Leading From the Jumpseat with Peter Docker
On this week’s episode of The Leadership Habit podcast, Jenn sat down with Peter Docker to talk all about his newest book, Leading from the Jumpseat: How to Create Extraordinary Opportunities by Handing Over Control. Peter is passionate about enabling people to unlock their natural talents. He teaches leadership that is focused on commitment and human connection. This approach harnesses the collective wisdom of teams to generate extraordinary outcomes. He illustrates his insights by drawing on examples from his previous industry, flying and military careers, to explain powerful concepts that can be applied in any business. Peter is a trained leadership consultant and executive coach, and he has also worked with Simon Sinek for over seven years and was one of the founding Igniters on Simon’s team. He took his years of practical experience to co-author Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team with Simon and David Mead, published in September 2017. It has been translated into over 25 languages and has sold over 420,000 copies. Wow. Peter brings a tremendous amount of expertise, and I hope you enjoy our conversation as we talk about his newest book, Leading From The Jumpseat: How to Create Extraordinary Opportunities by Handing Over Control.
Full Transcript Below
Meet Peter Docker, Speaker, Teacher, Author, Pilot, Veteran and More!
Jenn DeWall: Hi everyone. It’s Jenn DeWall, and I am so excited to welcome Peter Docker to the podcast. You heard a tremendous bio. Wow. Peter, you have had quite a career. And I just wanna start off by saying thank you so much for donating your time, your expertise and your passion for leadership with The Leadership Habit audience. We are so happy to have you,
Peter Docker: Jenn. It’s a delight to be on your show. Thank you for having me.
Jenn DeWall: Great. Peter, we’re gonna be talking about a lot of things today. I know we’re going to get into your book Leading From The Jumpseat, but before are we getting into your book? Which people, I mean, I know they wanna hear more. We heard that teaser in the bio. If you could just share how you came to be, what, what’s your journey like that led you to today being now the author— and I know this isn’t even your first book— being now the author of Leading From The Jumpseat. If you could just share with the audience your experience that led you to where you are today
Peter Docker: Good heavens. Well, first of all, Jenn, I’m old. So, you know, it is quite a long story, I guess. <Laugh> but yeah, let’s start. When I joined the Royal Air Force in my early twenties, I joined the Royal Air Force as a pilot and an officer, and I spent 25 years in the Royal Air Force. I flew large aircraft jets and also fueling aircraft that carried gas to give away to fighter jets. And during my time, I led squadrons. I was a force commander leading people in combat during the 2003 Iraq war. I negotiated with the Russians when the Berlin wall came down on behalf of NATO. Good heavens, what else have I done? Oh, I’ve taught leadership at the defense college to the postgraduate level here in the UK. I’ve well, I’ve led $20 billion procurement programs.
And that took me to Washington to negotiate with your state department. So all sorts of wonderful things to the Royal Air Force. But then, after about 25 years, I thought there was more I could do. So, I left after, as I say, just 25 years, I joined a consultancy that had got nothing to do with flying all the military, but it had everything to do with people. And what we did, we worked, it was a consultancy. We worked in high-risk environments, such as oil and gas, and mining construction, where people typically got killed and injured. And what we helped them to do was create cultures and create a way of leading, which ensured that everyone went home safely at the end of each day. So that took me to the Middle East. It took me to Africa. It took place like Kazakhstan, but then after about three years, I thought there was more I could do.
So I left that job. And I started my own business, bringing together everything that I’d learned. And it was around about that time. I came across a fellow called Simon Sinek, and long story short there, he’s known pretty well for the books he’s written, but I spent eight years with Simon, helping him to take his message around the world. And in the process, I co-wrote the book Find Your Why with Simon Sinek and David Mead, which has done really rather well. But after about eight years, I thought that’s more I could do. So I left. That was another crossroads. And I sat down, I threw together everything I’ve learned through all the experiences I’ve had in my life. The privilege of that. Visiting 93 countries working with every industry you can imagine, and I’ve brought it all together, all in leadership lessons and put them in this book, Leading From the jumpseat: How to Create Extraordinary Opportunities by Handing Over Control. And yeah, I just wanted to bring together everything I’d learned and share it with other people so they can benefit from it too.
Jenn DeWall: What do you think? And this is more of a personal probe because leadership lessons can be hard to learn. Sometimes it can be that we had to let someone down. Sometimes we might. It felt like we let ourselves down. What was one of the hardest leadership lessons that you learned?
What Difficult Leadership Lessons Have You Learned?
