Leaders Behind the Leaders

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dig into the background of any leader you respect, and you’re bound to find other leaders whose role modeling, encouragement, and firm guidance helped bring out the very characteristics you admire in that leader. In my new book, Leaders Open Doors, I explain that the most basic role of a leader is to open doors of opportunity to help others grow, evolve, and progress so that they too can become leaders. Leaders create other leaders.

Writing Leaders Open Doors got me thinking about all of the leadership authors who have influenced me through the years. I wondered about the leaders who opened doors for them. So I contacted many of the leadership authors I admire and invited them to share their memories about the leaders who made a difference in their lives. Ten leadership luminaries generously submitted their stories, which are included in the epilogue of Leaders Open Doors. Here’s a sneak peek at a few of these stories, wrapped around some key leadership lessons. I’ll share half of the stories in this blog post, and half in next week’s follow-up article.

Leaders nudge us into discomfort. Leaders know that growth results not from comfort, but from discomfort. They gently, but firmly, nudge us in the direction of situations that we’d rather avoid. In the process, they help reveal latent skills or talents that otherwise would have languished.

Mark Sanborn, author of You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader: How Anyone, Anywhere Can Make a Positive Difference, tells the story of when he started serving on the board of the National Speakers Association (NSA) and the board president nudged him into discomfort. A conflict had emerged on the board, and the president said, “You have just the right temperament to do this.”

Who likes conflict? Certainly not Mark. While he wasn’t keen on dealing with the conflict, he found that he was good at mediating and letting each person feel that she had a voice. Through his stabilizing influence, he helped successfully resolve the conflict—and discovered a new skill in the process.


Leaders build the confidence we lack. Leaders believe in us so much that we start believing in ourselves. An essential job of a leader is to help us confront our insecurities and master our fears. The value we can add to the organization grows in direct proportion to our growth in confidence. Leaders don’t stoke our fears; they build our confidence.

Beverly Kaye, Founder and Chairwomen of Career Systems International, and co-author of Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em, relates a story about when she was studying organizational development at the Sloan School of Management at MIT. At the time she was the Assistant Dean of Students at Brandeis University and attending the OD classes as part of a unique exchange program. One of her professors at MIT was Dick Beckhard, who was considered “the father of OD.” She was in awe of his work.

As part of the class, all students had to write a paper and then meet with Beckhard for 15 minutes. Because of her obligations at Brandeis, Kaye was unable to schedule her appointment during the allotted time. Beckhard graciously offered to meet with her over dinner instead. But Kaye declined, explaining that she could look smart enough for 15 minutes, but that she would never be able to hold up her end of the conversation for the length of a full meal. Yet Beckhard insisted. Together they reviewed her paper over dinner and had a rich and insightful conversation. As a result, Beckhard became a career mentor to Kaye, greatly influencing her decision to pursue her PhD.

There’s an old saying: “Everything comes from somewhere.” Behind every leadership author you admire is a set of core beliefs that have influenced their views and perspective. It’s important to know who influenced the leaders behind the authors who feed your mind because these are the people who are influencing you!

You can read the full versions of these stories, along with others from Ken Blanchard, Jim Kouzes, and Verne Harnish, in the epilogue of Leaders Open Doors.

About the Author

Bill Treasurer is the chief encouragement officer (CEO) of Giant Leap Consulting, a courage-building company. For more than two decades, Bill has traveled the world working with thousands of executives to strengthen their leadership impact. He is the author of the international bestseller, Courage Goes to Work and Courageous Leadership. His newest book is Leaders Open Doors (ASTD Press).

Bill’s government clients include NASA, the National Science Foundation, the CDC, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Veterans Administration Hospitals. Other clients include Accenture, Booz Allen Hamilton, Saks Fifth Avenue, PNC Bank, Hugo Boss, UBS Bank, Borg Warner, and Spanx.

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