This is a guest post by Raul Cristian Aguirre. Raul is founder and CEO of Tango/04, poet in the Argentine tradition and Goalkeeper for the Valvidrera Senglars. He blogs at The Visibility Blog and you should follow him at @RaulCristian04.
Breaking the Glass Ceiling
Almost 20 years ago, towards the end of the summer, I was walking off the field after a hard fought game of soccer. I am a goalkeeper. I played a good game, and so did the other keeper. We met as we reached the sidelines. He shook my hand and congratulated me. I smiled, and I told him that this was probably my last season.
“Why?” he asked.
“Well, I am getting kind of old, over 30 now”.
He frowned in disgust, severely disappointed by my answer. “What!*%$!? I’m 42. I am far from being too old to play!”
And man, did he have a point.
If I believe I can’t, it becomes true.
So today, I am again preparing for the start of our official league. I play with the Vallvidrera Senglars, my local team. I saved a penalty and was congratulated by my team for my performance—at the age of 47. But more importantly, I loved every minute of it.
Years ago I almost made a big mistake. It was not my body saying I had to quit. It was my mind. I was thinking about what I “should” be doing, not listening to my heart.
The other day I came across Diana Nyad. She attempted to swim from Cuba to the USA, more than 100 miles in open seas. She was close to making the crossing, but an unexpected injury, an asthma attack and a very strong current made her stop after almost 30 hours of continuous effort.
That goal alone is remarkable, as no man or woman has ever accomplished it. Even more remarkable is the fact that she attempted it at the age of 61—with a bad shoulder.
Her effort is inspiring to me. Now I know that I can play official soccer for many years if I choose to. My wife may balk at the idea, but it’s clear that it is possible. (And besides, she always balks at everything.)
Diana declared that her body may not be as good as thirty years ago, but her mind is far stronger. As we lose some power in the body, our amazing mind takes over.
You have to let your mind dream, and let your dreams take command. You can go wherever you want. It’s a matter of choice.
So remove those glass ceilings, and go for the gold. What’s the gold? Only you can answer this. You can try to be CIO if you are in IT. You can try to sit on the Board if you are already CIO. You can be the Chief Visibility Officer and make a difference. You can be another Steve Jobs and make a mark in the world. Outside the office, you can aim for the moon.
The pain of regret or the pain of discipline?
You may fail, but remember: Diana trained 12 hours per day. Whatever you aim to do, it’s gonna cost you. Be ready to pay the price, which amounts to nursing a never-ending desire for learning, hard work, and discipline. It’s worth it: it will be your dream, and you’ll be awake to enjoy it.
The only thing you cannot try to be is goalkeeper for the Vallvidrera Senglars. That position is well covered, you know.
This is a guest post by Silvia Bach. Silvia Bach (@silkebcn) is from Barcelona, studied journalism, works in the retail fashion industry. Her dream: To become a professional motivational speaker. She works with teams to ensure they do something special everyday. More about Silvia Bach.
Losing my Fear
How can we explain the lack of public speaking skills in Spain? Let’s take a look back to the last 30 years of Spanish history. We laughed watching Julio Iglesias singing with his hands in his pockets in the 1970s. We remember Arias Navarro’s overly direct and clumsy: “Spaniards, Franco is dead.” We witness a regular procession of politicians delivering dry proposals without any sense that they care.
The Spanish can be charismatic communicators. However, we tend to convey little enthusiasm when addressing large audiences. We lack the foundation of the Anglo-Saxon world in presenting in public. In school we are not educated to speak and we have few role models.
My Teenage years in The USA
When I was young, I lived in the United States. I recall a terrifying personal experience that changed my life forever. At my school we would spend Friday afternoons engaged in a variety of extracurricular activities.
One particular Friday, the history teacher called me on stage to defend the position against the Vietnam War (which we were currently studying in class.) I was chosen given that I was not American and would have less problem speaking for the position that the United States was wrong. I had never spoken to as wide an audience and I had never imagined that I ever would.
As I uttered my first words, stuttering, I began to hear laughter, comments and whistles and the last thing I remember is the school nurse holding me, using a paper lunch bag to control my breathing. I had some sort of nervous breakdown.
