Monday, 5 October 2015

The heights by great men reached and kept... Lessons from the Rugby World Cup

The 2015 Rugby World Cup is underway in England.  It is wonderful to see sportsmen at their best, chasing a prize that would demonstrate their superior specialist skills and bring pride to their nations.  As I watched the various matches, I realised that Rugby, and indeed other team games, offer important lessons, if only we take time to examine the principles:

i) Goal setting– The ultimate aim of a rugby team is to score more goals than the opponent and in so doing earn the coveted crown.  In life too we have to set goals and take steps to achieve them.  When we go with the flow, life just floats along and as we have no set destination we end up some place some day, doing something with someone.  Though we may have to change the goalposts from time to time it is important to set goals to help us chart our paths to our desired objective.

ii) Targeting– In order to win a game a team needs to hit the target.  Team members are aware of the target and they know that there are obstacles in the way.  They keep their eyes and minds on the target, never losing sight of it. We too should have targets.  What are you aiming for?  Do you know what you want, why you want it and how you will know when you have achieved it?  What would happen if you don’t hit your target; more importantly, what would happen if you do?  Many of us have learnt to handle failure but struggle with success. We can’t afford to hit our target only to have it slip from our hands, for we weren't prepared for it.

iii) Drive – Irrespective of a team’s position in the league tables, they must have drive.  There is no shortage of takers for the position if a highly-placed team loses momentum and its performance slips.  Complacency has no place in Rugby League or indeed in Rugby Union. In life too we must maintain our drive.  It is normal for one to tire or to lose interest but it is not how many times we fall, but the number of times we get up and get going again.  If you are serious about achieving a goal you have to keep up the momentum.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help if necessary; often the end is imminent though we may not be able to see it. 

iv) Teamwork– Rugby is a team game; no one individual on his own can make a team successful.  A group of people come together to train, plan and execute; sometimes they win and sometimes they lose.  A successful goal and resulting win is celebrated by all, not just by the individual who was lucky enough to score. In the wider society we have to adopt an attitude of cooperation.  This is not a new concept - countries form economic blocs, corporations merge or form strategic alliances in order to increase their market share, individuals form partnerships and capitalize on each other’s strengths to access bigger contracts. “No man is an island”.

v) Forgiveness– Individuals within a team at times make mistakes that may lead to the awarding of a penalty to the competitor; needless to say, the resulting goal sometimes makes the difference between winning and losing.  The team has to put the error behind them, acknowledge their loss as a team and not focus on the individual who made the mistake.  We too have to forgive and not allow ill feelings to fester.  We have to look for the good in the person and not dwell on the offence.  Forgiveness liberates; it is not about the other person being let off the hook, for that person will have to live with the consequences of his actions, forgiven or not.

vi) Celebration of small successes- When a rugby game is in progress each goal is celebrated, even if there are 80 minutes left to play.  Although the game is not over, the players, their management team and indeed their fans celebrate the successes along the way.  Too often we think that we have to conquer the entire mountain before we are entitled to celebrate. Don’t be pessimistic!  Celebrate the small steps, for the big achievements are made up of smaller (often invisible), consistent actions.  Life is also about the journey, not just the destination.

vii) Time management – Rugby players have to turn up at pre-determined times for their practice sessions and they have to commit an agreed amount of time to practising.  Time is a very important factor on the field – matches start at set times and players are expected to play for 80 minutes and extra time if necessary.    Time is a great resource – not one to be wasted.  There are many factors in today’s society that can waste our time if not managed effectively – emails, text, telephone calls, attendance at events, social visits, meetings, traffic etc.  We have to identify the time wasters in our lives and manage them. 

 viii) Commitment and dedication – Rugby players generally earn significant sums and although they have not been in the news as much as footballers for example, there is no doubt that there are many who feel that they earn too much in comparison with other professionals.  What is often ignored is the level of commitment and dedication that they put into their preparation.  They have to be out of their beds at unsociable hours in wind, rain and sun in order to train with the team.  We too have to be committed and dedicated to whichever endeavour we undertake.  We cannot run away when the going gets rough or when we cannot see the wood for the trees.  We have to develop staying power; if we believe in what we do we’ll stay and see it through.  Aim for sustainability and longevity; if your venture eventually fails, at least you can say that you gave it a fair shot.  Learn your lessons, move on and try not to repeat your mistakes.

