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4 Tips for Online Personal Branding

Are you branding your passion?

After years of being inundated by the “me, me, me” of social media, the term ‘personal branding’ has become little more than a hackneyed synonym for shameless self-promotion. Like my page… Endorse me… Follow my blog…

Whether you like it or not, the fact that you’re reading this article means that you’ve probably already established a digital footprint. Social media is here to stay. It’s where we get our news. It’s where we do our searches. Social media has become something of a parallel universe.

Your brand is already out there. Neglecting it, or pretending it doesn’t exist won’t do you any good. Instead, here are four tips for skillfully navigating the virtual landscape without smacking of desperation or disingenuity, and having some fun in the process.

1. Be yourself

Your online presence should be a reflection of who you are, as well who you aspire to be. Cultivating a personal brand is not about contriving a staid counterfeit identity, but of sharing what’s important to you, and intermingling your personal passions and professional expertise in authentic ways.

With a dozen or so major options to choose from, it should be easy to find a mix of social media platforms that comfortably matches the way you’d like to share your interests and insights. If you’re a pilot who likes cooking, Pinterest might be a natural choice. If you’re a makeup artist who’d enjoy video blogging, then you can start with Vine or Instagram and then move on to YouTube.

I use various platforms to express diverse and quirky facets of my personality. While I am a business executive who is passionate about transformation, I am also an avid reader, unabashed self-improvement enthusiast, and proud Caribbean native. My twitter account and Facebook page are a steady stream of inspiring quotes and encouraging aphorisms (which some may derisively dismiss as cornball platitudes), while I express my inner pedant, by tracking and sharing my book lists on Goodreads. What you share may not suit all tastes, but there are appreciative niches waiting to welcome the real you.

2. Give more than you take

In it’s purest sense, social media influence should be a reflection of the value you bring to your online community. There are many who place undue importance on building online turf by obtaining a large audience, or even faking it by buying followers. It is a far more valuable use of time to concentrate on the quality of the content you’re delivering, and on expanding your knowledge and deepening relationships though genuine engagement.

Don’t just ask people to follow you, but try to interact with and learn from them based on your shared interests. Don’t ask others for endorsements, get to know their areas of interest and expertise, and recommend them first. Don’t just insist that your friends and colleagues read your articles, but try to comment on, share and discuss theirs, as well. To be interesting, be interested.

3. Exercise good judgement

Your Internet-based articles, comments, photos, and tweets bear the invisible insignia: “This is who I am”. Each seemingly insignificant piece of shared flotsam becomes part of your composite digital identity. It’s essential to control what you put out there, and that you take precautions against harming your reputation or that of others. Don’t presume that because you don’t have a large twitter following, it’s okay to post shaming, racist or otherwise negative content for laughs or a rant.

You don’t have to be a slave to what other people may think of your online content, but be sure to exercise your best judgement, always.

4. Measure your influence

I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition.
— Bill Gates

Klout is a service that acts as a scorecard of your online influence. Klout analyses hundreds of social media markers (likes, shares, comments, followers) from up to thirteen social media sites, and creates a ranking score in the range 1 to 100. While Klout’s methods of scoring are undisclosed, your Klout score gives you an independent, albeit potentially fallible indication of how your influence measures up when compared to other online users.

Klout will also help you track how your influence varies over time. When I checked in on Klout for the first time in a few months last August, I realized that my score had plummeted to 65 after averaging 75 for a year or so. I knew it was time to get back into gear, and started actively sharing content, and connecting with my social media communities again. Within a few weeks my Klout rating was back up to the previous average. For the past three months, it has remained consistent, varying between 79 and 81.

You don’t have to sign up for Klout to be tracked by the service, but it’s a good idea to add the platforms you have a presence on to help aggregate your score.

Want more?

For more information on levering your online presence to build your brand, read Gary Vaynerchuk‘s feisty book ‘Crush It: Why Now Is the Time to Cash in on Your Passion‘. Almost four years ago, I read it in an afternoon, and it inspired me to immediately click on GoDaddy.com and buy a URL in my name.

For two more balanced perspectives on building your personal brand read these articles by Forbes contributors:
1. Why Introverts Excel at Personal Branding by William Arruda,
2. Personal Branding As Leadership by Glenn Lopis

Please join the conversation, and let me what you agreed or disagreed with, and what you’d add to this list!

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31 Essential Email Etiquette Tips

In today’s fast paced world, the information we need is often right at the touch of a smart phone button. The convenience of tapping or typing out quick emails and responses makes it tempting to hit send without giving much thought to what we have written. The tricky part is that unlike with personal messages, business emails blunders may have serious and far-reaching consequences. Our tone may be misinterpreted by the reader, we may inadvertently include confidential information, we may offend a reader from a different culture. Not taking the time to consistently deliver professionally drafted emails will invariably color our attitude to work as being inattentive, immature or sloppy.

The standard of quality of our email correspondence forms as much a part of our professional presence as the way we speak and the way we dress. Every email you send will either help to build your reputation as a competent professional, or run the risk of destroying the way you’re viewed at work. Etiquette may seem like a stuffy, old-fashioned concept, but there is nothing old-fashioned about having excellent standards. Perfecting and consistently applying good email etiquette will go a long way toward boosting your reputation with colleagues and bosses for years to come. It’s never too late to start forming positive new email habits.

Here are 31 essential professional email etiquette tips which should help you make a positive difference in most professional environments:

 

1. Ask yourself: Is it email worthy?

Avoid introducing highly confidential or private matters over email. If you would hesitate about broaching the topic publicly, then you should carefully consider the appropriateness of the contents before hitting send. Some topics should only be discussed behind closed doors, and face to face. Make a commitment to thinking twice about discussing sensitive issues via email.

2. Use a well-crafted subject line

Never leave an email subject line blank. Readers often decide if and how soon to open an email based on the subject line. Make a habit of giving your readers a concise snapshot of the contents to follow by using a precise and unambiguous subject line. If the topic in an email thread has changed, keep the subject line current, as well. Consider keeping the original subject in brackets.

3. Use an appropriate greeting

Each new email should always begin with an appropriate greeting and the name of the person you’re writing to. Dear _____, Good day _____, Hello _____and Hi _____ are all appropriate email greetings, in decreasing order of formality. Out of courtesy, try never begin an email with just the recipient’s name, or by going straight into the content. Save very informal greetings for casual friends.

4. Open on an agreeable note

Being pleasant to deal with, even in challenging situations, will increase your influence and help others enjoy working with you. On the other hand, being a Gruff Grady or Pessimistic Pete may have colleagues ignoring your emails until they’ve worked up the courage to open them. Make a commitment to conveying warmth in the very first line of every email. Sharing related good news, giving a sincere compliment or a personalised word of appreciation is a great way to open an email message.

5. Be concise

If your email recipient cannot quickly process what you have written, this is guaranteed to reduce the probability of a prompt response. Be concise when writing emails. Use clear language and avoid rambling sentences. Respect the recipient’s time. Don’t attempt to convey long drawn out incidents or complicated concepts via email. Be clear and up front about the email’s purpose and what you’re asking.

6. Maintain a positive tone throughout

Just like spoken communication, effective written communication is best achieved with a positive attitude. Using active, positive language and a high level of respect and courtesy in your emails will set the tone for your reader to mirror your behavior, and respond in like manner. Select your words carefully. Avoid negative or emotionally laden words, accusing statements and blaming. Practice using empathy, neutral word choice and clarifying questions instead.

7. Be structured and thorough

Be thorough. Email replies should answer all previously posed questions. Always respond point for point before introducing new information or making requests of your own. Avoid table-tennis email matches by making your best effort to pre-empt further questions by crafting a well-considered, thoughtful and efficient response.
Be structured. If you’re asking three questions, enumerated them clearly. When you’re responding to emails, do the same.

8. Use the AIDA formula

Use the AIDA formula when composing emails to improve the likelihood of a positive response to requests.

A: Get the attention of the reader with an appropriate subject line.

I:  Stimulate their interest with a pleasant opening sentence.

D: Create desire by explaining the details of the situation, clearly stating what’s in it for them.

A: Give a call to action with a request that outlines what you wish to happen next.

9. Use white space

Always make your emails simple to read and easy to scan. Do your best to minimize the need for scrolling, bearing in mind that many emails will be read on mobile devices. Make use of white space by limiting the length of each paragraph, and keeping your email to a maximum of three or four short paragraphs. Each paragraph should only be three or four lines long. Use paragraph titles in bold if you must cover more than a single topic in one email. Use bullet points or enumeration to add clarity to your content when possible.

10. Conclude intentionally

Make it a habit to close your email with confidence. Confidence breeds attraction and respect. End your email in a positive, optimistic manner that demonstrates you have confidence and anticipate the required response outlined. If you expect a response, conclude by saying so e.g. “I look forward to your response”, or “I look forward to us setting a meeting time”.

11. Sign off cordially

Your closing should be both warm and reflection of your personality. ‘Warm regards’, ‘Many thanks’ and ‘Cheers’ are all appropriate email sign offs. Don’t ever just close with your name alone, or worse – by abruptly leaving the reader hanging.

12. Always use a signature

Always use an email signature. A signature is an important contact tool, which makes it easy for your recipients to reach you. Set up an automatic signature on each of the email platforms you use, including all mobile devices. Your email signature should include your full name, position, company name and telephone contact number.

13. Use Cc and reply with care

Avoid drama, confusion and unnecessarily clogged inboxes, by taking the time to send email messages only to the right people. Be careful when replying to emails where numerous others have been cc’d. Instead of automatically clicking ‘reply all’, ask yourself if every one of the recipients needs the information in your message. Remove recipients who aren’t relevant. It is not necessary to respond if you have only been included in the cc line.

14. Use exclamation points sparingly

Excessive use of exclamation points puts you at risk of appearing overly emotional or immature, and of offending the reader. Only use exclamation points lightheartedly to convey excitement, never to convey anger, frustration or disappointment. As a rule of thumb, use a maximum of one exclamation point per email, and say no to using multiple punctuation marks e.g. ??? or !!! or ?!?

15. Be cautious with humour

Humour, irony and sarcasm can easily get lost in translation without the tone of voice or appropriate facial expressions to back them up. Comments perceived as funny when spoken may be interpreted very differently, perhaps even as offensive, when written. In a professional exchange, it’s better to leave  humour out of emails unless you know the recipient very well.

16. Be sensitive to your audience

People from varying backgrounds speak and write differently. Miscommunication occurs more often over email when we can’t see each other’s body language and facial expressions. Higher context cultures e.g. Asian, and Caribbean may appreciate a more polite, personal approach compared to lower context cultures where you can get straight to the point. Learn to balance your approach, and when in doubt, choose to err on the side of courtesy.

17. Respond in a timely manner

Emails should receive a response as swiftly as you would return a phone call—generally within the same working day. If you can’t provide the response or action within the required time frame, acknowledge the email and state clearly both your intended delivery date, and what your plan of action is e.g. research, contact supplier. While you may not be able to respond to every email immediately, avoid keeping the sender waiting for more than two business days.

18. Proofread before you send

Always read through each email before sending. Proofread to verify that you have not forgotten important details. Check thoroughly for spelling and grammatical errors and to ensure clarity of meaning. Set your email program to automatically spellcheck before sending. Be sure to double-check that your recipient’s name is spelled correctly.

19. Ban text-speak from your emails

Many common text-message abbreviations, emoticons, acronyms and slang are not appropriate for professional emails. Make it a habit to avoid using shortcuts to real words, even when you’re sending emails from mobile devices. Save the abbreviations such as Gr8, 4 u, IKR and BTW for instant message conversations with casual friends.

20. Avoid using ALL-CAPS

Writing emails, or portions of your emails in capital letters is considered to be shouting. Be courteous to your readers. Don’t yell; always avoid using all caps in written correspondence, even for emphasis.

21. Do you need to talk instead?

You may have started composing an email only to realize that the topic is too cumbersome to be effectively handled via this medium. Never use email as a means of covering a mistake, dodging an uncomfortable situation, or avoiding personal contact. ‘Well I sent you an email’ is a refrain too often used to avoid taking full responsibility. Pick up the phone and request a meeting when the topic is a potential “can of worms” i.e. has many parameters to be explained or negotiated or that may be potentially confusing.

22. Give a heads up when needed

Some emails should never be sent cold. It may be much more effective to prepare your reader in advance for what you are about to send. If your email is more than a few lines long, be sure to contact the person in advance to let them know. If you agree to do this in advance, emails also serve as great reminders of the salient points from quick meetings or telephone discussions.

23. Never send an angry email

If you are upset, disappointed or displeased about something, take a moment to calm down, then deal with it face to face, or over the telephone. Refrain from delivering bad news, reprimands, or firing an employee or supplier via email. Email is forever. Avoid writing something you may regret. Even if you are in the right, never adopt an arrogant, condescending, or demanding tone. Practice composing every email as if you were addressing a future employer or your most important client.

24. Be considerate with attachments

When providing email attachments, be sure to carefully list each item you are attaching, with a brief explanation of why you are sending it. Use meaningful file names for each attachment, and avoid sending large and numerous attachments unless necessary.

25. Run away from one-liners

If you’re expected to respond to an email, don’t cherry pick the points you will address. Be courteous enough to address all points thoroughly and respond using full sentences. Unless necessary, avoid sending one-liners such as ‘sure thing’ and ‘oh ok’, which do not advance the conversation in any way. If a response is not expected or required, don’t send one.

26. Avoid read and delivery receipts

Email delivery and read receipts are discourteous, and run the risk of annoying the reader, before he/she has even had a chance to read the message. If you want to know if your intended recipient has received your message, politely request a reply within a specified time frame, or pick up the phone and ask.

27. Respond to angry emails with care

When you receive an angry email, it is important to respond with great care. Investigate the details of the situation fully and speak with the offended party in person. When you respond, apologize first. Nest, express both concern and an empathetic understanding of the impact of the circumstances. Thirdly, explain. This way, it does not look like you’re merely letting yourself off the hook with an excuse.  Finally, offer a remedy or solution.

