Posted on 3 Comments

Leadership Lessons: Small Things Go A Long Way

Since most of us aren’t independently wealthy, we work in order to pay the bills and make steps toward building a secure financial future. If we are to do truly great work, however, we must feel both inspired and appreciated. That’s the really tough part. As the leader of a company, I spend a great deal of my time remaining committed to the part of my vision that aims to make it a great place to work. Actually, I use the word “love”. I aspire to lead in such a way that employees “love” working there.

I wrote in a previous post that employees want to feel special, to be treated like individuals, respected, and made knowledgeable. The big things, like annual staff awards are good and very necessary. However, like the played out ‘Employee of the Month’ selections, sometimes only the “stars” get noticed. Recognition begins to feel more like a popularity contest, leaving the mere mortals feeling neglected.

My management team and I have decided that while we will continue to reward excellent overall performance, we will commit ourselves to finding new ways of recognizing and celebrating the little things that happen every day. One of the very simple, and easy to implement ways we do that is using our ‘Value Board’.

The core values we have embraced are action statements, as opposed to lofty concepts. They are simple to understand, and easy to remember:

1. Do the right thing
2. Treat people right
3. Think outside the box
4. Make a difference

We encourage managers and staff alike to take the time “catch” team members living our values. On wall-mounted cork boards, we post these acts on index cards and sticky notes, as a small token of our admiration and thanks. In the hustle and bustle of the work week, with phones ringing off the hook,  customer queues and reporting deadlines, it is great to walk down the hallway and know that there are people really shining. While this simple initiative may seem corny to some, when team members look up and notice that some extra effort shown was not overlooked, but recognized and appreciated, it is priceless. Small things really do go a long way.

It is amazing how quickly the cards accumulate, as team members from every department take the time to notice others living our four core values, and shining every day. It reinforces excellence and goes a long way toward creating a culture of appreciation. We plan on taking things a step further by randomly selecting monthly prizes, to further celebrate team members who lived our values that month.

20120908-152625.jpg
It’s amazing how quickly the good deeds pile up!

 

I would love to hear  some of the ways in which your Company celebrates small wins and provides recognition across your organization.

 

Posted on 3 Comments

Today I’m Inspired by: Jeff Hadeed

The Global Financial Crisis

In October 2008, a seasoned accounting professional with eight years of public accounting experience and several years in the hospitality and real estate industry, I found myself out of work — a casualty of the global financial crisis. The five-star resort where I had recently been hired as Financial Controller failed to open after many months of preparation and millions of dollars in refurbishment. The Icelandic bank that funded it had crashed. The demise of my most recent job could not have come at a worse time. I had been through a series of personal challenges including the sudden death of my father and tragic death of my 21-year old brother, a stint in ICU with meningitis, and major surgery. My entire savings had been depleted. And then, I got a call with a job offer from Jeff Hadeed.

Big Banana

This was to be second stint in Jeff’s employment. Fifteen years earlier it was the early nineties, I was in my teens, and Jeff was the co-proprietor of one of the most popular restaurants on Antigua. Jeff hired me to create a computer catalogue of the Big Banana restaurant’s impressive collection of CDs, which lined the wall from bar to the ceiling. I can remember being somewhat shell-shocked by the frenetic environment of the hotspot. Nestled in St. John’s historic Redcliffe Quay, the restaurant itself was beautiful, with its long wooden bar stretching the length of the converted ancient brickwork rum warehouse.  It had a welcoming island-chic decor: terra-cotta tiles, wooden tables and chairs and stunning black and white photos of island life. Huge brick arches led the way to the outdoor area, where patrons laughed heartily with friends and family, enjoying the best pizza on the island, under a canopy of tropical branches. At night, both tourists and residents alike grooved to the live music of local bands, with a steady flow of Wadadli beer and Cavalier rum served up by tight-jeans wearing servers in their iconic Big Banana tee-shirts.

I worked at a computer in the tiny office above the bar which was accessed by climbing a creaky wooden spiral staircase. Sounds and smells wafted upwards all day long. The office pulsated with musical rhythms and the sounds of clinking glasses, orders being taken, delivery boxes packed and of course the ever-present smell of delicious pizza. Jeff was both exacting and well-respected by his staff. It was a fast-paced environment– vibrant and alive, with high standards and an air of excellence. It only took a few days to finish listing the CDs but it was exciting. I felt a sense of accomplishment when I was finished, because I knew that somehow I had contributed and been a part of it. I have always been grateful for the much-needed funds, and the short but enriching experience.

