Episode 402 – The BRAVE Leader with David McQueen

David McQueen‘The beautiful part of it, which is also the hardest and the most painful part, is the editing… [if] you put a book out into the world which will be around longer than you, you might as well put in the effort to get it right.’

David McQueen has never been one to shy away from tough conversations. In his book, The BRAVE Leader, he challenges all leaders to lean into the difficulty, to be more courageous and ambitious in their decision-making for inclusivity. 

And it turns out that willingness to engage and that refusal to settle served him well when it came to writing his first book. More at home on the stage than the page, David found this a steep learning curve, and he’s open and honest about what he discovered along the way. 

But just like those tough conversations, the hard work of writing and editing paid for itself in spades, and the book is now the ‘centre of gravity’ for his talks and other activities.   If you need to be braver with your book and/or your leadership, this week’s episode is for you…



David’s site: https://davidmcqueen.co.uk/

David on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mrdavidmcqueen/

Alison on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/the-alison-jones/

The 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge: http://proposalchallenge.com/

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Substack: https://extraordinarybusinessbooks.substack.com/

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

Write with me! https://alisonjones.com/writing/

Alison Jones: I’m here today with David McQueen, who is a leadership coach, international speaker and facilitator, the co-founder of professional development company Q Squared Limited, and the host, not surprisingly, of the David McQueen podcast. He’s also a blogger on all things leadership and culture change, a three times TEDx speaker and a TED fellow, and he’s the author of The BRAVE Leader: More courage, less fear, better decisions for inclusive leadership, which is fairly fresh to the world, isn’t it, David?

David McQueen: It is indeed, and it’s a real pleasure to be here. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for having me.

Alison Jones: Oh, it’s really good to have you here. And it’s lovely to talk to somebody in that sort of first flush of hitting the Amazon bestseller charts with pretty much every format, which is incredible, hardback, paperback and ebook, and fresh from your launch.

So just tell us a little bit about that, first of all, how are you feeling?

David McQueen: Oh, elated, elated. I really am.

Last week, as I said, I was on cloud nine, I was just literally like in my garden floating. It just felt like I was floating above the lawn. But it’s such a I know that lots of people can tell you about the excitement of doing this thing, but until you’re there, and you get that tingle, and you get the goosebumps and all the rest of it, it’s never, you never realize how… how amazing it actually is.

And again, I was able to celebrate it with a couple of close friends, and family, and business colleagues. To just celebrate this milestone. You obviously know the nightmare that people go through, and how much of a nightmare I was. We’ll keep that between us. But, you know, being able…

Alison Jones: Nobody needs to know that David, we’re at the other side of it now, it’s all good.

David McQueen: But being at the other end and having done that launch and intending to do a couple more launches around the country, has been amazing.

And I’ve got this crazy idea in my mind that I might write a second book. Don’t ask why, I think it’s the adrenaline.

Alison Jones: It’s the same thing as when you finish a marathon, you know, going towards the end, you’re like, I’m never doing this again, this is awful. Why do I put myself through this? As soon as you’ve crossed the line, you’re like, Oh, I think I could shave a couple of minutes off that. Next time I’m going to… that’s so good.

And one of the things that I know you and I have talked about is the surprise in a sense, that just how excited other people get on your behalf at launch.

David McQueen: Yes, oh my goodness, so part of the…, well, a very special person gave me this advice about buying advanced books and giving them out to other people in advance. I’m just putting that out there, Alison, and being able to share that with a number of individuals who were the influencers, who I would just say, look, just put it on your socials and see what happens.

 And I did it with the intention that they’ll go, okay, you know, it’s quite cool, but they’ve gone, do you know what? I actually really like the book. And I’m like, why are you so surprised? You’re not supposed to be that surprised. And I think what it was, was they, one of the things that really, I really wanted to do was make sure it was readable in a really nice short format, but I also wanted it to be visually appealing. And so I think we were able to do that in the publication. And people were so excited. They were like telling other people. Buying in groups of five or ten and they’re asking, how are your sales going? I’m going, I don’t know, just buy the damn book. But it was really nice to see individuals who are close within my network, who I knew, and then people further afield who I didn’t know, who connected with me through social and obviously had picked up the buzz around it. When they got either the… when the Kindle landed on the Monday for 99p, obviously they were very happy because they got it for a bargain, but then when they also got the paperbacks and the first hardback I saw as well, yes, they were elated and that felt really, really nice to have that energy from other people as well.

