Minter Dialogue with James Kerr

James Kerr is the author of bestselling book, “Legacy, What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life.” It contains 15 remarkable lessons in leadership. James is also an international speaker and high-performance consultant based in England. In this conversation, we discuss why he wrote this book about the All Blacks, what he learned through writing the book, the values of rugby, the tangible applications of leadership for business executives, how values create value, why knowing yourself is vital and the power of character and storytelling. A wonderful and wide-ranging conversation.

Please send me your questions — as an audio file if you’d like — to Otherwise, below, you’ll find the show notes and, of course, you are invited to comment. If you liked the podcast, please take a moment to rate it here.

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Music credit: The jingle at the beginning of the show is courtesy of my friend, Pierre Journel, author of the Guitar Channel. And, the new sign-off music is “A Convinced Man,” a song I co-wrote and recorded with Stephanie Singer back in the late 1980s (please excuse the quality of the sound!).

Full transcript via

SUMMARY KEYWORDS: character, call, book, life, good, questions, business, ethos, leadership, james, team, legacy, conversation, coach, purpose, blacks, leaders, high performance, people, idea

SPEAKERS: James Kerr, Minter Dial

Minter Dial  00:06

Hello, welcome to Minter Dialogue, episode number 555. My name is Minter Dial and I’m your host for this podcast, a most proud member of the Evergreen Podcast Network. For more information or to check out other shows on this network, go visit

So this week’s interview I’m excited to bring to you is with James Kerr. James is the author of the bestselling book, “Legacy, what the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life.” And it’s a great book, it contains 15 remarkable lessons in leadership. James is also an international speaker, and high-performance consultant based in England. In this conversation with James, we discuss why he wrote this book about the All Blacks what he learned through writing the book, the values of rugby, the tangible applications of leadership for business executives, how values create value, why knowing yourself is vital, and the power of character and storytelling, a wonderful and wide-ranging conversation, you’ll find all the show notes on And if you have a moment, go over and drop in your rating and review of the show. And don’t forget to subscribe to catch all the future episodes now. For the show, James Kerr, I am just thrilled to have you on to talk about this marvelous book, Legacy. I mean, just the name Legacy is already brilliant, because it’s such a challenge for most of us to figure out what is our own legacy much as the legacy of a company or the legacy of a team. James, how would you like to describe yourself? Who is James Kerr?

James Kerr  01:57

They existential question. I’m a writer, I am a coach, I am a sometimes speaker. And I am a consultant and I work around the Nexus really of culture, leadership and mindset and high performance. Really, how do we create a space around ourselves in which we can most consistently perform to our best whatever our definition of best might be.

Minter Dial  02:26

The high-performance notion.

James Kerr  02:29

Sorry, it’s again, sorry?

Minter Dial  02:30

The high-performance notion.

James Kerr  02:33

Yes, well, design of high performance because I think, you know, high performance, you know, traditionally, you know, traditionally is you know, elite exceptional Wim. But of course, I performances, many different things from many different people. And it can be to thrive, you know, in our living and an ally, but it can be to create. So, it’s sort of why upward, whatever the caveat, whatever that might mean for you, because I think it can be too easily niched, into the, the wind at all costs, you know, the hundreds, the margins now, that’s an important aspect for many, but there are many different many different definitions of what high performance means. And I think defining that is part of the work, you know, the Know thyself part as part of the work.

Minter Dial  03:27

Sort of like defining success?

James Kerr  03:30

Well, yeah, defining life itself, maybe, you know, what is this thing? And I think, you know, there’s an old kind of cliché, you know, don’t search for the meaning of life search for the, for a life of meaning. And, you know, it, I think, often it’s a rare it begins, I think often with about deciding what is meaningful for, for me, for one for you, for us. And, and that often, I think the, this is a dialogue, you know, the creation of that meaning, or the definition of that meaning, I think it begins as a conversation begins as a dialogue, you know, in appreciative inquiry. I’m not sure you’re familiar with that as a process. But, and the idea of appreciative inquiry, you know, the questions are generative. The conversation that we have is in fact, creative, it creates the future, you know, the Australian Aboriginals have a have a lovely phrase Bruce Chatwin used in his book, “The Songlines,” was that, that on walk about they sing the world into existence. And I think, very much, we sing our worlds into existence, a phrase I like to use as the, you know, the story we tell ourselves becomes the story that others end up telling about us. You know, your narrative precedes things we become the map of the territory we create And in many ways that there is a sort of reflexivity between them. And so the having of the conversation around culture, around meaning around mindset is, is what develops it, it is the generative force in a way. And so I like to be the catalyst, I guess, for those conversations and go places to help people, what I talked about sort of define design and deliver, you know, define who we are, what we stand for, where we’re going, why it matters. Then design well, how do we capture that somehow? How do we create an environment the standards and expectations, the rituals, the symbols, the reinforce the reinforcements? And then how do we deliver Who do we have to be in order to become that thing that we want to become? starts to become a big question? And if you look at leadership is not just leaving a business or leaving an organization, but really about leading a life? Then Then I think they’re really important questions. And, you know, one of the joys for me of the work that I’ve done is that I wrote legacy, the book, you kindly shared the beginning, thinking that it was really going to be for sports coaches, and some business leaders. And you know, whether the joy is that is being hugely embraced, for instance, with the within the educational community, within the idea that, you know, how do you coach for character? How do you? How do you set emerging individuals humans up for a, as you say, a successful life? Well, that begins with that sort of process of self-definition, I think, of deciding what success looks like, and what is meaningful, and, and why what we do matters. And, you know, they’re kind of big questions, but they are very powerful questions, I think in terms of being able to choose the right path, I think, and for me, that’s hugely fulfilling is to is to make a contribution to people in that conversation.

