NLP And Leadership

In this interview Sue Knight author of international best-sellers, NLP at Work and NLP and Leadership, shares with you her best tips for transforming your thinking and techniques to help you learn from yourself and others.

At minute 21, Sue shares with you why the world needs leaders who are capable of painting a bright future rather than focusing on the current circumstances and inspiring people to move forward. Great stuff!


Shelley: Hi, everyone. It's Shelley Holmes here. I want to welcome Sue Knight. Sue's an international consultant and author who is an authority on the use of NLP, particularly in the business context. She's the author of several books, including the international bestseller, "NLP at Work" along with "NLP and Leadership." Now, I regularly myself refer to NLP at work, as it really offers a lot of practical tips and exercises that enable you to influence, communicate, negotiate, and build teams far more effectively at work. So, welcome, Sue.

Sue: Thank you very much. Thank you for inviting me.

Shelley: My pleasure.

Sue: Now, Sue, as you know, my site's dedicated to helping leaders bring out the best in themselves and the best in others. And the type of leader that I generally attract is one who's on a journey of aligning themselves with their potential, and then helping others to align with their potential. I like to call that breakthrough leadership, and I believe that NLP's sort of one of those tools that these breakthrough leaders can use to enhance his or her own leadership career along with their personal life. So, I'm wondering, can you give people an overview of the NLP, and how it benefits them being a breakthrough leader?

Shelley: Absolutely. It's totally with what you're saying, in its heart. NLP is a way of identifying our excellence, and everybody I believe has an excellence within them. In some ways, everybody is a leader. NLP is a means of unpacking the structure of that excellence, so that we can access that with consistency. So, most people in my experience - most, you know, the man on the street, the woman on the street - have moments when they do things really well, and when they do things with excellence. But they can't necessarily reproduce it consistently, so they're not always sure how they've done that. So, NLP is a means of accessing that, so that we can be that best potential. And nobody is it all the time, and I think it would be bizarre, but more of the time or most of the time.

Shelley: So, what would be maybe the top three no, let's say five things that NLP offers the leader to be able to deliberately access that potential?

Sue: Well, there's different levels of things this offers. I would say the most important things is that it gives them the ability to, what's called "model" themselves. "Model" means being able to understand how they're doing what they're doing. So if, for example, they do something, and it doesn't go very well - suppose they speak to a group of people, and it doesn't inspire them; or they can communicate with somebody, and they don't have the influence that they want, it enables them to explore how that happens, and what they could do differently. But probably what's more important is when they have an occasion when something really goes exceptionally well. Let's say they make an inspired decision, or they get a developer vision that's compelling for the people - equally it enables them to model the structure of that, so that they've got the pieces, and they can develop it, improve on it. So, those are the main things at that kind of modeling level.

Shelley: Sure. I must say, in the work that I've done with NLP, the modeling is the one that captured my attention really rapidly. Because it really is about having that insight, and then stopping and looking at, well, hang on, how do I break down what I just did then, isn't it?

Sue: Exactly. Yes, exactly. The benefit of that is there's lots of modeling done over the years. So, we can also benefit from what's been discovered from other leaders, and try that out, as well. We can shortcut that process, as well. Or you can look at the language, for example, of inspiring leaders, and look at, well, how does that work for me? So, not necessarily to take it on board just literally, because that's not the idea. The idea is to find our own unique way.

Shelley: And there is that fine distinction there, isn't there, between modeling and copycatting, and then holding yourself up against somebody, and going, "I'm not that good"?

Sue: Oh, absolutely. Modeling, ultimately, is about modeling yourself. It might be that you recognize the quality in somebody else. And it's my view, my belief is that if you recognize it in somebody else, you have already got it, but you might want to develop that quality. It's like if you can spot it, you've got it, basically.

Shelley: Very nice. "If you've spot it, you've got it." I like that. So, what would be one or two techniques that you would suggest to people to actually make that practical. So, they get the concept of "I need to model. I need to capture myself in a moment or a moment where I haven't done it quite right, and rethink my strategy." What would be a tool or a technique that maybe you could suggest that would enable them to get that essence?

Sue: Well, there's lots of tools that they can use in as many levels of details that you can go to in that. One very simple tool is if they're either modeling somebody else or modeling themselves is to capture the physiology of that. There will be a way in which they hold themselves. Or if they are, let's say, studying somebody else, there'll be something about that person's physiology and the precision of that. The way they look, the way they move, the way they hold themselves, where they stand, or fit - everything about that will support the results that they're achieving in that moment. So, that's a real shortcut to modeling at a very physiological level.

