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Elon Musk: A Story of Change

“Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.”

 

They say that the only constant in life is change.

 

If there is anyone on this planet that knows the implications of that, it is Elon Musk.

 

Just looking at his first line on Wikipedia tells you all that you need to know about what change means to Mr. Musk.

 

“A South African-born Canadian American business magnate, investor, engineer, and inventor.”

 

There are few people with as diverse of a citizenship background as Musk and even fewer who have experienced the level of success that he has had in so many different ventures.

 

But his story goes deeper than that.

 

Let’s take a look at Elon Musk’s story to get a better idea of what made him into the leader that he is today.

 

A Curious Child

 

Born in 1971 to a Canadian mother who was both a model and a dietician and a South African father who was an electromechanical engineer, pilot, and sailor, Elon Musk learned from a very early age that living a static life wouldn’t get him very far.

 

After his parents divorced in 1980, he also learned that sometimes life would change whether you’re ready for it or not.

 

Although Elon was intellectually curious from a young age (he loved to read, program computers, and create video games), he was also bullied severely in school.

 

In one instance, a group of three boys threw him down a flight of stairs and then beat him until he was unconscious.

 

Ready for a Change in Scenery

 

After finishing high school shortly before he turned 18, Elon decided that he was ready for a change of scenery.

 

Thus, he obtained Canadian citizenship through his mother and left South Africa to attend Queen’s University in Ontario.  

 

Despite being enrolled in one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Musk again felt that he was not in the right place at the right time.

 

So, he left.

 

Musk then enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania, where he went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in physics from the College of Arts and Sciences and a Bachelor of Science through the Wharton School of Business.

 

After a successful undergraduate career, Elon thought that graduate school was the next logical step in his career.

 

The result? Maybe you can guess.

 

After enrolling as a PhD student in Stanford University’s applied physics and materials science program, Musk felt the urge for change yet again.

 

So, he left. After two days.

 

The Beginning of a Storied Career

 

Leaving that PhD program turned out the be one of the best decisions that Elon Musk ever made. Instead of researching, writing, and being paid much less than he was worth, Elon and his brother set off to begin their own company.

 

This company was called Zip2.

 

A web software company that acted as a city guide, Zip2 was eventually bought out by Compaq for a cool $307 million in 1999 (Musk received $22 million for his 7% in the sale).

 

This was just the beginning of what would become one of the most storied careers in history.

 

After selling his first company, Elon then used half of the money from the sale to create an online financial service and email payment company called X.com.

 

Never heard of X.com?

 

That’s because X.com merged with a company called Confinity, and Confinity brought a little money transfer service over by the name of PayPal.

 

Although Musk was eventually ousted as CEO due to disagreements with the board about certain software aspects of the company, he did receive $165 million when Ebay acquired PayPal in 2002.

 

Today

 

After selling PayPal, Elon Musk’s career exploded even further.

 

Acting as the current CEO of both SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk is on the cutting edge of technology and space travel.

 

He is attempting to explore Mars, building spacecrafts, and designing the automobiles of the future.

 

About space travel, Musk says,

An asteroid or a super volcano could destroy us, and we face risks the dinosaurs never saw: an engineered virus, inadvertent creation of a micro black hole, catastrophic global warming or some as-yet-unknown technology could spell the end of us. Humankind evolved over millions of years, but in the last sixty years atomic weaponry created the potential to extinguish ourselves. Sooner or later, we must expand life beyond this green and blue ball—or go extinct.”

 

What it comes down to for Elon Musk is that, while change is difficult to handle in a lot of ways, it’s the only way that people can survive and grow.

 

Whether it’s changing cities, countries, companies, or the way that we look at some of the biggest problems that we face, the human race would’ve become extinct already if not for our inherent ability to change and evolve.

 

The next time you’re facing a difficult decision or feel that you have become stuck in your path, think about this quote, “Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.”

 

Whether that disaster is physical or mental, have the courage to change.

 

You won’t regret it.

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Angela Merkel: The Most Powerful Woman in the World

“Always be more than you appear, and never appear to be more than you are.”

