New book explains why you need to ditch the clichés and engage your people

How many pages would it take for you to script your personal leadership philosophy? If you were to advise the next generation of leaders about the principles by which you live and work, would it fill a book? According to author and leadership development expert Mike Figliuolo, your leadership maxims should fit comfortably in an 8.5-by-11-inch frame. In this interview, the author of “One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership,” details the cause of today’s leadership haze, why maxims trigger behavior change and how to share your philosophy with the people that matter most to you.

Why has leadership become overly complex?

You have a bunch of Type A personalities who are continuing to try to get ahead. They look at the leaders ahead of them and they start emulating those behaviors. When you combine all those factors, there’s a mindset of, ‘I need to look more sophisticated than I am. I need to be acting at that next level. I need to put off a perception that I have capabilities that I may not have yet.’ To do so, what happens is buzzwords start creeping in. We start talking about more leadership and management frameworks, and it becomes more and more complex. In the process of that, we lose ourselves as leaders.

The solution you offer is the leadership maxims approach. How are maxims used in leadership?

A maxim is nothing more than a trigger. It’s something to remind you of strong emotions. It’s something that will resonate for you. It should remind you of a story or an example from your personal past or experience. The method is designed such that when you read your own maxim, it triggers all those feelings inside of you and those feelings are what are going to get you to behave differently. It’s very easy for me to ignore a platitude like, ‘Be the best that I can be.’ But when I tap into something much more emotional, much more personal, it’s a lot harder to ignore, and it will change my behavior.

Can you cite one of your personal maxims?

[There is] a quote from Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ I read the book when I was in ninth grade. You’re not exactly the most intellectually deep person as a 15-year-old male. However, I read the book and came across a line in the book that said, ‘But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.’ I remember rereading that line 10 or 15 times. It ended up being my senior quote in the yearbook because those words spoke to me. Over the years, during times that have been really difficult and dark for me, that Hemingway quote has been a touchstone for me to say, ‘I can’t give up. I can’t be defeated.’

Once a leader is able to create his or her set of leadership maxims, what are the most effective ways to communicate this to others?

You can’t just send that paper out and have people understand what that means. My suggestion is to sit down with the members of your team, your boss, your colleagues or even your family members and share what the maxims are, but then share the stories behind them. Tell people why that story is important and personally meaningful to you. Tell them how it is going to affect your behavior. Once everyone around you has that understanding, then it is incumbent upon you to live those maxims on a regular basis. Some leaders like to give their team members permission to call them out. I’ve always given my staff permission to call me out when they see me not living a maxim, and there’s nothing that tastes worse than your own medicine.

“One Piece of Paper”

By Mike Figliuolo

Jossey-Bass, 238 pages, $27.95

About the book: “One Piece of Paper” is a deceptively simple concept with an abundance of power. Author and leadership development expert Mike Figliuolo strips away the pretension that defines much of today’s leadership philosophy. He demonstrates a method to fit your entire leadership philosophy onto one piece of paper. Readers learn how to replace buzzwords and hollow statements with maxims that continuously inspire the individual leader and provide a guide for his or her behavior.

The author: Mike Figliuolo is the founder and managing director of thoughtLEADERS LLC, a professional services firm specializing in leadership development, and is a nationally recognized speaker and blogger on the topic of leadership. An Honor Graduate from West Point, Figliuolo served in the U.S. Army as a combat arms officer.

Why you should read it: Figliuolo presents a challenge to leaders that will force you to go on a journey of self-discovery. His leadership maxims approach will test your ability to be honest with yourself. When creating your personal list of leadership maxims, you cannot trade on management go-to phrases like “live our values” and “give 110 percent.” You will be given the unique opportunity to assess the guiding principles of your past as well as the ideas that motivate you in your current job.

Why it’s different: “One Piece of Paper” pulls where other business books push. Figliuolo engages readers in a manner that led General John Galvin, the retired former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, to comment, “The book feels like a conversation between two old friends, one of them being you

Can’t miss: “Making It Real.” Divided into two chapters, “Living Your Maxims” and “Sharing,” this section is the practical payoff for the reader’s soul-searching efforts. Figliuolo supports his theory that maxims do not need to be etched in stone. They are the epitome of the “living, breathing document” that companies tend to miscall their mission statement.

To share or not to share: As Figliuolo has discovered during his leadership coaching sessions, the ideas in “One Piece of Paper” can spread rapidly through an organization. It is a book that could help your staff members see you, and each other, in an exciting new light.

Mike Figliuolo was a recent guest on Soundview Live, Soundview’s exclusive webinar series. To hear the complete broadcast, visit www.summary.com/webinars.

How to reach: For more information on this book, visit www.Summary.com.

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