When we first met and began to develop a lasting friendship, we found that much of our shared perspective on leadership and life is connected to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the six-time Super Bowl Champions of the National Football League. Perhaps the most cherished of American professional sports franchises, the Steelers – from the front office and coaches to the players and support staff – are unlike any other NFL team.

This book is intended to help you, as a leader in your organization, community and family, to tap into the enduring truths behind the well-honed values that make the Steelers great. From an exceptional business perspective to superior performance on the field, there is nothing like the Steelers way.

The idea of articulating what makes this organization so special became a fascinating one for us, Tunch as a former All-Pro Steelers tackle coached by Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, and now a Steelers radio announcer and Leadership League partner, and Damian as a CEO, entrepreneurial business leader and authority on leadership.

As we delved more deeply into the Steelers way, we realized that we were not finding new, profound or breakthrough insights. Rather, we discovered that the Steelers have become a model because they celebrate the power of ordinary. Instead of doing things flashy or extraordinary, the team does ordinary things extraordinarily well.

The Steelers are one of the most valuable franchises in the NFL because they have mastered the ability to excel at the basics. They have learned that the right principles, repeated over time, compound success. These “basics” take the form of the seven proven beliefs of leadership that are analyzed in this book. On its face, each one may sound simple, but each is anything but simplistic. When explored fully, the seven values are a sophisticated management discussion with many layers of complexity and challenges that take time and devotion to master.

If leaders, craving more from their organizations and sensing something greater than themselves, can fully grasp these seven principles, they too can become champions, “forged in steel.” Anyone in Pittsburgh knows that steel is not easily forged. Being forged in steel means more than just the superficiality of making money and collecting toys, climbing the ladder of status or chasing the wind. At the core, forged in steel requires strict mental discipline, a commitment to making an impact and avoidance of the status quo. Anything less ultimately leads to fleeting success and emotional emptiness.

In our experience, we find that people flourish best in groups – with their families, friends and colleagues – who go through the ups and downs of life and business together. In that process, they bond at deep levels and grow closer throughout the process.

Yet there is a significant gap in business between “knowing” and “doing” – what leaders intellectually know to be true but do not or cannot apply day-to-day. We have learned that there is a much larger gap between knowing and doing than there is between not knowing and doing. This book will help you to close that gap.

What does it mean to be forged in steel? For a leader truly wanting to embrace these values, it means the following, based on our experience:


  1. Inspiring Standards – Identifying and living your values and mission establishes and sustains trust with those you lead.
  2. Contagious Humility – Humility becomes contagious in your team, resulting in greater interdependence and teamwork.
  3. Servant Leadership – You live to serve and add value to others, the only type of leadership that will bring out the best in others and consistently outperform other leadership styles.
  4. Strategic Team Making – Your team has a plan for success — and is crystal clear about it.
  5. Passionate Execution – Your team cares deeply about the game plan and will go the extra mile to execute it.
  6. Continuous Improvement – You are willing to pay the price for excellence, will improve every day and never settle for mediocrity.
  7. Mental Toughness – When things get hard, you have an integrity that chooses the right attitude in every situation and demonstrates the ability to bounce back.


This book is targeted to a motivated leader who desires to reach his or her full potential – a business executive, high school coach, community volunteer, young leader of a sports team or a pastor of a faith-based congregation.

What is the most difficult aspect of leadership? Some say knowing the nuts and bolts of business, others say leading difficult employees. The Steelers way shows that leading one’s self is the most difficult task. These forged in steel principles can apply to your organization, but they must start with you.

Tunch Ilkin and Damian W. Williams
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania