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Leo Leaders: Value Statements

Updated on February 10, 2016

I Am What I Am

Leo-born Clarence Saunders revolutionized the retail grocery industry when he introduced the self-serve Piggly Wiggly supermarket chain. In time Saunders lost control of the business due to some unfortunate stock market risk-taking. Prohibited by the remaining Piggly Wiggly enterprise from ever using the Piggly Wiggly name again, Saunders launched a new chain of stores actually called, “Clarence Saunders, Sole Owner of My Own Name.”

The original Henry Ford Motor Company eventually went on to produce not the Ford Model T, but the Cadillac. More passionate about engineering than street sales in the early days, Henry Ford had a run-in with his board and resigned from the company. “I resigned,” Ford said, “determined never again to put myself under orders.” Lucille Ball was willing to take a significant pay cut for creative control of the landmark I Love Lucy series. Her insistence that the show be shot on quality film stock rather than kinescope recording tape, and in California rather than New York, led to the rise of Desilu Productions and the subsequent installation of Lucy as the first woman to run a major television production company. “You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world,” the Queen of Comedy once observed.

Again it is urgent to understand that for a Leo the power of one’s inner light is primary, and the right to live by that light is a birthright. “I’ve got to be me,” is the lyric playing in their brain. There is definitely some ego involved, but the rapt attention paid by the world to Leo greats is more like a photosynthetic phenomenon than an act of free will.

As Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak once told a writer for the San Jose Mercury News: “I wonder why, when I just did kind of normal things—some good engineering and just what I wanted to do in life—why everywhere I go, some people think that I’m some kind of hero or a special person.” Were Henry Ford around to counsel “the Woz,” he might remark as he once did upon an earlier occasion: “Asking who ought to be the boss is like asking who ought to be the tenor in the quartet? Obviously, the man who can sing tenor.”

The Devil Is in the Details

Leos fully intuit their connection to the divine. They walk (or in Mick Jagger’s case, strut) with nearly Olympian self-possession through a cosmos of brilliant conceptual flashes, incandescent human interactions, and profound acts of creativity, celebration, and indulgence. Possessed of monarchial tendencies, Leo leaders’ chief shortcoming is sometimes finding it a compromise of their “station” to admit fallibility or clean up their own mess.

It is quite true that leaders of every astrological sign occasionally get beaten up a bit by setbacks. Even so, there’s a special set of circumstances magnifying the downside for Leo. First of all they are gamblers by nature, and they can be caught far out on limb when events move against them (George Soros, for all his great investing success, badly misplayed the collapse in tech stocks and was infamously featured on the cover of Fortune with a thumb’s up equities message just prior to the 1987 stock crash). Second, they are so often eager to take center stage that there is little opportunity for hiding in the wings during a crisis (Bill Clinton invited universal scorn by going on television to deal with “what the definition of is is”). And third, they are often capricious about details, overlooking some and getting heavily sidetracked by others. (“The real story is,” said Magic Johnson, “I had unprotected sex.”)

Perhaps the most apparent instance of all this coming home to roost can be found in the professional life of Martha Stewart, the eponymous founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnicom. Martha’s infamous insider stock-trading transgression, although obviously felonious, was relatively minor in the financial scheme of things. Clearly her cocksure style and media celebrity exacerbated her punishment.

What may be puzzling in this context, though, is Stewart’s obvious professional predilection towards living one of the most detailintensive lives on the planet (it should be mentioned that her Venus is in the sign Virgo, which would make her both an artisan and a lover of detail, but more of that later). It should be apparent to anyone, though, that the lifestyle she pitches is more entertainment than education, being more or less an exaggerated parody of what Superman might accomplish if he were a homemaker (Hand-tied bundles of twigs for buttering corn? Fresh-cut virgin grasses for lining a roast pan in which to cook a holiday ham? Marabou stork feathers for a hand-crafted tree angel with an underskirt?). Without a very large, conscientious, and talented staff actually doing the work, there’s just no way anyone is going to “do” the Martha fantasy—and despite the credit she takes for being the über-domestic goddess, she obviously knows this very well herself.

And yet Martha deserves credit for the big concept that drives the engine, as do so many other Leo leaders, regardless of who is actually shoveling the coal. FedEx founder Fred Smith doesn’t maintain the airplanes or deliver the packages, but his notion of delivering all those packages through a hub and spoke system was pure genius. “It’s not efficient for one connection,” Smith once wrote about his decision to have every FedEx package travel through Memphis, “but it is efficient for an enormous number of connections.”

Smith’s system is in fact a perfect metaphor for how a Leo generally conceives of any satisfactory organizational matrix. Call it hub and spokes, or perhaps even more accurately, sun and planets. It may not look like the center is moving with the same effort as the outer points, but surely light and gravity should count for something.

You Are the Wind Beneath My Wings

Henry Ford is often given credit for inventing both the automobile and the industrial assembly line that produces it. He personally did neither of these things, but it is unlike Leo to let a little thing like a fact get in the way of taking credit. He was the right man in the right place to allow history to make a judgment in his favor, and he didn’t deem it necessary to waste a lot of time on sharing credit or engaging in modesty.

