Five Leadership Lessons Learned from Battling Cancer


I had never been sick a day in my life until at age 34 I found “the lump”. I had testicular cancer. Less than 24 hours after my initial diagnosis, I had emergency surgery to remove my right testicle. 

Following three months of brutally aggressive chemotherapy, I needed one more procedure to be cancer-free: Surgery to remove half of my left lung. The surgery was successful. However, I was left confined to a wheelchair unable to do ANYTHING, including going to the bathroom by myself.

Fourteen cancer-free years later, I’m healthier and happier as a keynote speaker with more motivation and energy than I ever had pre-cancer. There are many lessons I learned from hand-to-hand combat with cancer that positively impacted my ability to make better decisions in business and life. Here are five that helped me undergo a remarkable transformation as a leader in business, at home, and in my community:

1. Patience Daniel-san*: I shaved my head before starting chemotherapy. And it grew back. It took over a month before it fell out. Results rarely, if ever, happen overnight.  We must be patient leaders — patient with our employees, spouse, children, and ourselves. If we’re patient, responsible leaders, those we lead will reach a level of peak performance with balance, not burnout. (*If you don’t know who “Daniel-san” is, click here.)

2.  Embrace Mortality: Realizing and accepting that we are eventually going to die liberates us from the shackles of fear. This liberating freedom allows us to make better decisions. Better decisions that positively impact our leadership and leaps our career, company, and community forward with inspiration and motivation.

3.  Ego = Failure: I am a type A++ go-getter. The only way I survived cancer was to realize my ego was killing me. I had to start asking for — and accepting — help. I had to realize I was not the smartest person in the room. I had to trust and delegate and empower and support and often “take a back seat” so others could successfully do their jobs. And if we do this with our team, spouse, kids, and friends, our lives and businesses will transform.

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4.  The Fab Five: Leadership development pioneer, Jim Rohn, often said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” To survive cancer, I needed a strong team: Top notch medical professionals, unbelievably kind/loving/helpful/selfless family, motivational friends, and super amazing business colleagues. We must surround ourselves with the right people to help us make the best decisions possible in our business and personal lives and to excel as “life leaders.”

5.  Flexible Steel: Have you ever seen a 16th century hand-crafted Japanese samurai sword? It is beautiful, strong, flexible, and sharp — razor sharp. It knows when to cut.  And when not to. It is deadly. And life-giving. My attitude during and after cancer mirrors “flexible steel”. And as leaders, we need to know when to be strong and when to be flexible. When to “cut”. And when not to. If we practice the first four leadership lessons, this fifth one becomes a lot easier. And our careers, companies, and communities will thrive — I promise.

If you would like to watch a recent video of me sharing my cancer story to over 150 influential CEOs at ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership, please click here or please visit my website: