, it's a good point. And I would point out too that, again, there's no recipe, like, there's no one-size-fits-all. So you have an Elon Musk type of leader, and he's very unique, but he is kind of that diamond in the rough, one in a million type of leader, right? And frankly, most of us aren't like that, we don't have that capacity to be successful that way. If you're one of the rare few that does, by all means, go accomplish great things and run with it. 

But I think in life, for the vast majority of people, what we encounter as we interact with those around us, and we interact with organizations, imperfect organizations, is that, it's that kind of selfless approach toward another thing I talk about early on, I think it's chapter one actually, is servant leadership and this approach towards a commitment in your leadership approach towards serving and leading others, and developing them, which then feeds into bluer than indigo, and you want them to become even greater than you are. 

In my experience, it's those types of leaders that develop greater trust and commitment among their people and have the long-term sustainable types of success that we want to see in organizations, not the flash in the pan kind of success. But honestly, that consistency that is required in most different walks of life.

And even in Elon Musk's companies, he needs a lot of those types of leaders to work with him. So if they were all Elon Musk’s, it wouldn't work. But when you have someone like him coupled with and complemented by other leaders with different styles and those that can see the value in investing in their people and developing them, that's when you start to see the magic and really have some tremendous outcomes. 

What I'm really nervous about and what often is portrayed in the media, in popular press, and in books, you know, a lot of different leadership books, they convey this idea that like, the Elon Musk's of the world is how everyone should try to be. And I just, I don't think that's even remotely possible. Not only cause we're not Elon Musk, he's such a unique individual, but organizations, if that's all we have to various leadership positions across the hierarchy of organizations, organizations won't be successful, I'm pretty confident of that. 

You know, and so much research goes into me saying that even though we don't have the time to go into, you know, all the nuts and bolts behind why I'm suggesting that. But ultimately at the end of the day, I think a servant leader type of a mindset and a development mindset of helping those around you as bluer than indigo suggests, I think that's a winning combination that will help a lot of people find success.

Mahan Tavakoli:

I am so with you, Jonathan. I find that sometimes we use some of these exceptional leaders, like an Elon Musk or a Steve Jobs, and look at their inexcusable behaviors or some weaknesses that they have, and in order to excuse our own lack of leadership at different levels in organizations, so totally aligned with that.

And one of the things that you get into also in that chapter is a challenge that I see with a lot of leaders, the higher up we move in organizations, the bigger our blind spots become, rather than shrinking our blind spots. You touch on the Johari's Window and have an exercise around it. What is the Johari's Window and how can we use it to become more effective leaders?

Jonathan Westover:

Yeah. So I refer to the Johari Window and I do have kind of this little insert of just a very simple exercise that we can go through as leaders to try to uncover those blind spots. And perhaps we can even tie this back to another proverb that I talk about later on in the book, frog in a well, because it relates also. 

But the main idea here is that you have basically this quadrant system where you have known to self or unknown to self, and known to others or unknown to others. And what we want to try to accomplish when we're working with people is to create expansive of an open area as possible. So in terms of my behavior, my actions, my attitudes, how I view the world, that that's known to me, I understand that about myself, and that others know that about me. I'm transparent enough and I communicate well enough that other people recognize that in me, right?

And the more other people see things in me that I don't see, you know, the more problems you have. The more I see things in myself that other people don't see, the more problems you have. And the really dangerous area is when you have things that are unknown to yourself and unknown to others. So you have these hidden weaknesses, hidden blind spots that nobody's really aware of so you can't do anything to even respond to them. 

So then the question is, well, if you don't know about it, how can you do anything about it? And the answer is you do everything you can through appropriate self-disclosure, through transparency, through feedback loops, and getting input from your people to shrink the blind spot. We're never going to completely get rid of it. It's part of the human condition that we're, you know, we're limited in terms of our perspective and there's just, we can't know everything, but we can reduce that blind spot. 

In some leaders, and in my experience,And so your blind spot grows and you think you're this brilliant p it's largely the very ego-driven types of leaders that tend to have the biggest blind spots because they don't practice self-reflection all that much. They kind of figure they have it all figured out already. And they tend to end up being surrounded by people, whether it's on purpose or not, they end up being surrounded by sycophants and individuals who are yes men and want to tell them, you know, what they already, they want to tell you what they think you want to hear. 

erson that has the answer to everything because it's constantly reinforced that way. Unbeknownst to you, you're missing all these things constantly because you're just completely unaware of it. That's what we want to avoid. It's not completely unavoidable, but we can mitigate it just by transparency, communication and feedback loops and things like that. 

Mahan Tavakoli:

I was actually on the executive team with a brilliant CEO and he actually encouraged and would reward people to oppose his perspective and try to reduce his blind spots. It was incredible. 

