Real World Leadership from Real World Leaders

September 26, 2011 3 Comments

GooseReal leadership is about real stories.  This isn’t a study of real “world leaders” but instead a story about some “real world” leaders.

I recently had the opportunity to work with a great leadership team at a rapidly growing company.  We spent the day talking about leadership and having them write their own personal leadership philosophies (which is what One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership is all about). The stories they shared during the session were fantastic and I have no doubt you can learn a few things from them so I’d like to share a few.

As you read their stories, try to determine how you can create your own reminders for how you want to lead.  If you’re rigorous about creating a compelling and personal leadership philosophy, I guarantee your team will trust you a lot more than if they’re not sure who you really are (and if you want to see how authentic you are as a leader and how much your team trusts you, you can take a quick 3-5 minute assessment by clicking here).

The leaders’ stories are about signatures, shaving heads, The Goose, and dinner with the kids.  They do a great job of illustrating how powerful, personal stories can bring a leader’s beliefs to life.  So here goes…


People look to you to set the standard.  To do that, you must first define the standard you’re going to set before you can articulate what it is and then live by it.

Kevin, a participant in the session, said it’s easy to articulate his standard.  When he was growing up, one of his relatives would always push him to do his best.  When Kevin showed them something he was working on, his relative asked “would you sign your name to it?”  When Kevin answered “no” his relative told him to go back and work on it until he was proud enough of his work to be willing to sign his name to it.  Now, Kevin uses that phrase both for himself as well as for members of his team to articulate his standards of performance.

If you worked for Kevin, would you quickly understand his standards and expectations?  Would you trust him to always give you his best efforts?  If you know his standard of signing his name to his work, you probably would.

Shaving Heads

Things get difficult for everyone but not all things are equally difficult.  One leader in the session confessed he occasionally gets overwhelmed with work or at times feels like things are difficult.  During those moments, he remembers three words that put everything back in perspective: “Shave my head.”

It turns out his wife is a cancer survivor.  When she was first diagnosed, she told him she was determined not to let cancer win and every action of hers was an act of defiance of the odds she faced.  When she prepared to undergo chemo, she told her husband “Shave my head.  I’m dictating the terms of this – not cancer.”

Her grit and determination got her and the rest of her family through the ordeal.  Now, every time he finds himself facing a challenge and getting overwhelmed, he remembers those three words and they instantly put things in perspective and give him the strength to push on through whatever the challenge is.

Do you have a personal rallying cry to get you through difficult times?  If you worked for this guy, would you understand his sources of strength and know what’s important to him?  Likely so.

The Goose

Your people want to know you care about them as individuals.  One of the participants in the session – Bill – carries a great reminder of this with him every day.  He used to coach youth football.  One kid on his team was more of a Weeble than a football player.  His nickname was “The Goose.”  Despite The Goose’s physique and his mediocre skills as a player, Bill consistently invested time and energy into helping him get better.

At the end of the season, The Goose excitedly came up to Bill and told him “You’re the best coach I’ve ever had!  You took the time to focus on me and tell me what to do to get better.  Thanks for all your help.”  That conversation reminds Bill he consistently needs to invest in developing his people regardless of how talented they are (or aren’t).

If you worked for Bill and he told you the story of The Goose, would you feel comfortable that Bill would invest in making you a better performer?  That’s where the power of the story lies.  It conveys Bill’s passion and dedication to people development.

Dinner with the Kids

Work can get hectic at times and it’s easy to lose perspective and balance.  Erik keeps himself in balance with a simple rule: dinner with the kids.

Erik works long hours and is a key employee at the company.  He know he can get “too” dedicated at times so the way he ensures he maintains some balance in his life is he consistently reminds himself he should have dinner with his kids.  Every night (unless he’s out of town).  That reminder helps him keep his priorities straight and when he finds himself making excuses to miss dinner to get some work done, the reminder of missing that meal with his children changes his behavior and puts him back in balance.

If you worked for Erik, would you feel comfortable setting and maintaining your own personal boundaries so you could have a work/life balance?  I’m pretty sure Erik would expect you to do just that.

There you have it – a few real-world stories from some real-world leaders.  When leaders share their personal stories and the philosophy that accompanies them, you get a much better sense of who that leader is and what’s important to them.  I encourage you to be that leader as well.  Define your personal leadership philosophy and use your personal stories to explain it.  Your team will trust you a lot more if you do.

Last week, One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful Personal Leadership was released on Kindle (and the hard copy is following soon).   You can get your Kindle version here. The book will guide you through generating your own set of powerful leadership stories.

If you want a quick sense for whether your team finds you predictable and trustworthy, take this quick trust assessment. It will take you all of 5 minutes but it will definitely get you thinking. CLICK HERE to take the assessment.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

– Get your copy of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership now

Photo: Geese by S C Hargis

3 Responses to “Real World Leadership from Real World Leaders”

  1. Excellent piece! It’s important to determine what type of leader you want to be and how to make that happen. In an article I wrote several months back entitled “Clear Communicaiton Brings Enhanced Career Performance” (
    I mention how important it is to make your “label” or type clear to those around you. It tells them what to expect and often how to react to what you have to say. “The more others learn about you, your preferences, your personality type and your style of interaction – both listening and speaking – the greater the chances that your interaction will be productive at work and home.”
    Ken C. Schmitt

  2. […] The leaders’ stories are about signatures, shaving heads, The Goose, and dinner with the kids.  They do a great job of illustrating how powerful, personal stories can bring a leader’s beliefs to life.  So here goes… Read full article by Mike Figliuolo via […]

  3. William Anderson says:

    Your article caught my attention and in reading it I totally got the message. Leadership opportunities surround us everyday and we should take the time to consider how it will impact those around us. Your stories are great examples of the “real world” leaders that we are and those whom we rub elbows with daily. I also enjoyed the survey and I am happy to say that my team knows and relates to me very well. People should know your leadership style and that style should reflect the qualities generally accepted as ethical, caring, and moral. Once again, great article.

Leave a Reply

  • ©Copyright thoughtLEADERS, LLC. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast in whole or in part without the EXPRESS WRITTEN CONSENT OF thoughtLEADERS, LLC. Content may not be republished, reproduced or distributed in whole or in part without the proper attribution of the work and disclosure of its source including a direct link back to the original content. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content nor can you modify the content in any way. However, you may download material from this website for your personal, noncommercial use only. Links to websites other than those owned by thoughtLEADERS, LLC are offered as a service to readers. thoughtLEADERS, LLC was not involved in their production and is not responsible for their content.

    thoughtLEADERS, LLC has worked to ensure the accuracy of the information included herein. thoughtLEADERS, LLC is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional services beyond training, coaching, and consulting. Its reports or articles should not be construed as professional advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. thoughtLEADERS, LLC is not responsible for any claims or losses that may arise from any errors or omissions in our reports or reliance upon any recommendation or advice provided by thoughtLEADERS, LLC.

    thoughtLEADERS, LLC is committed to protecting your privacy. You can read our privacy policy by clicking here.