I spent the weekend thinking that I would die of shame to go back to school and face everyone that had seen me make a fool of myself. I wanted to disappear from the earth.
But it turned out very differently…
I became almost the most popular person in school the following week because everyone wanted to know what had happened. The next “Friday Rally” I was asked to give a speech to everyone to explain what had happened.
This 2nd speech was very different for several reasons:
Improved confidence in myself. I was determined to overcome my previous experience
Audience interest. The audience really wanted to know what had happened.
Knowledge of the subject: I would be speaking from personal experience and no one could contradict.
Body language. I was acting out something that had really happened. I could use my body to demonstrate a real event.
Fun: I saw smiles from the moment I stood up. As I told my story, I heard laughing and I felt even more comfortable.
This speech was the beginning of Me, the Speaker
This experience planted a seed in me. This was the beginning of an addiction to public speaking. I leant to engage an audience. I learnt to speak with increasing conviction and enthusiasm. This has helped in everything from presenting papers at university, to job interviews, to oral exams, to better sell my ideas and get access to wider resources in the office.
Reflecting now, I see that the terrible speaking experience I lived in 1993 has contributed towards every speech I have given since. I have given many speeches to audiences of up to 600 people. Before every speech, I always look in a mirror and recall the sports hall of Justin Siena High School. This gives me strength to remember what counts. I find my enthusiasm. I see how I might captivate the audience. I see how I can involve them in my message. I can make them laugh. I can share with them those emotions that I felt back on that Friday in America. I walk onto the stage with an attitude “I am here talking because these people want to hear my message”
We each have within us the capacity to speak well
The impact that speaking well can have on a life is massive. Poor speaking guarantees you will not get what you seek. Great speaking opens doors. Great speaking begins by accepting that how we speak is more important than the words that we say. We each have within us the capacity to speak well.
I began this post asking why Spain has so many poor speakers. I close by saying that we can each decide that good speaking is important and begin a path to great speaking. We can learn from speakers at conferences, on television, in business. We can become increasingly aware of what makes a speaker good, seeing the details, beginning to be clear for ourselves why one person connects whilst the next speaker fails.
I find it incredible these days when I see a poor speaker who seems to be doing nothing to improve.
The Virtuous Circle of Feedback. This is a guest post by Florian Mueck, author and speaker.
My son turned four last September. Isn’t that a great age? Everyone tells you how sweet you are. Everyone tells you how great you are when you do things. And it’s always constructive. Even if you wear two different socks, they’ll say, “Well done — it’s just that, next time maybe you try and wear a pair of socks that matches — that would be even better.” It’s so uplifting to constantly receive positive and constructive feedback. It makes us grow as a person.
So — what happened since we were four years old? Now people don’t tell us what we do well, or what we could do better, to improve. We’re cut off — it’s past. So then, how do we grow as a person? Can we still grow as a person?
In your job you might have a feedback talk with your boss once a year — if you’re lucky, and he finds a loophole in his tight agenda. Or your partner hardly ever addresses any of the problems you’re having until it’s too late — her things are gone, and she’s left her keys on the kitchen counter.
Without feedback, all we can do is we assess the situations of our lives for ourselves. We can try to improve, but, unfortunately, the assessment we make by ourselves will never reflect what others perceive about us. Our self-assessment will always paint a different picture — a subjective view that has hardly anything to do with objective reality.
Growth Requires Feedback
And personal growth? No way. We are concerned far too much with the big unknown — the perceptions of other people. Since we never receive open and contructive feedback from them, we create our own ideas…
“The others will say…”
“What will the others think?”
“I can’t do it — it would be perceived as unprofessional.”
In order to avoid a problem that never really existed, we stay inside our house of comfort. We think it’s raining outside while in reality the sun is shining. Somebody from outside has to motivate us to step outside. Feedback is the key to unlock the door.
The hypothesis: we can only grow if we receive positive and constructive feedback.
The Virtuous Circle Of Feedback
In order to receive feedback, you first have to DELIVER something — let’s say a public speech.
Receiving constructive and postive feedback helps you DEVELOP new ways of speaking. You may use more vocal variety, you may start to move your body more, you may include a quotation here and there — you are now standing on the threshold of your house of comfort.
