I love seeing people develop and then flourish with their new ideas, confidence and skills. One of the first steps though is simply getting organised: preparation is everything. As the saying goes, every over-night success is ten years in the making. Unfortunately, being organised is more prevalent in one sex than the other: holding my hands up for this absolutely sexist comment <it’s ok, am not about to start the racist’s self-denial sentence starting with “I’m not racist but . . .”>, it seems to me that young women in business at the same age as young men not only seem more driven but far more organised. They are hungry, eager to prove themselves and, although perhaps less confident (call that a thousand years of patriarchy!) they are far humbler. In essence, they kill it.
To get my mentees on the right path, we arrange half an hour on a Monday to review their schedule for that week. For me, I usually try to do this on a Friday, which occasionally results in working a little on weekends, but it gives my brain a little time to prepare. If you’re a regular reader (hi mum!), you know my brain needs all the help it can get. In our 30 minutes we do the simple things first:
For me, there’s nothing worse than the ‘Christ, I still haven’t done that!’ thought that happens mid-week. In this I have a tradition: after the ‘kerrrrissttt!’ thought, my brain reasons that I need tea to prepare for the event. 'Just brew it, you can work whilst it brews!' cries the hamster of my mind. But even that is the procrastination side kicking in, so I reject my mind’s overtures: ‘Make the phone call, then have the tea as a reward – you’re going to need it after the call anyway!’. Tackle the tough stuff first.
You may not have ever heard of Ted Sorenson, but I doubt there’s a human being alive in the Western world that hasn’t heard one of his speeches. Ted passes credit, of course, to JFK, but the line is thus: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." In terms of relevance in business, this is akin to one of the Ten Commandments.
This week I was stunned to receive some unsolicited (and un-bribed, I’d add!) positive feedback from my team, which included “it didn’t feel like they worked for me, but that we were a team”. What I found so surprising is that even in terms of reporting line, the team don’t report to me at all – they report elsewhere. I’m the decision maker in a pulled-together team, but I take their advice on all things, rely upon their expertise at every turn and take their council and recommendations. Previous leaders it turned out didn’t take the same approach, didn’t get their hands dirty, and felt they needed to impress their will and authority. No matter how smart you are, there’s no way I’d take one person’s twenty years’ experience over a combined one hundred and twenty years in a diverse team.
And so, in a very short post this week for all those in leadership:
Reading is one of life’s wonderous pleasures, along with photography, fornication and tea, obviously. I’d hasten to warn against trying all four simultaneously. Let’s say the results were ‘mixed’.
In the last week I’ve picked up the quite excellent golden oldie, The Magic of Thinking BIG by David Schwartz. It’s a positive, up-beat book full of opportunity and optimism, capturing the mood of a nation at the time. With Europe and Asia still smouldering in the economic fall-out of the Second World War, there was only one winner: The Mighty United States of America™. Industry was booming, disposable income was rife, and there were products to sell! All you needed was to get out there and spruik those automobiles or encyclopedias or Coca-Cola or tuppaware and the world was yours. To do that though you had to believe in yourself, to dress the part, to look the part, to BE the part! And attend some sales seminars hosted by David Schwartz.
I’ve read one hundred pages or so and only one woman has owned a business. The book is directed purely at ‘fellows’, you see, with most women rearing the children (sounds uncomfortable) and managing the housework dutifully. It’s a mark of its era in that respect. But imagine the time when a single bread-winner could buy a house, car and account for all financials, whilst the other managed the household and gushed over Bakelite shoes and anything modestly radioactive. Halcyon days! The aspect I love most about this book is the tone, it just reads like an old advert: well hullo, look at this fellow! Young Tom here has an idea for a business, but where to begin?! After a quick chat and attending one of my seminars his mind was opened! The next day he sold a million dollars of thimbles/thumb-tacks/thumb-screws and was the envy of most men. Tom’s penis probably got bigger too. God Bless America! What can I tell you, Wales had weird adverts when I was a child, although America wasn't far behind given the below
Celebrating its sixtieth year since publishing, the book is still relevant and an absolute gold-mine of simplistic, useful guidance: have a goal; have a BIGGER goal, goddamn you!; develop regular habits; work hard; work effectively; believe in yourself; invest in yourself; risk getting out of your comfort zone; adopt a can-do attitude. David Schwartz even suggests marketing yourself to yourself, repeating your own creed to pump up your tyres. Re-sell yourself time and again, remind yourself how good you really are. In an age of crippling mental health, a bit of self-love and compassion could probably go along way indeed. If you don’t believe in yourself, how do you expect anyone else to?
