Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Greatest Christmas Gift



It’s ironic that, in America, the day after Thanksgiving—a day of gratitude for what we have to appreciate in our lives—is dedicated to the acquisition of more. We’ve even given this day a name: “Black Friday.” Whether the term originated due to massive traffic jams on the day after Thanksgiving or because it was the day many merchants’ accounts went “in the black” as they began to turn a profit for the year, our actions on the highest-shopping day of the year sometimes have dark undertones.
This year, a woman pepper sprayed 20 competing customers in Los Angeles for a discounted Xbox. During 2008’s Black Friday, a Wal-mart worker was trampled to death and four people were taken to the hospital—including a woman eight months pregnant—after throngs of people stormed the front door as the Long Island superstore opened early Friday morning.
The practice of Black Friday, which commences with waiting in line—often in the bitter cold—from unseemly hours of the morning and, for some, culminates in a “hot deal,” has also provided a much-needed boost to a fragile economy: America’s retailers generated revenues of $52.4 billion—up 16.7 percent from last year—on this year’s Black Friday.
America’s shopping culture—already in overdrive compared to just about any other nation—has recently injected itself with steroids. Macy’s just announced it will be open 24 hours a day for the 83 hours leading up to Christmas eve, only to be outdone by Toys ‘R Us (112 hours). My wife and I made a trip to the shopping mall on Saturday and I was surprised to learn that many other stores have been open all month until 11 pm, up a few hours daily from even a few years ago.
Black Friday used to mean that retailers opened at 6 am; in 2011, for the first time in history, many retailers, including Macy’s, opened at midnight the day before. Even before these extended shopping hours, America had built a reputation—highlighted by the massive numbers of people who come here from all over the world on shopping trips—as a nation of convenience, and one of the best places on the planet to consume what you want, when you want it, at the lowest price.
In most countries, merchants don’t keep these kind of hours because their employees and customers like to have, well, a life. The Black Friday incidents and the increasingly porous shopping hours betray a cultural shift that is stealthily affecting us: our acquisitiveness is becoming desperate. While it’s true that many of us aren’t doing as well financially as we were a few years ago, we must remember that to internalize the downturn is a choice. When we can’t find our worth on the inside, we futilely seek it on the outside. Buying things for our loved ones is a way of trying to convince them—and ourselves—that we are still doing OK, that we still have value.
Both we and our popular merchants are desperately attempting to demonstrate our continued relevance, and it’s difficult to determine who is mimicking who. One thing is certain: the bricks-and-mortars merchants are emulating the online merchants, who are always open 24-7, not just during the holidays.
The mania retailers feel is understandable: our government’s decision not to tax online vendors like amazon—which already has the advantage of not paying prime storefront rent, or any retail rent for that matter—unfairly threatens their existence, and their place in our local communities. In this sense, at least, one positive of Black Friday is it’s the one day when many of us step out from behind our computers and actually interact with other human beings while engaging in real (e.g. not virtual) commerce. There are many stories of new friendships initiated while standing in line next to a stranger in the wee hours of the morning.
Yet whether all this consumerism is truly in “the holiday spirit” is debatable. Most of us are over-working ourselves in order to maintain our current lifestyles in a troubled economy to the extent that we no longer have time for the people we love. To compensate for our lack of attention, we shower them with gifts while we distractedly check our smart-phones.
We focus on giving others our presents, when what they truly want from us is our presence. In many families, the first has become a substitute for a lack of the second. In fact, many of us no longer spend any significant amount of time even choosing presents to give, and instead email gift certificates—which are useful but mostly soulless. An amazon gift certificate is one shade short of giving cash, since you can buy just about anything (the purpose of legal tender) on their website. There is a reason most of us made the shift years ago from giving cash to giving gifts: a gift signals that you actually took some time to think about the other person. That feeling—that the other person put a lot of care into your gift—has become for many a fading fantasy.
We have become so disconnected from both ourselves and others that we shop as yet another form of distraction, as if we needed one. For many of us, shopping is like dating: it’s the thrill of the chase rather than enjoying the catch—and, whether it’s a potential mate or a discounted laptop, we’ll stay out all night in the hopes of conquest—that keeps us coming back for more.
One of my favorite cartoons is of an old man on his deathbed saying to one of his family members, “I should have bought more crap.” What we most deeply desire from others is love, not material possessions. A study of happiness by Richard Layard of the London School of Economics has documented that while families that earn $50,000 per year are measurably happier than those that earn $10,000 per year, and families that earn $100,000 per year are slightly happier than those that earn $50,000 per year, families that earn $500,000 per year have no measurable increase in happiness over families that earn $100,000 per year. These studies yield the same results whether survey respondents are all in the U.S. or the UK, or by international cross-country comparisons.
David Geffen once said, “Those who think money buys happiness don’t have money.” The happiness studies demonstrate that Geffen is only partially right; the other part of the equation is that those who think money is unrelated to happiness have a lot of money. It seems we need a balance of presence and presents, with a strong tilt toward the former.
I recently saw Thich Nhat Hanh, the 85 year old Vietnamese monk who Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, speak at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C. The Buddhist monk asked the sold-out crowd, “What is the greatest gift you can give to the person you love?” After a hushed silence, he shared: “To be fully present.”
To be fully present with others, we must first be fully present with ourselves. We are so quick to externalize our challenges, whether it’s our shrinking checkbook or our fear about our jobs. Before we Occupy Wall Street or Occupy the Shopping Mall, we need to Occupy Ourselves. How do we do this, and become fully present? By taking an inner detour, slowing down a bit, and learning how to spend quality time with ourselves—not online, not seeking the next best deal; simply befriending the silence rather than running from it.
In my leadership conferences, I often call this principle “Schedule Solitude.” It is this silence that connects us with our deepest values and life Vision. When we become fully present with ourselves, we become less interested in amassing things or even amassing knowledge. Instead, we connect with our inner wisdom that signals what we most deeply value.
Once we increase our comfort with being alone and reflecting on what gives our life meaning, we naturally become ready and available to listen with empathy, to truly care about what others value, and to also learn to speak authentically and give voice to what lies deep inside so we can make a genuine connection with others that creates meaning in our lives. This is the greatest gift we can offer to the people we love.
___________________________________________
Anthony Silard is the president of The Global Leadership Institute and the author of the Simon & Schuster book The Connection: Link Your Passion, Purpose, and Actions to Make a Difference in the World. To receive Smile, It's Monday each week in your inbox and a free copy of Anthony's new audio CD, "The Surprising Source of Your Passion", enter your email here (1-step only).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Who Was the Real Steve Jobs?