The Passionate Perfectionist with a Heart of Gold

And now here was Jeff once again, rescuing me in a time of need. Jeff Hadeed completed a business degree in the United States and studied design in Italy. Returning to Antigua in the mid-1980’s, he started the Big Banana chain of restaurants with two of his siblings. These restaurants have earned the reputation of being Antigua’s chicest, most loved casual dining hotspots for over twenty-five years, thanks largely to Jeff’s managerial oversight, keen marketing insight and relentless relationship-building.

In the eight or so months that I worked with Jeff as a project accountant at Next International and ROLS Limited, I developed a deep respect for Jeff as a person and as an entrepreneur. Armed with sparkling brown eyes, and a finely tuned esthetic instinct, he is a passionate perfectionist. He is stubbornly committed to doing everything he attempts to the highest possible standard. There is a dichotomy about Jeff. He has both talent and heart. Having little patience with mediocrity, his fiery temper is legendary. I’ve seen many wither under Jeff’s fury after having his exacting standards compromised. And yet, forever in his uniform of tee-shirt and jeans, he is both unpretentious and approachable. Loyal to a fault, he quickly cultivates long-lasting friendships, never thinking twice about going out of his way to help a friend.

An Entrepreneurial Success Story

Jeff recently turned 50. His shaved head and slim, youthful physique belie his years. One of the great things about living on an island is that you can leave your mark and change its landscape, if you really want to. In the past 25 years, Jeff’s authenticity, creativity and dedication have had just that kind of impact.  South Point (see photos here), a beautiful waterside development nestled in Antigua’s picturesque Falmouth Harbour, is Jeff’s newest venture. It is a labor of love for him, years in the making. Through his eye for detail, warmth for people and exacting standards, he has created hundreds of thousands of unique experiences for his employees, friends  and patrons over the years. Railing against lax island standards, Jeff has committed himself to building brands that have stood the test of time. In essence, this is what being an entrepreneur is all about. It is about creating something greater than yourself, and truly believing in what you do. This is why I enjoyed working for Jeff, why I respect him, and why I am inspired by him today.

Jeff, I wish you continued success in everything you do and many more happy years to come. Happy birthday, and thank you!

Posted on Leave a comment

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

Posted on 3 Comments

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

5 Reasons Why Moving to Yahoo Was the Right Choice for Marissa Mayer

On July 16, 2012, Yahoo announced that Marissa Mayer would take the helm as its new CEO. The news of Marissa’s appointment shook the tech world, raising both eyebrows and hopes.

After finishing high school in the Midwestern town of Wausau, Wisconsin, Marissa headed to Stanford University where she specialized in Artificial Intelligence, and obtained both undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. In 1999, Marissa joined Google as its first female software engineer and quickly began her climb through its ranks. By 2001, she had already been promoted to Product Manager, and was promoted again less than two years later to Director of Consumer Web Services. By late 2005, Marissa was appointed VP, Search Products and User Experience, giving her full responsibility for the search engine division. Seven years later and expecting her first child with husband, Zachary Bogue, Marissa has left Google to take on the challenge of bringing Yahoo back to life.

Here are five reasons why the decision she made was the right one:

1. Marissa Mayer Has Built A Stellar Reputation

Having recently celebrated her 13-year anniversary at Google, Marissa Mayer is a talented and accomplished engineer who knows the Internet inside out. With her keen eye for design, she has been credited with championing the search engine’s iconic minimalist layout and was instrumental in developing Google maps as well as Gmail. She is passionate about creating outstanding user experiences and is known for both her laser sharp focus and commitment to innovation. In 2008, at age 33, Marissa became the youngest woman to be listed among Fortune magazine’s America’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business, and has made the list every year since.

2. Marissa Mayer Had Been Overlooked

In recent years, the pace of Marissa’s advancement at Google has slowed. In late 2010, her responsibilities shifted from heading up search services to VP, Local, Maps and Location Services. While dubbed a promotion, and technically giving her more direct reports, the move signaled that she was being overlooked for more significant roles in the upper echelons of leadership. Since last year’s re-appointment of co-founder, Larry Page, as CEO, she has been further shunned, and was excluded from his newly formed “L-Team” of advisers. Mayer’s past role as the Company’s articulate and enthusiastic primary public face has also been visibly diminished. Rumors, although vehemently denied, had continued to surface intermittently suggesting the possibility of Mayer’s departure.

