Human Energy Leadership Essays
"There must be something behind things, something deeply hidden."
Ever since the day his Father stopped long enough to share some time and gently influence his son, one of the world's greatest minds never stopped questioning the world around him. The world has been left infinitely richer by his thinking, and his humility. He commented:-
"I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious."
Along our journey we have learned much from this brilliant mind who seems to be as much a scientist as a philosopher, and is perhaps one of the great examples of a whole brain thinker. With Einstein as an inspiration, the invitation is to remain curious, and to really search for that "something" which lies behind things and which may be deeply hidden.
While the British were stretched in a full-scale military operation with the Zulus in the Anglo-Zulu wars of 1879, March the 14th heralded the day of Einstein's birth. This anti-war activist and passionate humanitarian would emerge from his shell to argue for the protection of human rights around the world. He was even offered the presidency of Israel, but famously turned it down. He is of course known for his formula of E=MC2, but perhaps on this occasion he lived by one of his lesser known and maybe more frivolous formulas:-
"If R = Success, then R = X+Y+Z, with X being work, Y being play and Z is keeping your mouth shut."
So, how else can you sum up a man who has won just about every award possible, who nearly 60 years after his death is still a household name and whose equations on the expanding Universe were confirmed some ninety years later by the technology of the Hubble telescope. A man who loved to sail, yet couldn't swim, who despised wearing socks and who might have been a musician had he not been a scientist. How do you explain the paradox of the greatest mind of all time and someone who has inspired scientists and philosophers in the same way as Gandhi inspired Leaders, failing his University entrance exam and only speaking at a late age in his life?
Perhaps it is to use a few of his very own carefully selected words.
"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow and never stop questioning."
"Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything which can be counted counts."
In what is arguably one of Albert Einstein's simplest yet most profound essays entitled "The world as I see it", he writes:
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
So, enjoy the frustration of not knowing the answer and climb with us into the crucible of questioning and if it's any consolation, this great man who led with both humanity and humility would probably be observing from behind his bushy eyebrows and electric shock of hair saying that whatever you came up with is entirely relative.
Einstein's work was essentially around four main pillars - Light, Time, Space and Energy.
We hope that while you are here you will find the Space and take the Time to let your own Light shine, and in so doing will raise the level of your own Energy and that of those around you. Maybe you will indulge for a while to forget about that which can be counted and focus on those who count. Yourself included.
"There are two ways to live your life. One is though nothing is a miracle. The other is though everything is a miracle."
You guessed it - Einstein again.
Albert Einstein died in Princeton hospital on the 18th April 1955. The night before his passing he refused surgery saying:
"I have done my share. It is time to go. I will do it elegantly."
Indeed. In life as in death.
Born on the 2nd October 1869 Mohandas K Gandhi became known in later years as Mahatma, a name said to have been given to him by Rabindranath Tagore - the first non European winner of the Nobel prize for literature in 1913. The name and its meaning "Great Soul" however did not rest well with him and according to his autobiography, he was often pained by it.
Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893 - he was 24 years old and he spent 21 years in this country. It was here where he developed his political views, ethics and political skills, and it was here where he realised his disconnection to the enormous complexities of religious and cultural life in India. He started his journey of leadership through humanity by leading Indians in South Africa who at the time were divided primarily by religion but also by economics.
He had firsthand experience of the discrimination policies of the time. Being thrown off trains in Pietermaritzburg, beaten for refusing to make room for a European traveller, barred from several hotels and berated by a magistrate for wearing his turban in a Durban courtroom were just some of the indignities he faced. These only served to strengthen his resolve, and had he had a branch of the buffalo thorn to reflect on, would no doubt have seen these all as turning points along his life from which to make significant choices.