When I speak about Steve Jobs at conferences, I have taken to using the term "the folkloric Steve Jobs leadership style." There is much talk in the media about "Good Steve" and "Bad Steve." The "Bad Steve," we are told, parked in handicapped spaces and publicly humiliated employees who weren't performing up to his standards. No drive for success is worth mistreating people along the way, we think, and we are right. Yet who was the real Steve Jobs?

We are told that Steve had no time for charity, yet it is unclear whether the truth is that he didn't care about charity or that he didn't care about promoting himself for caring about charity, as so many others commonly do today.

When I watch his commencement speech at the 2005 Stanford graduation, I wonder what this mythical icon of our technology age was truly like; and I admit to myself that I'll probably never know.

I am also inspired. There is a lot in his speech for us to digest, in particular some excellent messages about pursuing our dreams and believing in our potential to accomplish what we set our minds to. I love the question he asked himself daily - "Am I happy about what I am going to be doing today?" - and his willingness to make changes when the answer was consecutively no for a number of days. I am also inspired by his interest in calligraphy as a dropout taking courses at Reed College, which led to his idea of multiple fonts for the first Macintosh, and how he transformed his passion for style and detail into a quest to make technology simple and attractive.

Steve Jobs had a unique blend of visionary and obsessive leader that permanently altered the way we perceive technology and how we integrate it into our lives. He deserves credit for that. He also re-engineered significant "failures" in his life, like being fired from the company he created (Apple), only to create other immensely successful companies (Pixar and NeXT), and then, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, return to steward Apple through the most successful period in its history and turn the music and cell-phone industries on their heads.
Jobs says in the commencement address that being fired from Apple “freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life….The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again.” Jobs is living proof that what one person calls ‘failure’ is evolution and positive growth to another. That's an important message for each of us to take to heart as we accept where we haven't reached our expectations in 2011 and start making our plans for the new year.

_____________________________________________

Anthony Silard is the president of
 The Global Leadership Institute and the author of the Simon & Schuster book The Connection: Link Your Passion, Purpose, and Actions to Make a Difference in the World. To receive Smile, It's Monday each week in your inbox and a free copy of Anthony's new audio CD, "The Surprising Source of Your Passion", enter your email here (1-step only).







Smile, It’s Monday: Your Weekly Wake-up Call to Live the Life You Have Imagined




Your dreams set the ceiling for your existence.
--- Anthony Silard

You can only achieve what you first conceive. Think about it: how could you possibly rise higher than your imagination, or exceed your self-perception? Where will you find the determination or internal compass to navigate through obstacles and keep pushing on toward a destination unless you instinctually know what the destination looks like and have faith in your ability to reach it? If you are buying into this way of thinking, then you also know how important it is to set your ceiling high. Yet you may not be convinced. I understand, and know this isn’t easy. It’s hard to have hope and want something again after being disappointed. Somewhere along the way, many of us become disheartened and weary, and lose our courage to dream. Alternatively, we just say to ourselves, “Why make all that effort, and allocate so much of my emotional, financial, and physical resources just to end up with nothing. I have better things to do.” You never end up with nothing. The learning you experience along the way always brings you one step closer to realizing your dream. Always. Even when it seems like it’s just too much, and you don’t deserve to be experiencing the suffering that’s unexpectedly come your way. Make a commitment to undergo a sea change in your thinking, and shift from “Why me?” thoughts to “Yes, me, and this is what I’m going to do differently in the future.” Take some time this week to reflect on what you are capable of, and what you want to create in your life for yourself and others. Let the sky be the limit, throw all the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” thoughts to the wind, and envision what could be possible if only you were to believe in your ability to bring it into existence while learning from what transpires along your path every step of the way. Sit with these thoughts over the holidays, and then start designing ways to translate them into meaningful actions that will enable you to live the life you have imagined.