Shelley: Yeah, yeah. I mean, in fact, when you think about it, or you compare Steven Jobs to Bill Gates when they're presenting or bringing forth new products quite different styles, aren't they?

Sue: Very different styles. And I think that's very interesting if you compare leaders. If you take the recent presidential elections in America, for example, you can go into another dimension particularly there, which is language. And you pay attention to the similarities and difference in language. For example, there was a study done between Kennedy and Jimmy Carter. And one of the interesting differences, and I think very significant differences between leaders - well, usually, what's true of a leader is that they'll have pictured themselves forward in the future in time, and be speaking as if they are living that vision right now. So, they're kind of living the dream, and their language is very characteristic of that. Whereas somebody who tends to be more of a follower will talk in terms of what needs to be changed that's in the present state, and how they move away from that. We've got a lot of present state, current state language in the UK at the moment. I mean, it's actually compounding a not particularly good situation in the press and on the news, for example. And what we really need is somebody to step up, and speak in a leadership way, speak in terms of future desired states.

Shelley: Or for a brightness of future.

Sue: Yes, exactly.

Shelley: That's really interesting. So, you know, in terms of modeling, can you get it out of books? Or is it something that you really need to see?

Sue: What, in order to learn how to do it you mean?

Shelley: No, to, like, for example, I'm--

Sue: Oh, yeah.

Shelley: Yeah. I'm a real fan of Richard Branson, and every time I see something on him, I read it, because his style fascinates me. And I just wonder, is that an effective way to model? You don't actually have to be in the presence of the person to model?

Sue: You don't. I think it's a bonus to be. I mean, to actually see that you get the whole thing if you actually see and hear somebody in action. But there's lots of modeling. I mean, I'm a great fan of Lance Armstrong, and I've never met him.

Shelley: But you will one day. [laughs]

Sue: Yes, absolutely. Yes. I was going to invite him actually. [laughter] So, you can get a lot from people's language in books. If it's about them, probably you'll get less. If it's them writing about themselves, and it's their own language, you'll get things. But then you will get the whole, what's called a "kinesthetic piece" by actually experiencing in action the way they move. So, modeling, ultimately, is not about asking somebody about how they do what they do, because that would be recorded information, just relayed information. It's about observing them, and listening to them.

Shelley: And filling in, sure.

Sue: But, yes, their words in a book, it'll certainly give you some information, no doubt about it.

Shelley: You know, I remember earlier in my career when I was first tippy-toeing into becoming a leader, and really, as I've realized now, many, many years later, every leader has self- doubt. But at the time, I thought it was only me. And I used to look at the leaders around me, and think, "I could never do that. I could never be like that. I'm not good enough." "Who do I think I am," too. And I'd get this real rant going in my head. What would be - because that's the real danger of when you're comparing, because there is that fine line between comparing, and saying, "I like that part of what that person does" and "I like that part." What would be some tips that you might pass on to people to stop themselves from falling into that trap of comparing, rather than modeling?

Sue: Okay. Well, first is the fact that if they can see it or hear it in somebody else, and recognize it, that they wouldn't be able to do that if they didn't have it, and if they didn't have the structure of it within. So, they've already got it, but maybe not as fully developed.

Shelley: The finesse, yeah.

Sue: They're not manifesting it necessarily. It's kind of there as a seed. So, that's a very important thing. Second thing is to recognize one of the principles that typically leaders hold, and that is that, well, there's no failure. There's only learning. And if you hold that while you're modeling. Like, saying, "Well, whatever I do, and however I try this out, I'm going to learn in any case." So, that's in it. And leaders typically don't compare themselves. If you take the top sports people, for example, and put them in the category of leader - when they're really achieving, they're not comparing themselves with somebody else. They're just going for personal best. So, holding that as you do it, which is already taking on board one of the principles of leadership, is important. And it's also worth holding in mind that a very simple summary of three things that get in the way of people being as effective as they can be is, inner noise, muscle tension, and what's called fovial vision.

Shelley: Sorry, what was the last bit?

Sue: Fovial vision. It means like tunnel vision, but fovial in the eye is the bit that just views the stuff immediately in front of you. So, inner noise is when you're having like a chat about "how am I doing" in your head. About "how am I doing?" "How does that compare with somebody else?" So, just to recognize that's going on. And it's a choice. You just stop it. So, that's one big demon, if you like, personal effect. And that's often linked with muscle tension, as well. So, if you identify, and are sensitive to your own body, and you sense any degree of muscle tension, it's like do something about it. Do something about that first before you do anything else.

