What A Teenager Dying of Cancer Taught Me About Leadership

This is a guest post by Matt Tenney. As an author and a speaker, Matt shares insights from his journey as a prisoner, monk, and social entrepreneur. He teaches leaders how to improve by focusing on service to others. You can also follow him on Twitter.

As inspired as I often am by the heroes I meet through the work I do with Kids Kicking Cancer, I never thought that I would learn incredible lessons about leadership from a patient in a pediatric cancer unit. But earlier this year, that’s exactly what happened.

I had the pleasure of meeting a teenager named Daniel. It didn’t take long to realize that he is one of the most kind, polite, and positive people I have ever met. He has also lived an incredibly challenging life.

Years ago, he was diagnosed with cancer. He had surgery, went through the hell of chemo and radiation therapies, and left the hospital free of cancer thinking that he would live the rest of his life without having to worry about it.

But, within a couple years, the cancer came back. He went through the hell again, and again left the hospital thinking he was finally done with being sick.

This time, though, when the cancer came back, it was everywhere. He was told that there was nothing that could be done to treat it and that he would probably only live a few more months. I spent time with him minutes after he had received this news. It was obvious that he had cried.

It’s OK for leaders to cry.

He told me that he hadn’t started to cry until he saw his mother crying. Apparently, being told you’re going to die is not that bad. What really hurts, he said, is seeing those you love deal with the fact that they’re going to lose you soon.

Despite this news, Daniel still came to the class I led that day. In fact, he was the first to arrive and the last to leave. He was incredibly positive during the class and was a great role model for the younger students.

Great leaders continue to lead by example even when things are really, really tough.

Innate Leadership: It’s Already Inside

Image courtesy of istockphoto/chromatika

Robert Murray is an author, speaker, executive, chairman, advisor, and associate professor.  His book It’s Already Inside: Nurturing Your Innate Leadership for Business and Life Success is a terrific blend of storytelling, personal experience and wise counsel that will make you laugh, cry and learn.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Bob a few questions about a wide range of topics.

Cultivate Your Inner Leader

Bob, let’s start with the title. 

It’s Already Insidegives us a glimpse into your philosophy.  You believe that leadership is innate, that everyone has the DNA to lead.  How did you develop your philosophy?

Good question.  I believe that over the years we have evolved with many characteristics that have helped human beings become who we are (the good and the bad!).  Buried in the soup we call our DNA are so many lessons that have enabled us to grow, innovate and thrive.  Leadership is one of those traits.  Some don’t know it or have had their confidence and competence squelched by the conditioning of their parents, teachers, coaches, society, etc. Cover Final

Leadership is not always about being the loudest, most charismatic or the most extroverted in the room.  Leadership comes in all shapes, sizes and conditions.  There are the traditional leaders that we are used to seeing in business and society. However, there are many leaders that silently toil away in organizations and use their abilities to influence decisions—or those that bolt from the office at 5:00 and go into the community to lead scout groups, volunteer organizations or little league teams.  They are moms and dads that lead their families, their neighborhood and the local school PTA.

Work Harder Than Anyone Else

Terry Fox is the famous one-legged runner who inspired millions.  You grew up with him and watched his struggle against cancer and his response.  Watching him taught you some powerful lessons.  For those of us who only watched or read about him, give us an inside view of what he was like.

Terry was the most determined and dedicated person I have ever met.  His energy was infectious, and he inspired everyone around him to be their best too.  You just couldn’t help digging deeper and working harder from his influence.

 

A man who does not think and plan ahead will find trouble right at his door. -Confucius

 

We’re often temporarily moved and motivated when we hear a story like Terry’s.  But, how do you take Terry’s incredible attitude and let it really grab you and change you for good?  What’s your best advice on cultivating such a daily attitude?

What I learned from Terry is forever imbedded in me as the person and the leader I am today.  However, on those dark and cold days when I wake up with the feeling of, “Oh crap, I just don’t have it in me today,” I think of how Terry dragged himself out of a warm bed every day at 4 in the morning and faced the fight head-on. Then I start moving and I get my head back into the game.

Terry was proof to me that everything in life that you truly want is gained through working harder than anyone else and having the discipline to stay on the road less traveled.

10 Lessons in Teamwork

Photo of the Midnight Rambler by Richard Bennett, Used by Permission

Lessons from the Edge of Endurance

The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, 723 grueling miles, is one of the most demanding sailing events anywhere. In 1998, an unexpected massive storm hit at the wrong time. Waves reaching eighty feet and winds hitting 105 mph pummeled the vessels. Australia launched the largest search and rescue operation in history. In the end, six sailors lost their lives. One hundred fifteen boats started the race, but only forty-four finished.

Leadership expert Dennis Perkins and co-author Jillian Murphy decided to write the untold story of the AFR Midnight Rambler, the 1998 Hobart race winner.

 

Lessons in teamwork: “Make the team the rock star.” -Dennis Perkins

 

Strategies Learned from Challenging Situations

1. Dennis, let’s talk about your new book Into the Storm: Lessons in Teamwork from the Treacherous Sydney to Hobart Ocean Race. Obviously, readers will compare the story of the AFR Midnight Rambler to your previous work and Endurance. How do you compare the two and what led you to the story of the 1998 Hobart? Author Dennis Perkins

Writing about The Ramblers was part of my own journey to find ways of helping leaders and teams deal with daunting challenges. I use stories of adventure and survival to communicate critical strategies that can be used by people in any challenging situation.

The approach began when I was teaching at Yale University, and I began thinking about my voice in the world of leadership and teamwork. I had my own experience with survival in the U.S. Marine Corps, but I believe that success with any significant team challenge has the same underlying ingredients. So I began researching stories of groups that had faced the limits of human endurance, a place I call The Edge.

5 Winning Lessons from Book Covers

Photo by garyhutson flickr.

The other day I shared my annual best book cover list.

Did you ever think that a book cover could teach powerful life lessons?  What’s the leadership lesson from a book cover?  Last year, I shared how they can help with goal setting.  This year, let’s consider what the great book covers teach us.

A great book cover teaches us to:

 

Be expressive.  The best covers communicate.  They may be bursting with color.  They convey ideas but also evoke emotion.  Winners are people who express who they are without reservation.

Be original.  There are many book covers that look the same.  Winners stand out.  Name five people who you would define as winners and leaders.  My guess is that you also describe them as independent and unique.