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.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: how-to-spot-a-leader-in-their-handwriting-by-jamie-mason-cohen-at-tedxubiwiltz
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.
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.
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.
And you can see creativity in the following ways. That’s Walt Disney’s first letter in his every signature. That’s a W, see those upper loops. If you have upper loops in your name, that represents abstract imagination. You’re very good in generating ideas and really getting other people excited about them if you really believe in them.
Next one, Frida Kahlo, the artist who is both a good artist and a writer. Again look at the loops. John Lennon, that’s the H in his first name and the L in the second name, again very good abstract ideas. Michael Jackson, look at the J, upper loop and the lower loop. I am going to talk about the lower loop in a minute, because some of you will probably have that.
Next, now this one, this is Bono. This is Bono’s lower loop and if you have a lower loop, I think you have a lower loop. It’s a creative problem solver. It means that you like to really create and build something. And if you have a combination of those, then you really have a kind of whole creative instinct or personality. What I like — what I found cool about this is, you see that under his name, just go back, it says Dublin which is where he’s from. So he equates his creativity or his gift to the world with what he does for a living. Well, did I say that right? Yes, he equates his creativity with where he is from.
Now you would expect the head of the treasury of a country who is in charge of billions of dollars, $14 billion a year to be exact, would have writing that looks like this. Now this is analytical writing. For those of you who are involved in business in some way, that means when you have a shape like this at the bottom of your letters, especially the Ms and Ns, that represents analytical thinking. And if it’s reverse, that represents you like to investigate deeply into a subject. You wouldn’t expect it to look like this.
Now this is the actual handwriting, most of the signature of this secretary treasurer of the United States, Jack Lew. Now at first I thought wow, I judged this, I said that’s crazy. But then I thought afterward, wait a second. Jack Lew is — he thinks outside of the box, he’s a creative problem solver. And in today’s world in business you need to be both an analytical thinker and creative problem solver, like a Jack Lew, like a Steve Jobs, like a Richard Branson, like Indra Nooyi, you have to have all those things. So then it made sense to me.
All these are great but if you don’t have this last one, none of these matter. And that’s integrity. Leaders walk their talk, who live their highest truth. There’s a story I really like about Gandhi in which young son — she took — a mother took her young son to see Gandhi, walked a great distance, finally arrived, pushed through the throngs of people and then said — she had a one moment with Gandhi, or one question, what would you ask Gandhi if you had one question.
And she said, ‘Gandhi, can you please tell my son to stop eating sugar?’ And Gandhi said, ‘No, I cannot tell your son to stop eating sugar. But you can come back in one month’. The mother was in shock, she was angry: how could Gandhi not approve her parenting? But she came back one month later. She pushed through the throngs of people, she saw the great leader one more time. And then this time Gandhi recognized her and said, ‘Lean down, embrace the boy’s hand in his own and said my child, you must stop eating sugar for it will rot your teeth’. Hugged the boy, turned it back toward the mother and the mother was perplexed but she said, ‘Mahatma, why didn’t you tell them that one month ago?’
And Gandhi said, ‘Well, one month ago I was still eating sugar’. Which just shows that a leader walks their talk and a big vision also on the little things. Now you can see integrity or honesty and frankness in handwriting in the Os, the circle shapes. Check this out. The second O on the top, that’s Gandhi’s O, that means clarity of integrity or he is very honest. But look at the other one, the first one. There’s a line through it from left to right which represents secretiveness, a little private secretiveness.
The bottom one is another leader we equate with magnanimous integrity: Mother Teresa. Now what this showed me was: our leaders are just as frail and vulnerable and human as all of us and you can have these paradoxical traits within you and still lead with integrity.
When I was 12 years old — and a few people asked me, so now I’m going to tell you how did I get involved in this. When I was 12 years old, I saw my mother do something extraordinary. I saw her analyze the handwriting of a famous hockey player of the Toronto Maple Leafs, our local hockey team. And I started to do this again and again with strangers in restaurants and people that we would meet, I know that’s a bit weird. You know, mom, what are we doing today? Let’s go analyze random people’s handwriting. Every time she did it, though, I saw something fascinating. It gave people hope. It gave them a sense of something that lay dormant, that maybe they forgot about. And I’m going to do that right now on the spot.
I’m going to analyze someone’s handwriting that the TEDx team has put on my slide and I’ll be seeing at the same time you are on the spot right now, I’m going to analyze their writing and tell them a few things that I think would make them a good leader. OK, let’s see it.
This person is very direct. When you speak with them they get right to the point. They have good intuition about people. I’ll tell you why, first of all. The directness comes in, there’s no added flourishes in any of the writing. See how it’s the how, boom boom boom. There’s no extra lines. The O’s are relatively clear which means there’s one that’s not but for the most part Gandhi’s mostly were clear so don’t worry I’m not saying you’re a liar. Most of your O’s are pretty honest. So this person most of the time, 95% of their life is someone you can trust because they tell the truth.
Now here’s the thing. This person is trying now to — they watch what they say. They’re a little bit cautious, you can see that, because on the A in leader, it’s hooking around a bit yet it’s open. If it’s open it means talkativeness, if it’s hooked over it means that they’re trying to stop it. They have a dot on the ‘I’ that’s pretty pronounced, that means loyalty, that means someone pays close attention to detail. This is person who has had some of the same friends their whole life and that they don’t let friends in easily, is that they really need to be trusted.
OK, their signature. OK, that upper loop, that means more someone who has a deep grasp of any type of spiritual abstract idea that they put their mind to. You see how it goes across like that, that’s drive, that’s energy, that’s determination, yet a little bit of cautiousness. Who are you? Can you stand up? OK, sir. Well, can I ask you by the way what do you do for a living? Government finance. OK, so government finance.
So government finance you need to really get right to the point in terms of you’re dealing with numbers, you’re dealing with – you need to have integrity which you do clearly by this. You need to also deal with people without any type of unnecessary worthiness. They want no BS, they want you to get right to the point and I see that in you. I also see you as a man who has a great deal of depth in terms of your spirituality. I think you’re someone who is open to ideas and really grasping those ideas in your life.
And you’re loyal, you’ve had some of the same friends your whole life. I think you’re someone who really — people who know you as a friend really count on you as a friend and you’re someone who they can talk to, they can listen to but yet you only speak when you really have something to say. And those friends count on you and they listen to you and they get to know you. Thank you.
You see handwriting analysis gave me, a shy 12 year old boy who was terrified of speaking in front of others — the realization that I had within me to express myself with words and I had the power and the vision to do it one day. And now 27 years later, I’m in a castle, in Wiltz Luxembourg standing in front of a packed TEDx audience with all of you. And that vision, that dream came true today.
You see hope is the word that you write of what you want your future to hold. It shows what exists when no one else does, no one can extinguish that passion without your permission. Strangers – it may be invisible to strangers and may be even invisible to yourself but it’s there and it’s here.
I ask you, I plead with you to write more. It’s not a lost art to write down your vision, to write down your goals, to write down what inspires you, to write what you’re grateful for, like Oprah does and Richard Branson and Sheryl Sandberg and Jose Mourinho and Gandhi, they all wrote down what inspired them in their life in a journal.
And I ask you one more thing, which is a cross your T bars high and create a vision that inspires you and underline your name and be proud of who you are and be true to your own path. Look at your writing. All you have to do is look at your writing. You all have the power to lead. All you have to do is look inside yourself.