-Angela Merkel

 

Angela Merkel is the most powerful woman in the world.

 

That’s without question.

 

She helped guide Germany through its reunification process after the Berlin Wall fell, has a doctorate in physical chemistry, is the longest-serving head of government in the European Union, and is currently the senior G7 leader.

 

Needless to say, when she talks, people listen.

 

Part of the reason why she got to the point in life that she did is that she lives by her words, “always be more than you appear, and never appear to be more than you are.”

 

To better understand the quote, let’s take a closer look at Angela Merkel’s life.

 

Born Into a Divided World

 

Born in 1954 to a German father and a Polish mother in West Germany, Angela Merkel was thrust into one of the most turbulent periods of German history.  

 

Shortly following the end of World War II in 1945, the Allied forces split Germany up, and East Germany belonged to the Soviet Union.

 

When she was three months old, Ms. Merkel’s father uprooted the family to take a pastorate at a church in East Germany, which is where Angela would spend her youth. As a student in East Germany, Angela Merkel excelled in several areas.

 

She became fluent in Russian, won prizes for her talents in mathematics, and went on to study (and participate in landmark projects) physics at the University of Leipzig.

 

Following her undergraduate career, Ms. Merkel decided to continue her work and studies at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin-Adlershof. Although the Stasi (German secret police) attempted to recruit her, Angela managed to talk her way out of working them.

 

After being awarded a doctorate for her thesis on quantum chemistry in 1986, Angela continued her work until 1990, when politics got the best of her.

 

Becoming a Leader

 

Despite her academic achievements, Angela Merkel wasn’t always known as a political leader. However, she couldn’t resist getting involved as she watched the Berlin Wall fall in 1990.

 

Friends and family were reunited, Germany was to become whole again, and democracy was taking root.

 

Shortly following the very first multi-party election in the East German state, Merkel’s peers agreed that she would become the deputy spokesperson for the new pre-unification government.

 

Later that year, Merkel stood for her first election in the 1990 federal election.

 

She won.

 

Angela Merkel was elected to the Bundestag (the representative body of the Federal Republic of Germany) for the Stralsund – Nordvorpommern – Rügen constituency.

 

The rest, as they say, is history.

 

After working her way up the ranks of German government, Merkel eventually took office as the Chancellor of Germany in 2005 following a stalemate election.

 

Despite some setbacks, she hasn’t looked back since.

 

Angela Merkel has won every election since taking power as Chancellor of Germany in 2005, and she currently holds that position to this day. She is now considered globally as the most experienced and longest-serving leader of the Western world.

 

Lessons to Take from Angela Merkel

 

During her time as Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel has made several important decisions. While several have turned out wonderful, others have been quite controversial.

 

Take her policy on Syrian refugees, for example.

 

During the height of the crisis, Merkel agreed to let unprecedented amounts of refugees into her country (often referred to as the “open-door” policy).

 

Although many people celebrated the move at the time, there were others who weren’t so certain that it was a great idea. Following several unfortunate incidents involving the refugees, the perception became that Angela Merkel was losing control of the country.

In fact, her decision led to her party losing several seats in the elections that followed.

 

However, Merkel showed the world what it means to be a leader in that she was able to admit her mistake.

 

“For some time, we didn’t have enough control,” she said in one of her speeches. “No one wants a repeat of last year’s situation, including me.”

 

When times got tough, Angela Merkel made a decision. While that decision didn’t necessarily work out the way that she hoped, she displayed the fortitude that one would expect to see in a strong leader.

 

She then went on to win another term as the Chancellor of Germany.

 

Angela Merkel has lived her life based on the words, “always be more than you appear, and never appear to be more than you are.”

 

It has gotten her this far, and it would serve all of us well to keep this quote in mind as we move forward in both our personal and professional lives.

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Napoleon: Shaping Modern Europe

“Impossible is a word found only in the dictionary of fools.” 

