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Developing Listening Skills

Noreen D. Beaman, the C.E.O of Brinker Capital, is a leader who values listening and being present. As she states in this interview with Adam Bryant, The New York Times Corner Office guru: “I’ve also learned a lot about listening – to really pay attention and be present in the moment.”

I find that great listening skills are invaluable both in one’s career and personal life. For instance, if you often come home from work and can’t be present with your partner, eventually he or she will grow tired of your lack of presence. Nothing kills a relationship more than lack of presence. At best it’s boring. At worst, it’s cruel. At work, not being present leads to mistakes and errors in judgment. Having great listening skills means you consistently take the time and energy necessary to be present and pay attention. Presence, like many other skills, is a muscle that develops with practice. Being present and really listening are wonderful attributes and make living so much more interesting!

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The Start of A New Change

Maureen Dowd, The New York Times columnist tells the story of a couple opening an inn catering to higher end tourists who want freedom without jeopardy. It’s an interesting twist on what’s happening throughout the state as business moves into a new and ever expanding industry. Conservative, liberal or in-between this change is here to stay. My sense is that the Marijuana is in its infancy and will become much like alcohol – regulated, taxed and ubiquitous.

A lot of people resist change. Some people embrace it. The couple in this article are at the forefront of change in Colorado. My question to you is what are you resisting and what change can you embrace today that would make a real difference in your life? Those are some of the thoughts I had when I read Ms. Dowd’s article!

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Manufacturing Jobs

The Myth of Industrial Rebound, a feature article by Steven Rattner in this week’s Sunday Review section of The New York Times offers a broad perspective on the unlikely notion that high paid manufacturing jobs are ever coming back to the U.S. New plants that have opened recently are offering manufacturing jobs that start at wages that are hardly middle class like $12 to $14 an hour. The problems are multifaceted and diverse but essentially we don’t have enough skilled workers and we aren’t competitive enough compared to countries like Mexico whose average wage per worker is roughly $8 an hour versus $45 an hour in the U.S. Increased research and development, added spending on infrastructure, more foreign direct investment, and other policy changes will help but as Mr. Rattner argues, the issues are deeply structural in nature and unlikely to change significantly over time. He states: “in a flattened world, there will always be another China.”

My mantra: The more awareness and the more action we take based on that awareness, the better! If we know what the issues are and don’t deny them then we can create policies that make a real difference. Early childhood education is proven to make a real difference. The more educated we are as a nation the better. Let’s put resources towards aims that matter so our next generation actually lives the American dream!

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Success Is A Skill

According to Amy Chua and Jeb Rubenfeld, Yale law professors and authors of What Drives Success? A New York Times Sunday Review feature article, success in certain ethnic groups has to do with three underlying principles: 1) A superiority complex 2) An inferiority complex 3) Impulse control. For instance, believing that certain groups are chosen, better than or more elite can add extra confidence for individuals to persevere when times are tough. Feeling not good enough, not smart enough or not successful enough can add extra drive or motivation. Without the ability to delay gratification or learn to control one’s impulses, people won’t work hard enough in the now to secure longer term success. This article is very interesting and worth considering. Some statistics are especially interesting like Nigerians who make up less than one percent of the Black population in the United States yet in 2013 nearly one quarter of the black students at Harvard Business School were of Nigerian ancestry.

Having been raised Jewish I can relate to this article personally. On the one hand there was a sense of pride bordering on elitism on behalf of my parents in their cultural beliefs and yet there was always this feeling of not enough as well. Learning to delay gratification, a skill or trait that parents can enhance by teaching it to their children is was a quality my mother instilled in us with her patience and nurturing. Motivation too can be taught, especially at early ages. There is nothing about success that can’t be enhanced through good parenting and proper training. Remember Trading Places with Eddie Murphy – perhaps an exaggeration but nevertheless it makes a potent point – success is a skill that can be taught and learned like many others! I often refer to myself as a high end teacher. I teach success in life and business!!

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Innovative Leadership Approach

Each week I write about business managers and leaders featured in Adam Bryant’s Corner Office section of the Sunday Business section of The New York Times. Mr. Girish, the C.E.O of eClinicalWorks, a privately operated provider of IT healthcare solutions, says that he hires primarily on “heart” because the rest can be taught. He is seeking passion, commitment, and desire for excellence above all else! Instead of firing people, he tells the employee that it’s not working out and to take three months off to seek something else. If after three months, they want to come back they must change. I love his innovative approach to employee challenges! He also spurns job titles instead creative teams and team leaders! Good stuff Mr. Navani!!

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Ross Ulbricht and Silk Road

The story of Silk Road Founder Ross Ulbricht in the Sunday Business section of the New York Times is an interesting sketch on a complex personality. On the one hand, he seems to be kind, compassionate, and deeply philosophical young adult who graduated from several top schools, was well regarded by his peers and parents and found a way to create an interesting living confidentially matching buyers and sellers on the web using Bitcoin, a computer generated currency that is currently unregulated. On the other hand, Silk Road seems to have been set up  primarily to provide buyers and sellers of illicit drugs and other illegal activities with a means of connecting anonymously through advanced encryption technology called Tor. Mr. Ulbricht  believed strongly in economic freedom and extremely limited government. The FBI recently arrested him and charged him with a series of crimes that make him out to be a sociopath.

