Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Power of One

I first came across the term, “the power of one”, when I was reading “Influencer”. The authors mentioned an experiment in the 60’s designed to help researchers understand why so many people followed the Nazi’s lead to massacre millions of Jews. The participants in the research were told that they had to give shock treatment to someone in another room and continue to increase the intensity of the shock treatment until it reached the highest level. Although many participants were uncomfortable about the study, as many as 65% of them felt compelled to follow the instructions. In a follow-up study, the scientists found that if just one person went ahead and turned up the shock treatment, then the number of participants after him who actually went through with the administration of shock treatment jumped from 65% to 90%. On the other hand, if one person spoke up and refused to follow through, the percentage of participants after him who administered the shock treatment dropped to 10%. What a difference one person can make! One person managed to change the tide or the compliance pattern. That is the power of one!

At some point in our lives, we probably have experienced a sense of powerlessness because we worked for a large corporation or because we were part of a complex process. We are often convinced that if we are too small of a player to have enough visibility or power to cause a meaningful change. But being bigger or being part of something bigger doesn’t necessarily give us more power. It is the recognition of the power of oneself that will give us the ability to influence others.

I also experienced the power of one when working in Mexico to raise money for the rural and indigenous students from the state of Chiapas to go to a professional midwifery school. I set a goal for myself to raise the money in Mexico instead of in the U.S. so the school could reduce its dependency on international organizations. I had never done fundraising before. In fact, the idea of asking people for money was unsettling to me and was against my upbringing, but I believed in the cause and was determined to overcome my own fear and the language barrier.
Because I only knew one family in Mexico and I spoke very little Spanish, I had to do some research before I started the process. As soon as I began gathering information, I realized how much more daunting it would be than I had thought. I quickly learned that there was lack of “understanding” between the rich and the poor and there was not a strong culture of philanthropy in Mexico. I was also advised that discussing problems such as poverty and social issues would embarrass or make Mexicans very uncomfortable.

The day after I arrived in Mexico City, I was invited to a party by the family I knew. We chatted before the guests arrived, and I mentioned my project. The daughter of the hostess suggested that I present my project to the guests at the party. Given the advice I got from people familiar with the culture, I was immediately concerned about the awkwardness the discussion would create. I tried to get out of it initially but decided to go for it, to set an example that every one of us could make a difference.

At first, most guests listened to my presentation carefully. A few minutes into my presentation, it started pouring outside. The guests jumped on the opportunity to divert into their own conversations. Obviously, the subject was making them uneasy. I asked the daughter to explain to me what people were saying among themselves.

“They are saying that they know fundraisers who received huge commissions on the donations and became very rich.”

My heart sank when I heard that. Their skepticism saddened me, especially because I gave up a full-time job to work on this as a volunteer. It reiterated for me how difficult this project was going to be. The poor didn’t think change was possible. The rich were skeptical of the poor and philanthropy. I could hear my friend trying to defend me in Spanish. It seemed surreal to me. My face was burning. It felt like their discussions were going on forever until I heard this loud and young voice from the back of the room.

“You should contact the TV station’s foundation. They have this telethon every month to raise money. I don’t know if they really give the money to the poor, but maybe you can talk to them first.”

The young man saved me from the awkward moment because, unlike most people in the party, he took enough interest in my presentation to give me a suggestion. He also saved the project. I once met someone who worked with the top management at the TV station but I hesitated to contact him for the project. I wasn’t sure if he would remember me or be willing to help put me in touch with the right person at their foundation. The young man’s comment encouraged me to reach out to my contact at the TV station. We were later awarded funding by the foundation after 2 years of hard work by many people. The foundation became the first Mexican non-profit organization to support the midwifery school and broke the decade-long dependency on international organizations.

The young man was among a small group who, with one small gesture, paved the way for me to get multi-year sponsorships from Mexican corporate and non-profit organizations. Like J.F. Kennedy said,

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

The power of one. The power of you. The power to make a difference! Fantasize it. And exercise it!

