Leadership Lessons from My Dad

Lee Figliuolo and BrinkleyI have a special guest blogger today – my Dad, Lee Figliuolo (that’s him dancing with his beloved and recently-departed pal Brinkley).  Today is his 69th birthday.  He lives in Florida (it’s the law).  He’s also the first guy who taught me about leadership.  He doesn’t know he’s writing today’s post because he actually wrote it a long time ago.  It’s just taken me 22 years to publish it.

Since I’m too cheap to buy him a really nice gift (and he’ll just re-gift it to me next year when he complains his house is too cluttered and he has to “get rid of some of this crap”) I figured I’d share some leadership and life advice he gave me a long time ago in 1989.

Dad and I visited West Point in advance of my attendance there.  While I was staying overnight in the barracks, he took some time to capture some thoughts in a letter to me.  His thoughts are just as relevant today as they were then.

As I reread his letter, I realize Dad is responsible for giving me my first set of leadership maxims upon which my book is based.  What follows are excerpts from that letter which truly served as a first draft of my leadership philosophy.  I’m sure many of you will find the points he raises can be applied to your life and leadership as well.  Here’s Dad…

… these are things we have already discussed, or at least I’ve talked and you’ve responded “uh huh,” that I have jotted down tonight.  I have listed them on a separate sheet of paper for you to use as an outline for the way to live your life.  Take what I have written, read it, digest it, and if you want, discuss it with me.  If you disagree with an item, discard it and then jot down what you believe.  If you agree, add to it and modify it over time.  Add your own thoughts and ideas.  Add the thoughts and ideas presented by people you trust and respect and then live by it and enjoy your life to the fullest.  This can be your own personal bible…


Never underestimate an opponent and always treat him with respect.  Though you may not respect the person or what he stands for, respect the fact (at least for the moment) he is your equal on the field.  When you win, do not gloat and if you should lose, keep your head high and be proud of the fact that you gave the best possible account of yourself.


Treat your peers and subordinates with respect and equality.  Treat everyone with respect at the start, and take it away if they do not return it in kind.  If you must play boss, do so fairly and in an even-handed manner.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Identify your strengths, reinforce and develop them, and use them to your advantage.  When dealing with an opponent, always deal from a position of strength.  Identify your weaknesses and acknowledge them.  Either correct them or ignore them and work around them.  But never use them as an excuse.


Mike Figliuolo as a hippieWhen it matters (and it almost always does) look your best.  Sometimes, depending on the situation, even a bandana and cut-offs are appropriate attire.  Depending on your attitude, such an outfit can either say you are proud and comfortable with what you are or it can say “screw you – I don’t care.”  Never let it be the latter.  (editorial comment: bandanas and cut-offs were my standard uniform in high school and it pissed him off to no end at times.  That’s me still wearing bandanas in 2001).

Sense of Humor

You have a sense of humor that will get you through the worst of it.  The ability to laugh at yourself or at a situation you are in is your lifeline to sanity.  Keep that sense of humor – it is one of your most important assets.  Not everyone will get up on stage and lip sync like you.  This asset will get you through the worst of plebe year.  Remember – today’s crisis is tomorrow’s joke or it is at least forgotten for another crisis will always take its place.

Sense of Self

You have a good handle on who and what you are.  This, like appearance and sense of humor, has a way of showing through.  Your walk, the way you talk, and your easy manner all tell the world you are a mature and confident young man.  But be careful you don’t cross the fine line between confidence and arrogance.


To use a well-worn phrase – treat your body like a temple.  Feed it well (no more Doritos) and keep it in good condition.  It is the container for the real you but it is also your calling card because it is the first thing people notice and you know how important that first impression can be.  When you are in good physical condition, you are more alert, need less sleep, carry yourself well, and generally feel better about yourself.  (editorial comment: I’m not eating Doritos as I write this because I finished the family-sized bag of them earlier while I was clearing out email).


Give them time, love, and self.  Today I regret not giving you and your sister more of myself when you were younger.  In spite of this, you have become a better person than I ever could have imagined.  Maybe the hospital gave us someone else’s baby… (if any of you wondered where I get my assy sense of humor, you now have your answer – the apple doesn’t fall far…)


Find pleasure in whatever you do.  This attitude will make even the lousiest task easier to do.  Remember – depending upon your attitude you can even take pleasure out of digging a post hole.  Whether it is because you did it fast, neat, or deep if you find something to turn the task into a game or a challenge, your job then becomes fun.  I’d rather have fun the rest of my life – it sure beats working.

Back to Mike…

So there you have (most of) what Dad wrote me as I headed off to the academy.  In a Nostradamus-like moment six months later, Dad sent me another letter and in it he wrote:

“As a gentle reminder of the things I consider important, I’ve enclosed a copy of the letter I wrote you during your overnight trip.  During the rest of our time together it might be fun for the two of us to revise, add to, and delete from these standards for living.  Maybe someday we’ll have a best seller.  No, I am not going crazy.”

Little did Dad or I know that his letter to me in 1989 would eventually be the basis for my book that came out 22 years later (One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership).

So happy birthday Dad!  I know – I’m sorta re-gifting something to you that you gave me in the first place.  I guess the real gift here is my heartfelt thanks for all you’ve done for me over the years and for giving me a solid foundation to build from.  Sure, I’ve effed up (grandly at times) but it’s not my actions that are important – it’s the principles and ideals you’ve given me to fall back on when I screw up and to build on when I succeed.  I guess all those times I said “uh huh” I was apparently actually listening, huh? 😉

I love you Dad.  Happy birthday old man.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

10 Responses to “Leadership Lessons from My Dad”

  1. George says:

    I am proud to have an uncle like your dad and a cousin like yourself, Mike. I was very touched reading your dad’s letter, and recalled the “post hole digging” comment – well done!

  2. RJ Bradner says:

    This blog typifies the age old adage that “Fruit does not fall far from the trees.” More so, it demonstrates what is right with the world and what is necessary to correct the wrong. The strong Mentoring Relationship exposed from your Dad is one that bled over into other relationships. He exemplifies a Leader…may others say the say about you in years to come.

    Kudos to Mr. Figliuolo and his superb progeny. Thank you for helping shed light to our lives.

  3. Mike – this is awesome. I handed down plenty of advice to my son before he attended West Point, while he was at West Point, and since his graduation. However, one of the things I cherish most is the letter he wrote and presented to me the night of his graduation from the academy. It started out, “Letter to a West Point Father” and ended, “With Love and Admiration.” It’s the best validation ever about being a parent, a teacher, and a leader. Thanks for sharing – and Happy Birthday to your dad!

  4. Lisa says:

    What a wonderful tribute to your father and a reminder to all about what is important. As parents there are many lessons to be taught that span a life time. I would be interested to hear his lesson for you today.

  5. Dad says:

    You made me cry….again! Thank you for a wonderful gift.

    Love you,

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      You’re welcome. It’s the least I could do. Thanks for everything you’ve given me over the years and continue to give me.

      I love you too.

  6. Jesse Stoner says:

    These are great lessons – for a son way back when, and for the rest of us now. You have a wise father. Thanks for sharing these lessons, Mike.

  7. Vinutha says:

    Very helpful and essential to our everyday lives. Thank you for sharing these!

  8. […] of my thoughts down on paper on making this transition (and special thanks to Mike Figliuolo and a post he wrote about a similar letter his dad had given him more than 20 years ago) – and sent my […]

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