Peter Docker: Hmm, that, that’s, that’s a really good question because I, I think leadership lessons can be very hard to learn, and we don’t always learn them because we don’t give ourselves permission to sit and reflect. And I’ve been lucky in that I’ve dedicated several years to sitting and reflecting, not only on my own leadership lessons, but what I’ve and mistakes, but what I’ve learned from, from others as well from the boardroom, you know? So that’s the first thing having the opportunity to reflect on. I think, is really important. I, I think one of the greatest things I’ve learned is it sounds very simple, but it’s actually very tough. And it’s around leading yourself because it life’s a journey you to learn how to lead yourself. And the more we invest in that the better able we are to lead others. And as part of leading yourself, I think one of the greatest lessons is to learn how to be yourself.
You know, that’s the simple thing many, many years ago when I was going through officer training for the Royal airs, I remember one of my trainers say, you know, be yourself as an officer, just be yourself. And at the time at the age of 2021 I didn’t really fully get it, you know, but it was much later on in my career where the penny really dropped. And I realized that, yeah, you’ve just gotta be yourself because while everybody else is taken, first of all, you know, <laugh>, but when you are, when you are yourself, it builds trust, it builds relationship. And whoever that person is when you’re being yourself, that is the greatest foundation on which to build your own leadership, whether it’s leading yourself or leading others.
What Does Leading From the Jumpseat Mean?
Jenn DeWall: I gotcha. So those that are listening, even if you’re maybe not feeling confident, you’re looking to the left, looking to the right, trying to figure out who you should be. The answer is right inside. I love that learning how to be yourself, which is a challenging lesson because it’s easy to compare or think about. Am I getting it wrong? If I’m not doing what that person is doing and what that person is doing? Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing that because I think we often don’t talk about the fact that we all struggle with that and that it is challenging, but I wanna get into your book because there are so many fantastic lessons, but first, why, why the title- Leading From The Jumpseat? Why, how, how did you come about picking that title?
Peter Docker: It was inspired by a story, and there are lots of stories in this book, but every story has got a purpose to it. A point to it. This story goes back to when I was still in the Royal Air Force, I was a senior officer, and I was a senior pilot, and we were flying large passenger jets at the time. The thought that you might go on holiday on vacation in, you know, carrying about 140 people. And on this particular day, I was checking doing the final certification of this new captain. His name was, was Callum, and he’d been a first officer for many years, but he’d just gone through about six months of training to equip him to become the captain, the guy in charge of the whole aircraft and all the safety, all the passengers. And the final part of that training was for someone like myself to be part of his crew and monitor him as we flew from the UK to Washington Dulles and then onto San Fran.
And he did a great job. We landed in San Francisco, a very busy place. Landed in San Francisco, taxied it in, shut down, the passengers got off. And it was with great pleasure I could turn to him and say, Callum, great job. You’re fully certified. Now, as a captain, we’re stopping here the night, but tomorrow morning, we’ve got a full, full passenger load of people on the aircraft. I’ll be down the back with them. You’ll have a regular co-pilot you fly us back to Washington Dulles. And that was a great moment, as you can imagine because he really worked hard for this qualification certification.
Anyway, the following morning, I was just reading a magazine. He came up to me he said, excuse me, sir. And he’s called me, sir, because I was very senior and ranked to him. You know, it was that deferential, but nonetheless, he out to me, he said, look, it’s really busy here. Alice, San Fran, during rush hour, can you come and sit on the jumpseat to help watch out, make sure we go the right way and watch out for other aircraft as we taxi. So the runway, because we don’t go there very often. And I said, yes, of course. I thought at the time how courageous that was because he just got me off his back after six months. And this was his opportunity just to, you know, do his thing. But no, he was connected to the higher purpose, in this case, the safety of everybody on that aircraft. And so he wanted me to sit on the jumpseat to help lookout. And the jumpseat is the third seat on the flight deck of most large aircraft. It’s usually empty, but crew members can sit there. And when you sit there, you can touch the pilots on the shoulders. You’re that close. And you got a great view out the front of the aircraft. So that’s where he wanted me to sit.
So I strapped in, and we taxied out. He did a great job. He didn’t need me, but he, he did great. We lined up on the runway. We had clearance take-off. We thundered down the runway, and we’d only just climbed to about three or 400 feet. We’d just taken off. And we had an emergency. And Callum was wrestling with the controls, desperately trying to keep us away from the ground and what I chose to do in the next couple of seconds, which fundamentally affected whether I and everybody else, the 140 people on board, would survive or not. And this thing I did- absolutely nothing. I sat there with my hands in my lap, perfectly calm.
