The Happy Engineer Podcast

028: Crack the Leadership Code with Alain Hunkins

Do you want to be happy now? What can professional theater teach you about being a great leader? How does knowing brain science give you an edge in your engineering career?

In this episode, be prepared to discover the leader inside you with Alain Hunkins. He has worked with over 2,000 groups of leaders in 25 countries as a leadership coach and consultant, supporting a list of major corporations way too long for these show notes.

His powerful perspective on how to thrive in life and leadership is transformational for the engineering mindset.

A recognized author, Alain wrote “Cracking the Leadership Code: Three Secrets to Building Strong Leaders” (Wiley, March 2020), which was endorsed by leadership luminaries Jim Kouzes, Barry Posner, and Marshall Goldsmith.

A faculty member of Duke Corporate Education, Alain’s writing has been featured in Fast Company, Inc., Forbes, Chief Executive, Chief Learning Officer, and Business Insider.

So press play and let’s chat… let’s write the script for your future!


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I am totally reeling with golden nuggets, insights, wisdom, amazing things that we could debrief on from my conversation with Alain Hunkins. I hope you enjoyed the episode, and if you have not yet listened, now’s the time! I don’t know how I could possibly do any better on some of these points than he already did, but I want to make sure, as always, that we take this and do more than just listen. Do more than get in the ideas that are vivid and in our minds, but don’t become action. Just like that last point about how engineers are in the world. I’m still just on fire with how that brought clarity and to some of my own patterns and behaviors as an engineer where we get so caught in the vivid ideas and concepts that we neglect emotional intelligence and other people’s feelings.

But also we fail to get into action. So that’s what this time is for, and I’m going to do my best to bring us back and get focused on what we are going to do in our lives as a result of this. Let’s first return to this concept of theater, fine arts, what a cool place to begin. So many leaders, people who do leadership training, leadership coaching, who come into that space have some complimentary background in music, in acting, in improvisation, these other sides of life than the technical and analytical that you and I lived in as his engineers.

I want to highlight the fact that there is a really true, and ever-present reality that you are showing up and playing a part, playing a role in your life, in these different environments and spaces. You are playing the role of an engineering leader at work. You are playing the role of a mother or father to your children, playing a role of a son or daughter to your parents.

That concept it’s not about woo-woo “what is reality?” You know, trying to get into the meta side of all this. That’s not the point. The point is when you step into these roles, there is an identity that you put on. A set of beliefs that come with that. And when you move between roles, there’s an identity shift that can take place. How you show up may be dependent on what you believe is the appropriate way to act in that situation. Something that you might do at home with your spouse is inappropriate at work. And so you act differently. When we say that phrase, we don’t think anything of it. And yet, if I were to say in your life you are constantly acting, many of us might reject that concept or that idea.

But here’s what I want you to think about in terms of application. If you are simply playing a role at work, what if you changed the character? What if you rewrote the script?. Let’s say for example, the character who you’re playing today is a quiet, introverted version of yourself that doesn’t speak up, does not bring your own original ideas into the meetings, avoids conflict, and doesn’t want to have those crucial courageous conversations.

Well, what if you made a decision today to start acting as a different version of yourself? What if you saw work as one grand drama that you play a part in written by Shakespeare (alright, maybe not the Olde English, but you get the point) and you have an opportunity to rewrite your character? Somebody gave you the creative license to say, “Hey, which character do you want to play in this movie?”

I know it sounds crazy, but what you’re doing every single day is exactly that you’re playing out that identity that you have created for yourself. And if you look at this and realize that shifting and changing that identity is a pathway to change in the results that you get. It’s extremely powerful. If it doesn’t make sense to you, you’re not sure what to do with that then get help. Reach out to me, reach out to OACO, reach out to Alain. Get some support on how to make these shifts, these changes. 

Vision plus action equals mission.

I really liked that this is a new way of thinking about it for me, you know, in my world and my vernacular. I talk about vision as a positive view of the future that is vivid, colorful, emotional. It’s all of the senses. It’s descriptive. It’s not just a sentence, it’s a true picture in our minds of what we want to see created at a point in time in the future. It’s something that when you see it, you know it, when you feel it, you know it, when you hear it, you know it, when you smell it, you know it, that’s what vision is. It’s the destination in all of its vivid glory of what we’re going to go create.

And mission, I talk about the north star, it’s the north star on my compass. It’s that guiding direction that helps me know if I am moving toward my vision in a way that is aligned with my values and my purpose, that gives me a sense of mission. And I love the idea of a mission statement, et cetera, but now when you connect this framework that we heard today, vision plus action equals mission. I like this. You need to have that clear picture of the future and where you’re going, but if you don’t take action towards it, then you’re not living on your mission, 100%.

So maybe that supports you and asking yourself the question “Do I have a vision?” and “Am I taking action towards it?” Inside of that combination is where we find the ingredients of your mission. You may not have such a beautifully crafted statement as Alain did. You have a vibrant and alive world by kindling the fire of brilliant people – what a phrase.

Mine is to be an oasis along life’s journey that gives you courage to walk. And we do a life purpose, a mission statement, exercise in my coaching program with the engineering leaders who I support, but maybe you don’t have something that’s beautifully crafted like that. But this is the place to go look. When you know where you want to be in life, you have a vision in the place of authentic action towards it is where you’re going to find your mission.

