Craig Dowden, PhD
Craig Dowden (PhD) is an award-winning keynote speaker and highly sought-after executive coach whose passion and insights inspire, energize, and empower audiences and clients across North America. His first book, Do Good to Lead Well – The Science and Practice of Positive Leadership, was published by Forbes in early 2019 and became an instant Best-Seller. Called “ideal reading for people who want to make a positive impact in their organizations” by best-selling author, Daniel Pink, Craig’s book was endorsed by over 30 CEOs and top-rated TED speakers.
Craig has a doctorate in psychology with a concentration in business and is a Certified Positive Psychology CoachTM. His work has appeared in Forbes, Fast Company, the Huffington Post (U.S.), the Financial Post, the Financial Times, and Psychology Today. Craig’s mission is to support leaders and executives to thrive in their roles by translating his love of science into the practice of positive leadership. We sat down with Craig to discuss his book and find out why more and more business leaders and executives are adopting his techniques.
You have a PhD in psychology with a specialization in business, and you combine both areas in your work and in your book. Tell me about what you do.
I predominately speak and coach on the science and practice of positive leadership. With a nod to best-selling author and TED speaker, Daniel Pink, who kindly agreed to let me modify his catchphrase: My professional mission is to bridge the gap between what science knows and what leaders do. I am passionate about sharing evidence-based principles with my clients, which is why I pursued my PhD in psychology and business.
What are the most common challenges your clients bring to you in your coaching practice?
Most of my work focuses on emotional intelligence, or EQ-related issues or concerns. I help my clients raise their level of awareness about who they are and how they come across to other people. I also help them relate more effectively to the people around them and the situations they face. At its core, it is about maximizing alignment, on a personal and professional level.
What are some of the biggest challenges for executives, and how do you help them overcome them?
One of the major challenges is that executives are working in an environment of high stress and information overload. When we are in this heighted state, we can make rash decisions or act outside of our values, which can create substantial problems. I make sure my clients slow down and think through the different options and likely consequences for their most important and strategic decisions. What impacts will each option have for them? Their organization? Their stakeholders? What option feels most closely aligned with their values? How can they reframe an issue or option? Nothing feels more satisfying than when we feel empowered to show up authentically during our most challenging moments.
You talk about the importance of ‘leading with curiosity.’ What does this mean and how does this technique help leaders?
To lead with curiosity means asking questions of ourselves and of others. It is about taking a moment to dig deeper rather than react immediately. One of the biggest opportunities to ask questions of ourselves comes from our emotions. Our emotions are data points. How we feel in a situation is an invaluable source of information. We can learn so much about who we are and what we value by examining what we feel and how we react to different people and situations. When we sit with and learn from our emotions, rather than judging, or reacting to them, this puts us in the best position for success because we don't get derailed or upended in crucial situations or relationships.
When it comes to asking questions of others, considerable research tells us that empathy is a critical skill for our personal and professional lives. This means asking a lot of exploratory questions rather than assuming we have the right answer or know what’s going on. Unfortunately, most people are inclined to act on their assumptions, which are often wrong. This can create a lot of problems and even permanently damage relationships. Instead, we need to ask open-ended questions, such as “What makes you say that?” and genuinely listening to the answer without judgment. When we effectively lead with curiosity, we ask questions and suspend judgement before deciding what to do or how to respond. This is the roadmap to leadership success.
These are some of the same topics you discuss in your book, Do Good to Lead Well. What was your motivation for writing it?
When speaking with my clients, a lot of times they would have questions about how they could be a positive leader. In many cases, they believed it was a dichotomy: you could either drive results by sacrificing your integrity or by being tyrannical or toxic; or you could be nice, but have to accept you would get sub-optimal results. I wrote Do Good to Lead Well to challenge that fundamentally misguided idea. There is a lot of fantastic research that shows that positive leaders drive positive business results, emotionally as well as financially. I wanted to write a book that provides evidence-based pillars that have been shown to drive leadership and business success. The six pillars I share in my book – self-awareness, civility, humility, focusing on the positive, purpose, and empathy - have a robust scientific foundation, which has been there for a long time.
What topics do you get asked to speak about the most?
Empathy is certainly one of my most popular topics, which is not surprising given that we’re experiencing the lowest level of empathy in our history. Even more importantly, considerable evidence shows how empathy is a critical pillar for executive excellence and ethical leadership. This is not surprising when you think about it because empathy is at the heart of building trusting relationships. I love sharing the science and practice of empathy because it is an invaluable skill, in leadership and in life.
Resilience has been gaining momentum as a topic of interest for many years, and the global pandemic put that into high gear. There is a science of resilience, for individuals as well as for leaders. I share evidence-based tools and techniques so people can maximize their own resilience as well as discover ways to build resilience in their teams and organizations. There’s a lot of fascinating work around how small changes in our mindset and behaviors can deliver extraordinary results. Humility is another topic that is growing increasingly popular. Unfortunately, in this current age, the people and leaders who are often showcased tend to be gregarious, aggressive and exceedingly confident. Science tells us this is not a pathway to success. Quite the opposite.
In his amazing book called, Humility is the New Smart, which is based on hundreds of academic articles and white papers, distinguished professor and researcher, Ed Hess, says, “the old smart is the new stupid.” Rather than trying to know everything (e.g., the old smart), we need to accept that we can’t (e.g., the new smart) and ask questions of people who are closer to the issues and learn from their insights. We need to get better at asking the right questions and accepting we don’t and can’t know everything. If we fail to do that, we are in trouble.
One of the pillars in your book that I thought was really interesting was self-awareness. Can you talk more about why self-awareness is so important?
I consider self-awareness a foundational pillar of positive leadership and it is the reason I cover it first in the book. The more we’re aware of who we are and how we come across to other people, the better equipped we are to navigate the different situations and people we encounter. While there is a lot of research that shows how important self-awareness is to our success, it is quite rare in the population. In fact, only 10 to 30 percent of us are reasonably self-aware. This means if we can improve in this area, it provides an incredible competitive advantage for all of us. Unfortunately, many of us are overly confident in our level of self-knowledge, which creates a huge blind spot and gets in the way of us maximizing our potential.
How can people find out more about you and your book?
People can find more about me on my website craigdowden.com or reach out to connect with me on LinkedIn. Tell me you found me through this article. I love connecting with new people and hearing and learning from their stories. I also have a complimentary newsletter, which shares evidence-based practices with my community. You can sign up by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with 'newsletter' in the subject line.
Craig Dowden, Ph.D.
Owner, Craig Dowden and Associates
Download the Top 100 Canadian Professionals magazine and check out Craig's feature on page 34.