Successful Leaders Know What Made Them Who They Are

Can you identify the one person, event, or influence that made you who you are as a leader and a person? Over the past 10 years, I’ve put that question to one hundred of the eminent people I represented as chairman of the Washington Speakers Bureau: Madeleine Albright, Tom Brokaw, Colin Powell, Terry Bradshaw, Condoleezza Rice, and many others. I was curious to find out what they felt were the turning points in their lives — the defining moments and influences from which they draw motivation and inspiration.

Identifying the foundational moments of our success allows us to maximize our potential, uncover our own passions, and become better leaders. In my case, the defining moment in my life was the realization that I was never going to enjoy working for other people — a recognition that paradoxically came to me right at the moment when I was on the verge of being offered my dream job (which I eventually turned down to become an entrepreneur). The realization helped fuel me even during periods of uncertainty by reinforcing my will to succeed and comforting me that I was on the right trajectory. Everyone has such an event and can usually identify it after some reflection. Among my interviewees, turning points fell into three broad categories:

People. Forty-five of those interviewees identified a person as the single most enduring influence on their lives. For Madeleine Albright, the former U.S. secretary of state, it was her father, a serious man with far-ranging intellect whose career as a Czechoslovak diplomat was short-circuited twice: by the German occupation in World War II and by the Communist takeover after the war. After the family moved to the U.S., he became a professor living in cramped faculty housing — quite a step down from an ambassador’s residence — but worked at his job cheerfully and diligently. She says that being secretary of state was challenging, but she never had any trouble staying focused: “I just had to picture my father in his flooded basement study, working away with his feet up on bricks.”

For Tom Brokaw, who had been student body president and a three-sport athlete in high school, but who then dropped out of college twice, it was a strict and caring political science professor. For legendary basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, it was his mother, who had only an eighth-grade education. Her homespun advice to always “get on the right bus…filled with good people” became the moral cornerstone of “Coach K’s” life and career.

Events. Forty of my one hundred interviewees identified an event — a failure, an injury, a death, or the like — as the turning point in their lives.

What defined former secretary of labor Robert Reich, at first, was his height. “I am 4’11” and have always been short,” said Reich. Starting in kindergarten, he was teased and bullied, and he learned to find someone bigger who could act as a protector. One of those who watched out for him was an older kid named Michael Schwerner. Years later, in 1964, Mickey Schwerner and two other young civil rights workers were brutally murdered in Neshoba County, Mississippi, by the Ku Klux Klan — a crime that shocked the country and horrified Reich, who had just graduated from high school. The event galvanized Reich, setting him on a lifelong course of public service and commitment to social justice. “Mickey protected me,” said Reich, now a professor at UC Berkeley. “I, in turn, feel a responsibility to protect others.”

For Tony Blair, a rebellious troublemaker in school, it was his father’s stroke, cutting short the elder Blair’s promising political career and evoking in Tony the discipline and diligence that would eventually make him prime minister of Great Britain. Debbi Fields, founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies, found the drive and passion to succeed as her unpretentious self when a boorish social superior threw a dictionary in her lap because she had misused a word in conversation.

Environments. Fifteen of my interviewees considered environments — such as a place, a time, or an enveloping experience — as the most powerful influence in their lives. For Condoleezza Rice, it was the love of reading and education that was passed down through her family, beginning with her paternal great-grandmother, Julia Head, who learned to read as a slave on an Alabama cotton plantation. Rice’s grandfather, born in 1892 to Julia and her sharecropper husband, was determined to go to college and went on to become a Presbyterian minister. One day he brought home nine leather-bound, gold-embossed books — the works of Shakespeare, Hugo, and others — which cost $90, a huge sum at the time.

“My grandfather believed in having books in the home,” Rice told me, “and, more important, he believed in having his children read them.” Rice’s father earned two master’s degrees, and her aunt Theresa got a PhD in Victorian literature. In 1981, when Rice received her PhD in political science, her father gave her the five remaining books from her grandfather’s set. They sit now on her mantelpiece.

For Chris Matthews, it was his stint in the Peace Corps in Swaziland that took him off his path to academia and sent him toward a life of engagement in politics and journalism.

Colin Powell’s enduring influence comes from a neighborhood in the South Bronx called Banana Kelley, where he grew up among caring family members and a multilingual, nurturing community of hard-working people. “I owe whatever success I’ve had to…Banana Kelley,” he says.

