Interview with international leadership coach Pepper de Callier

Common Sense Wisdom Volume III

Columnist, author and internationally respected authority on leadership Pepper de Callier, released his latest book, Common Sense Wisdom Volume III: The Physics of Life, completing a trilogy on leadership and personal development.

Pepper, a native of the USA, has previously been a partner at two of the world’s most highly regarded consulting firms Spencer Stuart and Heidrick & Struggles and has advised high profile companies across the globe that include Microsoft, Boeing, Hitachi and Nokia.

After a brief stint in retirement that saw him live temporarily in the Champagne region of France and Tuscany in Italy, Pepper and his wife, Priscilla, settled in Prague where, when not writing, he serves  as  executive director, coach and mentor for the Prague Leadership Institute – an organisation which he founded and that works to develop the next generation of 21st century leaders in the Czech Republic – and, as one of its founding members, also works closely with the Aspen Institute Prague

While many young boys may grow up idolising their fathers and hoping to follow in their footsteps, it was actually Pepper’s mother that inspired him to build a career in leadership development.

“Since I was a young boy I’ve always been fascinated by leadership. My mother was a senior executive in the USA during the 1950s and 1960s – which was very uncommon for women at that time,” explains Pepper. 

“Once a month she would take me along to meetings with her instead of sending me to school and I was fascinated with the positive impact she had on people and how she could influence them to achieve their goals. She was like a superhero to me!”

After a colourful and varied career that has included roles as a barber, insurance executive and magazine publisher, Pepper settled into leadership development – a role which he continues to enjoy and thrive in today.

“I’ve had the good fortune of being able to build a career around helping people and companies achieve their goals. For the past 30 years I have worked with leaders and boards of directors around the world to help them raise their level of performance and bring out the best in themselves and in those they lead,” he says.

Having worked with business leaders and CEOs for quite some years, Pepper has seen a number of trends come and go and is quick to recognise the new challenges leaders face in this day and age.

“I think the biggest problem leaders face in the 21st century is how to engage their workforce. They know how to run their companies—the processes—but they don’t do so well when it comes to engaging their employees,” says Pepper. “A recent study showed that 80% of the global workforce feels disengaged from their work – they don’t care what their companies do as they are there purely to earn money. This is what I work with people on – the behavioural aspects of leadership—how to engage others in a way that allows them to release their creativity and commitment in order to deliver top performance, while also improving themselves as leaders.”

“Often when leaders think of engagement, of creating a human link between leaders and workforces, they think of it as a ‘soft skill’. Initially, when I walk into a boardroom people think I’m going to eventually ask them to hold hands and sing – but they soon learn that this is far from what we will be doing together.  I’m actually more concerned with heightened levels of self-awareness, performance and people becoming the best version of them they can be without sacrificing their own authenticity. I focus on the physics of leadership—the cause and effect relationship between a leader’s actions and the reactions of those they lead,” continues Pepper.

“It’s not about ‘soft skills’ today, it’s about ‘soft power’ and learning to adapt to the needs of the 21st century.. People frequently say to me ‘I’ve acted the way I have for 20 years – can I really change?’ I always say that if you have the proper motivation, support and direction that change is not only likely but inevitable, and I have the science to back that up.”

And this is exactly what Pepper’s  Common Sense Wisdom trilogy equips people to do. It explains why and shows how they can adapt themselves in order to achieve what they want in life. “Today, it’s not about what you know, it’s about how you use what you know to achieve the most desirable outcomes for you, your family, your company, and others,” he adds with emphasis, “I guess you could say that my trilogy is like an ‘owner’s manual’ for personal development in the 21st century.”

Having been a decade-long resident of Prague, Pepper is seeing the city develop and its potential to be a corporate hub grow.

“An interesting thing is happening here in Prague. The intellectual Richard Florida, who coined the term ‘megalopolis’ which refers to regions of high economic growth, predicted there would be 20 of these ‘megalopolises’ in the world and named the ‘Prague Corridor’ as one,” explains Pepper.

“And we are definitely seeing Prague becoming a centre of activity for Central and Eastern Europe. More and more companies are opting to have regional corporate headquarters here as other cities just don’t have what Prague has to offer in terms of opportunities.”

It is opportunities such as Prague’s potential for growth that have allowed Pepper to settle and work in the city. Yet there is something else about Prague that Pepper loves which has led him to call it home.

“When I first came to Prague I fell in love with the place, the people and the history. It’s just a great place to be and I have met some of the most wonderful people since living here,” says Pepper. “It’s a very beautiful and cosmopolitan city, but also a very safe one. I sincerely can’t imagine wanting to live somewhere else.”

The future holds even more interesting opportunities for Pepper. In his work with the Prague Leadership Institute and the Aspen Institute Prague, Pepper is privileged to work with some of the most talented leaders in Central and Eastern Europe and beyond. He has been invited to Asia to by The Economist magazine and the Director of the China Centre for Development to speak to a number of groups about his views on leadership.

If working with such people and companies from across the globe has taught Pepper anything it is that we are all united by certain bonds.

“My interaction with multicultural workforces has re-affirmed something that I learned many years ago, and that is that it is much more productive to focus on what we have in common rather than our differences,” explains Pepper.

“As human beings, for example, we  all care deeply about being respected, about having our voice heard, and being in an environment in which we  feel cared about – and this is the same in every country I have been to. Being competent leaders is about how we can develop others and in turn develop ourselves to help contribute to civil society – this is what business and life in the 21st century are all about.”

Each copy of Common Sense Wisdom Volume III: The Physics of Life comes in both English and Czech and is available to purchase from all Neoluxur bookstores.

Author: Helen Armitage - Prague.TV

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