Before we stand up to the voices of other people to express what we believe in, we must first stand up against the many voices in our heads – the fearful voice, the judgmental voice, the rational voice. And all too often the negative voices drown out our true expression. Why not let your true voice power your decisions? And only then, listen to your rational voice to help you overcome potential challenges and accomplish your goals. Change the order of how you orchestrate difference voices in your mind. Listen first to that singular voice deep within you that tells you can do whatever it is you put your mind to. Cast fear aside, ignore negativity and take the first step. When you reverse the course in your mind, you have the opportunity to reverse the course of events and create impact in the world around you. Unleash your power!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Can you share some additional strategies for overcoming fear of failure?

Here is another question raised by the audience when I gave a speech at HP. My suggestions are -

One way to overcome it is to try to look at your goal from a different angle that is less intimidating to you. For example, if you want to network but are afraid of rejection, try to look at it from the perspective of learning or connecting so you don’t focus so much on the outcome based on success/failure.

Another strategy is to break down your goal into small chunks so it doesn’t look so overwhelming. This way, the amount of potential failure is much smaller and less intimidating.

Monday, November 1, 2010

How do you get ahead and accomplish your career dreams when there is so much politics in corporate America?

Here is another question I got from the audience at HP.

Q: How do you get ahead and accomplish your career dreams when there is so much politics in corporate America?

A: There are politics wherever there are people - in for-profit AND non-profit organizations. Most of us think of office politics as a dirty game, and it can be. Although I don’t encourage people to participate in the game, I encourage you to understand and manage politics because it is part of our lives. If you think of politics as a way to create relevancy, convergence and alignment, then you might have a slightly different perspective on it. Politics is about understanding the context in which you operate. Try to understand the corporate culture, the risk tolerance, the predominant problem-solving approach. This will help you to frame your idea in a way that is appealing to them to reduce confrontation. Try to listen to other people’s concerns and understand why they are feeling insecure. Anticipate the push-backs and be prepared to address those concerns will help you achieve your goals and gain visibility. As I said in my presentation, focus on abundance rather than scarcity. Politics can be many of the challenges that you would face in achieving your career goals. Use your strengths to overcome your weaknesses. Use what you have to obtain what you don’t have.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

How do you achieve your dream when you encounter financial challenges?

First, I would encourage you to examine your assumptions about what the financial support you need to achieve your dream. You might be surprised if I told you that my project in Africa only cost a few thousand dollars. Granted I had paid for my own trip and living expenses, and gave up my paychecks, the point is that we can be creative about how to achieve our goals with limited resources. I want to also refer you back to my presentation where I suggested that you do the exercise of moving yourself from “if only” to “what if” to “why not”. What I am hearing from the question is that there is a perception that you could only achieve your dream if you had a lot of money. Try asking yourself the question of “what if” and explore different options of doing it with limited financial resources.

It is never really about money but your commitment and motivation to overcome whatever challenges that come your way.

If your concern is more about managing your personal financial challenge, start by reviewing your assumptions about what you think you must have to make you happy and ask yourself if that is just an assumption or if it is the truth. I would also suggest that you get advice from a financial advisor or get professional help.

Also check out my article on “Is Money Getting in Your Way?” at

Friday, October 29, 2010

How can we help our children begin to think this way--- to live up to their potential?

I think the best way to teach your children how to live up to their potential is by being a role model yourself and living up to your full potential. That is the best testament that anything is possible. As you strive to live up to your potential, you will have a lot of life lessons to share with your children.

When we are so close to our children, we sometimes confuse our own dreams with their dreams. While you encourage them to live up to their full potential, make sure to listen to their passion and aspirations. Challenge them to expand beyond their limitations. Ask them questions instead of giving answers to help them explore their aspirations and to help them to think on their own and think outside of box.

Business Lessons I Learned from My International Volunteer Experience

I recently gave a speech at one of the Fortune 100 companies. I would like to post my answers to the questions raised by the audience. I hope it will help you think about how to address the challenges in your life and work.

Q: What top three corporate lessons would you encourage us to take away from your experience that we could apply here at our company?

