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14 Lessons We Can All Learn From “The Wolf of Wall Street”



lessons we can learn from the wolf of wall street
Image Credit: Paramount

Both the book and the movie “The Wolf of Wall Street” contain many crazy, entertaining, and decadent stories. But beneath all the debauchery there are a number of key lessons for you to learn from the success of Jordan Belfort and Stratton Oakmont.

Read on for some great insight into this motivated business man that will show you how Jordan Belfort was able to build a super pumped organization before it all came tumbling down.

1. Execute on Ideas

Stratton Oakmont’s initial success was based on two premises: That Belfort had come up with a way of teaching young, uneducated people how to sound like professional stock brokers over the phone. That rich people love to gamble – especially when the gamble seems like a legitimate business opportunity. While there had been other people on Wall Street who’d had the same idea, Jordan Belfort was the first person to execute on this idea.

2. Simplify

The reason Belfort was able to transform young, uneducated people into charismatic stock brokers was because he was able to impart his knowledge by giving simple instructions in a way that even the most stupid employees could easily understand.

“And as word of this little secret began to spread throughout Long Island—that there was this wild office, in Lake Success, where all you had to do was show up, follow orders, swear your undying loyalty to the owner, and he would make you rich—young kids started showing up at the boardroom unannounced.” – Jordan Belfort

3. Put Together a Loyal Team

Guys like Kenny Greene and Danny Porush weren’t the smartest guys around. But, they were long-term friends who were fiercely loyal to Jordan Belfort. What does this mean? That it might be a good idea to work with old friends who knew, and liked you, before you got rich and successful.

By doing this you will reduce the risk of: Becoming betrayed or backstabbed by two-faced people and making stupid decisions because you’re surrounded by yes-men who don’t give you accurate feedback.

4. Diversify Competence

Why were Jordan Belfort and Danny Porush a good team? Because they were very different: Belfort had sleeping problems. Porush could fall asleep everywhere – even during bumpy plane rides. Belfort was a highly strategic leader who specialized in delegation. Porush was a good enforcer –brutal enough to eat a gold fish to put employees in their place. Belfort was analytical and had a long-term orientation. Porush was emotional and short-sighted. They were both good at different things – but together they were a great combination.

5. Dress for Success

From day one, employees were instilled with the mantra that they had to act as if – starting by dressing well and looking the part. The purpose of this was to improve their self-esteem and charisma. Jordan Belfort even hired a guy to create tailor-made suits for the up-and-coming employees of Stratton Oakmont.

6. Gather Intelligence on Rivals and Enemies

Belfort gathered intelligence by bugging the SEC people who were investigating Stratton Oakmont and by befriending FBI agent Jim Barsini and getting information about the ongoing investigation on Stratton Oakmont.

7. Guard Your Secrets

Jordan Belfort carefully guarded his secrets by:

• Drafting legal documents to create plausible deniability for shady deals.

• Having the office of Stratton Oakmont and the houses of the top employees swept for bugs regularly.

• Never speaking over the phone about past business deals.

• Using pay phones and other covert forms of communication to ensure that no one listened in on what was being said.

Note: While your business probably differs from Belfort’s by being legal, it’s still a good idea to gather intelligence. For example, you might meet an employee of a rival firm for drinks to learn about the internal gossip going on over there.

8. Study History and Learn From Past Mistakes

Said by Belfort to a Swiss “master forger” while discussing banking laws:

“I’m a student of history, Roland, and I’m a firm believer that he who doesn’t study the mistakes of the past is doomed to repeat them”. – Jordan Belfort

You should follow Belfort’s example by:

• Studying past events in your profession to see what it was that made other people succeed or fail.

• Studying the great men who came before you.

9. Establish a Concrete Reputation

There was never any doubt to the employees, nor the public, that anyone could make a ton of money by working for Stratton Oakmont. To confirm this, the only thing you had to do was take a look at the young, racially diverse, sometimes acne-ridden, well-dressed young men that spread havoc on Long-Island.

“The very idea of Stratton is that it doesn’t matter what family you were born into, or what schools you went to, or whether or not you were voted most likely to succeed in your high-school yearbook. The idea of Stratton is that when you come here and step into the boardroom for the first time, you start your life anew. The very moment you walk through the door and pledge your loyalty to the firm, you become part of the family, and you become a Strattonite.” – Jordan Belfort

10. Create a Set of Core Values that is Easy to Grasp

The core value of Stratton Oakmont was to seize the day. What this really meant to the employees was to:

• Make as much money as possible.