If you only take one thing away from this conversation, I hope it’s that ending point with Alain’s question. If you want to be happy, fulfilled, successful, fill in the blank, whatever that is that you want. What action can you take today to start experiencing happiness now, to start experiencing success now, to start experiencing love now? Don’t wait. Flip the script. Setting up a framework in your life where when I one day achieve this thing, then I’ll allow myself to be happy. We’ve heard this from several guests, you hear it all the time. It’s easy to want to write that off, engineer. It really is. 

I mean, I’m going to be totally honest with you. Sometimes these things that become cliche or that we hear spoken about a lot on podcasts or motivational speeches, we kind of have it in one ear out the other. “I already know it. I’ve already heard this.” I want to challenge you. Don’t let the “I know” part of your mind block you from what you need to hear right now.

What action can you take today to be happy? Go take it.

Previous Episode 27: From Ballet to Blockchain: Find Your Career Path with Matt Sevey




Alain Hunkins helps high achieving people become high achieving leaders. Over his twenty-year career, Alain has worked with over 2,000 groups of leaders in 25 countries. Clients include Wal-Mart, Pfizer, Citigroup, General Electric, State Farm Insurance, IBM, General Motors, and Microsoft.

In addition to being a leadership speaker, consultant, trainer, and coach, Alain is the author of CRACKING THE LEADERSHIP CODE: Three Secrets to Building Strong Leaders (Wiley, March 2020), which was endorsed by leadership luminaries Jim Kouzes, Barry Posner, and Marshall Goldsmith.

A faculty member of Duke Corporate Education, Alain’s writing has been featured in Fast Company, Inc., Forbes, Chief Executive, Chief Learning Officer, and Business Insider.





Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Happy engineers. Welcome back. You are in for an incredible treat today. It’s an absolute honor to have Alain Hunkins with us, and he gave me training on how to correctly pronounce his name, the Midwestern yuppy, Zach white struggles. But this is an amazing, amazing leader who I just had the privilege of meeting recently at a mutual event where we shared some of the work that we’re doing with challenges, and it was an absolute pleasure.

[00:00:28] We have got to connect and get you on the show and Alain, thank you for making time to be with us. I know you have so much going on. It’s awesome to have you.

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:37] Alain Hunkins: Zach. It’s a pleasure. I loved our connection when we met last week, I guess it was. And I’m so happy to be here with you and hopefully share some really valuable things with the audience listening.

[00:00:48] Zach White: I just shared the bio in the preread. Our guests are mind blown right now, but in addition to all the great work you’ve done over 130 podcast appearances, my brain was like, well, how can we start somebody? That isn’t where everybody else has always started. Just so you could have some fun and variety in this conversation.

[00:01:08] And so I want you to take us back to 1995, take us back to 1995 in New York city. If I have my facts, right. And please fact check me if this is incorrect, you just finished your master’s of fine arts in acting and professionals. And you find yourself at the Irondale ensemble project. And I’m curious about it just as this little one year stint on your amazing profile things you’ve done that stood out to me as like, that’s really interesting.

[00:01:38] Tell us the story like what’s going on in that chapter of your life with theater and your time there at. 

[00:01:46] Alain Hunkins: Oh, my gosh. First of all, kudos to you for digging this little snippet of my year of life, out of the, out of the annals of history as it were. So I came to New York in 1995. I grew up in New York City, I should say, but then I came back to New York after I had just in 95.

[00:02:03] I graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee professional theater training. Growing got trained as a professional actor is an MFA three-year conservatory program, really intense. We had 12 men and four women. And the whole program, because it was modeled on a classic repertory theater company.

[00:02:21] And the first year we performed two plays the year. The second year we did five plays in the year and the third year we did eight plays in the year. And so basically year three, we are performing pretty much every night and rehearsing the next plate during the day, the way they used to do when they used to have rotating.

[00:02:39] And so along the journey, I began to get a little bit, I don’t know if it was fear, a little disillusioned, like, do I do, am I cut out for this business? Because I was an idealist and I obviously still am in a lot of ways. And I felt like the profession of acting and theater versus my ideal. Didn’t necessarily match up.

[00:03:02] And I remember mentioning this to my grad school faculty at the time to which they heard. You’re not sure. And so they started to write me off actually halfway through my program. So a good example of be careful who you give honest feedback to, because not everyone’s really open to hear it. So when we graduated, I really felt like the reason I got into the arts and acting specifically was I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.

[00:03:28] I think that. When people come away from a great work of art, it changes you. And what I found is the actual work itself didn’t oftentimes live up to that ideal. So I was really interested in going to work with companies that had a mission of making a difference in the world. And so Irondale ensemble project is one of these companies that’s been around.

[00:03:52] It was at the time it had been around for 20 years. Now it’s been around for 50 years, practically. And they had a mission. How can we use expressive arts in schools with students all over, um, to make a difference in their lives? And so I had read about them in this regional theater directory and they had auditions and I showed up to audition to become a member of their acting company.

[00:04:15] Um, they had 450 people audition for three spots and they asked me like, why are you here? And I basically gave them a version of what it has shared. I was really passionate. Like I want to make a difference. Anyway, long story short is they took me as part of the company. So we performed a couple of off-Broadway shows over the course of that year.

[00:04:36] But the other really cool thing that we did is. Irondale his mission is they do a lot of education outreach and they have contracts going back with all sorts of folks. So a couple of things that stood out, particularly one of the contracts was, um, we did some work with incarcerated youth at Rikers island.