Napoleon Bonaparte, born in 1769, was a French military and political leader, and the first emperor of France. He’s considered by many historians to be one of the greatest military commanders in history, revolutionizing military training and organization, and changing the world with his wars and campaigns that continue to be studied at military schools around the globe to this day. For him, nothing was impossible: “Impossible is a word found only in the dictionary of fools. Wise people create opportunities for themselves and make everything possible.”

So what opportunities did Napoleon create for himself? Well, in 1793, Napoleon won his first major military battle at Toulon in France after forcing British troops to evacuate. This earned him a promotion to brigadier general at the age of just 24, and his career was on the up. In 1795, he defeated a royalist revolt that threatened to overthrow the French government, a victory that earned him even greater recognition and the admiration of the Directory now running the country, and his campaign to expand the French empire was underway.

Great Motivator

In 1796, Napoleon’s loyalty to the Directory was rewarded with the new post of commander in chief of the Army of Italy. Despite the discovery that his army of 30,000 men was significantly smaller than the promised 43,000, and those he had were underfed and unhappy, he turned the situation around to create a strong, loyal, victorious and seemingly unstoppable military force. He did this by winning the respect of his men; inspiring and motivating them to fight for a shared cause. As he addressed his new army in 1796, he said, “Soldiers, you are naked, badly fed… Rich provinces and great towns will be in your power, and in them you will find honour, glory, wealth.”

Napoleon’s troops trusted him without question. He made sure they always had appropriate combat clothing and equipment and he kept them well fed, saying, “An army marches on its stomach.” He also fought alongside his men, earning the nickname of “little corporal” through frequently setting up the artillery guns himself, and on one occasion immediately taking up the task of sighting a cannon after the corporal in the post was killed. His active role earned him the admiration of his men, and the more victorious they became, the more they gave.

Great Victory

Napoleon’s notoriety grew and by 1798, his campaign to expand the French Empire into Egypt, thereby disrupting the British trade routes into India, was underway. At the Battle of Shubra Khit, Napoleon’s army encountered Mamluk cavalry on their march to Cairo. The Mamluk heavily outnumbered the French, but Napoleon split his infantry into squares, a tactic that brought him victory. In the following Battle of the Pyramids, the same divisional square tactic once again brought victory as Napoleon’s troops virtually wiped out the Egyptian army.

Napoleon was now a legend. Not only his tactics, but also his capacity to adapt to changing circumstances as they unfolded around him on the battlefield made him one of the greatest military commanders in history. In 1805, he won perhaps his greatest military victory at the Battle of Austerlitz. Once again, his troops were heavily outnumbered by Austrian and Russian troops, but his belief that nothing was impossible and the motivational effect this had on his men once again brought him victory.

His abilities as a commander are beyond question, but whether or not Napoleon was a good leader beyond his victories is a question that remains open for debate. He said, “Ability is nothing without opportunity,” and he certainly lived up to his belief that wise people create opportunities for themselves and make everything possible. This is something we might all learn from. Napoleon created the opportunities he needed to showcase his abilities, adapting quickly to changing circumstances rather than allowing circumstances to dictate his outcomes… are you showcasing your abilities, and are you adaptable enough to create the opportunities you need to expand your “empire”?

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Jack Ma: Innovation and Optimism

“Never give up! Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine. If you give up tomorrow, you will never see the sunshine.”

Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, is one of the richest men in Asia and ranked No.2 in the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” list by Fortune in 2017. Today, he’s one of the world’s most influential businessmen and inspirational philanthropists, and his rags-to-riches story is testament to his belief that you must “never give up.”

Early Innovator

Born in Hangzhou, China in 1964, Jack’s parents made ends meet by working as traditional performing artists. There was little money in the family and Jack recognized that education would be his way to get ahead in life. After a visit from President Nixon in 1972, Hangzhou grew into a popular tourist destination, bringing lots of English-speaking visitors into the area, an opportunity that an already innovative Jack took full advantage of in his teenage years. Each day, he would ride his bike to the Hangzhou hotel, some 40-minutes from his home, where he offered his services as a tourist guide in exchange for the opportunity to learn and improve his English. It was one of these tourists who nicknamed him “Jack” after struggling to pronounce his actual name, Ma Yun, becoming pen pals after the visit.