Shelley: Yeah. Because your emotional state drives everything else, doesn't it?

Sue: Yes. Well, it's what you think about. It's like that great quote, isn't it: "What we see and what we hear is what we think about. What we think about is what we feel. What we feel shapes our reaction. Reactions become habits, and habits become our destiny."

Shelley: I love that quote.

Sue: Yeah, so do I.

Shelley: So, I'm going to pick up on something you just said a moment ago, in terms if when people are in the noise, and as you said, professional people are just constantly going against their personal best, and so when they hit a hiccup, and maybe they get that moment of where the mind chatter starts, one of the things that really fascinated me in NLP was that whole conceptive reframing.

Sue: Yes.

Shelley: Would you like to explain that concept, and how it's such a powerful tool?

Sue: Yes. As human being we're putting meanings to things, most of the time, and so we frame our experiences. Something happens, and we put a meaning to it that's from our own experience. So, I'll give you a kind of close to home example. There was a time when my husband was - he works with me in the business, and he's very much the web developer. But at one time, he was actually doing the finances of the business, which was probably not his forte. And he was asking me about it most of the time. So, even when we were really meant to be having free time and relaxed time, he kept talking me to about the finances of the business. I was definitely getting a lot of inner noise about that, and saying, "Aw, for goodness' sake." Well, I mentioned it to a friend of mine, and she said, and I was seeing it as a very negative thing, and she said, "He must love you very much to give you and your business that much attention."
Shelley: Aw.

Sue: That was a reframe.

Shelley: That was a reframe.

Sue: And my experience of him talking about it was so very different, subsequently.

Shelley: So, can you reframe yourself, or do you need someone to point it out for you?

Sue: You can reframe yourself. The first step is to be aware of what you're doing. But I think that's where the muscle tension comes in very useful, because if you get attuned to sensing when you are either getting into or slipping into a not- okay state, then there'll typically be somebody tension in some way. So, if you get used to monitoring yourself in that way, then the fact of monitoring means that you'll step away from being immersed in that thinking, and then you can think, "Okay. Well, what am I doing here? How am I thinking about this? And how can I think about it differently?" So, absolutely you can do it. So, I think with a lot of the NLP thing, it helps to do it with somebody first, because they can highlight the blind spots. Once you get into the swing of being able to do that for yourself, then yeah, you can absolutely do it independently.

Shelley: In fact, you've got a couple of exercises in "NLP at Work" around that, which I've personally found very useful. So, I highly recommend anyone grab the book just to have a look at it.

Sue: Yeah. There's this kind of thought provokers at the end of every chapter. Given that it's a book, it isn't giving you the experience as such, but they're designed to give you a framework in which you can try things out for yourself.

Shelley: Yeah. No, that's great. One of the themes that is consistent throughout any content that I produce is, the only person you can change is you. I've witnessed for many years people trying to get others to change, you know, the thought for us kind of things to be. "If you would just do this, then I could be happy. Until you can do that, then I'm not going to be happy. And, of course, what we know is they're never going to change for us. So, what's your thoughts on that, and how all relates to what you teach?

Sue: We agree totally on that. Well, you know I'm going to India at the end of the week. And I mean, Gandhi's famous for saying: "Be the example."

Shelley: Yes. "Be the change you wish to see."

Sue: "Be the change we wish to see in the world." So, in fact, I ran a day last week, which was a boost your business day, because a lot of people were talking about the impact of the changes in the economy on their business. And I was aware that many people were using kind of language and ways of thinking - they've kind of slipped in some of the ways of thinking and ways of talking themselves. And one of the exercises that we did was I asked them to, say, think of three things in which they've described their circumstances in their life, in their work right now. And in some cases, they were positive. In a lot of cases, people were saying, "Well, I'm feeling the crunch. Things are getting challenging." "I'm closing down my business," for example; and this is a very usual type of question I would give to people. My question to them then was, and how is that true about you? And so, for example, the guy who said, "I'm closing a business down right now" he said, "You know what? I realize I'm closing myself down. And I'm closing myself down emotionally, and that's not where I want to be." And just by bringing that back to himself - because I really believe that the structure that we've got within is the structure that we shape in our environment, in our circumstances. So, I have lots of exercises I do about bringing it back to myself, because I'm absolutely with you, the only place where we can do anything is about changing ourselves.

