Thursday, December 20, 2018

"My Father's Gift" by Sixtus Z. Atabong - How One Man's Purpose Became a Journey of Hope and Healing

Sixtus Z. Atabong has made an arduous journey that took him from a rural village in Cameroon, West Africa to Lubbock, Texas, where he works as a neurosurgery physician's assistant. The fuel that powered that rocket journey was provided by his father, John N. Atabong. As an eleven year-old living in the tiny town of Fotem, John struck out to make a life for himself, learning to grow cash crops, and eventually buying his own humble farm where he and his wife raised their children. At great sacrifice, he amassed the money to send young Sixtus to private Catholic schools. At even greater sacrifice, John managed to raise money to send his son to the U.S. to college.

The culture shock was almost too much for the young African, but he persevered, walking when he needed to walk, balancing multiple part-time jobs and full-time studies, and eventually driving a beat-up used car that was held together with baling wire and scotch tape. As Sixtus overcame each challenge, he was often reminded of his father's sacrifice, and that reminder kept him going on the toughest days. That specter of his father's manifold sacrifices, along with a strong Christian faith, also inspired Sixtus to find ways to give back to his home country of Cameroon. He and a growing cadre of colleagues have founded Purpose Medical Mission.

In the process of trying to provide modern medical care to villages in rural Cameroon, Sixtus and his team bumped up against the harsh reality of corruption up and down the levels of government within Cameroon. They had to find ways to circumvent demands for bribes. Bureaucratic red tape slowed down the process of building a clinic and providing modern medical and surgical equipment. But they  have persevered, and the quality of care in Cameroon is light years beyond what it was when John Atabong was growing up there. John died a few years ago, succumbing to the ravages of diabetes and the workload of farming for his whole life. But his legacy - the inspiration he provided to Sixtus, and that Sixtus is passing on - continues to grow and light up his small corner of what used to be called The Dark Continent.

This book should inspire each reader to look deep within his or her own heart, and find ways to repay those that sacrificed for them, and give back. Not everyone can be like Sixtus and create a non-profit that touches several continents. But each one can make a determination to do what is in their power to make a difference in the life of someone in need. That, in the end, is the reach of John Atabong's gift.



Wednesday, December 19, 2018

"Wiser Next Week" by Kingston S. Lim - Navigating the Life Experience with Guidance from Great Minds

Kudos to first time author Kingston S. Lim. The recent college grad got a real wake-up call when he tried doing laundry on his own for the first time. No one had told him that mixing a red garment with the whites would produce a washing machine filled with damp pink clothes. It occurred to him that our current system of education does a poor job of preparing students for the quotidian challenges of life beyond the classroom.

Lim's solution was to assemble notes he had taken from years of reading a variety of authors, group them thematically, and offer them as basic Cliff Notes for Life to steer other Millennials in the direction of practical wisdom. The authors that Lim has read and summarized span many centuries, beginning with Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Seneca in the first century, to Thoreau, Emerson, Ben Franklin in the early days of the Republic, and finally some of today's self-help gurus like Tony Robbins, Ray Dalio, and Stephen Covey.

The book is structured in short chapters that offer pithy quotations from the source material addressing topics such as Emotions, Fear, Loyalty, Gratitude, Priorities, Aging, Death, Finding Purpose, Handling Money. For the reader who is motivated to dig more deeply into a topic, there are footnotes that will lead him or her to the source. Among the chapters that grabbed me was the one on Remembering and Knowing, offering practical mnemonic advice for memorization.

Mr. Lim's guide for navigating life experiences would make a great gift for someone who could profit from the author's work of distilling wisdom from the ages into bite-sized portions that fit the attention span of those coming into adulthood in the 21st century.


"Leading from the Roots" by Dr. Kathleen E. Allen - Leadership Lessons from Nature

Dr. Kathleen E. Allen consults with organizations and corporations around issues of leadership and organizational change. She has done extensive research into the emerging field of Biomimicry - leadership lessons drawn from the realm of nature. In "Leading from the Roots," she offers insights from the world of nature and ecology that serve as metaphors and templates for sustainable ways in which organizations and their leaders should function so that everyone benefits beyond the bottom line.

