Know Who You Are: Discovering The Key To Successful Leadership With Tom Kereszti

pennyTake Back Time Podcast

TBT Tom Kereszti | Successful Leadership


Anyone can be a leader, but not everyone can be successful. First, you have to be clear about who you are. Then, you have to take that leap of faith and get closer to the life you have always dreamed of. So what is the key to successful leadership? In today’s episode, our guest, Tom Kereszti, shares his lifetime of international experience on being an effective leader. Tom is an industry influencer, coach, speaker, educator, and mentor. He explains the principles that can lead you to a lifetime of success. How can these affect leadership and widen your influence? Stay tuned and find out!

Listen to the podcast here:

Know Who You Are: Discovering The Key To Successful Leadership With Tom Kereszti

I am super excited to talk about leadership and how leadership can help us to work smarter when we step into that role, whether it’s for ourselves or the leadership of a team. I’m here with Tom Kereszti, he is an industry influencer coach, speaker, educator, mentor and his approach to leadership comes from a lifetime of international experience. We were talking here about how we were both abroad. We’ll hear a little bit about that and how that impacts our leadership by appreciating different cultures in this talk for sure.

He says that his servant leadership principles are time-proven and they’re based on biblical foundations. We’ll hear more about that. He’s down-to-earth and able to strike a balance between the business challenges and common-sense solutions, which sometimes we lose sight of. He is motivational and engaging style is going to leave you with practical and applicable solutions that you can put into practice right away. That’s what people on this show like to hear. Let’s give them some practices they can put into place right away. Tom, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much. I hope I can live up to that grandiose introduction.

We tend to over-exaggerate failure, it's better to fail forward. Click To Tweet

Since we’re talking about leadership, what would you say is the most important element of leadership since so many people define leadership in such a different way?

Knowing Who You Are

In order for you to be an effective leader, people have to buy into you. In order for people to buy into you, they have to know who you are, which means you have to know who you are. I like to start off each show by just sharing my three principles, they guide my life and hopefully, it’s something that some people can also take advantage of.

Knowing Your Passion

Each person should be able to answer three questions for themselves. The first question is, “Who are you?” The second question is, “What are you passionate about?”

Knowing What You’re Good At

The third question is, “What are you good at?” If you don’t know who you are and people don’t know who you are, it’s going to be difficult to lead other people. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, people don’t want to follow you because you don’t have passion about it. If you’re not good at it, then again, people probably are not going to follow you because they don’t think you’re good at what you’re doing.

My three answers for that is, who am I? I’m a servant leader. The second question is, what am I passionate about? I’m passionate about making people, products, companies better and hopefully making the world a little bit better. Then the third is, what am I good at? I’m pretty good at mentoring and leading. The beauty of that equation is no matter what situation you put me in, so let’s take the example that leading a department or a company, or I’m leading a company itself. I can be a leader in a company and I can serve my employees, my customers, or at home, my family.

TBT Tom Kereszti | Successful Leadership

Successful Leadership: In order for you to be an effective leader, people have to buy into you, and in order for people to buy into you, they have to know who you are.


I can mentor my kids as easily as I can mentor my employees and I can add value or I can make my products better. I can make an environment that’s better for my customers. I don’t have to reinvent myself, depending on the situation. I am who I am. Either people buy into that or they don’t. If they do, then we have a great relationship and we walk arm-in-arm down a path to achieve success or they don’t buy into me and I’m just taking a walk by myself.

When you were talking about what are you good at and what are you passionate about, that Venn diagram for me comes up. Do you have a visualization or is that something that you use where you’re on one side and where the two meet in the center? Is that quite a sense of your leadership?

You’re 100% correct. It’s a Venn diagram. It’s actually three circles. Again, who are you? What are you passionate about? What are you good at? Then where that meets, that’s where you should be spending your time. That’s what you should be spending your efforts on, and then you will be successful. There are so many people I hear, they basically punched a clock.

They hate or are not passionate about their job. They just go to work because they need the paycheck because they have to pay their mortgage or whatnot. Some people think they are good at something where they’re actually not that good at it, if you find that C spot where those three circles intersect, you will lead a successful life and a happy life.