ix) Staying calm under pressure- This characteristic is shown particularly when players are taking penalties.  There is tremendous pressure and the result of their effort may not reflect their level of skill.  There are many elements in life that put us under pressure – economics, politics, technology; environmental, social as well as personal matters, for example.  Our ability to remain calm reduces our stress level and strengthens our coping mechanism.  There will always be hills and valleys in our path but we have to look beyond the immediate and recognise that there is always a way, even when we cannot see the way.  Bear in mind that if we fail today “tomorrow is another day.”  The quickest distance between two points is not necessarily via a straight line.  There is a fitting Jamaican proverb: Shortcut draws blood, long road draws sweat – we have a choice.
x) Resilience– I have never seen a rugby game where all the players remain on their feet.  Invariably they fall over and over and although they may hurt, they keep going.  In life we will be hurt sometimes, knocked over - even trampled, we may be broken and we may bleed but once there’s life, there’s hope. Get up and bounce back!  You owe it to yourself.

xi) Physical exercise and keeping fit– Rugby plays have to be fit; they constantly exercise in order to be able to outmanoeuvre and outlast the competition.  While some of us will be overweight, what is important is that we endeavour to keep ourselves healthy to the best of our ability so that we give ourselves the best chance of achieving our goals.  Keeping fit includes avoiding excesses that harm our bodies and make us unfit to achieve our purpose.  It includes getting enough sleep and feeding our mind, body and spirit.

xii) Passion - Those who play rugby are not only drawn to the high wages and fame – they generally have significant passion for the game.  This is what makes them get out of bed consistently; it keeps them going even after they have made their millions.  They are doing what they love to do and it may not even feel like work.  We too must find the source of our passion.  If we enjoy our work we are more likely to turn up in the rain, wind and snow.  We will be motivated and we will want to do it well.  Passion gives us staying power – makes us tough when the going gets rough.
xiii) Regard for family – After a tournament players can often be seen relaxing in exotic places with their significant other.  Good sportsmen spend time with their families; returning to basics for a dose of reality from time to time.  They balance work life with family life, ensuring that neither suffers. Too many families fall apart because individuals within the family fail to make time for others.  They are caught up in their own careers and they think that being able to shower their family with money and expensive gifts can replace quality time.  Ultimately their personal lives get into trouble initiating a vicious cycle as their professional lives start to suffer. Life is about balance – achieve the right balance and your happiness and success will be enhanced.

xiv) Strategy – Even if like me you don’t know much about rugby, you are likely to be able to recognise effective strategies on the field when you see it.  The game follows key principles and formations i.e. strategies that the team would have prepared. There is a saying that goes “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.  If you fail to plan a strategy to achieve your goals they will just remain there and become dreams, or may even turn into nightmares.  If you just go with the flow chances are you will wash up anywhere.  While that may work for some people most of us have to put strategies into place in order to survive and thrive. 

xv) Flexibility– Although the team would have planned a particular strategy with their manager, they often have to change, based on the actions of their opponents.  We often see managers replacing players or we may see a change in strategy after half time. Players have to play in varying climatic conditions – they have to adapt.  In life we too have to be flexible.  Having a strategy is essential but as we do not exist in a vacuum we must bear in mind that the external environment will impact and we may have to change our strategy; we have to be aware of and responsive to the actions of other people.

xvi) Positive thinking – Rugby players believe they can win every time.  The moment they consider defeat is the moment they are defeated.  They have to believe in themselves and their ability to conquer the opposition, thus satisfying their fans and safeguarding their status. Every change begins in the mind.  Your thoughts lead to your actions and consistent actions become habits.  If you don’t develop a habit of believing in yourself it will be difficult to conquer your mountains, indeed your molehills will start to resemble mountains.  Once you are realistic in your aspirations there is no reason for you to doubt yourself; just use positive affirmations and consider that if it doesn’t work out, this too shall pass.

xvii) Perseverance – Rugby players have to keep going.  No doubt they tire tremendously after 80 minutes of consistent running, however they block out the pain as far as is possible, keeping at the forefront of their minds the goal they are pursuing. Many of us tire quickly, we have very little staying power and when the going gets rough we retire our projects and move on to something else.  “Rolling stones gather no moss.”  The next project will not necessarily be easier and we may find that the grass is not greener on the other side.  Stick with it - take your project to completion.