28. Respond to calendar invitations

Meeting invitations are emails, too. When you receive a meeting invitation via email, it is impolite to ignore it. Respond within an appropriate period of time letting the meeting organiser know if you plan on attending. You can accept, decline or accept tentatively. If you’re declining, be sure to edit the message before sending—briefly providing a polite explanation of  why you won’t be able to make it.

29. Avoid SPAM

Cute poems, off-color jokes, threats of 7 years of bad luck, Nigerian bank account promises, and other email hoaxes are often vehicles for malicious content. Worms, viruses or Trojan horses can find their way onto your computer and the company’s information systems via these emails. Delete junk mail as soon as you receive it. In professional settings, make a commitment never to forward this type of unsolicited email to anyone.

30. Your email is a reflection of you

Are your emails scattered, disorganized or filled with typos and grammatical mistakes? Are your emails curt, too short or have a rude or negative tone? Do your emails ramble on without getting to a clear point or request? You may not think so, but if your colleagues or bosses think so, they may also think poorly of your professional standards. Make your email a reflection of you. Begin with the end in mind; think of the professional image you want to project and make it a habit to ensure that your emails always reflect this.

31. Share the knowledge

Don’t assume your direct reports are familiar with the email etiquette standards you expect. Explain to them clearly the guidelines everyone should follow. As a minimum, ensure their email signatures are set up and that they adhere to standard company fonts and stationery. Share this post with your colleagues if you’ve found it to be useful.
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10 Ways to Stop Talking Too Much

Are You a Chatterbox?

Do you know someone who talks too much? I’m sure you can think of an acquaintance or colleague who makes you want to head in the opposite direction as soon as you see them coming. Maybe you’re bringing to mind the aunt or uncle who starts off asking how you’re doing, but without even giving you a chance to respond, launches into the tedious details of the medical procedure they underwent six months ago. The person you’re thinking of may be a sweet, friendly and well-meaning magpie. Or he may be an extroverted windbag—always cracking jokes and full of gossipy tidbits.

Guess what. The person you’re thinking of is you! To the irritation and dismay of those around us, we ALL talk too much sometimes. Whether our chattiness is needy or noisy, when we start over-sharing, we become tolerable only in small doses. We leave the person we’re yammering to wondering why we keep rambling on long after they’ve lost interest.

On the occasions when we talk too much, we miss the generous stream of verbal and non-verbal clues heaped on us by our disinterested audiences. We miss the folded arms, stony faces, wondering eyes and vague remarks of the bored. We fail to notice how conversations sometimes break up as soon as we appear. Like the fat kid at a birthday party, we obliviously eat more than our fair share of cake.

The Dangers of Talking Too Much

We all gossip sometimes. Occasionally, we become over-excited and hog the flow of conversation. Most of the time we manage to keep our chattiness from getting out of control. We have all had instances, however, where running our mouths has had far-reaching consequences:

  • Talking too much can destroy our friendships
  • Talking too much can cause strife in our family lives
  • Talking too much can cause co-workers to distrust us
  • Talking too much can keep us from advancing at work
  • Talking too much can get us fired

One of my newest coaching clients is a talented and engaging young man. He completed university well ahead of his peers and is holding down a good job with a large company. He has identified one major challenge he’d like to work on: sometimes he talks too much. I’m inspired by this young man’s wisdom and bravery. He has recognized what most of do not—that the words that come out of our mouths should always be under our full control. Together we will work through strategies to help him develop high levels of discipline governing his speech. This will place him even further along the road to success in his career and in life.

Here are 10 steps we can all take to help us take control of unguarded speech:

1. Take Responsibility

Whether you’re an occasional over-talker, or a full-time blowhard, recognizing that there is room for improvement, and that you have the power to change is the first step to succeeding at any personal goal. In his brilliant book, ‘The War of Art‘, Steven Pressfield writes, “There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny.” All bad habits can be broken.

2. Keep A Log of Transgressions

Benjamin Franklin built his strong character by recording his progress on personal development tasks every day. He was famous for keeping a special notebook for this purpose even into old age. Keeping a record of the number of times in a day when we shoot off at the mouth can help us to gauge the severity of our over-talking. To become more mindful of when your mouth should be kept shut, record the following in a notebook daily for at least a week:

a) Each time you offered up criticism or hurtful opinions about other people
b) Each time you let confidential or unflattering details slip about a friend, family member or colleague
c) Each time you blurted out inappropriate personal information or secrets
d) Every instance when you rambled on in conversation giving unsolicited details

3. Become a Good Listener

Listening is hard work. To become good listeners, we must develop a genuine interest in other people. One of the adages from Stephen Covey’s best-selling book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People‘ is “Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then be understood.” Look for opportunities to ask people open-ended questions about themselves. When they respond, instead of looking for the first opportunity to jump in and relate a similar experience, ask them to elaborate.  You will find that others enjoy talking with you a lot more when you give them the opportunity to talk about themselves.

4. Be Sensitive to Cues

A conversation should be an ongoing exchange. As in a game of tennis, if someone decides to hog “the ball” instead of volleying, the game will be over. People will generally let us know when we’re hogging the ball—we just need to pay attention to the cues. Their eyes will stray, they will fiddle and seem distracted. They respond to our drone with a few polite smiles, nods and okays, all the while thinking of clever ways to escape. Learn to sense disinterest in others and either engage them or be the one to end the conversation.

5. Practice the One Sentence Rule

Practice responding to any question in a single thoughtful sentence. This will require some effort. Compose your response carefully before speaking, instead of thinking aloud and rambling on. Then pause, and wait for a response. If your conversation partner is interested in what you have to say, they will dig deeper and ask questions. If they don’t, this is a clue that you shouldn’t continue talking. You should aim to own only 30%-40% of the talk time in any conversation.

6. Calm Down

For some of us, talking too much is a defense mechanism—a sign that we are feeling nervous, tense or uncomfortable. One great way to slow down our racing inner clocks is to spend a few moments in meditation each day. Sit or lie quietly with your eyes closed and a half-smile on your face. Focus on your breathing. Feel all the rhythms of your body as you inhale and exhale. Do this upon waking, and several times per day for ten breaths. Work toward spending as much as 30 minutes daily bringing your mind in tune with your breathing. You will begin to feel a greater sense of control and calm in everything you do.

7. Embrace Solitude

Sometimes when we talk too much, we’re performing—working hard on presenting the best version of ourselves. We’re uncomfortable being alone, and may find ourselves constantly craving an audience. Stillness requires discipline. Spend 30 minutes to one hour a day engaging the practice of a quiet activity that requires concentration. Read a book, or listen to an audiobook. These quiet activities will help you to exercise your mind without simultaneously engaging your mouth.

8. Work up a Sweat

Talking too much may be the result of having excess nervous energy. Vigorous exercise is a great way to rid ourselves of the desire to keep talking. When we tire out our bodies, our brains settle down as well. Even people who talk too much as a result of ADHD benefit from significantly reduced symptoms as a result of regular exercise.