[00:04:56] And so the arts and education programs for students, their students, kids, and then there actually is a high school. It’s an alternative high school on Rikers island, which is quite an amazing experience. And what was great was I was with people who were 20 years, my senior who have been doing this work for a long time.

[00:05:13] So this is really where I cut my teeth teaching with other people. And so we had that, we worked in a drug rehab center on Staten island with a bunch of incarcerated with, um, resident youth. Boys who were there. Uh, we used to do HIV aids education programs in inner city schools, junior high schools and high school.

[00:05:32] So it was, I mean, it’s funny. I look back a year. It goes by fast, but that year was very rich and I learned so much, plus we got to perform too. So it was a full-on full-on experience. And I think I was making. A hundred bucks a week. I mean, it was not paid. I got paid. Well, it wasn’t for the money, but, uh, I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

[00:05:53] It was such a great experience. 

[00:05:55] Zach White: This is really amazing what was it originally that drew you into theater and find. 

[00:06:01] Alain Hunkins: So my father’s family are all professional musicians, my grandmother, my father’s mother was the first woman to play in a Broadway pit orchestra, vide.

[00:06:12] She’s a violinist actually. And she actually also played in the radio city music hall orchestra. And at the time that you proposed the idea of blind auditions, and this was not standard for years. And the belief was that women aren’t as good as men surprised.

[00:06:28] And so they started doing these blind auditions, whereas they couldn’t see who it was. Is it a man? Is it a woman? They try to listen to those high heels walking across the floor. And yes, my grandmother was a trailblazer in terms of women in orchestras and her husband. My grandfather was a professional cellist.

[00:06:45] He was the principal cellist of the Dallas symphony orchestra. And then he moved, he taught at Indiana university. So the two of them were like, We’re talking world-class high level folks. And they have five kids. My dad’s the oldest and they had five kids. All five are professionals.

[00:07:01] So I started playing the violin when I was five. I played violin, but I always was interested in theater, but then I went to the high school of music and art in New York, famous in the movie fame, you know, the movie fame, you know, school of performing arts. And if you were a violinist, which is what I was, you couldn’t do anything else.

[00:07:18] Well, when I got to college, I auditioned for a play with actually 12th night Shakespeare’s 12th night, and I got cast in a lead role in Orsino. Um, guy who was. Starts the show who the famous line he shares is if music be the food of love play on that’s the one of Shakespeare’s famous lines.

[00:07:35] And I got hooked into really enjoying being part of an ensemble and theater in a way that playing an orchestra didn’t do it for me. So that’s what got me interested in the arts. And it’s interesting because I often talk about leadership as a performing art. And what I mean by a couple of things.

[00:07:54] One is you think about the performing. It’s all about your behaviors, what you say and what you do. And so I think about leadership. It’s all about what you say and what you do. The other thing that about leadership is like performing art is you have to recognize you are on stage in that people look to you with an outsized lens.

[00:08:14] They are projecting all kinds of stuff onto you, and you have to be able to carry that message. Well, you can’t, it’s just me. No, it’s not just you. The fact is you are playing a role. In fact, we all do this in life, right. We put on our various hats or roles that we play. So for use that, I’m sure you at times play the role of a child to your mom and dad.

[00:08:38] I mean, we all did that and do that. if we’re married, we play a role of partners, spouse, husband. Uh, if we’re parents play the role of father, mother, guardian grandparent, all these things, his friend. So we, and we shift our own identity around, depending on who that is. And for me, what I find fascinating, because I try to help people to change their behavior.

[00:09:00] One of the hardest things to do, and most of the most powerful things to do is to shift your identity. Because that suddenly then shifts your beliefs about what you will and won’t do. So I’ve, I’m fascinated about all this. So yeah, that’s what got me. 

[00:09:14] Zach White: This is an amazing arc to the story too. So beginning from a family heritage of world-class musicianship, which is just phenomenal.

[00:09:23] And then you started in violin, ended up falling in love with theater, pursued that for college. Got the degree went ahead this year at Irondale. So if I continue the arc of this, where’s that epiphany moment for you, that where you just connected some dots for us, Hey, you know, acting and theater and leadership.

[00:09:44] Here’s places where they’re overlapped in our identity and in our, how we perform and our behavior. Where was it in your actual life that those things began to click? Like where was your epiphany moment that, oh my God. This matters for leadership and you began what is now a 25 year plus journey as an incredible leadership coach.

[00:10:02] Where did 

[00:10:02] Alain Hunkins: that happen? That journey actually started in while I was in graduate school. I started graduate school in 92, and one of my good friends got in John Wolfe. he went off and did this intensive weekend workshop 

[00:10:17] It happened to be for men. It was a personal growth workshop and he told me about it and I’m like, oh, that sounds like. And John came back. It was really good. You should think about going on this thing. I said, nah, that sounds good. But I was broken. It costs like $500. So there’s no abs, but frankly watching John change over the next two years and specifically, it was sort of, I saw the sense that John was able to we’ll call it step into his power.

[00:10:42] And, you know, we had a pretty funky faculty and John can be very clear and of very clear, healthy boundaries. And I said, John, where’d you learn how to do that? This is what I’ve learned from this men’s group, even going there this after the initial weekend and ongoing trainings. So finally in November of 1994, our, third and final year of grad school, I went off and did this experiential personal growth workshop.