xviii) Instinct – Irrespective of the level of the coaching and instructions given to players, when they are on the field they are masters of their own destiny.  They have to weigh the consequences of their actions against the risk of a goal being scored.  At that moment intellect is good but instinct is better. We too have to be in tune with our intuition and know when to take actions that will impact our situations.  Our mentors have no access to our gut feelings; we have to be true to ourselves and acknowledge that instinct is an innate quality that aids our decision-making.
xix) Self-control – Rugby players may get into tussles on the field if they feel they have been disrespected or if their egos have been bruised.  However, for the most part they do exercise self-control.  One could argue that their restraint is attributed to the power of the referee’s yellow cards which will see the player forced to leave the pitch for 10 minutes while the game plays on.  This man down could have disastrous consequences for a team. Self-control is a key factor in emotional intelligence - one which enables us to exercise tolerance, understanding, forgiveness and patience.  If we allow others to make us angry and we lose control we give away our power.  If we don’t control our emotions we lose opportunities and close doors that could lead to good places – indeed we harm our chances in life.

xx) Respect– Rugby players must show respect for authority.  They will tell you how much they wanted to be in the starting line-up for games but their managers had other ideas.  They may be substituted on the pitch and they have no choice but to respect their manager’s decisions. Respect for self and others are key ingredients in personal and professional growth.  Movers and shakers do not like disrespectful people and will not go the extra mile to help even when it costs them nothing.  The Jamaican proverb:  “Manners takes you through the world” conveys this well.
xxi) Professionalism – It must be very painful to lose a game, especially the ones that are deemed important in league tables or which are played on the international stage.  Despite any disappointment or aversion players shake the hands of their opponents and they often cheer them at the end. Even when they are suffering an embarrassing defeat they don’t abandon the game.  Whatever we do we should ensure that we adopt a professional approach.  It is tantamount to integrity and these are the factors that make us look good and add value to our repertoire.  Pain is found in every walk of life and although we have the right to hurt, we do not have the right to remain wounded.  As the saying goes:  “Today for you, tomorrow for me”.

xxii) Discipline – Despite what people may think rugby players are generally highly self-disciplined.  They have to be careful about what they consume, they have to refrain from certain vices and they have to ensure that they have sufficient rest in order to keep themselves fit for the team. In life we must maintain discipline if we are to co-exist peacefully.  At the very least we have to be tolerant, respect diversity, obey the law and pay taxes.  No one wants to live in a lawless society where our security is compromised because people simply disrespect authority, disobey rules and ignore responsibility.

xxiii) Fearlessness – Watching a penalty shootout is a very tense moment even for those who do not play the game.  Imagine therefore the fear that the penalty taker must feel, aware of the responsibility on his shoulders.   If left unmanaged fear stifles creativity; it stops us from taking risks that could propel us forward and it curtails our drive.   It is a natural phenomenon that we all experience but we have to develop strategies to control it. Feel the fear and do it anyway (Susan Jeffers).

xxiv) Money making – Rugby players earn big money.  They found their purpose, play with passion and earn well from their chosen a career.  They do not waste time in roles that do not pay well and if they are not playing well they are replaced.  We too must find worthwhile opportunities and ensure we are making good use of our time.  While it is fine to be in entry level jobs for a while, the onus is on us to grow professionally so that we can meet our needs and be a blessing to others in due season.

xxv) Work hard, play hard – We have already established that rugby players work hard.  They play hard too.  It is not unusual to see photographs of them in the press enjoying themselves in some faraway place with their mates or loved ones.  In our aspiration to acquire the finer things in life we often forget to have fun.  We end up taking work home, working overtime, just to make a few extra bucks to save for a rainy day.  Unfortunately by the time we get around to enjoying our savings many of us find ourselves alone, are ill or may even be dead.  “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

xxvi) Patience – There are often debates about whether a manager should be fired after an unsuccessful run or if such a manager should be allowed to complete their intended contractual tenure.  Often it takes a while for success to come; the board, players and fans alike have to exercise patience and allow the team to gel under the manager’s leadership.  Patience is a virtue; too often we give up early because we don’t immediately see the results we are hoping for.  There is a Jamaican saying that explains this phenomenon:  the darkest part of night is when day soon light”.  There will be difficult moments but with patience and hard work we will see the light at the end of the tunnel.

xxvii) Gratitude – Many rugby players, indeed many sportsmen will tell you that one of their greatest joys was the fact that they were able to purchase property for their parents.  Many will have assisted their friends and family to set up business, settle debts or purchase items beyond their reach.  We too must not forget our roots; we must reach out to those who helped us in our formative years and those who may have struggled with us before we achieved success.  There is a famous quote that says: be careful how you treat people on your way up because you might meet them again on your way down.

