Archive for December, 2012

Diamonds Abound

As we plow in to the New Year with an uncertain economy, and troubling world events I am reminded of an excerpt from Earl Nightingale’s Lead the Field. I find it inspirational and thought I would pass it along to you. I hope you are finding the New Year prosperous.

In 1843, a man was born who was to have a profound effect upon the lives of millions of people. His name was Russell Herman Conwell. He became a lawyer, then a newspaper editor and, finally, a clergyman. During his church career, an incident occurred that was to change his life and the life of countless others.

One day, a group of young people came to Dr. Conwell at his church and asked him if he would be willing to instruct them in college courses. They all wanted a college education but lacked the money to pay for it. He told them to let him think about it and to come back in a few days.

After they left, an idea began to form in Dr. Conwell’s mind. He asked himself, “Why couldn’t there be a fine college for poor but deserving young people?” Before long, the idea consumed him. Why not, indeed? It was a project worthy of 100 percent dedication—complete commitment.

Almost single-handedly, Dr. Conwell raised several million dollars with which he founded Temple University, today one of the country’s leading schools. He raised the money by giving more than 6,000 lectures all over the country, and in each one of them, he told a story called “Acres of Diamonds.”

The story is the true account of an African farmer who had heard tales about other farmers who had made millions by discovering diamond mines. These tales so excited the farmer that he could hardly wait to sell his farm and go prospecting for diamonds himself. So he sold his farm and spent the rest of his life wandering the African continent searching unsuccessfully for the gleaming gems that brought such high prices on the markets of the world. Finally, the story goes, worn-out and in a fit of despondency, he threw himself into a river and drowned.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or farm, in this case, the man who had bought the farm happened to be crossing the small stream on the property. Suddenly, there was a bright flash of blue and red light from the stream’s bottom. He bent down, picked up the stone—it was a good-sized stone—and, admiring it, later put it on his fireplace mantel, as an interesting curiosity.

Several weeks later, a visitor to his home picked up the stone, looked at it, hefted it in his hand—and nearly fainted. He asked the farmer if he knew what he’d found.When the farmer said no, that he’d thought it was a piece of crystal, the visitor told him he’d found one of the largest diamonds ever discovered. The farmer had trouble believing that. He told the man that his creek was full of such stones—not as large, perhaps, as the one on the mantel, but they were sprinkled generously throughout the creek bottom.

Needless to say, the farm that the first farmer had sold so that he might find a diamond mine turned out to be the most productive diamond mine on the entire African continent. The first farmer had owned, free and clear, acres of diamonds, but he sold them for practically nothing in order to look for them elsewhere.

The moral is clear: If only the first farmer had taken the time to study and prepare himself—to learn what diamonds looked like in their rough state—and, since he had already owned a piece of the African continent, to thoroughly explore the property he had before looking elsewhere, all of his wildest dreams would have come true.

Each of us, at this moment, is standing in the middle of his or her own acres of diamonds. If only we will have the wisdom and patience to intelligently and effectively explore the work in which we are now engaged, to explore ourselves, we’ll usually find the riches we seek.

©Mark P. Loschiavo

A Billionaire in Gardener’s Clothing

When I was in High School I had a small business selling and servicing swimming pool cleaners. In the early 1970s a robotic pool cleaner that operated unattended was a cutting edge technology, and I was the sole distributor in the Greater Cincinnati area for a company out of Florida that invented and manufactured these little gizmos. It was by far the easiest item I ever had to sell. They were such a novelty at the time they sold themselves.