Initially, the executive team people didn't know what to make of it, but eventually they realized no, he really wanted that and he thrived on it. So it created a very healthy culture. It's absolutely important. 

Now, you also mentioned in chapter six, you talk about leading a growth culture rather than a performance culture. What is that all about?

Jonathan Westover: 

Yeah, I think it's really important for us to seek the right goals when we're trying to be successful as individuals or successful as an organization or a team within an organization. And when we focus on performance and we focus on outcomes, particularly if we’re not careful, which despite good intentions, a lot of organizations, aren't particularly careful about this.

We end up selecting the wrong metrics to measure the wrong things that reinforce the wrong behaviors and actually end up undercutting other approaches that need to be taken or other areas of performance or behaviors that need to be consistently done. And we, you know, unbeknownst to ourselves, we end up undercutting our own long-term sustainability as an organization.

So I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't, you know, try to have good performance as an organization, but when that's our number one goal, and particularly if we're not clearly identifying the right objectives and the right metrics, you know, to assess whether we're achieving it, you know, then it does cause problems. 

But having a growth culture is different and it can actually lead to higher performance as well. So the natural by-product of a growth culture is greater innovation, greater levels of performance, but the growth culture focuses on the journey, not just the output. And when we focus on the journey, we recognize that there's value in failure and it's an iterative learning process. 

So, you know, oftentimes, almost never, rather, I'll frame it this way, almost never will we hit it out of the park with some new innovation right out of the gate, right? We almost always have to go through a painful iterative learning process where we fall flat on our face over and over and over again.

We pick ourselves up, we learn from what we did wrong, we tweak it, we refine it, we try again, and we learn, and we grow, and we develop, and our products and services improve, and it drives other positive organizational outcomes. But when you only focus on the output rather than the journey and the process of getting to that output, you can really discourage the very behaviors that need to occur in order for innovation to happen.

And so again, unbeknownst to yourself, I don't think anyone does this intentionally, but you end up shooting yourself in the foot and shortchanging your own capacity of your people to do, you know, the collective genius and the ability of people as you lean on their expertise, to be able to drive creative solutions to problems and fill gaps.

But we have to make it a safe space for them to fail. Now we can try to fail forward, fail fast, fall forward, and those types of things, I think that's important. But I don't know about you, I've been in a lot of organizations where they say they want creativity and innovation, but if you challenge the status quo, if you try to tweak a process where you try to do something a little bit differently, immediately you get shut down or you get in trouble or, you know, you get punished for even a minor failure. And that's a fixed mindset kind of a culture, not a growth mindset. And that's what we want to foster within organizations. 

Mahan Tavakoli:

And those performance cultures are the ones that get in trouble, whether the Wells Fargo's of the world or Boeing's of the world, in that you do have to be mindful of where you're headed, so having that growth culture helps. 

Now in chapter 13, you had me at Clayton Christensen. I'm a big fan. And that's where you talk about purpose driven career and workplace. 

Jonathan Westover:


Mahan Tavakoli:

How would you say organizations and leaders can make their workplaces more purpose driven? 

Jonathan Westover:

Yeah, well, I think first it starts with us individually. We need to understand ourselves enough and do that work of critical self-reflection and mindfulness that we can recognize what motivates us, what drives us, and everyone's different.

So, I mean, I've done a lot of research on this. I could talk to you for days about all the various motivators and how they interact with each other and whatnot. The bottom line is: everyone's different and there's no one-size-fits-all approach to motivation. 

But what we see in the research consistently is that purpose and the ability to make an impact in the world through your work matters to people, that matters to almost everybody, and it's one of the strongest motivators for most people. And so every, you know, pretty much everyone wants the opportunity to do work that's going to matter, that's going to add value not only to their company, but to the broader society. 

And sometimes, it takes us a while though to figure that out. And I think even early on in my career, you know, where you have your ambitions, and you're going through schooling, and you're getting those first jobs, you're trying to rise up in terms of, you know, climbing the rungs, and getting new opportunities, and you become so career focused that it's very, very easy to get disconnected from your authentic self and your purpose in why you even got into your career in the first place.  But if we can tap into that and understand who we are, what drives us, what motivates us, we can better figure out and align our purpose with our potential employer. Or if we start our own company, you know, with the culture we create within our own company. 

But every organization has different types of cultures and I'm not just talking about mission statement, value statements, the banners on the wall. Those are nice and I think, you know, they're important as long as they, as long as you're walking the walk along with talking the talk. But ultimately, it starts with the individual to know their purpose. Hopefully then, they can align with the organization they choose to affiliate with that has a similar type of purpose. 

