transformative power of leadership

Constantine “Cus” D’Amato was an American boxing manager and trainer who trained champions like Floyd Patterson, José Torres, and the latter half of Iron Mike Tyson’s career. All of whom went on to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. D’Amato understand that the transformative power of leadership was predicated on:

  • Discovering one’s spark
  • Feeing that spark until it became a flame.
  • Feeding that flame until it became a fire.
  • Feeding that fire until it became a roaring blaze.

“A boy comes to me with a spark of interest. I feed the spark, and it becomes a flame. I feed the flame, and it becomes a fire. I feed the fire, and it becomes a roaring blaze.” – Cus D’Amato

Leadership is not simply about getting the to-dos done. That’s management. As leaders we are in the business of transforming people by making a significant impact on their lives. We help people discover who they truly are. We want to find a spark hidden in them and nurture that spark from interest, to flame, to fire, until it becomes a blaze. Let’s explore these 4 steps of transformative leadership.

1. Discover their spark.

As babies we have before us an infinite number of possibilities and paths. As we grow, life tailors us into unique products. As such, we develop unique skills, personalities, values, and interests that make up our unique spark. That thing that sets us on fire. D’Amato was talking about a spark of interest in boxing. But that spark of interest resides in other paths of life.

Part of the leader’s responsibility is to see into the follower enough to discover what unique spark is present. What lights them up? What attracted them to this role on your team? What are their hobbies and interests?

Look for their spark, not what you wish or think it should be. And once you find it, develop a plan to nurture it.

2. Feed that spark until it becomes a flame.

My favorite survival show is Naked and Afraid. Two people who don’t know each other meet up in a wilderness and they must survive and hopefully thrive for 21 days. One of their major tasks is to start a fire using teamwork and a limited set of survival tools. That fire starts with just a small spark that becomes a flame.

Once you’ve identified your follower’s spark, you need to feed it. Help them understand that their spark is something special that only they have. Feed their self-esteem and feelings of self-efficacy until you start to feel the heat.

3. Feed that flame until it becomes a fire.

On Naked and Afraid, I’ve seen many failed attempts to keep a fire going. The flame looks like it’s about to take off and then it dies for a variety of reasons. Maybe the wind blows at the worst possible time. Or the little bird’s nest of fuel just isn’t dry enough. But the important thing is, the survivor doesn’t give up. They keep working on it for days until it starts to roar. Keep working that flame inside your follower until you have a viable fire.

Help them embrace the understanding that the mission and vision will only get accomplished when they bring their unique spark to bear. Help them see their need in the organization and on the mission. They’ll start to feel better about themselves, and the heat will grow hotter as a result. Feed a flame until you get a fire.

4. Feed that fire until it becomes a roaring blaze.

The final feeding is what I like to call insight casting: developing a vision of the follower and then repeatedly casting or pitching that vision to them. Help them feel the same way about themselves that you as the leader feel about them. This involves catching them doing something right.

As leaders, we have a responsibility to correct failures when we see them. But in order to turn fires into blazes, it’s just as important to catch your follower succeeding.


  1. Your followers come to you with a spark of interest. Discover what it is and develop a strategy to feed it.
  2. Feed the spark until it becomes a flame by helping them realize that their spark is something special.
  3. Feed the flame and it becomes a fire by helping them see the need for them in the organization and on the mission.
  4. Feed the fire by catching them doing something right and it becomes a roaring blaze. And do it over and over and over again.

As a leader, you may never be in the role of a Cus D’Amato, trying to turn a kid into a boxing champion. And you definitely won’t be the latest contestant on Naked and Afraid. But you will always be in the role of nurturing followers through your leadership until you have a blaze of performance.

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Art Jackson, Professional Speaker, Executive Coach

Art Jackson

Art Jackson is a professional speaker and executive coach. He is a recognized expert in the areas of leadership, performance improvement and interpersonal skills.

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