Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed former pilot and author Peter Docker about his career, what inspired him to start writing, and the work tht went into his inspirational book, Leading From The Jumpseat.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’m Peter Docker, author of Leading From The Jumpseat: How to Create Extraordinary Opportunities by Handing Over Control. Over my lifetime I’ve had some extraordinary experiences. I was a pilot and senior officer in the Royal Air force for 25 years. During that time I led people in combat, was faced with crash-landing an aircraft with 140 people on board and was the pilot to the British prime minister – among many other adventures.
I also taught leadership at the UK’s Defence College, been a negotiator for the British government and led multi-billion pound procurement projects. Since leaving the military I’ve worked with companies in almost every sector, teaching – and learning a great deal about – leadership across different cultures and 93 countries.
For over 7 years I worked alongside Simon Sinek helping to take his message around the world. I also co-authored the book Find Your Why with Simon and David Mead, which has sold around 460,000 copies in 26 languages.
I live in the Cotswolds in England with my wife Claire, and continue to be inspired by our two grown-up children.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
That came in early 2015 after I had been using some of the stories from my life to illustrate my keynote talks and workshops. I had learned so much about leadership, people and culture from my different experiences and I wanted to share that knowledge more widely with others so they might benefit – even when they weren’t part of a physical audience.
There is a certain permanence to a printed book that is unique: it can be thumbed-through, highlighted, bookmarked and passed on to others.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I started putting ideas onto paper in early 2015. While that particular manuscript never made it to print, it helped me shape the ideas that would later inspire the books that are now published.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
My first book, Find Your Why, co-authored with Simon Sinek and David Mead, took almost exactly two years from September 2015 to September 2017.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
Writing Leading From The Jumpseat was quicker, partly because I was the only author, and partly because I established my own publishing company, Why Not Press. I first started putting ideas together in May 2020, but then had a complete rethink later that year, setting aside 30,000 words I had written and effectively starting again in February 2021. The book was then released worldwide a little under eight months later on 19 October that same year – an extraordinary accomplishment made possible by the fabulous team around me.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Leading From The Jumpseat?
Leading From The Jumpseat takes a deeper look at leadership. My starting point for the book was my belief that everyone can be extraordinary. When we understand what is deeply important to us, it provides a foundation on which we can build extraordinary outcomes. This same foundation helps us to lead others, too – even when we’re stepping into the unknown. After many years of leading others in challenging situations, teaching leadership, and learning to lead myself better, I wanted to share what I had learned with others so they might progress more quickly on their leadership journey than perhaps I have done! I was also once told that I ‘have a story for every occasion’ and I wanted to use those stories to help write a leadership book that was enjoyable to read.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Leading From The Jumpseat?
One of the main challenges was what stories and ideas to leave out! Another was how to achieve the best flow to make it engaging to read. Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, it was embracing the vulnerability involved in writing and sharing significant moments in my life without any way of knowing how they might be received when published and shared around the world.
What was your research process for Leading From The Jumpseat?
Perhaps the traditional way of approaching research for a new book on leadership would be to read many other books from the same genre. However, I chose not to do that. This is because I wanted what I wrote to come from inside me without undue influence from other writers – to begin from first principles.
If I had read many other books before putting pen to paper, my concern would have been that Leading From the Jumpseat would have become just an amalgam of ideas from other people – something I wanted to avoid. Consequently, my research consisted of many hours of reflection and recollection of my life, until the themes started to emerge.
Often the process was helped by going for very long runs through the countryside, recording ideas on my smart watch as they popped into my head for me to review when I got back home.
How did you plan the structure of Leading From The Jumpseat?
Finding the right structure was critical and probably took the longest time. With so many ideas, concepts, and distinctions in language, trying to decide whether to slice ‘vertically or horizontally’ was difficult.
The final book structure of Commitment, Humble Confidence and Belonging literally came to me during one of my runs, and I then found it relatively straightforward to organize everything within these three sections. There is another structure running in parallel throughout the book reflecting different stages in our leadership journey, building on the metaphor of flying: Learning to fly, Flying, Teaching others to fly and Leading from the Jumpseat. All of this was wrapped-up in a very detailed chapter outline.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Leading From The Jumpseat need?
Yes! Editing is such an essential part of the process and, as with other aspects of the project, I wanted it to be an exercise in lifting others up since this is a key tenet of the book.
To help me develop the overall structure and drafts I engaged two people I have known for many years, Ashleigh Riddle and Jeff Beruan. Ashleigh has helped other authors in the leadership field to shape their ideas and she was the overall ‘conductor’ of the process while challenging me to get clearer on my thoughts and also suggesting alternative perspectives. Jeff’s first career is as a professional opera singer (of some renown), and I asked him to bring his decades of experience of connecting with an audience and building the arc of a story to help critique my drafts and make them better. Ashleigh and Jeff were effectively my developmental editors and, since they are both American, also helped me navigate my way through the British / American differences in language and understanding – of which there are plenty!
When the manuscript was complete, I handed it over to my copy editors, Ilsa Hawtin and Georgina Fradgely. I believe it’s unusual to have two copy editors, and it did give me a challenge when they had different views, so perhaps that’s why it’s not common! It’s rare that a copy editor gets to work with another in their field and consequently Ilsa and Georgina learned from each other and became friends during the process.
The editing process would not have been complete without Catherine Williams, my internal designer and typesetter, and Melanie Cotton who completed the final proofreading. Both these skills are often underrated since, when done well, the reader will never notice, yet when done poorly, the book is unlikely to be read.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
Get very clear on your central message and themes, bringing them together in a detailed chapter outline. The more detailed the chapter outline, the easier your book will be to write.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
Leading From The Jumpseat is a ‘how-to’ guide with what I call a Consider This section at the end of each chapter to help the reader put the ideas from the chapter into action. I want to go much deeper into how to implement Jumpseat Leadership in business and life, so the next book will be focused on that.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Yes, I am. The book is available worldwide and I have had feedback from people around the globe about how Leading From The Jumpseat has helped them to lead themselves and others better. I’m particularly delighted to have been told the ideas in the book transcend culture. I believe the Jumpseat Leadership approach can be applied whether you are just starting out, the CEO of a company, or anywhere in-between.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Leading From The Jumpseat can be found through all the usual outlets here:
It’s in paperback, hardcover, audiobook and eBook.
More information about Jumpseat Leadership, together with my keynotes and workshops, can be found on my website: www.leadingfromthejumpseat.com
People can also find me on:
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