The Paradoxical Commandments

 

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Being a lover of the arts, music, theatre, literature and poetry, I am always on the lookout for pieces that move me – that stir up my soul. In my experience, when artists express themselves through these different mediums (and when they do it well) they become powerful storytellers and inspiring leaders. In fact, there are songs, poems, books and stage shows that have profoundly impacted the world and have changed the way we think.

Whether is an emotive code of life such as The Desiderata or the lyrics to the Robbie Williams song “Angels”, we get to experience an emotion that moves us into deeper feelings. It gets us thinking and feeling and seeing the world through different eyes.

This is a gift. This is empathy.

I discovered the poem “The Paradoxical Commandments” several years ago and after a conversation I had this week with a friend, I went looking for it. I find it thought-provoking, moving, courageous and – most importantly – centred around love and being the very best version of ourselves that we can be.

Even in the face of it all going wrong.

Kent M. Keith wrote this poem in 1968. At the time, he was a 19 year old who was studying at Harvard. He clearly had a great understanding of what being a good human being meant.

I am hypothesising as I really don’t know much about Mr Keith, yet his words lead me to wonder if he endured some challenges to have this level of commitment to greatness at just 19 years old. It makes me curious to know whether he had a challenging relationship with his family, or maybe he came from a very loving family who taught him these values? Perhaps he was the kid who got bullied in the schoolyard and no matter how hard he tried to blend in and not be seen, he was still tormented every day.

The key message in this beautiful poem is to persevere. Continue to do good for humanity, continue to act with integrity, continue to be the best version of you EVEN when you are getting nothing back and even losing it all. And that’s the paradox of the commandments.

Why should we keep giving when we get nothing back? Why should we keep building our empire if we are going to lose it all? Why do good for others when they accuse you of having other motives?

Well, from an energetic point of view, it is about “vibrating high”: vibrating at a frequency that creates abundance, health, and even more happiness. Mr Keith is clearly all about vibrating high.

From a spiritual point of view, if we are here to live a life of cleaning up old karma or creating new karma credits for the future, then it makes sense to live this way.

From a humanitarian point of view, if we all behaved according to the lines in this poem, there would be no need for a poem like this.

Please read it because I would love to know your thoughts – and just remember: there is always a choice.

The Paradoxical Commandments

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favour underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

 

 

The Power of Philanthropy

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How much of your time, energy or resources do you give to others purely to help the world around you be a better place?

Last night I watched an excellent TED talk with Bill and Melinda Gates. It was about their Foundation – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – and what it is currently achieving and what it hopes to achieve over the coming decades.

It was truly inspiring and has given me so much more hope for our planet.

So let’s start with philanthropy: What exactly is it? It is the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes. Generally, very wealthy people set up philanthropic causes around something they are passionate about. For some it is the arts whilst for others it’s education or health.  It doesn’t really matter what the cause is, and I am sure each of the causes across many different areas are abundantly happy to receive the help.

I have always wanted to be a philanthropist ever since I found out what it meant when I was 16. I am sure that on some level I loved the idea of being super rich, but I loved the idea of giving it away even more. I think that is why I am so inspired and fascinated with what the Gates are doing.

The idea of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was born in the 1990s. They had been on a trip to Africa to see the animals but it was the people that really caught their attention. They found them to be so open and wonderful and were deeply saddened by their challenging lives. They were walking along a beach in Zanzibar at the end of their holiday discussing why it was like it was and what could be done about it.

Bill and Melinda had already decided that their post-Microsoft years would be about charity and giving back, but this trip to Africa prompted their philanthropic journey to start much earlier than planned, and their Foundation was born in 2000.

The philosophy of the Foundation is to tackle just a few big problems very well. They choose extreme poverty and poor health in developing countries, and the failures of America’s education system. They have a global approach which is highly commendable! When we are happy to take the resources from developing countries, I believe we have an obligation to take care of their people as well.

On the Foundation’s website there is a letter from the Gates explaining who they are and what they stand for. In the letter they share some advice that Warren Buffett gave them around philanthropy: “Don’t just go for safe projects,” he said, “take on the really tough problems”.

They have and they are making a massive impact in the world!

The other thing that I love about the Foundation is who they have got to join them. Being as affluent as they are, they swim in circles where there is a lot of money and a lot of influence. And really, these are the people who will be changing the world, not our governments.

Bill and Melinda Gates have currently given 80% of their wealth to the Foundation. By the time they leave the planet they will have given 95% to the Foundation. In 2007, Warren Buffett called his friends Bill and Melinda and asked to donate 80% of his wealth to their Foundation. Between these two alone, we are talking billion and billions, if not trillions of dollars! Trillions of dollars that is being spent with intention, research, testing to ensure they are doing the best thing, and simply changing the world to be a far better places for millions of people.

Now that blows my heart up!

