The author of a business classic says a question he was asked nearly 30 years ago changed his idea of leadership for good

Keith ferrazziFerrazzi GreenlightAn executive coach got right to the heart of his issues. ‘Never Eat Alone’ author and Ferrazzi Greenlight CEO Keith Ferrazzi.

Keith Ferrazzi has a lot of leadership experience under his belt.

The CEO of training and consulting company Ferrazzi Greenlight was previously the CEO of YaYa Media, and the CMO of Starwood Hotels and Resorts and of Deloitte Consulting.

He’s also the author of business classic “Never Eat Alone,” and in it, he writes that a conversation with a career coach years ago shaped his approach to leadership for the rest of his career.

“If you knew me as a younger man, you may not have liked me,” he writes. “I’m not sure I liked myself that much. I made all the classic mistakes of youth and insecurity. I was pretty much out for myself. I wore my unquenchable ambition on my sleeve, befriending those above me and ignoring my peers.”

When Ferrazzi became responsible for marketing at Deloitte in 1990, he started hitting resistance among his team as he tried to execute his ideas and plans. For help, he turned to executive coach Nancy Badore. In their first meeting at his office, he “blurted out” his burning question: “What do I need to do to become a great leader?”

Badore “looked around my office for a few moments and said nothing.” Then, Ferrazzi writes, she answered:

“Keith, look at all the pictures on your wall. You talk about aspiring to become a great leader, and there’s not one picture in your whole office of anybody but you: you with other famous people, you in famous places, you winning awards. There’s not one picture in here of your team or of anything that might indicate what your team has accomplished that would lead anybody like me to know that you care for them as much as you care for yourself. Do you understand that it’s your team’s accomplishments, and what they do because of you, not for you, that will generate your mark as a leader?”

Ferrazzi was “floored,” he writes. “She was absolutely right.”

Do you understand that it’s your team’s accomplishments, and what they do because of you, not for you, that will generate your mark as a leader?”

“I realised then my long-term success depended on everyone around me,” he writes. “That I worked for them as much as they worked for me!”

Ferrazzi isn’t shy about sharing his own missteps in the business world. Elsewhere in the book, he writes about a networking mistake he made as a Yale undergrad, when he spread the word a prominent alum had agreed to cofound a foundation with him — without confirmation from the donor himself. It was another lesson in valuing your connections at any level, not just those more powerful than you.

He writes: “Never let the prospect of a more powerful or famous acquaintance make you lose sight of the fact that the most valuable connections you have are those you’ve already made at all levels.”

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.