Minter Dial  07:07

Well, now you understand my first question, James, who are you? Is, isn’t that the quest? You said a lot of different things. And just starting with this notion of finding yourself that that quest, more my observation has been that you said, it starts with a dialogue or a conversation. I want to get back to that in a moment, but it feels like you need to do stuff first, before being able to engage in the conversation, or trying to find out who you are, because you haven’t tested yourself otherwise. It’s highly abstract. And oftentimes, it’s it seems like, it’s either because you’ve had a near death experience, or you’ve crossed 50 years old, that this topic becomes so pregnancy poignant.

James Kerr  07:59

I think, absolutely. In fact, I think if you take Erickson, the psychologist, he believes that it’s 40 years old, and that we get we go through different life stages. And he really coined the idea of life stages, and a midlife crisis was one of his. And that idea that, you know, in it’s almost the sort of seven ages of man from Shakespeare, you know, we started off as mewling puking babies, but we kind of become the sort of the thrusting warrior, we just go out and express our whatever talents seem to be emerging in let’s say, in our teens and our 20s. And then in our 30s, maybe we consolidated a little bit. And maybe around the time of our 40s, perhaps some earlier for some later some never, you know, we maybe start to think about what what’s this all about? You know, we’ve been so busy proving ourselves or surviving, perhaps, you know, and finding a life that that we get to a point where we’re going, Okay, well, well, what, what is really significant about what I’m doing and, uh, you mentioned a near death experience the same? You know, I don’t, I don’t, I think there are a lot of very self-actualized people who have had to deal with early loss and trauma, you know, because it forces you to go well I’m a I’m a mortal being I’m a fragile frond, you know, clinging on to a disappearing planet, you know, and so those questions, I think, become more profound, obviously, as you get older, um, but I also think, particularly with a team or an organization, they’re very good questions to ask about. Because the flip side of that is those questions about what is it all mean and what my legacy is about really about impact? You know, what’s my word? Okay, so it’s very purposeful. And I think if you can find purpose in your pursuits, you know, whether that’s whether that’s professional or purposeful or creative, then it’s a very powerful way to stand. I mean, a phrase I use in the book is, you know, higher performance, higher purpose delivers high performance, the more you’ve got to play for, the more you do. You know, if we do extraordinary things, and on one level that comes down, you know, without sounding kind of too wishy washy, it kind of comes down to love, you know, how do we love what we do, and choose what we do, because love is about contribution. It’s about being present. So, there are there’s a huge number of strains and strains, I think, in that legacy question, if you like, but certainly there is a point in life that you would be an unusual person, if you didn’t look around and go, Well, what are they going to say about me? What’s my eulogy going to be? You know, and what am I, you know, am I will I made my kids proud? You know, all of those questions, I think, very fundamental to the human experience. And, and by embracing them and acknowledging them, I think, we get to a deeper place in our own self-understanding, and a more powerful place and being able to, in inverted commas perform, if you like. So, that’s, that’s the way I see it.

Minter Dial  11:38

I love it, or want to get back to some of the things but this type of conversation, this type of topic, in the boardroom, or in business, in my experience is entirely missing. I’ve never been on a board where we’ve or in an executive committee meeting where we’ve talked about ethics, or a bigger purpose, or what does our brand really mean? It’s generally, you know, how are we doing for the month? What’s our strategy for this year? How can we attract some new clients? What’s the new and innovation pipeline? Which are all? You know, totally reasonable questions, but this notion? So, going back to something you said originally, which was, you know, how do you get that conversation? Going in a calm in a business environment? What does it take? Does it take an external James Kerr to stir the shit and say, Hey, guys, let’s talk some, some proper stuff. Or, and or should it not be part of the daily, not daily, but regular discussions amongst people? Because it’s about the personal elements at the end of the day?

