Engaging, Participating, Interacting, Creating – Fulfillment, Leadership, Organization, Wisdom

Archive for August, 2007

The Key to an Epic Life

Posted by Herman Najoli on August 29, 2007

With all the hoopla over the past few months about The Secret DVD, there has been massive interest in the principles of success. This blog is about going beyond success to living an epic life. Success is great. An epic life on the other hand is awesome because it enables you to utilize your skills to make an impact and a difference in society. The focus of success is on self – how you can achieve it for yourself. The focus of an epic life is on others – how you can use your talents to engage, interact, participate and create in society.

The key to an epic life is engaging in personal growth with a view towards adding and multiplying value to society. Most people are comfortable with developing themselves and growing for their personal ends. Few go beyond self-growth to people-growth. The truth is that true empowerment in life comes when you shift the focus from your own person to making a difference for wider society. That’s the hallmark of great leadership. Followers are great at personal development. Leaders are awesome at multiplying value in society. Why? Because great leaders understand that their legacy is in the epic things they do in society.

Let me provide a brief example that I hope will illustrate this better. In 2001 I was a leadership intern at the Honor Academy in Garden Valley, Texas. I arrived in Texas with a passion for personal development. I was an avid student of leadership. This resulted in my being asked to spearhead a new organization at the campus, Terra Nova, whose goal was to identify new initiatives, enhance community and cultivate a focus on the future of the Honor Academy. My responsibility as President of Terra Nova included developing my leadership council. My position gave me a title and authority but no relationship with my team. I had to build a relationship. This came through developing them as better leaders. As I focused on developing them, I became personally empowered in my leadership of the team. The quality of my personal growth was elevated since my goal wasn’t to become the best me but to enable others to become the best them. That’s living the epic life.  

Posted in Creating, Engaging, Interacting, Participating | 1 Comment »

Embrace Your Inner Snail

Posted by Herman Najoli on August 24, 2007

Society today is consumed with the idea of speed. All we want is the next fastest thing. We want “instant” information, “high-speed” internet, “fast” food, “rapid” results, “immediate” action, “accelerated” education, “expedited” mail, “supersonic” jets, “swift” change, even “quick” sex. What happened to slowness? The leisurely, sluggish and unhurried are branded names while the fast and quick is celebrated.

In this quest for faster and better, is there any future for slowness? What price are we paying in our quest for speed? It is reflected all over our society – on college campuses where students are running from class to class then to workplaces, in the corporate world where everyone’s favorite book is Business @ The Speed of Thought and in homes where fast-paced living has become the norm. 

Slow should become the new fast. I was born and brought up in Africa where slow is the norm. No one has mastered the art of living slow like the people in my rural village on the shores of Lake Victoria in Western Kenya. Life is luxury for them. Their motto is “Hurry, hurry, has no blessing”. When I came to the United States in August 2001, I was astounded at the pace of life. I remember going to a grocery store during my first week when I was not yet familiar with the currency. I had a ton of coins and bills which I pulled out of my pocket and started counting slowly in front of the clerk. His look, and that of the customers behind me, could have melted a glacier! But the truth is that our fast-paced life is melting glaciers in real life. The industrial revolution, in it’s quest for better and faster, has hastened the melting of glaciers immensely.

Given all this, what is the future of mankind? We have a choice for high velocity or slowness. My position is that slow is cool. We all need to apply the brakes. Stress levels are rising because of the speed at which we drive our lives. Human contact has become fleeting, at best. We don’t connect any more because we are rushing for the next event. It’s time to embrace our “inner snail”. The inner snail’s motto is this: “slow and steady wins the race”. Let’s send more letters than emails, ride more bikes than drive cars, use the crock-pot rather than the microwave, visit friends and chat instead of sending text messages and make love with the person that we have chosen to take the time to slowly get to know instead of have rapid quickies.

After experiencing the fast pace of life in the US, I went back home (where the people have mastered the art of slow living) to visit in 2005. I had an opportunity to embrace my inner snail when I went to a local internet-cafe to check my email. It took me longer to open the internet and load the pages than it would have taken me to open a letter and read it. While this may be an indication of backwardness of Kenyan technology, for me it is a celebration of slowness. I had to learn the wisdom of taking a newspaper with me to the cyber-cafe and reading it as I waited for the pages to load. Oh the beauty of slow living! Slow should become the new fast. Have a slow day! (and really enjoy the slowness!).

