Lessons on Leadership from Rudy Giuliani

Lessons on leadership from Rudy Giuliani

Last week we attended the 2011 Small Business Survival Summit in Baltimore, where we had the honor to witness former New York City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, share his insights on leadership.

Sometimes you just have to sit back and think, “Wow, this is really cool.”

I had this exact experience at the 2011 Small Business Survival Summit, when I had the distinct honor of speaking about social commerce right after former New York City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, gave a gripping presentation on the importance of business leadership.

To provide some context, this event took place just three days before the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. Despite a crunched schedule and a flooded Baltimore, Giuliani wowed the intimate crowd with his five pillars of leadership.

As you read further, I invite you to reflect on how you can use these thoughts to enhance your online business.

Lesson #1: Have Strong Beliefs

Giuliani reflected on his days as a new mayor, mentioning his controversial “Welfare-to-Work” program and the harsh criticism that accompanied it. Although he was aware of the program’s unpopularity, he strongly believed that establishing a work ethic was key to lifting his citizens out of poverty. Thus, he decided to implement the program anyway.

He also discussed the unshakable foundation of former President Ronald Reagan, who defiantly believed in Capitalism and small government. The point of these historical references was to instill in small business owners that we should all 1) define our beliefs, 2) stick to them and 3) never let them waiver in the face of adversity.

He succinctly stated, “If you’re not leading people, then you’re just following them. You can’t have a plan to remain the same, because the world moves too fast for you to stay where you are.”

Lesson #2: Always Be an Optimist

Simply put, no one wants to follow a pessimist. Even in the darkest hours of 9/11, Giuliani knew that he had to stay positive to keep his staff, his city and even his country optimistic. In small business terms, he offered the following insight:

“To be a leader, you have to be an optimist. You have to think success. People don’t follow pessimism – people follow hope.”

Giuliani continued to talk optimism, shifting the conversation to leveraging positivity to find solutions. To this day, he requires his staff to think of a solution before approaching him with a problem, even if it isn’t the best option.

To summarize, he offered the following insight: “At the end of the day, everyone can repeat the problem, but it’s the person who can offer the solution that becomes the leader.”

Lesson #3: Have Courage

In one of the more emotional portions of the speech, Giuliani reflected on the heroes of 9/11.

He noted, “There are thoughts that the firefighters and police officers of 9/11 were superheroes without fear. Nobody’s without fear. If you can’t be afraid, you can’t be a hero – that’s because being a hero means overcoming fear and acting despite that fear.”

Tying it to small businesses, Giuliani mentioned that business owners can be courageous in accepting various opportunities, whether it’s accepting or declining venture capital, moving forward with a second store, or even asking for a loan. Being fearful is fine, but overcoming that fear through courage is what makes a truly successful business leader.


Lesson #4: Have a Plan

Again referencing 9/11, Giuliani admitted that while the city had plans for everything from earthquakes to fires, there was no specific protocol to address terrorists using planes as missiles. The bright spot, however, was that all of the planning for more foreseeable events allowed him and his staff to quickly craft a response.

Regarding your small business, Giuliani recommends building a plan for growth by setting objectives and establishing smaller benchmarks to gauge your progress. Is your goal to double sales in 12 months? If so, figure out how you’re going to get there instead of running through the motions, hoping that things work out.


Lesson #5: Gather a Great Team

“The fifth thing to understand about being a leader is that you have to have a team. You cannot achieve anything remotely big without a team. If you don’t, you’re going to fail.”

Giuliani reflected on his closest confidants, noting that he adds people to his team that complement his weaknesses. The same can be applied to your online business. Are you bad at math? Find a teammate who thrives on number crunching and financial planning. Do you hate design and marketing? Reach out to a partner who has that creative touch to build your brand.

I think he best put teamwork into perspective when he said, “If you want to be successful as a leader, you have to care about people. You have to love people. Business isn’t about statistics – it’s about people.”

Once Mayor Giuliani concluded his presentation, he graciously waved goodbye before heading back to New York to prepare for the 9/11 commemoration.


As I went backstage to put on the same earpiece Giuliani wore just minutes before, things came into perspective. Here I was, a kid from a tiny town in West Texas, taking the stage after one of our generation’s greatest leaders.

I took a deep breath and could only think, “Wow, this is really cool.”

What qualities do you think make a great leader? Leave a comment below!

Happy selling!
-Matt Winn, Social Media Manager


Matt Winn is Volusion’s Senior Brand Manager, where he helps oversee the organization’s branding and communications efforts. Matt has created hundreds of articles, videos and seminars on all things ecommerce, ranging from online marketing to web design and customer experience. Beyond being a certified nerd, Matt is an avid college football fan, enthusiastic home cook and a self-admitted reality TV junkie.

One Response to “Lessons on Leadership from Rudy Giuliani”

  1. aheadWorks

    First of all, a true leader is the one who’s commited to his goal and stays on his road whatever happens.

    I mean, you don’t have to be a superhero with nerves of steel. It’s hard to stay optimistic all the time. I think the moments of weekness can happen sometimes but you have to believe and make people around you believe as well.


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