Alison Jones: Yes, so cool. We have to talk about BRAVE leadership as well because we could, you and I could geek out about launch and how wonderful it all is, but people are going, tell me, what is BRAVE leadership and why does it matter?

David McQueen: Okay, so can I go back slightly? So just so everybody knows, so the book is called The BRAVE Leader: More courage, less fear, better decisions for inclusive leadership. And I know that was not my original subline, so let’s just keep that honest, mine was a bit more rash but going back, people are like, I really love that introduction in the book, because it kind of sets you up. And the idea is, and I think, you know, we were able to collaborate and do this really well, was to set people up as to what was actually coming.

And it was about being a lot more courageous about decisions that people have to make.

And so, because it said what it says on the tin, then people go in and then it’s broken down.

Alison Jones: Subtitles are so important.

David McQueen: So important.

And so for me it made it a lot easier to be able to explain to individuals that very often when you hear about inclusive leadership, it tends to just focus on the, you know, however we frame it, DEI or JEDI or the variations of that.

And I wanted to step outside of that because that tends to focus just on talent. I wanted to focus on how do we make sure, wherever you are as a leader, that when you are making decisions and when you are understanding context, and when you’re understanding the sense of the world that you’re around, that will make those decisions that you try to be as considerate as possible of all the stakeholders who are affected by that decision.

So not only would it be with the hiring, the promotion and the firing of talent. But it would also extend to things like product design and customer service, developing a board, marketing, sales, all those other functions that exist in a business where sometimes people forget that you have to be ethical or that you have to be bold about those decisions.

I wanted it to be something that people could see and the play on the word brave was around not only the traditional sense of it but being able to create an acronym so that people could actually think about how they could remember that.

Alison Jones: Oh, you’re going to have to give us the acronym, of course.

David McQueen: Oh, yes Okay, so you see my set up there?

So the acronym BRAVE is bold.

B is bold. R is resilient. A is Agile. V is Visionary. And E is Ethical.

And with those five, I wanted individuals to not necessarily go in every decision, Am I bold? Am I resilient? I didn’t want them to do that, but I wanted that to be the kind of framework when they’re being quite courageous. And if I top and tail it, I found as a coach that a lot of people weren’t as bold in making a decision as they could have been.

And the last one, E Ethical, there were so many decisions that people made and they hadn’t considered the ethics and making that very clear is that last pillar before you go make your decision, is it ethical? What’s the effect it’s going to have? The feedback I’ve got from a lot of people was, oh, I never really thought about that.

And so my idea is I want you to think about it.

Alison Jones: Yes, and when we first talked about that, I remember thinking that’s the missing piece, isn’t it? Because we’re so pragmatic as business owners and we are sort of, you know, we do, we want to do the right thing, but we don’t necessarily make that a pillar of our decision making.

David McQueen: Knowing that people have picked that up and caught that straight away, then yes, I’m very happy about that.

Alison Jones: Yes. And that’s the power of the mnemonic, isn’t it? That acronym allows people to instantly recall the dimensions of what that looks like. And the other thing that really struck me when we were talking initially, however many months, years ago, that was, was that call to, to people who don’t have these conversations, not because they don’t realize it’s important, but because they’re terrified of saying the wrong thing.

And I love the way that you address that in the book as well, because I think that’s a sort of a dirty little secret of leadership is that we’re not being as inclusive as we want to be because we’re terrified of alienating somebody or saying the wrong thing or feeling that our privilege somehow excludes us from making any meaningful contribution.

David McQueen: Yes, 100%. So, as you know, when we first started having this conversation, a lot of the background to this was inspired by major events that happened like Me Too and Black Lives Matter and, you know, and, things that really shone the spotlight on inequity in the workplace.

But I wanted to take it beyond just reacting to those things and say the reason why people either react rather than respond to these situations is because they are doing it from a place of fear. And I wanted people to be a lot more bolder about asking questions. And, you know, at the core of what I say with any one of those, what I call brave conversations, is to start from a place of mutual respect and love.

