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What Do You Need to Do Your Best Work? with David Lancefield

What do you need to do your best work? That is the question David Lancefield strives to find the answer for with his clients in his role as CEO catalyst, strategist and coach. 

What does that mean? It means David works with CEOs, senior professionals and executives, helping them become more extraordinary, by focusing on strategy, innovation, leadership and culture. 

In this episode of The Melting Pot, David talks us through how leaders can set priorities and how a new leadership team comes together to agree on the things that the team needs to do in order to move forward. 

This is a fascinating episode packed full of insights, so make sure to download and listen.

On today’s podcast:

  • Being a catalyst for CEOs
  • Why he has an anti-office mentality
  • Laying the foundations for psychological safety
  • What it takes to do amazing work
  • How to have better meetings

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What Do You Need to Do Your Best Work? with David Lancefield

David Lancefield is a catalyst, strategist and coach. What does that mean? It means he works with CEOs, senior professionals and executives, helping them become more extraordinary, by focusing on strategy, innovation, leadership and culture.

A catalyst for CEOs

What does it mean to be a catalyst for CEOs? 

“Igniting new ideas, fresh thinking, challenging the way people think about how they work, how they play, how they live their lives. When I work with people, it’s not about just holding a mirror up to them. It’s really saying, well, what do you think? What could happen? Re-imagining new possibilities for their organisation, their team. Being challenging, being stimulating.”

David says the biggest challenge his clients face at the moment is that there is no shortage of opportunities. Meaning, CEOs have to have clarity about where they want to focus their energies and their priorities, otherwise they spread themselves too thin. 

The second challenge he sees is the leadership team nodding along with the CEO, but their day to day actions aren’t coherent with the strategy they’re supposed to be implementing. 

Which begs the question – how do you bring a leadership team together? How do you turn them from being a collection of individuals who are performing at certain moments, into a smooth, cohesive unit?

For example, with the recent move to hybrid working – how do you make a leadership team hum when they work remotely? How do you ensure that people aren’t heading off in different directions?

And how do you scale up your organisation and empower people to share their best ideas and make decisions? Because if you don’t, you as the leader become the bottleneck in that organisation. 

“Quite a lot of founder-led businesses talk a good game on this, but actually are very directional: we are going to do this, you’re going to do that. So how would you scale an organisation? How do you give people the right space and amount of responsibility and empowerment to innovate?”

This is where David helps CEOs and leadership teams. 

Why he has an anti-office mentality

The problem of forcing people to work in offices, says David, is that it betrays a lack of trust and a need to micromanage. While there is a place for offices as spaces for people to come together physically, to build good relationships and a sense of belonging and togetherness that you don’t get from working remotely, they aren’t the only way to ensure a business succeeds. 

If you’re going to spend money on an office, says David, and make people pay to commute to it, you have to have a compelling reason why. 

“You can’t have a deep and meaningful conversation unless you’re in an office. That’s nonsense. I’ve had some of the most deepest coaching conversations working remotely.”

The issue, says David, is that many large and traditional organisations have a series of norms around how people work, i.e. output is based on how much you’re seen, not on how much effort you put in. 

So when leaders and managers say people who want to work from home are work shy, there isn’t a problem with productivity, David’s learned, there’s a problem with trust. And the belief that everyone has to be in the office is a manifestation of that lack of trust. 

Laying the foundations for psychological safety

Too many people in management roles have never had any training in what it means, or shown how to get the best from their people, ever. 

This leaves leaders wondering how to create psychological safety in their workplace – how to get people to share more of their views or voice dissenting views. 

But it’s so simple, says David. It all starts with a simple script. Imagine a conversation that goes along these lines: 

“We’ve got a tricky topic today, which is how to grow this part of the business. I’ve brought together a team of people I fully believe in, we’ve got a great range of skills, backgrounds, interests. 

