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A Word About Tom Peters (and Other Influences)

After 16 years of coaching, consulting and cavorting with thousands of business people in a wide variety of organizations, I find myself coming towards the end of my Fast Company blog-week stint as guest host. Kind of puts me in a reflective mode…

After 16 years of coaching, consulting and cavorting with thousands of business people in a wide variety of organizations, I find myself coming towards the end of my Fast Company blog-week stint as guest host. Kind of puts me in a reflective mode…

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I joined The Tom Peters Company in May of 1994 as their first full-time staff consultant and trainer–everyone had been on contract up til then. I had been a Tom Fan (as many of you are) for many years but had never met him–or even seen him speak live, for that matter.

The Tom Peters Seminar was just coming out, and Tom was sitting in his office in Palo Alto surrounded by stacks and stacks of books that he was signing for thousands of his closest friends. Someone introduced us, and he looked up and grunted something resembling “hey, good to meet ya.” I found a signed copy on my chair in the office the next day, after I had conducted my first seminar. “Welcome, and congrats on a running start!” it said.

Over my 6 1/2 years there, Tom and I had quite a few snappy banter sessions, and a couple of real juicy conflicts. But that’s not the point. His influence is.

I don’t agree with Tom on everything he says, I certainly don’t agree with everything he does (or doesn’t do) but overall I love the impact that he has had–and continues to have–on the business world. He is, quite simply, the embodiment of audacity. (Oh, and for the record, LEAP is not a “Tom Peters acronym” as Charles Decker’s review suggests. And the 7-S framework isn’t mine.)

But I have to say, my real mentor there wasn’t Tom. It was then-president of the company, Jim Kouzes, coauthor of The Leadership Challenge, and one of the world’s true leadership gurus. He taught, coached, encouraged and challenged me every opportunity he could find. He was, for me, the Ultimate Professor of Leadership.

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I’ve been on my own again–delivering keynotes, mostly–since November of 2000 and I started Extreme Leadership, Inc. about a year ago. My first book, The Radical Leap, just came out in April, and now I find myself at the start of a whole new professional chapter. It’s one long, protracted, intense and fabulous OS!M. And, frankly, I’m very grateful for how the whole journey has unfolded. And it never would have happened without the influence, guidance, love and friendship of people who started out as business associates, became mentors and, ultimately, very dear friends.

People like Tom, Jim, Terry Pearce and a few others whom you’ve never heard of, have had more confidence in me than I’ve had in myself.

And that’s the key for all of us as Extreme Leaders, I think: demonstrating our confidence and investing our hearts in the development and success of the people around us. The greatest contrubution an Extreme Leader can make is to cultivate other Extreme Leaders. Does this take “touchy-feely to new, um, heights,” as Charles Decker said? I sure as hell hope so, Charles. I’m really, really tired of terms like “touch-feely” and “soft stuff” being used as a pejorative. If you can’t touch me, if you can’t evoke my feelings of commitment, then I ain’t following you. Period (as Tom would say.)

So, once again, I’m curious: who have been your greatest mentors? Who are the people in your personal and professional life that have had more confidence in you than you’ve had in yourself? I’m looking forward to hearing your stories…

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