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People Processes Interviews: How to Become a Better Leader by Being Inwardly Sound and Others-Focused with Tim Spiker

Focus the organization and fuel the people. It’s easy for leaders in business to get caught up in managing others and accomplishing tasks over connection and introspection. As we learn in today’s episode, 77% of leadership comes from who a leader is, and not what they do. Our guest presents a case—backed up by industry data and statistics—for becoming inwardly sound and others-focused as the two key traits of the most efficient and effective leaders.

We have interviewed Tim Spiker, a leadership advisor, author of The Only Leaders Worth Following (2019), and the founder and President of The Aperio.

1) What role do systems and processes play in your who, not what principle?

There is a process by which people can grow and develop into better human beings. When we look at leadership development, our process is aimed at making people more well-developed human beings because it creates a better bottom-line result.

2) What’s the broad idea behind how “77% of leadership comes from who a leader is, and not what they do”?

I worked for a consulting firm, and we would put leaders through a series of leadership assessments and experiences on the West Side of Pike’s Peak. Inevitably, we’d get questions from them like, “What’s the magic mix of personality and natural ability that helps to create a more effective leader?” We had enough data to look into that question; so we crunched the numbers and discovered that there was no correlation.

However, our analysis did find some other correlations. We had eight aspects of leadership that were being measured on our assessment. What the software run had found is that just two of those areas were accounting for almost 70% of the variability on the assessment. If you divide a pie into eight pieces, any two pieces should only be worth 25%. Years later, when we had ten times the number of data points, another analysis was run and found that those two areas had gone up to 77% in accounting for the variability of the assessment.

I realized that those two aspects of leadership that were driving all of that variability were a function of who you are as a leader, as opposed to what you do.

3) What do you mean by “who you are”?

We have a whole lot of stereotypes around what the “ideal” leader looks like, most of which are true. By “who”, we mean inwardly sound and others-focused. These two traits materially impact everything that we do as leaders in a positive way. It’s not that what we do doesn’t matter. It’s that what we do is highly impacted by how inwardly-sound and others-focused we are. And a huge part of that is being secure in who you are as a leader.

4) What was the worst experience you ever had on your journey as an entrepreneur and leader?

There was once an opportunity where I was working in an organization, and the person that I reported to was part of the executive committee. One day, at an executive committee meeting, I was asked to do a presentation on somethings that we were working on, and there was a snippet of a detail where I had said something different than the person I was reporting to. This person was very concerned about how others in the room might perceive that difference, even if it was just a minor detail. My boss talked to me afterward and when we got to the topic of that part of the meeting and he got really quiet before saying that it was time for me to start protecting both him and myself. After that, I had to provide reports every single week detailing every single thing that I was doing. After a few years, I realized that I had to move on from this really unhealthy, insecure leader who was lacking in self-awareness.

5) What advice would you give to those who might be in a similar situation that you were in at the time?

The simplest answer to tell them is, “Hey, this isn’t going to get better. You might as well start looking elsewhere right now.” This brings to mind the quote: “When somebody shows you who they are, you should believe them.” It’s a bit of a dangerous statement, and I probably wouldn’t get ahead of myself if I were giving someone advice. But I’d just say, “Be eyes wide open. Just understand the situation that you’re currently in. That leader can change. But they may not.”

Some of the best advice that I got as I struggled for those two years was from my counselor, Gary Hansen, who said, “This sounds like a toxic person, Tim. How do you treat toxicity? You don’t try to improve or rehabilitate toxicity. You try to manage it so it doesn’t do more damage.” A light bulb went off in my head, and I realized that I was trying to create an ideal situation with this leader, but I was working with a toxic person. Ultimately, for sanity, I shifted to thinking about toxicity and it really changed everything, including my relationship with my boss. I quit aiming for what would be great, and I started aiming for what would be best to survive the moment.

Long-term, I would never recommend that anybody do that because you end up stagnant. But for a season, a time period, for the sake of not going crazy, it is okay to look at something for what it is. So, don’t try to rehabilitate toxicity. Manage it so that you can survive, and then figure out what you want to do longer-term. Most people can’t just quit a job and move on. If that’s the case, then minimizing the damage of toxicity is a far wiser path than trying to improve or rehabilitate it. It’s going to keep everybody sane, including the toxic person that you’re working with.

6) What does it mean to be “others-focused”?