[00:11:05] And my mind was completely blown. This was probably the most powerful weekend of my life. I was like, oh my gosh. And on this weekend, one of the things that we did was access and do work. What is your personal mission in the world? And so for those that are familiar with mission workshops, part of that is what’s your vision of the world.

[00:11:28] Like if every little boy and little girl could get their deepest needs met, what would that vision look like? And then what would you need to be doing? What’s the action that you’re taking to make that vision a reality? So vision plus action becomes mission. And so I came off of that weekend, really clear.

[00:11:46] I had this vision of all. I’ll share the mission statement and I still have the same exact mission. This is what, 1994. So we’re going on 27 years. Now, my mission is to create a vibrant and alive world by kindling, the fire of brilliancy. And so my vision was actually for myself as a kid was just like wanting to jump up and down with excitement and this sense of, and for me, that’s been always around ideas.

[00:12:13] And so. Was in the back pocket as I came back to Irondale and that led me to doing some more. I started facilitating groups back in 94 and 95 as a volunteer. I was a junior facilitator in a bunch of these men’s groups, uh,on a basis volunteer once a. And I went to do some advanced facilitator training just to learn and keep growing.

[00:12:35] And this guy said, Hey, have you ever thought about doing any corporate training stuff? And this is now 96, like, ah, like corporate stuff. Like I’m not a corporate guy. I’m an artist. You know, I was, the one who was all my friends, but like putting on interviews. Yeah. I, my senior year of college, like your sellout, who are you selling out?

[00:12:54] Cause I came from a family of artists and teachers who were like, John corporate is evil. You can’t do that. And so what ended up happening was. I ended up going, this is now actually, that’s how this happened. This was March of, or February of 1997. I ended up going to, I said, come with me, I’m going to this thing.

[00:13:14] It’s called the American society of training and development, which is now known as ATD at the time. It was a STB association, society of training development. And they’re having their monthly meeting. You want to kind of show that. So I came with him and on the way. I didn’t talk to anybody. I put on a tie, I felt very awkward corporate group, you know, like, I don’t know.

[00:13:32] And so on the way out, I picked up their newsletter and when I got home, I started reading through it and they had a job hotline. You gotta remember, this is 1997. There was no internet for the most part. And so the job hotline was called this number. And then if you’re interested in job, one-on-one press one for job.

[00:13:49] 1 0 2, press two. I mean, it was literally. That’s what it was like, touch tone, dial prompts. This is how things work back in the day. And so I listened through and all these jobs and a lot 

[00:13:59] Zach White: more, sorry for those of you listening, who don’t have a clue, what we mean by touching a real physical button on a phone.

[00:14:07] That was the thing I saw. You actually 

[00:14:10] Alain Hunkins: had to press YouTube, YouTube, YouTube tutorial, and have. I remember when those came in, I remember rotary dial phones and touchdowns were like, that was the new technology that came. 

[00:14:23] Zach White: We had one rotary phone at my house growing up, but I’m not, I’m not quite a rotary guy, but I’m sorry.

[00:14:28] I interrupted you. This is too funny now technologists on 

[00:14:33] Alain Hunkins: I’m doing myself on technology. So anyway, so I’m listening through, most of the jobs are all very technical skill training job, like computer software trainer, like now, like all these jobs are technical. I now know that I get to this job.

[00:14:46] Like job number 1 0 7, an experiential training company, looking for facilitators to lead leadership and management trainings. Our company values are integrity, accountability, teamwork, and fun. This sounds right up my alley. Long story short is I ended up applying to this job with a company that was based in Canada.

[00:15:05] They were looking to expand to the us and they were looking to hire us. And I got hired and this is may of 1997. And their client base was basically the fortune a hundred. And I started working with them and I worked with them as a facilitator and I didn’t have corporate experience, but I could ask good questions and go like, tell me about your biggest challenges.

[00:15:26] What’s it? Like, what are you hoping to do? And so I became a consultant. And I didn’t know, that’s what it was called at the time. And, the cool thing about that work is we used to do a lot of experiential simulations to which highly themed games in which I would literally put on costumes. And so there was a certain theatrical element to this whole thing play, but at the same time, goes through the simulation at the end.

[00:15:50] Then we had to kind of take off the play hat and then. Debrief it and facilitate a conversation and coaching around how is what we just went through a metaphor or analogy for what you deal with on a day-to-day basis in terms of your behaviors. And that’s where I became an adult educator, and that was 97.

[00:16:09] And I worked with a company full time for about 16 years. And so it was from that. Then I started just going out and the sheer volume I was on the road the first few years I was on the road, 10, 12, 14 days a month in terms of different clients industries. So I got massive amounts of experience, man. I worked hard, worked my butt off, but I got a ton of experience of working with groups and learning.

[00:16:33] There’s so much from just the sheer volume of what I was doing. So there you go. That’s a long winding path, 

[00:16:41] Zach White: but I’m really encouraged by this. Sometimes the only way we can connect the dots is when we look backward, you may feel like I really don’t know where I’m going right now and just continue to lean in and enjoy the journey.

[00:16:54] But I want to circle back to something you said a minute ago, because it’s so interesting. I know the listeners of this show will relate to it. The idea that you feel like an idealist you did then, and there’s part of you that’s still does now. And you just said, I want to make a difference. And I.

[00:17:12] Confident that this industry, or this line of work, or maybe a particular company, you know, people may have different places. They resonate with that. We’re not delivering on the difference. we’re just in it for the money or just in it for fill in the blank. And I know just from my own clients and a lot of engineering leaders that I talked to, that that disconnect between their desire for purpose and meaning in the work that they do, isn’t being realized.