9. Build Mystique

People are more interested in those who have a bit of mystery about them. We don’t need to blurt out all the details of what’s going on in our lives all the time. Speak generally. The less we say, the more interesting we become to friends, co-workers and even lovers. Keep some things to yourself, and allow others to discover more about you over time.

10. Commit to Self-Improvement

At times, we over-talk as a result of insecurity. With bosses, colleagues and strangers, we overuse conversation is an attempt to improve our image. We brag about our achievements and season our conversations with names and details that help us seem more successful, and our lives more glamorous. This insecurity may also cause us to become judgmental toward others. We inadvertently criticize people and spread unflattering gossip as a way to bolster our self-image. When we discipline ourselves to invest more time working on becoming better, we have less of a need to cover up our inadequacies by trying to convince others of how great we already are.

 

 

 

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How to be a Winner: 10 Attitude-Adjusting Commitments to Make to Yourself

The Comfort of Mediocrity

Growing up, I struggled with low self-esteem. Sometimes I would get ‘A’s at school, but because of my poor self-image, I would often get ‘C’s and occasionally ‘F’s. I was bright and talented, but I was not confident enough to apply myself to my studies or to sports or to art. I was inconsistent – at everything.

I had a desire for success, but I wanted to do well without actually trying. I was mortified of daring to really study. What if I tried my best and then failed? Even worse, I was scared of putting in the effort, and actually succeeding. That would mean I would have to continue working hard to keep it up. Then the pressure would really be on. I remember being angry at my parents for not pushing me, but deep down I knew that it was my responsibility to live up to my own potential. It was only after leaving university that I decided to face my fears and begin working hard. It was only after adjusting my attitude that I began to succeed.

The comforting lie of mediocrity is that if we don’t bother to try, we won’t ever have to take responsibility for succeeding. Most people continue to fly beneath the radar and live below their potential because they’re terrified of deciding to be successful. Let’s face it, success is a scary thing.

Attitudes + Habits = Destiny

I read a lot. I soak up non-fiction, business books, books on self-development, classics and biographies. My reading is driven by a thirst for knowledge and for an appreciation of different perspectives. I am curious as to why is it that some people are happy, while others are not. Why is that some people succeed, and others don’t? After reading hundreds of books, and through my own experiences, I can conclude that the secret of success is a simple one.

Our attitudes, plus our habits shape our destiny. Our way of thinking shapes our prevailing attitude towards life. Our attitudes in turn direct our actions and our reactions. These daily practiced actions and reactions take on the predictable pattern that forms our habits. How we think, how we feel and what we do every day takes us step by step along the path that is our destiny.

It isn’t rocket science. The path you are on right now can be traced back to what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling and what you’re doing. If you feel like a victim, you will not act like a winner. If you think that you haven’t been given enough opportunities in life, you will not develop the habits that will help you to succeed.

If you want to achieve the happiness and success you desire, you must reset two things: your attitude, and your habits. In order to succeed, you must commit to adjusting the thoughts that go through your head every day. To be a winner, you must commit to reshaping your daily habits.

Here are ten commitments to make to yourself today to re-adjust your attitudes, re-shape your habits and re-set your destiny:

 

#1. I will succeed

Decide to challenge yourself to achieving the biggest, hairiest goal you can dream up for yourself. That dream exists in your heart because you know you have what it takes to do it. Don’t play it safe. Dare to make the new commitment to yourself: I will succeed.

#2. I accept full responsibility

When you make a decision to win, you must also accept responsibility for making it to your goal no matter what. Whether you’re from a challenging background, have no resources or have physical disabilities, you must make the commitment to yourself to accept full responsibility. Continue to say to yourself “I am responsible”. Repeat it over and over until it sinks in: “I accept full responsibility for my success”.

#3. I will decide on a strategy

Long-term success does not happen by accident. Figure out what needs to be done in order to achieve your goal. You don’t need to have the entire plan in mind; begin with a general idea. At each stage, you must know exactly what needs to be done next, otherwise you will choke. Commit to always pushing yourself to decide what comes next.

#4. I will do the work

This is the absolute hardest part. Planning and preparation can be fun and easy. Starting is hard. Doing is hard. Continuing to work after you’ve experienced failure is the hardest of all. But as every champion will tell you, there can be no success without first overcoming obstacles. You must do the work it takes to succeed. Commit to yourself: I will do the work.

#5. I will learn each day

In order to be a winner you must always be learning. Continuous growth and development are absolutely necessary to be a winner. Study your craft. Expand your mind. Read. Take the time to carefully analyze what’s working well, and what needs to be discarded. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. Make the commitment to become better each day through learning.

#6. I will compete only with myself

There will always be people better looking than you, more talented than you, richer than you, smarter than you. Make the commitment to compete only with yourself. When you constantly challenge yourself to be better than you were the day before, you will come out on top. Commit: I will compete only with myself.

#7. I will make no excuses

Life constantly throws us curve balls. Hurricanes happen, banks fail, we get ill. Regardless of what fate throws your way, just keep going. Forget what’s happening around you and find inspiration in your added challenges. Refuse to ever make excuses.

#8. I will give 100%

In order to win, you must persist until you succeed. You must force yourself to give 100% of yourself every time. If you don’t, you just won’t make it. Go out determined to win every battle. There are so many stories of people who came so close. But that’s not you. You will make the commitment. You will always give 100%!

#9. I refuse to play small

Doing the work, learning every day and competing with yourself is not easy. The decision to succeed demands sacrifice and passion and dedication. Never pretend to yourself or anyone else that you aren’t going to win. The voice in your head that says you’ll never make it will always be greater than the external voices of discouragement. Once you become master of the voice in your own head, haters will not even exist for you. Poof! They will disappear. It’s not about being arrogant, just refuse to play small.

#10. I will never give up

Your journey will be a series of  ups and downs. There will be victories and there will be defeats. But, even when things look darkest, even after repeated failures, don’t ever give up. You’re on a path. You’ve chosen your destiny. You have made the commitment to succeed, and succeed you must.

 

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How Usain Bolt–the Fastest Man Ever–is Just Like You and Me

 

Jamaican runner Usain “Lightning” Bolt is widely accepted as the fastest person ever. A commanding presence in athletics since he burst onto the world stage in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, he is the first athlete to hold world record for both the men’s 100m and 200m events, as well as the 4 x 100m relay. The first man to win six Olympic gold medals in sprinting, and an eight-time World champion, Usain Bolt has become the most loved, and most marketable track and field star on earth.

Seven years ago, a 19-year-old Usain Bolt stepped out unto the track at the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica. Four years earlier, in that same stadium before a jubilant crowd, Usain had distinguished himself from his peers by becoming the youngest junior gold medalist ever. In those 2002 World Junior Championships Bolt and his relay team also set national junior relay record and scored two silver medals that year. And here he was again at his towering height of 6’5″, a rising star before his adoring Jamaican fans, about to begin his leg of a 4 x 400m race. And then he pulled his hamstring.

Perhaps as the partial result of occasional lapses in discipline during training, Bolt hobbled off the track injured and in pain, seeking assistance. Disappointed, his eyes searched the crowd for his coach. And then, from the bleachers he heard a boo. And then another, followed by the low rising murmur of what would become a voluble expression of dissatisfaction from his most ardent fans. By the time Usain reached the sidelines, the people in the stadium were shouting, jeering and cursing, even accusing him of copping out of the race because he’d felt he wouldn’t win. “Forgot the pulled hamstring, this was pain on another level… the criticism hit me hard”, remembers Bolt.

 

Just like Usain Bolt, you sometimes question your ability

Even with the hopes of a dazzling career ahead of him, in that moment, Usain Bolt questioned his ability to become a top-level sprinter. With this washout on his home turf, he agonized about whether he had the stuff to compete successfully on an international level. “I’m not good enough for this sport…”, Bolt remembers thinking to himself. We’ve all experienced these moments. We feel the failure and disappointment, and we wonder if we are good enough.

 

Just like Usain Bolt, you doubt whether the pain and effort are worth it

Usain Bolt had trained hard for years, he had moved to Kingston with the promise of becoming Jamaica’s next big hope in track and field. When he failed to meet expectations that day, he wondered if he was headed in the right direction. He wondered if all the pain and sacrifice were worth it. “Is this really working?” he said. “Should I really continue? “Three years ago I started this life. Three years I’ve been injured. This might not be for me.”

 

Just like Usain Bolt, you and I sometimes feel completely alone

“My world crashed in; I couldn’t believe what I was hearing”, Bolt recalls in his new book, ‘Faster than Lightning: My Autobiography‘ [release date: November 5, 2013]. In an exclusive extract serialized in ‘The Times’, he relates how he could never have imagined a time when a Jamaican crowd, his own people would boo him as he came off the Kingston track. “Wow, I got booed in front of my national crowd when I was giving it my best.” “What the hell is this? I thought, feeling sick – seriously sick. Where did this come from?” Usain had to learn the tough lesson that even though the training and preparation happen alone, rising from defeat after giving it your best also takes place alone.

 

Just like Usain Bolt, you have greatness within you

There’s a spark of infinite potential within you. It is the desire to do something extraordinary, something only you can do. Maybe it has been recognized by others, maybe only you can feel this little light burning inside you. What do you do about it? Are you listening to the voices that say “you’re not good enough”? Or are you prepared to bear the embarrassment, disappointment, self-doubt, and move forward toward becoming your dream?

You are Usain Bolt. I am Usain Bolt. But are you the Usain Bolt who chose to walk off the track at age 19, allowing pain and pride stop him from succeeding in athletics? Are you the Usain Bolt who decided that his congenital twisted spine condition, scoliosis, would be enough to stop him from becoming a world-class athlete? Are you the Usain Bolt who decided he’d rather return to Trelawny, chill with the boys, play cricket and PS3, drink Guinness and run a grocery store like his dad, never to win an Olympic medal and never to fulfill his destiny?

Every day, we make important choices. Each little decision we make has an impact on our fate. What were you put on earth to do? Are you making the hard choices that bring you closer to becoming the person you were meant to be? Steven Pressfield poignantly asserts in his book ‘The War of Art‘:

“If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet. You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts.”

Don’t let embarrassment, failure, fear, poverty or sickness keep you from showing the world what you’ve got!

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10 Great Ways to Rise Above Office Politics and Be a Winner in the Workplace

“Mondays aren’t so bad, it’s your job that sucks.” -Anonymous graffiti artist

It’s Monday again, groan… This is the exasperated refrain that can be heard around the world, in every language at the start of each new work week. In the photo of street graffiti above, we are cheekily chided: “Mondays aren’t so bad, it’s your job that sucks.” In a typical case of “it’s funny because it’s true”, the accusing words resonate with us. But are those irreverent words really true? Do the millions of people around the world who dread each Monday’s arrival really have jobs that suck? With all the drama, frenemies, nonsensical rules and un-stimulating environments many of us experience at work, maybe do have horrible jobs. Or maybe not.

Maya Angelou wrote “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” I’m with Maya. I can’t promise you that after reading this you’ll be bounding out of bed gushing with anticipation for the work week ahead, but here are ten tips to help you get out of your own way, and become a winner at work.

1. Be Strategic

Focus on what you are longing to achieve. When you go to work each day, you should have your life goals in mind. Do you want a raise or a promotion? Are you working at accumulating the downpayment for a house? Are you planning on starting a family? Concentrate on the future, and you will find yourself less concerned with gossip and petty complaints.

2. Take the High Road

When you’re stuck in close quarters with the same people for eight hours day after day, sooner or later someone is going to do something that will make you really angry. You’re only human, and tempers will flare. The key is to not let it get the best of you. As a person with big goals in mind, don’t ruin your reputation just to get a few moments of gratification by publicly venting your anger. In explosive situations, walk away, have a drink of water, take a break, but by all means do not blow your top. In the same vein, don’t resort to becoming passive aggressive and taking things out slowly on the person who upset you with sarcasm or political maneuvering.

3. Craft a Personal Vision

What do you want to be known for at work? How will accomplishments in this job affect future career aspirations? When I was fresh out of university as an audit assistant with Ernst & Young, I made a list of qualities I wanted to strive for in my work. “My Commitment to Excellence” was my professional manifesto, printed on an 11′ x 4′ card and posted on my cubicle wall. It listed a handful of values and practices I wanted to be held accountable for by myself, my colleagues and my bosses. This was probably taking it a bit far, and it makes me laugh to think of it now, but it helped me to go from being an unmotivated, mediocre student to a top performer at work.

4. Choose to be a Victor, not a Victim

Every situation in life comes with its own set of limitations; work is no different. There are inevitably going to be circumstances which occur at work which will be both unpleasant and outside your control: the sick day policy might change, you may have to suddenly start working shifts, there may be a wage freeze imposed. Only losers waste time pining over things they cannot control. Be a winner; decide today not to waste your time and energy complaining about things you can’t control. Get over it and move on.

5. Set Growth Goals

We all have things we can do better in life. You will not become a winner by basking in mediocrity. Commit to being much better than average. Set a goal to become one of the top 10% of performers at your workplace. Pay close attention to performance reviews, and create your own personal self-improvement plan. Get ongoing feedback from your colleagues and supervisors, and set yourself daily goals and measurable targets.

6. Become an Effective Communicator

It has often been said those who are able to communicate effectively have an advantage at work and in life. Make a decision to become one of the best communicators among your colleagues. Good communicators know how to effectively employ eye contact, body language, tone of voice, and they are adept at choosing the right words. Challenge yourself to speaking up, and to being courteous and friendly in every interaction. Most conflicts arise or are fueled by ineffective communication, so your new skills will go a long way toward helping you avoid workplace misunderstandings.