Once you develop and deploy new ways of speaking, you will receive even better feedback. The level of expectation rises, and a higher level of constructive feedback is given to you. You step outside of your house of comfort, into the garden, and you begin to DARE to follow totally different paths of dealing with your challenges. You start to sing ‘My Way’ when you talk about your late father. You dance the Tango with life. You express yourself — you look angry, you look sad, you look happy.
The new feedback gives you goose bumps. You haven’t heard anything like it since you were four years old. The new round of uplifting, positive, constructive feedback lets you give up any remaining restrictions. You are leaving the garden of your house of comfort. You’re stepping onto the road outside — with confidence. You are about to DIVERSIFY. New facets, new experiments, new quantum leaps. You have changed. You have grown. You smile….
Beatriz, from México, participated in one of my seminars. When she started, she was rather timid and restrained, but she was one determined lady. After two days she’d made four speeches; she delivered, developed, dared and diversified. Beatriz said:
“Yesterday I was standing on the other side of the river. You have led me to this side.”
All I did, all the entire group of participants did, was give Beatriz positive and constructive feedback throughout the seminar.
Instead of the Vicious Circle of guessing what others think about us, the Virtuous Circle of Feedback encourages all of us to grow to unexpected levels.
Give And Receive
We all can give positive and constructive feedback. We all can receive feedback. It is up to us.
We can ask our colleague — say, one who is about to present the latest business unit results to the Board of Directors — if he or she wants to receive our feedback afterwards. It’s unlikely he or she will refuse. Then we can ask that same colleague to give us feedback on our own presentation, on another professional occasion. And I promise you, any of your colleagues you have helped in this way will try their best to out-do you with even more constructive feedback than they received from you.
People are not used to giving constructive feedback. And they are certainly not used to receiving feedback. It’s a learning process. I recommend you kick off this process in your professional and private lives as soon as possible.
In the meantime I will continue to give positive and constructive feedback to my son. Four years old — isn’t that a great age?
About the author
Florian Mueck is author of “The Seven Minute Star — become a great speaker in 15 simple steps”. He offers public speaking seminars, presentation coaching and keynote speeches. He blogs at florianmueck.com and tweets at @florianmueck
The circle of Life. This is a guest post by Eric Ronning, father, husband and President of Channel Financial, a financial advisory business of which he is a co-founder.
Over to Eric...
The legacy of my Grandfather
I have been exploring many of the same topics you speak of in your writings for about 11 years now. As a youngster I came from a blue collar family that didn’t have much (from a material standpoint), but I did have a wonderful, loving and very supportive close family. However, I was a good student and was very driven from early on to “be somebody”. I did well in college, got a great job right out of school, and made tons of money at the time for a 20-something. Life was good, I was happy, and I felt like everything was on the right track. By all accounts my goals and aspirations at the time might not have been much different than many of the eager MBA students that you mentioned.
Then, my grandfather died. My grandfather was a carpenter his whole life in a tiny German town outside the twin cities. He was a terrific man by all accounts, but did not have a lot of material success and lived a pretty simple life. His funeral changed everything for me. That day, I arrived expecting family and a few others to be there to pay their respects. I was shocked at his wake as the line of people grew and grew and grew and eventually trailed all the way outside the chapel. Hundreds of people showed up. As I stood close to the casket with other immediate family to talk to these people as they made their way through the line, I was changed.
Many said: “I am a better person because of him”
Dozens of people, with all sincerity, made sure that I knew how lucky I was to have the grandfather I did. They told me how great of a man he was. They each shared stories of how he had gone out of his way to help them at one point or another in their lives. They told me how he had made them laugh. Many said: “I am a better person because of him”. “I feel fortunate that I had a chance to know him”. I knew that these sorts of comments were typical at a funeral, but it was the way that they said it and the sheer number of comments that really blew me away. This was clearly a man that touched a lot of people deeply in life, left the world a better place, and in all the right ways.
At the time, my wonderful wife and I had just given birth to our first child, a daughter. My family is quite spiritual and believed that as old life passes away, new life is born. They asked me if I would be willing to hold up my new daughter for all in the church to see at a certain point in the ceremony. A symbol of new life. I agreed.