Successful leaders are self-aware. That’s the overriding lesson I’ve learned from working and talking with some the world’s most accomplished people over the past 36 years. For some, like Powell or Albright, identifying and owning the turning points in their lives comes easily. But for many people it can be difficult. It took three increasingly painful conversations for Terry Bradshaw to fully get at his: As the number one pick in the NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, he paid little heed to his coaches, goofed off in practice, and exhibited a bravado that masked his deep insecurity as a southern country boy in a big northern city. But as the losses piled up on the field and the boos rained down from the stands, he could no longer sustain his devil-may-care façade. One night he broke down crying in his apartment, prayed, and heard a gentle voice telling him to get real. “I went to practice the next day,” he said to me, “and I set out cultivating a new attitude.” He went on to become one of only three quarterbacks to have won four Super Bowls.

Highly accomplished people have an inner voice and pay attention to it. They understand the defining moments of their lives and thereby better understand their own strengths, biases, and weaknesses as leaders. And that understanding provides them with a deep well of energy and passion that they draw on throughout their lives. We may not all have careers that match the 100 people I interviewed, but we can all share their ability to grasp — and harness — the turning points of our lives and careers.

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hbr.org

1,864 thoughts on “Successful Leaders Know What Made Them Who They Are

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  54. Yet even Dr. Rajat Barua, the writer of the veteran study,
    admitted that thhe mechanisms associating testosterone levels and cardiovascular difficulties are
    too poorly understood – and the evidence is too combined – to urge testosterone therapy for cardiovascular issues alone,
    much less for meen witrh normal testosterone levels.

  55. I say this is a misconception because in my experience
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  60. Although the FDA approved testosterone thherapy for the treatment of disorders involving the testes, pituitary and hypothalamus, it has not been approved for treating age-associated decreasee in testosterone levels.

  61. Alone, on the other hand, is very powerful in improving the quality of llife for
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  62. As an example, in one study published in the journal PLoS One, aan elevated danger of
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  63. Based on the FDA, the utilization of testosterone therapy has increased significantly, from 1.3 million patients in 2009 to 2.3 million patients who had a prescription for testosterone
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  65. Vigen R, ‘Donnell CI, Baron AE, et al. Organization of testosterone
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    in men with low testosterone levels.

  66. The possibility of increased risk of these afflictions
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    include androgen suppression.

  67. Be unaware, of other possible benefits to this treatment that have nothing to do with tthe sexuality of a guy,or doctors who are opposed in principle to HRT for older men seem to ignore.

  68. But this research also underscores the need for a long term, prospective,
    randomizd trial to rezlly comprehend whether testosterone therapy can be used without putting men at greater risk forr cardiovascular events such as heart
    attacks, worsening oof sudden cardiac death or heart failure.

  69. Top prostate nutritional supplements contain clinical strength ingredients like zinc,
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  70. Because the danger of melancholy increased with longer treatment, men who consider
    when determining whether the gains aree worth the potential side effects hormone therwpy
    may desire contemplate thee dutation oof therapy,
    Pal added.

  71. What human Chorionic Gonadotropin oes is prexisely mimic the luteinizing hormone (LH)
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  72. Safety and the gain of testosterone haven’t been created in guys
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  73. However, clinical studies demonstrate that testosterone not
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  74. Men who are 80 yedars old have testosterone values that aare one-half to one third of those in men whho are 20 years old It
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  75. Thee Xu meta-analysis involved 27 released, randomized,
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    therapy was correlated with an increased risk of adverse cardiovascular events (Odds
    Ratio OR=1.5, 95% CI: 1.1-2.1); however, methodological issues limit decisions.

  76. If low testosterone symptoms are occurring as an effect of an underlying and health condition that is correctable, then it’s important
    to treat that inherent condition rather than simply make an effort to normalize the testosterone levels
    with hortmone therapy in isolation.

  77. To put it differently, the men who used testosterone therapy hadd a 30 percent
    increased risk of heart attack, stroke or dying, compared with men who didn’t use thhe hormone, and the results held after being adjusted for several other factors that could have affected
    the outcomes, according to the study, published today (Nov.

  78. Testosterone therapy should always be discussed in context of healthy living and a multituee of other
    contributions that also interface with overall wellness, sexual function,
    prostate and cardiovascular disease, glycemic control, and bbone health, all of
    whgich give to a man’s vibrant quality of life.

  79. The recent contradictory findings on testosterone treatment prompted
    his team to run a big systematic literature search for studies assessing the relationship between testosterone replacement therapy and cardiovascular events
    among men and Patel.

  80. Extended periods of lack of functionality and production, due to modulating and
    unnaturally keeping your testosterone levels,
    will evedntually cause atrophy of thos glands
    and lengthy misuse oof these organs can cause unwanted condifions and
    irreversible side effects andd permanent damage.

  81. In addition, thre are more experienced patients that have been on testosterone therapy for
    much longer whom know thbeir bodies and understand their
    reactions to treatment.

  82. Additionally, because other procedures in the body cease to function as
    a consequence of your testosterone levels being manipulated by you through testosterone
    shots, the therapy gains begin to decline, and all the feel good” scenarios you were experiencing come to a dead stop.

