Leadership Question #1: Who Has Impacted Your Leadership the Most?

A while back, Michael Smith, Associate pastor of ClearView Baptist Church in Franklin, Tennessee, interviewed me as part of a research project he was doing on leadership. I thought his questions were so powerful that I posted them on my blog under the title, “20 Questions to Ask Other Leaders.”

Two Different Size Pairs of Black Dress Shoes - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/DeanProductions, Image #10139866

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/DeanProductions

Several people commented that they would like to hear my answers to Michael’s questions. I am finally getting around to that and have decided to answer one question per post until I get through his list.

The first question Michael asked me was this one:

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?”

I wrote on this topic previously as part of “The Noticer Project: The Five People Who Have Had the Greatest Influence on Me.” But if I had to select one person, I would pick Robert Wolgemuth, my one-time boss, former business partner, and close friend.

Robert and I worked side-by-side for seventeen years. I saw him in the best of times and the worst of times. I doubt there is anyone who knows him better with the exception of his wife, Bobbie.

Here are three reasons why he had such an impact on me:

  1. His commitment to integrity. As I wrote previously, when Robert first hired me, he promised me a raise in 90 days if I did a good job. When it came time to make good on the promise, our parent company had frozen raises for all employees. So what did Robert do? He paid me the raise out of his own pocket. This had a profound impact on me. I learned from him that integrity is about making your actions line up with your words.
  2. His commitment to responsiveness. Robert was the first person I ever met who practiced near-instant responsiveness. It made him stand out in stark contrast to so many others who take forever to get back to me or simply failed to deliver what they had promised. He taught me that people want to do business with people who are responsive. This simple character trait can provide a huge competitive advantage, particularly in a world where people are often overwhelmed and slow to respond.
  3. His commitment to gratitude. Robert is one of the most grateful people I know. Now a successful author and businessman, he is never too busy to stop and thank people. This is incredibly motivating to those who serve him. Not surprisingly, it makes people voluntarily want to follow him and do business with him. Again, it makes him stand out among so many who demonstrate an attitude of entitlement.

There are ten more things I could list, but these three are etched into my leadership psyche. I am forever grateful for the living model of leadership that Robert provided early in my career.

Question: What about you. Who has had the biggest impact on you as a leader?
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  • Ian (UK)

    I must admit that before I actually looked at myself and asked the "Who Has Impacted Your Leadership the Most?" I had always felt that there had been one or two good people who made me who I am, though I now realise this to be wrong.
    There is one man who made me a better leader, a better person even. But he was anything but a good leader himself. Depending on your point of view, I was either very luck or very unlucky to have worked with him, I wont say his name but he was what we called a "JFDI" man ( Just F****** do it was his catchphrase) the JFDI comment was usually followed by the slapping of his hands together to emphasise the urgency of his demand.
    I learnt a lot from this manager, though I learnt it by not doing what he did.
    Instead of being rude and abrupt, I became a good listener. Instead of beating the people into doing what he wanted, I learnt how to word things so they actually wanted to help.
    I learnt to understand the merit of seeking the opinion and thoughts of others, often finding that there was a better way to resolve an issue than I had realised. Not once do I remember him taking the time to thank anyone, something I now understand to be the simplest and most effective form of motivation there is.
    He never bothered to learn anyone’s name on the grounds that he would most probably have his deputy sack them for something soon enough as it wasn’t worth the effort. He would sit in his office on his golden pedestal and expect the worship of the masses.
    I have managed over 250 people across multiple buildings, yet each one I know by name and have enough of a relationship with them to know their likes etc. I avoiding working in an office, preferring to work amongst my teams, so I never lost sight of the most important asset I had. And that was the people who worked with me.
    I have been fortunate to have worked with some wonderful leaders, people who rebuild your faith and are willing to support and develop you. People who, like myself, value the thoughts of others and are not afraid to admit they might be wrong.
    Looking back it’s nice to know he had some positive effect on me, even if he didn’t realise he was giving it at the time. I would like to think he has learnt his lesson, but I doubt it.

  • http://Www.maurilioamorim.com Maurilio Amorim

    I had the privilege to work with Robert on a project years ago. He was professional and determined yet kind in his guidance. Truly a gentleman.

    • Robert Wolgemuth

      Thank you, Maurilio. Working with you and Chad was my distinct pleasure. I hope all is well with you.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Two of my favorite people—Maurilio and Robert—I didn’t realize you had worked together!

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/scottdwinter Scott D. Winter

        I am just now getting around to reading your questions, Mike. I love that you picked Robert because of his personal influence on me.