When the time came, I stood up in the middle of a packed church, extended my arms, and held my brand new baby daughter up as high as I could. The priest said, “as old life passes, new life is born”. Few in the church could hold back tears.
What matters? What doesn’t?
It was on that powerful day that I suddenly had a whole bunch of new questions. Questions that I had never really asked myself before. What will they say at my funeral? What was it that my grandfather seemed to do so right in life? What matters? What doesn’t? What and how will I teach all of this to my new daughter? What did my grandfather and grandmother do to be in a relationship where they loved and respected each other so much? Etc. etc. etc. etc. All seemed to be pretty simple questions that I would figure out with a bit of study and thought. Ha Ha!
As you might imagine, I’ve been trying to figure out the answers to those questions ever since. The more I learn the more questions I have. I’m fascinated with the study of psychology, philosophy, leadership, authenticity, and happiness. Can you be a great husband, father, son, friend, and business owner all at the same time? Or do the qualities and character that make you good at some of these roles, make you bad at others? It is an amazing quest!
I don’t know if they’ll be of any value to you, but here are a few of the resources and thoughts that have resonated with me over the past several years. None are perfect but offered me powerful knowledge:
The Hudson Institute on Life Coaching teaches that life, and we as individuals, go through seasons, like nature. A cycle of renewal. All seasons are necessary to get to the next one. Know what season you’re personally in, and accept it. Winter is necessary for Spring to happen. (more).
Brian Johnson is an entrepreneur and philosopher. He can be a bit over the top with lovey-dovey stuff for my personal taste, but his website is fantastic. He has read and summarized 100 of the great books and thinkers (many that you have quoted in your thoughts). I have read most of them. Well worth the $50 to get summaries of 100 great teachings.
Brian teaches that many extraordinary minds have been contemplating these same questions for centuries and this collective knowledge can be organized into 10 categories: Optimism, Purpose, Self-awareness, goals, action, energy, wisdom, courage, love, entheos.
The three core values of truly successful people
Lou Holtz (the American football coach) says there are three core values that he can find in successful people, and only in successful people:
Trust. They always do the right thing.
Commitment. They are committed to excellence.
Caring. They care about themselves and others and show it.
These are just a few that come to mind. Lately I’ve been fascinated with the topic of how to be a good father, husband, son, and friend, and if being a good entrepreneur and business owner is compatible. All of these are my goal and purpose. How do you need to change your actions as you play each specific role, and can you do that while still maintaining authenticity and honoring your true character? The scary thing is that I feel like I’ve only met a couple of people in my whole life that I think have really managed to be good at all of these at the same time. So, it can be done! (but is far from easy).
Everything changes. Everything is connected. Pay attention.
A lifelong master student of Buddhism summarized all of their knowledge of this philosophy in 7 words: “Everything changes. Everything is connected. Pay attention.”
Sorry for the ramble. Keep up the great work, good luck on your “journey”, and I really look forward to hearing what you have to say in your book.
Eric Ronning is President of Channel Financial. He is a sponsor of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation Minneapolis chapter.
Productivity put simple. This is a guest post by Dimitri Uralov, a Barcelona based entrepreneur and financial coach.
When Conor offered me the chance to write a post on time management for this blog, we laughed as I commented that most people would probably find the truth about productivity too simple.
“Most people would probably find the truth about productivity too simple”
I am interested in time management. I spend a lot of time reading books on the topic, testing new systems and methods and trying the latest software. Invariably, I always come back to the same simple principle that has been guiding my productive life for the last several years.
Here it is. Productivity boils down to one simple thing: your capacity to do the most important, and only the most important, and to stick with it until it’s done. Time management tools and strategies are useful, but always secondary.
Our time is limited and we will never accomplish everything that we and others put on our plate. The only question is whether what we choose to do takes us closer to our goals and allows us to make a difference or not.
The only thing you need to know about time management.
I can only really accomplish what really matters if I spend most of my time working on the most important tasks. If I’m doing something else, no matter what I choose to do (and what software or system I’m using for it), it will relatively be a waste. (Conor has a good post that distinguishes great work vs bad work).
