Making Your Leadership Come Alive
CHAPTER 1 DEATH OF A LEADER
Death is not a popular subject, especially when discussed within the context of leadership.
The first death to transform my life took place in my early twenties, when I was a pioneering entrepreneur in the Wild West–like city of Moscow, Russia. Car bombs and Russian Mafia hits terrorized the streets. The daily newspaper headlines made you numb to gunfights and ritual bombings.
As a young American in this setting, I felt like a cross between James Bond and John Wayne. In my mind, I was both invincible and brave. But while the business opportunity was intoxicating and the landscape thrilling, I must admit that I was a bit nervous.
My business partners and I arrived on the cold tarmac of Sheremetyevo International Airport outside of Moscow with a grand vision and eager attitudes. We were there to start a marketing consulting business and participate in the founding of an economic school. There were hundreds of leaders like us, taking risks as we hoped to establish “new” ways of doing business in a
land that was very old and corrupt. Over time, we realized that there were hundreds before us who had tried to establish footholds for capitalism well before the walls of Communism had crumbled.
Paul Tatum was one of those leaders. When I moved to Moscow in 1993, two years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, he had already built the premier commercial center for international business in the city. He was a mover and a shaker with a flashy and cocky manner. The Russians didn’t know what to do with Paul. For many of the local businessmen, he was one of the first American capitalists they’d ever met.
Paul had a lot going for him: steel nerves, a string of successes, and an unmatched network of powerful political and business leaders. He had one major problem: few trusted him.
Paul had a lot going for him: steel nerves, a string of successes, and an unmatched network of powerful political and business leaders. He had one major problem: few trusted him, including many of his one hundred–plus employees. His business partners were drawn to him for his connections and financial prowess, but it seemed to me that he had few real friends because of his eccentric style.
Our company did contract work with Paul’s company for a couple of years on various projects, and it was clear that self-preservation was a priority in every aspect of his life. While he didn’t have many true friends, he did have some serious enemies.
Eventually Paul had to add a fourth layer to his three-piece suits: a bulletproof vest. The two bodyguards who accompanied him everywhere were another clue that the man had some “people issues.” Few wanted to do business with him anymore, not even his former Russian partners.
I came to see that Paul had no true influence. When I’d met him, he had wealth that had bought him power in the gangsterlike city of Moscow after the Iron Curtain fell. Paul used his cash and his brash manner to manipulate and coerce his way into a power position in Moscow, but his success was short lived.
I fell in line with others who were at first intrigued and charmed by him, but then were appalled by his bold self-centeredness. I remained a friend to him longer than most, however. I was twenty-one years old when I met him. I thought Paul was drawn to the fact that my partners and I had the guts to start a business in such a challenging environment. Maybe he felt he could trust me because I was trustworthy, but if I was ever tempted to trust him, the feeling usually passed very quickly.
Paul and I met regularly for breakfast in the restaurant of a safe hotel. His bodyguards stood by the door. I listened without complaint to his self-centered banter, and I encouraged him in his business dealings. Once he felt confident in my friendship, he began to tone down the bravado and talk about his family background and his struggles in business. Paul, who’d always considered himself a maverick, was at war with his former Russian partners, and their battles were heating up. Their fight was about to turn public, and the terrible aftermath would receive international media attention.
One day, I walked down a hall from our temporary office to
come upon a bloody scene: one of his bodyguards had been stabbed. By now, Paul was under twenty-four-hour protection and working odd hours because he feared being ambushed.
I did my best to remain a friend and a positive influence on him during this period. I drew him out with questions, and we’d talk for an hour or so. Paul had isolated himself to the point that he was either working or at home. He was a virtual prisoner of his security guards, but even their vigilant efforts were not enough.
Paul was murdered on November 3, 1996, in a busy Moscow metro station near his office. His death was reported worldwide as a symbol of Russia’s struggles with both its new freedoms and its lawlessness. He was believed to be the first American killed by Russian mobsters.
Paul was shot eleven times in the head and neck. He died unmarried and without many close companions. He was buried in Russia, a country he’d come to love. It was a sad story, but all too familiar in many ways.
Sadly, Paul’s fierce devotion to self-preservation and winning the game left him walled off from anyone who could have helped him.
Paul had Domination tendencies—someone who could manipulate others and give no thought to any agenda but his own—fighting against an army of the same types of leaders. His murder would have been avoidable had he understood how to use his influence properly. Sadly, his fierce devotion to self-preservation and
winning the game left him walled off from anyone who could have helped him.
I had the privilege of seeing some of the goodness in him. He unburdened himself to me and my partners, and doing so seemed to lighten his soul. At one point, he told us that ours was the only stable relationship in his life. The truth is that I really liked him, though I was not sure I trusted him. On my last meeting with Paul, he thanked me for being a good listener and asked me to pray for him. He then told me and another partner to stay clear of him from that point onward. As he said it, he motioned to the bulletproof vest under his business suit.
After his violent death, I wished that I’d found a way to help Paul overcome his self-destructive ways. He had so much potential. He could have been a leader of great and positive influence. His death is one of the primary factors that led me to a career of working with leaders to free them of their fears and to help them reach their highest levels of positive influence. I don’t think I failed Paul. If anything, I provided him a lifeline as his life was spiraling out of control. Unfortunately, he did not grasp it, nor did he understand that there were other ways—much better ways—to be a leader in business and in life.
In hindsight, I was very underprepared to serve, or save, someone of his complex nature, but I had been willing to serve as a light to someone in a very dark situation. When you are young, you meet role models for good, and role models for bad. You aspire to be like the good ones and you vow never to be like the bad ones. I learned from Paul Tatum the kind of leadership that I never wanted to practice. I saw how he died violently and alone. That was not the ending I envisioned for my life.
I had seen selfish, erratic behavior from other high-profile leaders during my international business foray. Manipulation and power maneuvers were their everyday approach. Rarely in my Russia experience did I see the type of leadership that I wanted to emulate. I watched too many leaders say one thing and then do another, and I lost respect for not just them but also for the position “leader” itself.
After decades of greed by corporate tycoons, financial moguls, and political egos, this generation is searching for authentic, selfless leadership that holds a mission higher than and outside of themselves.
This is a paramount issue for the next generation of leaders. After decades of greed by corporate tycoons, financial moguls, and political egos, this generation is searching for authentic, selfless leadership that holds a mission higher than and outside of themselves.
Paul’s death was surreal. I could not process the abrupt loss of someone I’d been close to or the potential that was squandered. I reflected for many months on where this dynamic and brilliant man had gone wrong.
I have spent years analyzing leadership and influence within the role of leader. I have met and spent hours upon hours with many famous leaders—some good, some bad. In each and every meeting, I have sought to understand who they were and review their motives under the lens of desired impact and use of leadership. It is
vitally important to me that leadership is no longer squandered or abused. This dedicated effort has taken almost a decade.
Before I knew it, I would suddenly be forced to reflect on my own leadership through a dramatic event. Almost ten years after Paul’s tragedy, everything would change.