  83. Testosterone enhances the dilation of coronary arteries, arteries
    supplying blood to hearrt muscles, thereby raising the flow of blood
    and decreasing blood pressure.

  84. Additionally, these nutritional supplements can cause birth defects in an unborn infant,
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  85. Guys also must be suspicious, independent thinkers, and educated
    in their own exploration of whether hormone levels
    are impacting their well-being oor not given the present environment off testosterone mass marketing copled with permissive
    prescribing of testosterone for common, nonspecific, aging-associated or poor self care symptoms which may be wolly
    independent of testosterone deficiency.

  86. Testosterone therapy beecause of removal of one oor both
    testicles, or excessive consumption of testosterone supplements can raise the testosterone levels in the body.

  87. The included studies represented 3,236 guys (1,895 men treated with testosterone, 1,341 guys treated with placebo) who reported 51 major
    adverse cardiovascular events, defined as cardiovascular death, non fatal myocardial infarction or stroke, and serious
    aacute coronary syndromes or heart failure.10 This study didn’t find a statistically significant increased rizk of these cardiovascular
    events connected with testosterone therapy.

  88. A guy’s testosterone level strarts to decrease naturally after
    he turns 40 and that fall frequehtly accelerates after age 60.In addition, you need tto consder your
    health history, because that could affect whether you should take
    testosterone.

  89. Prolonged use of artificial testosterone can cause shrinking of testicles, gynecomastia (breast development in men), reduced or increased sex drive, reduced
    sper production, clitoral enlargement, male pattern baldness,
    and watesr retention.

  90. Pharmaceutical companies and for-profit clinics have reaped enormous gains by convincing comparatively healthy
    guys that taking supplemental hormones will make them more attractive, stronger and virile.

  91. Now more research is needed to reexamine existing theories about the role of testosterone
    in women and reply ongoing questions about effectiveness and
    its safety, Widrman said.

  92. FDA-approved testosterone formulations include pellets implanted under the
    skin, solution, skin patch, intramuscular injection, gels, and a buccal system applied to the upper gum or internal cheek.

  93. Treatment with transdermal patch, testosterone gel, or intramuscular
    injection is suggested for men with low total testostrone levels who
    have these symptoms.

  94. Hormone Replacement Florida Therapy is a treatment in which hormones are given to prevent
    or treat health conditions common in menopausal women, including osteoporosis.

  95. Again, it isn’t a requirement the patient that’s interested in therapy
    to improved future aand his health usually follows the physician’s guidance on repeat bloood work.

  96. Accordingg to a statement issued today bby the Endocrine Society, the hazards and benefits of teststerone treatmeent for older guys with diminishing levels of the hormone have to be completely evaluated.

  97. Based on a statement issued by thhe Endocrine Society,
    the rrisks and bdnefits of testosterone treatment
    for older men with diminishing levels of the hormone must be completely appraised.

  98. The researchers noted they couldn’t verify whether the men in thhe study had
    been prescribed testosterone according to physicians’ guidelines, which require doctors to dreaw blood in the morning
    on two different days and look for medical issues that could be related to testosterone deficiency.

  99. Some of the advantages of HGH, Human Growth Hormone replacement therapy aree
    a reduction of fat, a gain of new muscle, reduction of wrinkles (aka healthy
    and thicker skin), re-development or regeneration of internal organs, increase bone
    strength and density, strengthen or balance the immune systdm and general anti-aging properties.

  100. Yet even Dr. Rajat Barua, thhe author oof the veteran study,
    acknowledged that the mechanisms connecting testosterone levels and cardiovascular problems are too poorly
    undestood – and the signs is too combined – to advocate testosterone
    therapy for cardiovascular dilemmas alone, much less for men wityh normal
    testosterone levels.

  101. Meanwhile, the grolup advised that middle
    aged and elderly men who are considering using testosterone therapy too treat age-associated declines in this hormone should be warned about the possibility oof
    heart-related side effects.

  102. The gain and security of testosterone have not been created in men who
    have low testosterone levels for noo reason other than age, even if symptoms seem related to low testosterone.

  103. The Xu meta-analysis demanded 27 published, randomized, placebo-controlled trials representing 2,994 largely middle-aged aand elderly
    male participants (1,773 treated with testosterone and 1,261 treated wijth placebo) who reported 180 cardiovascular-related adverse events.9
    This study found that testosterone treatment was correlated
    with an increased risk of adverse cardiovascular events (Odds Ratio OR=1.5, 95% CI: 1.1-2.1); nevertheless, methodological
    dilemmas limit decisions.

  104. Retrospectively, it is necessary for the consumer to comprehend that there’s
    typically an important price difference between compounded drugs
    and Brand drugs, with the latter being significantly expensive.