Now, as a leader, if I understand that one of the greatest drivers of sustained creativity, innovation, and performance is going to be me helping my people connect their purpose to the institution, the organization's purpose, if I recognize that, then what that means is I need to proactively learn about my people. I need to develop connections and relationships that are meaningful, authentic, and trust driven. 

And only then will I really start to fully understand what makes each of my people tick. And then I can start to craft and design opportunities that will more tightly and closely leverage not only the skill set and the capabilities of each person, but also their passion and the purpose that they have, and connect it back to what they're doing on a day-to-day basis, connect it back to what they're doing as their, you know, their kind of overarching goal for their career.

In my experience, most organizations don't do that very well. Most organizations don't have a particularly clear sense of their organization-wide purpose or culture, and even fewer have the types of leaders that can truly do the connectivity and the work behind the connectivity to make sure that they're aligning and ensuring some really good person-job, person-organization fit in terms of that purpose.

Mahan Tavakoli:

And that purpose, Jonathan, has become even more critical since organizations went through both the beginning of the crisis and since for many, whether working virtually or even frontlines workers that are not working virtually, connection to purpose, at least, has been something people have been talking about, doing it is a different story.

So part of what I would love to get your perspectives on, as organizations are facing faster and greater disruption than they've ever faced before, with respect to leadership and your thoughts, what do you think it takes to lead effectively at this time? In addition, obviously your insights are relevant for leaders always, what is most critical right now at this pace of disruption? 

Jonathan Westover:

Yeah, and that's actually how I start the book. In chapter one, I briefly lay out the current context, the current landscape, the fact that we, you know, you look over the last 50 years of world economic business history and how things have shifted and changed.

And then we don't have a crystal ball, but we can look at trends and we can kind of make projections and see the likely trajectory of where things are going. And so I think we can make some reasonable assumptions about, you know, what the next 5, 10, 20 years might look like as we move into the future. And with that, it's going to require a different type of skill sets and capabilities. 

Now, there are some fundamental principles, as you mentioned, the fundamental principles that I think do tend to apply across time and space and context, but how we go about implementing those, and carrying them out, living them, I think that does need to shift and that does need to change.

One of the very interesting things to me is I wrote that chapter, actually pre-pandemic. And so I'm thinking about things like disruptive technologies, disruptive innovations. I'm thinking about geopolitical and socioeconomic shifts on a global scale. There are all these different drivers that are shifting the nature of work, the nature of professions, and all of this I think is really important to think about, and organization leaders really need to carefully consider how they fit into this contextual mix. 

But I wrote all of that before the pandemic hit, and then the pandemic hit. And all of a sudden, we found ourselves thrust into this new world, this strange virtual world where everyone is isolating, everyone's at home, so many people are working remotely, and it's not like remote work was new. People have been doing that for a really long time. But to this scale that it was happening and the fact that it just happened overnight, you know, within a matter of days, we went to, you know, nearly a full virtual workforce. That's incredible. 

And so what we see is this acceleration towards the shifting nature of work and the future of work. We would have gotten there anyways in another 5-10 years, we would have slowly adapted and adopted technologies. But because of all of this, I think there's no going back. The pendulum has swung. We might swing back a little bit once things open back up, and the pandemic is controlled, and the vaccines are out, and people can interact safely.

It will swing back a bit, but I don't think it's ever going to swing back all the way to where it was before. And I think at a minimum, most people are going to want a hybrid type of work environment. Even if they do want to go into the workplace, they're probably only going to want to go in physically two or three days a week. And then, you know, the other days they'll be working from home. 

And so that means these technologies that we've been learning to utilize, they're here and they're not going anywhere. And they’re, we've all got, our comfort level with them has grown. And the abilities that we have to interact with each other have been enhanced, right? We've gotten better at it. Even the technologies themselves have improved quite a bit, even since the beginning of the pandemic. 

And so we're just doing virtual work better now than we even did 10 months ago. And I think that's just going to continue. So with that in mind, we still have to think about the continued disruptions and there's still new technologies that are on the horizon that will be adopted.

What does this mean for leaders? And connecting it back to your main point about purpose, for example, having a purpose driven organization, connecting an individual's purpose with the organization's purpose and driving a really motivating type of work. We're in a new world of leaders trying to figure out how to motivate remotely.

And so, whereas before everyone's in the office and you can wander around, and you can put in your face time with your people, and wander around their cubicles or their office space, and have conversations, now, it's not like we can't have those conversations, they're just not going to happen as organically as they happened before.

So we have to be more proactive. And we have to just make a concerted effort being consistent and making sure that we're having those types of conversations so that we can still develop trust, we can still develop authentic relationships with our people where they're going to feel like they can confide in us and share their authentic self, so we know what their purpose is and we can help them connect to it. 