Hopefully, everybody’s definition of success includes happiness, but I think a lot of people think of it more as financial, so I just wanted to point that out. When you can be who you are and that’s authentically you, and you’re passionate about a particular area and you’re good at it. I would imagine, I feel like I’m in that spot and I feel like it brings me a lot of joy and all that comes with that as well.

You had to find success the way you wanted to find success. I’ll take my youngest daughter as an example. She’s now in her mid-twenties. My wife actually gave her a hard time because she graduated college, is trying to find herself. I always encouraged her to follow her passion and her passion was photography and climbing the mountains. Before you know it, she’s climbing the six highest peaks in the Western Valley. She did Whitney, Rainier and Adams, and all these big mountains and she took photographs.

Then before you know it, she’s got 15,000 Instagram followers but she’s still not making money. She gets a great offer from, Kodiak which is a pancake company. She’s doing their social media because she just followed her passion. She was very good at climbing the mountains and she was very good at photography. She was a great creative genius and she knew she was found it in herself, so she found who she wanted to be. The income came because the job came. Now she’s doing exactly what she loves to do.

That’s a great story. There are so many different directions we could go in. Coming back, those are your three quintessential areas for people to look at themselves and that’s where they’re going to be the strongest leaders when they’re in that place. Let’s talk about that’s how they lead themselves is finding themselves in that place.

If you go through life and you haven't failed, that means you haven't tried. Click To Tweet

I want to ask this, but I don’t want to ask this because I don’t know where it’s going to take us. You mentioned there’s that person who is just getting a paycheck and maybe in their head, they’re like, “I’m not meant to be a leader. This is as good as I’m going to get.” Whatever stories they’ve told themselves that keeps them going into that same job that they really don’t like every day and staying there. What do you say to that? What do you say to them?

Take a risk, bet on yourself and do something that you love doing because life is too short to waste an opportunity or talents because I’m sure you are good at something. The reason you got good at it it’s because that’s where your talents are and you’re and you like doing it, and you got better at it.

I love playing tennis. It’s one of my hobbies. I’m not good at it enough to make money on it, but I love doing it, it’s just one of my passions. I watch it and I play it. I think it’s that combination of finding what your passion is and what you’re good at. Everybody is good at something, so don’t settle for something that you’re not good at and that you’re not passionate about.

One of the stories I used to use is my uncle. I was born in Budapest, Hungary as a kid and I used to go down to my uncle’s farm all the time. In Eastern Europe, it’s fairly common in the winter months like January, February to slaughter animals because they don’t have good refrigeration. Everybody’s got these small little collective farms, so they raised pigs and they slaughter pigs. Then you’ve got ham and sausage for the rest of the year.

As a kid, I was growing up and I used to go to my uncle’s farm. I never had any respect for my uncle because I thought this guy was a bumbling idiot, he cursed a lot and he mumbled a lot. I never understood what he said. He smoked these unfiltered cigarettes and I just never had a lot of respect for him.

One of my first ex-pat assignments, they sent me over to Hungary to start up a Fortune 100 company’s local subsidiary. The family was like, I was the prodigal son that returned back home, so they threw a party in my honor. They decided to slaughter a pig in my honor. I went out to the farm, and by 7:00 AM, my uncle’s onto the second animal. Literally, in two and a half to three hours, my uncle, with a very sharp knife, had 300 kilos is about a 500-pound animal, totally dissected, packaged, then done, everything that was wasted fit in a little paper bag.

I never had any respect for my uncle up until that point. When I saw him at something that he had was passionate about and was good at, my respect for him grew by a thousandfold because he was doing what he loves to do, and he was doing something he was very good at. To all your audience, if you’re wasting your life on something you hate to do, just look, take a risk, walk away from it, do something that you love and you will be compensated for it.

TBT Tom Kereszti | Successful Leadership

Successful Leadership: If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, people don’t want to follow you because you don’t have passion about it.