xxviii) Generosity – From time to time we hear of sportsmen who have donated money and resources to individuals.  It could be as simple as purchasing drinks for everyone at a venue or leaving a handsome tip at a restaurant.  They generally do not count their pennies; they focus instead on bringing in the pounds.  In life we too must be generous with our resources.  It doesn't have to be financial help – giving of our time, effort, know-how, physical resources, among others is just as good.  For those of us who do business we must ensure that we negotiate win/win contracts so that all parties feel valued.  There is no need to attach getting to our giving; indeed giving is the seed to your getting.

xxix) Philanthropy – Right across the world there are projects that are set up and/or funded by sportsmen.  Altruism goes beyond one’s immediate social group and extends out to humanity, perhaps building a school, funding a charity, purchasing equipment for a hospital, developing a sport facility within a community.  Human beings must seek to leave a legacy, however small, not only to our family but to the world.  We are bound to support our own children but how many of us help other people’s children? We may not be able to help everyone but surely we can help someone.

xxx) Hard work brings true joy – As we watch the various teams go for glory, one cannot help but cheer, irrespective of our allegiance.  When you listen to their stories and see how far they’ve come you recognise how deserving of their place they are. They believe in themselves, work well as a team, remain calm under pressure, exercise patience, perseverance, professionalism and discipline; conquer their fear, plan their strategy and execute their plans.  At the end of the tournament they can be proud of representing their countries, regardless of the outcome.

Every corner of our life is packed with lessons to be learnt and shared.  These are some that rugby players, and indeed other professional sportsmen can teach us.  Let us explore these factors in our lives and start to build a legacy.
The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.  (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow).

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

One-eyed man is king in a blind man’s country

Today I was conversing with Audrey - a fellow parent of a child with autism.  We had both been attending a social event with our children and were discussing the challenges we face with the education of our children.   I had on a previous occasion told Audrey about the Pocket Learner system I developed to enable my daughter Shari to build her communication skills and learn to read.   On this occasion I took the opportunity to demonstrate the system to her with the help of my little girl.  I took out one of the cards and asked Shari to read it.  She promptly responded “plum” showing that she could indeed identify the word.  When Audrey observed this she retorted that the system was too advanced for her daughter who at the age of seven is within Shari’s peer group. 

I find it quite peculiar that Audrey instantly determined that her little girl could not learn using the system after seeing another child excel.   Instead of seeing Shari’s performance as proof that the system works she instantly closed her mind to it and in so doing denied her daughter the opportunity to test a programme that might well empower her even in some small way.  American writer Richard Bach said "Argue for your limitations and, sure enough, they're yours." 

When we started teaching Shari we did not know that it would work and that she would react so positively and so quickly.  That was three years ago and today she has a wide vocabulary and is able to read several hundred words despite her multiple learning difficulties diagnosis.  It was not an overnight change; it required consistency, patience and dedication.  Audrey’s daughter currently has no speech but the system enhances communication which is not necessarily verbal. It is unfortunate that the child will not be able to experience this tried and tested system which could enable her to embark on a path of personal growth, because of a decision taken by her mother.
Due to their personal anxieties people close their own doors and in the process often close the doors of those they love. When I was a child my parents did not support my athletic ability because they were of the opinion that athletics did not lead anywhere. These behaviours are often due to ignorance or fear - perhaps fear of failure or in some strange way, fear of success.  Many of us are cynical because of the flood of offers we encounter daily – we develop stone walls to protect ourselves, not knowing whom to trust.  Those walls may block the entry of negative things and dodgy people but that same wall also keeps the good things out.  They also serve to restrict us in more ways than one.  We should not be afraid to try, particularly when the evidence is staring us in the face.
That same attitude makes us lack self belief and so we trust our future to others, thinking that they are more equipped than we are.  As parents it is primarily our responsibility to educate our children – too many of us transfer that role to others who traverse through the lives of our children for a relatively short period.  We have to work alongside established institutions to educate our offspring for children with learning difficulties also have their contributions to make - their talents to develop and exploit.  They too have dreams and goals to nurture and be nurtured. We should not allow fear or personal insecurities to prevent us from enabling those for whom we care to achieve their potential.  Similarly we should not allow others to make us miss our calling, for at the end of the day we are ultimately individually responsible for the life we lead.
As life has no guarantees, I cannot promise other parents that their children will benefit from the Pocket Learner but I know that the system works.  I am under no illusion, I am fully aware that Shari is not at the same academic level as her classmates but she is running her own race.  We build on what we have, not focus on our deficiencies.  As a linguist, further education trainer and performance coach I have used my skills to develop the programme but it was Shari who made the system evolve.  If her progress makes her appear like a one-eyed man who is king in a blind man’s country, well so be it!  Whether we have one eye, two eyes or no eye at all, every one of us has within us seeds waiting to be planted, not buried.
Further information about the Pocket learner system can be accessed from our crowdfunding campaign page ( and on the Pocket Learner website (