James Kerr  12:50

Well, you know, I probably have a slightly different experience of business, because I am that external guy that gets called in to have these conversations. So, I see a lot of it all the time. I think there’s a huge appetite for it both on a personal leadership in the personal leadership design, if you like. But also I think, increasingly, let’s call it in the brand area, the or the identity area, that who are we. And there’s increased kind of recognition, I think of its importance, you know, we have emerging generations who come up who are much, much more purpose led, have more kind of discretionary or more choice over who they align themselves with. Who will call out brands and organizations that don’t cut it, ethically. It an ethics can become an existential crisis for an organization, or a government or policing institution, or so these questions are big, really. And yeah, I think it’s very usual that the urgent is more important than the important x next month’s figures or whatever it is. And that self-interest seems more important, then some collective contribution and all of that bath. But, you know, not always, but often that the short termism of that can lead to some real issues around organizationally. And, you know, really, if you look at many of the world’s great brands, let’s talk about on a brand level. You know, you talk about the apples of this world, for instance, you know, Steve Jobs was very purpose driven a dent in the universe. You know, it was making a great it, was it No, no expense spared in terms of the design, and the sense that this needs to be something that is sort of ergonomic in the sense that it fits in the human zone. It is can be, can be and often is a very, very powerful use of force for good. It attracts and retains talent, it creates genuine human value, which creates financial value, I think I think financial value comes from values. Really, you’re the generation of value. So, so I think are important questions. And I think I think often However, they do get kind of relegated from the boardroom to the marketing suite, or they with a little bit in the kind of the, the HR department, you know, and it sort of gets distributed around, but I think organizations that set out to do good tend to do well, you know, because and so having those conversations at the highest levels, I think, become, have become increasingly important. And I think always we’re, you know, the other aspect I think about it is, you know, what’s interesting is, the closer organizations, I work with some military units, and the closer that you get to the tip of the tip of the spear, if you like, the more they do talk about ethics, the more they do embrace the idea of purpose, and an ethos of, of, of real cause Common Cause, if you like, they do it not, because it’s nice to have they do it because it stops them getting killed. You know, it’s important, it also comes with a lot of ancillary benefits, you know, deep human connection, preparedness to sacrifice for the cause, you know, to stay up late and order pizza on us on a business team level. So, I think those principles are transferable in the larger more matrix, corporate corporations where, you know, they’re not the most ideal configuration of human effort necessarily. Within the teams, within those groups, a lot of these you see, a lot of these principles appear, I think, you know, a desire for, for connection, a dark desire for common cause, a kind of an unusual, you know, uncommon, but common language. And all the days that people have within a small team environment, psychological safety, that my voice gets heard, I’m seen, I’m recognized and valued, and taken care of, of things kind of go wrong, I get I have autonomy in my, in my area, I have self-efficacy. All of these are really the fundamentals of a great culture, and of which purpose is a path. You know, we no one likes to watch their life, just waste away. You know, the reason people leave jobs perfectly good jobs as they’re going nowhere.

Minter Dial  18:03

Or they have a shitty boss.

James Kerr  18:05

Well, usually it’s the same thing. It’s part of the same thing. Have a shitty boss, the circumstances aren’t right for them. But fundamentally, their life is going nowhere. Am I going to put up with a shitty boss for much longer, so meaning matters, if you like purpose matters. And, and so I think it’s kind of the opportunity and the obligation of leaders at every level to create an environment that is in which people thrive, in which people are able to bring their best and be their best. And purpose, values purpose meeting ethics, ethos, it’s all part of that same bundle, I think, and I think ignoring it is naive in the end, I think.

Minter Dial  18:55

Well, I mean, that’s why we’re on the call together. I mean, I fundamentally agree with you. And I want to pull in a couple of things which talked about the military. So, I did a documentary film and a book on the Second World War. So, I got a chance to talk to lots of people in the military and the notion of Band of Brothers, I played 18 years of rugby and it’s a non-violent or at least, you know, non-mortal type of sport, generally speaking, does create a phenomenon a band of brothers because of the hardships and sacrifices you must do for the common good of the team. Yet, you talk about meaning or as John Vervaeke talks about: mattering. This there’s a widespread discussion about the crisis of meaning or lack thereof. And I think in business, it’s become very crass. It’s, it’s really more about survival and finance and shareholder profit than this notion of meaning. And maybe that’s what Because the pendulum or the regard about meaning has become bigger. So, you need to do more to accommodate it. But in general, I find there’s a lack of energy, this is disengagement and broadly speaking, a misunderstanding of what purpose is, and a misalignment between if purpose, my own personal purpose with that corporate purpose.

