An Interview with Steven Wiley, Special Guest Speaker for RealWorld Monday Morning Keynote

According to his official bio, Steven Wiley is one of the nation’s most sought-after performance coaches, or “the best speaker you’ve never heard of,” according to ABC News.

Mr. Wiley will be the Monday keynote presenter for 2012 RealWorld User Conference, so we thought we’d get to know him a little more. We sat down with Mr. Wiley to find out what conference attendees can expect from his presentation.

RealWorld (RW): Let’s start off by talking a little bit about what the Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg is all about.

Steven Wiley (SW): Briefly, we help to develop leaders in organizations by using the Battle of Gettysburg as a metaphor for modern-day challenges in rapidly changing, stressful times.

RW: The Battle of Gettysburg as a leadership allegory? That was the worst battle on American soil. What can I possibly learn from that?

SW: Great question. We sincerely believe that when the Civil War broke out in this country, no one was prepared for it; nobody had seen anything like it before. It was the Katrina of its day. Nobody was prepared for such challenging, rapidly changing times. It’s very similar to the challenges we have going on right now in our world, with the economy, and in the rental housing industry. Rapid change requires leadership and the coordination between people and leadership.

RW: What can RealWorld attendees expect from your presentation?

SW: To be entertained for one thing. But more importantly, they will take away some fundamental nuggets and tips about leadership that can be immediately applied; whether it’s at their workplaces, with their families, in their communities, or at their places of worship.

RW: Can you give an example of one?

SW: Sure! We will explain the difference between transactional and transformational leadership and how to leverage each.

RW: What’s the difference?

SW: Transactional: We use our authority. Transformational: We use our personality.

“Michael, I’m the boss, get it done!” That’s a somewhat harsh example of transactional leadership, but you get the idea. Transformational is, “Michael, you and I have developed such a relationship, I would take a bullet for you, you would take a bullet for me.” And I’ve done that by building a trusting relationship and a bond, versus, “I’m the boss, you’re not! Get it done!” And when you do transactional things, you may get compliance, but you rarely get commitment.

RW: But transaction leadership isn’t a negative element of change, right? A company needs strong leadership from both kinds to lead a company through a process of change.

SW: That’s correct! People need to know that they can lead by knowing the differences between transactional and transformational. One leadership quality isn’t better than other. We absolutely need to do both. Transactional managers do all of the management 101 things: they plan, they organize, they control. Transformational leaders are visionaries: they do visioning and values and communication. And you certainly need both to get people engaged.

RW: What do you mean by engaged employees?

SW: There are some really startling things out there, Michael. At the Lincoln Leadership Institute, we participated in a couple of studies. One was in the private sector while the other was in the federal sector. The surveys found that 70 percent of North American employees and up to 91 percent of those who work at some federal agencies said that they’re either not engaged, or are actively disengaged at work.

When employees are disengaged, absenteeism increases by 51% and turnover increases by 55%, and it costs companies a trillion dollars a year in lost productivity.

But the most important thing in those studies, the number one reason all those employees said they were disengaged was, “the quality of my leadership.” They’re not appreciated, they’re not recognized, and they’re not valued.

RW: There is a big difference between those who are engaged, and those who simply put their head down and do the work because it’s what they’re told to do. And having disengaged employees can make the process of change much more difficult.

SW: It’s not impossible, but it does make change much more difficult.

RW: So when somebody walks out of your keynote speech, how would you want them to feel?

SW: I don’t expect to teach people leadership during this speech. Honestly, I don’t even think it can be taught. But I do believe it can be learned. So the strategic purpose of my presentation is simply to get attendees to think about how they might come across as leaders, as followers, and teammates. It’s something we don’t get to do because we spend most of our days go-go-go, do-do-do, and act-act-act. At RealWorld, they’ll have an opportunity to sit in an audience, and hopefully be motivated to just think about their leadership.

RW: I understand that there will be a special offer for RealWorld attendees to attend the Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg?

SW: That’s correct. We’re putting together a fantastic offer that will give your customers the opportunity to come to the Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg and participate in the exact same leadership session as the majority of the Fortune 100 companies, dozens of federal agencies, and 75 presidential appointees have had. I won’t be able to share that offer until RealWorld, however.

RW: One final question: what was it about Gettysburg that captured your imagination to the point that you were willing to build leadership curriculum around it?

SW: I graduated from Gettysburg College and then I started an entrepreneurial venture with $600, and ended up with 130 offices in three countries, doing exterior restoration of historic buildings. And in 1989, I lost it all. But I turned it around in 1990 by realizing that all the problems I had were a cakewalk compared to what had happened in Gettysburg in 1863, the same town where I started my company.

So I started to surround myself with people who had analyzed what had happened in Gettysburg and we created this experience for people who are going through rapidly changing times. The lessons we teach helped me turn my company around, and those same lessons have helped Fortune 100 companies, presidential appointees, and dozens of federal agencies since that time.

RW: Thank you for the time, Steven. We’re looking forward to your presentation.

SW: Thank you for having me and I’m looking forward to speaking at RealWorld.


About The Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg

Civil War history is a metaphor, and the battlefield a classroom, as Steven B. Wiley and his faculty of generals, ambassadors and historians help leaders at all levels of organizations understand how the lessons fought and won during the Battle of Gettysburg can translate into actionable lessons they can apply in their own companies. The capstone experience is the three-day Transformational Journey from Gettysburg, an intimate, small group experience that explores specific Civil War case studies and provides participants with a unique team-building opportunity. For details, visit

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1 Awesome Comments So Far

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  1. Lori Reeves
    June 28, 2012 at 12:50 am #

    How exciting! Really looking forward to the user conference this year and an exceptional keynote speaker!

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