[00:17:39] Or they’re not seeing it realized in a way that meets that need. So can you just describe a bit more about how that comes to life and how important it is and in companies and leadership, if somebody connects to that, like, yeah. feel that same pain. I want to make a difference, but it’s not happening.

[00:17:59] Alain Hunkins: As I think about this idea of, I want to make a difference. I want, I feel like there’s something inside of me and I don’t want to die with that music inside me, call it whatever you want or the flame, whatever, you know, pick your metaphor of choice. And I think.

[00:18:12] What ends up happening unless you work with people who frankly have done some of their own personal work. What so many of our conversations at work tend to focus on is what we do. It’s like, okay, here’s a job. Here’s a project at a da boom. And we might have a why behind that one. But most leaders, most people are not very good at expressing the why and having.

[00:18:42] Enriching in live and in conversation about that and connecting my own personal why to your personal line to everyone else in the team. So then what ends up happening is we end up feeling like we’re going through the motions. Even if the work itself might be valuable. All work is valuable. If we can understand how it fits in.

[00:19:06] for example, if you and I, right now, we’re both talking on podcasts, microphones, and we’re both using, we have both have arms, but there’s a company that just makes arms for microphones. And there are people right now. And like, without them, we wouldn’t have this thing. So that’s a totally valuable thing so that you can do that for any single product or service in the world.

[00:19:28] You could break it down. And part of it is if we don’t remind people of how they’re making a difference in the world, you probably know the story of the two brick layers. Have you heard this one? So I’ll, start it and you can fill this one.

[00:19:43] And so for those listening, you might know this one it’s been around for awhile, but it makes the point. So there’s two brick layers and they’re working on some project and you come by and the first brick layers working way and they just look so unhappy. you know, and you ask them, what are you working on?

[00:19:57] And they are just, you can see the treasure NFS. So it looked like I’m working on land, some damn bricks,he’s just pissed off of my face. And the second Rick layer,you can get a sense of lightness and ease and like, what are you working on? And he stops and he has, you kind of stepped back a few feet with them and has a look at the vantage point in the distance.

[00:20:17] I see this, I’m building a cathedral. Right. And so again, same work, but a totally different framework and envision and mindset about how we’re doing it. And I think first and foremost, the person that we have, the leaders ourselves, how do you remind yourself of the why you’re doing, why is it important?

[00:20:36] Because look, one of the facets of human nature is we can so easily take things for granted until we have those wake-up call moments where something happens, you go, oh my gosh, like that. You know, and for me, I mean, all this chair, a couple of those along the way. so, you know, we’re recording this in November of 2021.

[00:20:56] My father passed away in June of this year after about with Parkinson’s disease. And he’s my first parent of my two parents to die. My folks split up when I was young, but my mom was still alive. And, and I tell you exactly, that wake up call with my father’s death was. Don’t I know.

[00:21:13] And again, these all sound trite and cliche, but there are cliches for reasons because they’re true. You know, for me, one of those is, don’t take your health for granted because I looked at my father and how he struggled for years with the most simple mechanical things. Cause Parkinson’s is a cruel, cruel disease.

[00:21:31] you know, so for me, I can do this. I can stand up just to, and to celebrate that because you know what, I’m going to get a little metaphysical here on this road only has one air and you know, and it’s Def, hopefully it won’t be today or tomorrow, but to realize that, and I think for us as leaders, Is how do we show an model, the appreciation and the gratitude for the fact that, you know, we get to work on this.

[00:22:00] It’s not that we have to work on this, but that we get to do this. We get to do this together. And then one of the things that I coach leaders on is this the power. And I’m sure you do this to a certain extent with the folks who coach is. You need to celebrate those wins along the way, because. The journey is not about getting to the mountain top.

[00:22:19] And if your belief is on this, slave away at this job. And then when I get there, then I will be happy. That is a bill of goods that was sold to you because when you get there, guess what? You’re like, this is you’re still you. And then what you end up doing is you get to the summit of that mountain.

[00:22:36] You’re like, all right, well, this mountain doesn’t feel that great. So where’s the next big mountain that I need to do. And whether that mountain is professional success, whether it’s an X figure in your bank account, whether it’s having a wife and kids, you pick your trophy of choice, right? And this is the thing we were told.

[00:22:52] If we work hard and we achieve this thing, then we will be happy and we have to learn to flip that equation on its head. It’s like, no, actually start being happy today and do everything from this place of happiness, because it’s about who you are and what you become on this journey. I’m off my soapbox now.

[00:23:12] Zach White: And I, I could let you soapbox for the whole conversation. That’s really, and, and first of all, I really appreciate you sharing that story about your dad. I’m so sorry about that. And as such a cruel disease, absolutely. And anybody listening, who’s been through that with family understands, The thing you said that stood out to me and I want to bring it back.

[00:23:32] Maybe I’ll say it differently. but the idea of a compelling purpose and a, why starts with your individual responsibility to go understand and create that in your life. And I feel like a lot of times what happens is we, abdicate that to our company or to our spouse or to someone else to like, you need.

[00:23:53] Give me a compelling why this company owes that to me too, to have a compelling purpose and to make this a purpose driven culture. And I didn’t hear that from you. I heard look that starts with as an individual leadership accountability. What is it? As humans makes us want to abdicate that it seems like we should want that.