That’s another great story is that sometimes we don’t see other people’s genius and where their special skills lie, and that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t mean that it’s not something worthy of following. It’s your own, whatever it is. I’m one of those conservative people and I might be like, “I’m not going to drop everything and go after that,” but why not start on the side? There are plenty of opportunities to do some things on the side and to take that personal leadership to keep moving it forward, pushing the boundaries.

When I think of a leader in that sense, I think of somebody who’s willing to go through that jungle and start having a sharp knife and cutting through the because somehow they know that they’re going to get to that destination. They’re going to help people to follow them and see that vision and follow after them.

People are risk-averse and they settle for stuff because they’re afraid of failing, and that’s natural. If you go through life and you haven’t failed, that means you haven’t tried. Most successful people failed multiple times, including myself. In my book C-Suite and Beyond, I talk about many times where I failed and what I learned from it. I also talk about success stories there.

Most people over-exaggerate failure and that’s why they settle. “If I risk it all and I fail, what’s going to happen? What’s going to happen to my family? Am I going to lose my house?” When you fail, it doesn’t exactly feel good because nobody wants to be a failure but if you make mistakes, you make them quick, you make them cheap and you learn from it, they call it failing forward. Fail, learn from it, fail again, learn from it, and then sooner or later you’ll find yourself being successful. Don’t be afraid of failure. It’s part of life.

Let’s come to the point of influence. You talked about then people will follow you and you’ll be able to influence others. That’s an important point. If somebody is selling or leading the way, whether they’re running a company, they’re in a department. There are so many influences that are so important in our lives in every different area. What are some words of wisdom that you’d give around helping people to build their influence?

I talk a lot about my book because that’s my lifetime of experiences, but in the book, I talk about the four keys of leadership success. Those four keys will help you influence others. The first key is your character. If people buy into your character about who you are, you will have a better chance of influencing somebody else with your ideas. If you’re not sure who you are, if you’re not sure about what your values are, you’re going to have more difficulty influencing others to buy into your ideas.

Very important is your character and your reputation, those are two different words but a lot of people think they are somebody with their character, but then when other people view them, they’re a little bit different. In an ideal world, if your character lines up with your reputation, you’re good to go. If your reputation is something very different than your character, I’m not sure if you really know who you really are because you’re acting differently than you believe you are.

With that designation and distinction between the two, it’s important to step back and see how you’re perceived. In the beginning, you had said, “This is who I am and it doesn’t matter whether you like it or not.” My mind came up is perception is important. I think now I understand what you’re saying is that you do need to have a perception and understand your reputation. You just need to make sure that’s aligned if you want to show up a certain way. Then you can test the waters and check and see, are you being perceived that way?

Most people over-exaggerate failure. Don't be afraid of failure. It's part of life. Click To Tweet

Character is important and the other thing people make a mistake is they say, “I will become a leader when I get the corner office. I will become a leader when I get a position.” We were doing an acquisition a number of years ago, and we had a number of individuals that walked into the room. Everybody took their business cards out and this guy’s a vice president of this, and marketing this guy’s a vice-president of that.

I had a business card too, so I handed my card out and this guy in the room didn’t have a business card. We sat down and started discussing and probably about twenty minutes into it, it’s crystal clear to me that if anything’s going to happen with this acquisition is going to go through Mike. Mike is the decision-maker. He’s the influencer, and he’s the one guy that didn’t hand out a card.

It’s not so much about a title. It’s really about how you conduct yourself and you become a leader. You don’t have to be in a corner office. You could be in the middle office. Maybe just have a cubicle, but it doesn’t mean you cannot be a leader. People will still buy into you because of how you act, what your words are, what your thought patterns are, and you can influence others to follow you.

No matter what position we’re in, we influence others. My kids influenced me, I influenced them. It doesn’t make a difference. There might be situations where your bosses may be making the final decision, but that’s why we call it influence. It’s how you show up. If you’re passionate and behind something and you believe in it and can argue it to somebody who’s running the project, they may be able to say, “Run with it.”