_____________________________________________

Anthony Silard is the president of The Global Leadership Institute and the author of the Simon & Schuster book The Connection: Link Your Passion, Purpose, and Actions to Make a Difference in the World. To receive Smile, It's Monday each week in your inbox and a free copy of Anthony's new audio CD, "The Surprising Source of Your Passion", enter your email here (1-step only).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Announcing Anthony Silard’s New Simon and Schuster Book, The Connection

Your passion is the one thing you offer the world that can never be duplicated, outsourced, or silenced.

With soaring unemployment rates, many people now find themselves without a job or with employment that is unsatisfying, tenuous, or even in conflict with their values. Now from leadership expert and President of The Center for Social Leadership, Anthony Silard, The Connection offers a clear guide to discovering your passion and integrating it into your professional and private life.

With a simple set of exercises, The Connection will help you:

· Build a career that aligns with your values.
· Create a holistic view of success.
· Transform your dreams to goals, and your goals to reality.
· Bring purpose to every aspect of your life.

The Connection will help you pinpoint the true source of your passion and motivation to build a foundation for change, and, ultimately, the skills to cultivate a truly authentic life.

The Connection is an affirmation of the beauty and higher calling within each of us. It will help the reader firmly ground him- or herself in values that spring from deep within, and then embark mindfully on a path toward meaning, joy, and unconditional self-acceptance.”

—Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance

In stores January 10, 2011. Preorder your copy of The Connection now at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Smile, It’s Monday: Your Weekly Wake-up Call to Become a More Effective Leader




If you suspect a man, don’t employ him,
and if you employ him, don’t suspect him.
--- Ancient Chinese proverb

Here’s one of the burning questions that I have observed keeps leaders up at night: “How can I be sure the people doing the work are really doing the work?” Many of these leaders come into work the next day and—reacting to their insecurity about whether everything is getting done up to snuff—ask questions about how much work has been done, such as “Did you get Isabel’s feedback on the proposal yet?” or “When do you think you’ll have the report?” These transactional conversations are necessary at times, but when they become the centerpiece of the employer-employee verbal exchange, they sap the same energy these employers so desperately need in their employees for their companies to be successful. This week, take stock of the transactional conversations you have with your employees, and reflect on how you can make these dialogues more transformational. Ask yourself how you can punctuate the targeted questions you ask your employees with more reflective, open-ended questions that enable them to question the purpose of their work and how it contributes to the organizational mission and the betterment of society. Consider how you can rise to one of the greatest challenges every leader faces: to help people connect with and then live their higher selves.
______________________________________________

Anthony Silard is the president of The Global Leadership Institute and the author of the Simon & Schuster book The Connection: Link Your Passion, Purpose, and Actions to Make a Difference in the World. To receive Smile, It's Monday each week in your inbox and a free copy of Anthony's new audio CD, "The Surprising Source of Your Passion", enter your email here (1-step only).


Monday, December 5, 2011

Smile, It’s Monday: Your Weekly Wake-up Call to Become Your Greatest Fan




Success is the ability to go from one failure to another
with no loss of enthusiasm.
-- Winston Churchill

The word “failure” is so laced with judgment and negativity that I propose we erase it from our vocabulary altogether. Instead of using the word “failure” or “problem,” I suggest you use the word “challenge.” While the first two words make you feel badly about yourself (I don’t know about you, but the expressions “I’m a failure” or “I have a problem” make me want to climb into a hole and take up permanent residence there) the word “challenge” inspires you to work hard to overcome it. “Challenge” is also the only word that literally contains the word “change” within it. Also consider this insight from China: The word “crisis” is written in Mandarin with two characters. One character signifies danger and the other means opportunity. This is the choice you have whenever you face a crisis: surrender to the danger or find the opportunity. To find the opportunity, draw a table with two columns. At the top of the left column, write “Challenge.” At the top of the right column, write “Opportunity.” Write down some of the greatest challenges you have faced in the past few years in the left column, and then, in the right column, their corresponding opportunities. Next, write down your current challenges (in the left column), and then, in the adjoining column, the opportunities located within them. Repeat this exercise periodically, especially when you are feeling frustrated with the turn of events in your life, or down about yourself, or a lack of energy or motivation.

_____________________________________________

Anthony Silard is the president of The Global Leadership Institute and the author of the Simon & Schuster book The Connection: Link Your Passion, Purpose, and Actions to Make a Difference in the World. To receive Smile, It's Monday each week in your inbox and a free copy of Anthony's new audio CD, "The Surprising Source of Your Passion", enter your email here (1-step only).