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Interview with Thomas D. Zweifel

Thomas D. Zweifel gives insightful information on his speaking engagements, humor, economics, and leadership. Read on below.

What is the message you hope people take away from your presentations?

The most recent financial crisis was at bottom  not economic, but a crisis of leadership. It has shown once again that a radical rethinking is needed to deal with 21st-century challenges like globalization, innovation or strategy alignment.

There are more than 72,000 leadership books on Amazon.com.Ttraditional leadership theories tend to describe or explain leadership, but they fail to give true access to

what it means to lead. I have found a methodology that makes leadership accessible to managers, regardless of whether they have money or the corner office. In short, I call it Leading Through Language.

 

Do you have a favorite experience from your speaking career?

When I gave a keynote for the U.S. State Department, the program officer said afterwards: ¨His greatest skill in my opinion is to help people with different agendas to find that precious common ground and build from there. He is a man who deserves a title that is all too often bestowed without merit, but in his case it is truly deserved: miracle worker.¨–David Searby, program officer, U.S. State Department

 

How much does humor factor into your keynotes and other speaking engagements?

Keynotes ork best when they are highly entertaining. People learn more when they laugh.

 

Who or what inspires you the most?

Winston Churchill. It is said that when he died, people went to his office and found a notepad. Churchill had written some words on the pad, with such force that they cut through all the way to the carton at the back of the notepad. The words were, “Never ever ever ever give up.”

 

How are your keynote presentations unique?

Two things. One, my keynotes pull from a lot of different disciplines: business, history, philosophy, science, theater… It’s a compelling mix. Two, people don’t learn what they hear about, they learn what they do themselves. My keynotes are highly interactive. The audience, or rather: the participants, get to experience and do.

 

How has leadership changed over the past decade?

A new leadership landscape—globalization and democratization, flattening organizational hierarchies and virtual teams, outsourcing and offshoring, the Internet and ubiquitous media—makes leading a more complex challenge than ever.

Even the twentieth century’s greatest leaders might have had a hard time leading in the twenty- first. Winston Churchill would be all over YouTube for his “battle with the bottle.”

Churchill was famous for saying that the higher you rise, the more clearly you see the big picture of vision and strategy. But is that still true today, when the receptionist or the front-line salesperson interface with customers every day and may have as much insight into the market as top managers and board members? Even the military recognizes that soldiers on the ground in Sadr City or Seoul may have more access to local strategic intelligence than commanders at headquarters and need to take part in strategic decision-making. In complex environments, top-down leadership fails.

The good news is that leadership is no longer confined to the realm of the select few. Throughout history, leadership was scarce. Now it is a public good. Google and Wikipedia put knowledge at people’s fingertips with the click of a mouse. Skype and Facebook connect them across the world for free or next to nothing. In the last century, consumers chose among a few TV channels and magazines; by 2007 there were 70 million blogs on the Web. Facebook and YouTube, where 65,000 videos are posted daily, democratize entertainment and give anyone a shot at being a musician or movie director.

Patients have stopped blindly trusting their doctors and instead demand answers and choice—something unthinkable a generation ago, when doctors were omniscient demigods whose judgment no one dared question.

How are we to lead in this new environment? It’s a tough question. Take a cue from Warren Buffett. When the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, one financial services company to emerge from the crisis unscathed, announced his plans to hire a younger person (or several) to understudy him in managing Berkshire’s investments, he did not mention financial savvy or technical skills or even strategic planning. Qualified candidates, Buffett noted, must possess “independent thinking, emotional stability, and a keen understanding of both human and institutional behavior.”

 

What is the importance and benefits of effective communication?

Communication is the water in which leaders swim. Effective speaking — and listening — have the power to build strategic alignment, mobilize for change, empower teams, preent failed mergers, prevent lawsuits. Communication is like fire: you can use it to destroy something, or build championship performance.

 

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