Because at that moment, I didn’t need to lead. At that moment I needed to become a great follower. I needed Callum to feel that I had his back to feel quite rightly that I had confidence in him to sort out that problem and look, what business would I have. I had the day before signing him up, as a fully certified captain, if I didn’t think he could handle any problem that came his way, I just needed to stay out of his way and let him do his job. And that’s what prompted the title Leading From The Jumpseat because, you know, we all hand over control at some stage in our life. You know, if we’re the CEO of a company, we will retire. If we’re leading a team, we’ll move on to another team. Heck as a parent, which by the way, is one of the toughest leadership challenges. Many of us will face. Even as a parent, our kids will eventually grow up, leave home and start to lead their own lives.
So handing over control is inevitable— jumpseat leadership. It’s all about embracing that. It’s all about focusing on lifting others up, not increasing or maintaining our own power, but empowering others, lifting them up and equipping them, such that when the time is right, they can take the lead and we take the step back. And it turns out that when we do that right here in the present, it creates the most extraordinary opportunities for our team and helps us to progress way quicker than we would otherwise. And it all came back to that story of taking off out of San Francisco.
Jenn DeWall: That is a powerful, insane, so many words to describe that story that I probably can’t say, right? Like, holy cow, how’d you do that? What?! What, but the first piece, because I think at a high level, I, you know, I love that concept of Leading From The Jumpseat, but what, what about the times of life or death? What, how, how do you possibly hand over and, and that’s what more of a personal question? How are you able to practice that self-restraint? Because sometimes, you know, when we bring that back to the non-life or death situation that we might see at the corporate workplace, you might see leaders jumping in and saying, no, no, no, I’ve got that. There might be a difficult email from a customer, and they just still jump in, and they, you know, they really struggle with even, I would say non-life or death situation. So how were you able to do, how are you able to just actually do that? Because that’s wow. Because I would be like, Nope, this is my life. Like, you know, just like a lot of people are probably like, this is my job. This is my blank, all of the reasons of why you should have jumped in, yet you still took a pause.
Peter Docker: Yeah. And you, you bring a, a great point out, Jenn, you know, most of us and most people listening are probably not gonna be in the situation I’ve just described. However, if they’re running a team, if they have their own business, let’s say they founded a business 10 years ago and they put their life and soul into that business, and they’re expanding and they know that they need to delegate and allow others to take the lead. It is just as scary when we’re handing over control. But unless we do hand over control, it’s the, it would be the same as just having one pilot. You know, you can only fly from A, to B, what we need are lots of pilots who can fly in the way that we would wish. So, you know, it is something that we face. The circumstances might be different, but they’re nonetheless very real.
And I think some of the insights for the answer to your question comes back to that story, which is how did I get to be invited onto that jumpseat? Just think about that for a moment, because the relationship, the context had to be very, very special for someone in call’s position to invite me his senior, senior boss, who’s got way more experience than he has to invite me to sit on that jumpseat. When the easiest thing would’ve been to have kept me down the back with the other passengers. And I think when we start to dig into that, and this is what we, part of what we unpack in the book, it gives us insight into the sort of leader that we need to be to create those conditions for our people, where we feel, where they feel comfortable, inviting yourself to the jumpseat or whatever the equivalent is, you know?
Leaders Need to Know Their Non-Negotiables
Peter Docker: And in order to get there, it comes actually back to your earlier questions, you know, something I’ve learned about leadership, the most important it’s about being yourself. It’s about being comfortable with who you are. It’s about being very clear on what your non-negotiables are. And I describe how to identify your non-negotiables non-negotiables are deeper than values. You know, values change. I’m sorry, but they do. You might think you’re a courteous person. Yeah. But Hey, if you are late for a business meeting and as you drive up to the parking lot, there’s just one more space. You’ll dive into that space. Even though at the corner of your eye, you’ll see someone else who’s been hunting around for the space. Yeah. Now you might feel bad about it afterward, but Hey, you’re not gonna be late for that meeting. So what happens to your value of being courteous?
Hmm it’s circumstance-based, context-based your non-negotiables are much deeper. These are the things that are unshakable in you and describe how to identify these. But these then give us the, the handrail, the guide when we’re stepping into the unknown and they help us in situations of well, crisis, as well. So just like being on that jump, you know, you ask, how did I get there? Well, it’s all about being able to recognize what triggers fear inside of us and how to better respond to it rather than to react to it, which is what normally we would do.
Jenn DeWall: Oh my gosh, what triggers fear in me! Depending on the day, it can be a variety of things, but I love that because I think leadership there is whether you’re a new leader, whether you are new to an organization, whether you’re an existing or tenured leader, that’s making a new decision that may or may not be favorable. There’s fear. I think that’s the one, one universal that we can relate with is that we all are afraid of something, of letting someone down, or fear of doing the wrong thing.