James Kerr  20:25

Yep. Yeah. Below, but I mean, I think those words, lack of energy, disengagement and a lack of understanding. You know, that is the consequence of not making a strategic imperative, I think, and, and, you know, there was a book written, you know, bullshit jobs, you know, the idea that actually, my job is just doing nothing, you know, really, I’m just a cog in the machine. And now, you know, I guess the cynic might call those circumstances kind of a rounding error and the human factor, you know, it’s just going to be the consequence of these big corporate machines. And anyway, I’m here for a short time, not a good time, I’m going to rotate and rotate out and, and make my make my wedge and get out of that. Well, you know, whatever. But, you know, my experiences that there are a lot of, and I think, I think we can be, you know, when we say business, this is a very broad church here. You know, there are certainly some, some, let’s call them cynical environments, that are that are quite exploitive, they’re very transactional. That, that, and that, you know, Will, structurally will maybe keep on going, will they survive? And will they thrive in the next 100 years? I would say, probably not, you know, and then you’ve got the more, let’s call them enlightened things. So, for instance, I’m working with a with a with an investor in the US on a consultancy basis, who had a sort of domestic Gyan moment on the road and went actually, I want to make purposeful investment. I want to go into a space that I’m investing in organizations that make a difference for the future of the world. Now, boom, there’s been a huge success out of that, because, of course, they investments that have real human value, you know, if you’re selling sugar water, and you’re just counting, counting units. Well, you know, those kinds of companies spend a lot of money on advertising, trying to make that work meaningful. If you’re doing meaningful work, maybe you don’t have to spend so much on the other stuff on and on HR initiatives to kind of keep people happy, you know. So, I think I think it becomes a question of, of leadership. And I think that it becomes a question of, again, without it being cynical, that that these kind of conversations about purpose and meaning and what we’re doing an impact are almost a leadership lever. Without that sounding cynical, you know, it’s part of the it’s part of the armory or the or the quiver, very militaristic title terms, but part of the quiver of great leadership. You know, great leaders are great storytellers. First and foremost, I think the best leaders are great storytellers. You know, I have a dream, you know, you know, they stories resonate, and they resonate throughout history, putting a dent in the universe, you know, jobs, Jobs, one of his, you know, he who has the best story wins. And why? Because people buy into it, they engage, they feel a sense of ownership. They feel emotional equity, in that narrative, let’s say and narrative and ethos, an ethic, relay related. And so, it’s so sure there’s going to be massive pockets or oceans of corporate despair and despondency and lack of imagination. But, you know, great leaders are great storytellers. And part of this is about, you know, capturing hearts. You know, and, you know, if you take storytelling, you know, ethos, logos and pathos, ethos credibility, logos, it makes sense makes good business sense. pathos. You know, it moves me and you want to have environments that move people, whether you’re running a family, or whether you’re running a small team Whether you’re running the world or an organization or running the world, what’s the narrative? What’s the story? And why does it matter? You know, we’re coming up to election time in the UK, you know, it’s two narratives. Maybe three, but to us is divided between two very, very different narratives. These stories matter, the purpose matters, the it’s all part of the same bundle, I think it can be very naive to think it’s the soft stuff, you know, the soft stuff is the hard stuff. The soft stuff is as hard because it’s hard. It’s difficult to do. You know, and it’s the hard stuff because, you know, it delivers hard results. And then, you know, when you galvanize a group, when their heart and soul is into an enterprise. That’s an unstoppable force. You know, it doesn’t matter, the circumstances that come up, and they’ll figure out the answer, you know, and will prevail in some way. So, so it’s very easy guy, purpose, my purpose, what are your What does that matter, we’re just here for them for next year for next month results, but guaranteed the people saying that they’ve got their own narrative that drives and moves them and probably moves their immediate team. So, it’s very easy, I think, to be cynical, it’s much, much more difficult and much, much more skilled, to understand the nuance of the sort of the human heart, if you like, and the importance of that. And, you know, there are there are terms for a cognitive congruence, all mines pointing in the same direction. How do you achieve that? Well, why is that important? First, it’s important because, you know, in sport, you know, we talked about marginal games, you know, don’t try to do one thing. 100% Better try to do 100 things 1%. But if you’ve got a whole organization, who are pointing in the same direction, you got much less wasted effort. Your enemy is outside of your right, your aim is outside, you’re not ripping each other apart. Internally, you’re on the same team for the right reasons. You pass the dinner party tests, you’re proud of what you’re doing. Other people might sign up, you are literally creating value. And I sincerely believe that the more you create value on the inside, the more value is accrued from the outside. The business for Good is sort of a force for good, but it’s a force for good business as well.

Minter Dial  27:32

Yeah, the notion of values create value 30 subscribe to the notion of doing good, though, is a little bit more complicated. And probably is part of the problem. Because in this complexity of this messy human stuff, soft, I call essential skills. This is where many of these leaders probably say well, I don’t need that stuff. Look at me, I’m successful already. I have three houses and I don’t need to taper temper with this sort of trendy purpose thing. And plus, I’m really not good at it, this idea of empathy. I, I don’t have the time to listen to people who wax on or moan on about something or other I just do your business. I’m paying you enough. Just do what I tell you to do. And it’s not there’s no stories good law that takes time that actually means possibly being vulnerable.

James Kerr  28:34

Yep. You the comments of cowards, that the product of fear, I would say that’s largely psychologically, the inability to grow and to learn and develop, I would challenge that and a leader that came up with that kind of line. Listen, your business is full of psychopaths. You know, there’s a there’s a there’s a there’s a joke somebody said, you know that there are so many of them. They’re either in prison or they’re in your office. You know, there’s plenty around, there are plenty of people who have achieved great things with because they have a lack of empathy. Absolutely. But we’re not all wired like that. We’re not a wildlife. And, you know, the interesting thing, you know, you’ve talked, there were sort of trendy. I don’t think this is trendy at all. I think this is a terminal. This is fundamental. This is Marcus Aurelius. This is Martin Luther King. This is JFK. You know, this is this is, you know, Julius Caesar, you know, see that, you know, you’re seizing the public’s imagination.

Minter Dial  29:50

And the worst of it is, actually it’s successful.

James Kerr  29:56

Well, it is a, you know, there’s a sort of exactly, you know, I’m successful anyway, I don’t need to do this. Well, are you fully as successful as you might be? No, you know, if I can swear this shit works exactly. It’s, it works, it changes heart that captures hearts and it changes minds. And it inspires, it captures the spirit, you know, you talked about Band of Brothers, you know, the idea of spree decor, you know, the French side of you the esprit de corps, right, it’s the spirit of the group or the spirit of the body. You know, there is a smallest spiritual element to motivation, and leadership. You know, we are capturing the souls of human beings without being kind of an old hippie setting other Glastonbury tours screaming of the heavens, it is part of and we know that we are we are inspired and uplifted as human beings, and it is an essential part of what motivates us what gets us out of bed in the morning. What helped me means that we go that extra mile for other people. All of those aspects, I think, massively important, and if you get it, right, different differentiating and, and, and success making, you know, so to your notional cynic going, I’ve been really successful. I’ve got three houses, well, maybe you could have six, if that’s what turns you on. You know?

