6 Keys to True Leadership

I am convinced that many leaders inspire followership through words alone but truly great leaders transform those words in action. One such example of great leadership is demonstrated by a colleague of mine – Karl Mecklenburg. Many of you know Karl as a six-time pro bowl linebacker and a former NFL legend for the Denver Broncos. He also happens to be a well-respected speaker and author.

Karl was picked 310th in the National Football League draft in 1983 but demonstrated immense heart, a dogged work ethic, and unbridled drive which resulted in him being a highly regarded leader in the NFL and one of the most successful Denver Bronco players – as evidenced by his inclusion in the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame next to teammate John Elway.

While sitting in Karl’s Denver home several month ago, offering thoughts about a late stage draft of his recently published book entitled The Heart of a Student Athlete – All Pro Advice for Competitors and their Families, I fully appreciated Karl’s dedication and passion for excellence. The book is targeted for any adult who has impact on the character development of young people – impact both inside and outside the world of sports. It hones in on six keys to success. Those keys also offer important reminders for adults who sometimes find that they are not achieving meaningful objectives. According to Karl, success comes from:

Teamwork – “Leadership is the ultimate expression of teamwork.”
Courage – “Courage to try new things and the courage to be decisive.”
Honesty and Forgiveness – “First in self-evaluation and then with others.”
Dedication – “Hard work, constant learning, and refusing to quit.”
Desire – “A dream, passion, or mission. Extravagant, long term, and general.”
Goal setting – “Reasonable, short term and specific.”

Karl’s book, Heart of a Student Athlete is a great read for young and old alike. It offers rich and engaging “back stories” beginning at age 9 as he started playing football on his neighborhood field at Lynnhurst Park in South Minneapolis – which he describes as “more weeds than grass.” He shares his lessons to include challenges (e.g. playing in three Super Bowl games without a win) and his victories including his professional career and personal relationships.

Based on Karl’s lessons, I offer these challenges to you:

How much of your leadership is linked to your ability to work in and inspire teams?
Where can you demonstrate greater courage to try something new?
Where can you offer greater forgiveness?
In what areas can you commit yourself to new learning?
Where can you expand a dream beyond its current boundaries?
What short-term, reasonable, and specific goals can you set?

After re-reading Karl’s book, I set the goal to support the successful launch of Heart of a Student Athlete. To that end, I’m not only blogging and podcasting about it but I’ll also be giving two signed copies of it away – one to a podcast listener and one to a blog reader. Simply send me an email at:


Tell me if you heard about the book on my blog or my podcast and let me know how you will use the book to help some young person. I’ll choose the two winners from among the submissions.

So what are you waiting for? Send me an email or better yet go buy the book. Use it to infuse leadership and nurture the heart and character of students of all shapes, sizes and ages.

Smoke over black background

Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

Leave a Comment


The Starbucks Experience: Leadership Tips eBook
Elevating Care in Healthcare: Lessons from the UCLA Health System eBook
How to Win Every Customer, Every Time, No Excuses! Article