Shelley: Look, you know, my advice to my clients recently has been: "Turn the radio off. Stop reading the papers, and get on with business." If we were to line everybody up in the planet, and then categorize the amount that are actually truly being impacted by the economy, it would be less than 1%.

Sue: Exactly. I mean, it's interesting with all the attacks in Mumbai this week - and I've got a lot of people coming to India for programs I respect people who are going to make their own decisions about that. But Mumbai is 1,500 kilometers from where we'll be working. States in India are very different in their culture and their style, and it's very easy - I mean, I found myself at first doing this, imagining it happening in all of India, and generalizing the experience, and generalizing the reportage. And that's what happens in papers. That's what's happened in the news. Where it's, of course, there's risks, and of course there's threats everywhere. But it's like, deal with the facts.

Shelley: Yeah, absolutely. And, look, you know, because I have really taken to heeding my own advice of turning the news off, I'm only vaguely aware of what happened. I know something happened, and I know it's not been good, but I've turned away from that, because there's nothing I can personally do right now except hold my energy that says the world on the whole is a good place, and if we all work together to believe that it's all going to work out, then eventually the numbers will win.

Sue: Absolutely.

Shelley: Because the numbers of the things that go wrong, it's so small. But CNN and all the rest of them, they play to that. They play to people's fear, but again, if we were to line up all the bad events of the world, and then run it over CNN, it would be a [bleep], and it would over.

Sue: Yes, exactly. I do stay in touch with the news, because I think it's important - it's a part of who I am, as well. And for me, it also highlights the importance of what's needed. I really believe the world is ready, and it's already thickening, it's ready for a very new style of leading. I became aware, there's a book, I think it's called "A Shock Doctrine," and they make a very good point in that. But when people experience shock in some kind, a sudden change in circumstances, they don't run away from it usually. I mean, they don't do what you do, they don't not look. They stay still. They kind of wait, and they're waiting for leaders to emerge. And the world is kind of calling out for people to step up into this new leadership role right now.

Shelley: Yes, absolutely. Because, see, here's where I come in, is that what we need to do is have a grand vision of where we're heading, and not focus on what's happening. It's kind of looping back to where we started. It's focusing on the bright future. Languaging it in where we're going, rather than focusing back here. And we know enough, for me, anyway without having to immerse myself in the detail to say, "What I want to do is be a flame or a light that says we can do this."

Sue: Yes. I mean, I think knowing what you stand for is vital. So, we can't predict what's going to happen in the world, but you can choose what's important to you, what values you stand for. And we can, and I know there's always tests for that, and we're never going to be typically, you know, 100%, and nor would it be appropriate - but we can really aspire to live each moment in the truth of what we believe to be important. And I think that's really vital.

Shelley: It really is, it really is. Let me jump ship a little bit to something; because as you were talking, it occurred to me, I often when I'm working with leaders... For an example, I've got a workshop that I run called "Communicating with Power," and we spend a lot of time talking about a lot of different things, but there's one subject, well, one concept, I should say, that the leaders seem to grab on and take away, which is what I call the "above the line, below the line." You might have heard that. We're above the lines, taking responsibility. Below the lines, playing victim. And leaders seem to grab that, and apply it, and it really makes a difference for them. Have you had that same experience when you've been running workshops, where people have kind of grabbed on to a concept, and you can just see it making a difference in how they view the world?

Sue: Yes. Absolutely, it would be my measure of success. It's absolutely what I'm expecting and looking for.

Shelley: So, what would be that one concept that you know leaders will just run with it?

Sue: Well, that one of bringing back to themselves. The "apply to self." That's how I call it, apply to self. Whatever's happening, apply it to yourself. And that's a way of owning what's happening in the world, in the circumstances in your life. It's a way of taking responsibility. It's a way of being accountable. It's a way of being a leader.

Shelley: Yup. And isn't it great when people can step into that, and feel refreshed?

Sue: I just feel inspired. You can just see the kind of light bulb go on, and they realize. It pays off. And I've been putting that out there. And when I think of it as just out there, I don't have any influence over that. But when I bring it back to myself...

Shelley: There's the power.

Sue: It doesn't matter whether it's a fact or not, it's that's an example of a reframe; and it's a reframe that's very characteristic of leaders.