Peter Docker: So fear is triggered by one of four things. OK? The first fear is triggered by when we sense that our life is on the line, and this is deeply ingrained. It’s part of our DNA. You know, it has us jump back when there’s an oncoming car that we didn’t see until the last minute. And it saves our life. So fear in those circumstances is good but general on a day-to-day basis. Thankfully, our life is not under threat, but fear then is still triggered by three other things. It’s triggered when we sense that our livelihood, our status or our reputation is under threat. And when fear is triggered because our status, reputation or livelihood is under threat, it generates a very different reaction, which is generally not helpful at all.
It generates a situation where we close down, and we start seeing the world’s a place of scarcity rather than a place of opportunity. We start seeing it as a binary win, lose, and we gotta win at all costs. Instead of thinking of others, we start thinking of ourselves. That becomes our focus. We might become angry or the other extreme. We might become timid. None of these things are useful when we’re leading ourselves or others. And the biggest thing that comes out is ego. Ego is Greek for eye. And we’ve all seen it when we’ve seen others lead by ego. We know when we are led by ego, and it generally does not turn out well, we start making decisions, which end up hurting others, but here’s the good use. We always have a choice. We always have a choice. OK. And that is to see fear as a warning flag rather than react to fear. See it as a prompt to be driven instead by love. Now, when I start talking about love of the business context, people get a little bit twitchy, and that’s OK.
Let’s just let go and embrace it. This is not about running around and hugging trees. You know, <laugh>, I’m talking about love as it shows up in business where we think about others. We think about our team. We think about the customers we serve instead of seeing the world as a play to scarcity. We see it as a place of opportunity and possibility. And instead of leading with ego, we lead with what I call humble confidence and humbled confidence. It’s all about, well, a confidence bit. First of all, it’s all about being absolutely clear on where we’re strong, resolute on where we’re going, absolutely resolute and ready to make decisions when they need to be taken. But importantly, we have the humility to listen to our team <affirmative> and whereas someone who’s being led by ego is determined to be the one with the answer, a leader who leads with humble confidence is focused instead on asking the important questions and becoming comfortable leading when they don’t know the answer. And that’s one of the main things in the book.
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Leading From the Jumpseat with Commitment, Humble Confidence and Belonging
Jenn DeWall: You know, the book talks about three different themes about commitment, humility, confidence, belonging, and, you know, let’s unpack those at a greater level because I think it makes me also think, you know, going back to the conversation about ego is that fear that throws us into ego or our, are we, you know, what else is it that, you know, is it always fear? I don’t know if you know or can say it. I’m not expecting you to know the full answer to this, but from your lived experience, what do you see trigger people into or triggers people to go into a more of an ego response? Is it fear or is it other things? Is it like wanting other people to accept us, which I guess would also be fear? You know, is it always just fear?
Peter Docker: Short answer. Yes. You know, and I, I say that from not from scientific study, I’m not a scientist. I say this from a practitioner’s point of view. You know, I’ve led people in combat; I’ve led big commercial projects. And you can tell when someone when their behavior shifts from being sourced from a place of love and possibility to a place of fear and scarcity, and ego is always generated by fear. I saw this in I was running a workshop some years ago, one of the biggest companies on the planet, and I had the room all of the directors from the board and ego was present in the room. It was. They were not doing well as a company. Their stock price had fallen through the floor, and they’d lost a lot of their reputation. And instead of coming to the table with humble confidence, they came in there with their egos, all trying to have a pop at one another to try and put the other down.
So as they could protect their own status, reputation and livelihoods, that was ego coming to the floor. You know, when I’ve flown within the military, I’ve led formations of many aircraft. What you don’t want in that formation is any pilot who’s got a big ego, you know. You don’t want that because they put themselves first instead of their wingmen first. Yes. And that’s when it falls down. That’s when people start to lose their lives. So, you know, when I talk about ego, when I talk about fear, when I talk about love. It comes from working with and observing companies. So in the business world, but also when people’s lives are on the line, you know, their life, their livelihood, their status and reputation, when it’s all on the line and ego can come out.
Jenn DeWall: Gosh, I’m sure there are a lot of listeners right now that can already put themselves into that boardroom into that training where they feel like it’s not even a conversation so much as this as it’s a debate of egos. Or a debate of, Hey, let me show you how I’m good enough, or let me show you how my idea is the best idea. And what are the consequences to a team when you show up with ego? I know some of them are probably pretty straightforward, but from your experience, what do you see if you’re just pushing and you’re not leading with that humble confidence? What are the consequences that people will feel are the ripple effect of that through the team and organization?
The Danger of Leading With Ego
Peter Docker: Well, first, it’s disengagement, but also, it tends to be infectious. Ego tends to be infectious. I, I think one of the most dramatic stories from my book that illustrates what happens when the ego is in the driver’s seat goes back to March 1977 on the island of Tenerife, off the west coast of Africa. And it was the scene of the most horrendous air accident the world has ever seen. Two jumbo jets fully packed jumbo jets collided in fog on the runway. One was crossing the runway, and the other was trying to take off. 583 people lost their lives that day. And the subsequent inquiry identified quite a few factors. One was the poor radio communications between the air traffic controller and the aircraft, the KLM jet taking off.
But one of the key factors was the ego of the captain of the KLM jet, he was captain by the name of Jacob Veldhuyzen van Zanten, and Jacob was one of them, the most highly respected, most experienced captains in that airline at the time. He trained other captains, he was literally the poster pilot on all the adverts for the airline. And when they lined up ready to take off, he pushed the throttles forward to start the take-off roll, thinking that they had clearance to take off. But they didn’t. And the other, the pilot and the flight engineer on, on the crew is what we call a cockpit gradient- he was so senior in comparison to their time on the in the airline and their rank that they felt they couldn’t question him. And the result was that 583 people died.
The good news, I should say, Jenn, out of this is that out of that accident, the good thing that happened was something called well cockpit management. It’s, it’s about how we respond to one another on the flight deck of an aircraft called crew resource management. And it gets rid of this, what we call gradient, where you’ve got a very senior person and a very junior person. It, it creates an environment where the most junior person feels able to speak up. It’s called crew resource management. And so that’s one good thing that came out of it. And every airline pilot has been taught that since the early 1980s. But yeah, this is at the extreme of what happens when ego comes to the fall. But in businesses and smaller teams, it can have just as a dramatic effect and that people take a step back, they disengage, they just let you get on with it cause you know, best. Yeah. And they’re not part of the solution to the challenges that you’re facing, and then you are on a downward slope.
Jenn DeWall: Well, I’m curious, what would you say to someone that, you know, because I feel like there was this traditional leadership where ego was actually a very regarded skill or attribute of someone if they appeared confident or decisive and you know, maybe more direct or authoritarian that was more valued, but some of those things are much more into ego, but it’s understandable based on where your lived experience might be, but that you have come up learning that. What would you say to someone that says, well, I still get a lot of success with that, and why would I give it up now?
Peter Docker: Um, Good luck.
Jenn DeWall: Yeah.<laughter>
Peter Docker: You know that’s fine. Ask your people how they feel about it. You know, here’s the thing with ego as well. It is not just poor practice in my view, it’s a limiting practice because what comes with ego is the belief that you’ve got to be the person with the answer.
Jenn DeWall: Yeah.
Peter Docker: And if you are the only person with the answer, you become the constriction in the pipe.
Jenn DeWall: Yeah.
Peter Docker: Your team can only progress as quickly as your knowledge allows. But look, let, let’s not be too hard on ourselves because this is again baked-in in terms of our development. When we’re at school, we are rewarded for knowing the answer. You know, we put our hand up, we know the, and we’re rewarded. We then focus on the subjects where we feel we know the answer and we’re inspired to find the answer. We then perhaps go to a college university. We further specialize. And then we leave, we enter the job market, and we are hired because we’re the person who knows the answers <laugh> yeah. And if we do really, really well, we’re then promoted. And eventually, we get promoted to the point where we are no longer the ones who are doing the work. We are leading the experts who are doing the work. And that is very unfamiliar territory. So what happens? Fear kicks in.
Because we’re outside of our comfort zone, and nobody has taught us how to manage this transition, where our job is no longer to be the expert. We are managing and leading the experts. And so what do we do? We revert to type. We revert to being well, no, I’ve got know the answers to this. When people come to us with a problem, if we know the answer, we tell ’em what to do. If we don’t know the answer, you say, leave it with me. Yeah. That’s a classic. I’ve done it myself. You know? And so people start to rely on waiting for you to tell ’em what to do. And you become the constriction in the pipe. The opportunity that is jumpseat leadership is learning how to be comfortable leading when we don’t know the answer and embracing that. Now, this doesn’t mean to say that we’re weak or timid, not a bit of it.