Minter Dial  31:31

Hopefully, he’ll start walking soon. But the you mentioned another thing, which resonated with another conversation I had with a very successful squash coach who in fact, coached the Trinity College squash team in the United States and had a 252-match winning streak, and 13 national championships in a row. And in one of his lessons learned over his career was less to look for the skill, there had to be the skill, but he wanted to have large character and to recruit for character. And as a good lawyer, you mentioned earlier, this idea of coaching for character, and in education. I think rugby is a sport that I think promotes this idea. But in general, it seems like the trend that I was using just now is the reverse. It’s to sanitize, it’s to remove hardship is to remove pain, which is the elemental bonding experience, Incorporated bonding experience, which helps you to have that is paid a car, because in the car is the body. And yeah, and having it in you in the rituals. And when you do gestures that are ritualized is a formalized rude gestures. You even when you’re talking by yourself on the street, on the phone, your other hand will be waxing on and complementing what you’re saying, because that’s how we talk. And these gestures absolutely reinforce our style of communication, our energy, our abilities to convince, and in a storytelling mode, but we feel like it’s sort of becoming cardboard versions and in education, get rid of anything that’s risky. And therefore, how do you build character without risk?

James Kerr  33:28

Well, I think, you know, we scroll back a little bit, you know, the first thing is to your squash coach, you know, it there’s capability in this character, and I think it was John Wooden and I think Michael Jordan said something very similar that you know, that talent will win your game or two, but character will win tournaments. Bill Walsh said of the coach of the San Francisco 49ers talked about success as being cumulative character. You know, it’s those small character decisions, the small sacrifices, the small disciplines that accumulated leads to something of course, ethos means character. Ethos means character, it’s just that you have in the character and the characteristic of an organization. So, and, you know, the, I think, just to sort of break down, you know, some of those things, you know, I think, certainly we’re at the time where we sort of snowplow for our kids and we tried to smooth out, you know, we, we tried to smooth it out, and we but we only learn in the zone of discomfort is the truth. You know, it’s like going to the gym, you’ve got to kind of break down muscle tissue before it will build. And, and that is one of the ways that we build character. Absolutely. And you look at we talked about military examples, Hell Week and the Navy SEALs. It’s not about how Do you swim? It’s about Will you keep swimming. You know, but the real or one of the real reasons for Hell Week or selection and special forces or whatever it is also, of course, is it creates incredibly strong bonds, that Band of Brothers, Yorkers, shared adversity creates collective character. You know, and we know that when we’ve been through hard times, you know, sickness in the family, or setbacks, or whatever, you know, those are the moments that that make us or break us. And normally, they, they make us the kind of Kintsugi thing, you know, smashed and piece of pottery making more beautiful with the gold, you know, it’s that it’s the fixing that fit that makes it strong. And so but I think coming back to a question, you know, if you apply this as a leader, what do you look what, what is character? And what does that, you know, how do you select for character? And that’s not an easy thing, right. But I think you need to start thinking in terms of sort of values and standards, in a way. I, rugby coach, he called it the Telltales, you know, did they leave their car after an interview? Did they leave their coffee on the table for you to pick up? Or do they do something with it? You know? Do they, you know, do they? I mean, some people aren’t so good at it, none of it, no behavior on its own is ever indicative of everything, but you know, do they return your calls? On time?

Minter Dial  36:42

Do they show up?

James Kerr  36:45

Well, metaphorically and actually: do they show up? You know, do they say what they do and do what they say, your integrity and character is a big thing and integrity in terms of, you know, the way I outlined it in the book is certainly, you know, there’s a pejorative idea or a kind of a judgmental idea of what integrity is, which is around honesty and doing all that. But actually integrity, if you look at it on one way is, you know, my values and my actions are aligned with my words, and my actions are aligned, my values, my words, and my actions are aligned, I am an integrated being, I have a oneness to me. And with that comes a lot of authenticity comes a lot of presents, you’re you are what you say you are, there isn’t a side to you. Now, you know, you don’t need to be politically naive, either. You don’t have to blurt it all out. But you kind of want to have that, that strong center. And I think, again, that comes from that self-knowledge, we were talking about that sense of the explored life. And I, you know, I talked about the idea of kind of lead from within, you know, that unless you’ve really understood what it is you stand for, where you’re going, or why it matters, or sort of holy trinity of culture, but I think also of character, you know, what, what am i root? What do I stand for? What Why do I stand for, you know, Where do I stand on this? Am I going to kind of blow in the wind and be opportunistic, when you want to be agile, but maybe not opportunistic? You know, and, and I think that comes from taking a certain sort of point of view. And that comes from self-knowledge. And that leads to what others might call character, if you like, and it’ll get you through the tough times. You know, it’ll, it’ll align a group. So, I think it’s hugely important.

Minter Dial  38:45

I fully agree him in my last book was called You Lead and the sort of the subtext is you lead you, and once you know how to lead yourself, then the rest can follow much easier.

