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7 Questions on Leadership with Chris Deaver

Name: Chris Deaver

Title: Culture Shaper + Leadership Coach

Organisation: BraveCore

Chris Deaver is a culture shaper, leadership coach, and co-founder of BraveCore, a consultancy that builds cultures people love. He’s coached C-Level Executives and influenced companies, including Apple and Disney, with teams creating iProducts and Star Wars experiences. He’s featured in Fast Company and The Wall Street Journal and is co-host of the popular podcast Lead with a Question. He co-founded a mentoring network with Stephen R. Covey, studied animation at the top Emmy-award winning school in the world at BYU, earned his MBA and is a guest lecturer at the Marriott School at BYU.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Chris's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

To break out of fear, and braving it alone, to be brave together.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

My experience as a leader is all about the power of co-creation, about being brave together, especially in moments when we’re confronted by fear. Apple was part of a beta test for how to approach culture shaping. We’ve gained broader insights in our careers for how to apply co-creation to any domain. As a leadership coach in the tech industry, I have identified the correlation between timeless principles and culture. I've established BraveCore with partners to help leaders lean into the co-creative future. Bringing Brave Together to life has become our true calling. We offer this new framework to enable us all to become co-creators in a world in desperate need of it.

A Redefinition of Success: From Self-Made to Shared

“Great things are never done by one person. They’re done by a team.”

—Steve Jobs

When I was young, I believed achievement was everything. I joined the Boy Scouts, and earned every merit badge to become an Eagle Scout by the age of 12. In school, I worked hard to get the best grades. To me, these achievements brought not just accolades but validation: I felt successful. Most of all, I felt worth. I meant something. I was someone. What could possibly go wrong? Everything.

I kept pushing myself for years, pursuing every dream. But something happened along the way. I got tired of it all. In college, I’d written a letter to Roy Disney, asking for a job at Disney animation. Later, a Disney recruiter called me. “Hi! This is Lisa. Roy said to talk to you.”

There was Pixie dust flying everywhere! This was my big break! I’d wished upon a star, and it had actually come true! I felt my dad’s words of advice ringing in my ears, to “Never give up your dream.”

But something strange happened next. “Thanks,” I replied. Then I felt compelled to say, “But . . . no, thanks.” And I hung up the phone. Why? Why do we sometimes skip certain dreams, as painful as it seems?

I realized something was missing in my life. I’d been on a treadmill chasing solo success. I felt empty and alone. That dream job, at that time, was not the answer for me. I found myself wanting more in life. Everyone around me was telling me that “success” was about grinding out the hustle, building my own empire, and running full speed toward my dreams. I watched them frantically chasing their own, but never looking satisfied. In their minds, they never had enough followers, never enough likes on posts, never enough of anything. I didn’t want to be stuck animating someone else’s ideas or obsessing about building my own empire. I wanted something different.

At the time, I couldn’t pinpoint what this all meant. Meanwhile, the world was changing. Work was changing. Companies, once titans of industries, were fading overnight. Self-made celebrities were quitting, disappearing, and deleting their accounts. Others were getting canceled for insensitive things they’d said or done. The culture wars were heating up, characterized by extreme political divisions and tribalism. The world had changed. We have a heightened awareness that we need each other now more than ever before—and yet, we’ve never felt so disconnected, distanced by distractions. How will we define our future? And what first principles do we need to apply to get there?

Instead of going to Disney, together with some Albanian and Brazilian friends, I started the nonprofit International Mentoring Network Organization, which brought together aspiring professionals from around the world to meet their dream mentors—people like Stan Lee and Stephen Covey. We were featured in Fast Company and Entrepreneur. We didn’t make any money, but we reached millions of people in over 70 different countries. And I learned something during this experience. The future isn’t self-made; it’s shared.

Fast-forward, and I eventually joined Disney. But I came in as an HR Business Partner most passionate about shaping culture. Before Disney, I had reinvented my role at Dell by forming a team to reimagine their leadership to become better listeners who empower innovation. This brought me into the boardroom, consulting with founder Michael Dell on how to transform the culture, which took his team to a $100 billion dollar future.

When I joined Disney, they were acquiring Pixar and wanted to expand the “braintrust” mindset, which we did, across businesses. At that time, I wrote a book proposal and got an agent (who even represented the Shark Tank stars). That led to a book deal that I felt compelled to turn down. Why? “How could another book about next-level personal habits add to anything?” I wondered. Having seen and read a lot, I’d become skeptical of the self-help hacks offered in the marketplace—everything from 4 a.m. wakeups to freezing cold showers, atomic email batching, and firewalking our way to rapid success. None of it had created a revolution in my life. Why would anyone need a new book with more of the same?

I also realized I was writing a book alone. It’s not unusual for authors to do, but I felt the future was meant to be shared. I needed a team. I pressed pause on publishing and, following my success at Disney, took that job at Apple. Right out of the gate, they’d challenged me to improve their culture.

In an upcoming chapter, we’ll share how we discovered the first principles that powered the culture change at Apple from “think different” to working “different together”—enabling teams to be more collaborative and to build innovative products in new, co-creative ways. This was a reflection of Tim Cook’s words: “People that do well in Apple . . . believe very deeply that to advance an idea means that you take it to someone else because they can probably add to it, and somebody else, and they can add to it, and pretty soon what was a single idea becomes a mountain.”

I skipped the dream of publishing a book on my own. In the back of my mind, I knew I needed to first be brave enough to build a future with others. I needed to experience co-creation—something I’d been yearning for but didn’t know it. It would change my life forever.

I met Ian Clawson in 2017 in Gilroy, California, the garlic capital of the world. We weren’t interested in buying garlic (as tempting as that garlic ice cream was). We wanted to build worlds. We shared a passion for creative work. We got vulnerable and started sharing story ideas we’d developed for decades but had never brought to life. I’d designed some comic strip characters that had never taken off, and Ian had a powerful storyline. We brought them together and saw something special start to take shape, a world of its own.