And once you do that, it tends to turn down the volume on being really afraid of how people may perceive you or how saying the wrong thing may get you cancelled or kind of, you know, put in a box. And look, there will always be individuals who react to things in a way that are outside of your control.

But I do believe once you start as a leader with the right intent and with the right notion of trying to get people to understand you’re doing it from a good place, that’s half the battle won.

Alison Jones: Yes, Yes, so important.

You are, it’s not unfair for me to say, you’re not a natural book writer, David. It’s not your sort of primary skill set.

David McQueen: I am not. Let’s get that out in the open.

Alison Jones: You are, however something of a genius. Your zone of genius is speaking, isn’t it? So I really would love to talk to you about how you have found over the last year or so that the writing and the speaking interplaying, if at all. I mean, in a sense, it’s a leading question, but just any reflections on that.

David McQueen: No, definitely. There is, and again, I will definitely concur with your… I’m not a natural book writer. That discipline, oh my god, that just, you know you had to coach me, screaming and dragging me over the line. And the funny thing is I’m really comfortable in writing short pieces. I’m really comfortable in being able to do that stuff, but writing the long form and having to join that all up was, I feel a lot better to be honest with you at the end of this journey because I understand what that process looks like now. …

Alison Jones: you have to do another one, actually.

David McQueen: Right, I knew I wasn’t brave enough to basically do that. I’m giving up. Come on, give me six months. No, David, we have a deadline,

But being able to, what it made me do is it actually sharpened my speaking as well. So, what it made me realize was, so much of what I wanted to put in the book is how I talk in public. But one of the things I remember in writing is that, you know, the importance of footnotes, importance of references to other sources. Like, you know, I do this stuff and I’m like I said that, I’ll get this little note back. Okay. Where did this come from? What’s the source? And I think, Oh, I just got it off the internet. No, let’s find out exactly where this resource was from. And so what it’s

Alison Jones: Publishers are terrible for that, aren’t they?

David McQueen: Oh my goodness, but it’s fascinating. And, I actually really understood. Like, I’ve always, like, been reluctant to academic tomes and what have you, and why are there so many notes at the bottom?

But then I realise it’s the gravitas and the validity that comes from that, where you realise you’re getting people not only to think, but to give concrete evidence. So now when I speak, and I’m using case studies, I’m so I’ve got this footnote in my head, all right? I’ve got the footnotes in my head now of what that reference is, especially if I’m trying to drive home a point that’s not just my opinion, but based on research or based on the data that’s out there.

So there’s a lovely balance between the two and, the extension of the book tour is that I want to go and travel not only in the UK, but I want to do some stuff in North America and do some stuff in Africa and possibly Asia as well. And what I want to do is use it as a privilege to do some keynotes and the keynotes will definitely pull from the book, but pull down some real strong examples of why this is not just my opinion, but this is a conversation that has been happening for a while and how do we do it a lot braver?

So yes, writing it has definitely made me go, right, if I need to have more credibility as a speaker, I need to be able to go, okay, how do I back this up and what’s my evidence?

Alison Jones: And that word that you use, gravitas, it’s a really interesting word. Donald Miller talks about the guide having, in the sort of the hero’s journey, having two qualities of empathy and authority. And the empathy piece I think is relatively easy when you’re on stage. There you are, you’re in front of people, you’re telling your story, it’s very immediate and experiential.

But the authority piece is really important. There is so much bad science out there. There’s so many unsubstantiated claims and so on. So it’s really interesting when you pull those two together, you’ve got something incredibly powerful. So that’s the sort of editorial observation from what you just said.

But then there’s also the idea that the book provides a kind of center of gravity to do this whole series of events that there’s something about the, the hook off which you can hang so much stuff.

David McQueen: Yes. it is. I’ll say the fascinating thing about it is writing has made me even more curious. So, there was a point, as you may well remember, where I wanted to put a lot more into the book. But I held back because I wanted it to be more precise, but it to be more of a jump off point, like how, when I’m coaching, it’s asked more questions, it gets individuals to ask more questions about what they were doing.

