There are so many leadership books on the market, what sets Applied Leadership: Nine Elements of Leadership Mastery apart?  

Al:  Leanne and I have crafted something that is truly unique. The book is a long-term journey about leadership from the perspective of an executive with day trips, now and then, into the academic research that supports the practical leadership lessons and competencies learned in the field. Readers learn practical skills and behaviors that they can put into practice immediately. One of the reviewers said the book was like reading a weekend novel with teeth—I like that.

In the book you assert that leaders are made, not born implying that anyone can attain leadership mastery. Why do you believe that?

Al:  Because leadership is largely about behavior and we have a lot of control over that. Once people realize that their behavior is an input to what they can be rather than a consequence of who they are—well, they step into a leadership journey through which they practice, manage, and ultimately master leadership skills.

If everyone can be a leader, then what makes a great leader?

Al:  In all elements of leadership people get better the more they practice. It’s like learning to play a musical instrument—the more one practices the better they get. That means in order to be a great leader one must show up as a leader all of the time, at home, at work, and in the community.  It’s all about consistency and practice.

In the book you describe the J-Curve Model of leadership, what is the J-Curve Model and when did this idea come about?  

Al:  Having taught people and coached them about leadership for many years, I observed that people initially have a hard time accepting the concepts that I espouse. They keep referring back to previously learned behaviors and mental models developed over many years. During this internal battle I think their leadership capability actually decreases. Then they “get it.” Everyone seems to have their own moment when they reject the past and step into the future. The teaching and coaching catches hold and the person’s leadership capability blossoms. That’s the J-Curve in practice. That’s when the nine elements of leadership are internalized and mastery begins.

Which of the nine elements of leadership mastery is most important for aspiring leaders?  

Al:  They are all equally important. There are two, however, that are critical gateways into leadership mastery. First is setting direction for people. Everybody is on a journey, and a leader must be able to articulate a direction upon which people will align their personal journeys. Without this direction an organization is in chaos with people pursuing their personal journeys often at the expense of the organization’s viability. The second critical element involves integrity. No one is going to follow someone they don’t trust. A leader must stand for something and always be that in what they say and do. If gaps emerge between what a person aspires to be and who they actually are—well, they cease to be a leader.

At what point did you adopt leadership as a practice?

Al:  I know the exact moment when I started my leadership journey. I was 29 years old and the CEO of my company brutally humiliated me in front of my peers and the executive team. In the moment, I found the courage to speak to him about a future possibility for the company and I never backed away from my beliefs, even in the face of the humiliating experience. That’s when I started the leadership journey, and I’m still on it today. Courage, integrity, speaking, and a future-orientation were my catalysts.

The book is filled with stories to illustrate the nine elements, are those real life experiences?  

Al:  Yes. Each was either personally experienced by me or by one of my clients.  

Which element do you struggle with most?

Al:  Behaviors is the toughest for me and most people. Specifically, for me it’s self-control. I know that I have the capacity to ignite and deviate from thoughtfulness and be rather reckless with other people emotionally. I must be constantly diligent in keeping “my barking dog in the house.” The key is to be consistent and I work at it each and every moment of each and every day.

On your path to leadership mastery, who had the most influence on your journey?  

Al:  There really have been so many. My dad taught me how to be a nurturer. A belligerent CEO put me to the test and started my leadership journey. A young treasurer believed in my potential and inspired me to challenge myself. Two trainers opened my eyes to the importance of conversation, in one case, and enhancing one’s credibility through their voice and presence, in another. Lastly and serendipitously, I worked directly for several people who either were or became CEOs of major companies. I learned a great deal from observing their good and bad behaviors.

What are you working on now?  

Al:  Truthfully, writing the book has been all-consuming for nearly two years, and now getting the word out to possible markets for the book is taking a lot of my time. I keep thinking about taking a break, but new clients who have heard about the book are knocking on the door.