Without knowing Mr. Ulbricht personally it’s hard to determine who he really is. It does seem, however, as if he might be an honorable guy who committed crimes for which he is in big trouble. How can he be honorable you might ask? There is a big distinction between virtue, which is largely about moral behavior, and honor which has to do with how you go about doing what you do!

Go to http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/business/eagle-scout-idealist-drug-trafficker.html to decide for yourself!

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Toxic Wealth

The New York Times Sunday Review section has a cover article on toxic wealth or addiction to money as the author, Sam Polk, a former Wall Street Trader puts it. For years, he felt lousy about seven figure bonuses because colleagues made even more. The money, though outrageous by Main Street standards, was never enough. I have lived and worked in Fairfield County, Connecticut on and off for decades. I have seen this phenomenon many times firsthand as a psychologist and business coach – not having enough. A women I saw recently was bitter at her husband because they went thru several million dollars of her savings, which she got in a divorce to a Wall Street guy,  over the course of a ten year marriage and she only had ten million left and it wasn’t nearly enough because even her “poor friends” had more. This not enough mentality is pervasive in our culture, Hollywood and Wall Street being extreme examples. What we don’t have enough of is kindness, creativity, and compassion from my perspective. As Mr. Polk points out, “only a wealth addict would feel justified in receiving $14 million in compensation – as the C.E.O of McDonalds did in 2012 while his company then published a brochure for its work force on how to survive on  their low wages.”  This is not an easy issue to address in a culture that idolizes the super-rich. It’s a good article to raise awareness, the first step to change!

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The Courage or Craziness of Athletes

Reading about dangerous sports in the Los Angeles Times Sports section while traveling out here on business made me think about a golfer I am coaching who used to be a professional snowboarder. He’s shared several adrenaline addiction stories having had a series of near death experiences in his younger life as his passion for extreme sports and dangerous situations like surfing in near hurricane conditions nearly got him killed.

I too understand the desire to get a rush out of life but I also know that as we get older the best way for us to feel more alive is to learn how to create what I often refer to as the “magic” in life and business – the feeling that we are on the right path, enjoy who we are, what we do, and look forward to each and every day! This takes patience, discipline commitment, and trust – not necessarily easy traits to develop but well with it. So enjoy the extreme stuff while you are young and learn the magic of creating as you age!

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Follow Your Gut

As I was reading this article on A-Rod’s suspension in the Los Angeles Times, I saw a quick highlight of the 60 Minutes special on the Biogenesis founder who spoke convincingly on A-Rod’s guilt. Anthony Bosch basically said that not only did he sell A-Rod several performance enhancing drugs but he also injected them into A-Rod himself on multiple occasions. With each phase of this sad saga A-Rod sounds more and more like Lance Armstrong who lied and denied until the evidence became overwhelming or Roger Clemens who got off legally but looked horrendous in the process. It’s disheartening to watch.

When there’s so much money, fame, and success riding on one’s performance, the incentives to cheat are high. The problem of course is that non cheaters are at a disadvantage when so many around them are cheating. MLB seems to be doing a reasonable job of handing this lately but the cheaters still seem to hold a lot of the records (Bonds, Mcquire, Sosa, etc…). I find this problematic. It makes it almost seem as if they got away with it and clearly some did.

Sometimes in life it pays to be suspicious. When something seems to be too good to be true it often is. This is not negative – it’s just helpful to have a little healthy skepticism when it comes to success in life and business. So the next time your gut tells you not to believe something or someone, you might want to listen!

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College Tuition Costs

Sitting at a sports bar at JFK watching Seattle dominate the Saints I found myself in a conversation with a bright young woman who just graduated from Occidental University in Southern California. I had asked Mia what her tuition was at this small liberal arts school and she replied 55 thousand. I told her about this article that I read in the Wall Street Journal Review section addressing the easy availability of student loans through government backing had allowed universities to raise tuition beyond reasonable levels. As a result, far too many coeds graduate with excessive debt in a soft job market. Suddenly, a former Tufts professor interrupted politely agreeing with me that the system was indeed broken but he argued that the primary cause was related to prodigious course offerings that make individual per student costs as high as 75 thousand at many private universities. I added that administrative bloat was clearly an issue as well as non facility costs have soared too. This professor was en route to Brussels having taken a job for NATO in large part because the system is now making it harder to enjoy teaching as well. He told me that tenure is more challenging than ever and schools pay increasing numbers of adjuncts less.

Much like our bloated medical system, the cost structure of college tuition is simply unsustainable. This professor was an exceptionally bright and talented guy who found a creative solution for his own life. Others, less talented or less driven might not be so fortunate.  One of the keys to success in life and business is to never ever stay stuck or believe that you are struck. With enough ingenuity and chutzpah, there is almost always another way! And sometimes hiring a coach to help you find that way is a no-brainer!