Lying to Lead with Illusionist Ken Hartley
Ken Hartley can produce bowling balls out of thin air, lift people to float like a feather, and convince audiences all over the world that the impossible has just happened before their eyes. He’s also a gifted singer as well as an author and a hugely sought-after speaker on leadership.
To meet Ken, you’d never imagine he had ever been anything but at the top of his game. But like all success stories, making it look easy is the greatest illusion of all.
Ken’s rise to success and happiness was no feat of magic. It is instead a result of decades of dedication, challenges, and the support of those who love him.
Ken Hartley was 8 years old when his grandparents gave him his first magic set.
Still a little boy, Ken was often bullied at school and had developed the practice of blending into the background whenever possible.
It was just easier that way.
From the moment he first tried magic, Ken knew he’d found a place where he could shine- except he kept that light to himself for years.
Only Ken’s immediate family knew anything about his love and growing talent for magic while Ken was growing up. Even when Ken broke through his own isolation to become his school band’s drum major, he kept his magic a secret. When he won a prestigious award as his state’s top drum major, no one around him knew leadership was not his only talent. In addition to having become a gifted singer, Ken was beginning to master the art of illusion.
The first time Ken performed publicly was at a church for a Sunday school class, for about 15 people. He practiced for a month for that 30-minute show, and still succumbed to nerves during the short performance. Fortunately, no one noticed his mistake, and he carried on with his performance. Illusion, says Ken, is not about the trick itself, but about what happens in a person’s mind- their perception of what is happening in front of them.
Ken Hartley may have kept the secret to his magic under wraps, but the secret of his magic was out.
Next up was his high school reunion, where former classmates who’d heard of his talent convinced him to perform, and Ken’s career was off to an unofficial start.
Now a husband and father of 3, Ken was working at a church when Andre Cole came to town to perform. Andre Cole, born Robert Gurtler, was among the top illusionists of his time. Famed illusionist David Copperfield introduced Andre via a video presentation just before Andre took the stage, calling Andre his friend. Ken was still passionate about magic and knew this moment was an opportunity he may never get again.
“There are moments life will intersect with what you want,” says Ken, “and you have to be looking for those moments. There’s a certain level of awareness you have to have to realize – there are two things going on here, and they’re intersecting right now, and if I don’t take advantage of it, that moment may never cross me again.”
Ken had no intention of letting this moment pass him by, and nervously but excitedly approached Andre after that performance.
“Hi I’m Ken,” he said. “You don’t know me but I would like to have 15 minutes of your time. I will fly wherever you are and I will pay for your time if you will just sit down and teach me some things.”
Note, Ken points out, that he did not approach his potential mentor and ask for something for free. Instead, he made it clear he had every intention to make his proposal mutually beneficial by paying for Andre’s time, and added that he would do so at Andre’s convenience. Far too often, this is the point people crash to the ground as they leap off their secure footing on that cliff. Rather than make a request with a value-driven offer, people will ask for a free this, or a favor with that, with little to no hint at what they offer in return. They seek to extract value rather than to add value, and offer no compelling justification for the request.
Even with the offer to pay for Andre’s time and fly to wherever was necessary, there was still no assurance the request would be granted. Andre was among the best, and Ken was among the unknown. But Andre saw something in the man before him and gave him a shot – with a condition.
If Ken wanted some of Andre’s time, he would have to learn two tasks Andre considers vital to all illusionists.
Ken accepted the challenge, went home, and worked at those two tasks until he felt ready to take Andre’s test.
In another defining moment for Ken, he got one task wrong and the other right. Unlearning his incorrect execution of the task and relearning the correct execution would be harder than learning it from scratch, but when Andre gave Ken the chance to do so, Ken took him up on it.
That perseverance, coupled with his passion and his talent, is what earned Ken his first mentorship, and what earned him several more.
Ken not only enhanced his skills as an illusionist, he learned valuable lessons in communication, increased his personal network, and fueled his passion to perform.
The same leadership skills that earned him recognition as a top drum major in high school sharpened along with Ken’s other skills and merged with his faith-driven mindset.
Today, Ken Hartley uses his talent as an illusionist to do more than wow audiences with seemingly impossible feats. He may be highly entertaining, but the entertainment is only a small part of his purpose.
“I don’t want to spend my time just entertaining,” says Ken. “I want to help change people’s lives. By the time I leave, I do not want them to be the same as they were when they walked in.”
True leadership has nothing to do with a title, says Ken. Rather, it is about influence, and everybody has influence in other people;’s lives, even if they don’t realize it.
Ken now uses his magic as his own unique method of injecting something special into presentations that teach key components of leadership, personal growth, and communication to his audiences.
Whether it is a huge company, a small school, or a stadium packed with thousands of people, Ken is in sync with his purpose and pours it all out on stage.
“My job is to go to someone, understand their purpose and help that person understand their purpose, and then help them see that even if their mind tells them it’s impossible, it really is possible. They really can do it if they choose to step out and do it.”
The American Dream is something Ken believes is alive and well and available to anyone willing to work for it. Knowing what is possible to achieve in this country, Ken is pained by a Forbes study that reveals 88% of people hate their job. “That means they are not fulfilling their purpose, says Ken.When you begin to discover your purpose, that’s what drives everything. – Ken HartleyClick To Tweet
Ken Hartley worked hard to build his own version of the American Dream.
Now he’s living that dream and driven to help others fulfill their own purpose. He may deceive you while doing it, but magicians are “honest deceivers,” as the quote goes, says Ken, and true happiness does not have to be an illusion. It is there for anyone willing to step out and make it happen.
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