What it looks like in practice is look, I don’t know the answer to this challenge. Let me tell you the reason why we’ve got to figure it out. And I gotta support you on my team to give you everything you need. So can work with me to figure out the answer to this challenge that we’re facing right now. Are you with me? Yeah, much, much different environment to work in. And one where you’re lifting people up where people are showing up where they’re working harder because they want to not because they have to. Right. And that’s how you accelerate the progress of your team. So all the people out there who are leading with ego, as I say best luck to you, <laugh>, you’re probably advanced quicker. If you learned how to lead from the jumpseat and learn to lead with humble confidence.
Leading with Commitment
Jenn DeWall: Yes. I love that. I mean, and I’ll the last thing that I would even just from what you’re saying too, and like, what I would add is when you actually give yourself permission to not know all the answers, think about how much you can protect your own mental health in the form of stress, anxiety, burnout, by being able to allow other people to be and offer a solution. But I know we are writing and running through this. I love our conversation, but let’s get into the other two themes. So you talk about three themes in the book. One is humble confidence. The next one is commitment. Why is an important theme?
Peter Docker: Well, commitment. These three you’ve mentioned are commitments, humble confidence and belonging. They are three practices. And practice as a word’s important. It’s not about being perfect. We are not perfect as human beings. It’s about our intention and our trends. You know, that’s, what’s important to, to measure. And so we, we practice and we get better. Commitment is the first practice because commitment is all about figuring out what are your non-negotiables, what are those things that are unshakable? Now I’ll give you an example. Family, for many of us is something that’s a non-negotiable. You know, when I phone call about two and a half years ago for my wife, she told me she’d just been involved in a car accident. I dropped everything. I left the business calls. It was only two miles down the road. I was off nothing. Would’ve stopped me from going to her.
And many people listening can relate to that. But it’s the interesting thing, Jenn, the energy, that least inside of me think about it. I was stepping into the unknown. I didn’t know what I was gonna find, but there was nothing on this planet, which would’ve got in my way. Would’ve stopped me from going. So identifying your non-negotiables it’s about identifying those other things that have got a similar amount of energy inside of them, because together they create this foundation that can help you move forward. Even in the face of adversity, even in the face of uncertainty, they act as a handrail. I’ll tell you in the book, how to do that. It’s through the choices that we make in life. Those are the clues, but when we identify these non-negotiables, they become stands. What we stand for and we can turn those stands then into action and turn them into commitments.
What we’re committed to and this isn’t, you know, an airy-fairy thing. Commitment is a promise that we make to ourselves. Not actually anybody else to ourselves, you know, you and I could have a contract, we could sign it up and people say, oh, we’re committed now, but I can guarantee that if we wanted to get out of it, if we hadn’t made that promise to ourselves to follow through, we’d get out of it. OK. So commitment is a promise we make to ourselves to follow through. And so the first point book is helping people to understand those distinctions in language, to identify what their non-negotiables, what their stands are and how to use them to form commitments, to follow through. Because when we practice that, people start to build a relationship with us, it forms what we ultimately call character. It helps us to act consistently. And that helps us not only to lead our own lives well, but to lead others well, too. It’s the foundation as well of being able to have the courage to lead with humble confidence, you know? So that’s commitment, that’s humble confidence. Would you like to about that? Or should I dive into belonging?
Jenn DeWall: Let’s do a little bit more on commitment. I’m curious. You talked about what it looks like. What does commitment look like at work? Because I think many of us could probably relate to the non-negotiable of family. What are examples of maybe non-negotiables that you see that might be successful in the workplace?
Peter Docker: Sure. so <laugh>,let me give a story to illustrate this, because I think it’s easier to grab I went to university to study two subjects about which I knew nothing. OK. This was 18 years old electronic engineering, computing. I knew nothing. This was in 1981, good evidence it’s a long time ago. Right. But the reason I went to university to study those subjects was that I figured I’d be able to get a really well paid job at the end of it. And that was important. It was important because at the time both my parents had lost their jobs. Money was very, very short. Me going to university actually helped because at the time it was paid for by the government here in the UK. So it, it was, it was no cost to appearance. And I figured that it would reduce the burden on them and also I’d be in a position to help them afterwards.
So that formed a non-negotiable in me looking back, I said, it’s about the choices we make in life. And this was a key choice of mine. And the non-negotiable for that event was that with me is the notion of self-sufficiency. I don’t wanna be a burden on anyone else. I wanna be self-sufficient and I want to be able to be in a position to help others. So that’s one of my non-negotiables. Now halfway through my degree course, something else happened. Argentina invaded the Falkland islands down in the South Atlantic, the Falkland islands, tiny islands, which are a British territory. And the people there consider themselves to be British. But at the time Argentina invaded, they imposed their will on those people. Now I knew hardly anything about the politics, but I was incensed by the fact that someone was imposing their will on others who were unable to help themselves.