What are these most important things? I don’t think you need help with answering this question. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using the Eisenhower matrix, the ABC method of setting priorities or simply your gut feel. We all happen to know what our most important tasks are.
The real problem is that these most important tasks are usually the most difficult and least “attractive” items on our agenda. They require time, effort and getting out of our comfort zone. So, humans as we are, we consciously or unconsciously choose to keep ourselves busy with other less important yet so much easier stuff.
I remember the first time I realized how powerful this “just-do-the-most-important” principle was. About two years ago, when I was working in a family office, my boss had a conversation with me. He was kind but honest. He complained about my productivity. He said it took me too much time to finish important projects. He didn’t know what I was doing, but he knew he didn’t like the results.
That came quite unexpected for me. At that time I considered myself to be a very good worker. I was always busy doing things. I was staying late to do more. I had my to-do lists all over the place. I would answer all e-mails and return all telephone calls quickly. I was up-to-date with everything happening on the markets. I was available and ready to help others. However, my boss felt that I was not achieving much.
So I decided to reassess the way I was working. I tracked my time and took records of my activities. Soon it became very obvious that most of my day was spent on unimportant stuff, such as answering e-mails or reading investment articles. Meanwhile, the important stuff was sitting on my desk and in my to-do lists, waiting to be dealt with.
Eat that Frog.
Having realized I was always postponing the most important, I made a strong decision to change my working habits. Every morning I would arrive to the office, make a list using the ABC method, and then go directly to my most important task, the A1, resolving to do nothing else until it was completed. I would then go to A2, then A3 and so on.
As I adopted this simple productivity rule, my results changed completely. Difficult projects and tasks that used to take weeks were now done in days. I felt more energetic and motivated. For the first time I would have moments when all items on my to-do list were ticked. Eventually I would accomplish most of the tasks for the week in only 3 or 4 hours on Monday morning. The change was so amazing, that I even started to share my insights with other people.
Today, as an entrepreneur, the productivity issue has become more important than ever for me. To be honest, I sometimes find it quite difficult to control myself and keep focused. If there’s something good in having a boss, it is that you have someone who can warn you when your productivity has gone low.
Therefore, whenever I feel stuck among all the things I have to do, I go back to the same simple principle that has proved to work so well – I start doing the important things, and only the important things.
I grab a sheet of paper and write down my two or three most important tasks for the day. Yes, those that are usually also the most difficult and uncomfortable. I allow myself to forget about everything else, and then I focus on getting these two-three things done.
Once you eat a frog, nothing worse can happen in the day.
Sometimes it takes me the whole day to accomplish just one of these tasks. But I’ve discovered that I don’t really feel bad about it. I feel calm, concentrated and productive. I’m doing the right thing, the one that matters most. It is the best use of my time, and there’s nothing that can be compared to that feeling of fulfillment when it’s finally done.
I’ve also discovered that every time I concentrate my effort on the most important, the unimportant stuff takes care of itself. Problems solve themselves in my absence. I get less e-mail in my inbox. The phone is silent. Life flows.
And usually, if I manage to keep myself focused and avoid distractions, I end up doing much more than I would expect. It seems that things do not always take as much time as we think, especially those that initially look so big and difficult.
Therefore, the next time you feel tempted to test the next revolutionary time management system, think again whether you really need to overcomplicate it. Get back to the basics and ask yourself a simple question:
I recognize that even when we know what we have to do, it is not always easy to stay focused and avoid distractions. I personally find it to be the most difficult part of the “art of productivity”. For that reason, in my next post I will share some of the tips that have proven most effective for me.
In the meanwhile, could you share your experience and insights on simple productivity in the comments? What do you do to manage your time better?
Dimitri Uralov is managing partner of the Intelligence Consultancy – a company specialised in helping people and organisations to develop the full range of their intelligence. Next month he will run a 3-day workshop on leadership, productivity and personal branding in Barcelona.
This is a guest post from Rob Marchant, a key member of Tony Blair’s campaign team at Labour Party head office between 1998-2002. Rob is founder of Barcelona Green, a startup aimed at climate change challenges. He examines some political examples of public speaking from the US and the UK.