And I realized even then, and I struggled with this, as you know, where a lot of my coaching is about knowing that I have an armory of tools and techniques to help people to get from A to B. But the large part of this is opening up curiosity and asking more questions and getting that individual to investigate for themselves. What does that look for?

So very often when I’m working with clients, people will say to me, Oh, how does this work for this client? Or what’s the blueprint, or what’s the silver bullet? And I often say it’s contextual. It’s very contextual. And there is what works at this company, may not necessarily work for you, even if you’re in the same industry.

However, what we can do is we can realize the same kinds of modes of inquiry, or the way that we start to ask our questions of ourselves or the individuals around us, they can allow us to shape those answers better. And those questions don’t need to change. And so, as you say, those jump off points have made me go and think, like, even when I think of like, A big point that a lot of people have come back to me on is saying what they really liked is not seeing leadership as in the lens of the hero person who goes out there and does it, but rather they’re seeing it through the lens of the system.

How do we all make it work? And, you know, a lot of the conversations I’ve had have been around how good or bad, however you define those words, your leadership is a reflection of the system that supports it or not. And that has just opened up conversations in so many spaces where I’m just going, wow, I didn’t even realize that.

But now it’s made me question as well as others question, it’s opened up a whole new conversation.

Alison Jones: Yes. And it’s absolutely fundamental. Otherwise you end up with a brilliant leader. And as soon as they leave, it’s gone because it was a whole kind of cult of personality. You need to systematize those decisions. You need to embed it in the organization and just have it residing in one person.

David McQueen: 100%. And that’s why I talk a lot more around cultural DNA than I do around, ESG, DEI, all the other three letter acronyms that I come across. What’s embedded in the culture? I talk a bit about culture and climate and, the climate is a sense of what’s really happening. This is what it really is and how people feel.

And the culture is more about the ambitions and the aspirations that they have. And for me, it’s those two, that culture and climate piece, when you really dig down into your system and what you tolerate and what you allow and how it aligns with the values or whatever people say that the company really believes in, that’s the bit where the rubber meets the road.

Alison Jones: And that’s where you need the courage confront that. Yes.

David McQueen: Oh my goodness. That’s what actually scares most people if I’m really honest. That’s because you can say one thing, but having to deliver it, absolutely different story altogether.

Alison Jones: And it’s that sort of next level of leadership as well where you’re dealing with the stuff that isn’t actually broken. This isn’t stuff that’s visibly harming your bottom line. This is stuff that you feel like you’re opening the lid on a can of worms that you could quite easily just ignore. Yes.

David McQueen: And again, you know, for a lot of people it is actually quite terrifying, and I don’t in any way, either through the book or through my work, want to diminish the fear that people have around that. But rather being able to go, there’s going to be a point where you have to address it. It’s a bit like, I don’t know, your washing machine’s broken. I’m thinking about that because my daughter hasn’t repaired hers for weeks in her world, right? But the washing machine’s broken, but the alternative means is that you end up having to go to the laundromat, or come to your parents house and use their washing machine with their energy. Instead of dealing with the fact that all you need to do is just call the landlord and get it fixed.

And very often individuals just don’t want to do that. They’re pretending like it’s not a thing to deal with. But then the fallout is we get staff burnout. You get people who are leaving the organization.

If you haven’t thought inclusively about your marketing, you could lose customers. There’s a damage of the reputation and the value of the organization because people have pushed those to the side. And there’s something around being able to go, be brave enough that no matter the consequence, at least you’ve addressed it and in addressing it, you can demonstrate to others who are looking at you as leaders in whatever capacity you show up as a leader in your organization and go, okay, that might be scary, but because I’ve seen Alison or David do that. I’m going to muster that energy to go, right, let me try and do that within the system that we have and the people that we have around us and let’s just see how it, how it works out.

Alison Jones: You always give permission.

David McQueen: Yes.

Alison Jones: Brilliant. I want to talk to you about writing as well. Stay with me, don’t go anywhere. Having come out the other side and thinking, Oh, that was actually quite good. What’s your best tip for a first time writer? Because there will be people listening who found it as awful as you did.

