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Friday, November 21, 2014

Sage Advice from a 2000-Year-Old Slave

"The first person you lead is yourself."  
                                                           -Epictetus of  Hierapolis  55 to 135 C.E.

Standing in line at the register the other day in Portland, I couldn’t help overhearing the women on her cell phone in front of me.

Her mother had abused her. Her employer didn’t appreciate her. Her kids disrespected her. By the time she was done, I could have sworn I heard the sun was too bright outside and the birds were singing too loud.

Some things never change…

If a citizen of ancient Greece or Rome were magically transported into the modern era, he would be astounded by the current state of agriculture, transportation, housing, medicine, architecture, technology, and living standards.

But humanity itself would offer few surprises. We remain the same flawed human beings we always were, struggling with the same human faults our ancestors wrestled with millennia ago.

That is why ancient philosophers still speak to us—if we listen. The wisdom of the classical world transcends place and time.

The Stoic philosophy, for example, dominated the ancient world for nearly 600 years, beginning in the late 4th century B.C.E.

Stoics believed that reason was supreme. Tranquility is only achieved, they taught, by suppressing irrational emotions—like regrets about the past—and accepting life’s unavoidable disappointments and setbacks.

One of the great exponents of Stoicism was a slave named Epictetus, born around 55 C.E. in the east outreaches of the Roman Empire.

Epictetus had few advantages in life. Aside from being born into slavery, he had a permanent physical disability. And he was poor, living a simple life in a small hut with no possessions.

Yet he became one of the leading thinkers of his age. When Epictetus was freed from slavery—we still don’t know how—he set up a philosophical school on the northwest coast of Greece, spending his days lecturing on how to live with dignity and tranquility.

As his reputation for wisdom grew, people flocked to hear him. One of his most distinguished students was the young Marcus Aurelius Antonius, who became ruler of the Roman Empire.

Epictetus was not one for airy theories (Read: The Secret). In his view, the job of philosophy is to help ordinary people deal with the challenges of everyday life. And his words, captured in a great book, The Art of Living, are a wise today as when he spoke them nearly 2,000 years ago:

“Keep your attention focused entirely on what is truly you own concern, and be clear that what belongs to others is their business and none of yours.

One of the clearest marks of the moral life is right speech….Glib talk disrespects others. Breezy self-disclosure disrespects yourself….If need be, be mostly silent or speak sparingly.

Let the quality of your deeds speak on your behalf. We can’t control the impressions others from about us, and the effort to do so debases our character. So, if anyone should tell you that a particular person has spoken critically of you, don’t bother with excuses of defenses. Just smile and reply, I guess that person doesn’t know about all my other faults. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have mentioned only these.”

Now is the time to get serious about living your ideals. Once you have determined the spiritual principles you wish to exemplify, abide by these rules as if they were laws.”

Epictetus had a deep understanding of human beings, of society…and of life. But he also understood death, too.

“I must die. If the time is now, I’m ready…How will I die? Like a man who gives up what belongs to another….A good death can only come from a good life.”
Epictetus argued that our prime motivation should be inner achievements, not outer ones. The right attitudes and values allow you to flourish no matter what the external world throws at you. Inner achievement lays the foundation for peace, tranquility, and personal freedom. And so he taught that true success comes from focusing ourselves within:

“We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose to respond to them.

“If someone irritates you, it is only your own response that is irritating you. Therefore, when anyone seems to be provoking you, remember that it is only your judgment of the incident that provokes you.”

“Those who are dedicated to a life of wisdom understand that the impulse to blame something or someone if foolishness, that there is nothing to be gained in blaming, whether if be others or oneself.”
If anyone is unhappy, remember that his unhappiness is his own doing…Nothing else is the cause of anxiety or loss of tranquility except our own opinion.”

“He is wise who doesn’t grieve for the things he doesn’t have, but rejoices for the things he does have.”

“Fortify yourself with contentment, for it is an impregnable fortress.

Whether you are janitor or a CEO, Epictetus insists that your main job in life---your most important work---is improving yourself. Yet, always a realist, he emphasized moral progress over moral perfection.

Today Epictetus is widely recognized as the world’s first philosopher of personal freedom (Victor Frankel picks up on the theme in Man’s Search for Meaning). Its attainment, he insisted, is the result of mastering our thoughts, yielding to the inevitable, pursuing virtue rather than wealth and diverting our attention from constant desire, yearning and attachment.

In a modern translation of the Art of Living, philosophical writer Sharon Lebell observes that, “His was a moral teaching stripped of sentimentality, piousness, a and metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. What remains is the West’s first and best primer for living the best possible life.”

