October is Black History Month and despite being incredible busy I found time to ponder a bit on the story of migration that makes up “ME”, Kiki Maurey. An English Mother with origins going back to William the Conqueror’s invasion on the one hand and a African Father who was an Oba or royal ruler, but also an Electrical Engineer in early post-colonial Nigeria. I never knew him but now realise that I am positively ‘buzzing’ with his DNA.
It took me many years to gain my confidence as a ‘mixed-race’ young person in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Racism was rife and life was tough even into the 80s when I was once told that I almost wasn’t promoted as supervisor as my employer wasn’t sure the team would accept being managed by a ‘coloured’ person.
How things have changed, but the journey was at times horrendous as well as uplifting. Looking back I realise I had four things working in my favour:
- when told I can’t, I strived to prove I could
- from a young age, I had an inner certainty that my trials and tribulations would always lead me to a stronger better place
- I set stretching goals and rarely gave up
- sometimes when I felt I just couldn’t go on, I felt a ‘presence’ close by me, supporting me
So it was with fascination that I listened carefully to two exceptional Black leaders during Black History Month. The first was Oprah Winfrey’s final show – aired in May 2011 and available on Youtube, her swan song after 25 years and 4,561 shows. She reflected to her very first show on 8 Sept 1986 and the thread that started running back then; The sheer level of ‘connected’ human suffering, including feelings of unworthiness and blame.
Oprah’s career has shown her that “worthiness is everyone’s birth right by virtue of being born.” Three powerful principles emerge around her basic philosophy of ‘self-acceptance’:
- That you are not alone, that we are all of us connected.
- That no-one and nothing else is responsible for your life or for the energy you emit.
- That people can learn that to change their lives, they have to change themselves first.
Oprah’s final show was a tour-de-force – sharing what she’s discovered to be anchors in her life. Here are some below – see how many of Oprah’s truths you can relate to and how they might help you be a better leader and live a better life:
Oprah’s Life-Giving Anchors
“We are all ‘called’ and the real job in life is to figure out what that is. A ‘calling’ lights you up and lets you know exactly what you should be doing.”
“Live from the heart – even when making a living. It’s within your gift to find ‘that thing’ that’s a spark in you, so that you light up the world in turn.”
“Use your circle of influence and your power to allow your life’s journey to speak to you and to others. Use your light to help, listen, forgive and heal – powerful tools for changing lives – yours as well as others.”
“Nobody but you is responsible for your life, regardless of your parents or experiences. [It] doesn’t matter what your mummy did, or your daddy didn’t do.” Don’t blame others for the bad choices you make, or the difficult circumstances into which you were born and raised.
“All life is energy and we are all beaming little signals like radio frequencies and the world is responding in kind. For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction so have the very best of intentions.”
“You are responsible for your life. Don’t wait for someone to fix you, save you or indeed complete you. When you get that, you get free.”
The Man from the Pru
The second Black leader and role model is Tidjane Thiam, CEO of the Prudential who was the highlight keynote at this year’s October ‘The Women’s Business Forum Conference’. He was very funny, insightful and honest. He made the case that I’m always making ie ‘be your authentic self – but better, and get good – no excuses’.
As a Black African man he stands out as a beacon of achievement and humorous humility readily pointing out that not only ‘can he dance’, but importantly has accumulated a 1st rate commercial track record. His was a strong message of hard work, application and authenticity.
“You can never be better performing than when you are true to yourself” he told us. Interestingly, his Mother told him as a young man that (in a nutshell) the only thing worth investing in is between your ears, not in cars or material wealth but self-improvement and knowledge acquisition. If you ‘lose your head’ she said, you won’t care anyway so go ahead and invest in your brain development first, the rest will follow.
So get out there on your own journey of discovery of who you really are, and find the ‘thing’ that provides the ‘spark’ or energy which is at the root of all you are and can become.
It’s not rocket science but it is a game-changer. I know it, Oprah knows it and so does Tidjane.