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Monthly Archive for October, 2009

The Power of a Positive Attitude

Posted by on October 26, 2009 at 7:33 pm

Last week, I was walking down Washington’s famed “K Street” when I came upon a homeless man playing a trumpet. A panhandler on K Street is a very common occurrence, and one playing a musical instrument is also a fairly regular sight. But this one caught my attention.

As I approached him on the sidewalk, I saw that the man had one leg, was in a wheelchair, and was probably around 60 years old. The tune was familiar but I couldn’t quite place it. And then the chorus kicked in. “Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing, don’t you worry ‘bout a thing…” It was Stevie Wonder’s hit from 1973.

It made for a peppy tune on a sunny, 65-degree fall day in our nation’s capital. I must admit that I usually walk right by and keep my money in my purse when it comes to panhandlers. But on this day I did not.

Not only did this little ditty help pick up my spirits, I couldn’t shake the irony of the moment. Here was a man restricted to a wheelchair, an amputee, and probably living in a DC homeless shelter at night, at best. But yet he was playing, “Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing” so the rest of us could have a better day. Now that’s a positive attitude.

Just the day before, I had attended a memorial service at the Kennedy Center for the long-time Washington powerbroker, Anne Wexler (who I blogged about in August upon her death). Over a period of almost 30 years, she had built a lobbying business into one of the most successful and reputable firms in town.

Wexler was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 79, and told by doctors that she only had a couple of months to live. So she used those final weeks to plan every aspect of her memorial service, including the music that would be played.

Toward the end of the service, just after former President Bill Clinton had spoken about Anne, they showed a video comprised of still photos from her life. During the video, several of Anne’s favorite Broadway tunes played in the background. The final song was the farcical “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” from Monty Python. It was the tune I was humming as I left the service.

Although dying of cancer, Anne was still looking on the bright side. This type of positive thinking was Anne Wexler’s trademark, and had much to do with her success as a business woman and an adviser to Presidents.

There is no substitute for a positive attitude. It’s contagious. When it starts at the top, it permeates throughout the entire organization. Employees who have an optimistic outlook and are surrounded by managers who help breed this culture will always outperform the glass-half-empty types.

Sounds like a song you should be humming.

Love Leadership

Posted by on October 19, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World

As business executives across the globe seek to chart an improved course in the wake of this past year’s economic meltdown, I call your attention to a new book on leadership that may serve as a helpful guidepost — Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass).

Love Leadership is written by John Hope Bryant, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, America’s first nonprofit social investment banking organization. The book debuted at #8 on the “CEO Reads Top 10 Best Seller List,” and has been featured in Business Week and the Washington Post.

At the age of 26 in 1992, Bryant started Operation HOPE in Los Angeles in response to the LA riots based on the premise that his community needed a “hand-up not a hand-out.” Operation HOPE seeks to “eradicate poverty in our lifetime” through financial literacy education of inner-city and under-served children and adults.

Bryant himself grew up in Compton and South Central Los Angeles, CA and was homeless for six months at the age of 18. It is this humble background that Bryant has drawn upon to make him one of the most charismatic and successful philanthropic-business leaders of our time.

Bryant has advised the last three Presidents on the importance of financial literacy as one of the most effective tools to address poverty. Bryant is a Young Global Leader for the World Economic Forum, where he spoke at WEF’s closing session in Davos, Switzerland in February 2009. Operation HOPE’s major partners include a Who’s Who of global corporations, such as: Wells Fargo, Toyota, Microsoft, E-Trade, ING, and Citigroup.

David Gergen, former senior White House advisor to four Presidents and now Director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership, describes Bryant this way: “I have watched John Hope Bryant dazzle audiences from Harvard to the World Economic Forum. Now he pours his compassion and charisma into the pages of this book, delivering a powerful message about rediscovering our humanity.”

According to Don McGrath, Chairman of Bancwest Corporation: “In this book, he (Bryant) gives us a recipe for personal success driven by a simple notion: treating others with respect and dignity creates true long-term success. This message and his strategies for living it couldn’t be more timely as we address the failures of leadership that created today’s financial crisis.”

In Love Leadership, Bryant lays out his “Five Laws of Love-Based Leadership” — Loss Creates Leaders, Fear Fails, Love Makes Money, Vulnerability is Power, and Giving is Getting. As he puts it, “Leaders give, followers take. Giving inspires loyalty, attracts good people, confers peace of mind, and lies at the core of true wealth.”

Business leaders who understand and deploy these principles are most likely to succeed. Leadership based on fear is a short-term tactic that produces unreliable results, and can serve to damage the organization over time. Conversely, employees who are appreciated and respected will perform at a higher level under all conditions over the near- and long-terms.