• Compete with colleges who could spend more money and live a crazier and more luxurious lifestyle.

–And what are some common core values of contemporary companies?

• Sustainability.

• Environmental friendliness.

• Integrity.

Which core values do you think are easier to communicate to the employees and make them live by?

11. Lead by Example and Set the Standard

No one over at Stratton Oakmont spent more money on buying luxury items, drugs, prostitutes, or partying than Jordan Belfort. He represented the epitome of the lifestyle that the employees sought to achieve.

“It’s important to keep these guys chasing the dream. And it’s even more important to keep them broke.” I gestured over to the plate glass. “Look at them; as much money as they make, every last one of them is broke! They spend every dime they have, trying to keep up with my lifestyle. But they can’t, because they don’t make enough”. – Jordan Belfort

12. Create Expectations

At Stratton Oakmont employees were expected to work their asses off and make a lot of money. Anything else was frowned upon.

“A rookie stockbroker was expected to make $250,000 his first year. Anything less and he was suspect. By year two you were making $500,000 or you were considered weak and worthless. And by year three you’d better be making a million or more or you were a complete f#%$ing laughingstock.” – Jordan Belfort

13. Provide Incentives for Hard Work

Not only were the employees of Stratton Oakmont paid far above the going rate for stock brokers – but a select few of the hardest working employees were also eligible to branch out on their own and start brokerage firms under Belfort’s guidance.

“It was what every Strattonite dreamed of and something I touched upon in all my meetings—that if you continued to work hard and stay loyal, one day I’d tap you on the shoulder and set you up in business. And then you would get truly rich.” – Jordan Belfort

14. Keep People Dependent on You

To ensure that employees were not only motivated to work, but literally had to stay at the firm and continue making lots money, Belfort encouraged employees to live beyond their means.

“I want you to deal with all your problems by becoming rich! I want you to attack your problems head-on! I want you to go out and start spending money right now. I want you to leverage yourself. I want you to back yourself into a corner. Give yourself no choice but to succeed. Let the consequences of failure become so dire and so unthinkable that you’ll have no choice but to do whatever it takes to succeed.” – Jordan Belfort

Jordan Belfort Picture Quote



Are there more lessons to be learned from the Wolf of Wall Street? If you have any of your own, please leave them in the comments section below.

Ludvig Sunström runs Start Gaining Momentum where he writes about practical self-development and gives no-nonsense tips for becoming more efficient and stepping up in life. He is also the author of Breaking out of Homeostasis , a book about claiming more control over your life by overcoming the brain's innate mechanism for staying the same. Feel free to connect with him on Twitter and Google+.



  1. youssou

    Mar 9, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    You forgot:

    15. Do not abide the law

    Nothing pays as well as running a criminal scheme.

    16. Do not care about anybody but yourself

    Least the people whose lives are ruined by your scheme. Rat on your friends even if they were loyal. Cheat on your wife. Endanger people’s lives by drink driving.

    17. Be as outrageous as you are able to

    This is your life insurance. Should anything go wrong, should your reputation be in tatters, write a book. Hollywood will see to it.

    18. Become an inspirational teacher afterwards

    Because you already got the skills. See point 1 – 14.

  2. Emily Filloramo

    Mar 7, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    Leaders like Jordan who built successful companies are operating from a “protective” part that drives them to accomplish more and more.

    This protective part is like a soldier guarding the door to the basement of your psyche that hold young parts of you that carry memories of shame, humiliation, rejection, etc. from toxic childhood experiences.

    Because the original pain was so painful and humiliating, the “soldier” parts drive some of us to overachieve all in the name of seeking validation the we are “lovable, worthy and enough”.

    These soldier “parts” have created some of the most successful businesses in the world.

    The sad thing is, many of these very successful and rich people are still miserable despite the trappings of success because the original toxic emotional wounds that created negative core beliefs such as “I’m not lovable, I’m not worthy, I’m not enough” have not been addressed.

    To finally get to a state of happiness and be a leader that shows up with compassion and integrity, you have to overturn negative core beliefs into positive ones through having the highest version of you go back into the original scenes of the bad memories and “re-parent” your younger wounded parts.

    When you give the young parts the love and reassurances they needed that they never got, this is when the REAL loving compassionate highest you will emerge and you won’t need to treat other people horribly in order to TRY to make yourself feel good.

    We can look at leaders like Jordan through the filter of “I feel so sorry for you. You are a 5- year-old seeking attention, love and approval. That’s why you act the way you do. What you went through growing up must have been painful.” They have emotional pains they may not even realize they have and that’s what is driving their pompous behaviors.

