Jamie Mason Cohen: How to Spot a Leader in Their Handwriting (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of handwriting analysis expert Jamie Mason Cohen’s TEDx Talk: How to spot a leader in their handwriting at TEDxUBIWiltz conference.

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Jamie Mason Cohen – Handwriting analysis expert

Do you procrastinate, sometimes? I’m a teacher and when my students leave studying for an exam until the last possible moment, they pull an all-nighter in which they try to cram everything from the entire school year into their head the night before the exam. If you admit it, which you did — thank you, sir — like me, and you sometimes leave things to the last minute, then you have something in common with two of the greatest leaders, two of the greatest visionaries of the past 50 years: Nelson Mandela and Steve Jobs. You see, both of these men left things to the last minute.

Now, how do I know this? Am I making this stuff up? Don’t say no. Yeah, the answer is it’s in their writing. You see both of these men sometimes cross their t’s to the left. Hand writing — and first of all, I’m fascinated with handwriting analysis. It shows you what lies beneath the surface, and shows you that your first perception of another person is not everything, that your leaders, your heroes, the person beside you – yes, ma’am — the person in front of you, are so much more than their signature.

So earlier today you were asked to write on a piece of paper. I have been bugging you, walking around during the break and telling you to write something. Get that card out in front of you, if you will please. And for those of you who are watching this at home on YouTube or in the TED community, why don’t you join us and why don’t you write down how to spot or recognize a leader in their handwriting and sign your name. And over the course of the next few minutes, compare your signature and your writing to the leaders that we look at.

Now let’s take a look at some leadership traits that you have in common with some extraordinary leaders. Harvard Business Review did a survey of tens of thousands of workers around the world. And they asked them: what’s the number one leadership trait that separates a leader from a non-leader? You know what they said? 72%, vision. The ability of a leader to look into the future to define a shared purpose for the organization, to give the workers a sense of meaning and articulate a hopeful new direction. And that’s what Mandela did. And that’s his ‘T’. That’s Mandela’s ‘T’, besides it’s an ‘H’. Do you notice that the line is right at the top? That represents a achievable, really high long-term goal.

You know what I found fascinating? You know who else has this? Steve Jobs is the top one. Abraham Lincoln is the next one. And the third one is Albert Einstein. How cool is that? All these leaders, they have this one thing in common. Now if you’re looking at me and saying: Okay, I don’t have that but look, do you have that ‘T’? If you don’t, well guess what, neither does Nelson Mandela at times, because that’s also from Mandela’s Ts. And what that shows you, that’s called the Practical T, that means you’re setting goals if you have this ‘T’. Look, look, if you have this ‘T’, it means you’re setting day-to-day goals, that you like everything planned out ahead of time. And you’re thinking about — right now you’re thinking: what am I going to do when I leave TED? I’m not thinking about five years from now. And it shows — it showed me that you need a balance to be an effective leader between the long-term vision and the day-to-day goals of the organization.

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Now sitting with my wife much earlier and actually I was standing and I was talking to someone in here and they probably know who I’m going to be talking about, because I talked to them. And this person started a new company and I could tell by the way he spoke, by the way carried himself, that he was going to set high goals and then he was going to reach them because of his confidence. Now you can see confidence in the first well shaped letter of your signature. So if you look at Oprah Winfrey, look at the O, see how big that O is, compared to the rest of the letters. And look at this next one: Richard Branson — Sir Richard Branson, the entrepreneur, that ‘B’ in his last name is much bigger or well shaped than the rest of the writing. If you have a high ‘T’ bar, plus you have that type of an O or that type of a B, that means that you set high goals and that you are definitely going to achieve them because you have the type of confidence. Often with self-confidence, their self reliance.

Self-reliance – Emerson, the writer called it up Trusting Yourself and being a non-conformist – doing the difficult things that you have to do, to get your goal done even though you don’t want to do them. And self-reliance can be seen with a stroke under the name. If you have a stroke under your signature, that represents self-reliance, or it can be some kind of squiggly line. And this could be said for — that’s Indra Nooyi, the CEO of Pepsi signature who in 1979 while a student at Yale University went for her first job. And she went in for the job wearing a new suit that she paid for with that job and she got rejected. And she said to her professor what happened. And her professor said ‘the next job interview, be yourself’. So she wore a sari in her second job interview and she got the job. And what that taught her is always stay true to who you really are.

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Do you know who else I like? Any football fans here, world football? OK. One of my favorite sporting personalities, even though I am from Canada, we still like football or soccer, is José Mourinho, the coach of Chelsea. Now José Mourinho, if you know anything about him — if you don’t, it doesn’t matter — he really is independent of a good opinion of other people. He doesn’t care what you think about him. He makes his own rules and he’s been very successful at that. José Mourinho also has the streak under his name. On the plane I read this article and said 95% of the ocean remains undiscovered, like we don’t know what’s going on underneath. That’s how I feel on the first day of classes often, where I look at my student’s name on the attendance sheet, I don’t know anything about them. It’s pretty intimidating for a teacher on the first day. You see the kids looking at you like this. And, you know, some of the girls rolling their eyes and the guys with their hands in their pocket.

A couple years ago, I taught overseas. And I remember this young woman who seemed really intelligent in terms of that brief interactions but she was totally disengaged. I felt like a failure. We’re talking about — I just couldn’t reach her but I saw on the first day of class when I asked them to write a paragraph this. This is from her writing and what this shows is creativity. And I gave the students an assignment to write a song. And that song was so moving that I asked my friend who is a New York city music producer to Skype into the class and to listen to all the students songs. And he singled this girl out, and he said to her, that was one of the most moving songs I’ve ever heard a young person write. Can I take that song and can I distribute it and help get it out to North American music producers across everywhere? And that was the first time I equated this crazy thing, I do handwriting analysis, to teaching.

At first, all you see is a name until you really get to know that person beside you are in front of you and see what lies beneath. Fast Company Magazine did a survey of 1500 CEOs across 33 different industries and 60 nations. And you know what they asked those CEOs: What is the number one leadership trait that CEO looks for today? And you know what they said, take a guess, what do you think they said. Not handwriting but it’s in handwriting. Creativity and innovation. That’s what they’re looking for today.