Recently, two very interesting books were given to me, and I have enjoyed reading them quite a bit.
The first book was called The Obstacle Is The Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph (Penguin, 2014) by Ryan Holiday. It is, in part,based on the following quote by Marcus Aurelius: “Our actions may be impeded . . . but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
As the author explains, “Every obstacle is unique to each of us. But our responses they elect are the same: Fear. Frustration. Confusion. Helplessness. Depression. Anger.” Yet, he points out that within every obstacle, trial or problem is “an opportunity to improve out condition.”
The book revolves around the notion that overcoming an obstacle is a discipline of three critical steps, namely, perception, action and will.
Perception impacts “how we see and understand what occurs around us - and what we decide those events will mean.” As Holiday explains, there are a few things to keep in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. We must try to be objective, to control emotions and keep even keel, to choose to see the good in a situation, to steady our nerves, to ignore what disturbs or limits others, to place things in perspective, to revert to the present moment, and to focus on what can be controlled. In short, we need to learn to be objective, i.e. what happened, instead of solely being subjective, i.e. that which happened is bad.
Action, the second of the three steps, is commonplace but right action is not. As he points out, “We forget: In life, it doesn’t matter what happens to you or where you came from. It matters what you do with what happens and what you’ve been given.” Recognizing that “excellence is a matter of steps,” the author quotes the stoic Epictetus who wrote “persist and resist.” As Holiday further explains, “Persist in your efforts. Resist giving in to distraction, discouragement, or disorder.”
The third discipline is Will, which he explains as “our internal power, which can never by affected by the outside world.” As Holiday writes, “If Perception and Action were the disciples of the mind and the body, then Will is the discipline of the heart and the soul.” As he continues, “in every situation we can make the following choices:
- always prepare ourselves for more difficult times.
- always accept what we’re unable to change.
- always manage out expectations.
- always persevere.
- always learn to love our fate and what happens to us.
- always protect our inner self, retreat into ourselves.
- always submit to a greater, larger cause.
- always remind ourselves of our own mortality.”
Whatever the obstacle, Ryan Holiday encourages us to do the following: “First, see clearly. Next, act correctly. Finally, endure and accept the world as it is.”
Upon completing the book and reflecting on all that was contained in it, I believe this book can be quite helpful for leaders who are working at all different levels within an organization. In particular, I believe the book offers a sound framework for dealing with some of the current challenges that are surfacing during one to one coaching or check-in sessions. Given the number of people who are feeling overwhelmed by the pace of change and transformation plus feeling totally scattered by the volume of work that needs to get done, I believe that the book, The Obstacle Is The Way, providers the coach and the person receiving the coaching a framework to move through their challenges in a thoughtful and respectful manner.
I also believe this book could be a good team read during the next six months. As many of you have recognized, things are not going to slow down this summer. Many have actually reported to me that today’s depth of urgency will be nothing compared to the amount of urgency that will surface between July 1 and the end of September as more and more companies realize that they must make solid progress on their strategic plans if they are going to complete them in a satisfactory manner within the allotted time frame, which currently is somewhere around 2018.
Therefore, I recommend this book for all who are coaching people during the coming months and for those who are leading leadership teams that are struggling. I think you will find this a very helpful resource for your leadership library.
The second book was called The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change (Scribner, 2014) by Adam Braun.
Years ago, during a From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, we got into an interesting and in-depth discussion about realistic and effective executive stress management systems. While folks around the table shared a diversity of systems and exercises that they used to cope with executive stress, I was asked what I did. Of course, I shared about gardening, cooking and walking, but I also shared that there are days when I focus less on stress management and more on finding meaning and purpose in my life. For I have discovered over time that I can not always make my life less stressful, but I can make it more meaningful. And it is the sense of purpose and meaning in my life that helps me make it through the rough patches.
One thing I did share that morning was that I like to read books about people who inspire me. And when I picked up the book, The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change, I discovered another resource in this category.
Adam Braun was a young and successful person on the path to a successful Wall Street career. However, while traveling he met a young boy begging on the streets of India, who after being asked what he wanted most in the world, simply answered, “A pencil.” This small request changed Braun’s world view and eventually led him to leave his prestigious job to found Pencils of Promise which has built more than 250 schools across Africa, Asia and Latin American.
If you are seeking fresh perspective about whether or not a single person can make a difference, then reading this book needs to be a part of your journey. If you are seeking lessons learned along that path, then, again, reading this book is a must. As Howard Thurman noted, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” This book is one place which will inspire you to become more alive.