The Big 5 for Life : the secrets of the greatest leaders

The Big 5 for Life : the secrets of the greatest leaders

Summary of the book The Big 5 For Life: How to break free from the perceived roles of leadership to make yourself a leader who is respected, loved and appreciated by your employees, clients and partners; this is what the author of this book explains to us through the lessons of the great Thomas Derale.

By John P. Strelecky, 2007, 224 pages.

Note: this column is a guest column by Solène Coriolles from Koï Coaching.

Review and summary of the book The Big 5 For Life:

Lesson 1: The reason to exist

A great leader starts a company with an idea that is connected to their personal raison d’être.

To illustrate this first lesson, Thomas Derale explains the process he followed to establish the fourteen companies he founded. To start with, he asked himself why he was here. Why was he on Earth? What was it that drove him? What made him fundamentally happy?

Once he found the answers to these questions, he asked himself how he could make the most money whilst he did the things that he loved. His first company emerged from this introspective inquisition.

For Thomas Derale, it is vitally important that the company’s mission (its reason to exist) stems from the founder’s reason to be here. Undoubtedly, a person who is passionate about what they do is bound to be more motivated, more enthusiastic and therefore more productive.

The conviction of a leader to do what they are meant to do gives them the confidence to not worry about the success of the people they lead. This serenity allows them to adopt the right attitude towards their employees, and in particular:

  • Encourage them rather than belittle them;
  • Inspire them rather than intimidate them;
  • Train them and not impede their development.

Lastly, the leader’s self-confidence allows them to avoid the fear of failure, but rather to anticipate their success.

Lesson 2: Surround yourself with the right people

There is nothing that delays the growth of a company more than someone who is in the wrong position.

the big five for life secrets

Thomas Derale believes that whatever the job happens to be, there is a person on this earth who loves it. The trick is to employ the right person for the right job.

To illustrate this, he uses filing as an example. He tells us that while many people may find this sort of thing tiresome, there are others who really enjoy it and love to keep things in order. These are the people you need to hire.

Seen from this angle, recruitment processes need to be changed. It is no longer just a matter to employ a person based on the skills listed on their resume. Selection processes must now be based on the candidate’s five big life dreams.

The notion of the “5 big life dreams”

The notion of the “5 big life dreams” is borrowed from a previous book by the author: “The safari of life“, in which a wise African woman explains to a young tourist the importance to choose what she calls her “five big life dreams”. When tourists arrive in Africa, they measure the success of their safari by the number of big five animals they have seen (lion, leopard, rhino, African buffalo and elephant). In the same way, every individual should determine the five great acts that they wish to achieve in their lives, in order for them to consider that their lives have been worthwhile and they have fulfilled their dreams.

As such, it is in an employer’s best interest to give employees jobs that fit with their top five personal life dreams. This will mean that the employees will feel that they are able to realize their vocation through their job, which will make them that much more successful.

That requires the company’s mission to be clearly articulated and that everyone in the organization is aware of it. Job candidates should also be asked about their personal motivations in life, or in the words of Thomas Derale, their purpose and their five big dreams. Finally, the work responsibilities entrusted to an individual must directly or indirectly allow them to develop and grow.

Each individual must be able to link the reason for their work to one of their personal aspirations. As an illustration, the author takes the example of work motivation that can be expressed as follows: “I work because I like to help people learn to hang-glide”.

The principle to support this is simple: if a person can be successful in a task they don’t love, then they can be tremendously successful in a task they are passionate about.

Conversely, if a person’s purpose is not aligned with their job responsibilities, they are likely to lose their motivation at work, adopt a defeatist attitude and constantly complain. When this happens, it is best to get rid of them. If you don’t, the negative energy that this person gives off may affect all of the staff and demotivate the rest of the team. This employee is a drain on time and productivity and must be dismissed from the company.

Lesson 3: Explain why you do it

If you want to motivate your employees, make it clear what needs to be accomplished and why.