  105. Although the FDA approved testosterone therapy for the treatment of
    ailments involvng the testes, pituitary and hypothalamus,
    it hasn’t been approved for treating age-associated decrease inn testosterone levels.

  106. If low testosterone symptoms are happening
    as a result off an underlying and health state that is correctable,
    then it’s important to treat that inherent illness rather than simply make an effort
    to normalize the testosterone levels with hormone therapy in isolation.

  107. The security and effectiveness of testosterone supplementation haven’t
    been clearly explained, although there’s an extensive review 3 by the Institufe of Medicine outlining what is known about testosterone therapy in older men.

  108. Although the FDA approved testosterone therapy for the reatment of
    diseases involkving the testes, pituitary and hypothalamus, it hasn’t been approved for treating age-associated decrease in testosterone levels.

  109. Retrospectively, it ruly iis important for the consumer to
    recognize that there’s generally an important price difference
    between compounded drtugs and Brand drug, with thee latter being immensely expensive.

  110. With an increasing realization of testosterone’s advantages for women, those amounts may grow, but itt mayy
    still be a little while before the therapy reaches the mainstream.

  111. Before this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required producers of
    all authorized testosterone prodxucts to add information on thee labels to clarify the accepted
    uses of the drugs and contain advice about possible increased risks of heart attacks
    and strokes in patients taking testosterone.

  112. Because the danger of melancholy climbed with longer treatment, guys who consider when determining whether tthe benefits are worth
    the possible side effects hormone therapy may want contemplate
    the duration oof therapy, Pal included.

  113. Researchers found thazt generally healthy meen who received testosterone supplementation to attain standard levels did not increase their risk of stroke, heart attack, oor death.

  114. Your Post Cycle Cleanse flush out any residual estrogen in yopur body, enabling you to, once again, reap full bednefits of your Testosterone shots treatment, bring them back in line
    and will reset those amounts.

  115. A personalized and personal testosteronhe enhancement protocol,
    arranged testosterone treatment specialized doctors and by the age management aat AAI Rejuvenation Clinic, comes with an array off nutraceuticals that are supporting.

  116. A man’s testosterone level starts to decrease after 40 turns
    and that fall oftfen hastens after age 60.
    Because that could influence whether you should take testosterone,
    youu also need to consider yiur health history.

  117. Also, it’s going to be clear that without the assistance of increasing your Testosterone
    levels to reflect amounts had in your youth, these results, and energy level outputs wouldn’t be
    possible.

  118. Testosterone therapy curbs regular testicular function, and therefore itt is necessary to comprehend shrinkage of the
    tedsticles will prlbably happen with long erm use as well as cause infertility for a guuy
    of any age Another common consequence oof testosterone therapy contains changes to red blood cells
    , and any man unmdergoing testosterone therapy should be monitoring often by a medical providr to evaluate treatment response and manage outcomes of therapy.

  119. These two studies come on the heels of a recent pooled
    analysis by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess
    Medical Center in Boston, which cast further doubt on the link betweeen testosterone treatment and cardiovascular risk and indicated a
    positive associuation between higher testosterone levels and developments in reduction of cardiovascular risk.

  120. Prolonged use of manufactured testosterone can cause shrinking of testicles, gynecomastia (breast growth
    in men), reduced or increased sex drive, decreased sperm
    production, clitoral enlargement, male patgtern baldness, aand water retention.

  121. The safety and effectiveness of testosterone supplementation have not been clearly
    defined, although there is aan extensive
    review 3by the Inztitute of Medicine outlining what’s known about testosterone therapy in older men.

  122. The included studies represented 3,236 men (1,895 men treated
    with testosterone, 1,341 men treated with placebo) who reported 51 major adverse cardiovascular events, defined as cardiovascular death, non-fatal myocardial infarction or stroke, and serious acute coronary syndromes or heart
    failure.10 This study didn’t find a statistically significant
    increased risk of these cardiovascular events associated
    with testosterone treatment.

  123. Doctors who are opposed in principle to HRT for old mmen appear to ignore, or be unaware, of
    other possible advantages to this treatment that
    have nothing to do with a man’s sexuality.

  124. During clinical follow up after one and three
    years, the men in the Intermounttain Medical Center
    Heart Institutte study wwre categorized by whether or not
    they received at least 90 days of testosterone
    supplementation (external gel or injection) or
    not.

  125. Pre-pubertal hypogonadism is typically characterized by infantile genitalia aand lack
    of virilization, while the growth off hypogonadism after
    puberty often results in problems such as diminished libido, erectile dysfunction, infertility,
    gynecomastia, reduced masculinization, chanes in body composition, reductions in body
    and facial hair, and osteoporosis.

  126. Women and men in America have used testosterone treatment
    since the late 1930s, in many instances for more
    than 40 years – with just uncommon adverse results.