95: Why People Naturally Want to Follow Good Leaders with Mary Kelly

Today, we have the honor of talking to the phenomenal Mary Kelly! Mary is one of the most sought-after speakers on leadership! She is a retired Commander of the US Navy, a Ph.D., CSP, and a CPAE.

Mary has a fascinating story to tell and some great insights and experiences to share! In this episode, she talks about good leadership, planning, and building a culture to encourage decision-making. She explains how to show your people that you care and allocate your time in the most valuable way. She also discusses discipline and developing healthy business habits.

We hope you enjoy our engaging conversation with Mary Kelly today!

Mary Kelly’s bio

Mary uses US military strategies and tactics and applies them to business systems, helping owners and teams maximize time, capital, and resources.

Profiled in Money Magazine, Entrepreneur, Success, Forbes, Men’s Health, MENSA, MOAA, the Wall Street Journal, and hundreds of other publications, Mary transforms leaders and their businesses.

Each of Mary’s 15 leadership books has its own wine label.

Mary’s story

Mary grew up in Dallas, Texas. While trying to figure out her life, she was accepted into the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. That did three things for her:

  1. It gave her a world-class organizational experience in the educational world.
  2. She learned about engineering and leadership from those she considers the best people on the planet.
  3. She got the opportunity to serve her country.

Serving her country

While growing up, Mary was not sure what it meant to serve her country because she had never met anyone in the military.

25 years of active duty

Mary initially intended to spend five years in the Navy. However, she felt the work she was doing was very important, and she could not leave. So she wound up doing about 25 years on active duty, mostly in Asia.

After retiring from the Navy

Mary was a professor at the Naval Academy and thought she would continue with that after retiring from the Navy. However, a colleague in the National Speakers Association saw her speak at a conference and suggested that she take her leadership talks on the road. So Mary decided to spend the next three to five years trying that out.

Women in the Navy

When Mary joined the Navy, less than 3% were women. Now, women make up about 14% of the Navy personnel. Women in the Navy have to prove that they have the right to be there. They also have to be better than they would be in other circumstances. Trying to prove herself motivated Mary to work harder.

Using power for good

Many people tend to underestimate the power of showing up. When Mary’s boss showed up at the hospital after one of her petty officers got admitted, she saw how he used his power for good and realized how much of a difference showing up for your people can make.

Good leadership

Leaders should lead in a way that makes people want to follow them. Their direction should be so good that people become excited, even when things get tough.


Many people feel there is no point in planning anything when everything keeps changing. When people become overwhelmed, over-stressed, or paralyzed with inactivity and fear, leadership needs to kick in.

Good leaders know where they are going

Good leaders have a vision, and they are good communicators. They are flexible and have contingency plans. They know where they are going and show up every day, even when the plans change along the way.

Building a culture that encourages making the best decisions

Your people need to trust you. They need to know that you’ve got their back, and you support them, even when they make a wrong decision. Give your people enough grace to allow them to try things, push the envelope, and fail.

Making tough decisions

People don’t have to like you to respect you or follow you. Team members expect their leaders to be decisive, even when it feels uncomfortable. Leaders have to make tough decisions, and that often involves firing people. Even though firing someone is hard, it sometimes has to be done to strengthen the rest of the team.

Compensation packages

Good leaders should take the time to make sure their people know what their compensation package is.

Being part of something bigger

A leader’s job is to make people feel, believe, and understand what they do is more than a job. Your people need to know that they matter and what they are doing is part of something bigger than themselves.


Mary uses the acronym PIVOT to teach people what they need to show up with every day:

P – Purpose

I – Influence

V – Volatility

O – Opportunities

T – Technology, Training, and Tactics

Care and appreciation

People need their leaders to care for them. They want to know that their first-line supervisors appreciate, value, and respect them and need them in the workplace. First-line supervisors can achieve that by showing their people that they trust them. They should also take an interest in their people’s personal and career development and have conversations with them, even when there is no problem.

A five-minute plan

Mary has a five-minute plan, called The Year In Review Plan, to help leaders decide how to allocate their time, and understand what they need to do that nobody else can do. There are often others that can do things for you better than you can do them yourself.

Mary’s Not-to-Do List

Mary created a template for a productivity planner that anyone can use. It helps people to understand what they do not need to do. You can download it for free at www.productiveleaders.com/free.


Those who want to own a successful business need to be dedicated, disciplined, and determined. Discipline is all about creating and following a schedule that sets you up for success. Mary structures her day in fifteen-minute increments, from 6 am to 6 pm.

Connect with Mary Kelly

On her Website

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Eric Rozenberg

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