And so I left university mid-degree to join the Royal Air Force because I wanted to be part of a team that in future could help others in that sort of situation. Now what that pointed to that choice is something that is another non-negotiable, which is the notion of mutual respect. And if I see or sense anyone not mutually respecting– or mutual respect not occurring, that incenses me, that drives me forward. So how does that look in the business world? Well, those two things, those non-negotiables turn into sounds, which give me guidance, show me the way when I’m treading into uncertain territory, when I don’t know what to do, where there isn’t a roadmap, those and other non-negotiables help me to figure out what direction to, to head in and help me lead my team.
Jenn DeWall: I love that. And it’s the foundation. I think if you’re a new leader, I love that you talk about finding you’re non-negotiable because I think whether you’re an existing leader or a new leader when you’re a new leader, this could be one of the first places that you can build your confidence within yourself. Absolutely. <laugh> understanding what are the things, how do you want to treat others? How do you want to be treated? What are the things that you’re not going to stand for? And you know, what are the things that you might be like, OK, like, I don’t love that, but I’m not going to also, you know, jump over if something like that happens, too. Because I imagine there’s also a place like, is there a, is there a magic number of non-negotiables that you think are helpful? Like, is it, is it three, is it five or is it just all about consistency?
Peter Docker: It’s about consistency. It’s about where those non-negotiables have come from. And they, they come from those choices that we make in life, the big crossroads. But actually, here’s something right now that people can do. Think about a time where something has really triggered you and perhaps you felt like you were getting angry or annoyed in some way. Take a moment, pause and reflect on that. It’s probably because you feel strongly against something. OK.
Jenn DeWall: Yeah.
Peter Docker: Now take a moment to turn that coin over and recount in terms of what you feel strongly for. OK. So in the example of the reason I left university, you know, I, I was against what was being imposed on the the British population down the Falkland islands. When I turned that coin over what I found was my stand for mutual respect. OK. So this is something that’s we, we can, we can do right now, you know, beneath every complaint is a commitment for something. And it’s something I, that that’s a really helpful thing that one’s not in the book, but it’s really helpful. <Laugh> in a business, a team situation. If someone comes to you with a complaint, rather than trying to brush it under the carpet, sweep it away, ask questions to dig deeper and find what’s the underlying commitment. What’s really important to that person that they’ve had the courage to put their hand up, stand outta line and say, Hey, I’m complaining about this because when we can find that underlying commitment, instead of squashing the complaint, we can harness that energy that comes with it and work with the underlying commitments to achieve something remarkable.
Leading By Practicing Belonging
Jenn DeWall: Yes. I love this. This is where we can envision success. What are we working towards? Where do we want to bring people a long? I love that. My gosh. And now we’ve got to go into the, the third practice– belonging, which I just love that this is a part of your book because belonging is so incredibly important to everyone yet. I think it’s often an overlooked area that people just kind of think like, does that really matter at work? I mean, they might know it on some level that it matters, but we don’t really look at it as a strategy because what? Like, they should be happy they have a job <laugh> but tell me what you mean by belonging.
Peter Docker: Well, as human beings, we all want to belong. We do. Yeah. You know, even going back to school, you know, we, we wanna find a group where we belong and <laugh> actually my, my children now they’re, they’re both grown up, but my daughter, when she was in her teens, here is something that any parents out there can relate to. You know, how do you get your teenage daughter to put her dirty laundry in the basket? <Laugh> Yeah, am right. It, this is, it’s actually a leadership challenge. How to you get her to choose to put that laundry in the basket. Well, what’s behind this is well, you can gain some extra insight because the time when she will choose to put it in the basket is what if she’s going out the weekend with her group of friends and she wants to wear a particular outfit that needs washing. Heck, she’ll put it in the basket. She might even go and wash it herself. OK. So what’s that all about?
Jenn DeWall: <Laugh>
Peter Docker: Because she strives, she wants to nurture this sense of belonging. Yeah. When people feel they belong in this case of teenage daughters is to belong to their group of friends by expressing through the fashion that they’re wearing. You know, that identity, it’s such a powerful driving force and in just the same way as it works at a fashion level with teenage daughters, it actually works in the work environment too. And I give an example in the book of this working at scale with an incredible company called as Aesop, a British based company, they’ve got about four and a half thousand people, average age 27. And they in, on online fashion retail, that’s what they do. But the whole story is in there, but they nurture a sense of belonging because when people feel that they belong, they want to step up. They want to take responsibility.