7. Embrace the Big Picture

If you’re going to be a winner in the work place, you’re going to have to trade in your myopic mindset for one that embraces the big picture. If you had your supervisor’s job, would you be spending time grumbling in the lunch room about the new policy on tardiness? Probably not. Make an effort to learn more about how the organization functions, why certain decisions are made, and what makes it tick. Finding out the reasons behind unpleasant mandates can give you a different perspective, and will neutralize the powerlessness that comes with not knowing why.

8. Stay Organized. Stay Busy.

My grandfather used to say “the devil finds work for idle hands to do”. Many people develop the habit of lack-luster performance out of sheer boredom. If you go to work every day waiting to be told what to do, watching the clock and longing for home time, you are bound to hate your job. You’re bored. It is no wonder you’ve become embroiled in office gossip and politics just to liven things up. Instead, make a commitment to go to work each day with a purpose. Have a list of the things you would like to accomplish, and volunteer to help out if you run out of things to do. In this way, you will no longer have time to wonder who is talking about you behind your back.

9. Think Win-Win

To truly be a winner in the workplace, you must learn to think win-win. This will require you choose to compromise, not to give in, but to evaluate all the options and choose a path that will not only benefit you, but all concerned. It’s a give and take. If you make a decision to work on this every day, you will develop the reputation of being a fair-minded person, and a good negotiator. You will find yourself gaining a lot more than you would have by selfishly fighting for your own gain.

10. Nurture Your Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm can be an elusive quality. Many of us only show it in response to exciting events, others hardly ever, and yet there are those who appear to exude it from within. An enthusiastic person has a winning attitude. They choose to see the opportunities in every challenge they face. They know how to generate energy and positive vibes even in the worst of circumstances. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, wrote a groundbreaking book called ‘Man’s Search for Meaning‘. In it, he celebrates the kind of attitude it took to make it through a Nazi death camp alive. The person who is able to think positively in sticky situations, and devise a desirable conclusion, is the person who will win. Commit today to becoming an enthusiastic person.

 

Being a winner in the work place starts with a decision, it starts with you. Here’s to happier Mondays in the future!

Let me know what you thought of this post in the comments section, and if there’s anything else you would add to the list. If you liked it, be sure to share it with someone you care about.

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11 Tips for Brand New Senior Managers

You’ve finally gotten the promotion you’ve dreamed of. You’re finally in charge. Being the new corporate head, division chief or general manager will be harder than you could have imagined. Here are ten tips to help you negotiate this unknown territory and remain grounded, while achieving the results you can be proud of.

1. Check Your Ego at the Door

You’ve gotten to where you are because you’re a superstar. You are brilliant. You worked harder than your colleagues and got promoted faster, too. Maybe you had passable technical skills, but excellent networking and people skills and brown-nosed your way to the top. None of that will help you now. It’s not about you any more. It’s no longer just your career. Your performance will now be dependent on the results you achieve through your team.

2. Listen

Companies usually appoint new leaders out of need. Perhaps the old CEO retired, or the previous division head was fired. Now it’s on you to achieve those unrealistic results. Even if you have been with the company for years, you must go in with a clear mind and survey the territory with fresh eyes. You may be tempted to believe you already have all the answers. Resist that temptation. Pretend you know nothing, and listen. Listen to your managers and direct reports. Listen to your line staff. Listen to your suppliers. Listen to your customers. Listen. Create forums where people will be frank with you. Take it all in, and fill a brand new slate.

3. Craft A Vision

After taking the helm, you will be expected to chart the course for the organization. You need to decide where you want to go, and the strategies you will use to get there. Your people need something to believe in, but you have to believe it first. Craft an inspirational and aspirational vision that will serve as your company’s proverbial ‘pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night’.

4. Create Buy-In

Regardless of how much talent and previous success, industry expertise and respect you’ve gained before taking up your new job, the troops will not automatically become loyal followers of you or your vision. You will have to earn it. You will have to win them over little by little and day by day by being consistent, passionate and respectful. Tell them the “why” behind the vision, and they will hear their own concerns reflected. Start with your leaders first, then communicate and over-communicate the vision company wide to make sure that the message does not become distorted.

5. Be Knowledgeable

To be successful, you will need to have a thorough understanding of all direct and indirect financial drivers: revenue streams, the cash and inventory cycle, direct costs and administrative expenses and operating and customer service key performance indicators (KPIs). You need to gain a thorough knowledge of these indicators to set the right goals and targets for your department heads. Creating a culture of reporting will be key. Your team should know what their KPIs are and how they are doing compared to target on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis, and so should you.

6. Be Independent

It’s lonely at the top. Certain members of your team will try to ingratiate themselves to become favorites or be granted special privileges. Resist it at all costs. Have zero tolerance for this type of suck up behavior. Do not compromise your independence. Failing to do so will have you paying favors indefinitely. It will also create and over-politicized culture, and will earn you the mistrust of the less-favored and potentially more principled and hard-working team members.

7. Nurture Your People

You won’t be a leader if no one is following you. While fostering cronies and gofers is not acceptable, you still need to nurture your team. It is important to develop a mentoring relationship with each of your key players so that you can help them be their best. Theodore Roosevelt once penned the wise words: “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

8. Foster Accountability

Being a nurturing leader does not mean you will stand for substandard performance. Your aim should be to continually get better results as they perfect their skills. You should have zero tolerance policy for excuses and finger-pointing. When someone comes to you with a problem, require that they also come armed with a suggested solution. When one of your direct reports makes a mistake, he or she should quickly accept responsibility, suggest a possible way out, and move on.

9. Celebrate Wins, Even Small Ones

While driving hard for improvement, innovation and accountability, it is important to take note of the successes. Failing to notice even small improvements will leave your team feeling unappreciated and will lead to frustration and burn out. Find ways to systematically celebrate wins and ensure that you apply it consistently. Your team will thank you for it.

10. Focus on Continuous Communication

Constant effective communication will be key to ensuring quality and consistent growth. Listening should be something the entire organization internalizes. Everyone’s voice is important. Create open and honest lines of communication at all levels of the organization. Make communication systemic by setting up weekly pow-wows and department meetings, regular staff polls and annual leaders’ retreats.

11. Never Stop Learning

No matter how much you know already, as a new leader, it will never be enough. Read as much as you can and keep reading. Seek out other business leaders who can mentor you and challenge you to become a better leader. Keep an open mind in all situations. Be humble. You are the boss, but develop the mindset that every single person in your organization has something they can teach you.

 

Are there any other important tips you would share to new business leaders? Feel free to share your experiences, and feedback in the comments section below. Good luck on your leadership journey!

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Choose Your Fate

This week, I took advantage of Audible.com‘s promotion for the new Whispersync for Voice feature. The new technology allows readers to listen and read simultaneously or switch seamlessly from audiobook to e-book and vice versa. Up to 22 free Kindle ebooks are available here for a limited time. I shamelessly downloaded 19 of the available 22 titles, even though I’d already read some of them.