And now if you’ll excuse me on this beautiful Sunday morning in Melbourne, I’m going to sprinkle a spoonful of go-get-um on my cornflakes, and get out there!! . . . right after I’ve had another cup of tea.
If you’re seeking one of those rallying calls of life affirmation, a tome that channels pure lightning into the veins with an indomitable will to overcome any obstacle at all costs, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations ain’t it. At least, not immediately. “As often as a father kisseth his child, he should say secretly with himself, to-morrow perchance shall he die.” Uplifting, no?
The point though echoed throughout is the sentiment of permanency. All things change: enjoy life whilst we have it for tomorrow is uncertain. Not in a hedonistic way though, so put your pants back on and put the beer back in the fridge. The call is for focus, for calm, for a thirst of learning, of being a good, truthful person unto yourself and unto others. All very pedestrian, and yet extremely encouraging, like a great-grandfather providing life-advice over some Werthers originals.
Meditations are simply a collection of deliberations from the Stoic Roman Emperor, leaning on the shoulders of philosophers Socrates and Epictetus time and again. I had two versions to read: one probably more authentic yet a gruelling trudge through doths and thous and kisseths; and a more recent translated text form the NY Modern Library. In all honesty my mind foundered with the original, but I tried marrying the two at key points. For example, ‘if you were suddenly lifted up to see life from a vast height . . . you’d see how pointless it all is’ doesn’t exactly translate. In the more original text, it discusses the wonderful mutability of all things on earth and celestial. To borrow from Seneca, a muse on their shortness of life. As stated in the introduction, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and there’s a reason why William Wallace in Braveheart doesn’t shout ‘they’ll never take our freeeedom!! . . . because freedom is all in the mind, and you’re bound to die anyway at some point . . . chaaaaarge!!'
Parallels are often drawn to the more immediate natural world, in trees, as the microcosm of our own lives: a single year illustrating the growth from mere buds; the flourish and life of verdance; autumn the slow decay; eventually the leaves fluttering away into the ground as too will our own bodies, feeding nutrients needed to start new life. Despite the transience of our own existence there is a cyclical, comforting view of continuance. Life is more than ‘just us’.
“. . . according to Epicurus, atoms be the cause of all things and that life be nothing else but an accidentary confusion of things, and death nothing else, but a mere dispersion and so of all other things: what doest thou trouble thyself for?"
Perspective is a wonderful thing, and an enduring theme throughout Meditations. Since his missives castigate those seeking fame for no purpose than ‘fleeting’ immortality, the Emperor would be amused that millions still read his words almost two thousand years later. Aurelius attained his own legacy despite the intention – his Meditations were never meant to be a published work but purely for himself, and perhaps that’s what makes the writings so endearing. The naked honesty of how he viewed the world and himself, chastening himself to constantly be better. There is total conviction in self-empowerment, of taking responsibility and action above ceaseless complaining. And who can argue with that? To paraphrase:
Past and future have no hold on you, only the present, and even that can be minimised – when everything appears so unbearable, endure!
Never trust anyone that doesn’t fail. Dupe them into buying your next lottery ticket, absolutely, but trust? No chance. One of my favourite questions when conducting interviews is asking about challenges and failures, identifying within a person their own perceptions of failure and most importantly, what they did about it. I’ve only ever had one interviewee that couldn’t name their weaknesses or failures, and I was silly enough override my doubts and hire them. They were escorted from the building within a few months.
Failure is often seen as a negative, yet it’s the fuel that drives us on to try again, to make a better product, to run faster, to pass the exam. For each of those world-class athletes, Nobel-laureates and pop-idols, they only taste success by failing a thousand times. For Colonel Sanders this was literally true, failing time and time again until a restaurant bought his receipt for making KFC. Edison was the same with the lightbulb, constructing three thousand different theories. It’s the reaction to the failure that defines our character. Again, this is summed up perfectly by Walter S. Mallory:
Seneca believed that anger and frustration came from our own perception of how something should work, how something should turn out, and it not meeting our expectations. If instead we considered all possible outcomes, not just what we hoped would happen, we can prepare ourselves for our reaction to the inevitable. If it all turns out right, then it’s Caramel McFlurry’s and banoffee pie for everyone!
And yet you cannot know every possible outcome. Sometimes you just don’t know (or want to know) what will happen. You cannot even fathom all the possibilities ahead of you. Is it daunting? Not at all, it’s exciting! You don’t need to know everything; you just need to try. I constantly get asked when I travel where I’m staying, what I’m doing, a detailed view of my itinerary. The reaction is mostly the same: I have no idea. I usually book the first two nights, have an inclination of where to go, and then let the rest work itself out. It usually does, one way or another.
Writing and writing...