Thomas Derale says that most leaders tend to share their goals with their peers, but they often neglect to involve their employees in those goals. If employees are not adequately briefed, they can no longer make informed decisions.

There are two important concepts to keep in mind here:

  • The first is that the knowledge of why things need to be done is an important source of motivation for people, much more so than just their salary;
  • The second is that in order for a person to focus all their energy towards a specific goal, the objective given must be as clear as possible. This applies to objectives that can be both quantified and evaluated over time.

To illustrate this concept, Thomas Derale uses this example: the goal “to improve customer service” is not precise enough to engage people. He prefers to phrase it this way: “reduce customer waiting time by 10 seconds by June 1st”.

This lesson is based on the Walt Disney example. At Walt Disney, all employees pick up any trash they see on the floor. They are not required to do so and are not necessarily paid for it. They do it voluntarily, not because they have to, but because they are motivated to do so.

Lesson 4: Encourage people to find their own solutions

People can work out solutions to almost any problem, as long as they have all the pieces to hand.

To implement a decision in the company, the entire staff must be involved. And the best way to get people involved is to allow them to participate in the actual process to help make the decision.

To take this a step further, Thomas Derale encourages leaders to let their employees find their own solutions to achieve their goals. An even better approach is for leaders to invite their teams to independently identify the problems that need to be solved. If this principle is not followed, two things can happen:

  • Employees will not feel involved, will object to certain new ideas or will become demotivated;
  • Decision-makers, who aren’t so hands-on, will make decisions without knowledge of all the relevant facts.

Finally, in order for people to remain committed to a project and make the appropriate choices, it is essential to give them all the necessary information. It would discourage them to have to re-do a job after it was finished, simply because they hadn’t been informed of all the parameters of the project, in addition to the loss of time, energy and productivity.

Lesson 5: “ No. Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try ” (quote from the movie Star Wars)

To maintain credibility, a good leader must ensure that they deliver on the promises made to clients.

deliver on the promises made to clients

For Thomas Derale, it is better to decline work for a client rather than take the risk to fall short on your quality of service and delivery time. This could jeopardize the company’s entire reputation.

It is regrettable that some companies accept contracts which they know they will not be able to fulfil, even though there are no legitimate reasons for it. This may have short-term benefits (you keep a client), but leads to negative long-term effects (increased number of complaints, loss of customer confidence, damage to the company’s brand image).

Derale believes that some companies struggle with poor customer service because they just keep on with the same mistakes that they made before and don’t learn from them. The companies that stand out are headed by leaders who are passionate about what they do. They aren’t so concerned with instant profit as they are with customer satisfaction. They listen to their customers, and their customers give back through their loyalty to the brand.

Leadership is top-down. A company can only thrive if its leader is a role model and has developed a mindset of success. This includes clarity about what you wish to achieve and the ability to deliver on your commitments.

Lesson 6: Focus on the right thing

As your time is limited, your main focus should be to learn from the very best.

Thomas Derale explains that it is far wiser to focus on models of success, rather than on the past failures of our predecessors. So it’s better to learn about what you need to do in order to be successful rather than what you don’t need to do.

The longevity of a company depends on the leader’s ability to learn. With time at a premium, the leader will gain huge benefits if they can focus on the essentials: the keys to success.

Lesson 7: An open door policy alone is not enough

An open door policy alone is not enough; you must actually encourage people to communicate with you.

A great leader takes the time to reach out to team members to discuss issues that affect them, even if they are personal issues. Those employees who have their concerns heard are appreciative, and it shows in their overall work.

A team meeting can also be an opportunity to discuss the tasks that take up the most time and cause the most problems. Some of these tasks can probably be eliminated or improved. This allows you to cut costs and improve team morale at the same time.

Lastly, employees are not the only ones who need to be listened to. Strong leaders also make sure that they continually look at things from a customer’s point of view, so that they can identify problems and make recommendations to improve the company’s performance. This enables them to identify potential problems that their customers may experience and assess the impact of these issues in relation to customer satisfaction.

Lesson 8: Fear Leads to Failure

Fear leads to failure and no fear leads to success.