Ethan Frome: The Story of a Loser

The first title I read is one of Edith Warton’s best known works. ‘Ethan Frome’ is the story of a poor, downtrodden New England farmer trapped in a loveless relationship with a conniving, invalid wife. The book’s protagonist can’t seem to catch a break. As one bad thing after another comes his way, his story inevitably ends in tragedy. Surprisingly, I thoroughly enjoyed this dark book;  it served as a poignant reminder that each of us shapes his or her own destiny.

The Choices We Make Seal Our Fate

We seal our own fates every day by the choices we make, the friends we choose, the opportunities we don’t pursue. All around us are people brimming with ambition, ideas, talent and promise. So many of these lives end up as sad reflections of what might have been. Within them lie the untold stories of dreams deferred.

How to Lose

When you choose to accept the poor odds and negative labels cast upon you by circumstances, you lose. When you sink under the burden of a few bad grades, a lost job, ill-health or a bad economy, you lose. When listen to the inner voice that whispers for you to go so far and no further, you lose. Losers unwittingly self-sabotage their careers and personal lives. Set-back after set-back, losers trudge inexorably through an increasingly barren wasteland of their own shattered dreams.

How to Win

On the other hand, in business, entertainment, science and sports, winners refuse to live in the land of “almost”. Winners rise above personal setbacks and see failures as temporary. “So close, what a pity” is not an ending winners will accept. Winners recognize that their most formidable opponent is the nearly imperceptible voice of self-defeat. They train themselves to detect and defeat that enemy every day.  Winners refuse to lose sight of their dreams.

Make the Choice to be a Winner

None of us have to be losers. Instead, we can choose to allow ourselves to dream and never stop dreaming. We can choose to laugh in the face of every voice that says “you can’t have that”. Choose to be a winner. Never accept the lie of personal limitation. Never accept from yourself less than you know you are capable of. Never be satisfied with living below the threshold of your own limitless potential. Never settle for less than you know you deserve.

 

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7 Reasons Why You’re Not Getting Hired


As the General Manager of a growing company, I am always on the lookout for good people. Hiring application emails go not only to HR, but get delivered directly to my inbox, as well. I am regularly appalled at the low quality of application submissions and the ill-preparedness of candidates during interviews. If you’ve ever been turned down for a job, or have found yourself unemployed for a lengthy period, here are some possible reasons why.

1. Your Cover Letter is Sloppy

“Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern” letters are a waste of time. Make a quick phone call and find out the name of the hiring manager, so that you can make a good first impression by addressing him or her by name in your letter. Photocopied form letters with the company name written in prove that you haven’t invested enough time in the hiring process to make you deserving of a job. Spelling errors, bad grammar, poor punctuation and failing to sign a letter of application are all immediate turnoffs. Be fastidious in presenting your letter. Always spellcheck the document, and have a trusted friend review it. If you make a mistake, correct and reprint, do not correct it by hand. Write a short paragraph explaining to the prospective employer why you are an ideal candidate and deserve to be interviewed. Cover letters usually only get a quick scan, so keep them short and to the point.

2. Your Resume is Boring

Your resume should be like your own personal billboard. It is your first shot at selling yourself to a prospective employer. It should say “I’m the one, hire me!” Most applicants prepare CVs that simply list their work and educational history, without stopping to consider how many similar pieces of paper will be coming across the hiring manager’s desk. You must stand out. Have you documented what makes you unique? Do you have any special skills? What experience did you gain in your last job that makes you ideally suited for the position being applied for? What were your outstanding accomplishments in your last job? If I don’t see these things on a candidate’s CV, then I assume there is nothing outstanding about the candidate being considered.

3. You Have Gaps in Your Employment History

One of the biggest turnoffs when I look at a résumé are significant gaps in employment history. This is something that I have come across more and more. I find it alarming that young people after completing studies wait too long to find the perfect job. Many more experienced job candidates also let too much time pass as they wait for a “suitable position” after being let go. Don’t do it. Stop being so picky! You’re much more likely to find a job when you are in one. Being unemployed for a year or more is a dangerous red flag for a potential employer. It says that you are lazy, inflexible and exacting. Take the best job you can get while actively seeking something better. Staying at home watching TV will do nothing to make you more employable.

4. You Sound Disinterested on the Phone

One of my go-to hiring techniques is the 5-minute phone interview. Whether I am hiring someone straight out of high school or a well-paid senior executive, I won’t feel comfortable about hiring someone who can’t impress me on the telephone. If you have provided a mobile phone contact, you should always be sure to answer your own phone and answer it in a friendly, confident and professional manner. Be decisive in your responses. If you can’t take the call just then, politely offer to take a number and return the call at a convenient time. Be upbeat and enthusiastic. The hiring manager can’t see you; your voice is the only thing he or she has to go on. Sounding disinterested or distracted during the first phone call is a great way be crossed off the interview list.

5. You are Unclear about Your Own Strengths

Every prospective hire who is to be successful must be clear on what makes him or her an ideal candidate for the job. Your outstanding qualities should be a mix of academic or intellectual qualities, character or personality strengths and skills gained through on-the-job experience.  Before going in for an interview, ask yourself what qualities it will take to do well in the position, and how you can confidently demonstrate your ability to do a good job. You should be able to readily give examples of your stellar traits through short, interesting anecdotes. There must also be consistency between what you have described on your résumé and what you will speak comfortably about on an interview. Interviewers can quickly detect when a résumé has been “padded”.

6. You Fail to Make a Connection at Interviews

If you have been selected for an interview, then most likely the hiring committee feels reasonably comfortable with your qualifications. You will now have to prove that your experience is relevant and useful, and that you will be a good fit. Do your homework so that you know what the job entails. Review the job opening ad carefully. Research the position online or speak with the hiring manager about the position that has been advertised. Find out more about the company, and its culture and try to experience its products and services. The interview is your chance to connect with the goals of the organization and show that you have the skills required to do well in the position to be filled. Listen; too often, candidates to not listen carefully to the questions being posed and deliver rambling, irrelevant responses. Connect; look directly at your interviewer, place your body comfortably towards them and maintain a relaxed but confident posture. Try to mirror the tone and language being used by the interviewer, and ask clarifying questions if necessary. Most importantly be bright and alert; you will generally not get hired if you are not liked.

7. You Don’t Follow Up

Many candidates mistakenly see themselves at the center of the interviewer’s universe. They forget that quite often as many as ten or more candidates are selected for interview for a single position. Even if you were not the top choice in the interviews, following up can give you an edge. Send an email thanking the hiring manager for the interview, or offer contact information for your references. A quick phone call to follow-up a week or two afterward can help shift the decision in your favor. Even if you are not hired for the position, you will now have made a connection with the manager, and will likely be considered for future openings. One final way to make a lasting impression is to send a letter thanking the company for considering you even after another candidate has been chosen.

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2012 Reading Challenge Update

Two years ago, I set myself the goal of reading about a book a week, so that by the end of each year, I should have read about 50 books. I blogged about it here. When I recently updated my Goodreads profile, I was surprised to discover that I am lagging behind in my progress toward my goal of reading 50 books this year. You can follow my reading challenge booklist here. I’ve been so busy this year that I have only read 23 books to date.