        (On a side note – I was introduced to Robert and Maurilio on this same project. I can honestly say that I gained insight from both, but I gained more than that – I gained two friends in the process.)

        I appreciate that Robert is a master communicator. His verbal, written, and non-verbal communication skills are un-paralleled. Two of the most influential books I have read in the last 10 years were "She Calls Me Daddy" and "The Most Important Place on Earth" – both by Robert.

        If I could add anything to your list about Robert, I would add that he is one of the classiest dressers I know. I can't see French-cuff shirts and not think of Robert. I ask anyone that knows Robert, that wears French-cuff shirts, if they are working on their "Robert Wolgemuth Starter Kit". :)

  • Bryan

    Without a doubt it has been Brian Hampton, my longtime boss and friend. His intelligence, creativity, professional savvy, integrity, commitment to follow through, and doing the right thing even has helped me become the person I am. I couldn't be more thankful to have a person like him showing me the way. If I could become a tenth of the boss he is one day, it would be a great accomplishment.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I can totally see that. Brian is a jewel!

  • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

    My father, Peter Hopper, shaped who I am in my first 20 years. Not only a gifted record producer, celebrating 6,000 albums last week, but a man of the Word, passion for the presence of God, faithful in his marriage, and caring pastor for 40 years. I understand life because of knowing him.

    My last 10 years have been deeply shaped by my senior pastor, Kirk Gilchrist, who has given more to people behind their backs than they will ever know. He’s the first one to roll up his sleeves and the last one to leave.

    I feel so honored to even know these two men, and I’m a better man for it. ch:

  • http://www.williswired.com/ Randy

    There have been people who have impacted me personally, but this morning I'm thinking that, almost exactly 20 years ago, I heard of John Maxwell, who did a leadership event for my denomination. I was finishing up a B.A. in Ministry in college at the time. That event, which I didn't attend, but got the videotape, and watched it several times.

    That single event set in motion what has been a 20-year journey so far in my own personal leadership development.

  • http://www.therextras.com BarbaraBoucher PTPhD

    Thinking about influential people in one's life is a worthy mental exercise. For myself, the positive influences in my life are too diffuse and dispersed along a long time line to mention just one or two.

    (Question: Will you be starting a separate blog concentrating on publishing, Michael?)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I am planning to start a separate web site (not just a blog) for authors, both those who are published and those who are not yet published. It’s still a couple of months down the road. Thanks.

  • http://www.validleadership.com James Castellano

    Jim Sohaney is an elder at one of the first churches we attended when we relocated to the Lehigh Valley. He taught by example that Leadership is who we are, not what we do. He is leader in his spiritual, professional and personal life and a great role-model.

  • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

    Wow. I can only hope that some day someone writes something similar about me. A "living model of leadership" is something great to strive for every day.

    Not to sound cliche but the person who has had the biggest impact on me is my mom. Why? She taught me (and continues to teach me) how to treat people, how to respect them and to never let myself think I was more important than anyone else. I think that open sense of self awareness towards making others important and pursuing humility is a leadership essential that has helped me most. Sure there are many of mentors and leaders who have poured into me with great insight and specifics but overall, the most impact has to be what shaped my core.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/success2you John Richardson

    Back in 2004, at a Toastmasters District Conference, I heard a speaker named Sarano Kelley. He spoke for 90 minutes with the fire of a T.D. Jakes, and asked one important question that has stuck with me till this day… What Time Is It?

    He had written a book about changing your life in 90 days and he kept asking this one question… over and over. His point was that we can only make a difference in our lives…now. We can't do it yesterday and we can't do it tomorrow.

    As he walked through the audience he pointed at me and asked in his loud booming voice… "John… what time is it?" as he looked me straight in the eye.
    I though about it for a moment and then blurted out… "It's time to get started."
    That simple question on that day changed my life forever.
    Over the next 90 days, I lost 25 pounds, took on the roll of area governor for Toastmasters, and took on a board position at church.
    It was crazy, but that one question took me from inaction to action.
    It helped me take the first step.
    It made the difference.
    It also made me realize that as speakers we need to leave our audiences with something concrete that they can take away.
    Something that sticks.
    That day Sarano Kelley duct taped a stop watch on my mind forever.

    • http://www.karenrabbitt.com Karen Rabbitt

      Once again, rather than leaders having brilliant answers, it's about asking powerful questions.
      What a helpful one: What time is it?

      And your comment about leaving our audiences with something that sticks. Just one thing is enough, isn't it?