Loved or loathed they might be by the public at large, most of the best-known examples of public speaking come from politicians. They certainly get more practice than most of us – after all, they do it for a living – and a great speech, such as “Ich bin ein Berliner” or “We will fight them on the beaches”, can move even the most cynical of commentators. Although we can’t all be a Kennedy or a Churchill, we can still learn from such seasoned speechmakers as we look to lead others.
There are many pedestrian reasons why we might give a speech: to thank people, to raise a point or to merely deliver information, like the figures from an annual report. However, a good political speech changes minds. You will never turn people’s beliefs on their heads – no speech can do that – but by gently coaxing the listener you can often win the day on a single issue. Here are some examples from well-known politicians on winning speeches:
Home in on your one “winnable” resistance point. Every year, Tony Blair’s most important speech as Prime Minister would be to the Labour Party Conference in September. Blair would spend most of the speech building up rapport and trust with his audience. And then, once he had them eating out of his hand towards the end of the speech, he would drop in a single but controversial proposition, and they would give him the benefit of the doubt. They never saw him coming.
Bond with the audience. Bill Clinton, a true master of empathy, can win the hearts of a potentially hostile audience immediately by a choice phrase, signalling that he is “one of them”. In his famous 1994 “you need to turn the light on in Virginia” speech, he starts by affectionately name-checking the local party dignitaries. Then, as he hits the most controversial passage, he starts it with, “I am a Southerner. I love this part of the country”. No matter that Virginia is over a thousand miles from his home in Arkansas, and no matter what he says now, the audience are with him.
Passion wins, especially at the end. When it comes to passion, Martin Luther King’s training as a Southern Baptist minister gave him a head start over most of us – at times his iconic “I have a dream” speech reads like gospel singing. If you believe it, they’ll believe it. And who has ever written a better ending to a speech than “Free at last! Free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Strong vocal delivery is important for credibility. Margaret Thatcher, although perhaps not naturally a gifted orator, made the best of what she had. She even had special voice training to lower the pitch of her speaking voice – she felt that her higher-pitched, woman’s voice lacked gravitas. Her political persona as the “Iron Lady” was entirely consistent with her somewhat slow and deliberate speaking style, giving the impression that she was not to be deterred or trifled with. Perhaps her best was the 1980 conference speech which subtly ridiculed her Cabinet critics for their vacillation and political “U-turns”, while contrasting her own strength of purpose: “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning!” With that, Thatcher’s place as party leader was safe for the next ten years.
Be yourself – although you can and must practice, you can’t be someone you’re not. People move others most when they speak from the heart. Humour can be devastating – or devastatingly bad, if you get it wrong. Prime Minister Harold Wilson was a down-to-earth but rather witty speaker. However, he didn’t dare introduce humour in his speeches until he was confident enough of his delivery – that is, when he became Prime Minister.
Don’t be heavy-handed or negative about rivals. Audiences will usually react against this and it cheapens your message. However, bashing the opposition in an audience is usually a crowd-pleaser, and unites you with the audience around the common enemy. Learn from the pols: if you’re a Republican, bash the Democrats. If you’re a businessperson, bash the competition.
Coin a phrase and catch the moment – Speeches have often assured their own place in history, in part, by exactly reflecting the zeitgeist: see Macmillan’s “wind of change” speech, about the end of empire in Africa, or Reagan’s “tear down this wall” about the anticipated end of the Cold War. Even better, use a mantra which will be repeated: Barack Obama’s stroke of genius with “Yes, we can” made him and his message instantly memorable.
Not all speeches are political in nature but most, to some extent, look to influence opinion. We might never have the charisma of the political heavyweights: but we can all be warm and confident, and take people with us.
Rob Marchant runs a consultancy business in marketing, web communications and management, and is currently raising funds for his first startup, Barcelona Green. His career spans management consultancy, investment banking and technology, as well as having been a key member of Tony Blair’s campaign team at UK Labour Party headquarters during 1998-2002. In 2000 he travelled to Washington to meet the campaign teams of Al Gore and the Democratic National Committee. He is also an experienced public speaker and facilitator who has stood for the Parliament in the UK. Originally educated at Oxford, he has an MSc in Economics from the University of London and gained his Global Executive MBA from IESE in 2004.
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