Fear leads to failure no to success

We must not be afraid of mistakes. They are an essential part of the journey towards excellence. Indeed, as soon as a person is able to recover from a disappointment, there is not really a failure.

Similarly, a strong leader should not be afraid to share their knowledge and experience with their team members.

What prevents leaders to share their knowledge is usually the satisfaction they derive from power. They feel valued when others need them and fear that they will be “dethroned” by one of their employees. This attitude can be very detrimental to the success of the company.

A strong leader teaches their team the skills they need to become self-sufficient. They allow their employees to make mistakes, under their supervision, and teach them how to rectify these situations. Teams that are managed in this way gain confidence and independence. It helps to cultivate a state of mind that encourages them to have the confidence to undertake difficult projects and to continuously improve their performance. This helps to put them on a road to success. The whole company wins.

Lesson 9: Lead Like Tiger Woods

Lead like Tiger Woods or the ability to optimize your efforts.

Thomas Derale says that, at age five or six, Tiger Woods hit the ball better than most adults. It wasn’t because he could hit the ball harder than everyone else that he was more successful, but because he played smarter.

Success is not built in a day. Success is not purely down to the fact that you work harder and harder every day, but that you work smarter and smarter in order to achieve the best possible results with the minimum amount of effort.

Too many companies continue to function under pressure, with the belief that things must be done instantly. This often means that people have to work for more than ten hours a day, only to discover that a situation that was deemed as urgent actually has no benefit for the company whatsoever. This negatively impacts motivation and, in turn, the performance of the entire company.

Lesson 10: Leadership based on fear is counterproductive

Hostile management is not a good leadership strategy.

Thomas Derale illustrates this point based on his own experience. Aged 22, he worked at a company where the manager’s style was to have control over his employees and he constantly reprimanded and demeaned them, which created a climate of fear in the workplace.

This style of leadership results in a high turnover of talented employees who are then replaced by less experienced employees who are only able to produce “average” work. There are two personnel-related factors that influence the profitability of a company: employee productivity and turnover.

It’s vitally important that the people who manage the various departments of a company ditch the notion that the tougher they are on their employees, the harder they work, and the more profits the company will make. There is no need to monitor a good employee. They don’t perform because they are controlled, but because they enjoy what they do.

The proof is that companies that know how to surround themselves with the right people (lesson 2), that allow them more autonomy and encourage them with a work environment that respects a family spirit, have both higher profits and a lower employee turnover rate.

Lesson 11: Understand the Wave Effect

A great leader is an inspiration not just to those around them, but also to future generations.

It was when Thomas Derale watched an Oprah Winfrey show that he understood what the ripple effect was. On that show, the presenter confessed that, as a child, she drew a lot of inspiration from the singer Diana Ross. Thomas Derale concluded that if Diana Ross had not followed her passion, she would not have been able to influence Oprah Winfrey, who in turn would not have become the inspiration she is today.

Likewise, a great leader influences the people that they come in contact with, who in turn will influence future generations. This is what Thomas Derale calls the ripple effect.

If you can understand the ripple effect, you can appreciate the scope of your influence. It is yet another incentive to encourage excellence.

Lesson 12: Offer employees an extra four lives

When employees are passionate about their jobs, they work harder and that shows up in the company’s bottom line.

when employees are passionate they work harder

Many people spend ten hours a day, five days a week, in a job they don’t enjoy. When they go home, they have only about 2 1/2 hours left to do what they really enjoy. If these same people have a job that they enjoy, then they will have another 50 hours a week to do things that they actually enjoy. It’s the equivalent of four extra lives.

The people you employ to do something that they enjoy are grateful for it. They are more motivated, work harder and are much more productive. This has a direct correlation to the profitability of the company.

Lesson 13: Clearly identify the purpose of your business

If the reason why a business exists is not clearly known to everyone; it won’t perform as well as it should.