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/success2you John Richardson

        I used to think that quantity was key… the more information the better. Now I know that making one or two points and making them stick is much better. If someone can't remember what I said yesterday, what use was my speech? The Heath Brothers book, Made to Stick, has really helped me craft a better presentation. One that hopefully will make it past the big erasers at the door. BTW Karen, you have a powerful message of forgiveness that a lot of people need to hear!

  • http://www.zachterry.org Zach Terry

    I have found that people who give me the most access make the biggest impression. For that reason, my first Pastor, Jeff Noblit – Grace Life of the Shoals had a great impact on my leadership and Tim Anderson of Clements Baptist had a great impact. John Maxwell said, “We impress people at a distance, we impact them up close”. I have found that to be true. I think we you see the leader behind the scenes you pick up on little things, how they treat people, what the value, how they respond, etc.

  • http://www.yuzzi.com Rick Yuzzi

    I can't put my finger on any one person. I've been influenced by my parents, teachers, several good bosses, and one really bad one that was the personification of how not to lead. Of course, I have to mention Jesus. If you truly care for others, and treat them the way you would like to be treated, it goes a long way. I can see from his bio that likely would be a big part of Robert Wolgemuth's leadership philosophy.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lindsey_Nobles Lindsey_Nobles

    At the risk of sounding like a total suck up, you have had the biggest impact on me as a leader. And for that I am so appreciative. You have encouraged me to learn new things, given me confidence and space to grow, and modeled grace and tenacity. I am privileged to work for such a strong leader.
    Thank you…

    A few friends and colleagues who have a huge impact on me as a leader – Jenni Catron, Kristie McCullough, Jeff Skipper.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Okay, now I am blushing!

  • Debbie W

    It's obvious these are life commitments for Robert as just last year I observed, and was impressed by, those very chracteristics when I worked with him on his recent book project "She Still Calls Me Daddy." It's a gude for fathers of married daughters that helps dads find new ways to relate to, and connect with, their grown-up little girl and the new man in her life, and a follow-up to his best-selling "She Calls Me Daddy." So I'd guess one of those "ten more things" would easily and quickly be noted as Robert's commitment to family. All these years later it's cool to see these commitments are still there–still strong and active–likely because of the one noted and stated first.

  • http://www.MichaelNozbe.com/ Michael Sliwinski

    Integrity, Responsiveness and Gratitude. By these rules I try to lead my life as a boss of my small web company. Thanks for the great post, Mike!

  • Linda

    John Maxwell has had the biggest impact on me as I 'read to be a leader'. I've not heard him speak but I've read most of his books.

  • http://www.bigb94.webs.com Brandon

    Besides the best leader- Jesus! I wouls say that my parents and myy youth pastor have been the biggest role models for helping me grow as a leader. Great post!

  • Mason Stanley

    As I was going through the list of people I had worked with or for I could not think of one who has not tried to pull an underhanded move or throw a self pitying temper-tantrum, save one, my grandfather. Grandpa, as I call him, only has a 3rd grade education yet is one of the most mechanically inclined people I know; it is simply amazing to watch him work on something. He also has the gift of being all things to all people. Whether it is a buisnessman or a country bumkin, both feel at ease and valued in his presence. He does what is right at his own expense. He is human and gets irritated i'm sure, though I've never heard him say an off word, even after hitting his thumb with a hammer. He can work on his own with diligence or lead a team of men in a "building project" with grace and precision. If there is a greater man than he, I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting him.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/danielgsnyder danielgsnyder

    I wonder if it is possible to pin down to just a single person? Perhaps a culmination of the influences of so many? If there is a single character quality that has impacted me the most significantly it is the humility of leaders I've looked up to. Many that were the most influential in my life, were those that accepted me unconditionally and simply believed in me.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      It is definitely difficult to narrow it down to one person. However, I found it to be a very helpful exercise. Thanks.

  • Raye Cage

    There are 4 people who have had the biggest impact on me as a leader…
    1. My mom – awesome lady who at age 57, when to college and received her B.A. degree, then at age 62 a Master's in Theology, and is currently a pastor. Go mom!
    2. Myles Munroe – His kingdom of God series of books are powerful and thought provoking – challenging me see my christian walk from a different perspective.
    3 & 4 – Rabbi Daniel Lapin and Rabbi Ralph Messer
    I respectfully call them "my rabbi's" even though I don't know either one personally, their books and other materials are full of wisdom from a Jewish/Hebraic perspective that simply blows my gentile mind (in a good way :))!
    I too am grateful for the living models of leadership these men (and woman) have shown me.