3. Marissa Mayer Was Hungry for A New Challenge

At age 37, Marissa may well have been longing for the opportunity to claim a bigger stage, giving her the increased sense of satisfaction and personal accomplishment winners crave. Mayer was recently appointed to as a director of Wal-Mart, snagging her first Board seat at a public company. Approached by Yahoo in June, Marissa faced a tough choice: stay with the sure thing or jump at the more interesting chance to become head honcho in a more challenging role. And what a challenge it will be. After being one of the first out of the starting block in 1994, Yahoo quickly leapt to Internet supremacy, before being pummeled by Google. In 2008, Yahoo turned down Microsoft’s purchase offer of $47.5 billion. Since then, it has been adrift, in wake of social upstarts Facebook and Twitter.

4. Marissa Mayer Believes She Has the Chops to Get the Job Done

Marissa isn’t just another engineer who has spent her entire career at a single company. She has been a groundbreaking talent, leading Google in some of its most significant wins, and quietly honing all the skills it takes to be a high-caliber CEO. She knows that her technical knowledge and innovative vision are key strengths required for successful leadership in the fast pace Internet arena.

  • She will need to attract and retain high quality engineering talent. Check. Marissa has finely honed organizational skills, as she is used to leading large teams of talented engineers. She has a proven commitment to strategic leadership and is good at mentoring talent, as evidenced by the programs she developed at Google to shape product managers into skilled executive leaders.
  • She will need to bring a renewed spirit of innovation and create great products. Check. Product is what Marissa is good at, and probably the main reason she was chosen to take the helm at Yahoo. Former boss, Larry Page dubbed her a “tireless champion of our users”. Marissa will no doubt make technology and user experience Yahoo’s new top priorities.

 

5. Marissa Mayer Had Nothing to Lose and Everything to Gain

Mayer was quoted as saying “I wanted to work at Google because I felt utterly unprepared”. Management pundits have observed that once female leaders have broken through the glass ceiling, they are often more likely to take up positions which have a higher built-in risk of failure than their male counterparts. Perhaps we are just thrill-seekers! As one of Google’s first employees, Marissa is already a very wealthy woman with a recently estimated net worth of $300 million. While Yahoo has been flailing for years, it is still a giant with over 12,000 employees and an estimated 700 million users. Even if Marissa, like her recent predecessors, fails to revive the company, it won’t be too much of a black mark on her career. On the other hand, if she succeeds, she will scaled a “glass cliff”.

 

Can Marissa Mayer Turn Around Yahoo?

To bring Yahoo back to its former glory, Marissa will have to get back to basics. She will need to craft a clear and compelling vision, and work to restore a sense of purpose and direction. Yahoo doesn’t know what wants to be anymore; it has lost its relevance, still serving as a portal to content, but creating very little user engagement. She will need to answer the all important question: “why does Yahoo exist?”, and inspire her beleaguered troops with the confidence to become a force of innovation once again. She will be in for a long and hard journey; it will take at least three to five years to see good efforts bear fruit. If she is successful in making Yahoo a champion again, she will have a clear shot at what she possibly craves most: to be Queen of Silicon Valley.

 

Please leave me your comments on whether you think Marissa Mayer will be successful.

 

Posted on 8 Comments

Today I’m Inspired by: Alice Herz-Sommer

The oldest living Holocaust survivor

At 108 years old, Alice Herz-Sommer is both the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor and the world’s oldest concert pianist. She was eight years old when the Titanic sank, saw the start and end of the first world war, survived the atrocities of the Nazi prison camps, outlived her mother, husband and only son, and is a twenty-five year cancer survivor. Through unspeakable tragedy, Alice is still smiling, victorious over the anguish, pain and death that could have killed her shining spirit many decades ago. Alice is an incurable optimist.

