William Ernest Henley was a British poet who penned the poem Invictus in 1888. The poem (below) has had an impact on me since 2000 when I was introduced to it (more on that later) and carries the theme of overcoming adversity and espouses remaining positive, no matter what is happening to you or around you. Henley was not well known and by all accounts, and contemporarily speaking, was a "one-hit-wonder" with Invictus being his hit as his other poems in his Book Of Versus, were largely underwhelming, not unlike Rob Van Winkles other songs on his own compilation To The Extreme. Instead of fame and fortune, Henley got Tuberculosis and due to complications had to have one leg amputated and nearly his other after continued issues caused by the disease. As he sat in the infirmary, convalescing from his multiple operations on both legs and at his darkest and lowest point, he conjured up some of the most inspiring words ever to be put on paper.
Now, most people learn about poetry, specifically this poem, in an English or Literary History class or even in speeches from the likes of Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill or stories about the US POWs in North Vietnam inscribing it on toilet paper with rat droppings to increase morale, but not me. I learned it in July of 2000, in a pitch black, completely silent Arnold Hall with 1,000 other basic cadets, all sitting on the front third of our seats, and all concerned about what might emerge from the quiet and the darkness. As it turns out our concerns were not without merit as the silence was pierced by a very low, and very menacing voice reciting the first stanza of a poem which up until then was unbeknown to me.
"Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be,
For my unconquerable soul"
As I sat there, paralyzed in thought and by fear, trying to decipher if perhaps I had fallen asleep and was dreaming (there are no snooze buttons in basic training) my eyes let me know abruptly that I was, in fact, awake and still very much afraid. Emerging from the darkness via a huge spotlight, on the stage in front of me was, up until that point in my life, the largest human being I had ever seen. This amalgamation of Zeus and Michael Clarke Duncan like figure stood there in his battle dress uniform, sleeves rolled up around his seemingly 30 inch arms, boots shined perfectly and his beret impeccably molded to his enormous head and most importantly the prop and wings affixed to his beret glistened in the light. He recited the rest of the poem flawlessly to finality and I just listened as intently as I have listened to anything before and maybe since.
"In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced or cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
These remarkable words left an indelible mark on me. I felt like he was telling us, or maybe just me, that everything was going to be ok, no matter what happens. It was quite the contradiction because the guy who was ultimately responsible for scaring me to death and as it turned out in the next few second would turn the lights on and release the cadre to inform us, very loudly, that our chins need to be in and our knees were not high enough, was imparting this idea that everything is fine, despite what is about to happen. I don’t remember the march to Arnold Hall and I don’t remember what happened after, but I remember Invictus and because of that I somehow always remember, everything will be ok.
I offer this simple piece of advice to any and every one, find your Invictus. Find something you can hold on to at your darkest hour or when you’re not quite sure everything is going to work out or when you are simply afraid. Henly, down a leg and by all accounts a failure, turned his lowest point into a peice of literature that has endured, touched many lives and will live on. We all can do the same.
In the early 1960's, James Ferguson, a marketing executive with General Foods Corp. began pushing a new sweet tasting dessert topping that looked like putty and came in a relatively non-descript plastic container. He developed and pushed marketing ideas and strategies he felt would catapult this new culinary concoction skyward, alongside General Food's already hugely successful food and snack items, Jell-O, Grape Nuts and Maxwell House Coffee. He was met with many obstacles and naysayers but he was sure and armed with unfettered self- belief he brought Cool Whip to market and ultimately rode the wave of Cool Whip's success to the big office and in 1973 became CEO. As CEO, Mr. Ferguson was an ardent proponent for sharing ideas and stressed Listening Carefully before making any decisions. In addition to his hard work and dedication to his people he was very self-aware, which may have been his best trait. He knew he was not a visionary (think Steve Jobs) rather he was an enabler and he had a unique capacity to bring the right people together to find solutions to problems and then enable them to make a difference. In reading about Mr. Ferguson and his journey and leadership style, juxtaposed with todays, effective and so-called modern leaders, I was hit with a realization that there is nothing modern at all. The only difference between "then" and "now" is the medium for facilitating these steadfast ideals. Where it used to be a meeting in a suit and tie, in a conference room, with notebooks, pencil and paper and hot coffee, now it’s in less casual attire, on iPads and over fiber optics spread across thousands of miles. The evolution of the medium is inevitable and it will be reinvented for years to come but the message and backbone of a true leader will always be....Believe in yourself, listen carefully and enable others to be great.
“If I did my job as well as I could, then, in due course, good things would happen,” James Ferguson
Good Morning! I would like to share a book with everyone. The book is titled ONWARD and it was written by Howard Schultz, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks. I read this masterpiece several years ago and it had a profound and lasting effect on me. Mr. Schultz imparts his knowledge in a way that is relatable and tells the story of Starbucks revival with extreme detail and more importantly extreme passion! This book altered my thought process and approach to my business and helped me to problem solve in ways I had not done before. It reminded me that business, well a successful business, is not process nor products centric, rather it is people centric. Focus on taking care of your people and everything else will fall into place. It is evident Mr. Schultz found his passion and I felt like he challenged me to find my passion and run with it. I invite everyone to read this book and hopefully you will enjoy it as much as I did. I’ve included an excerpt below...
"“Grow with discipline. Balance intuition with rigor. Innovate around the core. Don't embrace the status quo. Find new ways to see. Never expect a silver bullet. Get your hands dirty. Listen with empathy and overcommunicate with transparency. Tell your story, refusing to let others define you. Use authentic experiences to inspire. Stick to your values, they are your foundation. Hold people accountable, but give them the tools to succeed. Make the tough choices; it's how you execute that counts. Be decisive in times of crisis. Be nimble. Find truth in trials and lessons in mistakes. Be responsible for what you see, hear, and do. Believe.”
― Howard Schultz, Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul