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Episode 183: Understanding Values-Driven Authentic Leadership with John R. English and Andrew Braham

July 13, 2022  |  By Matt Waller

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This week on the podcast Matt sat down with John R. English, Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation and Andrew Braham, Professor of Industrial Engineering at the University of Arkansas. John and Andrew are co-authors with Matt of their new book focused on values-driven authentic leadership. In the episode they dive into what it means to be an authentic leader, the importance of being a mentor and a mentee when it comes to leadership and lessons learned from various leaders they interviewed for the book. Find out more information about the book and listen to the full interviews from leaders interviewed. 

Episode Transcript

Andrew Braham  0:00  
Those mentors and being a mentor are critical to helping us prop each other up to be better people.

Matt Waller  0:11  
Excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality. These are the values. The Sam M. Walton College of Business explores in education, business, and the lives of people we meet every day, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Walton College and welcome to the Be Epic podcast.

I have with me today, John English, who is Vice Chancellor of Division of Research and Innovation at the University of Arkansas, and Professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering. And Andrew Braham, is Associate Professor of Civil Engineering. Andrew, John and me, wrote a book recently that was published called Values Driven, Authentic leadership. And the subtitle is essential lessons from the leadership web podcast series. Thank you both for joining me today about this topic. 

Andrew Braham  1:07  
Thank you, Matt. 

John R. English  1:08  
Thanks, Matt. 

Matt Waller  1:09  
And I should mention also the board of this book is written by John White, who was also interviewed. And John White is professor and Industrial Engineering Emeritus, and also former chancellor of the University of Arkansas. Andrew, would you mind talking a little bit about the genesis of this book, and concept of interviewing leaders about values? 

Andrew Braham  1:39  
Well, the genesis of all places started in a biking class at a local gym. And that is where I first met you Matt. I don't know if you recall that it was a while ago.

Matt Waller  1:48  
I do recall it. We were talking about China. 

Andrew Braham  1:51  
Yes, where we both spent some time that's really where the genesis was. And I was looking for a mentor at the time. And I had gone through some official channels, and none of them really panned out. But I found that it was very easy to talk to you. And that was really the nucleolus of our relationship. And over the years, we've continued meeting, and I've been humbled by the fact that as you've moved up in the administration at the University of Arkansas, you have continued meeting with me. So thank you for that.

Matt Waller  2:20  
What year was that? Do you remember?

Andrew Braham  2:22  
That we first started when the, I believe was the what 2013? 

Matt Waller  2:28  
I think so. 

Andrew Braham  2:29  
Yeah, we met in 2013. 

Matt Waller  2:31  
Yeah. And these relationships, I mean, John English, and I met in 1994. There's long, deep relationships here. 

John R. English  2:39  
I thought Matt was on our faculty he was in so much, he must be a member of our faculty, because Matt was there all the time. So we go way back, don't we all of us? 

Matt Waller  2:49  
We do. 

Andrew Braham  2:49  
And so Matt, going back to your question, as we've been meeting over the years, over I guess it's the past nine years now, we've spent a lot of time reading different leadership books, different leadership articles. One of my favorites is Harvard Business Review, they have some excellent synthesis of articles about leadership. We've always had great discussions with that. And it's my impression that one of your goals as a dean was to write one book a year. And so I was extremely humbled when you asked if I would be willing to write one of those books with you. And through our conversations, we thought, well, what have we talked the most about? And it's this concept of, of leadership and all different facets of leadership. But then we realized, well, there's literally 1000s of books on leadership, you go to Amazon, and there's probably over 10,000 books on leadership. And so we thought, well, you know, who are we to say, what more can we contribute to the body of knowledge, but both you and I have an incredible network of people who we have nothing but the highest amount of respect for. And so we decided to take it to them and ask them, what sort of leadership is important, except, I think that the twist that we came up with was, how can you express that through values? And so we would literally go into these interviews, which we recorded and released as podcasts, where we would go into these interviews, and our only question was, what are your top five values? And then we would just let the conversation go from there. And I was so excited when we brought in Dr. John White, and Dr. John English, both just phenomenal people with a whole wealth of information and networking. And it just really all kind of came together at that point in order to produce the basics and the foundation for this book. 

Matt Waller  4:40  
I should say too, that I didn't meet my goal. In seven years, I published four books, so and I don't have any in process. I can be a little too ambitious at times. But yeah, I was excited to because, of course John English is a leader I've respected for a long time. And he's really been a mentor to me for many years. Of course, John White, someone I've always admired. So to think of four of us getting involved in this and scoping it out, pretty exciting. Andrew, you really were innovative in how you conceptualized bringing this together. And I know from reading the literature that this idea of authentic leadership, there's a lot of talk about it. There's very little research that's been done on authentic leadership, I think we came upon this idea of values driven, authentic leadership posthoc. After we finished the research, we realized, oh, the key to authentic leadership really is a values driven approach. But John, you've been in lots of leadership positions in your life, you've been dean at two different universities, you've been department chair, how many years have you been were you dean?

John R. English  6:01  
Six years at K State, and I was in my eighth year here at Arkansas, and I jumped into this other position. So normal 14, yeah, 

Matt Waller  6:10  
There aren't many people that have 14 years of experience as dean, it's hard to last that long. You could have kept going but you agreed to become Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, because the university needed it in a big way. And you've come in and made a huge difference quickly, it didn't take you very long at all to make a difference. So it's great to have you involved in this as well, 

John R. English  6:36  
Well, you know, I have could have been overwhelmed by the knowledge you two bring to the table in view of knowing the literature and chance for me to see some of that, because that's not a space I know. But you know, it is really been humbling to see, you know, your understanding of all things that have gone on in view of leadership. And you saw value in this idea of authentic leadership. Because I think it's important, I've kind of flown by the seat of my pants, and been fortunate enough to have some really wonderful mentors in my life. And I really didn't know what I was doing. And they helped shape me so much. 

Matt Waller  7:12  
Well, you know, Andrew, and I started reading leadership, books and articles a long time ago together, and we read a lot of different kinds. And a lot of it really was very fascinating, you know, and really stuck in in the memory. But I do remember, when we read one of the books on leadership, it became very clear that authentic leadership was one area that's had very little research done. And I think one of the reasons is it's hard to do research on it, because it's hard to define the construct. And you can't start with experiments and field surveys, you've got to start with something more basic. And that's really what we did here. We started with a very basic research methodology, almost like what they would call phenomenological interviews, not quite phenomenological, but fairly open ended focused on values. And of course, we picked leaders from a lot of different types of leadership positions. Andrew, would you mind speaking to that a little bit just about the variety of leaders we interviewed, how long the interviews were, et cetera? 

Andrew Braham  8:22  
Absolutely. I think it's certainly worth pointing out that the very first interview we did was actually with John White. And I think the three of us even though we're in much different positions, we have much different backgrounds, we can all agree that he has been instrumental in all of our careers. He was chancellor here at the University of Arkansas, while all of us were working here. And that really set the stage because then we went from John White to Shelley Simpson, who works at JB Hunt. She's an executive vice president, and I distinctly remember that interview that was a lot of fun. Donnie Smith, the former CEO of Tyson Foods, John and I, we talked with now Dean Kim Needy. So I've been fortunate to work with both John and Kim Needy, who had been Dean's while I've been here in the College of Engineering. But then we bounced around from John Reap, who is former president, CEO of a bank in Texas, and then into some much more dynamic and different perspectives like Jessica Hendrix, who's the president, CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi X, Angela Grayson, who's not only an engineer, but a lawyer, she was incredible to talk to you, and so on and so on. It's a very diverse group of both business and engineers, very different backgrounds and very different experiences, which I think really shine the light on this concept of how values are fuzzy, they're not easy to nail down. They don't have these clear boundaries, which goes back to why defining authentic leadership is not as easy as some other areas. 

Matt Waller  9:56  
We actually have two chapters in our book on mentoring, one is on the importance of mentoring and the other one's the importance of being a mentee. When I'm talking to up and coming leaders, I always say you need to be a mentor, you need to be a mentee, or at least one person both directions. It's good if you can be a mentor to people and be mentored by a couple of people, you can do that. Because you learn so much by mentoring people. And it's also good to give back to people that need to be mentored. But you learn a lot from but John, I know you find that whole concept really important. Would you mind speaking to that a little bit? 

John R. English  10:43  
Oh, goodness, yes. There's no way I could do what I do today, had it not been for those people who have mentored me, and then willing to be vulnerable, transparent, and have that relationship with integrity. And then, you know, I guess as a mentor, it's a natural consequence of having these amazing mentors in your life. And as I think through this conversation, Matt, that and answering your question, I have a blur of mentors and a blur, perhaps of people who I perhaps had an influence in. And you know, some of the things we hit on inside of our book, we talked about being a mentor builds a better leader. As I think of one mentor, in particular, tough words he had with me sometimes. I literally, I was at K State. And I was mid term, and I brought this one mentor, and I'm thinking in to do a distinguished lecture. And I was, I know, Andrew, some sort of awful engineering dean situation to personnel and, and as it is, with any mentor mentee relationship, you're very vulnerable. And I'm going on, I'm probably nearly crying because you guys know how I am. And he wheels around, he's getting ready for his presentation, he wheels around in my desk chair, which was an Arkansas Razorback desk chair, by the way, hidden in our basement in Manhattan, Kansas. And he looks at me says, I don't know if you're tough enough for this job. That statement I've actually shared with other people, you know, because leadership is about sometimes just putting a layer of skin on that can't be penetrated. Because you have to believe what you're trying to do is right, it is hard to put tough skin on and take the criticism whenever you're trying your best. And you've done everything you can to make the best decision that helps be a better leader to do what you think is right, and then be tough enough to persevere. So being a mentor, being a mentee, it makes us a better leader. We also talk about it developing a culture of valuing mentoring, you know, Matt, you and I, you say I'm your mentor. I see you as my walking, running, buddy, you know, before daylight out in Gulley Park. And we're talking about life. We're talking about our colleges, sometimes complaining about the central administration. You know, that's a culture. You know, and we had Bill essary out there, compadre out there who works in manufacturing here in Northwest Arkansas. And that was all about mentoring each other, it was going all over the board. You mentoring me, me mentoring Bill, Bill, mentoring me in all possible combinations. And at the same time, we're learning how to be better mentors, as we are mentors, and people serve as our mentors. We're learning how to do this better. I think about our new faculty colloquium at our annual Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineering conference. My hands down favorite thing to participate in is our new faculty colloquium. And I'll talk anything from publications to scholarship to, you know, building a life relationship with your job and your family and making this all work, have a work life balance and happen again this year, you know, people come up to you, and they want more than they want to learn from you and hear. And always it's very humbling, that somebody will learn from me when I'm still in the mode of learning from my mentors. And so I think we hit some many good foundational issues, and both are focused on being mentored, and being a mentor, are critical. And I think they're really important to read about in our book, because it came from our hearts, it's things that are under you and I, remember that don't list that I quoted Donnie Smith on? You know you were asking me to do something. I said Andrew man, that's on my to don't list

I would have been brave enough to tell you no, that's on my to don't list. I'm not going to do that one. And it was a good thing to do Andrew, been a wonderful thing for me to do that you asked me to do but you know, Donnie Smith and his interview mentored me to have a to don't list, you know not doing that one. So yeah, I think it's absolutely critical for all of us who want to have impact in the lives of people and whether or not, how are we deciding, defining success? Those mentors and being a mentor are critical to helping us prop each other up to be better people. 