[00:24:16] And yet I feel like it doesn’t always happen. I don’t know. What is your thought? 

[00:24:19] Alain Hunkins: Well, I think a couple of ideas come to mind on that. A great question. so first is we haven’t seen it modeled. Okay. Again, like I said earlier, very hard to do anything that you’ve never seen modeled. And also, I mean, I think many of us as humans would recognize.

[00:24:36] No, we really like easy answers and we sort of want some kind of an I’ll call it parental figure to rescue us. Oh, just to, you know, and just kind of, it’s the easy out. Just like tell us what what’s the answer is. Tell me what you want me to do, and I’ll just go ahead and do it, which frankly, isn’t that satisfying when they do do it as much as doing it on your own, you know, it’s funny, you mentioned the.

[00:24:59] There’s been some research. A couple of my heroes are two guys named Jim cruises and Barry Posner who wrote a wonderful book called the leadership challenge. Do you have it there on your bookshelf there? Yeah. Yeah. so if you know that book and I’ve picked their work apart and put it back together again, they’re heroes of mine.

[00:25:16] I was so delighted. They both endorsed my book. I was so honored. These are heroes in the leadership development field. And one of the things they found is if you remember. To see what drives commitments on people’s part at work. When it comes to understanding mission and vision and values, it is less important that your employees let’s say are clear on the company’s values and purpose.

[00:25:42] What’s more important is that people are clear on their own values. Because that is, like you said, very well, Zack, that is the platform from where you have to start. And so I think smart leaders, if you want to harness the power of people’s purpose, if you want to give them a place in a time to go, all right.

[00:26:00] So what’s important to you. And how does that connect to what we’re doing here as a team, as an organization, et cetera, then start to look for the synergy. Okay. But don’t start from here. Our company values, otherwise all you’re doing. It’s corporate advertising, our values are this, and what we are honest and integrity.

[00:26:20] I mean, you look at Enron had these great, wonderful values on paper. Yeah and it’s hard work because of. It’s also self reflective, right? It’s it’s it’s for us to actually stop and think it’s valuable work, but in a different kind of value that we’re used to being so used to, implementing and doing so we can achieve something as opposed to let’s actually step back and recognize what are the main drivers as to why we would want to achieve, you know, and I think the story that many of us tell ourselves is why don’t have time to do that.

[00:26:54] Really you don’t have time to think about what’s important to you. So then how do you decide, how are you going to spend your day? And one of the things I oftentimes do when I coach new leaders, this comes up in variably in the first couple of sessions. So, what are your values? Are you clear on what they are?

[00:27:10] And if they haven’t, I’m give them an exercise to get clear and do a sort, because not everything can you value equally. And what you might find is some of your values might be in conflict with each other. And I think a lot of people got clear on what things were particularly important over the coronavirus pandemic, right?

[00:27:29] So people are going, wow. this whole being around, like I’ve had many people say. I had no idea that being home with my kids, like this is the best thing ever, spending this much time with my family and other people going, oh my gosh, I cannot spend time with my family at all, you know, or you know what, I am never going to do a 75 minute commute each way I refuse to.

[00:27:52] And so they make some choices around that. So it’s fascinating. But yeah. Going back to your, when you’re clarifying your own values is a great place to start. 

[00:28:02] Zach White: If I put my engineering skeptic hat on for a moment and you work with a lot of, uh, all different types of folks in leadership, and I’m sure you can relate to the engineering skeptic skeptics.

[00:28:15] Yeah. So. I’ve done a lot of work on this, and I coached my clients in these same veins and see a transformational results as a result of doing that work. But let’s say the engineer listening, hasn’t done it or doesn’t buy it see, because it’s very cliche. Start with why it assignments in it. Great book.

[00:28:32] Everybody talks about purpose and numerous guests on this show have mentioned the idea of purpose or meaning it’s. So if someone’s not really bought in. I don’t think that that kind of introspective values and purpose or mission kind of work is going to have any real impact in my life.

[00:28:48] One thing I love about your body of work is just your expertise in the brain and the neuroscience and, and some of what all is going on behind the scenes. If you wanted to maybe geek out for a moment, can you connect some dots for us around what is it about this attribute of the Y that actually makes.

[00:29:07] create results for people who get connected to it. 

[00:29:11] Alain Hunkins: Yeah. All right. So let’s keep going on this one a little bit. So if we think about. When you access purpose, now we’re gonna talk brain science a little bit. So we’re going to use, and for those that are not familiar with a simplified three part model of the brain, right?

[00:29:25] So you’ve got your oldest part of your brain. Is your lizard or reptilian brain controls all your autonomic nervous systems, your breathing and heart rate. No, one’s thinking about that stuff, right? But it’s working. Thank goodness. Then you’ve got your limbic system, right? The seat of emotions. It’s also the seat of where we decide what to do.

[00:29:41] It’s what drives our behavior. And all sorts of studies have shown this. If people are really want to dig in deep into this, um, I love chip and Dan Heath, uh, work, and they have a book called switch. How to change when change is hard, that really gets into the whole limbic system. The fact is as much as you like to think, you’re a logical person and you make decisions based on.

[00:30:02] The truth is you actually make decisions based on emotion. And you justify those decisions to yourself with logic, which is pretty, gosh, darn sneaky. Isn’t it? Which is what advertisers and campaigners know all too well. So they got that and you got your neocortex, right? That’s the part of the seat of decision.