A life of privilege

Alice Herz was born in Prague in November 1903, into a privileged secular Jewish family of five siblings. Her father, Friedrich, was a successful merchant and her mother, Sofie, was highly educated and moved in circles of well-known artists, composers and writers of the time. Alice started learning the piano from her older sister at 5 years old. At 16, she became the youngest student a the German Music Academy. Through hard work and enviable diligence, by the end of her teens, Alice had established a solid career for herself as a concert pianist and teacher. By her late twenties she was well-known throughout Central Europe. In 1931, Alice met and married Leopold Sommer, a kind-hearted business man and amateur musician, who spoke five languages. Alice fondly remembers him as “an extremely gifted man, extremely gifted”. Their son Raphael was born in 1937.

An idyllic life shattered

At the age of 35, Alice’s seemingly comfortable, secure and cultured existence was about to be shattered. Hitler’s army invaded Prague in March 1939; the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia had begun. “Everything was forbidden” Alice remembers,”we couldn’t buy groceries, take the tram, or go to the park.” Although for a while, Alice and her small family were allowed to continue living in their flat, they were surrounded by Nazis, and most Jews were sent to live in the ghetto. “We had to give away all our belongings. We had nothing.”

A bad situation became suddenly worse in 1942, when Sommer’s frail and sickly 72-year old mother was plucked from their lives and sent to a death camp. Soon after, Alice, her husband and 6 year old son were shipped off to the Theresienstadt concentration camp at the fortress town of Terezin. Described as a “purgatory for artists and musicians”, the camp housed the Jewish cultural elite of Europe. It was no spa town as advertised by the Nazis. There, she engaged in hard labor splitting mica chips for war production. They lived on watered down black coffee and watery soup. “we were so weak”, Alice remembers.

The highly-fortified and remote Terezin camp was used by the Nazis to fool the outside world. They allowed the Red Cross to visit three times per year, while in reality it was merely a transit camp to the gas chambers. Hitler’s army eventually tolerated cultural activities there, and used it to their own advantage. Jewish inmates were allowed to practice their music, and Alice gave over 100 concerts playing Beethoven, Bach and Schubert two or three times a week from memory to sick, hopelessly hungry and dying fellow inmates. “It was propaganda,” Sommer says. “This was something they could show the world, while in reality they were killing us.” But the music helped to sustain their souls. “There was no food. Music was our food. Through music we were kept alive” Alice recalls.

Redemption

In May 1945, the camp was liberated by the Russians. By then, it estimated that almost 140,000 Jews passed through Terezin to their deaths. Alice and Raphael were free. Alice’s husband had been sent to the notorious death camp, Auschwitz 8 months earlier, and although he survived his internment there, she would never see him again as he died of Typhus only six weeks before the end of the war.

Alice’s son was one of only 130 children known to leave Terezin alive of the over 15,000 children sent there during the war. Many died of starvation, cruelty and sickness, while the rest taken to deaths in the gas chambers. The survival of Alice’s son is the most extraordinary testament to her unwavering optimism. Alice remembers Raphael would keep asking, ‘What is war? Why are we hungry?”, as hundreds and hundreds died around them every day. Alice recounts, “it’s not easy for a mother to see her child crying, and to know that she does not even have a little bread to give him.” “But… I shielded him” she states triumphantly.  “We were always talking and laughing”. “Never did I let my son see my fear or worry. Laughter was our only medicine.” And even after the nightmare was over, Alice says “I never spoke a word about it because I didn’t want my child to grow up with hatred because hatred brings hatred. I succeeded. And I never hated either, never, never.”

Alice moved to Israel in 1949 where she lived for almost 40 years before her son convinced her to join him in London in 1986. In 2001, Raphael, who had gone on to study at the Paris Conservatory and to become a celebrated professional solo cellist, died suddenly of an aneurism while on tour at the age of 65.

Alice today

Today, living in a cozy one-room flat in London, Alice is contented with life, and still smiling. She sticks to her daily routine with ferocious discipline, starting her piano at 10am sharp. “I have trouble moving these two fingers,” she says smiling, slightly embarrassed. She was swimming daily up to the age of 97. She also reads every day, holding a giant magnifying glass. She takes long walks daily, shunning both walker and hearing aid, and still cooks for herself. “If Hitler could have heard me playing my music I’m sure he would have been a better man.”