    • Ludvig Sunström

      Mar 9, 2014 at 10:49 pm

      That’s an interesting comment, to say the least.

      I’d pay top dollars to see you say that to JB’s face on TV. 🙂

  3. eleni aus

    Feb 28, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    How ‘dreams’ of security (or these days a home) can be manipulated and lives made subservient to a monster that will consume you … Wall Street? No … the local housing market where people ‘have’ to build macmansions rather than modest homes which can be paid off far more easily ….

  4. Stephen

    Feb 17, 2014 at 10:47 am

    I think the closing scene with the Federal Officer on the subway was quite telling. Whilst it was left to interpretation I got the impression he was thinking that the people of the subway lead hard-working and honest lives all of their career and rarely even get a glimpse of their dreams whereas it “cost” Jordan just 22-months to live all of his. The lesson for me is that simply working hard isn’t enough but society doesn’t teach people that. Society teaches you to go to School, get good grades and get a good job. Whilst Jordan’s moral compass was arguably a little skewed, he demonstrated that getting what you want in a capitalist society requires the ability to make money, and the more you can amass the better your life will ultimately be.

    • Ben Flynn

      Feb 20, 2014 at 3:52 am

      I definitely agree that our lives can be improved as we acquire more financial resources. And I know that lessons can be learned by understanding the bad choices that we sometimes make. But I just see a lot of comments that soften the truth of what he did. You’re saying his moral compass was “arguably a little skewed.” Seriously, we need to tell the truth about him without softening it for the sake of someone’s feelings. The fact is, his moral compass was utterly despicable. In NO way should any accurate-thinking individual perceive any of Belfort’s brokering activities as hinting toward “praise-worthiness.” And now he’s won himself a huge audience by sensationalizing his predatory activities.

  5. Ben Flynn

    Feb 7, 2014 at 3:21 am

    I have to admit, I’m a bit surprised to see this article posted here. To clarify, I believe it is a privilege to see others succeed in their chosen endeavor. A privilege to witness a truly inspiring transformation. And I don’t know if Mr. Belfort has genuinely changed his ways. But we know that this man was clearly a coward. A coward because he chose a cowardly path. He chose to be a thief. One of such magnitude and charisma that he convinced many to become thieves themselves; separating individuals from their hard earned savings and transmuting those funds into an excess of ruined lives.

    In #11 and #14, he illustrates how exactly he manipulated the minds of his employees to keep them enslaved in a cycle of dependency. Shrouded under the guise of “imparted wisdom.” Mr. Belfort has proven, over the course of time, that he cares nothing for the pains and struggles of others. And I sincerely suspect that any reflective, thoughtful remorse he may reveal to the public is merely an act. Conjured to appeal to those who love a good “redemption” story. In order to sell books, speaking engagements and a Hollywood movie.

    Does the evidence really point to an honorable man who might inspire the wholesome virtues of a good and gracious character? Or to the expression and manifestation of something deeply corrupt within himself. To admire him in life or in business would be a tragic evolution of your will to succeed. Remember, he chose to walk this path. Will you too choose the path of the coward? Or will you progress with courage in the face of your struggles and make of yourself a true success?

    • Marsha Hale Brown

      Mar 5, 2014 at 6:46 pm

      Thank you Ben Flynn. That wretched feeling that comes with doing jail time and never enjoying the peace of mind that comes with integrity of mind and fulfilling relationships cannot truly be described as rewarding, but this point seems to have been lost in the glamour of temporary and shallow wins. So sad when we confuse true wealth with the spiritual poverty of rank materialism and greed.

  6. Daniel

    Feb 5, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    I think #7 should be #1. I really do.

  7. joe

    Jan 31, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    great article this!!

  8. LudvigSunström

    Jan 31, 2014 at 6:05 am

    Thanks for reading Jakob!


    Jan 30, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    Jordan Belfort is the man but C.R.A.Z.Y.. The thing that we shall take from him is his drive. He wants to succeed with any means possible(you don’t have to do illegal stuff). Even after getting out of jail he came with a bestseller book . Also, he became a respected speaker and trainer in the industry. ONCE YOU A HUSTLER YOU ALWAYS A HUSTLER.

    • LudvigSunström

      Jan 31, 2014 at 5:57 am

      Great point. He wanted to get rich, and he did. Mission accomplished.

  10. Naomi@quitmyjob

    Jan 30, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Hi again Ludvig,

    As I’m in the UK Wolf of Wall Street has just been released. After reading your post I want to see it even more now.