Posted in Wisdom | 1 Comment »

Maximize Your Organization’s Potential With a Long-Range Vision

Posted by Herman Najoli on August 20, 2007

After many years of research being done and business books being written, the jury is out on the idea of organizational vision: companies must have a vision. Over the past two or three decades many companies have done a lot in terms of developing their vision/mission statements along with core values that guide them towards that vision. Go to any company website and nine out of ten times you will find some form of a mission statement, vision statement, guiding philosophy or core values.

While it is commendable that many organizations have a vision to justify their existence, it is worth noting that most of these visions are short-range in nature. The vision enables them to get on track with their plans but it is not sufficient enough to take them into the future. Let me use the analogy of a train going through a tunnel. Physical vision (along with the train’s lights) enables the train operator or engine driver to see as he goes through the tunnel. An experienced driver, however, has the mental vision that enables him to see beyond the tunnel. I would also venture to use an example from the nation of South Africa. Nelson Mandela had the vision to take the people out of apartheid. Thabo Mbeki had the vision to take the country into reconciliation and a future of mutual existence. Actually, Mandela did initiate the reconciliation but it took Mbeki’s leadership to sustain it beyond the euphoria of excitement.

Here are some thoughts on how long-range vision can transform your business:

1. Provides a focus beyond “tomorrow”

Vision is great because it provides you with a general strategy for handling tomorrow. Beyond tomorrow though, you need to be able to handle “the future”. Tomorrow belongs to those organizations that have a vision of what is coming ahead. The future belongs to those organizations that can shape what is coming. We see what’s ahead through vision; but we shape what’s coming through long-range perspective.  

2. Ensures the continuity of the group or organization

Vision gives power to an organization’s mission. Long-range vision, on the other hand, breathes life into the organization’s mission. Any organization can make it a couple of years but it takes long-range thinking to survive a future that threatens the very life of organizations. Vision can sometimes guide an organization to it’s level of incompetence. The Swiss watch making companies for example, were overtaken by Japanese digital watch companies because they did not have long-range vision. They had vision, yes, but that alone could not take them into the future.  

3. Envisions potential pitfalls and their solutions 

Henry Ford is noted for saying that the masses could have any car they wanted so long as it was black in color. Ford had great vision for the automobile industry but he could not see beyond the tunnel. He could clearly see the light at the end of the tunnel but little did he know that it was the headlight of an on-coming train. Now, he had experience and should have been able to see beyond the tunnel. However, he didn’t. If organizations are going to make it into the future, they must have long-range vision, rather than just “a vision of tomorrow”. They must be on the cutting-edge of shaping the direction in which society is going rather than putting themselves in a place where they will have to play catch-up.

How’s your organization doing? Do you have a long-range vision? At the Better Life Company, we have started aiding businesses in developing training programs that empower it’s employees in working with leadership to develop long-range vision. It takes more than observing trends. It takes more than a “visionary” person climbing to the top of the mountain and declaring the vision to the team. Are you ready to maximize your organization’s future and ensure it’s continuity?

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Experience the Joy of Listening

Posted by Herman Najoli on August 17, 2007

In a couple of hours I will be meeting a student for teh first time and one of my strategies today is simply to listen to my student and learn what his goals are. Listening is perhaps one of the most basic social skills but few people take the time to master the process of listening. One wag once joked that ‘we are given two ears and one mouth so that we can listen more and talk less’.

In keeping with the idea of listening, I’d like to look at the art of listening by way of an acrostic of the word LISTEN. 

How to Increase Your Listen-Ability Skills

One of the most painful things for a speaker is the realization no one is listening until when the speaker makes a mistake. The joy of conversation (or public speaking) is usually crucified by the luxury of half-listeners. Regaining the art of listening necessiates an ability to LISTEN. Here’s how:

Look at the speaker and focus on her words – This might seem as a very simple and easy thing to do but it’s among the top, most challenging skills for many people. Last week I was talking to a friend at the Global Center in downtown Cincinnati and she told me that she has always had a hard time looking at people during conversation. This is someone who works at a place where she rubs shoulders with dignitaries from all over the world! Some people choose to look over the speaker’s head. Eye-contact is essential to communicate a listening attitude.  

Indicate understanding by nodding affirmatively – I once mentored a teenager who had a huge problem with accepting my ideas. This was a really nice young man who had been brought up on the north side of Omaha in Nebraska. What I noticed with him was that, as adults approached him to speak with him, he would immediately go into a mode in which he would shake his head from side to side and look down at his feet. After lots of coaching sessions, he began nodding positively and that created a lot of room for him to start accepting my feedback.

Spot any distracters and put them out of your mind – We live in a society in which so much demands our attention. I’ve been in meetings where, all of a sudden, I’ve noticed my mind drifting away to other things that I’d rather be doing (well, some of the time the content – or was it the speaker? – may have been boring.) But really, that’s no reason to zone-out a speaker and go to lala land (lala is a Swahili word for sleep). When this happens we must consciously choose to put any distracting thoughts completely out of our minds. That’s the key to concentration, the glue of listening. 

Try not to think of what you are going to say next – My wife has a great illustration she normally uses when coaching people on their listening skills. She talks about this funny commercial in which there’s a lady being spoken to. During the entire time she is eating Doritos and has zoned out the speaker. This has been a huge area of personal growth for me in my marriage. I thought I had learnt all I needed about it from my mom only to find that I was still raw on this habit after I got married. Nowadays I have learnt to gain power over my thoughts and focus on the speaker, thanks to the two most important women in my my life.  

Engage actively by participating on your turn – The art of listening goes hand in hand with demonstrating an understanding of the spoken word. Active engagement might mean responding in a concise manner or taking notes that enhance your grasp of the content. Listening is not a one-sided activity. It’s dialogue. As you engage in dialogue, you need to be able to monitor your internal conversations. Internal conversation should be focused on the speaker, not on what you are going to say next. Healthy listening skills come from being able to enage with the speaker. It’s about connectedness that comes from each party’s ability to play their roles effectively.

Note key points and make it a point to remember them – Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about an “Indian talking stick” that was given to him by Indian chiefs. According to Indian culture, listeners were not permitted to say anything until the speaker passed the talking stick to them. The talking stick was never passed around until the speaker felt completely understood. What a beautiful way to communicate the sacredness of listening! Actually, here’s a link to the video where Stephen Cover talks about the Indian Talking Stick. It’s a great concept worth grasping fully.

Let’s regain the art of listening. Better listening not only enhances your knowledge of the topic but also communicates respect to the speaker. The key to being a great listener is to LISTEN. As my mother used to say, “Listening is one thing; hearing is another”. Let’s listen to hear.

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Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and at the worst time possible

Posted by Herman Najoli on August 13, 2007

This past weekend I had an encounter with Murphy’s Law again. Murphy’s Law states that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and at the worst time possible. My experience with Murphy has prompted me to develop a strategy for keeping him from messing me up ever again. Here’s my three-pronged strategy for dealing with Murphy whenever he shows up. I call it the ABC’s of dealing with Murphy:

1. Anticipate what might go wrong

Whenever Murphy strikes we rarely are ready to deal with the situation. We may have prepared for our tasks but we are hardly ever ready for the detours. Our game plan should be to anticipate what might go wrong so that when it does go wrong, we can deal effectively with it.

2. Bring yourself to a state of calmness

Murphy has a tendency of leaving us in a panic because of the element of surprise. We need to consciously make the choice of staying calm. Getting frustrated or angry about the situation never helps. Being in a state of calmness allows us to think clearly and resolve the situation.  

3. Create systems that allow for success

Success in any endeavor is all about having the right systems. Take a look at the systems around you. Do they allow you to respond rapidly and effectively to situations? Everything around you should be geared towards bringing you success in your endeavors. Learn to create systems that empower you in life.