Aside from Warren Buffet, there are now over 150 other super rich people who have committed over 50% of their wealth to the Foundation. The influence that the Gates’ actions have had on leading their peers has been so powerful and the philanthropic spirit has been ignited in a way that the world has not seen before.

I am nowhere near being in a philanthropic position but the Gates inspire me to continue to give where I can. Whether that is a small donation to a charity, giving away things that I could sell to someone who needs them more than me, or simply coaching people who want to make a change and are not yet in a position to pay for the help. It really doesn’t matter if you are the Gates or me – it is about the spirit of giving and taking care of others who need the help.

If you get a chance to check out the TED talk, do so! It is full of hope and is a great opportunity to see what two people who are committed to a more equal planet can achieve.

If plan A doesn’t work there are still twenty five letters left in the alphabet

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I was with my nieces on the weekend and we were talking about “The Plan”. We are off on holidays soon and were brainstorming ideas about what to do and how to get around. I was questioning one of the plans because of time and location and my niece said to me:

“If Plan A doesn’t work, Auntie Kate, there are still twenty five letters left in the alphabet”.

I smiled from the bottom of my soul when I heard this! I thought not only is it very cute, it shows that the girls are adaptable and flexible and willing to go with the flow. These are such important “soft” skills for kids to learn.

All of these traits I would put under the one umbrella of “behavioural flexibility”. Behavioural flexibility is one of the most important skills we can teach our children. If they understand it and can demonstrate it, then they are on the road to a successful adulthood.

Behavioural flexibility is the skill of being able to change our behaviour to meet the person or situation in front of us. The opposite of that is a person expecting the world to always come to them. If it doesn’t come to them they tend to show their unhappiness is a variety of ways – everything from not speaking and sulking, right through to a complete emotional hijacking or tantrum.

One of my favourite sayings in the world is: “The person with the most behavioural flexibility controls the room”. That means that whoever is the most adaptable and can engage with each person (even though each person is different) becomes the most powerful. By powerful, I mean influential.

The same can be said for situations: the person who is able to adapt quickly and graciously and remain in a resourceful state is going to be the person who gets promoted and moves up the chain of command. They have demonstrated that they can handle uncertainty and are willing to come up with Plan B through to Plan Z if need be. In a non-working environment they are the person who is able to move through life with minimal stress and far more pleasure. They roll with the punches!

Behavioural flexibility is really about uncertainty. It’s about how much uncertainty you can handle whilst still remaining in control. For some people, if Plan A doesn’t work the wheels fall off and the whole thing becomes pointless – a total disaster! For others, if Plan A doesn’t work they see it as a chance to get creative and think outside the square. The major distinction here is that one person hates uncertainty and fights it, whereas the other person sees it as an opportunity for growth and development.

One of the great disservices we are doing our children at the moment is not allowing them to experience high levels of uncertainty. We are therefore limiting the development of their behavioural flexibility. Everyone getting a ribbon at the sports carnival, or every layer of “pass the parcel” having a gift in it is actually way more damaging than we realise (in my opinion). These types of situations are the practice ground for real life disappointment and uncertainty, and when we take away their chance to practice in a safe and secure environment we are setting them up for a big fall.

I work with young adults (18, 19 and 20 year olds) and it astounds me that when Plan A doesn’t work they immediately look to someone else for guidance or become so overwhelmed that they’re actually a bit useless. They have not yet developed the ability to think outside the square and their behavioural flexibility is SO limited. This is not because they can’t do it but because their opportunities to practice these soft skills during their childhood and adolescence were so limited. Everything was taken care of and they have not experienced or had to self-manage some of those emotional states that feel yuk.

This is not their fault. We need to be looking to ourselves as adults and question how we can develop more behavioural flexibility – not only within us but in our children too.

Behavioural flexibility really is one of life’s greatest skills to acquire.

 

 

 

Perseverance, where are you my Friend?

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Why do some people give up while others just keep on pushing through? Is perseverance a learnt behaviour or is there an innate predisposition to it?

I recently returned to yoga after a couple of years off.  Yoga for me has always been more about the mental exercise rather than the physical exercise.  I do hot yoga so as well as my body being stretched to its limit, I also have the heat to contend with and heat – I have learnt over the years – brings a whole other set of mental challenges.

What I noticed over my first few weeks back was that I was very quick to give up on a posture once it hurt too much or was too uncomfortable.  The mind chatter would start and totally let me off the hook: “Kato, you don’t want to hurt yourself, maybe you should just have a little sit down” or “Kato, your heart is beating particularly fast, I think you should rest for a minute”.

The first month or so I gently eased myself back into yoga, not even considering for a moment that I could have been working much harder. I mean, I was just loving myself for finally getting back in the room. That was my “Get Out Of Jail Free” card: I was there so I don’t have to push myself too hard!

It wasn’t until I was in a class being taught by the studio owner, Hannah, about five or six weeks in.  Hannah is an old friend of mine and funnily enough we did our very first yoga class together back in 2008.