At 108, Alice is still witty and coherent, even flirtatious, with a ready laugh. When asked the secret to her long life, Alice responds, “in a word: optimism. I look at the good. When you are relaxed, your body is always relaxed. When you are pessimistic, your body behaves in an unnatural way. It is up to us whether we look at the good or the bad. When you are nice to others, they are nice to you. When you give, you receive.” Even at her advanced age, Sommers’ joy for living still shines through “I have lived through many wars and have lost everything many times… Yet, life is beautiful, and I have so much to learn and enjoy. I have no space nor time for pessimism and hate.” Alice is not afraid of death, she says “when I die I can have a good feeling. I believe I lived my life the right way.”

Alice’s Survival Lessons

Here are 8 lessons we can learn from the life of this extraordinary woman:

1. Learn, learn, learn.

Alice’s mother had a love of learning and instilled in her children a desire to hungrily pursue knowledge, “to learn, to learn, to learn, to know, to know” Alice remembers. All through her life, it is the strength of Sommers’ mind that sustained her. She believes in putting something in your mind everyday that no one can take from you. Up to the age of 104, Alice would make the trek three times per week to a nearby university to study history, and philosophy. Even now, every Saturday, she keeps her intellectual brain limber by playing Scrabble with a friend.

2. Be disciplined. Work hard.

According to Alice, “Work is the best invention, the best.” Even past the age of 100, playing the piano is still a discipline for her. Every day she starts with an hour of Bach followed by the rest of her pieces, in order not to forget. It is not easy, and she has to play with only eight of her fingers. But, she says “It makes you happy to have something”.  According to Alice, we must always be purposefully engaged. “The worst thing is life, in my opinion, is boredom – when people don’t know what to do with themselves”. Alice asserts, “boredom is dangerous”. When it comes to diet, Alice applies discipline, too. “For 30 years I have eaten the same, fish or chicken. Good soup, and this is all. I don’t drink, not tea, not coffee, not alcohol. Hot water.” As for exercise, even at her age, Alice says “I walk a lot with terrible pains, but after 20 minutes it is much better. Sitting or lying is not good.”

3. Laugh.

Alice’s strategy has not only been to think happy thoughts, but to show it by laughing. She is convinced this is what kept her young son alive, even as he witnessed daily atrocities for two years in the Nazi camps. “Everything is good and bad. So look at the good side and laugh.” “And I was always laughing – even there, I was always laughing.” Many people may have called Alice’s attitude fake along the way, or even accused her of being in denial, but Alice has had the last laugh, and the best.

4. Look inside yourself for strength.

Alice’s bond with her mother was so strong, that when Alice’s mother was taken away by the Nazis, she experienced grief that she thought would crush her. A small voice within told her that the strength to overcome would not come from outside help, not from her friends, her husband or her son. “You alone can help yourself”, Alice remembers stoically. She found that strength by rigorously practicing “for hours and hours” one of the most technically challenging pieces for any pianist, Chopin’s ’24 Etudes’. Her ability to master the difficult music led to her conquering her grief.

5. Don’t complain.

Complaining about a situation never ever changes it. Alice cautions: “All that complain, ‘This is terrible’, it’s not so terrible after all. Complaining changes nothing.” “When you are not complaining…everybody loves you.”

6. Be optimistic. Look for the good things.

“Every day in life is beautiful – if we only look up from our reality”, Alice admonishes. Pessimists “wait for catastrophes, and sometimes the catastrophes come” she says, almost mockingly. “Always look for the good things in life: the world is wonderful, it’s full of beauty and miracles.” Alice credits her longevity to her optimism, saying “this is the reason I am so old, I know about the bad things but I look only for the good things.” “I think about the good. That takes a lot of practice.”

7. Never hate.

“When you know history – wars and wars and wars … It begins with this: that we are born half-good and half-bad – everybody, everybody. And there are situations where the bad comes out and situations where the good comes out.” Alice zealously expresses. “Never, never hate. I don’t hate the Germans. They are wonderful people, no worse than others. Evil has always existed and always will. It is part of our life.” As for Hitler, Sommer dismisses him simply as “a madman”. “I never hate. I will never hate. Hatred brings only hatred.”

8. Be grateful.

When asked what the greatest lesson of her life has been, Alice’s reply is “thankfulness”. “Be thankful for everything, being in good health, seeing the sun, hearing a nice word”, Alice advises. She laments, “Young people take everything for granted… There is electricity, cars, telegraph, telephone, Internet. We also have hot water all day long. We live like kings.” Alice is even thankful for her experience in the camp. “I am thankful to have been there… I am richer than other people.” And to sum her 108 year, Alice says “I have had such a beautiful life”. And when asked about her philosophy of life in a nutshell, this peerless lady surmises simply: “Everything we experience is a gift. Everything is a present.”