James Kerr  38:59

Sure, you know, you think about, you know, the idea of self-regulation. Well, regulation means to rule, Regal Kingly. You know, it’s about rolling our emotions, it’s about leading ourselves first, you know, you have to be able to lead yourself first. And, and particularly, you know, one of one of the pieces of work I’ve done in my life as kind of talking down premiership managers from what they really want to say, on a Monday morning. You know, because what they really want to do is rip their heads off their players for not following the game plan, but that’s not going to set them up for the game on Wednesday. You know, so they need to rule their emotions, in one way or the other. We need to understand ourselves be able to process for ourselves in order to, you know, the Viktor Frankl thing that that gap between stimulus and response, that’s our power. You know, and if the stimulus just makes us react, which never tends to go very well we defend or we deny or we denigrate or whatever D word is of the time? Or do we respond in a way that is, as a leader is our values, what we stand for the kind of ethos that that we have? And can we under pressure respond rather than react, and I think that’s a large part of character, you know, being able to respond, not react, to be able to not be thrown back on our kind of reptilian response, but be able to step into the kind of the being that we want to be in order to be a leader. And and I think they’re important questions and difficult questions. You know, personally difficult questions, always, we all have these challenges. We’re emotional beings, and we’re triggered easily. But character means being able to weather adversity, I think, in a way that aligns with who we want our best self to be, if you like.

Minter Dial  41:05

Well, I certainly think we need to have more adversity, brought back into education. Want to finish, just because we haven’t had much chance to talk about your book, which is just a delicious book to read. If anyone hasn’t read it, my God go pick it up legacy, what the old blacks can teach us about the business of life. Now, did you come across this idea? I mean, everyone knows about the All Blacks. But the idea of writing this book, was it something personal? How did you get into it,

James Kerr  41:33

I slightly stumbled into it, I did another book with a team called mana, and mana means kind of the spirit inside. And I worked with a photographer called Nick Danziger. And we managed to negotiate our way inside the All Blacks environment, I’d done a book many years before within the Australian kangaroos, the rugby team, rugby league team, with a similar kind of concept. And I was interested in doing that. And then of course, I got to know the environment. And I got to know that some of the people and the leaders and I kind of sort of coming together the work I did in a more corporate space, with, with the work that they were doing, and that space, and I realized, and I think it was also in my own life, I had reasonably recently become a father at that point. And so I was also that idea of legacy, of course, talking about life events, and leadership and coaching, and, and character. And, excuse me, all of those questions. All of those questions really started to congeal, I guess, all come together as an idea for for, for a book. And I learned a lot from that experience. But I also learned from that experience that a lot of what they knew I knew in different domains. And what I became very interested in was, what are the transferable principles between domains, I don’t believe that much about analogies, you know, that I love the book doesn’t make the boat go faster. And I love that metaphor. But it doesn’t always apply in other in groups. I mean, it doesn’t. But up, but I’m really interested in, you know, we all work in teams, as in groups in one way or the other either physical teams or virtual teams. And there’s a there’s a line from Tolstoy from Anna Karenina, that the opening line, which I won’t quite properly, but it’s basically All happy families are happy for the same reason that all unhappy families are happy and happy for their own reason. And I think that’s the same with teams, you’re with groups with all sorts of teams, there’s plenty of ways to be unhappy as a team to be dysfunctional. But really the principles behind great groups, high performing groups, however you define high performance, those principles are relatively in roughly the same. And the value sets that come up across many different domains tend to be very, very similar that the expectations, the standards, the way of interacting tend to be very much the same. So, I’m really interested in those transferable principles. And I think it became just an emerging idea that crystallized into the book, Legacy.

Minter Dial  44:31

Well, as being a rugby player, I tend to think rugby is a tremendous learning space, and better and I give a qualification better than many other sports. In terms of the types of education it brings to you. Last question for you, James, because time is what it is. This notion of personal versus professional. So, in a sport, it’s kind of obviously closer to personal because you’re sweating, you’re getting naked in a shower with the boys. And you know, so there’s this sort of, it’s me in with warts and all visible, and I might have pain, it’s visible pain, and I might break it off. And that’s, you know, it’s a personal issue as opposed to some cognitive dissonance or something like that. Yet, it seems that one of the one of the biggest challenges and maybe one of the reasons why so many of the leaders don’t become great leaders, is because they don’t know each other don’t know themselves, and aren’t prepared to dip into the true personal self, which includes my warts, my, my, my badness, my perhaps evilness. And do you think that that is the case? And do you think that business should be more personal?