Matt Waller  15:10  
I would suspect, you know, communities that have lots of mentoring going on are stronger communities and mentoring people too also helps you learn to be more of a servant, more other focused, less self focused, which is good for leadership in general. Your point, John about the to don't list, we interviewed lots of people. But the most commonly mentioned value, 10 people mentioned this content, integrity, we would ask them sometimes what they meant by integrity, and people will give different kinds of definitions. Some people said things like, well, it means being the same no matter where you are, or no matter what the circumstance is, some people said, following through on what you say you'll do. But I think we all know integrity, when you work with someone that has integrity, and feel it. And it was the most common by a long part. But I do think that the to don't list kind of supports the integrity kind of a perspective. There's research too that has shown that people can have all kinds of knowledge about business ethics, for example, and still fail. But if you know what you won't, do, if you know for sure, these are some things I won't do these things in advance, then it helps you when you're put into that tough situation where you could cross the line, it helps you make the right decision. The other thing related to this, the second most commonly mentioned value was developing people. And I think integrity and developing people, I think they may be correlated a little bit. And we don't know that they are we haven't done research on that. But if you really are focused on developing integrity in the workplace, you will be developing people, it should be a natural outcome of integrity. It's not all about me, it's about these other people. You know, the organization, institution, whatever the case may be. Now, Andrew, you did the job of analyzing the data? 

Andrew Braham  17:25  

Matt Waller  17:26  
Would you mind speaking to that a little bit? 

Andrew Braham  17:28  
Well, I think you hit it on the head by discussing about how 10 people said that integrity was their one or their top five values. Seven people said, developing people. And as you go down that list, six people said having a vision is one of their top five values. And then five people said, authenticity and service. So all of these are going around this concept of feeling more comfortable with who you are having a strong foundation there. And then being able to work with other people, whether you are being mentored, mentee, or you're with a group of colleagues at the same level. It's definitely all intertwined. 

Matt Waller  18:08  
Now, Andrew, you are particularly fond of the work on chapter four, me, myself, and I, what's that chapter about? And why did we call it me, myself. And I? 

Andrew Braham  18:20  
Well, it's interesting, because I feel like a very key foundational part of my leadership journey was working in the Illinois Leadership Center. That's up at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign, and I was a graduate research assistant there. And I was fortunate enough to help run four I programs, imprint, intersect, integrity and ignite. And ironically, the I program, integrity is about knowing yourself. So the Illinois Leadership Center, knowing yourself, the primary value they emphasize is integrity. So even they have it way up high on the top of their list. And it's my personal opinion that every relationship I'm in is different with other individuals and other groups, but all of them have one constant. And that's you, yourself, your own values, your own foundation. And I forget which meeting it was that Matt, but you and I were talking about one of the previous dean's in the College of Business here, said that whenever there was a decision that couldn't be made, that dean always fell back to their core values. And the decision always presented itself. So no matter how complicated, how how many people were involved, if you just take a step back and think about your own personal values, often the answer will rise to the top. And I don't know why that was one conversation of the hundreds that we have, but that stands out very, very clearly in my mind. 

Matt Waller  19:50  
Yeah, that's so true. I think that really is part of the reason we chose the title for the book that we did, values driven authentic leadership. It really came through. Because, you know, you proposed a bunch of titles. I don't remember the exact process to come into this one. But I remember when we did, I thought, yeah, that's gotta be it. Because that's really one of the things we discovered that I don't think we would have realized before the fact. The other thing that was interesting to me that appealed to me, quite a few people mentioned, things like work ethic, and communication, and fun, those came up quite a bit. And most people like to have fun. And if you think about it, we're all human beings, we like to be valued, we like to enjoy what we're doing. And if you really want people to perform at their best, they've got to know that you have their best interests in mind. I think sometimes having good communication, and making things enjoyable, not just putting the nose to the grindstone all the time, I think that really can help people feel comfortable. Because I think it's very hard for people to be innovative, and to try new things. They think my boss is looking to scold me for something, we need a more uplifting environment. We've all I'm sure worked in situations where you felt comfortable to test things to try things to speak your mind. We've also probably all worked in environments where you're afraid, because you think people are looking out to get you, they're looking for you to slip up. And it just stifles the organization. Have you all experienced those differences? 