[00:30:18] And basically ultimately in terms of logic innovation, why we can do things that other species can’t. So that’s our print framework. We’ve got the three parts of the brain. Now going back to this whole sense of mission purpose is that when we are connected to our own personal sense of mission, what we’re actually doing is if you put yourself under an FMR machine at the time, the parts of the brain, that light.

[00:30:42] Are the parts and activate are the parts that are in touch with bigger picture mission. Wisdom is like it’s all of this higher level functioning, which is by the way where you can make better decisions from, because if you just go along and think, well, I just got to do this thing because this isn’t that important.

[00:31:00] You’re actually operating much more likely from what we’ll call the kind of the fear-based brain and the problem with the fear like the fear-based brain is awesome. It’s what’s kept us alive. Right. But if the goal here around mission is not just survival it’s to thrive. And so if your only goal is to survive and get through your life and say, okay, check the box.

[00:31:20] I survived. I got my job done check. Well then who needs mission, purpose. Forget it. However, if you believe. In the certain moments that you want to achieve something bigger than yourself, be connected to something bigger than yourself. You’re going to want to access those parts of your brain, where you can be creative and innovative and start to problem solve better.

[00:31:42] And to do that. It really helps to understand the why and the bigger picture mission. So 

[00:31:47] Zach White: I love that that’s a great nugget. It goes deep enough to, to scratch the itch. And I’m sure several engineering leaders listening are going to be Googling all of these things later. And actually just as a plug, I highly recommend folks to go look at Alain’s work because it’s so spot on.

[00:32:04] I know your Ted talk also has this three-part brain broken down as well. So definitely go check those things out. You mentioned the sort of fear based. Uh, versus, you know, coming from a different place. And this is Oasis of courage, my company and the coaching that I do. And one thing that I talk about a lot is, you know, am I living from a place of fear or from a place of courage?

[00:32:24] I’m curious for you. You know, not being at a Waco guy, maybe you haven’t heard that from my side before, but how do you think about the idea of courage or if there was a continuum what’s on that opposite side of fear for people that would drive them in a positive way versus, you know, perhaps making decisions from, uh, that older part of them.

[00:32:40] Alain Hunkins: Yeah, I think there’s a few things that are on the right side, on the other side. And my, my left side writes on the right side. So again, the story of the model. So the left side is, is fear. It’s anxiety, it’s stress, it’s worry. It’s lack scarcity. So for me, where the right side is, you know, I might call it like the wisdom part and whether that’s, and I think courage is definitely an aspect of it, but other things that are also involved in.

[00:32:57] I would say that empathy is a big piece, your ability to really see and feel what other people are going through as well as to connect with yourself. Um, I would also say innovation is part of that other side as well, and as well as to explore. You know, so like being curious, thinking of yourself as this curious anthropologist kind of look at things and being curious, and I’m sure, you know, I’m sure if you’ve listened to Zach’s show before the sense of coaches need to be curious.

[00:33:27] If you’re going to take this coach-like approach, it’s the willingness to park your own agenda and really be interested in the possibilities, um, as well as connected to your purpose. And then for me, courage is around taking bold action, like, you know, in the face of. Oh crap. I got to do something here.

[00:33:44] Yes, I do. And I step up and do it doesn’t mean you don’t necessarily feel some fear along the way. It’s just that the fear isn’t running the show. And it’s interesting. And if I took all of those categories in the right side, and if I, you know, and this might get a little goofy for some listeners here, but I think underneath all this, and I really got this again with my father passing them in June, underneath.

[00:34:07] I call it love, you know? Cause I think if you’re going to be a great leader, you have to love the people you. I mean, because think about what is love, right? Love is time. It’s attention. It’s patience. It’s compassionate. It’s calm. It’s curiosity, it’s support. I mean, it’s all these things that, you know, it’s not just who we gooey little romantic love.

[00:34:27] I’m talking about love in its larger context. And I think if you want to lead well, you want to become better at loving. 

[00:34:37] Zach White: So for those just listening, you didn’t see me just fist pump when that came up. But for the YouTube folks you saw, I am so encouraged by that statement. And I agree a thousand percent that underpinning maybe I’ll even say a fuel for courage in my life.

[00:34:56] Is love, you know, it’s, it’s a more core element than courage for me. And so I just, I love it. That was awesome. Uh, man, there’s so much, I want to ask you and dig into, and we, I, we don’t have time. I want to be respectful of your time. And so one more quick thing that popped in, and then we’ll, we’ll land the plane engineers.

[00:35:16] You know, I, I joked about the engineering skeptic, but we are sometimes. Categorized as a unique breed of person and you’ve done, you know, so much leadership training for groups of all disciplines at all levels. And I’m just curious where, in terms of leadership and cumin or development, our engineers, are we actually unique or are we just, we just want to be, and we pretend, but it’s actually, we’re all kind of the same.

[00:35:44] And it’s just our, our, maybe the mask that we’re putting on in the theater of our own. I’m an engineer. Therefore, what do you think? Oh, 

[00:35:51] Alain Hunkins: I love this. This is a great question. Thanks for allowing me to unpack it. So yeah, engineers, I think are a unique breed and you know, let’s conclude with an engineer’s engineering light, like other people who were like, Are you already done lots of engineering jokes on the, on the show already.

[00:36:07] You guys have your engineer. I have the one engineering jokes I share my 

[00:36:13] Zach White: engineering days. 