David McQueen: Yes. I think, is always listen to the editors and publishers. Just do, that’s what I’m going to say straight away. First and foremost, I’m just going to…

Alison Jones: great answer, David.

David McQueen: that’s the first one because there is this, it’s a bit like entrepreneurship, isn’t it? And so many other things, that people see the shiny side of it.

And the shiny side is, you know, right, I’m here. People will be like, Oh, Dave it’s great. You’ve done a book. That must be fantastic. What advice do you give? And I’m like, don’t write a book, don’t write a book. But if you are going to do it, recognize that first, second, maybe third draft will just be stuff that you just spew out, and the beautiful part of it, which is also the hardest and the most painful part, is the editing, and recognizing that in order to be concise, in order to be able to get a message out to the world, which, and I think this is the most powerful bit that I learned, which will live longer than you do, all right. Knowing that you put a book out into the world which will be around longer than you do, you might as well put in the effort to get it right.

 And one of… this might be a bit controversial, but I’m going to say, one of the things I recognized is it made me realize it would not have been the same had I gone down the self publishing route.

Because I don’t think I would have had that critical ear. I don’t think I would have had those individuals who would have understood what is it that makes these things sell or attracts individuals, whether it’s the titles or the subtitles. If I’d gone to my own subtitle, I’d be somewhere in the corner of the internet with people swearing all over the place, but not getting as much reach.

But I think it’s, I was fortunate enough that I was part of a group. We get up every morning at 7 o’clock and I just write, right. And my biggest pain thing, was that I was just too self critical. And you had to keep on reminding me, just write the stuff Dave, just get it out. And I kept on being too self critical.

And then I realized, leave the criticism to the editors, just write.

Alison Jones: Write, we’ve got you.

David McQueen: Absolutely, just write just churn it all out, and don’t get too emotionally attached to those words. Just write it, write it, write it. And the editors will come along, and when they look at it, they will tell you, and they will ask you questions.

Some of the questions came back like, what do you mean by this? What is this phrasing? And in my head I’m like, everybody knows what that means. And then I look at it and I go, well actually they don’t.

And so I’d say, write, write, write, write, write. But leave the critique to the editorial team, who will then give you the pointer as to where it could actually go.

Alison Jones: Yes, and a couple of… yes, the first draft stuff, which you say the first draft, second draft, probably going to be quite rubbish, but unless you do those, you can’t get to the final draft, you can’t get to the edited, polished, final manuscript.

So, I think that that holding back on self critique. If you can’t manage that, you will never get to the stage where you’ve got something good because you have to go through the bad stuff to get there.

David McQueen: Yes.

Alison Jones: And the other thing is when I was thinking when people were quite surprised at how good your book was, I think it’s because they’ve been handed some really pretty awful books that haven’t gone through that stage.

And there is an awful, it’s quite difficult, isn’t it, to sift through the dross for the good stuff.

David McQueen: And it is, I mean, I’ve got a couple of self published books in my library and I went back and I looked at them and whilst I’m happy for the individuals who were able to muster up that discipline to go and write it, you know, I look at simple things like the typeset, the simple things like having stories and they were, you know, in a grey box and the header and the columns and the font that they were using.

I was like it doesn’t read like a, sometimes you can get a book which is around personal development and it reads like a novel in that there’s no breakup and you realize a lot of people don’t get past a certain chapter because it just looks really mundane. And I’m getting people emailing me going, Oh, I really love what you wrote in the chapter about self leadership.

And when I was reading this bit on system, a systemic, and when I was reading this and I was like, you got past chapter one? You actually got past it? To know that they went in there and they were like, and they’d say, Yes, you know the bit. And I love the fact that when in chapter six, you referred back to the bit that you were spoken to about earlier.

And I’m like, oh my goodness, that is a testimony to the partnership of the cross reference of the editorial and the way that it was all designed. And so I walked away from there going, look, you know, whether I get a ghostwriter or even put myself through that pain again, the truth is, is that now I know and now I’ve been through the process, like I’ll tell you, I’ll give you a whisper offline, I actually know what my second book is, I know what I want to write about, but I’ll whisper to you that offline, off the podcast.