Shelley: Yeah. Yeah. No, that's beautiful. So, to converse on the reverse side - again, I would just use that same workshop as an example. We probably spend in that workshop a third of the time on talking about preparing to have the conversation with somebody where they're trying to influence them, and getting their story clear in their head, and all of that. And the leaders in the workshop just see the power of it when they take a situation that they've been struggling with, and do the preparations, see how it changes their thinking, and all of thart. Yet, when I check in a couple of months later, they say, "You know what? I know this works, and when I do it, it works well, but gee, I'm so busy. I don't have the time." And I kind of go Grrr, is there an NLP tool that you consistently teach, where you think, "I just wished they'd grabbed this one?"

Sue: There is. I suppose one thing I would say about that - and I might take a slightly different line with that, because for me, a description of NLP is about being real-time, and open to feedback and not knowing. So, one of the things that I encourage people to unlearn is the need to know what's going to happen, and try and anticipate exactly. I mean, I think it's one thing to consider the circumstances, but it's another to be - and I don't think you were suggesting this at all - but some people were waiting to be scripted, for example.

Shelley: Yes. No, not at all.

Sue: As opposed to being absolutely in the moment. So, what I'm encouraging people to learn is the states. And to have a state of resourcefulness, so that they can respond to the moment. So, that's an important thing. An approach I've used, a number of people, I've modeled for years and years, and one of these people is a guy called Frank Farrelly, and he does what's called "provocative therapy," and he is a therapist. I apply it to coaching. I find that when somebody isn't taking something onboard or they're resistant to it, or they're hanging on - provocative means provoking a learning or a healing response, and it's done with love. It's not an aggressive thing. But actually, sometimes confronting people with the truth, but in a kind of provocative way, rather than taking it onboard. I think the danger is sometimes to get frustrated with people. So, I mean, I had somebody recently who said, and he's a very talented and very abled person he said, "Well, you know, I could do this. And I could do that." And he's kind of hovered between two things. And I said, "Well, that's okay. You could have on your gravestone," It dithered." That's up to you." And so, almost just kind of confronting them with a kind of punch-line that makes them maybe laugh at it, because once they laugh at it, they disassociate from the hanging on to the problem stage. So, I will, sometimes, when I find that more, if you like, traditional ways are not working, I'll use that; because if I start taking it onboard, it takes it away from them. It's one way of absolutely avoiding getting into that rescuer mode.

Shelley: Let me ask you this, because you mentioned just with that client of "on your gravestone, "If you were to share on last thing with one of your grandchildren or somebody very close to you, what would that one thing be? If you only had one minute left with them?

Sue: I would say, "Be the example. Be the example you want in the world."

Shelley: Yeah. Very nice. Very nice. So, Sue, if anyone's listening in today, and wants to get ahold of you to find out more about what you do, how do they go about that?

Sue: They could go to my website, and there's lots of stuff on there. That's or - either will get to my site. There's a "Get in Touch" section on the website as well. But there's lots of my thoughts on there. There's a blog, and there's lots of articles, just examples of things that I do around the world.

Shelley: Fantastic. Because you do more than just run workshops, correct?

Sue: I do. I do coaching one-to-one, often with leaders in business. Because I really believe that their way of being so shapes the companies and the market that they're a part of. I do conferences and talks. I write. I run certification programs in NLP around the world. And I do in-company consultancy.

Shelley: Right. So, have laptop, will travel?

Sue: Absolutely, yes. And it's possible I have a bike with me, as well, given that I do cycling; hence my love of Lance Armstrong.

Shelley: Lance Armstrong. But there's plenty to admire about him just beyond the bike riding, isn't there?

Sue: Well, exactly. And well, he's said he's stopped bike riding now, but there are rumors that he's going to do this sort of route this year.

Shelley: I heard that. It's just amazing.

Sue: It is amazing. It's absolutely amazing.

Shelley: Not holding the good ones back.

Sue: Yeah, it'll be interesting to see what happens.

Shelley: Okay. Well, look. We've just added another tool to our listeners' leadership toolbox, because I really believe that NLP is certainly a tool that leaders can learn to more effectively understand the strategies that they're using that will help them to either be successful or otherwise, then make some choices about what works, and what doesn't work. And so, it helps you to interact with others, but it also, for me, anyway, since I've been learning NLP, it's helped me to interact better with myself. Do you think that's a fair description, Sue?

Sue: I do. I do. And it's very hard to kind of sum it up, but it's a study of excellence. It's a study of the structure of excellence.

Shelley: Perfect. Perfect. And this is Shelley saying goodbye for now, until we come together to align potential.

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