Thursday 25 September 2014

How can we manage stress?

Stress I fear is a topic that is fast becoming a real challenge in our modern day lives. It is just as much linked to our fears as it is to our health and well being. It interests me greatly because I had experienced much throughout my 30’s for a variety of reasons. Yet it is a complex topic as it differs to each person and interpreted differently according to the human time cycle. It can just as much affect our private lives as to our career. Stress cannot really be dealt with in a written page and I would prefer to examine it through examples. The worst forms are the ones which can lead to burn out and are commonly prescribed in a general level as to one’s aspirations that have quickly collapsed resulting into a lack of interest or indifference into our work. The danger is that our defence mechanism weakens and it can turn into a depression and deep unhappiness  resulting to more harm onto yourself and perhaps even to others around you.

In reality it can also be associated with a cross range of topics such as work overload, or inefficiencies, deadlines, lack of recognition in our work, work/life balance, poor sleep and diet, rushing about not allowing time to think nor to reflect, noise, driving, debts, high risk taking, grievances and so on. Deeper issues such as lack of meaning in our careers and lives, resulting to general demotivation in which in more severe cases issues of identity, beliefs and conflicting values in you, would require redressing.

The other day, I was sitting with a group of civil servants from the European Commission. I asked them the most common difficulty in their work place. Their response was that in general many employees felt unrewarded in what they did. Most bright new people that entered into this organisation came in with dreams and aspirations of perhaps the European ideal. Nowadays this is quickly vanquished. It becomes a job for a salary. An example they gave was some civil servants get asked by their bosses to do wonderful projects that carry meaning for a common good or greater purpose. After many months or longer of hard work and once the project almost comes to an end, there’s been a change and it is all of a sudden binned before any positive impact might come about. They say this is common practice. Not surprisingly we can feel unrewarded. We can quickly not care and or become indifferent. For those who try harder, this can turn to stress, unhappiness and even burnout. How would you address this? We can address this at individual level, yet if it is a wider problem, then issues of leadership and political governance might have to be addressed.

Another example could be when another person is mistreating you in business and we could look at  management ruled by fear. It could be that your manager knows that he or she pays your salary and may feel authorised to order you around, exploit you to his or her convenience where you could quickly fall victim. The bigger the status this person carries, the more fearful he or she could be. These situations can quickly turn a culture, toxic and highly stressful. Someone who rules by fear is a reflection of weakness and cowardice from that person therefore the problem is with him/her, not in you. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied nor intimidated and don’t allow the problem to turn onto you. Self-confidence, self-control and courage are much needed attributes here to defend your own territory and integrity.

The fundamental real dangers of stress, if not managed well, are that the mind and the body need that release mechanism which quickly becomes empty and somehow it needs to be fulfilled to replace this emptiness. We could lapse into some form of pleasure seeking such as exaggerated urges of drink, sex, gambling amongst others in some deceptive manner or denial that somehow we feel cured whilst really we remain undervalued, each time lessening our hope for a brighter future and a worsening of our own self-esteem. Some might become intolerable whilst in a social environment; others might be so embarrassed in how intolerable they are and simply close themselves up. If we were to hear something nasty or idiotic, a common response is ‘this person has issues’ or ‘it’s his midlife.’ In many ways you could be right but we don’t know anything or what happened to this person.

For those who feel this could be happening to you, try never to despair. There will always be some small flame however small it may be that needs rekindling telling us to live and change. There are always others, friends and family there to help you to help yourself to redefine who and what you are. A good boss with foresight would detect issues arising with one of the co-workers and would instantly try to identify them and meet the needs through training or other help in order to bring this person back to his or her potential.

Why was I so stressed out in my 30’s? This is a story in itself but the long and short of it was that my main driver in business quickly became money and my aspirations were purely superficial. It made me acquire very little beliefs and conviction leading to a lack of fulfilment and confusion. Thankfully this had changed as somethng had to give and I began to understand that life had a greater meaning and of purpose which in turn had a positive impact in my behaviour and my actions. How would I now deal with an unexpected stressful situation toward me? Well, with emotional self-control, inner calm & patience, in so as that I can have time to think if need be before making a decision. Yet this is all easier said than done as humanity as I am all too aware remains vulnerable and imperfect.

Do not worry what the future brings

Thursday 18 September 2014

Am I a middleman?

Phones4u a large mobile retail group in the UK, has just gone into administration. This is an example of the grim reality of the ruthlessness of our sub-culture in parts of our business world giving capitalism a very bad name. A man named John Caudwell builds up his retail business empire in selling mobile phones. He is a trader, a middleman or the in between guy. He started his career by selling cars. He gets good at it and sees the opportunity in mobile phones. So he becomes a bigger middleman or distributor in this case and makes the link between the product/supplier to the consumer.