But looking at that, in my head, I’ve already got a map of what that would look like. I’ve absolutely, because I’ve gone through this process and gone, this was painful and it had to be painful and because nothing worth doing is ever going to be easy. And again, it’s like people who come to me, I mean, I don’t do as much coaching on it as before, but when people come to me especially senior executives and they’re like, David, I’ve got a high stakes presentation to do. And I think I’m going to just fall over and get it all wrong.

I take them through this process and they’re absolutely terrified, but I’m like, yes, you’ve got to do the work and you’ve got to do the practice. You know, if you’re going to go into a keynote for an hour, you probably need about 15 plus more hours of practice to get it in, to get it right. And no matter how painful it is, when you get up there and you deliver that presentation and then people see the polished result, you know, the hard work that’s gone into it.

And likewise, with the writing, I realized that it is, it is another job. It is, it does take a lot of self discipline, but it’s also a joined up effort and I can’t overemphasize enough how brilliant it was for you to coach me in terms of mindset and about where we were going to go. But then also to have the editorial team and the typeset team and that whole combination of the team coming together, a bit like what I talk about systemic leadership, right? There was a whole system that made this come together and everybody knowing where their part was was important, to as a writer or a, I can call myself a writer.

I’m an author

Alison Jones: Totally, Yes, absolutely.

David McQueen: I can call myself…

Alison Jones: Change your LinkedIn bio immediately.

David McQueen: Immediately up there But being able to do that was recognizing, I know where my strengths lie in this space and I know what I can get out of my head. No, I’m not Stephen King, but I’m surrounded with individuals who know what David McQueen is capable of and how they can make the words and the intention jump off the page.

And so knowing that, that’s made me really proud as an author.

Alison Jones: And that, to me, is the whole definition of partnership publishing. That’s, you’ve just articulated it beautifully, thank you.

I’m going to ask you for a recommendation as well. You are not allowed to recommend BRAVE Leader, but what other book would you recommend that listeners should grab for themselves if they haven’t read it already.

David McQueen: So one of, he’ll never forgive me if I don’t mention this. So my mentor, Liam Black has…

Alison Jones: I knew you were going to say that!

David McQueen: He’d never, I’ll tell you, he would rip me left, right and center. But he, as my mentor, How to Lead With Purpose, it’s so interesting because we were, the reason why I love that book is because we…

…part of our journeys intertwined around both of us wanting to publish a book. He obviously got there before me because he had to show me he was boss and he was better, you know, and what also encouraged me was that I had a real rethink about how long or how big my book had to be based on his and one of my favorite books in the, and I’ll say this as another long book, is a book called Antifragile by guy called Nicholas Taleb. Now that is like a bible of a book and it’s done in the smallest font I’ve ever seen and it’s just like so many words on a page and I actually go, I often go into that book and I dip in and it’s quite dog-eared and what have you.

But I didn’t want that kind of book. I wanted one like Liam’s. So Liam is one that… Liam’s How to Lead With Purpose is one that I really recommend. And another one I really love, is it’s called Power Questions. And the, I think one of the authors called Jerold Panas, P A N A S. There’s two of them, Andrew Sobel, I think, and Jerold Panas.

And it’s one of my favorite books because it reminds me that we need to ask more questions. You know, as kids, you know that why, why, you I know, we had this curiosity and, you know, and people often say to me, Dave, you’ve got such a young energy about you, even though you already got some….

and I said, because I’m just curious. I just love loads of questions. And because my coaching practice and the way that I work is based around asking better questions for clarity, that tends to be one of my books. And there are others as well, but those are the two that kind of like really jump out for me.

Alison Jones: Amazing. You actually snuck in a third there, which is very clever. Well done, but great recommendations. Thank you.

And David, if people want to find out more about you, more about the work that you do, more about The BRAVE Leader, where can they go?

David McQueen: So they can find me hiding on LinkedIn. I say hiding. So Mr. David McQueen, a lot of people see me in that social space, or they can go to davidmcqueen.co.uk and that’s where you’ll find out a lot about the work that I do with organizations and individuals around the world.

Alison Jones: Amazing. Genuinely could have talked to you all day. Thank you so much for your time.

David McQueen: Thank you.

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