We are living in difficult times. A lot of reflection on what is right and what is wrong is happening at the moment. We have started questioning ourselves about our ways and what we can do better. During my high school years, I was a very enthusiastic basketball player. By enthusiastic I mean that I played every day but was never a good player. I struggled most of the time, so I spent most of my basketball ‘career’ in fixing mode. My coach constantly told me “when things are not going well, go back to the basics and you will find the solution”. A couple of months ago, I decided to go back to the basics and reflect on how I could add value to the people around me.
I grew up in a big family of 5 brothers. My mother, our commander in chief, was the one in charge of keeping us in line. She was the one who took the social risk of taking the hard and unpopular decisions that we would only understand once we became adults and were able to look back and see the benefits of these decisions. There was no democracy in my house and we did not vote for her to lead us. She was not taking decisions to get more votes in the next election or to raise acceptance ratings either!
In a democratic government, before most decisions are taken, the impact of the acceptance ratings is considered. This is in normal situations. Right now though, our world is enduring the COVID19 pandemic and the preservation of human life has taken preference over government popularity for the first time in history. We are living in a unique time where we have the opportunity to see our world leaders show leadership, some of them for the first time in their lives. We still do not know how this crisis will end but when it ends, what if we all decide to change our ways at the same time and we start taking the social risk of proposing hard and unpopular decisions?
I have been fortunate enough to be part of a company that keeps transforming constantly at a pace that keeps everyone embracing change as a normal part of evolution. During this evolution I have been surrounded at all levels by brilliant and energetic colleagues who have contributed to my growth in so many ways.
I have never been good at embracing my story, but when I lost my mother, I started reflecting on my time with her and how she influenced me. By looking back at these memories, I encountered a feeling of passion for what I do and how relevant I can be for the stories of those around me.
I was attending a town hall (meeting) and one of the topics being covered was safety. In shipping, safety plays a major role in our work. Usually, these talks are pretty straight forward, more about following processes. The speaker threw a question at us that got me thinking. He asked us, “who should get the recognition, the firefighter who puts out the fire or the safety inspector who prevents it?”. Later that night, I continued to reflect on this question over a glass of wine and realized that both sides had strong points. The firefighter needs to perform under severe stress which is needed in high performing teams, but the security inspector’s dependability saves a lot of time and resources. In conclusion, both roles are needed when you assemble a team, but I was not yet satisfied with this reflection and continued to think about it for a week as I felt that I was missing something.
Then it hit me one night. What if I spent time talking to the firefighter and the safety inspector in order to understand more about why they do what they do and what motivates them to do it every day? By getting to know their passion I will understand the true value that they add to the team.
I am a proud Panamanian who was blessed with the opportunity to live in South Africa for almost 4 years as an expat and can say that understanding their national identity was confusing in the beginning, interesting during the process and fulfilling when I felt like a South African. Nothing that you learn about South Africa and Mr. Mandela from overseas can prepare you for this magnificent experience. I have never seen any group of people with so many differences coming together for one common goal: The Rugby World Cup. After experiencing the Springboks (this is what they call the South African rugby national team) winning the 2019 World Cup, every little piece of knowledge about the country’s identity came together and taught me a great lesson about leadership.
Several years ago, I was undergoing a coaching certification training course that had an important and continues to have an important impact on my continuous evolution. During this time, I was introduced to a statement that took me some years to digest: We are responsible for everything that happens to us. Then I realized that for most of my life I have been playing victim and making other people responsible for my own tragedies. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that we can control everything that happens to us, but I do believe that we have more control over our lives than we acknowledge. One crucial part of attracting good into our life is to develop a personal brand. Over the years, I have been reflecting on this and found words that are commonly associated with a good personal brand. Words like driver, leader, reliable, efficient, effective and getting things done. I would invest great effort into adding these words to my personal brand.
I grew up in a big family and our mother worked during the day and at night she went to college. A true example of dedication and passion for what she believed in. So, you can imagine that there was little time for her to investigate what each of her 4 sons were passionate about. We all went to baseball summer league, boy scouts, karate and were part of the swimming team. I did not enjoy most of them but staying at home in front of the television was not an option. My mom believed in hard work and if you were not good at something, hard work would pay off. And it did but I did not enjoy it. As I got older and started making my own decisions, I did not pursue any of those activities. I only realised years later the benefits of my mother pushing us to be dedicated to everything we did.
Over the years I have had the wonderful opportunity of facilitating brainstorming sessions. One of my favourite tools to use, is Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats Method. Our behaviour, not our words, is the reflection of who we are. Six Thinking Hats is a brilliant tool to structure in an objective way to include the input from the individuals participating in the session and can give insight into the reflection of their personalities. The method refers to six hats that when we “wear them” we are obligated to think in a specific way. The blue hat is the leader hat that will control the discussion and the ground rules (only the facilitator will wear this hat during the entire exercise), the white hat requires pure objectivity and data driven comments, the red hat is our emotions and how we feel about the exercise, the yellow hat is for positive thinking, the black hat is for negative thinking or challenges we encounter during the solution process and the green hat is for innovative thinking or often referred to as “out of the box thinking”.
What follows are a few social conclusions that I have found in this exercise that relates to the teams’ general behaviour.
I am a proud Panamanian. We are happy people that generally like to have a good time. We usually tend to disconnect from our reality by partying over the weekend. We are in essence, positive by nature. Recently, Panama qualified for their first FIFA World Cup. Our performance during this tournament was more than disappointing, but we were the happiest fans in Russia! Other countries lost in the semi-finals and it was considered a national tragedy. This Panamanian way will definitely make our lives more enjoyable but won’t create radical changes needed to take us out of a third world mindset and stop the corruption cycle that has been the trademark of our governments going back decades.
I was resting before my next fight during my latest Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament when a mother of one of the kids, who was competing in the children’s competition, approached me, looking quite desperate, looking for feedback she told me that she needed my help. Her son had just lost his first fight against a more skillful kid and she insisted on showing me the video of her son’s fight to see if I could give her tips on how to improve his technique. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a sport that does not believe in talent. One improves by training constantly. There is no secret formula for overnight improvement, just like life. I looked at her and noticed that she was very concerned and recommended that she should have a talk with her son’s coach to understand the process and let him take care of his progress. She replied, “I want to help him but I do not know how”. I am also a father and completely understood her position. We do not want our kids to go through unnecessary hardship.