I’m not sure what the answer is. But I believe that if we have a really good discussion over the next 45 minutes on these questions, (whatever the questions are), we’ll come up with the answer. And by the way, if we disagree, fantastic. 

What I’d encourage everyone to do is to properly listen, so avoid interruption. Properly listen, not just listening to wait for your turn, but actually listen and build or challenge each other. Because when we challenge each other, it doesn’t mean that we’re going to lose our friendships. It just means we have a different perspective.”

All it takes to lay the foundations for psychological safety, says David, is reframing one moment of conversation about encouraging debate and dissent.

Once you have that debate and discussion, and this is key, says David, is how you respond to different views. This is essential. You can’t get defensive when someone challenges you. Stay in the moment. It isn’t personal. 

“Those two moments of framing and responses can make a massive difference to how people work and how they feel about work. But it does require development [training to learn how to] manage dissent, be creative, be innovative, be inspiring.”

Creative thinking environments

A creative thinking environment is one where, as a leader, you don’t interrupt. You’re curious about what people think, and you ask the right incisive questions, says David. You give people your full attention and you listen attentively. 

“If you don’t have that fundamental belief that somebody on the other side of the table or the screen has something to offer. You might as well not have a team.”

But to create this type of environment requires the leader to have patience, thought and consideration, and be able to set the conditions for people to feel they want to contribute and that they can contribute. 

“There’s a lot of arrogance in leadership teams, especially when it comes to, for example, setting strategy. [You may have] a big committee of people, but actually I’m the CEO. I know the answer on my own because I’m cleverer, brighter and work harder than everyone else. If that’s your game, you will have a team around you, but it’s not really a team. It’s a team of doers.”

And when that happens you get a lot of bad ideas because no one wants to deliver, because they’re all scared of you. 

It comes back to – will you invest the time to create the conditions for people to do great work? It’s like building a house, says David – do you actually spend the time building the foundations? Or do you just put lovely furniture in?

What it takes to do amazing work

If you want to get the most out of somebody – yourself or a team, you have to ask just one question, says David, and that is: what do I do and who am I when I’m at my best?

This example is a great illustration of how you can reframe a typical interaction, just by asking the simple question at the beginning of a group discussion – what would it take for us to do some amazing work. By asking an open question, allowing everyone to contribute, you’re asking people ‘what’ not ‘why’. 

“What would it take for us to do great work? And how can we work together to do that work? Simple questions. And obviously, you make it more specific according to your context.”

Too often people aren’t encouraged to share their opinions, or to share how they work best. But if you’re a team, knowing how you can all support one another unlocks everyone’s potential. All it takes is one question. 

Changing team behaviour

When you have a new team, leaders can get focused on creating something new for the organisation. Whereas when you have an existing team, most leaders try to propel their performance to the top quartile or grow the business. 

But actually, says David, if you want to change team behaviour, you need to challenge existing norms and assumptions about how you think, quite profoundly.  

A good starting point is getting the team together and asking everyone to contribute: where do we think we should go? How do we win strategic questions? What do we need to master in terms of our activities, our capabilities that nobody else can do? And how do we change the way we work?

How to have better meetings

Too often, meetings are just a theatre show, says David. People come together to report results rather than get together to discuss a problem, or brainstorm an outcome. 

If you want to have better meetings, advises David, think about who really needs to be there, rather than simply inviting everyone. If you have a problem, think about what skills you need, what expertise you require. And set an agenda beforehand – go through the process of making sure people who attend the meetings have the right information to begin with. 

“Spend five minutes after the meeting reflecting on what you’ve learned, not just doing the usual stuff of key points and actions, [but actually] reflecting on what you’ve learned. And that could be what you’ve learned about the engagement of that team, their ability to tackle difficult problems, their appetite for more, or are they burned out?”

It comes back to your default in working life, says David.

“Whenever you get into the autopilot of: ‘that’s the way we’ve always done stuff’, ask the question: what do I need to do my best work?” 

Book recommendations 


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