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Beauty from Ashes

Sometimes we receive news that change the course our lives and from one day to the next we are no longer the same.  In 2006 when I learnt that my daughter would be born disabled I was shocked, hurt and scared.  I didn’t know what to expect - all I could hear were people saying that life would be difficult, perhaps I wouldn’t be able to cope, the child wouldn’t be able to function effectively; I should consider my options. Shari is now 8 years old and like everyone else she has her challenges, but she is a complete and utter joy. 
 This week we launched a crowdfunding campaign - - to present the Pocket Learner educational development system to the world.  The Pocket Learner arose from the ashes of my frustration with Shari’s lack of academic progress.  I did not accept that my little girl could not achieve more than was evident through her work at school.  At home we set about working with her systematically to build her vocabulary.  We began by using pictures and then we introduced written words. Before long the Pocket Learner began to take shape and now she has a wide vocabulary and is able to read several hundred words. The system has the potential to impact the lives of children across the globe.  It will give hope to the many parents and carers who feel or who have been told that their children can’t learn.
 Sometimes we are faced with situations which we think have come to destroy us.  We automatically regard them as setbacks when indeed they are setups.  They are there to strengthen us, to build our resilience and prepare us to impact. It’s only after those moments when we crash and burn that we can rise from the ashes.  Those are the moments that we learn the most from; the ones that give us experience that we can use to teach others and save them from unnecessary pain. 
 Had I not gone through that period when all my dreams seemed to turn to ashes I would not have produced this beauty which is the Pocket Learner.  Had Shari not been born disabled I wouldn’t have been inspired to develop this innovation that will empower many like her to aspire higher and achieve goals hitherto unimagined.  I set out to help her find herself; it turned out that it was she who helped me to find myself.  For many years I worked in industry, in diplomacy, in the public service – I have never considered the matter of disability.  Now this is my mission, my life’s purpose. “What’s not dead, don’t throw away” (Jamaican adage) – never give up on anyone; indeed don’t give up on yourself.  Too often we judge a book by its cover, refusing to take the time to delve beneath and find the purpose.  If we dig deeper we’ll find dearer treasures – beauty from within the ashes. The pressures of life often squeeze us but just like a tube that produces when it is put under pressure, we too are forced to produce when pressure is applied – it is not there to kill us but rather to build our character.
 We have launched this crowdfunding campaign - The Pocket Learner: Reading without Boundaries on the Indiegogo platform to enable us to further develop the Pocket Learner and make it available to others like Shari; and for this we are seeking support. Even if your life is not touched by disability the system is a wonderful gift for any child. Further information on the system and on the campaign can be found our website: Help us make that difference; help us impact the lives of those who need it most.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Not Every Skinned Teeth is a Laugh

I met with my friend ET recently who was actually crying because he’d been cheated by an individual with whom he had transacted business.  He explained how the woman had appeared genuine and he had been encouraged by the prospect of working with her in what he could see as a very profitable venture.  Because he had felt so comfortable with her he had given her direct access to his clients without implementing the necessary safeguards.  He explained that she has a pleasing personality, always greeting him with a smile.  It turned out that the deal was concluded in his absence and now the woman appears to be dodging, refusing to hand over payment. 

ET is a seasoned businessman who would be aware of the need to pen an agreement.  When I asked him why he did not follow procedure he indicated that the woman is a senior community figure, a mature woman who appears to be highly regarded in the area.  He had trusted her on her word; now he was out of pocket by several thousand pounds and risked losing face with stakeholders.

I am aware that ET has been experiencing hardships recently which might have explained his actions; but whether he acted out of naivety, desperation or ignorance he did not deserve being taken for a ride in this way.   The obvious is not necessarily obvious; people are not always whom they seem to be. We have to use our wisdom and listen to our intuition as we navigate through the choppy waters in order to chart our course.  We cannot “give cheese to rat to carry”.  Some individuals do not set out to deceive but money can change people and there is no shortage of influence from those near and dear.  But if “circumstances make people” what place do honesty and integrity in business hold? 