We flew to LA to pitch our movie concept to a Marvel story artist who’d worked on The Avengers, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Captain America—the classics. The clock started ticking on our 30-minute pitch meeting. We jumped right into our story, world exposition, and characters. We didn’t have answers for all his questions but remained hungry for and open to learning. He could see we’d thought about this world layers deep and that we’d poured our souls into it. We explored with him where the story could go. From the glass windows of the conference room, we saw his coworkers leaving for the day. The energy in that room was special. Shared flow. We hadn’t looked at a clock the entire time. When our meeting reached the three-hour mark, he paused, looked us in the eyes, and said, “Guys, this is epic! This will get made.”

This was pure validation for us, not only of the power of our idea for “The Vigilant” world that’s now in development but of the power of co-creation—and the potential to transcend solo success and shape the future with others by being brave together. Beyond just a movie concept, Ian and I realized we’d co-created something insanely great. That’s when we zoomed out and began to articulate what we’d experienced and why co-creation is the future.

This Is the Way: Working Together

We’ve been told that if we just work harder and smarter, we’ll reap our dream rewards, but this promise has failed us. It’s created silos, selfishness, and a lonely work life. It’s made fear or going it alone feel like the only options. It’s caused burnout and pain because we are so divided and struggle to work together. But the future is calling. People are searching for a better, more elevated way to work and live.

Brave Together challenges the traditional approach to work, workplace culture, and leadership. In this book, we share how to break free from the baseline fear we all experience—the dread of the unknown, the fear of missing out, the pain of going it alone—to be brave enough to co-create the future with others in any domain. The journey of co-creation involves: the Mirror Test, which reimagines our experiences based on the real versus the ideal; the Hero’s Sacrifice—the most critical, and most underrated, part of the Hero’s Journey—which offers us the path out of ego and ignites a selfless power that binds us together; and Become the Future, which creates a synthesis that brings out the best of our mind, heart, and spirit. Co-creation becomes a new way of life and a better approach to our work, giving us hope.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I rise at 5 or 6am, and read ancient wisdom first thing in the morning.

Then I drink a Vega one shake that sets the tone for everything else.

I connect with my kids, and we read together and pray. Then I take them to school.

And then I take a long walk, doing some meditation, and listening to audio books and podcasts.

And then I work through the day, one project or meeting at a time.

I make a healthy dinner for my family, and then either lift weights or go for an extra long walk. I typically call friends or family members to catch up.

Then I spend time with one or all of my children, focused time for them, doing something they enjoy (movie, video games, board games, drawing/painting, etc.)

Then prepare for bedtime, by doing some reading, showering, meditation/prayer, etc.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

The power of asking great questions and listening. I'd been facing a lot of challenges, and getting emotional at times. And I was carrying that into conversations in meetings, and it showed up by me talking too much. I had to step back, and start with a question. And then listen. I've found great clarity in it. Much more peace, power in truth, and joy.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull. The combination of both have changed everything for me. 7 Habits showed me the power of making timeless principles practical in our lives, and Creativity Inc showed me the power of infusing creativity and co-creation into our work lives, and in how we shape culture.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Build Cultures People Love

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

Standing on the grass in front of the glassy campus, which looks like a spaceship freshly landed on earth, Tim Cook smiles.

“We’re excited to introduce the next generation of AirPods Pro, our most advanced AirPods yet.”

Music starts pumping and the camera zooms in, showing the silhouette of a man dancing, and then Tim says, “To tell you more about AirPods Pro, here’s Mary-Ann . . .”

Wait, did he just hand over the virtual stage? And who’s Mary-Ann? Where’s the rock star magician, waving at the starstruck crowd, promising the next best thing? Not this time. Now it was about the most innovative teams presenting the best new products and sharing the spotlight. It was a perfect example of how Apple’s culture had transformed from “think different” to working “different together.”

Mary-Ann highlights the brand-new chip in AirPods Pro, which upgrades performance for breakthrough audio experiences, as well as the beloved active noise cancellation and spatial audio that makes it feel like we’re on stage performing with our favorite band. Mary-Ann isn’t the Head of Marketing or SVP of Product. She’s a Senior Firmware Engineer who is part of the collective of industrial designers, architects, and project managers who’ve made this new iteration of AirPods possible—which included people like Jerzy Guterman, who led his antenna team through the phases of “this is impossible; it can’t be done” to “this is the future of audio.”

In short order, AirPods have not only surprised and delighted hundreds of millions of people but become a $24 billion business of their own—seemingly overnight. But the story of how this came to be is more than a technical treatise on innovative features. It’s a story we were involved deeply in shaping with senior leaders and teams at Apple. It started with a challenge from Apple when they hired me (Chris) with this extraordinary challenge: “Seventy percent of our people have been here five years or less. We can’t teach them Apple culture fast enough. Can you help?”

The most valuable company in the world was asking me to take it to the next level by focusing on culture. But this was not a company in decline or a toxic fixer-upper. The leadership team wanted to keep what made Apple great and make things even better. What started as a small braintrust turned into a grassroots movement, and grew organically with the help of brave leaders, timeless principles, and the promise of co-creation. We began by asking a different question: how can we shape the future culture together? We needed to involve the new people and learn from those who had already made an impact. It became a massive cultural shift at Apple, from “think different” to working “different together” that powered over 100,000 people to move the future of innovation forward. We witnessed an iconic company with a venerable history transform. In some ways, Apple was not so different from any organization that experiences growing pains. It had to deal with struggles on how to handle secrecy, the usual infighting, and friction when it comes to collaboration.

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