Perhaps one of those significant choices was to establish the "Indian Opinion" newspaper in 1903. In 1904 Gandhi relocated it to his settlement inPhoenix, close to Durban. The press workers here were governed by a new work ethic, where they would all have a share in the land - there were over 100 acres here in those days. They would also share the profits if there were any, they would grow crops to sustain themselves, and they would work jointly to produce the newspaper. This was never without its risks as of the first six editors five of them spent time in jail. Gandhi himself commented that:- "Satyagraha (Insistence on Truth) would have been impossible without Indian Opinion." It was this 'insistence on truth' philosophy and practice which translated directly into the movement of non-violent resistance and resulted in the Independence of India from British colonial rule on the 15th August 1947.
Gandhi himself never lived to see the formation of the Republic of India on the 26th January 1950. He was assassinated on his way to address a prayer meeting on the 30th January 1948. Prime Minister Nehru addressed the nation through radio:- "Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere."
Well, maybe there is still some of his light which shines in this place. We invite you to lap it up as Millions before you including Mandela, King, Biko, Tutu and Aung San Suu Kyi have done as an inspiration to their own causes, and indeed there are many who believe that South Africa's transformation was all about Mandela completing what Gandhi had started. Gandhi never won a Nobel Peace prize, but he was nominated five times. This would probably never have bothered him, what might have been of interest to him was how many Nobel Prizes he inspired. When asked to give a message to the people, he would respond:- "My life is my message."
To quote another Nobel Laureate, himself an inventor of note:- "Mahatma Gandhi has invented a completely new and humane means for the liberation war of an oppressed country and practiced it with greatest energy and devotion."
Later on he continues:-
"Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood."
So walk this same place a bit, enjoy the same vegetarian meal, and breathe in some of the same air with the light, love and energy where this great soul spent so many formative years of his life practicing the art of leading with humanity.
The Buffalo Thorn is a tree endemic to Africa found mostly in the warmer regions. It is a high protein food source for a wide variety of leaf eating animals and berry eating birds.
Its branches and twigs never grow straight. They zig-zag. At each turning point there are two thorns. One is a sharp hooked thorn that points back along the branch towards the trunk; the other a longer straight thorn pointing forward. The tree is a perennial and new leaves grow alongside older leaves also at the point at which the twig has changed the direction of its growth.
The Nguni people, who live where it grows most prolifically, the Zulus and the Shangaans call it the Mpafa or Umlahlankosi. Some know it as Umphafa.
For many in Africa the tree and the way its branches grow is symbolic of life - it twists and turns. They don't refer to "ups and downs" for we are never sure whether a particular phase in our lives is either an up or a down until we see the phase in hindsight.
And looking backward is the message of the small hooked thorn. It reminds us to look retrospectively upon that period of our lives that has just ended. It urges us to "look back, reflect, take stock, learn all you can from the experiences and gather wisdom, especially from your mistakes. But then move on least you get stuck in your past".
Then the straight pointing thorn urges us to move forward with confidence. It is our new compass for the next phase of our unpredictable life.
What a lovely personal discipline this tree suggests. Look back on every day, note the twists and turns, the high energy and low energy moments and learn all you can from them but don't get hooked!
Uncle Butch is not my Uncle at all, but he is my Godfather, and I've always learned heaps from him even though for most of our lives we have lived in different cities. It was he who provided me with one of my lifelong lessons when he said that there were really only two ways to learn things properly. The first was through the hard knocks of life. The second was at the feet of the Master. He would then gently remind me that the first was often infinitely more painful than the second. Ever since then I've kept my ears well open when in conversation with Uncle Butch, and Monday night in a Cape Town winter was no exception.
The 2014 Brazilian World Cup had ended the night before, and the cool, clinical Germans had swept up all before them as well as the coveted trophy in a deserved procession of footballing professionalism. The talk inevitably turned to sports, and Uncle Butch started to comment about some of his observations both as a spectator and as a player in the aquatic version of the game known as water polo. As a marine biologist he always was more comfortable in water.
Uncle Butch always listens more than he talks, and so when he does talk I listen. And this is what I learned.
