Born in Lincolnshire and raised in Nottingham in a working class family, David knew from his early teens that he wanted to study psychology, although he suspected even then that he would never practise as a clinician.
‘I was the first person in my family to go to university,’ recalls David, ‘and while my parents had no specific ambitions for me, they were very loving and supportive, and had a great belief in education. It was as if they were waving me farewell as I sailed off into the future, believing that I was going to a better place, although not a place they knew.’
True to his ambition, he gained his psychology degree at the University of Nottingham and went on to attain a doctorate at Oxford, focusing his research on doctor-patient communication.
‘Psychology really intrigued me; the mix of science and art, encompassing both the softer, philosophical side with the harder, empirical method.’
In the 1970s, vocational training became compulsory for GPs and David found himself ideally placed to service a market that was, to a great degree, sceptical that patient communication skills could be taught. Having established his reputation as a trainer, he moved up to train the trainers and co-wrote what many people still consider to be the definitive book on the subject, The Consultation: An Approach to Learning and Teaching (1984). The seven tasks he set out in the book defined an effective medical consultation and the principles of feedback; the book became known for the Pendleton Rules, and is still recommended reading for Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) exam candidates.
After two Fellowships, at the RCGP and The King’s Fund, David was headhunted into a business psychology consultancy and subsequently founded his own consultancy firm, The Edgecumbe Consulting Group, with his wife Dr Jenny King. David gained consulting experience in most organisational sectors and on four continents, and carried out two significant secondments during this time: a two-year stint at Cathay Pacific Airways in Hong Kong and a two-year attachment to Innogy (now npower) where he was Director, People and Organisational Development.
Since 2000, his main interest has been in leadership and he has taught on this subject at several world-renowned business schools. In 2011 he penned another influential and critically acclaimed book, Leadership: All You Need to Know, with Professor Adrian Furnham of University College London. The book, now in its second edition, ‘takes a team-based approach to leadership for the 21st century, in contrast to most other approaches which have their origins in the 19th and 20th centuries.’
David was recently invited to join the faculty team at Henley in a part-time, professorial role, and was delighted to accept. David’s approach is called the Primary Colours approach to leadership which, he says, links neatly with the Henley philosophy of executive education.
Now based in Bristol, David also keeps himself busy with a range of other interests, including keeping fit and singing jazz. ‘Jazz is a great metaphor for leadership,’ he insists. ‘You have to have a common vision, but then it’s all down to teamwork and alignment, and the facilitative nature of structure.’