In order to protect our property and avoid abuse it is important to get the balance right.  It is not about going through life being skeptical and suspicious of people.  That attitude would weigh us down, take away our energy and slow our progress.  Rather it is about separating your head from your heart, using wisdom and listening to your gut. 

When we started our training organisation just under 10 years ago we conducted surveys among key industry personnel - contractors whom we knew needed our services.  We asked appropriate questions and used their answers to shape our offering.  We received lots and lots of encouragement from those people; they said if we could deliver the bespoke service they needed they would definitely engage with us.  We believed them and set to work securing premises and equipment, and tailoring our services in line with their request.  When we actually started the programme we noticed that they were suddenly inaccessible.  For one reason or another we could not obtain a contract and some of them went into hiding.  A key contract manger disappeared for three months and when he returned he seemed to have been afflicted with amnesia.  We were like strangers in the industry despite the extensive links we had forged over the years and the massive groundwork we had undertaken.  We survived the first year; it was a struggle, all because we mistook skinned teeth for laugh.

It is normal for businesses to go through challenging times and entrepreneurs can find themselves struggling to keep their heads above water.  During these moments new business opportunities can appear quite tempting, even exciting.  They can bring hope and like a “wolf in sheep clothing” can be very appealing.  As “a drowning man holds on to a straw” it is not unusual to find individuals relaxing their values, ignoring their intuition and compromising their reputations in order to grasp what they perceive to be a lifeline. 

Too often we feel compelled to entertain business opportunities that do not fit our culture, that conflict with our values, and which evoke niggling feelings within us.  Business people in desperate situations often take desperate measures which can ultimately be detrimental to the achievement of their long term (and in some cases short-term) goals.  There are many examples of partnerships that go bad and an equal number that succeed.  Partnership working is wonderful when it works well for “two heads are better than one” and “one hand cannot clap”.  But instead of running headlong into a relationship, be it business or personal, take a moment to observe and study characters, for sooner or later their reputation becomes yours.  If you partner with people or indeed with organisations of dubious character their reputation will rub off on you - “show me your friend and I’ll tell you who you are”. The Africans say “show me your friend and I will show you your character”.  The Jamaicans are more dramatic in their rendition - they say:  “If you lie with dogs you rise with flea”.

Your character is something that is built; a prized possession that you should not risk.  According to the French:  Bonne renommée vaut mieux que ceinture dorée. (A good name is worth more than a golden belt).

In business you really do need to assess carefully the individuals or organisations with which you choose to partner.  Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ when it doesn’t feel right - assertion is not aggression; if you have doubts it is better to err on the side of caution.  There may be synergies to be obtained by partnering for after all “good friends are better than pocket money” (Jamaican proverb) and “To be without a friend is to be poor indeed” (Tanzanian proverb).  Indeed these liaisons may be mutually beneficial but you need to listen to your inner voice and ensure that you draft an agreement.  You may choose to analyse the partnership considering factors such as:  the potential benefits to both parties, a weakness that the partner could help to alleviate, the skills lacking in your organisation, competencies and contacts the partner has that could prove advantageous to you and importantly, their reputation. Evaluate carefully whether it could be a truly a win-win situation.

 “If you stand straight, do not fear a crooked shadow” is an old Chinese Proverb.  If however, the person partnering with you does not stand straight, you do have to fear that crooked shadow.  The French gives us: A l'oeuvre, on connaît l'ouvrier - A carpenter is known by his chips.  What do your chips look like now and what would they look like under the new partnership? How important is your image to you?   What are your values and how far are you prepared to go?  Looking back I am pleased we did not partner with the organisations we were courting; 80% of them did not survive the recession and the remaining ones are far less powerful than they were in 2006.

There is a Chinese proverb that says “Do not use an axe to remove a fly from your friend's forehead”.  Well, if the relationship goes sour you may find yourself doing just that; then you’ll stand to lose everything.  Not every skinned teeth is a laugh!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Once Bitten, Twice Shy!

I am currently engaged on a project that has the potential to grow exponentially.  The more time I spend on the project, the more the possibilities emerge and having realised the scope of the venture I recognise that I will need some technical help in order to maximize the opportunity.

In considering potential partners it dawned on me that there is a close family friend who could help.  However I wrestle with the idea of engaging with him because of his reputation as a ruthless businessman.  I have worked with him on occasions and have been irritated by his business tactics.  Although he has an endearing personality he does drive a hard bargain and he is not particularly concerned about the aftermath.  Having experienced this behaviour has caused me to struggle with my decision. 