John R. English  21:50  
Oh, gosh, yes. You know, I mean, in just the time being dean, Matt, it's amazing how volatile that is, you know, if the transparency, the vulnerability, the honesty, the willingness to laugh at yourself in front of your peers, which is always easiest person and laugh that by the way is yourself, don't laugh at other people, you, you laugh at yourself. And the more you do that, the more fun you have, the more productive you have, it's just like a vacuum. If you're worrying about the gotchas in a room, you know, or, you know, your what's your motivation? Why do they say that? I mean, it's like, drains all that energy out of the room. I've seen that in my tenure as being dean is that it can go away and come in a hurry both ways. It just like, overnight, it can change. Peter Drucker is famous for saying, culture eats strategy for breakfast. And I think it's so true. Because, you know, you can have these great strategies, right that maybe you're going to create a high ROI or to create options for new opportunities, or just to help you keep in business. But if the culture doesn't support it, I think the strategies are less likely to get implemented. And the great strategies are less likely to come to the surface. We were just talking before we started here, I read a book that most business folks read last week, nerd some time off, Patrick Lencioni's Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The bottom rutter of that triangle in that book is trust. Let's just take the three of us, Matt, why do you trust me? 

Matt Waller  23:33  
Well, I've known you a long time. And I'll give you three reasons I trust you. Yeah. I mean, we've worked together a lot. But I know you're competent. Right? It's hard to trust someone that's incompetent, even if they have good intentions, and I know you're competent. I know you have my best interest in mind, too. And then three, I know you operate with integrity. You will do what you say you will do and those three things are what I trust you. 

John R. English  24:03  
And let me flip it. I'll talk about Andrew, I trust Andrew, I happened to be the dean for his promotion and tenure case. And he knows the story I'm going to tell. And those of us who are in this business, we know how to pontificate we can go on and on and on. And I'm in the middle of Andrew's teaching philosophy or research philosophy or service philosophy. I'm like 200 pages into this document. Andrew, he says if you've made it this far, call me right now. And I'll bring you a Snickers bar. Andrew was vulnerable, he was going to tell me what he thought. And he was open and he was funny. I mean, it was the best part of the tenure and promotion season that year. And then we've built that relation from there. I mean, you know, in my office driving up to interview, the one the banana story help me Andrew, Stewart Todd, Stu Todd and I remember us talking about the banana story, you know, and how we both related, because Stu told the story of a business meeting at the Embassy Suites. And he was having breakfast there as a customer, and the other person went over and got a banana, and he paid for, like his whole meal when he left, and I know Andrew, man, if he related to that story that somebody who just ate a banana, I mean, that's like stealing a glass of water, you know, in a big breakfast buffet, like Embassy Suites. And so I know, based on what Andrew does, I can trust him. He's vulnerable. He's open. And he relates to people with integrity. And so trust is fundamental to everything in an organization. 

Matt Waller  25:42  
So true. I remember a time I was new in my job as Associate Dean for executive education. And Eli Jones was the dean, he later left and became dean at Texas A&M. But he was dean at time, he was my boss. And I trusted him a lot. And still do. But for some reason, we went to this one company, and I got nervous about what I was going to say. I said, hey, Eli, I whispered, I said, I'm kind of nervous about this. He said, I'll kick it off. But seriously, if I wouldn't have had a boss like that, right? I would have probably gone ahead and done it and not done as good a job. But because he kicked it off, then I was able to jump in. I mean, who knows why I was nervous. There's no logical reason for it. But I trusted him enough. Yes. And it wound up being better for both of us. 

John R. English  26:39  
That's a great example. 