The author opens the book with a wonderful example of a "living bridge." In the state of Meghalaya in northeast India, one of the wettest places on earth. crossing flooded streams can be a challenge in the monsoon season. Over the centuries the inhabitants have learned to use the unique route system of the strangler fig tree. They guide the complex root system to grow across the stream, eventually taking root in the adjoining bank. Over the course of two human lifetimes, the tree grows to the point where it forms a living bridge that is able to withstand the flood waters that flow during the monsoon, and the village inhabitants can use the living bridges to cross the stream during all seasons of the year.

"Ever since I first heard of these remarkable bridges, they have shaped and expanded my thinking and my work in leadership and organizations. For instance, the living bridges have given me insights into how to view leadership transition.  Instead of approaching the transition between a retiring executive and a new leader as an abrupt ending and new beginning, I now seek to imagine how the organization can create a living bridge where the knowledge and wisdom of the retiring executive remains in the organization and the new leader extends that legacy into the future." (page 10)

The book is structured with nine chapters outlining specific lessons and principles derived from nature: "Nature Runs on Sunlight,"" In Nature, Waste Is Never Wasted," "Nature Rewards Cooperation," etc. The final two chapters contain the author's challenge and call to action to create organizations and leaders who apply these principles to mimic the wisdom of nature. She implores the reader to stop thinking of an organization as a static machine, but rather as a living, breathing, and evolving organism.

For this book to be of practical value to an organization, the wise leader would use the questions that the author provides at the end of each chapter, and have his or her leadership team engage in deep discussion of how these principles and laws of nature might be applied to their specific organization.



"This Is Marketing" by Seth Godin - You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn To See

It would be fair to say that I am not aware of anyone who has had more influence over the development of the field marketing in the past twenty-five years than Seth Godin. I religiously read his frequent pithy blog postings, order each new book as it is published, and have traveled to hear him speak on several occasions. I even attended a full day seminar at his workshop in Dobbs Ferry, New York. Seth possesses a unique combination of gifts; he is insightful, innovative, and inspiring. He has figured out over the years how to put his ideas to work in ways that improve society, and he freely teaches others to emulate and modify his lessons to apply in their own lives and careers.

"This Is Marketing" is Set's latest offering. He turns many sacrosanct marketing principles on their head, and demonstrates that there is wisdom and profit to be made in going after the "Smallest Viable Market." This book is a manifesto that proclaims that real marketing must change the world for the better. It is time to stop spamming, and time to start working to understand the mind of the consumer, and to find ways to help them to make better decisions. Intruding into people's space - especially on line- is no longer viable or effective. Seth was a pioneer in Permission Marketing, and in this book, he outlines the philosophy and the practice of earning the attention of the customer and potential customer. He makes the point that marketing changes people for the better through the judicious use of stories, connections, and shared experiences. He gives a very clear explanation of semiotics and the proper use of symbols in marketing

If you are a fan of Seth Godin, you have probably already ordered this book. If you are not yet a Godin disciple, reading this book would be a wise first step on a journey of discovery following in the footsteps of this member of the Marketing Hall of Fame.


"Midnight in Chernobyl" by Adam Higginbotham - The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster

Author Adam Higginbotham has done a masterful job of blowing the lid off of the sarcophagus of obfuscation under which the Soviet Union attempted to bury the truths about what happened at Chernobyl in April of 1986. He dug deep into archives, personal papers, professional journals, and hundreds of hours of interviews to piece together the puzzle of the events that led up to the explosion that destroyed Reactor Number Four at Chernobyl.

The author offers, as well, background into the flaws in the design of the RBMK graphite-moderated boiler water reactor. He examines the corrupt and labyrinthine system of managing nuclear power in the USSR. While this is a superb work of journalism, it also holds the intrigue of a murder mystery. Who really was responsible? What really happened? Was it design error or operator error? The author makes this a very enlightening journey inside the minds of Soviet and Ukrainian leaders and scientists, as well as inside the broken lives of the workers who operated the plant and lived in nearby Pripyat.