James Kerr  45:58

You know, you’re on that kind of lead from within principle. Hell yeah! You know, I think leadership, you know, one of the key factors of leadership is courage. And one of the most difficult things to do is to take a good hard look at yourself, course. But discomfort equals growth, you know, you to grow, you need to be prepared to step into that gap between where you’re at, and where you want to be. And that’s an uncomfortable place to be. And, and if you want to grow, now, you don’t have to, but if you want to grow in your life, and I think the purpose of you know, if you take the kind of humanistic idea that we are driven towards self-actualization, the really, we are part of a, you know, you’re the happiest people are the people who are becoming what they become next, you know, that life really is a process of growth and learning and becoming, then there are going to be plateaus that are uncomfortable. And they’re going to be an end. And there’s a phrase I use, you know, if you’re not, if you’re not growing anyway, you’re not going anywhere. And it’s, you know, you’ve looked at on the obvious kind of corporate sense, and you go a Kodak, you know, what’s this digital business got to do with us? You know, they didn’t grow. They didn’t grow conceptually, morally, ethically, what ethos like, you’re in an ethos kind of way. And then of course, they didn’t, they disintegrated really relatively, as a business unit. We’re either changing, we’re, they’re changing forwards, or we’re always shriveling up and going backwards, really, I think as human beings. You know, that’s what life is life is growth, until you stop growing, and you start. And so, you know, I think the probably the quick, it’s a personal question of, you know, you can you invest in yourself in a process as a leader is a process of, are you prepared to go to the places that are maybe difficult, maybe uncomfortable, maybe awkward, maybe shameful, you know, in order to, to move up to that next level, whatever that next level might be for you. And I think they’re important questions. I think they’re important questions about life, you know, life and leadership, professional and personal. What’s the difference? In many ways, you’re a young, young set, you know, we only change the world by changing ourselves first. If you want to change your outer circumstances, you want to change your inner conditions. And, and that’s got to be a, you know, a dialogue with self, a Socratic dialogue with self in order to ask those questions and shine light on places of yourself that you may not otherwise go. And I listen, I can’t talk about it from a business leadership thing. I just think as a promoter. I don’t think I need to talk about it as a business thing. I think it’s the old the life unexamined, is unexamined, is a life half lived. And I think that was as true 2000 years ago, or as true today as it was 2000 years ago. But it’s not an easy road. The easy way is to say I’m fine, thanks very much. I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m keeping on doing

Minter Dial  49:29

Until one day it breaks down.

James Kerr  49:31

Well, it’s easy until the road runs out. It’s easy until your partner leaves you because you haven’t really changed, you’d still the same You haven’t changed at all. You know, it’s easy until the digital revolution comes along and sweeps your business out from under you. You know it’s fine until your staff walk out on mass because you haven’t really changed. It’s, it’s fine until you get passed over for promotion. because then they think you’ve peaked and plateaued. You know, or it’s or you suddenly go, I’m doing the same life as I did 10 years ago, and I’m bored, and I’m restless, and I don’t know what to do with myself. You don’t? If you’re not growing anyway, you’re not going anywhere. And, and I think that’s, that’s the challenge. But I think, I think, surely that’s the joy. Surely that’s the that’s the juice of life is. I mean, you know, you mentioned it earlier, but until you’re 40, or 50, you know, you’re just going trying stuff out, you know, what better way to stay young when you are 40, or 50, or 60, than then to try shit out. Keep it keep trying, keep experimenting, don’t be you know, look for your own self-actualization, and write your own story out there on the world. And I think that individuation or another union phrase is so fundamental to a life well lived, and a life that keeps, you know, you know, sort of shedding the shedding what isn’t necessary anymore, you know, cutting the branches back, so that new blooms come to us a cliché. It’s got to be the way forward, doesn’t it? You know, and I think, you know, I work with a lot of coaches, and you’ve obviously spoken to a lot of coaches, you know, coaches, it’s really about character development and personal development, it’s not skills development so much. You know, it’s, who are you? Who are you? What are you bringing? And these are really important questions, I think of life, and of leadership, of love, of culture, of organizational growth of creating value, and wherever you’re at taking it to the next level. So, perhaps in your question of that high performance question, isn’t high performance about being able to kind of take it to the next level, and the next level after that, you know, there’s a commitment and in the All Blacks, you know, to get better every day, you know, high performing environments, at their hard learning environments. You know, the commitment is to get better every day, how can I be better? The there’s a lot of the used to be certainly a lot of shame around the self-development space. But of course, every successful athlete, let’s say, is committed to their self-development. That’s what they do. The world’s greatest athletes, most famous people are absolutely committed to getting better every day. And I think we can hold ourselves back by thinking up fine, thanks. Fine. I’m good.

Minter Dial  52:46

Well, we’re going to finish there. I just wanted to give one, two comments. First is this notion of individuation. But let’s stop at hyper individualization because I think there’s a whole lot of people going overboard on how important I am. It’s all about me.

James Kerr  53:03

Yeah, it’s a different concept, right? It’s a different concept. Of course. individualization is you know, pick me, you know, look at me, you know, selfie stick. But individuation is I think there’s a Robert Louis Stevenson quote, it’s becoming what you’re capable of becoming. Becoming you.

Minter Dial  53:26

Yeah. I just wanted to, you know, put that just remind people that we’re not talking about you, the individual stuff. And then the other the second comment was this notion you mentioned, doing good and how doing good is good for business and my friend Giles Gibbons as his this his tagline for his company called Good Business. But I’ve tended to back away from doing good to doing better. And you just mentioned it now, like the All Blacks do, do it little bit, the ability bit better every day. The idea do better is seems less political, because doing good, is necessarily some kind of political statement. I’m doing good for the world. I’m doing good for my society or my community. And and it’s not always good for everybody.