My clients ranged from the upper middle class to the very wealthy. One Saturday afternoon I had an appointment to demonstrate my product to the second wealthiest man in Cincinnati. As I drove up to his estate in my yellow 1965 Ford Falcon I noticed what appeared to be the gardener at the front of the main house. Hunched over in the bushes with his tattered shirt and a Camel cigarette hanging from his mouth, he seemed only mildly interested in this visitor in the yellow car. Because my dad always taught me to treat everyone with dignity and respect, I stopped in front of the man with the dirty face and said, “Good afternoon sir, sorry for the interruption, but I was wondering if you could tell me where I might find Mr. Heekin?” He said, “What do you want him for?” “My name is Mark Loschiavo, and I have an appointment with him about a swimming pool cleaner” I answered. His response startled me when he said, “I’m Herb Heekin, and I’ll take it”. “Nice to meet you Mr. Heekin, but you haven’t even seen it yet”, I stammered. “Young man, you treated me like I owned this place, even when you thought I was a hired hand. I admire that. I’ll buy the damn thing even if it doesn’t clean my pool?”

I went on to sell him a pool cleaner that day, and in the weeks and months that followed I sold—or more accurately he sold—many more of my pool cleaners to his friends, family and associates. Remember to treat everyone you encounter with dignity and respect. You never know when you may be talking to a billionaire in gardener’s clothing.

©Mark P. Loschiavo

The Puzzle

One day this man’s daughter came to him and said, “These puzzles are no longer challenging enough for me. I want you to find for me a puzzle that is really difficult.” So dad purchased a three dimensional puzzle. While that presented a bit more of a challenge, the puzzle was quickly completed, and his daughter said, “Dad, you can do better than that!”

After searching to no avail for a more complex puzzle an idea came to him, and he said, I will find you a puzzle tomorrow with less than 100 pieces that you will not be able to put together.” She said, “Bring it on, dad.”

The next day, the daughter spent the entire time at school in great anticipation. When she got home she ran into the dining room, where she found what looked like a puzzle with relatively few pieces. This was a puzzle she knew she would be able to assemble before evening’s end. Under dad’s watchful eye, she smoothed the puzzle pieces out on the dining room table to begin. Then she said, “Dad, give me the box top so I can get going on this thing.” That’s the catch”, he said. “Your challenge is to put together this puzzle without a picture of what the finished product is supposed to look like.”

After giving him that look only a daughter in high school can master, she set out to assemble the puzzle. After several frustrating attempts over what seemed like an eternity she said, “Dad, how am I supposed to put together a puzzle without having any idea what the finished product is supposed to look like?” After giving her a look that only a dad with a daughter in high school can master he said, “You said you wanted a puzzle that would be tough for you to do.” Her response was, “This is stupid and I don’t want to do it anymore.”

As leaders, how often do we give out similar assignments? We tell those we count on that we need better results. Maybe it is more revenue and profit. We tell them that they have to do better next year than the year before—that they have to be faster, smarter and more competitive than anyone else out there—but we do not articulate a clear plan for how to get there. A good business plan is much like the box top of a puzzle. With it, everyone on the team knows what success looks like when achieved, providing a clear guide along the way.

©Mark P. Loschiavo

Staying in the Moment

During a trip to Italy I was reminded of a difference between Americans and Italians. While walking the streets of Rome I witnessed people engaged with one another in discussion and fellowship both day and night. I saw it in and around the restaurants, the squares, the fountains and on the sidewalks. Time seemed to take on a different meaning.

The Greek language has two different words to describe time. One provides the root for our word chronology, and describes time from the perspective of moving through time. The second refers to time as a moment—a good time was had by all. What struck me as I walked the streets of Rome is that Americans all too often view the things that happen to us on our way to our destinations as distractions or things we must endure along the way. To most Italians these distractions are what life is all about.

Upon further reflection I have come to believe that successful leaders have the ability to capitalize on both elements of time. The first is obvious. Through strong organization skills and the ability to prioritize, effective leaders are able to accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time. While not as obvious, the second is even more important. By being in the moment, and remaining receptive to those we encounter along the way, we can gain a great deal. In addition to developing stronger relationships, being in the moment opens our minds to take advantage of the serendipity that surrounds us. By keeping our eyes open to the possibilities of our everyday encounters we might just find solutions to our toughest problems.

©Mark P. Loschiavo

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