Mr. Higginbotham makes a credible case for the fact that the Chernobyl disaster and its lingering aftershocks were the catalysts that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev's Glasnost and Perestroika were not able to overcome the inertia of a Soviet machine that did not know how to tell the truth to its people or to the world at large. That lack of candor became as toxic for the Soviet state as the radioactive debris from Chernobyl became for those in the path of the fallout.

I had a very personal;interest in this story. In 1992, I was part of a UN group that toured the Chernobyl complex, the village of Pripyat, and several hospitals in Kiev that were treating hundreds of victims of chronic radiation poisoning. Many of them were suffering from leukemia, thyroid cancer, and a host of other diseases. When we arrived at Chernobyl, we were taken to a visitors' center where we were show a 1:6 scale model of the Chernobyl complex. The official guide proceeded to give this UN group a speech about the wonderful safety history of Soviet nuclear power. "Of course, there was this one small incident that the world tries to blow out of proportion," At that time, one of the remaining reactors was still functioning, ,and we were taken to the control room, mere yards from the notorious sarcophagus that had been built to bury the debris of the core of Reactor Number Four. The engineers operating the plant were smoking, and ashes from their cigarettes fell onto the dials of the instruments that told them the status of the reactor and the turbines. It was clear that not many safety lessons had been learned from the worst nuclear accident in history.

This is a story with many villains and some remarkable heroes. Add to the list of heroes Mr. Higginbotham, whose yeoman work in uncovering facts and truths about Chernobyl will help the world to make more informed choices about the future of nuclear energy. This is a book that should be read by anyone with an interest in energy, the history of the Soviet Union, and the forces that shape history.



Wednesday, December 12, 2018

"The Compelling Communicator" by Tim Pollard - There Is Gold On Every Page

How often have you sat through a presentation that included "death by PowerPoint" and felt like your precious time had been wasted? Worse yet, how often have you found yourself as the presenter who never seemed to capture the attention of your audience? I have good news. Veteran communication coach Tim Pollard has distilled his many years of experience into a book about mastering the art and science of exceptional presentation design. If you read this book and apply its lessons, you will never again fail to connect with an audience - whether an internal audience in a team meeting or a TED talk audience of thousands.

Here are three significant things you will learn from this powerful book:

1) How to design and deliver a presentation that will be easy for audience members to "retell" to others when they leave you.

2) How to create a presentation that takes into account from the beginning the world view and the perspective of the audience, and addresses a problem that they are eager to solve.

3) How to incorporate narrative and stories that will trigger both hemispheres of the brains of your audience members.

The book is organized in a fashion that is both practical and practicable. The author encourages the reader to stop at the end of many of the chapters to create the next phase of what he calls The Pyramid of Planned Outcome. The foundation of the Pyramid is comprised of Data and Illustrations, and builds upward with Insights (no more than three), and is capped off with a Call to Action.

Even before I finished reading this gem of a book, I reached out to dozens of my coaching clients and colleagues and encouraged them to buy the book. One of my favorite responses came from a friend who has his own recruitment firm. He lives in Rye, NY, so it is no wonder that he has a wry sense of humor:

"The book came last night. You know, you're a pain in the ass making me read all these good books. I'm missing out on old NCIS episodes I've already seen 5 times."

So, fair warning. If you order this book and read it, you may have to sacrifice some binge watching time in front of your HD TV. But the trade-off is that you will be able to construct a high definition and compelling presentation that will leave your audience eager to retell the message they will have just heard from you.

"The Compelling Communicator" is one of the most impactful - and compelling - books I have read this year.

I challenge you to buy one copy of this book for yourself and one for a colleague who will hate you for tearing them away from reruns of NCIS!



"Leading from Purpose" by Nick Craig - A Must Read Book for Leaders and Aspiring Leaders

"Leading from Purpose" author Nick Craig has spent much of his career helping men and women who are corporate leaders to learn to function more effectively. Over the years, he has taken the lessons learned and refined the seminars that he presents - both in corporate settings and in weekend retreats for individuals who are committed to life long learning and growth. Based on having observed thousands of men and women leaders, author Craig has come to the conclusion that the single most important attribute that separates great leaders from the pack is their ability to articulate clearly their purpose in life. This focus on purpose has become a cornerstone of Craig's seminars, and is the foundation for this powerful book.