There are, he thought, three main guiding principles to these sports. There are many, many rules which should be obeyed of course, but only three main principles which should be practiced in order to triumph. Not wanting to interrupt the first lesson, I tucked into my medium rare T bone with about the same relish as Luis Suarez had dined on his underdone Italian counterpart.
Firstly, you never pass the ball to someone in a worse position than you.This was met with much head nodding, and some discussion about what this might mean as a metaphor for everyday life. How often do we see our politicians throw the proverbial hospital pass down their hallways and hierarchies? Corporate execs flee from their ivory towers in helicopters with their bonuses in tact but the business in tatters. Sportsmen and women are thrown to the lions without even a modicum of support from their administrators. Blame blossoms and accountability evaporates as everyone from Marikana to the media looks for and then attempts to shoot the few remaining scapegoats in a field of sheep. The old adage of "Not my problem" has become a well sung line out of the International Anthem, as the dreary armies of the disengaged squeeze their sponges and journey on in the pursuit to do less with more.
It was time to order a glass of the Cape's finest to wash down a well aged product from what is deservedly rated as South Africa's best Steakhouse. I was also about to digest the second lesson.
Always find a space and play into that space.The concept of space seemed most ironic at this particular point. After 600 grams of a Tim Noakes bucket list item, accompanied with the obligatory Local Grill extras, I had none. Being so full, I was in no danger of speaking, so I continued to listen.
The great successes of life and sports seem to be in people finding space. Or in businesses, communities or even families finding space for that matter. We spoke of niches, of people who chartered new waters, or of cricketers finding new ways to play challenging deliveries. Innovation is all about finding a space and then playing into that space. Why, after all is it wise to enter an already saturated market with the same old products? David slew Goliath when he claimed his space as a slinger in artillery, not as a swordsman in heavy infantry. Solid relationships seem to find, as Kahlil Gibran so beautifully puts it, 'spaces in their togetherness'. Great centres in rugby seem to not only find space, but create it, and even when marked by many, the great footballers conjure up a way to shake the defence as well as the off sides trap. Some people we spoke of had recently blossomed as they had found their space in the world, and seemed to set free their shackles as they played, and I mean played not just worked into that space. We wondered if some of our schools created space for uniqueness, or if there was space round the dinner table for differing opinions. It was Einstein who observed that space and time were essentially the same thing, so maybe, if we want more time we need to create more space. I wondered what and who were occupying my space? They didn't always seem to be the same things which took up my time.
There is always space for a cleansing Irish coffee with Tim's full cream, and I sipped slowly on the delicacy whilst savouring it as well as the third lesson.
If you don't take shots you'll never win.Have a go sometimes, even if you have to take a risk along the way. The successful teams in the world cup may have had a solid defence, but I'm willing to bet my next steak that the real winners also took many shots at goal. Nick Faldo once won an Open Championship with a full house of 18 pars in the final round. Solid, dependable, nothing flashy, but even he would have known when to take certain shots on, and when to risk. This doesn't mean recklessness, but rather a measured confidence born from both practice and belief. I wondered how often I had left putts short on the greens of my own life. Times when I didn't put up my hand for fear of vulnerability, where the certain sidelines of comfort seemed so much more pleasurable than the playground of possibility. The fear of writing the book seems so overwhelming that we stop even writing an essay, or a letter. We might argue that if we do nothing, we do nothing wrong, and therefore when our will comes into existence we leave this place a little safer. Surely though we also leave it a little poorer without our contribution. Taking a shot at our own goals is imperative if we are ever to hit them, and that means to dare to fail sometimes. So ask that someone special to dance, build your own bucket list, pull out the driver on a reachable par four once in a while, sing with your kids in the car. Travel without an itinerary, or have the odd meeting with no agenda.
It's never comfortable to say I tried and I failed, but I'm sure it's worse to say "I wish I had".