Who are you showing up for every day? Is this really all about you? There are very few people who want to admit that they’re living like that. Ultimately, is this leadership role that you have only about what you receive and your upward mobility and vocation in life? Or is it about other people: the followers that you are investing in and helping to grow? Others-focused leaders get more out of those that are following them. We all want to be seen and we all want to matter. Others-focused leaders bring that to the table in a big way.

Being others-focused requires you to be attentive, curious, empathic, humble, emotionally mature, and an embodiment of agape (giving unconditional love). Curiosity in particular will give you the information you need to do a better job at what you do, and to forge stronger relationships with your teammates.

7) What actions can a small business owner take to become a better leader?

Be more curious, not just about facts, but about people. Also, be more empathic. If I know that my leader is connected to me and my reality emotionally, I’m going to receive that much different than if we were totally disconnected. If we’re disconnected, I’ll be defensive when offered criticism and will end up having to work through that before even beginning to talk about the issues at hand. Empathy humanizes leadership.

To increase your level of empathy, try utilizing the 300 Second Pause. This means that, before heading into a discussion or a meeting that has the potential to become emotional, takes 300 seconds (five minutes) to think about what it would be like to be in other people’s shoes. When I walk through the door and see those people, I’ll be interacting with a much more thoughtful connection with where they’re coming into the day. It’s not just about knowing how they feel at the moment, but also about knowing how you want them to feel at the end of the day.

8) What does it mean to be “inwardly sound”?

It means being secured and settled, self-aware, principled, holistically healthy, purposeful, and (again) emotionally mature. I want to zero-in on “self-aware”. If you’re a courageous leader (or just want to get more courageous), one of the things you can do, regardless of how big your organization is, is to open up a dialogue with the people you are leading on a one-on-one basis.

Give them these two questions—directed at you, their leader—to ponder over before you actually meet with them: 1) “What can I be doing differently or better?”; 2) “What do I need to keep doing that’s really making a difference for you or our organization?”

When I’m more inwardly sound, I’m more trustworthy. When I’m more trustworthy, I get greater engagement from my followers. Engagement leads to better performance and better results.

9) How would you respond to people that these actionable steps are just time sinks?

I’m an electrical engineer by education and I ended up in the leadership space, which means that I brought my love for numbers and statistics into that space. The reason we talk about “inwardly sound” and “others-focused” is because that’s where the data points are. Because of the data—not the anecdotal stories which are all over the place—if somebody says, “This sounds like a big-time sink. I just don’t have time for that,” then I tell them with as much understanding and compassion as I can is, “Then you don’t have time to be a good leader.” These two principles make all those other activities and efficiencies that they’re after work that much better.

10) How can HR professionals incorporate these principles into their existing feedback process?

It has to be a part of the conversation—not all at once, but over time. If you look at the systems and processes that you have from an HR perspective, in the development of leaders, if you’re never having a conversation about who, then you’re leaving three-quarters of the conversation out. If you want to have world-class leaders, you have to have world-class conversations about leadership. If you leave out 77% of leadership, you’re not going to be able to do that.


Leadership development is essentially about making people more well-developed human beings in order to create better bottom-line results.

Since 77% of leadership comes from who a leader is, and not what they do, turn your attention as a leader to becoming inwardly sound through curiosity, and others-focused through self-awareness.

Getting your team and HR department to adopt this new way of thinking and adjusting their processes, as a result, is a gradual process. Just keep in mind that the data speaks for itself. If you “don’t have the time” to work on becoming more inwardly sound and others-focused, then you don’t have the time to become a better leader.

Homework: Now that you know the importance of becoming more inwardly sound and others-focused as a leader, in what ways can you encourage more open and candid dialogue between you and your followers in order to help you improve your relationship with your team?

Learn more about Tim Spiker here:




About the author, Rhamy

Rhamy grew up watching and working with his mother and grandmother in the senior insurance market. This familiarity with the struggles faced by people trying to navigate the incredibly complicated and heavily regulated healthcare market led him to start Poplar Financial while working on his degree at the University of Memphis. After completing his MBA and Bachelors in Finance and Economics, Rhamy guided Poplar Financial through the disruptive opportunity that is the Affordable Care Act. Since then Poplar Financial has received numerous awards from major insurance carriers and has completed its fourth year in a row of doubling in size. Now his team focuses on the processes around human resources and specializes in providing companies with between 20 and 1000 employees with the payroll, benefits, and HR needs.

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