activate the seeking mind
Covid-19 has a strange way of prompting us to look back…
I remember the day clearly - September 5th, 1990. That was the day I departed Canada for what was supposed to be a 6-month adventure in Japan. I was 22 years old, a young Canadian boy, my first time on an airplane, and the first time to leave my hometown for that matter. I was into the martial arts, on a quest to make the ‘pilgrimage’ to Japan to study under the Karate masters, to learn the real thing. With my crisp, freshly issued passport in hand, a backpack, my life savings of CAD$300 and my well-groomed mullet, I set off on that cool, Canadian autumn day for what would turn out to become a lifelong adventure.
Nearly 30 years later, as a participant in Randstad’s Transformational Leadership Program at London Business School, I came to learn in retrospect that my “seeking mind” had been activated way back in 1990. And the seeking continues today, 30 years later in my latest adventure in India!
cherish the moment
Coming into 2020 we were feeling optimistic, our hard work in 2019 had set us up for new achievements and discoveries in the year ahead - we had big hairy ambitious goals. The wind was at our backs…
And then COVID-19 arrived…
The news of this mysterious virus began to appear on page 3 of The Times of India in mid-January. In the weeks that followed, the side story became the main story, and by mid-February it was clear that COVID-19 was for real. We watched with concern as the virus quickly became an epidemic, bringing China to a virtual halt and the rapid spread across borders followed. And, in the months that followed, our world was turned upside down. This crisis has brought back some powerful memories and familiar feelings of events from my past.
Osaka, Japan - January 17th, 1995 I found myself in the largest earthquake in modern Japanese history, destroying the city of Kobe and a large part of Osaka. Fast forward to March 11th, 2011. I was in Japan again during the massive earthquake north-east of Tokyo. The tsunami and nuclear meltdown which followed will go down in history as one of the most devastating disasters to ever strike Japan.
And with these sudden, tragic events came ambiguity, uncertainty, speculation, adversity and fear.
As we navigate through this unprecedented crisis, I’m reminded that it's essential to take stock of the important stuff. In recent weeks we’ve all learned firsthand about many of the things we take for granted – family, food, shelter, and perhaps most important, health.
Reflecting…Pushing pause…Being in the moment…Taking stock…
In our lives as leaders - especially in the rush of leading in the fast lane - we sometimes forget to hit the pause button and take time for ourselves. I’ve come to realize that times of crisis are a wake-up call to cherish the important stuff.
the new world
Recently, we talk a lot about mindfulness. But there’s a challenge -- with instant access to information, social media, texting and our jam-packed schedule of virtual connects, we struggle to be mindful, because our minds are so full. We are no longer living in a world of disruptions; we’re actually living in a world of distractions. It’s become so difficult for us to turn off and be ‘in the moment’. COVID-19 has forced me to make a commitment to separate home and work life, to turn off the phone and put the laptop away when it’s time to be with family, or to simply be alone and decompress.
Being forced to stay at home has also meant that we’re spending more time with our loved ones. In our own home I’ve started a new movie night tradition with my teenage son – helping him appreciate some of the classic movies I think every young person should watch as a rite of passage to adulthood. The ‘Rocky’ & ‘Godfather’ series, the ‘Dead Poets Society’ & ‘Spinal Tap’. What a blessing to have this special time with my son, replacing the endless hours spent traveling on airplanes and stuck in traffic on my business trips across India. For now, I’ll cherish the moment.
forced apart & closer together
As we’ve been forced to ‘distance’, to stay away from each other, in a strange way, we’ve actually come closer together. Video conferencing has been a great way to stay connected, to check the pulse, to use ‘tech for touch’, and I’ve come to know my teams and my global colleagues on a deeper level. COVID-19 has allowed me to travel into the living rooms, dens, balconies and kitchen(!) in places stretching from Kolkata to Beijing, to Sydney, to Amsterdam, to Montreal and Atlanta. And that’s just in one hangout!
I’ve met the families of colleagues, watched as the kids (and sometimes the spouses too!), attempt to quietly and quickly dash past the camera, tip-toeing like a ninja. Meanwhile, we pretend not to notice but more often than not, I’ll pause the meeting and ask, “Hey, who is that young fella? Bring him on, let’s have a chat!” A quick, impromptu chat in the middle of a business review with the children of Randstad from time to time is a reminder of what’s truly important. It’s about our greater purpose, it’s why we exist.
Effective leaders understand the importance of communicating and staying connected, especially while steering the ship through choppy waters. The crisis has forced us to be creative with how we connect and engage with each other. And, believe me, in India there is no shortage of creativity! I especially enjoy the ‘Coffee with the CEO” sessions where we gather groups of young millennials and those newer hires where Randstad is their very first job. We talk about everything except business. Through these chats I’ve come to learn about how they’re handling this extended lockdown, their fitness routines, the food they eat, the online games they play with each other every evening, and the movies they watch. And, thanks to these sessions, my playlist (which is largely dominated by 1980’s hard rock) has now expanded to become much more modern, and eclectic. I even have some cool Bollywood tunes added on my favourite list!
one cup at a time
In Howard Schultz’ book, “Pour Your Heart Into It”, he shares the story of the remarkable growth of Starbucks from one shop in Pike Place in Seattle to becoming a global empire. In an interview he was asked, “Did you imagine that you would one day become a household name, with thousands of stores across the four corners of the world?”. He replied, “No. But if you ask me how we did it…we did it one cup at a time”. They achieved success in a highly competitive industry by treating every single cup of coffee as special, made with care, pride and love.
There’s a powerful lesson which we can learn from the Starbucks story. In a world of volume, information overload, excel spreadsheets, 24/7 news feeds and hangouts scheduled morning until night, we need to go back to the very core of what we stand for, our north star, our greater purpose. For me, it’s about being ‘all in’ - every moment, every interaction, giving my full attention to the person in front of me (or on the screen). Our clients and candidates who we serve, our colleagues who we care for, the thousands of temporary and contract workers who rely on us to provide gainful employment, so they can care for their families. One hangout at a time, one great conversation at a time, one client call at a time, one payroll cycle at a time, and during the COVID-19 lockdown, one day at a time.
There is a wonderful movement which has been launched in India, up high in the Himalayas in the remote region of Ladakh. I make the journey to this amazing place every winter to volunteer, coach, donate ice hockey equipment and promote the development of the sport in the region.
Over the years I’ve become friends with Sonam Wangchuk, a respected educator and environmentalist from Ladakh who has launched an important movement under the hashtag, #Ilivesimply. It is really about simplifying our lives. It begins with asking ourselves, how much do we consume? What’s the impact on the world – particularly on ecology and the climate from our consumption? How can we reduce this negative impact by living more simply – by consuming less or recycling? It’s about thinking twice about how we live. It’s a call to action is to take a pledge to ‘live simply’.
COVID-19 has made the notion of living simply especially powerful. We’ve been forced to stay at home, to stay safe, and in the process we have come to appreciate the small stuff. When we go back to basics, we consume less. When we consume less, we reduce the negative impact on the environment. It’s a virtuous cycle. Needless to say, I’ve taken the pledge. I invite you to join me.
COVID-19 has been both a challenge and a blessing. I’ve started online guitar lessons, and I just become a published author! I’ve learned the importance of being in the moment, of the need to turn off sometimes and most importantly, to cherish the simple things in life.
With crisis comes opportunity.
Speaking of which, the popcorn is ready -- it’s movie time!