Thomas Derale believes that every leader should be able to explain why their company exists. Why does it exist? What is its mission? Everyone who deals with the company, whether employees, customers or partners, wants to know the answers to these questions. If the company’s raison d’être is not known to everyone, it will be difficult to get them all to engage with the business ethos. The company misses out on ways in which it can grow and make a profit.

Lesson 14: Be prepared to challenge the status quo

It is easier to follow than to change

Thomas Derale points out that many leaders are poor leaders because they have simply copied the styles of the bosses that they have previously had. These leaders do things not because it’s the best way to do them; but simply because that’s the way everyone else has always done it.

While this is not the easiest path to follow; it is important to question why things are done a certain way. When faced with a new and attractive proposal; a good leader will take the time to experiment with it to determine if it could work for their organization.

Lesson 15: How to create an upward trajectory for your employees and your company

If you help your employees create an upward trajectory in life; then they will help your company have an upward trajectory too.

Most people live their lives with high points and low points. They construct a bland life that follows this pattern:

Inspired by the book “The Big 5 For Life” by John P. Strelecky

When these people devote more time to the things they enjoy, the trajectory of their lives increases. Each low moment is more intense, in comparison, to the high points of those who follow the usual trajectory of life. It looks like this:

Inspired by the book “The Big 5 For Life” by John P. Strelecky

The role of the leader is to:

  • Define the company’s purpose;
  • Employ people whose personal purpose and top five life dreams are aligned with that of the company;
  • Keep them busy with things that they enjoy.

The leader who follows this process enables their team to thrive at work. Their team gives back and performs to the best of their abilities. The result of this is that the company’s productivity increases.

Lesson 16: Write the outcome first

Write the outcome first so that you achieve a goal that allows you to die with no regrets and with the knowledge that you have done everything you needed to do.

Write the outcome first

At this point, Thomas Derale reminds us of the importance to always decide beforehand what we want to achieve, whether we plan to write the business plan for the company or to organize a casual meeting. He explains here that  :

“either we write the ending we want and create the life that will lead us there, or we end up with someone else’s life story, where the outcome pales in comparison to the one we could have written for ourselves.”

Lesson 17: P + E < G

A good CEO must understand the equation P + E < G

In this equation, P is the price to be paid to obtain something, E is the effort involved, and G is the expected gain. Most people make decisions based on price or effort. If these elements of the equation are too high, then people will not act. For Thomas Derale, a good leader focuses only on expected gains. As long as the expected gains are higher than the combination of the price to pay and the effort required, then they do not hesitate: they act.

Conclusion on The Big 5 for Life:

A new style of leadership, that focuses on people’s true aspirations, is achievable.

I really enjoyed The Big 5 for Life. It was the first of many books by John P. Strelecky that I read. Since then, in my day-to-day team management, I take the time to explain to my employees where we are and where we are headed. I take the time to ask them about what they like, their interests and how they approach their life at work. I then give them an opportunity to demonstrate their talents as best they can. And, I follow the same principle with the companies I work with. The results are remarkable. It is clear that a person who feels valued, who loves what they do; and who embraces the values of the company, is much more creative; ingenious and productive than a person who is only motivated by money.

In my opinion, leaders or managers who read The Big 5 for Life may be able to develop new management approaches that take the human dimension into account. I am also convinced that a leader who embraces the core principles of The Big 5 for Life will increase the sustainability and profitability of their company.

Strong points of The Big 5 for Life:

  • The Big 5 for Life is very well written and an enjoyable read
  • The narrative style used helps the reader to be quickly caught up in the story
  • This book pushes the reader to question themselves on key issues related to the meaning they give to their life and work
  • The use of fiction to address serious issues works well

Weak points of The 5 Big 5 for Life:

  • Lack of practical examples that would support some of the theories presented
  • Can be a bit repetitive at times

My rating: The Big 5 for Life leaderThe Big 5 for Life leaderThe Big 5 for Life leaderThe Big 5 for Life leaderThe Big 5 for Life leaderThe Big 5 for Life leaderThe Big 5 for Life leaderThe Big 5 for Life leaderThe Big 5 for Life leader

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