There is often magic in the unknown, and when it finds some space to shine, it can light up the world. Just ask a humble herdboy who years later took a shot at wearing a number 6 rugby jersey, and amongst other things changed the world.
Fine wine and a well aged steak are luxuries, but when they are washed down with wisdom they become a privilege.
The rules may be there for a reason, but guiding principles are there for a purpose.
I look forward to my next lesson from the feet of the Master.
I am no longer decking out in golf gear to stride the hallowed turf of God's own game. Rather, I am heading down to Venus Street to witness the fine line between war and sport known to most as 'Rugby'. It is my first season as a Pridwin parent, and I am not sure if I was ever this excited even when I played a mediocre version of the game myself, but I have not arrived unprepared. I have been told of recent spats between schools and of spits between parents. Of coaches mistiming, misunderstanding and misbehaving. There have been, I have been led to believe, tensions which have spilled over both on and off the field. I wondered what today would bring? Maybe more of the same, especially since in number terms anyway, this was a modern day adaptation of David versus Goliath.
From the first game to the last I saw passionate parents and players. I watched as Mothers winced at their winded wingers, and Fathers swell at their scrumhalf's sidesteps. I was witness to encouragement, and of course some advice - even to the referees, but I also noticed a few other things.
There was some generous applause from both sides at some great rugby. There was the pleasant surprise of an overturned decision by a home referee in favour of the visiting team from an observant teacher on the sideline who had a better angle. I was amazed to watch how a coach berated one of his own players for an over robust spear tackle, and how the perpetrator politely apologised. I also saw how that damaged young man scraped himself off the hard earth of that arena, was dusted off by his mates and went on as the last line of defence to pull off a try saving tackle with a heart surely much too big for his body.
I watched games that were all over at half time become tightly run contests by the final whistle. Whereas the great coach of the Greenbay Packers, Vince Lombardi, would surely have re-uttered his immortal words:- "We never lost, we just ran out of time", and, when a young man in a headband and braces led his team to an impressive victory, the day's rugby was eventually over. Yet much of that day remains with me still.
You see, I was a pupil of that other school, and to this day of writing I have still spent more than a quarter of my life as a very happy participant in those colours, but I doubt whether I have ever felt more proud. When a gutsy little under 9C player from Pridwin is congratulated by an 'opposing' parent, the result is a feeling of pride. When parents from both teams stay together and chat long after the game is over, the result is relationships. It is why we play sport in the first place, and I for one, hope I never forget that.
I was very proud of my old school. I am immensely proud of my new one.
As the newsletter so often says, "Well done to all those who participated".
If your hearts were in it they deserve to be bursting with pride.
There are a few people for whom this would be a great option. It would save all the hassle of life in between now and the ever after, and at the very least they could contribute by being the very organic food which new vegetable gardens could thrive on. Though the bitterness of their human sentiment may even be too much for the broccoli to bear.
I'm being more than a little unfair. It is what happens when we live too long in a negative place. We become the very negativity we hate hearing about. When all we ever see and hear is RED behaviour, we become RED ourselves and it becomes more difficult to make BLUE choices. More difficult, but not impossible.
There is an aggressive race as to what exactly is causing a downward spiral. Ebola continues to spread exponentially, and if ever there was evidence of us living in a connected world, this virus is making us aware of that. The rise of the Islamic State and its ruthless barbarism is the human equivalent of that unwanted illness. From Nkandla to nuclear agreements, Ukraine to U-boats, Sascoc to Shrien Dewani, there is a shadecloth of secrecy, a glut of greed and a clandestine conspiracy of corruption. Even the change rooms of the English Cricket Board, the supposed stronghold of statesmanship and domain of dignified decency has descended into a dangerous den. There is much to be RED about, which is why seeing another angle feels akin to observing the flowering of a desert plant.