I also think, you know, the banners, the motivational posters, all that kind of physical stuff that you often would see in the workplace, that doesn't kind of matter anymore, right? If you're just at home, all of that collateral physical stuff, it just doesn't even matter or resonate anymore. And so I'm not sure how really effective it was before anyways, but let's just assume it had some efficacy. Now it really doesn't have much of any efficacy. 

And so it has to be more relationship driven. It has to be more conversational and ongoing attention to it so that we can continue to embed it throughout our culture, throughout our processes, such as, you know, our performance review processes, our feedback and mentoring, career development, all that kind of stuff.

Mahan Tavakoli:

We are forced to focus more on the core elements rather than the surface elements, which does make it really tough, Jonathan. Now your book is fabulous, Alchemy of Truly Remarkable Leadership. In addition to your book, what other leadership books or resources do you find yourself recommending to leaders as they want to improve their own leadership skills?

Jonathan Westover:

There, I mean, there's so many, we don't have a lack of resources, which sometimes does make it difficult though, to sift through, right? And try to figure out what's worth our time and attention. I love Harvard Business Review. I am reading those articles all the time, both for kind of cutting edge trends, but also just, you know, good thought pieces that force me to maybe challenge my assumptions. 

Think, people like Clayton Christensen. I was really sad when he passed away. It's almost been a year now; it was the end of January 2020 when he passed away. And he, even though we never met, you know, he's a personal hero of mine. I just love his books, all of them are great. 

Other individuals like Dave Ulrich, who I have been fortunate enough to meet on a number of occasions and interact with on a number of occasions. He puts out great work, both in terms of shorter articles that are, you know, anyone can connect with him on LinkedIn and he's constantly putting out stuff, but also he puts out like a book a year and they're almost always fantastic.

So, you know, there's just so many great resources. I referenced a whole bunch in my book. Even though it's not a research book, it's not an academic book, I do have citations, and I do reference different sources that I think are particularly important. 

You know, for example, we talked about growth culture, growth mindset, Carol Dweck and her book, I think is just so foundational that everyone should read that book. The Why of Work by [Dave Ulrich]. I mean, there's just so many great works that are out there and fortunately, great podcasts as well. 

Between audio books and podcasts, even if you're not like someone who can sit down and read for extended periods of time, pop those in, and listen, and get your fill, because I think you deserve it, and there's so much great stuff out there. 

Mahan Tavakoli:

Those are great recommendations and I couldn't agree with you more on podcasts. I am a big fan of Human Capital Innovations podcast, as I said, I'm bingeing on it. Great solo episodes, great interview episodes. In addition, obviously, to your book and to your podcast, how would you recommend for the audience to connect with you or follow you, Jonathan? 

Jonathan Westover:

Yeah, you can connect with me on LinkedIn. Just look up Jonathan Westover on LinkedIn, I'll pop right up. I'm fortunate enough to have a name that's somewhat unique, and so there's not a lot of competition there. If you just search for me on LinkedIn, I'll pop up and I would love to connect with you. And that's a good hub point that connect you out to a lot of different things that I'm involved with.

You can also find me on my consulting website, Human Capital Innovations is the name of the company. The URL is innovativehumancapital.com, where you can find the podcast, you can find the Human Capital Leadership magazine. We do a lot of research briefs, and webinars, and a lot of that kind of stuff that's also there, and it's all free resources so would encourage you to leverage that.

The podcasts were, I don't know, it’s something like 340 episodes or so in. So there's a huge back catalog. If you go onto the Human Capital Innovations website and click on the podcast tab, there's even an area where you can look at episodes by topic. So if you're interested in a particular topic, because it's all scattered, right? Throughout the 12 seasons, all of the 340 or whatever episodes, but you can hone in on particular topics and listen in to some great interviews and other things like that.

The book is available, all major retailers, Amazon's probably the easiest place. So if you just look up The Alchemy of Truly Remarkable Leadership on Amazon.com, you'll find that right away. It's available in e-book, on Kindle, it's paperback, and also, the audio book is available as well.  So I definitely appreciate any support that anyone can provide. I hope that you will find the book to be valuable. It certainly was a lot of fun writing and I've been pleased with how it's been received and appreciate the opportunity to talk about it with you here today. 

Mahan Tavakoli:

It truly is purpose driven and that's part of what I really appreciate about it, Jonathan. And in closing, I wanted to actually read a quote toward the end of your book from Anyaele Sam Chiyson. You quote him as saying: “Could anything be better than this? Waking up every day, knowing that lots of people are smiling because you chose to impact lives, making the world a better place.” 

Jonathan Westover, you are making the world a better place. Thank you for joining us on the Partnering Leadership podcast. 

Jonathan Westover:

Thank you. Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.

You've been listening to Partnering Leadership with your host Mahan Tavakoli. For additional leadership insights and bonus content, visit us at PartneringLeadership.com.