James Kerr  54:20

Well, I think that’s fair. I think that’s fair. And I think it’s a I think doing better is it’s also it’s more incremental, it’s more achievable. You know, you can just do a little bit better every day. There’s an exponential value that accumulative character comes from that, I think. And, I mean, I think probably the benefit of kind of, you know, doing good if we put it in inverted commas for a moment is is trying to make a positive contribution somewhere somehow. Now that, you know, I think I think they’ll be So you’re thinking about that though, sometimes there’s that it’s, there’s a great Pericles quote, which is, you know, our achievements aren’t written on stone monuments, they’re woven into the lives of others. And I’ve always loved that, from that idea of what maybe legacy really is. And a phrase I’m, I’ve written for the book I’m writing at the moment, as, you know, we kind of write our eulogy every day, you know, when, when, when, when they when your eulogy gets written, they don’t talk about your stone monuments very much, they might get a mention your CV doesn’t come into a right but your character does. You know, he or she was a kind man or woman. You know, they helped me when I needed help, you know, they, they, I always knew I could go to them if I had a problem they brought they made me feel good character stuff that’s remembered that’s most important and that probably has the most kind of that butterfly effect ripple effect in terms of the way that we the impact we really have on the world. And so you know, it’s not a bad way to think well how do I do better with what I’ve got with the immediate and that comes down usually to the relationships that we have trying to be a better human being you know, the All Blacks say better people make better All Blacks, you know, but they make better squash players. You know, they make better, better business leaders, team leaders, better friends, better partners, better lovers, you know, you know that incremental do better rather than I’m going to do good. Yeah, I get that. I think I agree with that.

Minter Dial  56:45

Love that. James on this. I mean, I frankly could go on for a couple more hours. Loved this conversation with you, James. We rolled into the military, and education and business, and of course my love for rugby. How can somebody follow your writings, James, contact you should they wish to hire you get to speak or consult or coach, buy a book, what’s the what are the types of things I should send them to?

James Kerr  57:13

Well, the book is called Legacy. I can be found with a pretty swift Google, I think, I hope LinkedIn tends to be a conduit. I’ve got a book coming out. I think probably early 2025 depending on my efforts over the next few months called Ethos, care. And yeah, character, of character and growth, really, the book is about.

Minter Dial  57:48

Well, if you’ll accept, I will grab you for another discussion. When Ethos comes out.

James Kerr  57:54

I would enjoy I would enjoy that. I’ve enjoyed this conversation. I’d enjoy another one when the time’s right.


Splendid many. Thanks, James. Maybe thanks.

James Kerr  58:03

Thank you very much for the conversation, for the dialogue.

Minter Dial  58:09

So, a really heartfelt thanks for listening to this episode of The Minter Dialogue podcast. If you liked the show, please remember to subscribe on your favourite podcast service. As ever, rating and reviews are the real currency of podcasts. And if you’re really inspired, I’m accepting donations on You’ll find the show notes with over 2100 blog posts on on topics ranging from leadership to branding, tech and marketing tips. Check out my documentary film and books including my last one, the second edition of “Heartificial Empathy, Putting Heart into Business and Artificial Intelligence” that came out in April 2023. And to finish here’s a song I wrote with Stephanie Singer, “A Convinced Man.”

I like the feel of a stranger

Tucked around me

Precipitating the danger

To feel free

Trust is the reason

Still I won’t toe the line.

I sit here passively

Hope for your respect

Anticipating the thrill of your intellect

Maybe I tell myself

There’s no use in me lying.

I’m a convinced man,

Building an urge

A convinced man,

To live and die submerged.

A convinced man,

In the arms of a woman

I’m a convinced man

Challenge my fate

I’m a convinced man

Competition’s innate

A convinced man

In the arms of a woman.

Despise revenges

And struggle to see

Live for the challenge

So life’s not incomplete

What’s wrong with challenge

I know soon we all die

I’m a convinced man

Practicing my lines

I’m a convinced man

Here in these confines

A convinced man

In the arms of a woman.

I’m a convinced man

Put me to the test

I’m a convinced man

I’m ready for an arrest

I’m a convinced man

In the arms of a woman.

I’m a convinced man… so convinced

You convince me, yeah baby,

I’m a convinced man

In the arms of a woman…

Minter Dial

Minter Dial is an international professional speaker, author & consultant on Leadership, Branding and Transformation. After a successful international career at L’Oréal, Minter Dial returned to his entrepreneurial roots and has spent the last twelve years helping senior management teams and Boards to adapt to the new exigencies of the digitally enhanced marketplace. He has worked with world-class organisations to help activate their brand strategies, and figure out how best to integrate new technologies, digital tools, devices and platforms. Above all, Minter works to catalyse a change in mindset and dial up transformation. Minter received his BA in Trilingual Literature from Yale University (1987) and gained his MBA at INSEAD, Fontainebleau (1993). He’s author of four award-winning books, including Heartificial Empathy, Putting Heart into Business and Artificial Intelligence (2nd edition) (2023); You Lead, How Being Yourself Makes You A Better Leader (Kogan Page 2021); co-author of Futureproof, How To Get Your Business Ready For The Next Disruption (Pearson 2017); and author of The Last Ring Home (Myndset Press 2016), a book and documentary film, both of which have won awards and critical acclaim.

👉🏼 It’s easy to inquire about booking Minter Dial here.

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