I’ve seen that more often than not. I was actually in a position where I offered a project and a way forward that was going to be the biggest budget that was ever spent by the company. They went with it because of the research that I did, how confident I was that it was going to be the best solution for us and so forth. Even if it’s never been done before, people are listening and you can influence them to move forward in that direction if it makes sense.

Any time two people have a conversation or maybe you’re a salesperson sitting across from the purchasing individual, and you’re trying to sell them a product. There are three questions each person to ask themselves. The first question is, “Do you care for me?” The second question is, “Can you help me?” The third question is, “Can I trust you?”

If you imagine this transaction between a salesperson and a purchasing person, the purchasing person is asking themselves, “Does this guy really care for me? What my business problems are, my other problems are, or the issues that I’m dealing with, or is he just here trying to sell me a product?” After you prove yourself that you’ve listened to enough what the other guy wants, then you can position your product to make sure that the positioning of that addresses what their needs are. There has to be trust between the two individuals.

TBT Tom Kereszti | Successful Leadership

Successful Leadership: Take a risk, bet on yourself and do something that you love doing because life is too short. Life is too short to waste an opportunity, a waste of your talents.


When I first went down to Mexico, The Fortune 100 company I worked for, appointed me to go down to Mexico and start up a Greenfield business for them. We had a local distributor that we went through and the local distributor started introducing us and me to the trade, Gigante, Carrefour and Walmart, and all the big guys who are the retailers in Mexico. It was a number of meetings with each one of those, including wives and others, because the first thing they wanted to do was to answer the question, “Do you care for me? Who is this person?”

The assumption was there, that the product that I’m representing if I’m a solid individual is going to be good but, “Let me find out first who is Tom?” Then you find out what Tom is about, let’s meet Tom’s wife because after all, they live together, she probably is a good reflection of what individual he is as well.

In a personal setting, you see a lot about a person that they might let their guard down and show you who they are. That’s interesting, that way of doing business.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen US executives go down to Mexico and go into a meeting and do their killer presentation and high-five each other coming out, “We killed it, that was great.” Then the locals say, “Thank you very much. That was wonderful and we’ll call you.” It wasn’t about the presentation. It wasn’t about the fluff. It was about, “Who are you?” If you didn’t give them a chance then to get to know who you are, then you’re not going anywhere.

That’s such a valuable point. It’s like the common thread that we keep coming back to. As we’ve been talking, who are you, how do you define yourself, your character, all of those things. I think that what you’re saying is spot on is that many people don’t know who they are or don’t take the time to also develop themselves to be the person that they want to be. They get swayed and even their goals or someone else’s goals and so forth. I think it’s underrated that whole idea of defining who you are.

One of the things that helps you is also encouraging the individual to have a vision for themselves. I wish that when I was 18, 19, 20 or 21, somebody came to me and say, “Tom, what is the vision for yourself and for your life?” That would have been a question that was great, rather than answering that question in my mid-30s. I would have loved to have answered that question in my early-twenties.

The vision for my life is, “Man of God, leader of men.” The beauty of that vision statement and any vision statement, by the way, it has to be simple enough that you understand it. It has to be simple enough that other people understand it and they can buy into it. What does a vision statement do for you? The vision statement helps you make major decisions.

If you don't give people a chance to get to know who you are, then you're not going anywhere. Click To Tweet

As you go through life, you have decisions, you always go through one door or the other, there’s stuff that’s presented to you. I run that against my vision statement all the time. When I was in Eastern Europe, I got a lot of offers to lead tobacco and liquor companies. I ran into that against the vision statement. I said, “It’s probably a very good job opportunity, but I’m going to pass.” It doesn’t fit.

If it fits your vision statement, then go for it. For all the people who are looking for jobs in today’s age, it’s extremely important and very easy to Google a company’s website. As soon as you look at the company’s website, it should be apparent to you what their vision and mission are and what their values are. Sometimes they even list what their culture is like. Look at that and say, “Could I thrive in that environment? Do I buy into that vision? Are those values there resonated with me or those values impose to me?”