Hannah is an excellent teacher and I noticed that as I participated in her class I dug deeper, tried harder, gritted my teeth through the pain more, and turned a corner. I left that class feeling amazing – I knew that I had given it everything I had and I was basking in the glow of tired muscles and a detoxed body.

It was after this class that I really got thinking: “How come I was willing to work so much harder in today’s class? How come my perseverance really showed up today?”.

I realised that I wanted to do my best for Hannah.  I am externally motivated and because I care about her, I wanted to give it 100% to show her I appreciate her teaching.

This bought up a new question: had the perseverance always been inside me or did I just develop it today?

The intuitive answer that came to me is that it was always there – I just hadn’t tapped into it in a really long time.  It had been dormant or I had totally ignored it.

Yesterday I was talking with a friend of mine, Lee.  She has just returned home from Mount Kilimanjaro and I was fascinated to hear about her trip and more specifically the walk up the mountain. I thought she would be able to offer more insight into perseverance.

Lee’s journey sounded tough! It took five days to get up the mountain and on the fourth night, they slept for just a few hours before getting up at 2am and then hiking for 11 hours to the summit. She said it was so cold and her bones were aching with fatigue. It was minus 20 degrees at the peak so the exhilaration of getting there was heavily balanced with staying warm.

I asked Lee what it took to get up that last section of the mountain and she looked me in the eye and said “Everything. It took everything.” and she smiled that wistful smile of a person who has conquered the world. She said: “I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it – it was literally a step-by-step process.  Everything hurt and I was just so cold and tired. I used up every last resource I had in my body”.

How easy would it have been to quit? Very!!

Except she couldn’t quit: she had flown across an ocean to get there, taken time away from her family and friends, used leave time from work, spent the money, and gotten nine tenths up the mountain. She was therefore totally invested.

And her perseverance showed up when she asked it to.

I truly believe that we are capable of so much more than what we expect from ourselves. Maybe it’s our beliefs around not being good enough or the task being too hard. Maybe it’s us worrying about what people think or don’t think, and maybe for each of us the reasons are different, but I feel certain that perseverance lives happily and well within all of us.

We just have to call on it more often.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extreme Ownership

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Have you ever been in a situation where things go wrong – really wrong – and nobody is prepared to step up and take total ownership of the situation?  Sometimes the leader will deflect on to their subordinates, blame the equipment or the systems, or even just deny that they have had any part in the situation because they weren’t there on the day.

Sometimes the people involved in the situation blame the leader for inadequate training, unclear instructions or improper supervision.  It comes down to everyone passing the buck and a whole lot of finger pointing.

The concept of Extreme Ownership was developed by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin in their book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win.

Willink and Babin were both officers in Navy SEAL Task Unit Bruiser. These guys fought through the worst days of the battle of Ramadi in Iraq. The knowledge they acquired on the ground has now become part of the training for incoming SEALs.

Willink starts the book with a powerful, yet bleak story – an incident that went disastrously wrong. When it was all over, a SEAL was injured, an Iraqi ally was dead, and many others were placed in serious danger.

The thing about this story is the whole thing could have been avoided.

Multiple breakdowns in systems and protocols added up to one big disaster. In aviation we call that the “Swiss Cheese Effect”. It’s when all the holes line up which allows the accident or incident to happen.

Straight after the event the Navy wanted an investigation. Willink, who was in charge, collected all the relevant information. He found mistakes at all levels, but he didn’t feel right about submitting the list without adding one crucial detail.

“I had to take complete ownership of what went wrong”, says Willink. “That’s what a leader does, even if it means getting fired”.

This is what Willink and Babin call Extreme Ownership.

Regardless of whether Willink had a part in each of the breakdowns along the way, he was the leader and was therefore prepared to allow the buck to stop with him.

It was not only the right thing to do, it also paid off. By taking the blame, Willink kept the trust of his team and was able to identify ways of improving operations. A different level of communication was possible because of his leadership.

It also preserved trust with his commanders. He says “Looking back, it’s clear that despite what happened, the full ownership I took of the situation actually increased the trust my commanding officer and master chief had in me.”

If he had thrown someone under the bus he would have lost the trust of his team, making it impossible to lead them. He also would have told his commanders that he couldn’t manage his team. That is a lose-lose situation.

So how come most of us don’t follow the principle of Extreme Ownership?

It seems like such a positive way forward: it builds trust, promotes open communication, and creates the space for very powerful learnings.  Step up, own it, be the leader, and set the example.

When I thought about why we don’t embrace Extreme Ownership I came to the conclusion that people don’t like having arrows shot at them and unfortunately our society has gravitated towards a “blame someone else” culture.

We are more litigious than ever with the number of lawsuits skyrocketing this century.  I have noticed common language patterns around shifting blame and deflecting ownership. Taking responsibility for whatever is under our care now seems to have options.

True leaders own everything that happens on their watch and the results of that are phenomenal.