[00:36:14] Alain Hunkins: How do you tell the difference between an introvert engineer and an extrovert engineer?

[00:36:22] Yeah. So the introvert engineer looks at their shoes when they’re talking to you, right. And the extrovert engineer looks at your shoes when they’re talking to us. That’s my one engineering joke. What I love about. Is there is this commitment to precision and this desire to get right. That I think runs so much of like the deeper sense of what I should, because think about the way you are trained.

[00:36:47] Look, if you don’t engineer the bridge correctly, the bridge falls, right? If you don’t engineer the jet engine correctly, the jet falls out of this. I mean, so these are big things. And so the sense of precision. So there’s a strength there. And there’s a liability there. Right? So the strength there is obviously with that kind of detailed focus about what needs to happen.

[00:37:08] Amazing things happen. I was just driving over the, you know, the new Tappan Zee bridge, which is now called the Mario Cuomo bridge, but they just read and, you know, and I’m looking at this entire thing, like I’m blown away by something that’s simple, not as simple as, as a new bridge that just opened this one up a few years ago.

[00:37:24] Um, so the other thing I would say, and this, I would also put research scientists into this category with engineers and I think. Uh, a potential liability challenge is that sometimes for people like us and I include myself in this category, I totally resembled this remark. If I had gone into a different world, I would have become a scientist.

[00:37:43] I think I love this thinking, but for many of us, and plus the way, if you’ve been through scientific method and or pure review, it’s almost that ideas are more vivid and life. Then other people’s feelings. And so what ends up happening is when somebody brings up an idea I’m so in the, well that can’t be right.

[00:38:03] That’s right. And I start poking holes in the argument. I don’t even recognize that there’s another human being with feelings that are being trampled right now, because, and it’s not that. Uh, insensitive. I don’t think of myself as incentive. It just, I’m so committed to this idea and focusing on how, and this is my way of making things better.

[00:38:23] So I’ve seen this to be a big trap that many engineers can fall into, but I love the commitment and what I find also, I love the skepticism because the other thing about skeptics or cynics, if you can show them the data and show them how this fits and speak to them in a language that respects their intention.

[00:38:42] They will oftentimes become your greatest ally. Um, and so those are some of my quick takes on having gotten to work with lots of groups of engineers over the years. 

[00:38:50] Zach White: That second point you made that ideas are more vivid than. The emotions and honestly, the, the entire reality of what’s happening inside that other person that is so true.

[00:39:03] And I’ve never heard it described that way, but my wife is going to love that. I just had that moment of revelation because that’s exactly what happens for me. You know, I love to live in the conceptual and the idea world. And even as a coach, Spend intentional time training and working with people in that emotional space.

[00:39:23] It’s so easy to get trapped in just the concept or the idea. So I hope that really connects with the engineer listening as well. And remember, you’re not alone in the room with an idea. You are even on zoom. You’re there with other humans who have real thoughts, real emotions and real needs. So, wow. I, I hate to land the plane, but we have.

[00:39:46] And I always end in the same spot. I’m super excited to hear where you’ll take us that, you know, great engineering. It’s like great coaching, that questions lead and answers follow. So for that engineering leader, listening to this conversation who wants to be happy, they want that fulfillment in their life.

[00:40:03] What would be the best question that you would lead them with today? How long? 

[00:40:08] Alain Hunkins: So the best question that I would leave with at this point would be. What can you start doing today to become happy right now?

[00:40:16] Because ultimately their tomorrow is not guaranteed. And so you can have all sorts of visions and plans, which are great. And what can you do today? Because at the end of all of it, we have to take action. So what would you do today to be happy? Right now? 

[00:40:31] Zach White: I love that flipping the. Focusing on being happy.

[00:40:36] Now, what can you do today? I know people are going to want to hear more from you and buy your book and get involved in the work you do. So would you just tell us where can people find. More of you and connect with you. What are the best places to go? 

[00:40:51] Alain Hunkins: It that uses place to go all things. And I’m at Hopkins is my website, which is www dot amla.

[00:40:56] A L A I N all one word by the way, a L A I N H U N K I N While you’re there. There’s a lot of resources. You can download a bunch of other podcasts I’ve been on and also you can download the first chapter of my book, cracking the leadership code for free as well as there’s an ebook called navigating trust.

[00:41:15] I’ve got a building strong leaders, monthly newsletter. You can join that will also connect with other things I’m doing. I run challenges as well as information about the next upcoming challenge we run. I’m running three openings. You’re right now and also feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. And since you’ve listened this far into the episode, you are a part of the end of the podcast club.

[00:41:36] So if you want to email me directly, it’s my first name com and I do answer all emails received from podcast listeners. What 

[00:41:44] Zach White: an amazing. Opportunity. I really liked that the end of podcast club will have to do something with that for, for the future. Um, I cannot recommend highly enough listener that you go connect with these resources and we’ll put links to everything in the show [email protected], where you’re used to going to find things except for the email that’s just here.

[00:42:02] So back it up 30 seconds and write that one down. I won’t be putting that on the website, if you want to take up that end of podcasts club offer. So man. Just brought tremendous value today. Thank you again so much. I, I really do appreciate it and I feel like I’ve learned a ton, so I know the engineers listening have, but just a pleasure.

[00:42:21] Thanks so much, man. 

[00:42:23] Alain Hunkins: It’s my pleasure. Thank you.