Ironic, isn’t it? A man born into slavery was among the first to show us a path to personal liberation.

“Anyone is free who lives as he wishes to live,” said Epictetus. “And no one is free who is not mater of himself.”

In the words of another Stoic, Seneca:

“As long as you live, keep learning how to live.”

Peter Mclees

Thanksliving: Practicing an Attitude of Perpetual Gratitude

It's been said that life is a good news, bad news proposition. The good news is that life's challenges help us grow. The bad news is that there is more good news coming!

In his book Discovering the Laws of Life, the famed money manager and philanthropist John Tempelton coined the word “Thanksliving.” He recommended practicing an attitude of perpetual gratitude.

That's not hard when times are good. But in these challenging times an attitude of continual thankfulness can be a tall order. Yet Tempelton offers a radical solution. Don't just give thanks for your blessings. Be grateful for your problems, too.

This seems wildly counterintuitive at first blush. But facing our challenges makes us stronger, smarter, tougher, and more valuable as leaders, employees, parents, mates, ...and human beings.

"Solving problems is what were made for" it's what makes life worth living," remarked Templeton.

He goes on, "Adversity, when overcome strengthens us. So we are giving thanks not for the problem itself but for the strength and knowledge that comes from it. Giving thanks for the growth ahead of time will help you grow through--not just go through--your challenges."

What ever problems we're grappling with--personal, social, health, or financial--the best course is to face them with all the courage, patience, and equanimity you can muster.

And if possible be grateful.

On occasion, of course, our problems are simply bigger than we are. In an address in 1859, Abraham Lincoln recounted the following tale:

It is said that an Eastern Monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and in all situations. They presented him with the words: "And this, too, shall pass away." How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!

That's something worth keeping in mind.

Whatever your problems, few of them can withstand the onslaught of optimism, persistence, and a genuine spirit of gratitude.

As the poet Robert Frost reminds us, "The best way out is always through."

Happy Thanksgiving!

Peter Mclees

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

John Shield's Dared to Drive the Trader Joe's Dream

John Created an Incredible Legacy because He Dared...
+  to be a person not a position 

+  to connect 

+  to drive the Trader Joe’s dream 

Let me explain these three things:

Dared to be a person not a position. The way I saw John interact with crew members told me that he was more interested in being authentic with who he was as a person rather than hiding behind a position.  This genuineness built trust and strengthened bonds within the company. 

Dared to connect. Whenever I was in a meeting or a class with John, he made people very comfortable because of the way he listened and spoke with them. He always communicated with respect, and honesty. Roger and I would often hear how good it made them feel to be part of the company whose Chairman treated them as intelligent adults instead of just subordinates.

Leaving a legacy is all about making a difference. We can only make a difference when we take stands.

The capacity to imagine and articulate exciting possibilities…to lift people’s sights and lift people’s spirits.

Dared to drive the Trader Joe’s dream. Bringing the vision of Trader Joe’s customer experience to the East and Midwest, when it was it practically nonexistent, was an incredible risk. 

John envisioned many of the programs that has enabled Trader Joe’s and its crew members to soar to incredible heights. His leadership helped to turn that vision into reality.

When John invited Roger to help establish SMART U and I was hired by Roger he created the best career experience in our lives. For that, Roger and I will always be grateful. 

Peter Mclees 

John Shield's Left an Incredible Leadership Legacy

JOHN SHIELDS 1932 - 1914

A Leader of Leaders

John's legacy reminds us all of the impact leaders have on those who follow them. 
"His life, his impact , mark him as one of the truly great business leaders and a wonderful mentor and friend." 

The legacy we leave is the legacy we live. The best way to honor and remember John is to lead the way he led. Let our lives, our leadership be his legacy. 

Tell the truth. Do the right thing. John told the truth. He led with integrity.

Empower. And empower within boundaries. John said: liked the keeper: "Empowering untrained people is like unleashing unguided missiles".

Invest in your people. When John initiated Smart U/TJU he said: "I never asked what it cost, I was afraid that if I knew, I wouldn't do it...we had to do it. Our people deserved to have tools to help them succeed."

Listen, Learn, and Improve. John knew the best ideas don't always come from the top. He listened. He learned. He led.

" When you walk away from a conversation and you feel better about yourself, turn around, take another look, you were probably in the presence of a leader."

John made people feel better about ourselves and unleashed talent and leadership. 

Peter Mclees and Roger Moore, Principals

     Smart Development Inc. has an exceptional track record helping restaurants, stores, branches, distribution centers, food production facilities, and other businesses create a strong culture, leadership bench strength and the teamwork necessary for growth. Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage start up, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.