For more on Alice Herz-Sommer’s inspiring life, I recommend Caroline Stoessinger’s biography ‘A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor‘.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Today I’m Inspired by: King Short Shirt

McClean Emanuel was born on February 28, 1942 on the island of Antigua. The last of nine children, he is the son a fisherman, and grew up in the low-income urban district of Point. At the age of 20, he brought his awesome talent into the spotlight, when he entered his first calypso competition. He made it to the finals, but was eliminated in the first round.  By 1964, however, he walked away with the crown that would start his first three-year winning streak as King Short Shirt, Calypso Monarch of Antigua.

Short Shirt was confident and brash, calling himself the “Cassius Clay of Calypso”. He won the local crown again in 1969 and went on to win six more times between 1970 and 1979. In all, he had won 15 titles by the time he retired from competition in 1992. Known for the power and clarity of his singing voice and exceptional diction,  his legacy is one of scathing social commentary. His songs echo the rise of the Black Power movement in the late sixties, and the disillusionment in the islands of the early seventies. He sang against all forms of injustice, and was a fearless social advocate. He won the Antigua Road March title seven times, and had a total of seven regional wins, as well.  His 1976 hit “Tourist Leggo” is reputed to have created an immense stir at Trinidad’s Carnival, almost capturing the title and allegedly inspiring officials to start a ban on foreign entrants to the Road March competition.

One of the most loved Antiguan ‘Sons of the Soil’, Brother Emanuel, as he now prefers to be called, recently celebrated his 70th birthday, and the 50th anniversary of his performing career. He still writes and performs gospels songs, and appears to have no plans of slowing down.

King Short Shirt sang at my parents’ 1973 double wedding, and my favorite album of his – “Ghetto Vibes” – was released when I was just an infant. I have already posted about the song ‘Vivian Richards’ from this 1976 album. I now present ‘When’. While not as haunting as ‘Lamentation’, the lyrics remain as relevant as they were three and a half decades ago:

When? When will we learn to live together?
When? When will we learn to love each other?
When? When will we learn to trust our brother?
When? When will we live one for another?

Lord! I search and I search and I can’t find neither love, true happiness nor peace divine.
Sometimes I feel like I want to scream. And scream. And scream. And scream.
Sometimes, Lord I feel I could scream.

When? When will mankind turn from their evil?
When? When will the children rise and shine?
When? When will crime, violence and corruption?
When? When will they leave the hearts of mankind?

Lord! I search and I search but I can’t find either purity, grace or truth in mankind.
Sometimes I feel like I want to scream. And scream. And scream. And scream.
Sometimes, Lord I feel I could scream.

When? When will our dreams become Utopia?
When? When will our sorrows cease to be?
When? When will the poor no longer hunger?
When? When will mankind be truly free?

Lord! I search and I search but I can’t find the land of milk and honey and rivers full of wine.
Sometimes I feel like I want to scream. And scream. And scream. And scream.
Sometimes, Lord I feel I could scream.

Posted on 2 Comments

Happy Birthday to the Master Blaster

Happy 60th birthday, Sir Viv! I remember the early-eighties glory days of the indomitable West Indies cricket team. I am proud of this handsome, charming, uber talented and passionate Antiguan “Son of the Soil”, Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards.

In the words of King Short Shirt:

Vivi is the name, cricket is the game
Brother I don’t know how he could play cricket so
But his batting, bowling, fielding, catching is breathtaking
Sometimes I does wonder if he’s a next Sobers In the making
That man Richards Could really bat
Is something him on the attack
Plundering bowlers again and again
It’s remarkable how he does dictate the game

CHORUS
No bowler holds a terror for Vivian Richards
Not Thompson and Lillee, nor Bedi nor Chandrasakar
Perfect co-ordination of body and mind
That brother is really dynamite
Pace or spin, he don’t give a France what you bowling him
Fast or slowly, you going back to the boundary

England, here they come, this hunk of a man
This classical player and his fellow Antiguans
Andy Roberts, wreaking havoc once again in your country
Vivian Richards wrecking bowlers boundary after boundary
Watch the scoreboard ticking on
When Vivian batting, the machine must run
And people applauding for runs like bread
And another splendid Richards century again!

