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7 Questions on Leadership with David Levenson

Name: David Levenson

Title: Founder

Organisation: Coaching Futures

Hi, my name is David.

I am an executive and career strategy coach and was previously a CFO in the non-profit real estate sector.

I have been a non-executive director (NED) for over twenty years and I deliver boardroom training for both aspiring and experienced directors.

I created "Board Measures", an outcomes focused approach to measuring the effectiveness of boards.

Later this year, I will be publishing my first book entitled "Ten Steps to Become a High Performing Board".

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

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


Jonno White

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

Wow! That's a tough question to kick off with.

I think my biggest leadership challenge has been trying to find my true authentic voice. It took me decades of doing what I do, but I now I feel I am there, I am totally comfortable. When people approach me, for anything they want or are searching for, I feel totally comfortable about handling it.

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

From my earliest days, I was a natural "No.2". At 18, I was made treasurer of a national youth organisation with several thousand members. I was a CFO three times and have been a senior independent director, chair of committees etc, but never the one who was in total charge.

That only changed when I packed in my paid employment and decided to become my own boss nearly 10 years ago. Suddenly there was no one else to hide behind, the buck literally stopped with me. That's when I started to learn what being a leader really meant and I started reading the kind of books I should have been reading 30 years ago.

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

Honestly? I don't. And it drives my wife crazy.

Seriously, I was always ill disciplined when it came to structuring my days, even as a CFO. There would be diary commitments and things that had to be planned for sure, but in the main I would turn up to work with a "let's see what the day has to offer" mindset. And to tell the truth, it's probably what kept me going as a senior executive for some 30 years, having a routine would have been mind numbingly boring for me. Of course this only worked because I had great people working with me (Rule 1 of leadership - hire the best people possible!)

That has changed now, because I only really have myself to answer to and rely upon, but I find that exhilarating. I wake up (much earlier) refreshed and ready to go, and go to bed - exhausted!

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

Hmmm. There are similarities between being a coach and a non-executive director, and for slightly different reasons they are essentially about not dropping into the driving seat and taking over the wheel. For a CEO (which I have never been) or indeed anyone in a leadership role, the lesson is about more than learning to delegate properly, it is about trusting your people and recognising that sometimes things will go wrong and how you respond is what matters. I am continously revisiting and relearning this particular lesson.

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?

So many... but I will single out Matthew Syed as having the biggest influence on my leadership. I loved "Black Box Thinking" and then I read "Rebel Ideas" and it blew my away because it is even better.

What do I like about it? Syed makes the most cogent case I have read or heard anywhere about the importance of cognitive diversity in the boardroom and in teams. Diversity is valuable on its own terms, but specifically when we hire "people like us" because they are more likely to "fit in with our culture", what we are actually saying is we are excluding you because of your difference. In the end that leads to teams who are clones of each other, and who are prone to "Groupthink" which is the antithesis of good leadership and governance.

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

When an opportunity comes your way, don't be scared. Say yes before you say no.

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

When I was a young finance director, in my 30s, an experienced member of my team came to tell me that she was leaving the company. When I asked why, she told me that her boss, who was my number 2 was very difficult and others felt them same. It didn't take me too long to figure out where things were at and shortly afterwards the number 2 left and the experienced loyal member of staff stayed. I learned from this, always to listen to people and give them time to tell their story as it may be difficult for them to do it.

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