Hello Leader,

The New Year is just around the corner and it's a great time to reflect on what worked well for you this year and on your plans and aspirations for next year. How are you preparing for 2014?

Every year I take time for reflection. Questions I've recently been asking myself include:

  • What were your finest accomplishments this year?
  • What made you so successful?
  • What have you learned that you can apply going forward?
  • What will exhilarate you next year?

These end of the year reflections are always revealing. Every situation brings challenges, unknowns and exciting growth opportunities. We've grown this year in unexpected ways and have worked with inspirational and brilliant leaders. The highlight of the year for me was the people I met and worked alongside. What energizes me most is the quality and unique character I experience in so many people who simply get up every day to make things happen, solve problems, contribute and help their teams and organizations.

The news is filled with trauma, disasters and often horrific headlines. But most of the people I meet are full of goodness and they work hard at making things better. Commitment, energy, passion, focus, can-do creativity, impeccable spirit and tremendous ingenuity are some of the qualities I witnessed and experienced through the teams I've worked with this year. They demonstrate resilience in the face of dysfunction and struggle; pragmatism in meeting complexity; humor to disarm tension and the ability to melt anxiety with resolve and leadership.

Every success and accomplishment is made possible by many people. There is no success or accomplishment that begins and ends with only you. We all are successful because others enabled our efforts. There are those who trust us; those who challenge us to be better and more creative; those who give us a chance to grow; others who believe in us with no reservations; some who make us laugh and help us get down to earth, and those who support and help us with unique skills in specific ways.

We are who we are through the work and support of others. And we each need diverse people in our network to realize our universe of possibilities. I deliberately surround myself with people that show me what I don't see and that have strengths I need.

I've found that the greater actualization and satisfaction is to be a vessel for the success and growth of others. I grow most when I help others grow. I learn most when I help others unlock their creativity and insight. The smart managers I work with compel me to clarify my thinking and to innovate. The people that help my work make me sharper and encourage me to evolve and develop my focus and resilience. Edan, my son, with whom I have weekly work sessions, helps me stay fresh and vital in my work. Sara, my wife, creates ecologies of possibilities and fills our home with generosity and light. My community of friends helps me to renew my sense of purpose and communion of meaning.

Living is so preciously rich when we are present to acknowledge all the gifts in our lives. I've shared with you this year my learning about Executive Presence; What We All Do At Work, and My Own Learning Big Bang.

In this seasonal letter I'd like to share with you three books I've enjoyed reading recently and the learning I captured from each of them. Additionally, included below is a short video: When it comes to leading your life, perspective is everything!

I wish for you in this New Year all that you wish for yourself and more!


Aviv Shahar

Three Books

In our workshops I challenge participants to internalize and apply learning quickly. The best learning is one you apply within 72 hours of the learning incident. Velocity of learning and application is the essence of growth and innovation. To walk my talk and practice the muscle of harvesting learning let me share with you insights from three books I have recently read.

1. The Patriarch, by David Nasaw, tells the story of Joseph P. Kennedy, father of Jack, Bobby and Ted Kennedy. The account offers a fascinating close up on the events leading up to the Second World War through his eyes as the American ambassador to Britain.

Kennedy clearly underestimated Hitler. The learning I distilled from his experience is that myopic perception is blinding. Why did Joe P. Kennedy develop myopic perception? Kennedy's formative years were in banking and business where he learned the art of deal making. His modus operandi was that you should always be able to reason in order to meet the economic interest of the other side and make the deal.

On the one hand this was Kennedy's strength; namely, his ability to look at complex issues and develop a formula for an economic solution. On the other hand, Kennedy was completely blind to the fact that irrational players are driven by irrational thinking and not by economic interests. As the war approaches he writes and communicates that "This thing is going to be over in three weeks." He simply refused or was unable to comprehend the insane ideological fanaticism driving the Nazi agenda.

Learning application: First, ask what aspects of an issue I might be missing or am blind to because of my formative experience or bias? Second, never assume the paradigm through which you look at an issue is the same as the lens through which others see that issue.

2. Born Standing Up: A Comic's life, by Steve Martin. Steve Martin recounts that he did stand-up comedy for eighteen years. "Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four were spent in wild success." Let me round out the numbers and conclude that twenty percent success is an extremely rare and wild success.

The point is that most of us expect and demand faster success and higher rates of success. Most will not tolerate anything that's less than three-out-of-five successes.

Learning Application: First, be prepared to tolerate the process of learning by doing. Otherwise, you will miss out on many things you can't even imagine you are capable of doing and doing well. And second, four wins out of twenty attempts is a much lower success rate than winning two out of four attempts. But four wins are twice as many wins.

3. A Higher Call: An incredible true story of combat and chivalry over the war-torn skies of World War Two by Adam Makos and Larry Alexander. This is a riveting and terrifying read and I just could not put it down.

Charlie Brown, a B-17 pilot and Franz Stigler, a Bf 109 ace, are two compelling characters. On one of his missions, Stigler finds himself in a position to shoot down the B-17 of Charlie Brown. Brown is hardly holding his plane in the air having lost his rudder, essential instruments and part of his crew. What transpires is beyond extraordinary and is mesmerizing like nothing I've read in a long time.

Reading about the Second World War always produces a sense of horror at the barbaric insanity that took hold of the world. But Stigler at this destiny-setting moment makes a choice to respond from a different and highly personal code of honor and chivalry that sets in motion a chain of events that will only be fully realized 40 years later. Stigler demonstrates that your character becomes your destiny.

Learning application: In the most extreme situations there are those few who are able to rise and choose the higher moral ground, the higher call. This potential is available for all of us. We each are called in less dramatic moments to choose the higher moral ground. When we make this character choice-when we respond to a higher call-we change our own destiny and the destiny of others. Choosing the higher moral ground creates a ripple effect that will always come back sooner or later.

A Perspective

© Aviv Shahar