Posted on 2 Comments

Be That Great Generation

If you still don’t know who Joseph Kony is or haven’t heard about the Kony 2012 campaign, then consider yourself a modern-day Rip van Winkle. Here it is in a nutshell:

Joseph Kony is a Ugandan warlord who came to power through religious family ties. His aunt was her tribe’s mystic and started the Holy Spirit Movement. Kony asserts that he is a prophet sent from God to purify Uganda and to bring peace under the rule of the Ten Commandments. As the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Kony has been engaged in a monstrous campaign to set up theocratic leadership in the African nation since 1986.

Over the last 26 years the LRA have abducted and enslaved an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 children, forcing them into sex slavery and into the service of a militant child army. Young boys are armed and taught to kill, often starting with the execution of their own families. The LRA has systematically terrorized communities not only in Uganda, but also the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Central African Republic. In 2005, Joseph Kony was indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, but has since evaded capture.

And now, Jason Russell wants you to stop Joseph Kony. Russell is the co-founder of Invisible Children, an organization dedicated to informing young people around the world about the atrocities being committed by Kony and the LRA. What began as a small grassroots organization in San Diego, California is now hundreds of thousands members strong. Invisible Children believes that, through the connective power of social media, we are that generation that can make a difference.

As this issue swirls to the forefront, a myriad of counter-arguments have arisen. Objections range from scoffing at the thought that attempting to stop a warlord through twitter is naive, to criticism that asserts that capturing Kony is an oversimplification of the problem, and will not stop the LRA. There have been serious allegations that supporting the “good guys” means supporting a potentially equally corrupt and dangerous Ugandan military. There is no denying that the ongoing strife in Uganda is a deeply nuanced and complex issue.

The question is, which side of history do you want to be on? If we were to rewind seventy years to the era of the Third Reich. Had there been a facebook, twitter and youtube, would you have sat in silence when given the opportunity to raise your voice? Or would you have joined the movement condemning the massacre of millions of innocent Jews and to stop Adolph Hitler? War criminals tend to enjoy their anonymity so that their blood-letting can continue uninterrupted. At the very least the Kony 2012 campaign is a powerful tool to raise awareness of an intolerable situation which has existed for far too long. If successful in its mission, Kony 2012 can lead to an improved quality of life for thousands of children and an entire region.

The Kony regime is a disgrace that spans 25 years of violence, there will be no tidy resolution. So what are you going to do? Will you sit on the fence waiting for the perfect cause to support? There are no perfect causes, just like their are no perfect people. Nelson Mandela was not perfect, Jason Russell is not perfect, and neither are you and I. Before you support any cause, know what you’re supporting. Do as much research as you feel is necessary but, for goodness sake, do something. I am on the side of the argument that says evil prevails when good people do nothing. Let your greatness blossom. Use your clicks to take a stand. Please watch the 30-minute video, and visit Invisible Children to learn more.

Posted on 6 Comments

5 Reasons Why You Should Want A Tough Boss

Whenever I encounter someone struggling under the weight of new professional demands, I share the story of my very first job.

I was 18 years old and straight out of A-Levels. After re-sitting Chemistry, I took a job for a few months at a boutique before starting University in the fall. My attitude going in was that working in a retail clothing store would be dead easy.

Charmaine was my boss. Every day, she would grill me on the exact way to write up receipts, make sure all the hangers faced the same direction, and how to fold the clothes so that they formed precisely uniform stacks. The racks were to be dusted twice per day, and all the windows had to be double and triple checked when leaving in the afternoon. Smiles were to be bright, greetings always perky, and customers always to be treated like royalty.

Charmaine was tirelessly exacting about everything. Customers should never walk in and find you seated, or with your back turned. Suggestions must always be made for accenting and completing every outfit. Colors were to always be described using yummy names. Every day for my first week, I went home and cried my eyes out. My soon to be off to University self-esteem was taking a beating. I wanted to quit. I hated her. Who makes such a fuss about working in a silly clothing store? But I toughed it out and stayed.

Charmaine taught me what it means to take pride in my work and to be excellent. The experience of working at ‘A Thousand Flowers’ boutique for a few months shaped my work ethic for life. Charmaine is still one of the people I hold most dear today.