A:I know there are lots of changes in your organization. Sometimes you may feel that you are so small and invisible in a big corporation. More than ever, I believe in the power of one. Every single one of us could make an impact in the company or on the impact we work with. When things seem to get nowhere, think about how to change your approach to influence change (“If only" to "What if" to "Why not"). Believe in your ability to make a difference.

Don’t under-estimate the importance of your experience at work. Without previous corporate experience, I might not have been able to complete the projects in Africa and Mexico. Corporate experience is valuable so try to identify how your career can support your personal goals.

The other valuable lesson I learned was the power of an inspiring vision, which according to a research study on global leaders, is one of the most important qualities of a great leader. I used to try to influence change by talking and focusing so much on strategy and rationale. Through my experience in Africa and Mexico, I realized how much more powerful an inspiration could be in terms of its impact on influencing change. For both projects, I worked in challenging situations with limited resources and little connection to the communities at the beginning. By building an inspiring vision, I was able to influence people who barely knew me to help me with my projects. Some of them were powerful and influential people. That’s why employee engagement can be so powerful as we discussed during my last presentation “How to Bring Meaning to Work”. When we learn to inspire, engage and motivate people, we unleash their emotions and passions to achieve up and beyond what they normally could. Don’t just win their minds, win their hearts too.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Is Money Getting in Your Way

What is your relationship with money? Yes, you heard me right. Whether or not we want to admit it, money affects almost every aspect of our lives When was the last time you examined your relationship with money? Money influences our decisions on how much time to spend at work and how and how much to relax. Very often, it is not the amount of money we have but our perception of, and relationship with money that impacts our decisions in life.

Here are some examples of the types of relationships with money you may have –

Money is me. Money gives you status and identity. The more money you have, the better you feel about yourself.
Money is greed. Talking about money makes you uncomfortable. You have money in the bank, but you’d rather not talk about it.
Money is safety. Money makes you feel safe. It is your safety blanket. The more you have, the better you sleep at night
Money is air. You have no relationship with money. You take it for granted. You spend whatever you feel like regardless of how much money you have.

When I first started my coaching practice, I had a hard time asking people for business. In my mind, coaching was supposed to help people live a more fulfilling life. It felt disingenuous when money was involved, especially in a recession when many were struggling financially. When I noticed that I had an uneasy relationship with money and it was getting in my way, I realized that I had put too little value on the life benefits my coaching would provide and I was too hung up on the stigma associated with money that I created in my mind. Once I had the awareness of how my relationship with money was holding me back, I was able to work on that and free myself to acquire new clients.

I recently caught up with a good friend of mine who is a successful investment banker. He was thinking about moving out of the U.S. to work in Asia. The regulation changes in the US have impacted how much bonus the U.S. investment bankers can earn. Asia with a growing economy and loose regulations seems to be the new promise land.

Just out of curiosity, I asked him why he needed to make a lot of money and what he would use the money for. He is single and already has more money than he could spend.

There was a pause after I raised the question.

“Hmmm… That does make you think, doesn’t it? It is not like I can take it with me when I die.” He said softly. “I guess I have been in the same game everyone else is in.”

He went on to tell me that he had not had a real vacation for 3 years and talked about the stress on the job.

“I would be eligible for retirement in a few years if I stayed with my company. I think I could go teach English in Asia when I retire and stop worrying about taking a shower for a while.” He laughed.

“Well, I guess you won’t need a lot of money for that.” I teased him mischievously.

He smiled thoughtfully.

Do you let money define who you are or do you define your relationship with money?

If we manage our relationship with money well, it could propel us to success and happiness. But when we are not careful, it can take control of our life decisions. Just like a romantic relationship between a man and a woman, I think it is only healthy if there is give and take in our relationship with money. If we are giving all of our time to nurture money and it is not nurturing our soul, then it sucks energy out of us.

Does money help you nurture or limit your relationships with your aspirations and with other people in your life?

If we are madly in love with someone and center most of our lives around the person, we might risk losing our relationships with other people in our lives. The same is probably true with our relationship with money.

Is money getting in your way? Recognize the type of relationship you have with money and increase your awareness of when it is serving you and when it is holding you back. It will help you stay in control of that relationship. Wouldn’t it be better to let money work for you rather than the other way around?