  • http://www.work-in-progress-online.com WIP Bible Community

    Unfortunately, I wasn't surrounded with great positive thinking people who could influence me. I remember a church gathering last year when the pastor said think about someone who believed in you when you didn't believed in yourself and pray for that person.

    I broke down in pieces and I wanted to leave the church as fast as I could. I couldn't name one person. I never had someone tell me in my entire childhood that you are good, you can do it.

    But God. He believed in me, and even if the circumstances weren't great i learned from my negative experience. I remember one time God told me: write down everything you don't like how people treat you and do your best no to be like them. It was a challenge. You can either become a great leader because you had someone who thought you well, or you can become a great leader whom you never had. Be the leader in others life. Even if nobody impacted you, God can help you to have an everlasting impact in someone else's life. Choose to do right.

    Sometimes God aloud us to go through tough times so we can relate and help those around us who go through the same circumstances.

    I love your article and I do my best to be someone who can impact others in a positive way.

  • kcroy

    This is an easy one. I'm 40 years old, and to this day the biggest impact in leadership in my life was The Boy Scouts of America. I became an Eagle Scout. I wish more young men were interested in Scouting today. Some simple leadership principles to build leadership include surrounding yourself with other model leaders, working to become your best, service to others, being mentored in leadership roles, being thrust into leadership positions, living by a code of conduct, and more. I could go on and on. If it has to be a person then Baden Powell. Thanks for listening.

  • http://brianbruijn.com Brian

    For me it is hands down Dave Ramsey. The way he invests in his people is nothing short of incredible!. Working at the Lampo Group Inc. was four of the best years of my life.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/phmerrill phmerrill


  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhsmith michaelhsmith


    First thanks for mentioning me in this blog post.

    Your answer to this question was consistent with many who I interviewed…not specifically about the person but about the characteristics that drove the leader. Another similarity with your experience and others was the fact that the leader took an interest in you as an individual and invested in you and your future.

  • Carl

    Many leaders have influeced me greatly. One of these is John Eldredge, who has led at least 3 workshops in my Portland area and I was able to attend all three of these. and meet him personally. Another is Paul Tournier, a doctor that lived in Europe and wrote many books. A final third would be Howad Rees, a quiet leader in the Washington D.C. area who in the sixties who mentored me for a college squirt ready to save the world into a sensitive person that spends more time listening and asking questions than trying to manimpulate and control. In all cases the influence was more in what they did rather than what they said or wrote.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/perisandifer perisandifer

    Those who impacted my leadership the most have been people who were not afraid to let me know when I was out of line. They gently redirected my attitude or actions and allowed me to see not every criticism one receives is negative.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

    As a leader? Probably you.

    I really haven't met or seen many leaders I respect.

    A guy called Jon Goodchild, who was my boss at one time taught me everything anyone ever needs to know about giving GREAT customer service though. He didn't teach me too much about leadership though!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Wow. Thanks, Peter.

    • http://twitter.com/BobEwoldt Robert Ewoldt

      I agree, Peter. Michael Hyatt has really been the leader that I’ve observed the most. However, the senior pastor at my church (http://www.gracechurchofdupage.org) has been a tremendous impact on me. He has tremendous humility, which is a HUGE mark of a great leader.

  • AndyMaddocks

    My leadership style has been influenced the most by Christ, then by: 1) my father, 2) Prof David Dockery (SBTS), 3)Prof David C McClelland (H); 4)Prof Matina Horner (H); 5) Col. Yates Bigham, Ret. (SBTS), 6) Prof. John Budz (F), 7) Prof. Gerry B.(MGH/H/HMS); 8) Dr. Chet Pierce (HMS/MGH/HE); 9) Prof. Dean Edmonds (BU), 10) Prof John Mack (H/HMS), and 11) Mason Wilson, M.Div. Whether they know exactly how much, or not, does not matter; each contributed something elemental due to their style, openness, expertise and deep authenticity as well as their location within the time-line of my life.

  • George

    A great influence in my career brings up the name Buddy Rohr. He hired me to sell pneumatic tools as a sales trainee. He was going to be out of the service center the first week I hired on so he told me "For the first week get to know everyone. Know what they do for a job. Get to know their personalities and most of all get to know what they like. You'll need there help as a salesman so you'd better start this off right." He put relationships first in business. He knew that to be successful was all dependent on building relationships with customers, peers and with those who depend on you to be successful as a salesman. Thank Buddy.

  • Brooke

    Simple. My Dad. He had a wonderful gift of administration and I learned some great leadership skills from him.