They want to start to lead in exactly the same way as our teenage daughter starts to lead by choosing to put the washing in the laundry basket because they wanna be a part of the group that they wanna belong to. Yeah. So belonging is hugely important as leaders. We do well to nurture that sense of belonging and the way we nurture a sense of belonging is that we show that we care, not in empathy. Empathy is fine, but it’s not enough. Empathy is, yeah, I get it. I can see it from your point of view. No caring is showing well. It’s showing that we care at the human level and the way that we show that we care by giving people our time. And doesn’t need to be much time, you know, busy executives out there. I know your diary, your calendar is full, but you give your time.
One of my most challenging leadership roles was leading 200 people during the Iraq war. And outwards as the, we were there four and a half months, and we flew large unarmed undefended aircraft. We got shot at quite a lot, and that was quite irritating, but you know, I had 200 people that I needed to care for. And what that looked like was, well, sometimes I’d sit down with a coffee on the floor, back against the wall with while the most junior people in my team, chatting with them, you know, how’s things at home, everything all right? I, I hear you had a new baby recently. You know, how are they doing? I remember during our time I had three people whose grandparents were dying, and we moved heaven on earth to get them back in time. You know, that’s just something that we did. Now you don’t need to make a song and dance about it. And we didn’t. But when people instinctively sense that you care, they are willing to contribute more. And so if your aim is to progress more quickly and further with your team, you need to care. You need to nurture a sense of belonging.
Jenn DeWall: Oh my gosh. And that’s, I just think of so many different examples. And I am seeing more company is practice this even in interviews. I had an organization that I recently am working with them now to facilitate. And one of the first things that they had said to me is we just want you to be you. We want you to be you, your unique self. We don’t want you to watch our current facilitators and try to be like them. We want you to be you because we know that you provide an individual perspective that makes the total unique. And that will probably stick with me for the rest of my life, because I have never up until that moment, two months ago, three months ago, actually a little bit longer than that, ever had an employer, actually bring that up in an interview process.
And to now see it as I’m in that company, to see how true that is. Yes, you’re absolutely right. And makes me work that much harder. I just went through two and a half weeks of tech challenges, things that I could have just said, oh, I don’t know. Maybe you guys could figure this out, or you do this. But I called every single person on my end, my provider, I upgraded my, you know, I did so much all because they believed in me and they created the right place. But if they didn’t maybe have that approach, I’m not sure I would’ve invested in 20 hours of my tech challenges, investing in a new computer, buying a modem, all that stuff, because it wouldn’t have felt like my contributions or even why that would matter because I’m like, oh, they probably are fine anyways. Like we can do the work-around, but because they cared, I wanted it work the way that they want it to.
Peter Docker: Well, and, and here’s the thing, you know, what is it that you’re doing when you are, you’re spending some time with people. It can be a fleeting moment. And the more senior you are in a company, by the way, the more meaningful it is. Yeah. Those few moments, because people know instinctively how busy you are. But in those few moments, what are you doing? You’re lifting people up. And that goes to the heart of jumpseat leadership because when you lift people up, they then start to choose to leave and take responsibility. And that’s when, when people choose to do things, it’s so much more powerful than when we rely on telling people to do things.
Jenn DeWall: Yes. Peter, thank you so much for all of your insights today. I even love that- empowering people to choose. Empowering people to take that responsibility. Leading From The Jumpseat: How to Create Extraordinary Opportunities by Handing Over Control. Peter, how can people get in touch with you? Where can they purchase your book?
Where to Find More From Peter Docker
Peter Docker: Well, my website is LeadingFromTheJumpseat.com and there’s lots of videos and resources on there. The book is available, paperback, hardcover, audiobook, e-book, in all the usual places, including Amazon and bookstore.org. And you can find me on social media, on LinkedIn.com/in/PeterDocker and Twitter, @PeterDocker, and Instagram. I’ve had to go at TikTok, but you know, Jenna, I don’t think I’m quite up to speed on TikTok yet. <Laugh>, you know what, let let’s stick to to what we know for, for the time being. But yeah, so you can find me,
Jenn DeWall: Oh my gosh, Peter, thank you so much for just again, your time, your expertise, your passion. And I love that. I’m so excited- Leading From The Jumpseat. Pick it up now. Thank you again, Peter. It was so great to have you on the show.
Peter Docker: Thanks for having me, Jenn. It’s been great.
Jenn DeWall: Hi everyone. Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode of The Leadership Habit podcast. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Peter Docker. And if you want to know more, if you want to get your copy of his book, you can head on over to LeadingFromTheJumpseat.com. Now, if you know someone that could benefit from hearing Peter’s message— as I feel like everyone could— don’t forget to share this episode with them and of course, if you enjoyed this episode, feel free to leave us a review on your favorite podcast streaming platform. Until next time.