Believe It Or Not: 7 Leadership Lessons From Robert Ripley

Robert L. Ripley was an extremely interesting man. Through many challenges in his life, Ripley created the Believe It Or Not! brand that’s become world famous.

Not only that, Ripley was one of the first to globe trot around the world. In the end Ripley traveled to 201 countries in 31 years.

He was a true oddity.

Neal Thompson recently wrote a Robert Ripley biography. This biography was called A Curious Man: The Strange & Brilliant Life Of Robert “Believe It Or Not!” Ripley. Coming in at 373 pages, A Curious Man was a fascinating read that opened up the life of Robert Ripley like nothing I’d read before.

Ripley’s life wasn’t pleasant. He didn’t always do things by the books. And he definitely made many mistakes. Yet his life can teach us valuable leadership lessons.

1. Look for people’s strengths: Ripley had a teacher in school who knew how to look past people’s weaknesses and to find their strengths. Frances Louise “Fanny” O’Meara knew Ripley had trouble with public speaking. He suffered from stuttering when talking in front of class.

Being a wise person, O’Meara looked for Ripley’s strengths. She saw that Ripley loved to draw because she seen the signs of it all over the sketched up notebooks he carried around.

Knowing this was one of Ripley’s strengths, she would allow Ripley to turn in his assignments as a sketch rather than a public speech.

Wow! Isn’t this amazing? A teacher, a leader, took the time to realize the strengths and weaknesses of someone they taught/led. And then she used that knowledge to help him succeed.

Are you looking for people’s strengths and encouraging them to use them? Could you help someone achieve greatness by helping them play to their strengths. This is something we really need to consider as leaders.

2. Find role models: Ripley’s father passed away at a young age. He didn’t have a father for much of his life so Ripley did the next best thing. Ripley began to look for role models who could show him what it meant to be a man and how to conduct himself.

Ripley surrounded himself with men he believed would help him move to the next level of business and life. And he succeeded.

Who are you surrounding yourself with? Are they helping you achieve and be more or are they holding you back? Consider looking for role models today.

3. Learn how to think: The career Ripley entered was that of cartoonist. He’d draw cartoons for the local and national papers. But he knew his greatest asset wasn’t his ability to draw.

Rather, Ripley realized his greatest asset was the ability to think.

The ability to think is perhaps a greater asset to the cartoonist than the ability to draw.

Leadership requires many skills. The foremost being the ability to think and lay out where you’re leading. Don’t neglect your ability to think, thinking is your greatest asset.

4. Know that life changes: World war broke out during Ripley’s lifetime and this limited his ability to travel. Travel was the method Ripley used to gain new knowledge and facts about the strange people and places in the world.

Even though the world changed, Ripley knew this and learned to adapt to the changes that came his way. While he couldn’t travel he still found ways to find interesting people.

Life will change. Your leadership position will change. But you can still thrive in the world.

Be prepared for when changes come. Doing so will put you at ease when you face change.

5. Stand firm on what you are willing to sacrifice: Ripley was a fitness fanatic during his youth. From playing handball at the local clubs to other physical activities, Ripley was a fit young man.

However, Ripley began to sacrifice his fitness for the allure of fame.

At the age of 50, Ripley was beefy and out of shape. He no longer resembled who he once was. He’d given it all up for something else.

Are you sacrificing things you shouldn’t be to chase after fame or recognition? Analyze your life and see what you’re chasing after and what you’re giving up to do so.

6. Share your life with someone special: Not too long after people began to recognize Ripley was out of shape, he was dead. At the age of fifty-nine, Robert Ripley passed away.

Ripley had many flings in his lifetime. Always chasing after another girl, so it seemed. One of those girls was Oakie and she held a special place in his heart. Yet he never fully shared his life with her and she passed away before he did.

In an interview with True Confessions magazine, Ripley confessed something profound. He confessed that he lacked the one thing that really matters to a man.

A meaningful relationship.

I’ve discovered that fame and good fortune don’t mean a thing unless you can share them with the right woman.

Our relationships are meaningful. We weren’t made to be alone and we weren’t meant to chase after every woman (or man) that we see.

If we can’t share our lives with the right people, our lives won’t feel right.

7. Create a succession plan: After Ripley’s passing, the Believe It Or Not! brand was in trouble. There was no clear plan for the future of the brand. There was also trouble with the people who wanted to carry on Ripley’s legacy.

Fights broke out. Lawyers were brought in. Relationships were strained. And the brand almost folded due to a lack of future planning.

Do you have something in place if you’re no longer in the position of leader within your organization? If not, begin planning your exit strategy and the future course of the organization.

A Curious Man was a curious read about a fascinating man. Ripley wasn’t always a great person or a great leader but he possessed the qualities of a person who could get things done.

You’ll find some excellent stories within the book that will challenge your mindset on leadership and how we view others. Give it a shot, I think you’ll enjoy it.

Question: Has Robert Ripley taught you anything about leadership? Let’s see your thoughts in the comment section below.

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