My first tough boss, Charmaine, and me in 2008, 15 years after we first worked together.

 

 

People fantasize about their dream bosses, they dream of working for the kind of slacker who lets you get away with murder, go for lunch as long as you want, come in late, and who would never dream of insisting that you actually work hard to perform your duties properly. What you should really be wishing for is a boss who is smart, great at their job and demanding.

In short, you want a tough boss who is better at your job than you, and will notice every single mistake you make and call you out on it. The best bosses I have had are the ones that insisted on the highest standards from me and forced me to see and live up to my true potential. I read a great article yesterday which reminded me of this. The original article has an irreverent style and some strong language, so here’s a cleaned up summarized version of the 5 reasons why you should want a tough boss:

#5. Tough Bosses Don’t Hide Information Due to Insecurity

Many people rise to the top not because they are the smartest or best, but because they are intent on acquiring an unfair advantage. They covet information, and hide details. On the other hand, people who are really smart don’t rely on  controlling information. They’re confident in their abilities, so they are comfortable giving their employees the tools to shine. Smart bosses don’t waste time manufacturing games to make others fail; they spend their hours doing their job well. It might be hard to work for someone possibly smarter than you, but it is better than having to work for someone who maintains power through deceit.

#4. Tough Bosses Don’t Create Fall Guys

Bosses who are hypersensitive about their failings always create distance between their decisions and the project to be accomplished, so that there are more people to blame if something goes wrong. They create fall guys. A truly competent boss got where he or she is by doing the job better than anyone else. That boss won’t want anything substandard under his or her watch. They take the excellent performance of their teams personally. They will want to review projects before they are due, and that will be irritating. You should be grateful for this. If it is wrong, they will tell you in no uncertain terms to get it right, instead of having you fall on your sword to make them look good when it all falls apart.

#3. You Know Where You Stand With Tough Bosses

Many treacherous and incompetent bosses are super nice. Having everyone like them is a trick they used to become the boss in the first place. Nice means nothing. Even when things get really bad, they still act nice! None of the act is true and most people never see the knife in the nice guy’s hand.  Smiles and silence come easier than honesty. Distance grows more from things left unsaid, than things said in anger. Unspoken words and phrases build walls of hurt and insecurity. Those same walls can obscure the wrecking ball that’s coming toward your head. Yelling is not all bad. Raised voices and reprimands don’t have to be the same thing as abuse. It is always better to know exactly where you stand. “Nice” people are just not good at that.

#2. Tough Bosses Can Keep the Company Alive

Sure, a nice boss who doesn’t expect too much sounds great, but how good is he at keeping the company and your job afloat? The skills that rise a half-talent nice guy to power and keep him there are not necessarily the same skills that can keep a business successful. Clients and the public expect real competence and results. Sometimes all the hidden information, charming smiles, slick compliments and tricks cannot compensate for mediocrity. A truly talented boss can help keep the company alive, and keep your bread and butter coming.

#1. Tough Bosses Make You Smarter, So You Can Eventually Become the Boss

Bosses set tones. Even those who aren’t leading still set an example. If you work for a boss who rose to power and maintains it through deceit and guile, you will learn to play your cards close to your chest instinctively. You will learn to be distrustful, but you still won’t be any good at your job. A talented boss will teach you how to actually be good at your job, and not just how to appear successful. Even if you don’t think they care about teaching you, just the exposure to a competent boss will make you a better employee. It will give you a real skill set that you can take with you into the future, and give you the ability to become the boss one day. Your talent and intelligence will then create better employees and better future bosses.

Posted on Leave a comment

Sugar Free Me

After watching Matt Cutts’ three-minute Ted talk, I’ve been inspired by a new friend to go completely sugar-free for 30 days. While I am passionate about the benefits of living a healthy, low carb lifestyle, I’ve never gone completely sugar-free.  For the first time, I won’t even allow myself a few packets of Splenda or Equal. A 30-day, cold turkey sugar-free journey starts now.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Promise Yourself…

“Promise yourself to today to be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.” ~Christian D. Larson

Christian D. Larson penned these inspiring words in 1912. They appeared in his book ‘Your Forces and How to Use Them‘ (now in the public domain) and form part of what has become known as the Optimist Creed, adopted by Optimist clubs worldwide. These beautiful words have been inspiring me for years and I hope they do the same for you.