Leaders who embrace the principles of caring and respect, will indeed love the results.

John Hope Bryant, speaking at the World Economic Forum
John Hope Bryant

Bullish on a Promising Spanish Artist

Posted by on October 12, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Artist Beñat Iglesias, self-portrait - "Auto"Beñat Iglesias, self-portrait

Harlem’s Alex Adam Gallery opens its “Artists and Monitors” art show on Thursday, October 15. The show uniquely features the works of “three of New York’s most extraordinary contemporary figurative artists, and the painters who are and have been privileged to be their assistants.”

One of the “Teacher’s Monitors” whose works will be featured is Beñat Iglesias, a very talented portrait artist who was born in Pamplona, Spain in 1979 on October 12 – thirty years ago today. And yes, Pamplona is home of the world-famous “Running of the Bulls,” the high-risk, high-adrenaline running of 1,200-pound bulls (i.e., with horns) through the cobbled streets of this picturesque city in northern Spain.

This hometown image is in sharp contrast to how Iglesias describes his approach to art: “My work is devoted to the mundane, to depict humble and ordinary people I aim to show in their natural state, to reveal their way of communicating to the world.”

I first saw Iglesias’s talent showcased five years ago, when I attended an art show at New York’s Art Student’s League. Iglesias’s education in fine arts has spanned more than a decade, including a fine arts degree from the Universidad Del Pais Vasco (UPV) in Bilboa, Spain; then further study at the Edinburgh College of Art in the UK, the University of Fine Arts in Barcelona, and New York’s National Academy School of Fine Arts, the Art Students League, and the Andrew Reiss Studio.

Iglesias has exhibited his work in numerous shows in New York and throughout Europe. In 2007, he was a semi-finalist in the 70th Annual American Artists Drawing competition.

I find myself immediately drawn into his work, and how he is able to capture remarkably true-to-life expressions of unremarkable people. I have bought several pieces from Iglesias’s collection over the last several years, and intend on buying more as he continues to grow and develop.

Iglesias’s bright future has been built on a foundation of years of hard work, high quality training, learning by doing, and a bull-headed dedication to his vocation. All are key ingredients for success in any field of work or business. Identify the talent, grow and nurture it, and put yourself in environments where creativity can thrive.

Happy 30th birthday to a promising artist, Beñat Iglesias, or better yet —
¡Feliz cumpleaños!

The show at Alex Adam Gallery in Harlem (78 West 120th Street) runs from October 15th-25th. The exact schedule can be found on the gallery’s website.

‘Three Inches of Additional Comfort’

Posted by on October 4, 2009 at 9:50 pm

A few days ago I was sitting on a small US Airways commuter plane at Reagan National in Washington waiting to take off. It was one of those 50-seater planes with a tiny aisle and a low ceiling where I felt I had to duck down even at my 5’7″ height. There was also the “limited overhead storage,” which meant you had to hand over your carry-on luggage on the Tarmac before climbing the stairs to the plane.

Now for the seats: they were so narrow my shoulder constantly brushed the shoulder of the person sitting next to me. Meanwhile my knees touched the seat in front of me, as I counted the pores on the head of the bald man sitting seven inches from my nose. Does any of this sound familiar?

You may be thinking that this is yet one more person’s rant against the already down-and-out airlines industry. It is not. I know the airlines’ margins are paper-thin and they are simply trying to make ends meet, like many other businesses, so I don’t fault them for that.

However, I do have one point of contention that has no bearing whatsoever on the economics of the airline industry. As the door to our plane shut on that recent flight, the one flight attendant launched into his spiel and “invited” us “to sit back and enjoy the flight” and said we should feel free to raise our headrests for “three inches of additional comfort.”

This is where the airlines, as well as many other businesses, need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new way of talking to customers — and employees. Particularly when conditions are already challenging, you shouldn’t exacerbate the situation by using ill-conceived, out of touch, or outdated language.

You need to better understand your customers and your employees, and talk to them in a realistic and straightforward manner. In doing so, you will at least be respected for your candor. Otherwise you risk insulting the very ones you are relying on for business or support.

Telling a plane full of passengers crammed into a small metal cylinder to enjoy the three additional inches of comfort by raising one’s headrest, is equivalent to telling your employees during these tough economic times to enjoy the free access to the restrooms down the hall.

Words matter. Treat customers and employees with respect and talk to them as you would another professional that you regard as an equal – or better yet, a superior. I predict you’ll enjoy the results and the comfort that higher performance will bring to your company.

Now please lower your headrests and put up your tray tables. And thank you for flying the friendly blogosphere.