Interview with Diana Jones: On developing what matters in leadership

Vera: Congratulations on your new book “Leadership material”. How do you define leadership versus leader – as arguably they are not necessarily the same even though a leader ‘does’ leadership?

Diana: Thanks Vera. That’s a great question. Being appointed as leader doesn’t make you a great or wise leader. Two things define leadership; the meaningful results you produce with the people you lead, and how people experience working with you. Leaders have control over both those things.


Vera: There obviously is a lot to leadership. What is the core material and what would you say are value adders?

Diana: The core material is behavior, relationships and results.  Real leaders are close to the people they lead. They understand both the context they are in and what staff, customers and stakeholders want. Their value add is that they create unity with their vision, they help people succeed, and they ensure people feel valued.


Vera: You’ve made the point that often it’s the personal leadership qualities which are not visible that inspire others to achieve more. What are some of these qualities and why are they so powerful?

Diana: This is an important question. Many people think that leadership is concerned with skills, tools and techniques. It isn’t. Leaders who inspire others do this through their personal qualities.  What is exciting is that there is no ‘one size fits all’. Each leader’s qualities are unique, personal and context related, and they vary greatly amongst leaders. The power of these qualities wisely used is that they draw people in, they create an emotional connection, and people want to contribute their efforts. Examples of leaders’ personal qualities are; wise, approachable, astute, funny, warm, empathetic, thoughtful, curious, visionary, decisive, helpful, succinct, personable, insightful. Can you imagine how any combination of 2-3 of these qualities can have powerful effects in inspiring others to action? Leaders who complain, demand and are critical, negative, contemptuous, acerbic, judgmental and cold are unhelpful. These leaders create distance between themselves and others. They create anxiety and emotional turmoil in those around them.


Vera: You tackle what you call “overdeveloped behaviours”. What are these and how does a leader scale back to the right level if they have overstepped the mark on certain behaviours? 

Diana: Overdeveloped behaviors are ones which are overused. They are not fit for purpose to the context or situation. They are inflexible responses. Three examples would be relentlessly making fun of others, continual critical analysis, and people who act without thinking. If we create metaphors for each, we have the persistent mocker, the acerbic critical analyst, and the impulsive chaos creator. These behaviors tend to stop people in their tracks. They create emotional churn as people can’t make sense of what is happening. Leaders can shift their behavior when they experience the impact of their behavior. They then can make a choice about how they want to respond and then find their authentic response which progresses the situations they are in.


Vera: You also indicate that real leaders are close to the people they lead. How can a leader judge this closeness and how can they know they are at risk of becoming estranged?

Diana: Leaders can see both the results they are producing and how well people are working together. Neither of these are rocket science. They know from the problems that came across their radar. They have trusted advisors. Leaders know when people aren’t engaged. They see when people have lost their vitality, they don’t contribute and they don’t discuss the things that matter. These are important pointers that are easily apparent to any leader. The key is how much the leader cares about shifting these things.


Vera: Perception, both a leader’s self-perception and those of the people they lead important as those are arguably can mask the real fundamentals that a leader should be working from and to. on balance, where do perceptions fit in terms of what drives how one leads?

Diana: The most important perception for any leader to develop is their own interpersonal perceptions. They develop their abilities to know how they are perceived by board members, bosses, peers, direct reports, staff in their organisation, stakeholders and within the sector they are within. Knowing both the positive perceptions and the not-so-positive perceptions is essential for any leader before deciding on the next steps in their development. This is their OWN informed assessment of how they are perceived. I describe this in my book and give examples.


Vera: How should a leader handle the warts he/she sees in the mirror?

Diana: Like most warts, leaders don’t like knowing they have them! But warts make us human and remind us to keep our feet on the ground and that we have a job to do. Our job as leaders isn’t to be perfect; our job is to create meaning for others. The best yet toughest thing is to accept your warts, just don’t make them the main thing. Don’t let your foibles or failings define you.


Vera: What are some of the enduring leadership givens/principles/values that have disappeared as leaders have sometimes sought to do what works for them rather than what is reasonably expected of them by those they lead?

Diana: This is an important question. There have been many leadership myths— that leaders are honest, caring, thoughtful and work for the people. These myths have been particularly true in democratic countries. Many people value honesty, respect, inclusion and thoughtfulness. Many leaders, including political leaders don’t share these values. They value competition, or personal wealth and recognition, or action over thoughtfulness, or logic and rationality rather than humanity and solving problems. When there is a clash of values between leaders and the people they lead, people are destabilized, shocked and they lose trust.


Vera: If a person finds themselves in a leadership position and realizes they are struggling, what do you suggest they do?

Diana: Of course leaders struggle. Most leaders are working in new territory. They are doing things they haven’t done before. They are continually being asked to do things they can’t do. In these situations, there are at least three silver bullets. The first is to know the outcome you want, the second is to give it your best shot and the third is to reach out to others. Ask for help and guidance; ask ‘what would you do?’ Do all three and you have a map for leading.


Vera: What have been some of the defining moments in your own leadership that have refined your ‘material’ as a leader so to speak?

Diana: One experience comes to mind. As a young leader I thought my bosses were inadequate. I was continually critical and frustrated and I would argue. I was being asked to do things I felt weren’t my job. I realized being frustrated and critical were familiar. I also realized my boss reminded me of my dad. I adored my dad. I wanted him to teach me how relationships worked and how to get things done. These were not his strengths. What he did teach me were how to change a car tire, how to wire electrical fittings, and how to read the flow of river in cubic seconds. These things I haven’t used a lot in my life. But I did work out one thing at this time which has really helped me as a leader. I worked out how to how to ask my bosses for exactly what I wanted to learn. Over time this has varied greatly from learning how to present a compelling business case, to giving bad news and maintain relationships, to learning to navigate competing drivers. My best boss taught me how to be curious when I thought I had all the answers.


Diana’s profile

New Zealander Diana Jones is a leadership coach, advisor and author of Leadership Material: how personal experience shapes executive presence. Diana brings 30-years’ of wide-ranging experience as a trusted leadership advisor and executive coach. She specializes in culture and behavioral change with senior leaders and their real work interrelationships, and implications for strategy, action and business results. Diana takes a real-life practical approach to her work which is underpinned with a strong theoretical base, world-wide links to other practitioners and an unrivaled international reputation as a sociometrist and academic. She is a contributor to Forbes magazine and other leadership blogs. More about Diana’s work at  She can be reached via


For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work and resources in leadership, personal and career development and excellence building, click here.