Matt Waller  26:40  
So Andrew, you really put a lot of work into this book. And it really paid off, we've really touched on something that's very important. What does it mean to be an authentic leader? And how can values drive that. And one thing that we found that you touched on earlier about the chapter me myself, and I have, the whole point that to be authentic, you must know yourself. That's one of the things that is very clear. If you think about it, that's one of the foundations of emotional intelligence. If you know yourself, it's easier to understand other people. It's also easier to understand yourself and where you may be failing. All the leaders that we interviewed, really seemed like they understood their strengths, their challenges, their opportunities to improve, all of them depended on mentors to gain self awareness. I know, for example, when I was new, as a dean, we were in a meeting with all the deans, I think it may have been my first meeting. But I think the provost asked us our opinion about something. And I gave mine and John said, well I completely disagree with you. I don't even remember what the topic was. I said, well, if you disagree with me having some experiences you have, don't go with what I'm saying, you know, the chemistry right, when you've got a group of leaders that can operate like, it's very hard to stop that organization. 

It's almost magical, Matt. 

John R. English  28:14  
It is. And of course, after you explain why you disagreed with me, I thought, of course, this makes total sense. I just, I'd never thought through, I'd never experienced it. At that point. Later, I did experience it. Now to this day, I you know, I can talk about these. We're constantly having to learn. But if you're not self aware, a lot of times you don't learn as much because the other thing is, I think sometimes some leaders develop a defense mechanism where they won't admit they're wrong, or they're not super man or Superwoman. But I really was impressed with our interview of Donnie Smith, the former CEO of Tyson. I physically wasn't in that interview. Just listening to it. We took turns interviewing various people, but his humility really came through. Did you all notice that? 


Andrew Braham  29:07  
You would not have known that he was the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. He walked in, he had jeans on, a backpack, just as casual and friendly as can be, absolutely zero pretension. It was a wonderful, wonderful conversation. There's so much to be learned. And Andrew, I like how you really encouraged us to keep this book as a quick read. You know, the book is just over 100 pages. You don't count the appendix. It's 104 pages. That's a quick read. But if you think about what was the key for making this book successful, it's so obvious in hindsight. It's talking to a lot of wise people who have lots of experience and a proven track record. 

I was just about to say that, Matt, I would agree that this is a quick read, but I would hope if we are lucky enough to have people read this book that they would start looking at the people we interviewed because we only sampled a fraction of what they talked about. And when you look at the diversity of the backgrounds and all the different factors of the people we talked to, there's a lot, a lot of good takeaways. And if we had covered them all, this would be 700 pages. It'd be a textbook, and only people who were required to buy the book for our class would read it. So 

Matt Waller  30:23  
yeah, that's so true. 

Andrew Braham  30:25  
And podcasts are all available, right, Andrew? 

It is 

John R. English  30:28  
For more they can listen to what would have made an 800 page textbook and everything we heard from these folks. 

Andrew Braham  30:35  
Absolutely. Yeah. So it's the leadership Web. That's WWeb, all one word. And it's all on SoundCloud. And we have the full interviews. And then actually Matt and I were able to do some summaries of some of the interviews, but all of the full interviews are on there. And it's just a lot of fun listening to people's experiences. 

John R. English  30:54  

Matt Waller  30:54  
John and Andrew, thank you for writing this book. And thank you so much for joining us on the be epic podcast. I really appreciate it. 

Andrew Braham  31:04  
Thank you, Matt. Appreciate your time. 

John R. English  31:06  
Thank you. Thank you, Andrew, for keeping us true on this task. 

On behalf of the Sam M Walton College of Business. I want to thank everyone for spending time with us for another engaging conversation. You can subscribe by going to your favorite podcast service and searching be epic. B E P I C

Matt WallerMatthew A. Waller is dean emeritus of the Sam M. Walton College of Business and professor of supply chain management. His work as a professor, researcher, and consultant is synergistic, blending academic research with practical insights from industry experience. This continuous cycle of learning and application makes his work more effective, relevant, and impactful.His goals include contributing to academia through high-quality research and publications, cultivating the next generation of professionals through excellent teaching, and creating value for the organizations he consults by optimizing their strategy and investments.

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Walton College of Business

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