Is Thomas Derale Real?

Is Thomas Derale real? Ever since my book The Big Five for Life came out, one of the most common questions I’ve received has been is the main character Thomas Derale, real?

In many ways I view this as the highest compliment possible. My goal as an author is to create a story so compelling that readers are drawn into another world for a little while.  A place where they come to know the characters so well, that they actually care about them.  They laugh with them, learn with them, and sometimes, as in the case of Thomas Derale, they come to love them to the point where it hurts when they pass away.

So, if you finished The Big Five for Life and found yourself wondering “Is Thomas Derale real?”- first of all, thank you.  You have validated my efforts.  And second, you are not alone, not by a long shot.

Which brings us back to the original question; is Thomas real?  The answer to that is a bit complex.  If this were a movie, it would say “Inspired by real events.”  Which in this case means, there are parts of the story which are described almost one hundred percent verbatim as they occurred.  There are other parts where a particular section of the book is actually the result of combining multiple real events, or the actions of multiple real leaders into a single event.

There are other parts that when I sat down to write, seemed to come through me as if Thomas Derale were speaking and I was simply taking down what he said.

All of that is a bit complex, although accurate way of saying that no, this is not the life story of an actual man named Thomas Derale.  He, Maggie, Joe, and the rest of the characters you meet in the book are compilations of real people, and they are also the characters they simply came to be as I was writing this story.

As for Thomas specifically, the over 100 leaders from twelve countries on four continents around the world who provided input on the manuscript are part of Thomas Derale.  The many excellent leaders I’ve worked with and advised during my over a quarter-century in business are part of Thomas Derale.  And, yes, I am part of Thomas Derale as well.

I have found in my discussions with leaders who ask about Thomas, that they ask for one of two primary reasons.  In those reasons are some key learnings worth noting.  The first reason is because they want to go work in Thomas’ companies.  They are drawn to what they read because at their core they know it is the way they want to lead, and be led.  This is the leadership book they would write if they were authors.

I relieve the disappointment they feel upon learning Thomas is not real by reminding them that they have everything they need to be Thomas Derale- their own version of him of course.  The book contains all the steps, they have all the desire, all that remains is to put the two together and take action.  I’m pleased to say that many have done just that.  They have chosen to be the leader they would want to work for.  What a powerful place to operate from, and what a gift to give those they lead.

The second reason, which occurs far less frequently, is because the person asking is determined to prove that no-one can lead the way Thomas Derale led.  By confirming that the story is not the actual story of a real person, they can justify why they shouldn’t use the leadership principles and practices explained via the story.  It gives them an excuse for not changing and removes what would otherwise be a living reminder that great leadership produces great results.  My conversations with these folks don’t last too long.

I explain what I shared above, that the story reflects the aggregate knowledge of many great leaders.  I also share that Spencer Johnson and Ken Blanchard’s Who Moved My Cheesebook is not the actual story of two tiny people and two mice caught in a maze.  Yet it is still a great reminder of the importance of dealing with change.

I also share examples of some of the many amazing companies who operate with the same spirit as Thomas Derale companies.

They are small little independent businesses like Sara’s Pancake House in Amsterdam, Netherlands which is run by an amazing and high energy entrepreneur named…Sara. They are large entities like Southwest Airlines, Nordstrom and Ritz Carlton which were built on the belief that if you do right by people, good things will happen. They thrive because of those same principles.

Check out Google. There is a reason they are consistently ranked as the top company to work for in America. It’s because they embody many of the same practices that were described in The Big Five for Life.

Then there are the numerous amazing leaders around the world who have taken the Big Five for Life book and created amazing organizations around it’s spirit.

So yes, people can and DO lead the way it is described in The Big Five for Life.

Once I explain all of that to someone, I leave it at that.  My goal in life is not to convince people to my way of thinking.  If it’s not a good fit, it’s not a good fit.  I move on and encourage them to do the same.

I have often been asked a follow-up question from the first type of inquirers, and that is; Why did I choose to write the story the way I did versus picking specific pieces from the real leaders and sharing their stories?  Quite simply, I did it like this because the ending to the book came to me and I knew instantly it was the story I wanted to write.

I personally have always learned more, and enjoyed the process of learning more, when the lessons and information were in the form of a story.  In school, I would grind my way through the three to four pages of facts and details in textbooks to joyously arrive at that shadow-boxed page with a story or case study that brought to life the principles of the previous pages.  Humans have been learning through stories for as long as there have been humans.  I decided the most powerful way to share the Big Five for Life™, Ascending Life Curve, MMB, and the other techniques in the book, was through a story- the story of Thomas Derale.

A how to non-fiction book which explained these same techniques would not have allowed me to bring readers to the emotional level I wanted to bring them.  It would have dampened the impact of a very important and very real lesson.  Leadership in our careers, and the life we live outside of those careers, are not separate.  They are intertwined and connected, and ultimately, they collectively determine what goes into the personal museum Thomas describes early in the book.  They collectively determine our assessment of our lives.

I hope this clarifies any questions you may have had about Thomas and this story.  If you have anything you’d like to add, or ask, please drop me a message.  I would love to hear from you.

Wishing you a great museum day.


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