    I watched a really good documentary about the close link between psychopaths and highly driven successful people. Jordan Belfort sounds like a prime example – They are generally people who careers involve a lot of cut throat risk taking for example bankers, sales, media.

    Another great post


    • LudvigSunström

      Jan 30, 2014 at 8:26 pm

      Hey Naomi,

      It’s a good movie — though I think it caters slightly too much to the mainstream.

      I can definitely buy what you’re saying about psychopaths and ambitious people. Personally I think very few “normal” people have the obsession, work ethic, or risk appetite needed to succeed REALLY big.

      Thanks for reading Naomi.

      I see you have improved your site. Good job!

    • AJ

      Feb 3, 2014 at 1:53 am

      Interesting point, the parallel between a psychopath and a successful business. Reminds me of the stories and tales about Steve Jobs

  11. andantesashCharlie

    Jan 30, 2014 at 11:12 am

    WOW!! Great article, going to use these points in my own business

  12. AJ

    Jan 30, 2014 at 10:53 am

    Great post and I agree on most of it, however, on point 3. Working with friends might be good for some people but one of my main rules is to never mix friends and family with business. I’d rather become backstabbed by a loser that i hired a month earlier than by own brother.

    One of the most important points: Always dress for sucess. Look good and play good.

    • LudvigSunström

      Jan 31, 2014 at 6:01 am

      Yes. Perhaps. But to reduce the risk of that even happening it might be a good idea to select long-term loyal friends.

      On dressing well:
      –Haha, definitely true. I know you live by this principle.

  13. Jakob Stenfelt

    Jan 30, 2014 at 8:13 am

    Great article! I guess Jordan was smarter than depicted in the movie. Keep up the good work Ludvig

  14. Dan Black

    Jan 30, 2014 at 2:20 am

    “Wow, I now see Jordan Belfort in a new light — as a more serious business person.”

  15. Gustavo Monterrosa

    Jan 29, 2014 at 11:50 pm


  16. Brian Mawdsley (@brianmawdsley)

    Jan 29, 2014 at 11:20 pm

    Great article and thanks for the follow on Twitter (@Brianmawdsley) What I liked about the Wolf, was how he picked himself up after each defeat and made the next situation work from him. a True Entrepreneur.

  17. LudvigSunström

    Jan 29, 2014 at 10:44 pm

    My opinion exactly, Sebastian.

  18. Kevin Cole

    Jan 28, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    Wow, I never knew Jordan Belfort was such a brilliant entrepreneur.

    HIs ambition and understanding of what creates a successful business really shows that anything is possible. I learned so much here that I’m going to apply to my business.

    This is a really great post Ludvig.

  19. Dejan Antic

    Jan 28, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    I just saw The Wolf of Wall Street the other day and the first thought that came to my mind was “Damn, Jordan Belfort is such a piece of turd! How the hell can someone get so rich by scamming other people?”

    I left the theather pissed, but after a couple of hours passed by, my mind calmed down.

    All of the sudden, I realized that there’s so much more to Jordan Belfort than what the movie and the media would like us to see. There’s a deeper layer that’s made out of enterpreneurship, motivation and living the life to the max. Unfortunately Jordan used his attributes for bad deeds, but I believe that if anyone tried to put to good use such determination to succeed, the passion for making a profitable business (in a more ethical way) … you’d have a profitable business in a matter of months!

    And this post perfectly sums up, how I see Jordan Belfort now, nice job Ludvig! The dude is a freaking motivational/business machine and I think that everyone would learn a ton, if only they could get past the media sharade.



    • LudvigSunström

      Jan 29, 2014 at 7:06 am

      ““Damn, Jordan Belfort is such a piece of turd! How the hell can someone get so rich by scamming other people?””

      You and everyone else. 🙂

      Thank you for the kind words and for reading.

    • Naomi@quitmyjob

      Jan 30, 2014 at 2:46 pm

      Hi Dejan,

      It sounds like you really took away from the film! What you said here… “How the hell can someone get so rich by scamming other people?”. Really made me laugh.

      Unfortunately billions of hard earned money has been lost to scammers, who on the surface their businesses seem lit-git. How do they sleep at night? Properly on a very expensive bed, covered in silk sheets!


  20. Oskar @

    Jan 28, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    I watched The Wolf of Wall Street a few weeks ago. The movie focused a lot on Jordan Belfort’s drug abuse, and it was entertaining, but I like that you made it clear how business savy he actually is. Great job on the article Ludvig!

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