Leadership Wisdom

Note to our readers: This blog was written by Bob Vanourek.   Bob is the former CEO of five companies a frequent speaker on ethical leadership, and the co-author of the award-winning book “Triple Crown Leadership”.  Bob’s new book is “Leadership Wisdom:  Lessons from Poetry, Prose and Curious Verse” and  launches in Vail on May 18.  


Leadership Today

Our world needs a different brand of leadership. The wicked-smart man or woman at the top with loyal followers isn’t nearly enough today. The absence of integrity and civility in too many leaders today is atrocious.

Free-market capitalism has done more to benefit the world than virtually any other movement. Nobel-Prize winner, Angus Deaton, says in his book The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality, that more people live longer today, have a better quality of life, and the number of people in extreme poverty has fallen from 84 percent to 24 percent from 1820 to 1992.

Great progress. But somehow capitalism has gotten off track. Greed. Whole industries with rampant dirty behavior. Crony capitalism. Lack of transparency, engagement, and trust. And worse.

Leadership Wisdom emerges

Leadership-wisdomThe reason I wrote Leadership Wisdom: Lessons from Poetry, Prose, and Curious Verse is that we don’t need another leadership model from some academic, nor do we need another brief fable about whose cheese got moved, or one-liner quotes with no practical applications, or another “here’s-how-great-I-am” book from a former CEO.

The poets, writers, and great leaders of history have left us a legacy of laudable leadership insights that we can return to for how to make our world a better and more civilized place. Poetry touches the soul, and we need to get back in touch with the soul, that voice latent deep within us, to lead better.

Leadership Wisdom is a compendium of timeless and inspiring insights on leadership from the sages of literature and outstanding leaders written over the centuries right up to the present day. It has over 70 poems, prose, or speech passages, each with an insightful leadership message. These passages are combined with commentary from my own leadership experience, good and bad, and then each entry is closed with practical applications that you can use immediately. Here’s where you see how to apply Shakespeare’s wisdom, or the insights of contemporary writer Annie Dillard.

A Leadership Journey of 2,500 years

You’ll hear from an array of people: poets, presidents, activists, soldiers, educators, journalists, CEOs, and even unknown authors covering over 2,500 years. You’ll be exposed to biblical passages, several faith traditions, and Native American wisdom, activati­ng your creative right-brain and then challenging your logical left-brain. What a wonderful journey you’ll enjoy on these pages.


I absolutely loved this book!

It inspired me—and gave me countless ways to apply that inspiration.  Bob Vanourek wonderfully offers a new approach by using the wisdom of literature to effectively define the kind of leadership needed today in this insightful book.

Through salient poetry, philosophy, and prose—as well as his own experiences—Bob reveals how leadership is not an exact science, but an evolving and ongoing quest to find humanity at its best.  Thought-provoking and engaging, this book is a superb resource.”

Stephen M. R. Covey, The New York Times bestselling author

From Leading yourself to leaving a Legacy

The book is organized into three general sections (although several of the passages could be placed in any one of the three):

  • Leading yourself first builds on the Vail Centre’s concept  of “Inside First.” We can’t presume to lead others until we have been leading ourselves well first.
  • Leading others, which is the conventional focus of leadership, but now incorporating the relevant wisdom of the masters and the latest cutting-edge concepts I’ve discovered, and finally,
  • Leaving a leadership legacy, a generally overlooked component of leadership. If a leader leaves no sustaining leadership legacy, if everything falls apart in the organization when the leader departs, then the leadership has failed. Great leadership endures beyond the leader through the organizations they build.

Each section has a closing line summarizing the wisdom of the quoted passage and commentary. In an Appendix, these one-liners are summarized into a rich thesaurus of insights. One advance-copy reader said this summary “represents the best roadmap I’ve ever read to discovering the meaning of leadership.” (I choked-up when I read his words.)

“‘Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge.’ So Wordsworth tells us, and so Bob Vanourek reminds us in this splendid book of classic quotations and the practical applications they provide for our lives. I know the quotations, and I’ve used at least 50 in my own life and work. Read. Learn. Be inspired. A wonderful book!”

John C. Bogle, Founder and former CEO, The Vanguard Group

A Legacy and a bold risk

And since leaders take take bold risks, even making themselves vulnerable to criticism or ridicule, I take a chance and close the book with my own stab at poetry capturing the essence of the book. It’s my poem with carefully chosen words that embody my decades of learning about leadership and the 2,500 years of leadership wisdom I have plumbed.

In it, if you look deeply, you’ll see the essence of Robert Frost, Annie Dillard, Martin Luther King, Robert Greenleaf, Lao Tzu, Shakespeare, Rudyard Kipling, the Dali Lama, David Whyte, Emily Dickinson, Christopher Logue, George Bernard Shaw, and more. What a tour-de-force. Here’s my poem :


“To Lead Well”

I’ll start within,
Cultivating quality character,
Acting with integrity,
Listening with my heart,
Composed amid chaos,
A soul flooding forth with love.

I’ll reach out,
Caring and connecting,
Engendering trust,
Building relationships,
Unleashing others who soar.

I’ll step up,
Saying “Yes,”
Choosing wisely,
Embracing change,
Striving for what’s right,
Pursuing our dreams.

I’ll leave a legacy,
A team of partners,
Companions with courage and character,
Leading and following,
Creators of worthy deeds,
Together undaunted.


A better brand of  Leadership

Our world needs a better brand of leadership. I have devoted most of my life to discovering a “better way to lead.” Perhaps it took so long because I’m a slow learner? Or perhaps this subject of leadership is more complex or convoluted than we have assumed over the years? But a new paradigm of leadership is slowly emerging. I see it in the current literature, the classrooms where I teach, and in the eyes and voices of those I meet in workshops around the world. I see it in the wonderful work of those involved with the Vail Centre.

This new paradigm won’t replace the old models overnight. It may take years, decades, or even a generation for it to become the standard model. But that change is coming, and I fervently hope I have played some small role in making it happen.

Share your Leadership Quest

My generation squandered the opportunity to lead better. We got off track into greed and partisanship. Now it’s up to you, the next generation of leaders to do it better. I have complete confidence that you will, indeed, rise to this challenge.  What poem will your leadership write?


Good luck and Godspeed on your leadership quest.


Bob Vanourek Peter Boucher

Learn from a top CEO and attend Bob’s book launch.  To find out more about his book and ethical leadership, email [email protected]  www.bobvanourek.com

Recent Posts

Leave a Comment