As I am not one to immediately dismiss a potential opportunity I asked myself: 

·  What would it take for me to look beyond the past and focus on the present? 
· Are there any safeguards I could put in place which would protect me should I proceed?
·  How do I know that the person(s) I eventually chose will not be as ruthless as this man? 

During this process I realised that I was struggling because of a lack of trust.  It is very difficult to work effectively with someone you don’t trust, especially when you have first-hand experience of their unethical behaviour.  I decided to “take sleep mark death” (Jamaican proverb – use the past to judge the present) because the need to be constantly looking over my shoulders would be too much to carry.  Despite the potential benefits, I did not want to be that bothered, and as no one is indispensable, I am convinced that someone else will come along. 

I understand that a mature way of handling the situation would be to employ strategies that enable me to access the skills I need from the individual.  Everyone has good and bad inside them and we shouldn’t just walk away from circumstances that render us uncomfortable; in that case we would always be walking away and starting over.  True maturity is being able to use the information we have to develop approaches that will allow us to work with people, however unprincipled they may be. However, there is also the tiny matter of wisdom and having recognised that my level of maturity is not at that advanced I hold steadfast to my decision to walk away and safeguard my peace of mind.

Although the wrestling is over I cannot help but think how people miss opportunities because of a bad reputation.  Skill is only half the story; trustworthiness, character, personality and a host of other soft qualities are equally important.  In business, as in our personal lives, our reputation often precedes us and it also lingers; we cannot escape it.  It is a valuable, prized possession; the behaviour that encourages others to refer our services to others.  People make and maintain associations with others because of their reputation - “show me your friend and I’ll tell you who you are”. 

From time to time I am approached by fellow entrepreneurs for a character reference for someone they met or whose services they are thinking of contracting.  This can be uncomfortable as, although I’ll never ‘dig a grave’ for anyone, I will also not engage in deceitful behaviour in order to protect them.  If I had a good experience I will promote their services; if it was unpleasant I won’t, but it is not my style to block other people’s progress. 

Five years ago I enlisted the services of an individual to create a professional video for a product I was promoting.  The person did a dry run and promised to return but never did and I could no longer locate him.  The video he produced was of very little use to me and as I had paid in advance, I lost money in the process.  Recently a colleague called me to say this person had been pursuing him for a business opportunity and asked my opinion of him.  I simply related the experience I had with the individual and my colleague made the decision to avoid him. The videographer missed an opportunity to access a big project that has international potential.  It had taken five years but his reputation eventually caught up with him.

Individuals have to understand that when they behave ruthlessly they are digging their own graves.  People are responsible for building their own reputations; they cannot expect others to fabricate it for them.  We cannot expect to be recommended by people we trample on when we are on our way up to collect our pennies, for when the time comes to collect the pounds we may very well fall off the ladder.

What we say is not particularly important; it’s what we do and how we make people feel that matter.  We should take care not to sacrifice long-term growth for short-term gains.  Bob Marley sang “you can fool some people some time but you can’t fool all the people all the time”.  The fact that we escape with being imprudent now and again should not encourage us to make it a norm in our lives. 

So how does this apply in the workplace?  If we under-perform how can we expect our employer to give us a good character reference?  How well do we work in our teams?  Do we endeavour to expose the weaknesses of fellow team members or do we strive for a high performing team where everyone feels valued? We all have moments when we veer off-track but we should never deliberately hurt those we serve.  Our lives should be one of service; for whether employer or employee, we all serve each other.  Our actions speak louder than our words and if we perform well we will find our businesses generating repeat customers and our customers will advertise our services.  The Spanish explain it well:  “Cobra buena fama y échate a dormir (develop a good reputation and you can go off to sleep) – basically once you have established a good reputation you can rest on your laurels.  Leaving a storm in you wake may be impressive but it is also nonsensical.

The saying:  “today for you, tomorrow for me” holds true, for no one wins all of the time. There is a French proverb puts it this way:  “tel qui rit vendredi dimanche pleurera” -
he who laughs on Friday will cry on Sunday.