If you don’t see a vision and values and their company’s website, that’s a yellow flag for me. For each individual, when they run those visions and values against their own, then if there’s no conflict, please go take the interview. You’ll probably thrive in that environment but it doesn’t feel right, don’t take the job. Don’t even take the interview because I can tell you in six months to a year, either they are going to ask you to leave, or you’re going to leave on your own because you don’t fit in.

Do you have a method for creating a personal vision statement or does it come down to what you just said, something very simple and easy to say and repeat and see and communicate?

It’s got to be easy. It has to be actionable. If you take successful companies, take a company like Nike, “We unleash human potential.” It’s simple enough to understand. It’s simple to buy into that Nike is about unleashing human potential. Puma, which is also a successful company, theirs is, “We are the fastest brand on earth.” There are two very different vision statements, but the spokespeople for Puma or the endorsements of Puma are guys like Usain Bolt and Michael Schumacher. They’re the fastest people on earth. It’s going to define your business strategy. It’s going to define the products you launch.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong vision statement. It’s a vision statement that fits yourself. For me, my vision statement was, “Man of God, leader of men.” I was always in leadership. For some reason, I always ended up in related leadership positions from the age I was 12, 13 to 14 years old. A man of God came in later, it was my early-30s. It’s something that evolved over time but it’s simple enough. Whatever vision statement you come up with, make it simple so it works for you. It’s easy for you to understand. It’s easy for other people to understand so that they can buy into you.

We’re coming to the end of our time together. We could probably talk all day. Are there any final words that you wanted to share that you didn’t get a chance to share while we were talking?

Your show is about taking time back. I’ll go back to my original point is time is all we have. Don’t spend your time, don’t spend your life on something you’re not passionate about. Don’t spend your life on something that you don’t like or you’re not good at. Figure out who you are and where you want to go. What’s your long-term vision and that’s where you should focus, and that’s where you should spend your time because you and I have both at the same time.

TBT Tom Kereszti | Successful Leadership

Successful Leadership: Time is all we have. So don’t spend your time, don’t spend your life on something you’re not passionate about.


I hear a lot of things about courses and time management. You can manage that. You and I have the 24 hours, all you can do is manage your priorities. I don’t care if you’re an individual or if you’re a $1 billion organization. It’s the same thing, you just say, ”How do I spend my money and my time?” Prioritize that and if you make the right priorities, then you’ll be successful.

Thank you so much for being here.

Thanks for having me.

Is there a link or a way that people can reach you?

The easiest thing to do is just go to Amazon, look for C-Suite and Beyond: The 4 Keys To Leadership Success, then you find the book and it’s just a collection of failures and successes. If you want to go to my website,, you can contact me there. If you’ve got a business challenge, free consultation, and we’ll jump on a Zoom. I’ll help you out.

Leadership is in the alignment of character and reputation. Click To Tweet

Thank you so much, Tom.

Thank you for your time.

Thank you all for reading. You might’ve come here thinking, “We’re going to talk about leadership,” and you were expecting the twelve principles of how you operate leadership. Those are execution, but it comes down to Tom’s spot on and what he talks about. The first principle is really understanding who you are and aligning yourself with your passions, with your talents and being the leader of your own life. That’s where you’re going to be best positioned to lead others as well.

When you lead your own life and we’re talking about taking back time, that means you’re going to focus your priorities on the things that matter most to you. That’s also going to attract others that are on the same path. That’s your quickest path to leadership and your personal success. I encourage you that you sit down, if you don’t already have a personal vision statement, and write yours out. I’m going to sit down personally and I’m going to relook it the way that I’ve defined my vision and mission. This is a perfect time to do that so that you can guide your life and really invest your time in the areas that make the most sense for you and your greater vision.


Important Links:


About Tom Kereszti

TBT Tom Kereszti | Successful LeadershipTOM KERESZTI is an industry influencer, coach, speaker, educator, and mentor. His approach to leadership comes from a lifetime of international experience. His servant leadership principles are time proven and based on biblical foundations. He is down to earth and able to strike a balance between business challenges and common-sense solutions. His motivational and engaging style will leave you with practical and applicable solutions that you can put into practice



Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!