We were enjoying an early breakfast meeting at the Mugg and Bean in Woodmead, and were delighted to be sitting safely and on time with a generous cappuccino. The traffic into town would give thousands of motorists another reason to apply for foreign passports due to an overturned vehicle on the Highway just off Grayston Drive. On leaving we gathered up the delicious but completely Anti Tim Noakes biscuits from the saucers of our completed coffees, and gave them along with a cash tip to Patrick the smiling car guard. His smile alone was worth a photograph, but it was nothing compared to our smiles when he promptly walked over and gave the second biscuit to his colleague. It had an immediate positive effect, and forthwith a second tip was handed over to the colleague to emphasise that such gracious sharing should be handsomely rewarded.
This RED world of ours is crying out for Leadership, and we are anxious in its absence. Yet there it was right in front of us for all who cared to see it. It will not make the Sunday headlines, and it will not change policies around Energy or Education, but if Leadership is about giving, then we saw it starkly even in the form of a simple shared snack.
What can our Leaders give us to allay our angst, filter our fears and prevent us from packing for Portugal?
Just a little more.
A little more openness and honesty, accountability and action, care and concern, and at the very least a feeling of hope that if we as the taxpayers give you two biscuits, you will at least give one of them to a worthy cause and not hoard them both with a tenderised clause to claim a third, as yet unmade, biscuit.
Like Patrick the generous car guard, I too may not be able to impact on the loudest or most silent of political personas, with all their masks and mouthpieces, but I know that I could be more giving. Especially of the things that really count. Love and the ability to listen, Time and truth and trust and Energy with all my enthusiasm.
Leadership only demands of us that which we are capable to give. Those are simple things, and if I can't give them, then I'm not leading.
Never again will I leave a biscuit on my saucer.
It can be that simple sometimes.
The reward is simply a recognition, and most people respond well to some form of recognition. But there is a catch. As the recipient of such a reward, one is not supposed to know the real reason for its awarding. The point is, that you don't do something just to get a reward, you do it simply because it is the right thing to do.
Now I have only been a parent there for nearly six years, but I can't remember if anyone other than a pupil has received "Knight of the week." It is with this in mind that I write this reflection.
For every day of the past six years we have been greeted with warmth from the Pridwin ground staff. They have waved us in with open arms and lit up the way with their smiles. They have ushered our most precious treasures safely across the roads and have helped them carry their bags if necessary. They have turned school drop off from a chore to a pleasure, and they have always tried to make it as efficient and convenient as possible.
And yet, often their reward is a blank stare, or even a frustrated glare when drivers are asked to be patient as someone else's treasure is ushered safely and lovingly to the safe side of the lot. I have seen parents park where they like, as even in gym kit, the thought of walking ten extra meters seems deplorable, or a ten second wait for a car to pull out means that some suit has lost out today on their race to the top. I pitied what the energy might be like in the ivory towers on these days.
But my beef here is not with the parents - we are all guilty of various forms of ignorance or abuse, however light. My fillet is with the staff. And particularly today.
On the coldest and most miserable day of the year (so far!), the troops were out in full force. The smiles were even brighter and through the driving icy rain, the orchestra of parking attendants were waving their arms and conducting the flow of traffic. Some had brollies, others didn't. Some had rain suits, others had beanies, but despite a lack of resources and horrible conditions, they were out there doing their very best, and doing it with humour and with warmth.
Is there a better lesson for our boys to learn than this? Is there a better example of resilience and responsibility? That when things are tough there is still work to be done, and when there is work to be done, we might as well do it properly despite the poor taste of the passing traffic.
In the race to the South Pole, Amundsen marched and Scott blamed the weather. The rest is history, and today that story stands tall in a pile of analogies and examples of Leadership.
Whilst it may have felt a bit like the South Pole today, thankfully we didn't have to go there on a school outing debited to our accounts to learn a few lessons.
They were right there in the school parking lot - being handed out for free by unsung heroes.
They are my Knights of the week.
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