‘It is requir’d you do awake your faith.’
-The Winter’s Tale, William Shakespeare
David Firth is an author, consultant, and speaker in the areas of organizational development, employee engagement and leadership. He was born in 1963 in Morley West Yorkshire, England. He currently resides in Loveland, Colorado with his wife Keri and sons Oliver, Sam and Alex.
Education and career
David Firth completed his MA (Hons) in English Language & Literature at St Edmund Hall, The University of Oxford, 1984, studying under the academically renowned ‘holy trinity’ of Bruce Mitchell, Graham Midgley and Reggie Alton. Invited to set up physical theater company called The Lords of Misrule by his Oxford colleague Alan Leigh, they spent the years from 1985 to 1991 writing, directing and performing shows together for regular tours to the UK, the Netherlands, North America, South Korea, Japan and Ghana. With Alan, he then set up Leigh Firth Associates in 1991, using their insights into performance and the relationship between actor and audience to improve their clients’ business communication and leadership impact. From 1996, David has deepened his interest and expertise in organization development, employee engagement and leadership under the banner of his company David Firth Consulting LLC.
David Firth’s work has generally centered on the individual’s need to take 100% responsibility for their experience, and on their powerful capacity to work successfully to create change, either at a personal or organizational level. His is an optimistic, strengths-based approach, grounded in his belief in his clients’s gifts and talents and in the magic that can be unleashed when people choose to join together with others to create something greater than they could produce on their own.
From the time of his earliest book, How to Make Work Fun! (Gower 1995), David Firth has been curious about the place of work in our lives and in society. Far from the default economic argument – that work is the thing we have to do to pay the bills – David argues for definitions of work that include self-expression, self-growth through challenge and risk-taking, service and contribution to others and to society.
‘My work’ then is not ‘my job’ or even ‘my career’, but my ‘life’s work’ with ‘how I generate wealth’ as no more or less powerful a part of life than any other aspect.
He sees Western society’s unresolved issues around work itself – that it is difficult and limiting and something we’d gladly give up if we won the lottery tomorrow – as underlying many organizations’ consistently-reported challenges with employee engagement and change management projects.
Co-creation and collaboration
Despite the last twenty-five years of focus on transformational or visionary leadership, David argues that the mental models acted out in most organizations are still predicated on power being held at the top and distributed downwards. On the contrary, he suggests that everything the ‘workforce’ needs and claims to be waiting to be given from above – eg influence or power (cf ‘empowerment’) – is actually already present and being expressed. Even victimhood is an expression of individual and/or collective power. The challenge then is not to release power from above, but to galvanize everyone as an already-powerful, gifted and experienced contributor towards a jointly-declared greater good (or Bigger Future as David expresses it in his central change management methodology).
David draws no distinction between leaders and followers, but asks everyone to accept their co-creation of what is going on in the company, good or bad, right now. Contentiously, he sees the continued focus on ‘improving leadership so that the organization improves’ as at best only tackling half of the problem and suggests that it might be a focus actively encouraged by those professionals with something to gain from it.
Increasingly, David Firth’s work has focused on the power of language to create our reality and our performance within it.
His proprietary model Conversations for Change helps people see that their everyday, informal conversation at work can in fact be a subtle and often un-noticed creation of the very culture they claim they want to change.
His latest book, Change Your World One Word at a Time, suggests that action – the source of performance – is created in language and doesn’t happen later or after the talking has stopped. He suggests therefore that leadership is a journey in using language in ever more intentional and focused ways.