He makes a success out of it creating employment and by clearly having some attributes. In 2006 he sees the end of the growth period and cashes in by selling his firm to a private equity firm. He makes €1.6 Billion and becomes Britain’s most successful entrepreneur. As a result more middlemen get involved in the strange shadowy world of trade and commerce. The Private Equity firm are another group of intermediaries except with MBA’s but this time with a different network and can link you to the lender and the investor. They often present themselves better, wearing smarter suits and talk with a little more know-how. They sit on asset classes consisting of debts and equity securities which imply they would be borrowing money from the banks (another intermediary) and may raise other funds from investors such as wealthy individuals or pension funds. It buys up the business and drives it forward. They are regularly accused fairly or unfairly of being ruthlessly focused on the bottom line as often they will cut costs or stream line the business. Mind you they would have little choice if their objective is to sell it off.

In this particular case of Phones4u, their suppliers Vodafone and EE were not willing to renew their contracts with the retailer/distributor or the middlemen. We don’t know why as yet and we may never know as these things can happen. Suddenly 5500 people, who know little better, wake up one morning and are asked not to go to work as their salaries cannot be guaranteed.

Is this is an example of classic ruthless capitalism at its best? Were all the middlemen charging too much squeezing a debt laden company for profit? Could it even be possible that the lenders knowingly were offloading the debt moving in for the kill before all hell would break lose?

Today accusations are thrown left, right and centre with no one accountable nor willing to accept responsibility including John Caudwell. Yes this is the world of intermediaries to intermediaries with very little control where you connect the rough with the smooth, the weak with the strong, the savvy with the naïve resulting into so much economic insecurity and mistrust. Yes this is the Wild West.

We’ve seen this all too often in our business world. There are plenty of losers and victims in this game. As so often the case it is the poorest. The workers, who need jobs to pay for food on the table and their bills. The consumer is another loser. The Pension fund (as investors) could also lose out as the shares go to dust. The integrity of our business and finance world loses. In fact all in all there are no winners.

Time MCG has already made the analogy that much of the blame and guilt from the economic crisis lies in the world of intermediaries where what, one has to distinguish between the real economy (good/services) and the financial economy, which merely intermediates. Any business which merely intermediates doesn't provide real value; they only take a cut of the real value at both ends. Sometimes there's a need for intermediation only if there's a proper market failure where supply and demand don't meet, but that's not always the case. Many of us are of course intermediaries that don't just include financiers, or banks they include also brokers, traders, head hunters, distributors, agents, and so on in the entire world of trade and commerce. One could say where does it end?

The down side of any intermediary business when on its own, it can become a very high risk business if it is driven by a person or a company who is purely bottom line driven and worse if the particular person is a short term thinker or even worse still, if your main supplier could cut you lose. The revenue is very commission, or percentage fee based. Intermediaries will often not own anything to protect themselves from litigation or if anything goes wrong and their contracts will fiercely reflect this. My word is my bond disappeared long ago.

The stamina entailed in some of these types who are pure fee earners is enormous for better or for worse and stress becomes very astute whilst one’s integrity can be pushed to way over the limits. When women enter the scene to have a crack and by getting their hands dirty, things can get ugly as this can be a man’s world of the quick buck mentality, the world of takers and of manipulation where mistrust becomes prevalent. If and when the risks get greater involving debt and a greater number of people as the company may grow and as the sums get bigger; it can affect or harm so many more people as we’ve seen in so many instances.

Today the Banks are beginning to understand this and are very apprehensive into who and how they lend and understandably so and are seeking change in their culture. The Banking Standards Review makes for some very interesting read. Our younger generation want not just a pay check but a purpose and want to enter into something more tangible or vocational in their careers as they get to analyse how the financial crisis came about. Some of us are not catered for wheeling and dealing, or feel very vulnerable amongst some of the takers and the sharks around us irrespective of the size of their balance books. The majority of us have a sense of humanity, this is why it is important that the change in culture is needed and to help those who are intermediating for the right reasons and with a tangible purpose, with as little debt as possible and at sensible prices, to bring us all into a more hopeful long term safer economic world. This may help re-instil the much needed trust and integrity. 

I know many middlemen who have become unhappy, lost or even bitter having not succeeded in pure monetary terms in this game of winners and losers. I know others who have succeeded yet their private lives are often shattered. In my case I had pulled out with no regret having already had my private life tarnished, and having seen too much of the rot. 

As for John Caudwell (worth $2.6 Billion) Did he make or invent something? He has already pledged half his wealth to charity before he dies. Is this a sign of his guilt? Frankly I have come to the conclusion that these are not the role models I aspire to be as these types are the products of the last lost decade, and neither are they an example of measuring our success and happiness in so as to safeguard a more secure future in our world of business trade and commerce.
Human dignity is a universal right for all

Monday 8 September 2014

Who am I?

We live in bewildering times prompted initially by the financial crisis in 2007-8, which has opened up a large can of worms in a good part of our business sector. From a Meta perspective I have come to a belief that it is no longer a financial crisis, nor is it an economic one, nor a political one. That is purely the surface. Rather this episode in our times is a wake up call and we are instead living a long period of flux and of deep confusion that requires fundamental answers to such questions such as identity, our belief system and our value system. This can bring us back to our roots and even to the depth of our very own soul which may help us into new thinking, ideas, and meaning which can also help to define a new vision for our future and our children’s future. 

This confusion is deeply reflected in our rudderless modern world particularly on our own doorstep, as seen by many. With the eyes of the world now on the Scots for example, could their leap of faith toward potential independence put the UK into disarray? France is in a political quagmire headed by a President that has virtually lost all credibility. Belgium has no government. (Frankly the country functions well enough without one) Many Europeans want full integration. Other countries want out from a Europe burdened by heavy regulation and needless bureaucracy.  Our economic or capitalist system is hanging on by a thread and is likely to fail us. We have built a political system that is self-serving rather than serving. Our media and entertainment sector is obsessed on sound bites or noise and instant negative headlines so often exploiting human failings whereby playing to our weaknesses rather than our strengths. Our differing societies have accumulated so much debt and simultaneously a social crisis is now looming with general failing services and falling standards. Is it solely our self-interest left that is at stake as well as our appearance and instant gratifications or pleasures, and endless consumption that is adding to our total mistrust of one another? Surely this is aggravating further our moral compass, lack of belief and of vision resulting to the door potentially being left wide open to right wing extremism and an exploitation of a political ideology such as Islam.

To add salt to our wounds our self-appointed head of the commission Jean-Claude Juncker was asked about his vision of Europe of late. His answer was that he wanted to see a Europe sticking and working together.  Is that it Mr. Juncker?  Is that answer worth €25.500 not including expenses per month? With everyone going in every single different direction how on earth are we going to move forward coherently and how on earth are we going to rebuild our future on rock rather than on sand?  Or does the human race really have such a poor outlook? Frankly many of us fear for our future and for the future of our children. Something is going to have to give.

Here’s the thing. With those who believe in a new long term direction and if one puts oneself on a pedestal, it is important to consider that change can more easily come about once this has occurred in one self. It starts at the individual level that includes an element of soul searching. Knowing who we are, why we are here and what we are here to do? To help us rediscover our sense of self-worth, and uphold a deeper belief system and values that govern our action and behaviour; an awareness is crucial that can go as far back as our own birth gifts and talents, our upbringing, environment, education, experience and cultural heritage helped by the love we are able to give and to receive. At a given point in time our chosen career or profession will need to reflect upon this.

If you are aware that you are going down the wrong path well somehow we would need the courage to find the key to that door and change the course. Yes we are faced with plenty of challenges, knock downs, grievances and failings which in some cases can change our way of thinking, yet that is just a part of our personal growth and maturity. All in all this contributes to our identity and plays part to our very own destiny. Call it life's adventure if you will that we are destined to discover. Who am I? What am I doing here? As seen in this amusing sketch. What are my values and deeper beliefs? Are they coherent to my work? Is my company applying those same values that they say they are? What is it that the world needs where I can fulfil my hopes and dreams? What drives me? How can I contribute something tangible to where there is a need? What is it that I wish for? How can I utilise my talents to the best of my ability that will benefit the other person, our society or our environment?

Love, duty and meaning are the highest source of human motivation we could wish for. Once this is patiently figured out as in some instances can take time, our sense of self no longer becomes problematic nor a burden. Our sense of being becomes fulfilled. We can manage ourselves more easily, see ahead and serve the needs of others. We no longer need to pretend nor appear to be …. In the end...well we just are. This is identity and what inner foundation is about. This is our rock and our happiness. Every thing else takes its course. Some people call this character or backbone; others might call it common sense.

This year we commemorate the 100 years of the start of First World War. I am often reminded of the wordings imprinted on the soldiers grave stones that had no identity. No name, just: A Soldier of the Great War. Known only unto God. That even this poor person who ever he was that paid the ultimate sacrifice through his sense of duty could surely have found meaning or even love. It can only make you wonder…..