Posted in Leadership | 1 Comment »

Inspired to Aspire for Higher Ideals

Posted by Herman Najoli on August 10, 2007

We all need daily doses of inspiration. The key to staying motivated towards achieving our goals is the inspiration that comes from the stories we encounter on a daily basis. Learning to listen to the good, powerful and life-changing stories that life offers us enables us to soar above mediocrity and live life at a higher level. Our purpose is clarified and our power is harnessed when we share in positive, life-changing stories.

I subscribe to a newsletter that comes to my inbox weekly from the Children’s Defense Fund. It normally highlights stories of teenagers that are contributing to their communities. This is a very inspiring publication. We are used to listening to the stories of teenagers involved in crime and negative things in the news media. I think it is essential to turn off the negative news and start finding the positive things that are being done in society and highlighting them. I’m always inspired to continue working in my community when I read these stories.

We get inspired so that we can aspire to higher ideals. Our aspirations provide us with the motivation that we need to stay focused. Being inspired therefore, is foundational to our personal growth and development. I look at and define myself as an inspirational teacher. My stories inspire people so that they can find the motivation to do what they need to do. Motivation may provide people with information that generates good feelings within them but inspiration sparks a fire within them that they can act upon. 

Posted in Creating, Engaging, Fulfillment, Interacting, Leadership, Organization, Participating, Wisdom | Leave a Comment »

How a Champion Responds to a Challenge: Lessons from Tiger Woods, Rory Sabatini and the WGC Bridgestone Invitational

Posted by Herman Najoli on August 6, 2007

Yesterday I had the chance to watch the World Golf Championship Bridgestone Invitational with my son. A lot of people were looking forward to the final round because Rory Sabbatini, a fiery South African had a one shot lead on Tiger and three months earlier (in May) had lost a one-shot lead to Woods in the Wachovia Championship, and then said that Woods looked “as beatable as ever.” Once again, just as he did in May, Woods put on a clinic for Sabatini, clawing his way past him and finishing with an eight shot win! – the only player in red numbers at the end of the tournament! Tiger demonstrated that Rory’s challenge was simply talk that could not back up. Tiger unleashed a bogey-free round that made him the first player in golf history to win the same tournament three-consecutive times, twice. Here are some ideas on how champions respond to a challenge:

Lessons from Tiger Woods, Rory Sabatini and the Bridgestone Invitational

1. Inch by Inch it’s a Cinch

Tiger won this tournament by playing consistently right from the beginning. Every hole he played counted as he advanced towards the last hole of the championship. Every inch of the course had to be played. In order to win in life you must realize that there are no short-cuts to winning. Every little effort you put into the quest for success counts. Keep plugging away.

2. Play your own game

At the end of the game, Sabatini said, “I never put any pressure on Tiger, never forced the issue, and he got far enough ahead so he could just cruise. In a sense, I played into his game.” Hmm! Champions play their own game. You’ve got to play your own game. Don’t drive the ball down the fairway just because everyone else is doing that. The key to winning is to develop your own goals and timelines. This is your game, not someone else’s.

3. Don’t be intimidated

What everyone is going to talk about all week are Sabatini’s words that Tiger looked as “beatable as ever.” Everyone wanted to see how these words would impact Tiger. He was not moved all. He simply let his clubs do the talking for him. He stayed focused. If you are going to be a champion, you must choose to stay focused on your personal path. Let your skills do the talking. 

4. Believe in your ability

Everyone has also been talking about whether Tiger can win now that he is a father. Well, he’s answered that question. As everyone is wasting time talking about his abilities, Tiger is investing time in working on his game. To become a champion you must do the same. You must believe in yourself and your abilities. It doesn’t matter what may have happened to you in the past. What matters is what you believe right now. You can do it. As Norman Vincent Peale used to say, “You can if you think you can”.

5. Give yourself the best chance

Tiger gave himself the best chance by playing some really clean golf on the front nine. After the game, he said, “I just kept making par after par after par, and the weather kept changing, kept getting more difficult, and I felt if I could just keep making a bunch of pars, the guys were going to have to get greedy and aggressive to some of these pins and probably make a mistake.” (Click here to read the entire interview) You have to up your game in the crucial moments of life. That’s how you give yourself the best chance to win.

Much kudos to Tiger; a great lesson for all of us.  

Posted in Engaging, Leadership, Wisdom | 1 Comment »

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