Since “to err is human” (Alexander Pope) we will from time to time offend but once there’s life there’s an opportunity to make amends, however difficult it may be. If we make it a habit to behave with integrity those moments will be minimised and in our dealings with others we will choose to take the higher ground.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Patient Man Rides Donkey

Earlier this week I was pulling into a car park when I was stopped by a man who beckoned for me to wind down my window.  I instantly thought he had some important information to disseminate regarding the use of the car park.  He proceeded to let me know where he was from and that he was homeless and hungry.  I was surprised that he had stopped me at the entrance to the car park to tell me of his plight but I politely said, let me park first, I can’t stop here.
I proceeded to park and eventually identified a somewhat awkward space.  As I was straightening the car to fit into the space there came the stranger again seeking my attention.  This was despite the fact that other cars were now entering the area and I urgently needed to clear the road.  I found the stranger’s behaviour somewhat annoying as not only was I in the middle of parking the car but I was also responding to a phone call via Bluetooth.  He was aware that I was busy on both counts but he was only concerned about his own plight.  I ignored the stranger who eventually walked away.  By the time I came out of the car he was nowhere in sight.
My attitude to people who ask for money in the streets is either I give them or I do not;  I don’t over-analyse the situation.  I don’t argue with them or criticise them and I don’t wonder whether they are going to use the funds to satisfy their vice or to buy food as they claim.  In this case I might have given the stranger some money if only he had the manners to wait until I had parked the car and disembarked.  On the other hand, was his hunger so dire that it made him lose the ability to exercise good judgement? In any case it made me wonder, how many of us miss opportunities because of what is perceived as a poor attitude.
One of the proverbs my parents drilled into me as a little girl was “manners takes you through the world”.  At the time I wondered about the veracity of that statement, since in my view the word “manners” should have been replaced with “money”.  I now understand that it’s all about one’s attitude to life; this is what opens doors and accesses opportunities. The stranger’s behaviour could have been due to a bad attitude, impatience or desperation.  However, those behaviours rob us of our ability to apply good reason and limit our success in circumstances.  We need to recognise that it’s not always about first mover advantage; rather it’s more about being ready for the move.  We talk about being in the right place at the right time but I think it’s really about being “at the right place, at the right time armed with the right attitude.  There is no point being present and unprepared.
I have a friend who is a landlord; he recently told me that he had a tenant who had lost her job, fell upon hard times and defaulted in the payment of her rent.  He explained that the woman was thoroughly ashamed of her situation but engaged with him in a way that touched his heart.  During the discussions he realised that she was particularly skilled in a certain field and for a long time she really wanted to start her own business but lacked the required capital.  Eventually he provided the capital for the venture and became her business partner.  The business helps her to pay her rent, and earn a decent living.  It’s early days but the business has good prospects and both parties are happy with the partnership.  Had the tenant displayed the wrong attitude she would have received a notice to quit and missed a golden opportunity.
I am fully aware that in contemporary Britain there is a lot of stress on many families and often something has to give; I submit to you, it should not be your manners.  It is far easier for people to be kind to you if you have the right attitude.  It can be difficult to maintain a good attitude when there are so many triggers to set us off.  The French have a proverb that offers advice in this situation: Tourner sept fois sa langue dans sa bouche  – Turn your tongue in your mouth seven times, i.e. think long and hard before speaking.  Of course, your attitude is revealed not only in what you say but how you say it - your body language speaks volumes!
In maintaining the right attitude, do not forget to show gratitude – There is a Nigerian Proverb that says:  Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot. Being gracious is a key ingredient in maintaining a good attitude.  The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step; be grateful that you are able to take that first step.  One of the lessons I learnt from my parents is that they are kind to people so that people can be kind to their children; what goes around comes around.  Consider that what you do impacts not just on you but also on the next generation;  think about your legacy.  The Jamaicans say – what drop off a head drop on shoulder.  The next generation will reap the “fruits” sown by their parents – whether they be wheat or tares. 
In the workplace how do we mind our manners?  As managers or owners of organisations do we foster an environment of mutual respect or do we drive our employees into the ground?  Do we exercise patience when they make bad decisions and do we take time to teach?  Do we engage in power play and make our employees fearful of losing their jobs or do we encourage creativity and personal growth.  Do we continuously remind them of our positions – I am the boss – or do they happily do their jobs well aware of who is who without it impacting adversely on their psyche?   We should lead by example, if you find you have the “Do you know who I am?” syndrome then you should review your management style.  It is easier to lead people than to drag them; no one wants to follow someone who has a bad attitude!
There is no shortage of situations and personalities that will rile our spirits, causing us to lose our patience.  People may even take our meekness for weakness.  There is a Spanish proverb:  Al mal tiempo, buena cara – be positive even in the bad times.  Since we are human first and employers later, we often respond in a “human” way which translates into “an eye for an eye”.  However, if we can find it within ourselves to take the higher ground and maintain a good attitude we will ultimately endure. 
Maintain a good attitude – If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude” - Maya Angelou.