  • http://www.lbrm.org Jim Lewis

    Dr Scott Rodin and Peter Drucker

    • AndyMaddocks

      Peter Drucker looms in the background, as an influencer of almost every business leader, whether we are conscious of his influence or not. His thinking on the corporation which continued to evolve until he met the Lord has been so pervasive that I propose that his perspective has become a part of what I think of as the "leadership ecosystem" at large; and, he has left a solid legacy with the Drucker Foundation. I once had the pleasure of corresponding with him electronically; but not by email. He preferred short notes faxed to him of a letter-sized page. He'd write his response and fax it back.

      I always remebered his fax-mail method as a more "humanized" form of electronic communication because it really did "have his signature on it"; rather than an electronic signature block. Just an interesting detail for the archives of history.

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  • Kavita

    Vineet Nayar in his book ‘Employees First, Customers Second’ talks of a concept called ‘Trust through Transparency’. Here, he says that trust should be the basis for all communication in any organization. Once there is an atmosphere of honesty, communication becomes a lot easier, and relationships between the employees, and with their superiors also becomes easier. Well, when I read about these principles, I was wondering which company, apart from HCL, actually applies them. But after reading your post, I think your boss actually incorporated the concepts. And it really seems to have worked! You just listed him as the person who has had the most tremendous impact on you as a leader! Really glad that you could come across a person like this!

    • Robert Wolgemuth

      Thank you for your kind words. Three things to chalk this up to: 1) The most amazing colleague you could even imagine in Mike Hyatt, 2) God's grace, 3) Dumb luck. Blessings to you.

  • Stephanie

    My former supervisor, Jerry, had a profound impact on me. While serving in full-time ministry I had committed a moral indescretion and when I went with a friend to confess it to him, his first response was not judgment but to ask if he could give me a hug. That was perhaps one of the most powerful moments of my life. He walked with me through the necessary steps that I had to take in order to stay in ministry, exhibiting both grace and truth to me at the most appropriate times.

    Years after that I was promoted to the director of a department and Jerry taught me how to lead with compassion and strength. With the position came the challenge of leading a few difficult people. Jerry always viewed those personnel challenges as opportunities to help others grow, and he instilled that same perspective in me. I am forever grateful for the years I spent under his leadership.

  • Alvin

    I think: "The best leader is someone who can lead what are they talk everyday… Can take control of their own mouth."

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  • http://mikeskiff.com Mike Skiff

    While I have a few individuals that have significantly influenced me as a leader, one in particular stands out today. His name is Paul Bartz, and he was my first boss as a brand new Second Lieutenant in the Army at my first assignment. He was a Major at the time and as the Battalion Executive Officer, he managed the Battalion staff. However, he also took it upon himself to take under his wing and teach, coach, and mentor the brand new Second Lieutenants in the Battalion, myself included. He was extremely demanding and had very high standards that I often fell short of – but *and here's the key* he always provided the resources to accomplish a mission, and the "top-cover" when I made honest mistakes. When I failed (which was far more often than not – and certainly not necessarily a bad thing as I'm learning in my reading of Seth Godin's "Linchpin") he took the time to use it as a teaching point and provided critical professional development during my formative years as a young, brand new officer in the Army. It would have been much easier to write me off as a "stupid second lieutenant" and not waste his time on me when I made my (frequent) beginner's mistakes. However, as a true leader who cares does, he invested time, energy, and resources into making me (and my peers) into better officers and leaders. As I've matured in my profession and experienced much success, I attribute much of my successes to those critical lessons I learned from him during my crucial, formative years as a young second lieutenant.
    Last week, Paul Bartz was killed in Afghanistan when an enemy suicide (homicide) bomber detonated his vehicle in their convoy. Not only did he serve his Soldiers, Unit, and our Nation with distinction and honor, but he "paid it forward" to myself and my peers by investing his time and energy into developing us as leaders. I'll never forget him, and hope to one day be half the leader he was – and still is for that matter, in my heart. R.I.P. sir!

  • http://SourcesOfInsight.com J.D. Meier

    I would say Per Vonge Nielson — he set a high bar and taught me to lead from the inside out in a tough environment called Microsoft.

    I would then say Maxwell is an on-going source of insight and inspiration.

  • http://www.pinestretbaptist.com Israel Tapia

    Dr Rick Warren challenge me to examine myself and identify and to make an inventory to find out what I need to surrender so I can obey what God is asking and venture into deep waters for a miracle.

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  • http://2020visiononline.org Josh Hood

    My father. He modeled Biblical manhood and integrity for me, and taught me thousands of priceless life lessons.