Successful leadership ~ The Story of a Man

What does successful leadership really look like?  I rather think it has many faces but mostly, leadership is successful when the people you interact with every day find ways to tell  you it is.  The following is a story I wrote a couple of years  ago.  It profiles someone who might not have been touted as a “high profile” leader but nonetheless had a very positive impact on those who were lucky enough to know him and experience his influence.  To me, that’s what leadership is all about.


The other evening I attended a retirement celebration for a former colleague.  It was a wonderful gathering, a room packed full of people who were there because they genuinely liked and respected the man who was about to embark on the next phase of his life.

In his business career, the man did not rise to the top of the executive ladder.  Nor, I would hazard to say, did he make lots of money or enjoy an opulent lifestyle.  He may not even be widely known to people much beyond his immediate sphere of influence.  But his impact has been felt. He is successful.  He is a leader.

Throughout the course of the evening, many people got up to speak.

His bosses praised his leadership in community activities; his ability to galvanize his local workforce; and his good humour and cheerful disposition.  Those bosses, who were younger than he, thanked him for his guidance and mentorship.

His colleagues spoke about lifelong friendship; told stories of the fun they had together and how they all managed to work hard in spite of their youthful exuberance.

His staff thanked him for his support and guidance.  While they were happy for him as he moved on to other things, they were sad too, as they told their own stories of meeting challenges together; overcoming obstacles; achieving goals; and yes, having fun all along the way.

His sons told stories of their life as they grew up.  The stories were witty and poignant and full of pride.  They were two young men who had grown up to be fine, funny and thoughtful, two young men who thanked their parents for giving them a good start in life.

When it was his turn, the man did not talk about his accomplishments at all.  Instead, he spoke with pride about the accomplishments of others, especially his children. He talked about the constant love and support he received from his wife. He talked about what he had learned over the course of his career and from whom.  He made many self-deprecating remarks.  And he said thank you…a lot.

Much has been written about the characteristics of successful leadership and while I certainly think there are core elements associated with it, there are other lessons in there somewhere. Like:

Successful Leadership is not formulaic.  It is open to interpretation and it requires the involvement of the whole self.

For instance, while we know that good communication is key to good leadership, how we communicate to get the desired result will vary depending on the leader. The man was successful because he did not pretend to be anyone else.  His communication style included fun, laughter and humility.  It worked for him simply because it is who he is.


Successful Leadership is more about love than we would like to admit.

Okay, I can feel people cringing as they read this because injecting the word love into a business environment starts to feel a bit, um, ethereal.  But, there are all kinds of love…love of challenge; love of ideas; love of people; love of good honest work.  And, it is this love that carries successful leaders through thick and thin.

At this retirement party there was indeed love, and respect, for the man who for thirty-five years, took all of himself with him wherever he went.

So, imagine your own retirement party. What do you want people to say about you?  What kind of memories do you want to have? What do you want to give? What will it take for you to get what you want?

Think about it.  And, if you feel so inclined, I’d love to hear what you come up with.



Filed under building awareness, Building Relationships, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development

13 responses to “Successful leadership ~ The Story of a Man

  1. Pingback: Successful leadership ~ The Story of a Man | Cuppa |

  2. I would like my team to say I had a vision, I knew how to execute on the vision, and I cared deeply about their role in making it happen.

  3. Great blog Gwyn. Quite simply I would like those who know me and have worked with me to feel better for having been in their lives. In whatever way was necessary for my contribution to our relationship and degree of service, guidance and assistance to grow was relevant for each person, I would ‘love’ to have been seen as offering value and providing positive influence.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Steve ~ While I don’t really “know” you, I suspect you won’t have to wait until you ‘retire’ for people to see the value you bring to them.

  4. I love this post, Gwyn. I can recall retirement parties I attended early in my career and how much they helped me to create my vision of leadership. And thanks for not shying away from using the word “love” in this context!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Jamie ~ Thanks for that. Learning to listen to the experience of others is a great skill. And, making it part of your own vision is an even greater compliment to them. From this, I can see that you do not shy away from the “L” word either.

  5. I enjoyed your post also Gwyn. Memories of the way I saw my Father lead in his career came forth as I read. For me, mid-thirties and into the 3rd year of my own business, I would readily agree with your suggestion that “the whole self” must be involved in thinking on leadership. This goes to authenticity, the courage to be vulnerable and the value of modeling behavior.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Stephen ~ Your comment highlights the vital importance of having positive role models in our lives and of being a positive role model for others. Thank you for that!

  6. Brilliant as always. Great Post. And lots to think about….

  7. Michele G.

    Well, this post really got me thinking! About retirement! 🙂 No, no more importantly how I would be viewed and what would be said about me at my retirement…which is a very long way away! As a very new “boss” myself I am always thinking back to past experiences with ex employers who motivated me, angered me, scared me, etc and I try to use those positive experiences on my own employees! I think an essential leadership trait would be to treat your employees how you would want to be treated. Teach them how you would like to be taught. Lead them how you would like to be lead. This post really reminded me of a book I just read, “Green Beans & Ice Cream” by author Bill Sims Jr. ( This book also clearly points out that the thing we need the most, is the thing we often receive the least—positive reinforcement and feedback from those around us. This is true on a leadership level, with family, friends and even with your spouse. The theme of positive reinforcement plays a main role in this book and it stresses that as a leader we must constantly be improving how individuals feel about themselves, the work they’re doing and the results they’re achieving. It is very important to me give and receive positive reinforcement every day, and I think this mindset will help me gain the respect and admiration that your successful business man had at his retirement. Hope you give it a read!!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Michele ~ Thank you! The book reference is intriguing and I’ll check it out! I think your reference to the “Golden Rule” is right on too. So, no matter that you are a very new “boss” for me, you are on the money. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience here and best wishes for a brilliant career as a leader of others. I suspect the world could use more of “you” in it. 🙂

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