I listen to audiobooks every day when getting ready in the morning and commuting to and from work. I easily clock between 60 to 100 hours of “reading” each month. But it has been a particularly challenging year. I have found myself starting books I “should” read, but then resorting to the staples that help me stay grounded every day. When I took a week’s break during July, instead of returning to my list of half-finished books, I chose to read well-reviewed works of popular fiction. Here are some of the books I chose:


Have you set any reading goals for yourself? Below is the embarrassingly long list of books in my library which I have started, but not completed:

Leadership and Business
23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang
The Art of the Start by Gary Vaynerchuk
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson
Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber
How An Economy Grows and How it Crashes by Peter D. Schiff
Less is More by Jason Jennings
No One Would Listen by Harry Markopolos
Winners Never Cheat by Jon M. Huntsman
Winning by Jack Welch

Biographical
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson
A Century of Wisdom by Caroline Stoessinger
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
Roots by Alex Haley
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Psychology and Personal Development
Change Anything by Al Switzler and David Maxfield
The Diamond Cutter by Geshe Michael Roach
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson
Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) by Carol Tarvis & Elliot Aronson
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin
The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal

Classics
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Odyssey by Homer
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
True Grit by Charles Portis
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

Popular Fiction
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Science
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
On the Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin

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What’s Your Mindset?

“I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures. I divide the world into the learners and non-learners.” -Benjamin Barber

August 2012: at the company I worked with, it was the time of year when budgets were being set and financial projections established for the fiscal year ahead. My boss, the intrepid entrepreneur had, as usual, set stiff targets for the group. My EBITDA target was sent to me via email. The number jumped right out of my laptop screen, hit me with a blow that almost knocked me senseless and said “hey there, my name is “IMPOSSIBLE” and your name must be “LOSER”. It left me with a black eye, a swollen lip, and what felt like a permanently bruised ego.

After a panicked call to my Finance Manager, I nursed my wounds and got busy with the mountain of other important tasks. Of course, the number wasn’t going anywhere; the more I ignored it, the more disquieted I became. As I racked my brain about how this target could be accomplished, I managed to convince myself that the target was unrealistic. I began to accept that the initial slap in the face would only be the beginning of an abusive relationship between me and my new earnings target for the 2013 financial year.

After days of making myself miserable, I finally realized that it was a fear of failure and not the target itself that was getting the better of me. This evening, I updated my facebook status to reflect my change in attitude:

Trying to turn my “I can’t do that, don’t try to make me” attitude into an “I can do this, I just need to figure out how…” mindset. The human spirit is powerful; it knows it can do the impossible.

My friend Greg immediately responded. I have several awesome friends named Greg, but this one is the multi-talented champion kickboxer with the gorgeous girlfriend and a heart of gold. He sent a link to this blog post.

The words resonated with me. It was exactly what I needed to be reminded of. The article is based on the work of Carol Dweck, PhD. It turns out that I’ve already read her excellent book ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success‘ via Audible. I had to face the fact that my “mindset” about my own abilities was still a lot more fixed than I would have wanted to admit.

According to Dr. Dweck, there are two meanings to ability and we can choose which one we will adopt:

1. Fixed Ability

A fixed ability seeks to be proven as smart, accomplished or talented, and is overly concerned with being validated, and minimizing mistakes. There is a constant fear of failure, because to “fail” means to mess up your own fixed view of yourself. In the fixed mindset, trying really hard is a bad thing; too much effort proves you’re not smart or successful.

2. Changeable Ability

A changeable ability seeks to be developed through learning, and even through “failure”. Growth mindset people constantly seek to stretch themselves, always reaching for a new challenge. They fear not growing and not fulfilling their potential. In the growth mindset, not trying hard enough is the bad thing; effort is the proof that you will become smarter and more successful.

One of the things I admire most about my boss and several of the other entrepreneurs I have been blessed to work with is their overarching drive to keep going—obstacle, after obstacle after obstacle. Most entrepreneurs have a growth mindset; they thrive on challenges and sometimes achieve the impossible.

Here’s the key question: Is success for you about learning and overcoming limitations? Or is success about proving that you’re smart and validating your ability?

As infants, we exhibited an exuberant desire to overcome obstacles. As we learned to walk and talk, we were not self-conscious. We were fearless and ready to take on any challenge. But as we learned to evaluate ourselves, we gradually become more and more afraid of looking foolish, of saying the wrong thing, of failing. Most of us have developed a fixed mindset.

We can all begin to reverse that process and work to develop a growth mindset. We must change our definition of success from something to be protected or maintained, to the idea of success as a bumpy process of constantly becoming better than we were before.

And this why I changed my mindset, and decided not to give up. Yes, 15% VAT was slated to be introduced in St. Lucia on October 1st. Yes, the unemployment rate was estimated to be around 17%. Yes, I was running a small company in a competitive environment. But yes, I made a commitment to conquer myself and work my hardest to meet and exceed that EBITDA target by running the tightest, happiest, most innovative ship I could.

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Leadership Lessons: Remember Everyone is Important


After a busy spate at work which lasted months, followed by a glorious week off in Toronto, I have finally gotten around to re-starting the next book on my leadership list: ‘Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney’ by Lee Cockerell. Lee Cockerell managed Walt Disney World resort operations for over ten years. He has won many leadership awards and crafted Disney’s ‘Great Leader Strategies’. “It’s not the magic that makes it work; it’s the way we work that makes it magic.” On a resort the size of San Francisco, with a staff complement of 40,000, Lee achieved one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry and created magic.

I have just finished Chapter 3 where Cockerell explores the first leadership principle – inclusion. Lee’s most important leadership lesson is not about driving for excellence or being a stickler for operational efficiency. He focuses on making people so comfortable that they always do their best. Disney’s concept of inclusion is summed up by the acronym RAVE: Respect, Appreciate and Value Everyone.

Here are the 13 key principles for creating an inclusive environment:

1. Make sure everyone matters and that everyone knows it
2. Know your team
3. Let your team get to know you
4. Greet people sincerely
5. Reach out to everyone on your team
6. Make yourself available
7. Listen to understand
8. Communicate clearly, directly and honestly
9. Stand up for the excluded
10. Forget about the chain of command
11. Don’t micromanage
12. Design your culture
13. Treat your people the way you would want your customers to be treated

In principle 13, Lee goes on to elaborate that customers want four basic things:
– Make me feel special
– Treat me as an individual
– Respect me
– Be knowledgeable

Employees, in turn also want four things:

– Make me feel special
– Treat me as an individual
– Respect me
– Make me knowledgeable

How many of us can name bosses who have routinely done these four things? I can think of leaders who ticked two of the boxes regularly and three occasionally. All four? Only on extremely rare occasions. I know that as a leader, I have failed miserably in accomplishing this. How often do I make my direct reports and line staff feel special? How often do I treat them as individuals and not just department members or someone filling a role? Do I ensure that my team members each feel respected by me? Do I make my people knowledgeable?

I am only on Chapter 3 of this book, but I feel challenged already, and inspired to begin today to become a better leader. I hope you do too!