You are originally an American citizen. Why did you leave USA and moved to Prague?
I retired 12 years ago. At that time, my wife, Priscilla, and I were living in San Diego, California. She was raised in Europe, though, and never really enjoyed living in the U.S., so she suggested that we try living in Europe—anywhere in Europe—because of the sense of history and ease of travel to all the places we enjoyed visiting so much. So, we first moved to the Champagne Region of France and leased an old farmhouse in the middle of 200 hectares of grapes. It was delightful and a wonderful first experience for me—being an expat in Europe. Then, we did the same thing in Tuscany. There we had a 17th century farm house on top of a hill with 60 hectares of olive trees. That, too, was wonderful. It was while we were in Tuscany, that my wife invited an old family friend, Dana Hunatova, and her husband, Cestmir, to come visit us. Dana asked what we were doing and we told her that we were looking for a place to live on a permanent basis—by now I was sold on the idea of living in Europe. We met Dana many years ago when she was the Czech Ambassador to Egypt, and a close friend of my wife’s mother, Patricia McDonald, who introduced us to Dana in Cairo. Dana suggested we investigate the Czech Republic and, I remember at the time, I had no clear idea where it was even. We had a good laugh about my “American” sense of European geography, but she was persistent over the 10 days they stayed with us. After leaving to return to Prague, Dana had the Foreign Ministry invite me to the OSCE Economic Forum. That was June of 2004, and while I was in meetings for four days, Priscilla was walking around Old Town and fell in love with Prague. “Can we stay here a while?” was the next thing I heard. That was ten years ago—we never left and we absolutely love Prague, the people and the history of the Czech Republic. We have met some of the most wonderful and interesting people we have ever known and feel quite at home here in Prague. We have even moved Priscilla’s mother here and our goal is to eventually get Czech citizenship.
When did you start working for Prague Leadership institute?
Five years ago. I had been writing a weekly column for Hospodarske noviny on leadership and was approached by some senior executives for coaching. Then, that expanded to working with Boards of Directors, speaking at conferences, and writing books. I have just published the last volume of my Common Sense Wisdom trilogy. The final volume is titled The Physics of Life and it has been referred to as an “owner’s manual” for personal development and leadership in the 21st century. Now I have been invited to come to China for a speaking tour on the topic of leadership in the 21st century. I guess you could say that I failed miserably at retiring.
You also took a part in TEDX Prague this summer. What was the main topic you presented?
It wasn’t this summer. It was the first TED conference in Prague, which I think was four years ago. My presentation was titled The Rosetta Stone of Leadership and can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LAruQSI3Ks#t=15
You also serves as Chair of the Board of Trustees of The Lobkowicz Collection. Have you been always interested in art or how did it even happen that you dedicated your time to this organization?
That’s an interesting question. Yes, I have had an interest in art, but primarily a superficial appreciation, as opposed to serious academic study. The real reason I accepted the invitation to serve on this Board was because of who William, his wife Sandra, and their family are as people. They are without a doubt among the most sincere, decent, hardworking, down-to-earth people I have known. They have faced tremdous challenges during the last 25 years in regaining the things that their family has collected for more than 700 years, and they have a deep comittment to preserve this fantastic cultural heritage so it can be enjoyed by generations of visitors and scholars to come. It has been identified as one of the most important art collections in private hands and, in addition, it contains the most important old master painting in the world that remains in private hands. It’s truly a great source of national pride. How could I say no?
How long have you been working for the Prince William Lobkowitz?
For approximately five years.
What is the main aim of your book Common Sense Wisdom?
I have been fascinated by leadership and human potential since I was seven years old. My mother was a senior executive in the United States, and in the 1950s, that was very unusual. She would let me sit in meetings with her if I promised to be quiet and it was in those meetings that I saw the impact she had on others and how she could motivate them to achieve things they didn’t think they could do. Those experiences were very powerful—the more I saw and learned, the more I wanted to know—it became a passion that fueled a lifetime of study and working with leaders around the world. I have been fortunate in many ways. I have had wonderful mentors throughout my life. I have made many mistakes along the way and fortunately learned from most of them, as I continue to do today. And, as a partner in two of the most respected consulting firms in the world, I have had access to many top-level leaders and had long discussions with them about things they learned in their own journies. We also spoke about the things they look for in the people they hire for key positions, or to promote and, sadly, to fire. So, what I have done is to collect the teachings of those experiences over more than 50 years to create an „owners manual“ for personal development and leadership development—the dos and don’ts, if you will. That is what the Common Sense Wisdom trilogy is all about.
You recently published the third book of your Common Sense Wisdom trilogy. What do you think is the main reason why this whole trilogy should be interesting for readers?
It will be of interest to anyone who is interested in being the best them they can be in life—to help them and those who look to them for leadership to grow and develop in a meanigful and authentic way.
How hard it is to recognize a true leader?
I think the key word in your question is true. True means authentic, real, as opposed to fake and artificial. What I mean is we all can act like leaders when there are no significant challenges to face, or no adversity to deal with. But challenge and adversity introduce the “real” us to ourselves and, by the way, to those around us. So, I would look to the challenges one has faced and how they led themselves and others through those challenges as key indicators of true leadership.
Have you ever been disappointed in any of the leaders you have been training?
I guess you could say yes, but very infrequently. The main reason being that they didn’t see their potential—didn’t believe in it, and didn’t want to achieve their potential badly enough to change their behavior.
Do you think that leaders are born this way or it is the life, which teaches us how to become a leader?
I cannot emphasize this enough: Leaders are not born, they are made. They are made by themselves more than anything, or anyone else. Leadership is a choice and we become the choices we make in life. It’s not what happens to us—the ups and downs of life—that define us, it’s how we react to what happens to us that defines us. First, you have to want to be a leader. Then, you seek out things to read, people to talk to, things to do that will take us out of our comfort zone, etc., etc., anything that can help you understand the challenges and fulfillment of being a leader. If you really want to be a leader, it’s your responsibility to finds ways to develop yourself and seek out life experiences and people that will support your development.
Don’t you think that we reached the point where everybody thinks that they can be a great leader?
Whether we want to admit it, or not, we are all leaders; whether we lead just ourselves, just our families, or a company with hundreds of employees. The question is, are we a good leader? More to the point, I believe that anyone who truly wants to be a leader—a good leader—can be one. Leaders don’t all look alike, you know. They are not all charismatic, or tall, or good looking, etc. One of the keys to being a good leader is being authentic, being yourself, and being a good example. As you can tell, I am a big believer in the transformational power of the human spirit when one finds the motivation to do something and releases it. Now, being a great leader many times happens when a good leader meets an unusual challenge and has the courage to accept it.
According to your expertise, which are the main qualities a good lawyer should posses?
Aside from the technical aspects of being a lawyer, which I am not qualified to comment on, I would say self-awareness and intellectual curiosity, and if their practice involves a high degree of interaction with others, I would add empathic reasoning. Self-awareness tells us who we are, what we know and what we don’t know and intellectual curiosity is what fuels our desire to know more. Empathic reasoning is also a powerful tool in things like mediating, negotiating, and getting at the truth.
Is there anything that surprises you every single day?
Yes, that my wife and I can live in one of the most beautiful ancient capitals of Europe — Prague. I never take that for granted and I am thankful for that every day.