One thing Henry Ford is responsible for is suddenly doubling the salaries of his assembly line workers while simultaneously reducing their hours of labor. Of course he had self-interested motives for these actions, among them the desire for increased productivity and for laborers to be able to afford the cars they were building. Yet for all the caveats, how must his employees have felt about Ford on the day they learned of the new policies!

This, in a nutshell, is what one gets with a Leo leader. At one end of the spectrum you have the self-lionizing imperial tendencies of a Napoleon (a Leo), and at the other, the generous collaborative orientation of a Charles Schwab or a Meg Whitman. In both cases the affect is personal loyalty, although in the former the motivation is generalized fear, and in the latter it’s a rewarded appreciation of specific talents.

Sometimes you do get both, of course. Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is famous for both his generosity to his players and his attention-grabbing, ref-baiting interference with the game as it is being played. Oracle’s Larry Ellison describes the dichotomy between expressing pleasure and displeasure as a personal growth continuum, in which one must learn to cultivate empathy for human fallibility and learn to encourage and advise rather than challenge or scold.

Basically, it comes down to whether the specific Leo leader is inclined to think of people as inherently worthy or unworthy of trust, and the specific Leo will leave little doubt of that. As FedEx founder Frederick W. Smith, functioning at his Leo best, observed: A manager is not a person who can do the work better than his men. He is a person who can get his men to do the work better than he can.

Yet it is always worth remembering that the Leo perspective is inherently self-referential. A useful insight is unearthed in a quote by actress Simone Signoret about the often-difficult, Leo-born studio head Jack Warner, to wit, “He bore no grudge against those he had wronged.”

That Simone knew her Leos.


Leo leaders tend to be hard workers, quite capable of burning the midnight oil. But they will not disguise the fact that they also expect life to yield some fun. In fact, they expect it to yield a lot of fun . . . a hedonistic payoff for all the work as it were.

There are many icon events ranging from sponsorship of rock concerts, to patronage of the fine arts, to opulent personal celebrations, to ownership of sports teams, to development of resorts, to assorted thrill seeking pastimes, to a taste for fine living, to all sorts of infamous romantic dalliances that can be specifically linked to the Leonine taste for sensory stimulation and celebration. Steve Wozniak’s rock concerts, Larry Ellison’s yacht racing, Jack Warner’s building of the Hollywood Park racetrack, and Malcolm Forbes’ seventieth birthday party are the stuff of business legend. Particularly high on the list of Leo pleasures is playing host at a splendid entertainment or party, as it gives the Leo the opportunity to again establish a central magnanimous position in relationship to the rest of the Leo’s chosen society.

Here again the example of Martha Stewart is useful. Perhaps today’s version of the hardest working woman in show business, Stewart’s rise to prominence was accomplished on the back of her landmark book Entertaining (New York: Clarkson Potter, 1982), which she wrote while a caterer. It was the largest-selling cookbook since Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (New York: Knopf, 1961). While replication of most anything in Stewart’s book is as arduous as anything one might come across in the field of neurosurgery, the real insight into Stewart and Child and their Leo tribe is an appreciation of just how much fun it would be to not necessarily do the work, but to stand triumphant over the end result and accept congratulations.

In other words, the highest attainment of the working Leo’s life is to make the enterprise itself praiseworthy, and thereby fun to be identified with as its leader. As has already been alluded to, this primarily entails selecting a field for which one has a passion and vesting one’s spirit in the opportunity for creative evolution. Bill Clinton, for example, was speaking from the depths of his Leo soul and on many personal levels when he observed upon leaving office that “I may not have been the greatest president, but I’ve had the most fun for eight years.”

And if that sounds a little like self-congratulations, you’re beginning to understand.

All the World’s a Stage

Her late husband groomed Martha Ingram, head of one of the nation’s largest distribution companies, for her job as chairman and CEO of Nashville-based Ingram Industries. Much of her time prior to her full-time immersion in the distribution business was devoted to the development of Nashville’s fine arts community. She wrote a book about that aspect of her life entitled Apollo’s Struggle (Nashville: Hillsboro Press, 2004), a title that would do justice to the autobiography of most any successful Leo.

Leos, as many astrologers have remarked, live their lives as if they were starring in heroic dramas about themselves. In almost every important endeavor of their lives the connection sought is between actor and audience. Leo’s self-appointed challenge is to keep coming up with a performance so bright and wonderful and captivating and full of joy that nobody would dare look away.

Rage, envy, dejection, and even occasional strategic withdrawal are all tools in their dramatic bag. Yet at the not-so-secret heart of most Leo leaders is a desire for heroism, an expression of the universal triumph of the human spirit. One of the most fascinating qualities that links Leo leaders is that they are most often truly globally oriented and concerned, and the contributions of Ford, Smith, Soros, Whitman, Clinton,Wozniak, and others are truly most impressive in this international regard for the interconnectivity of all mankind. “The real differences around the world today are not between Jews and Arabs; Protestants and Catholics; Muslims, Croats, and Serbs,” Bill Clinton publicly commented on the occasion of an IRA 1996 London terrorist bombing. “The real differences are between those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it; between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past; between those who open their arms and those who are determined to clench their fists.”

It may not be that simple, and the devil is certainly in the details, but it’s that very sort of Leo thing that makes Apollo smile.


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