The book is divided into three sections:

I. Access - Why purpose matters, Crucible stories, Finding purpose through passion

II. Finding Your purpose

III. Impact - Living out your purpose in a number of dimensions

Interwoven among Craig's teaching and principles are compelling stories of individuals who have struggled to discover, articulate, and live out their purpose. The stories are inspiring, and the people who lived them are approachable. It is clear from the diverse and motley assortment of individuals whose stories are told, that virtually any leader or aspiring leader can work through the stages of articulating his or her purpose, and then make life choices based on that purpose statement. There are several wonderful vignettes that involve sailing, as well as a fascinating account of a difficult choice made by the President of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream.

The book contains self-assessment tools, so it serves as a workbook and template for each reader to pause and work through the process that the author offers to those who attend his seminars. I have had the privilege of attending Nick Craig's weekend seminar. With his help and the help of other attendees, I was able to refine my own purpose statement:

"You bring the fuel; I will add the spark. Together we will light up the world."

I encourage and challenge you to buy this book, and to buy an extra copy or two to give to individuals in your life whose lives will be impacted by their ability to learn to Lead from Purpose.



Monday, December 10, 2018

"Temptation Rag" - A Novel by Elizabeth Hutchinson Bernard - A Compelling Look at NYC in the time of Ragtime and Vaudeville - Worlds collide

"Temptation Rag" by Elizabeth Hutchinson Bernard is a richly satisfying and beautifully rendered tale of the syncopated rhythms of the lives of May Convery, Mike Bernard, and those who inhabited the gritty world of New York's City's vaudeville theaters and ragtime bars. This novel is historical fiction, since many of the characters actually lived. Ms. Bernard has used poetic license to fill in the voids that history has left blank. Her style and subject matter reminded me in many ways of the late great E. L. Doctorow.

May embodies Upper East Side wealth and privilege. Mike hails from the tenements of Jewish Lower East Side. Their worlds collide when the Convery family hires Mike to teach piano to the two daughters. Teenager May falls in love with Mike, and they secretly marry, but May's authoritative and patrician father squelches the marriage and has it annulled. Mike feels helpless and powerless, and May is devastated and enraged that her husband did not take a stand against her father. May and Mike remain estranged throughout the course of the narrative - their lives playing out in counterpoint that often crashes as a dissonant and unresolved chord. While Mike carves out a music career that has him proclaimed "Ragtime King of the World," May breaks free of her stifling golden handcuffs to carve out a successful career as a published poet and early feminist.

The bass notes for this narrative touch on the racial tensions of the early decades of the 20th century, the tension between white and black musicians over who "owns" ragtime music, and the perennial chasm that separates the Uptown Robber Barons from the denizens of the suffocating ghettos Downtown.

What is the price of freedom? How do we leave a legacy? How does one forgive the unforgivable? These questions and many more under-gird this well told tale of real people whose lives and art are shone in fascinating light by this gifted writer.


"Where Dragonwoofs Sleep and the Fading Creeps" by A.J. Massey - A Mythological Journey to Meridia

It is clear throughout this delightful fantasy for teen and adult readers that author A. J. Massey has been influenced and inspired by the likes of "Labyrinth," and writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, and Frank Baum. He has the reader follow the adventures and misadventures of young Ben, who is transported to the dream world of Meridia - a cross between Oz and Narnia. He encounters strange phenomena and stranger creatures that would have given Alice pause in her peregrinations throughout Wonderland.

Ben is enlisted in the Herculean task of bringing back to Meridia a sphinx head in order to save the world from the foreboding "Fading" that threatens to erase all of the physical world and those that inhabit it. He is joined in his quixotic journey by Avery, Marcus, and three small "dragonwoofs" - what remains of a once mighty race of dragons that have devolved into apparently useless and ravenously hungry domesticated pets.

The writing is colorful, and serves as an inspiring parable for facing our worst fears and demons. The characters are well drawn and memorable. This literary journey is one worth taking.