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E151 | How to Become a Self-Evolved Leader with Dave McKeown

Are you the founder or the leader of a fast paced organisation and you’re wondering why your once high performing team are now sort of bumbling along, barely scraping by – simply not being great anymore?

Then you need Dave McKeown, founder and CEO of Outfield Leadership. Dave’s written a fantastic book – The Self Evolved Leader, and so in this episode we discuss that and the all too common issue of Learned Helplessness. 

Learned Helplessness is a situation where the founder, leader or CEO, gets the team over the line by being heroic and doing all the work themselves, or they’re the one everyone defers to because they have the technical, business or sales knowledge. They do everything themselves, they don’t bring their team up with them. 

So, if you want to be a better leader, you have to become a self evolved leader and learn to get out of your way. Because if you don’t, you’re going to stop your organisation or team from developing. 

To learn some practical ways to become a more self evolved leader, don’t miss this latest episode of Mind Your F**king Business Podcast. We really enjoyed this conversation with Dave, we’re sure you will too. 

On today’s podcast:

  • The importance of strategic planning
  • Getting in your own way
  • How Steve Jobs instilled innovation at Apple
  • Having difficult conversations and effective meetings
  • Being a self-evolved leader


Learned Helplessness & How to Get Out of Your Own Way with Dave McKeown

Dave McKeown, founder and CEO of Outfield Leadership, helps leadership teams step back from the chaos and build a process to set and achieve their strategic goals with ease. 

Son of the legendary serial entrepreneur, Les McKeown, Dave has entrepreneurship in his blood, fascinated from an early age about how we can all row together in the same direction.

“I am a leadership speaker, consultant and trainer. I work with leaders and leadership teams to help them elevate their focus, develop their people and get more done.”

Outfield Leadership

There is no one size of company that Dave works with. He’s worked with businesses turning over $3m all the way up to $14 billion. 

“And as I’ve seen in all of that, there are periods of growth that organisations get to the top of and then they realise that there are some changes that need to happen in order to get to the next stage.”

And a big part of that, says Dave, is for senior leadership to understand the extent to which they’re helping or hindering that next phase of growth for the organisation. Dave comes into the organisation and tries to provide a mechanism by which leaders can honestly and truly assess their strengths and their weaknesses. 

“Their ability to enable the war, stunt growth, and to be a mirror to leadership teams. So most of the work that I do is built around strategic planning.”

From helping leadership understand how they’re gelling with their team, to assessing their strategic plan and teaching them how to take that plan, as a team, and implement it. One part of this is purely functional i.e. implementing the plan, the other part is ensuring that they’ve got an appropriate drumbeat for implementation built into the organisation, rather than simply an attitude of ‘let’s see what works and what doesn’t’. You can only get so far doing that, says Dave.

Getting in your own way

The problem a lot of CEOs have when their business isn’t growing is to assume the company has outgrown the team, because often the team that takes the company to its first £10m isn’t the same team who’ll get the company to its first £100m. Therefore if the goals aren’t being met, it must be the team’s fault. 

A lot of leaders aren’t emotionally aware enough, says Dave, to stand up and say, ‘I’ve got you to the first £10m, I enjoyed that, but I’m not skilled/prepared enough to take it to the next level’. And so they simply assume that whatever got them to the first £10m is enough to carry them through to the next goal. 

“Whenever I work with leaders, about a third of them will recognise the need for change, and will say, I think I can do that, let’s get there; about a third of them will recognise the change and on what’s happening and over time, will eventually say, I don’t think I’m really good enough to get there. And for about a third of them it just never dawns on them, they never see it.”

This is most common for founder owners, around whom the vision for the organisation sits. It got them to the first level, but it’s not scalable. You can’t scale the innovation creativity from one person, you have to build it into the organisation. 

Example: Apple – Steve Jobs

The first time Steve Jobs was kicked out of Apple, they failed to innovate once he’d left, because the vision of the company was centred around him. When he came back, he realised that he couldn’t scale the business with him being the only innovator. So he tried to instill innovation and creativity into the organisation as a whole, to allow the company to innovate without him being the front-facing visionary leader. 

As a self evolved leader, once you’ve built a vision for your team, you then need an implementation rhythm that ensures you’re constantly moving towards that vision. And part of that is setting out high level strategic objectives each quarter, then building a process that allows for change. 

Having difficult conversations 

In order to have difficult conversations with your team, you have to put a framework and boundaries around the conversation. There are two extremes to this conversation, says Dave, the first is the team comes together without anyone taking ownership, they discuss a problem without reaching a resolution and agree to meet at the same time next week. At the other end of the scale, the team meeting is overly agenda driven with no room for debate. 

How to have effective meetings

“People talk all the time about how they hate meetings. They don’t hate meetings, they hate bad meetings. A well run meeting can be one of the most productive ways that you can spend your time.”

Find the balance for the meeting, says Dave. Are you having a strategic or tactical level meeting? Are we talking about processes? Is everyone primed? Do we have clarity around the agenda and what’s expected of participants? Do you need to disseminate information or do you want people’s opinions?

The worst thing that can happen in a meeting is that people attend, sit there, hate what’s happening, don’t say anything and then wonder why nothing changes, or why they’re being ‘forced’ into something they don’t want to do. 

Self evolved leader

“I wanted to provide something [a book] really helpful and useful for anybody that picked it up. And for those leaders in particular who wanted to take control of their own development, but maybe didn’t have the opportunity in their own organisations.”

The book provides some great ideas and how to implement them. It’s for any leader that has a desire to grow themselves, to develop their leadership skills, disciplines and mindset. This book gives them a clear roadmap to make that happen.

One of the problems in our urgent world, says Dave, is that things need to be done immediately, and most leaders want things to move efficiently and effectively. And so they lead through small acts of heroism, whereby rather than giving the team room to innovate and come up with solutions, they either instruct the team how to do whatever needs doing, or worse, they do it themselves. 

“There are leaders everywhere, who are unconsciously preventing the growth and development of their people, because they can’t get their ego out of the way. They claim that they don’t trust their team, or that their team won’t move fast enough, or that I’m just gonna have to fix it. All of those are more about the individual leader than they are about the people that work for them.”

But this builds learned helplessness, and eventually the team stops thinking for themselves, and leaves the leader wondering what happened to their team that used to be self-sufficient. 

“We’ve got to look in the mirror because you’re at least 50% of this equation. So the key behavioural shift is away from that urgency heroic learned helplessness of this cycle towards taking a step back and saying, okay, where is the long term direction of where we’re going? How do we co-create a vision with our team? How do we build an implementation rhythm to get there? And how do I develop the leadership disciplines that I need to steer the ship in order to chart the course.”

Book recommendations

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