Jack continued to give free tours for nine years while struggling to get ahead with his formal education. He failed the entrance exam for college twice, finally succeeding on the third attempt – an early indication of the resilience and perseverance that would shape his extraordinary life. He graduated from Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute in 1988 with a B.A. in English and began applying for jobs, only to find himself faced with yet more failure and rejection. The police force rejected him, saying, “You’re no good,” and then even KFC turned him away with Jack famously quoted as saying, Twenty-four people went for the job. Twenty-three were accepted. I was the only guy…”

Internet Discovery

He eventually found employment as a lecturer of English at Hangzhou Dianzi University, but on a trip to the U.S. as a translator in 1995, Jack got his first hands-on experience of the internet, something essentially unheard of back in China. He typed “beer” into the search engine and was fascinated to discover that no Chinese beers appeared anywhere on the results pages. It was this discovery that inspired him to set up an internet company for China, a venture that would fail, but he didn’t give up.

In 1999, Jack and a group of 17 friends raised enough money between them to found Alibaba – effectively China’s answer to Amazon – with the intention of helping Chinese companies reach an international market. That group of 18 in Jack’s apartment has grown to a workforce of 30,000 over four large campuses, and while many mistakes were made in the early years, Jack recalls saying, “We will make it because we are young and we never, never give up.”

Crazy Jack

Jack is now globally recognized as a true innovator, yet in the past his ideas have been branded as “crazy”. Crazy or not, his success story demonstrates the enormous power of an optimistic attitude and relentless perseverance. He has said, “If you never tried, how do you know there’s no chance? If you don’t do it, nothing is possible. If you do it, at least, you have the hope that there’s a chance.” Well, Jack Ma has certainly gone ahead and tried; he didn’t give up when tomorrow got tougher, and he’s now enjoying the sunshine.

In a letter written to his employees after the company filed for its IPO (initial public offering), Jack said: “We know well we haven’t survived because our strategies are farsighted and brilliant, or because our execution is perfect, but because for 15 years we have persevered in our mission of ‘making it easier to do business across the world,’ because we have insisted on a ‘customer first’ value system, because we have persisted in believing in the future, and because we have insisted that normal people can do extraordinary things.”

You may see yourself as an ordinary person today, but what extraordinary things might you achieve if you don’t give up tomorrow?

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Julius Caesar: Leading From The Front

“Experience is the teacher of all things.”

Julius Caesar (100 B.C.E. – 44 B.C.E.) was a Roman politician and general, considered by many historians to be one of history’s greatest military commanders. His name may forever be associated with Cleopatra, but his skills as a military leader played a key role in the rise of the Roman Empire and his success is testament to his belief that experience is the teacher of all things.

By 52 B.C.E., Julius Caesar had all but conquered Gaul, but the Gallic tribes were bitter and rebellious. They united under a new leader, Vercingetorix, and an uprising against Roman rule led to around 60,000 Gauls gathering to defend the fortified hilltop town of Alesia in what would become known as the Battle of Alesia.

The Battle of Alesia

With Vercingetorix and his tribesmen barricaded behind the walls of Alecia, Caesar chose to starve him into surrender, a tactic he had successfully used before. Under his orders, Roman soldiers began building a 12-foot (3.6 m) high timber and earthen wall that would become 11 miles (18 km) long, circling the town and thereby preventing anyone from getting out or any supplies from getting in. Progress was hampered by repeated raids from the enclosed Gauls who raged against the building works, and several riders did eventually manage to break through before the wall was completed. Caesar assumed, correctly, that the escaped riders had been sent to summon help so, once again using his years of battle experience, he ordered his men to begin building a second wall behind them. The outer wall became 14 miles (22.5 km) long and the Roman camps were enclosed between it and the inner wall. Deep trenches, one filled with river water, and sharpened stakes protruding from the ground provided further defences.

Gaul Reinforcements

Food was running out in Alesia, forcing Vercingetorix to send women and children out of the fortress gates so that more food would be available for the fighting men. He mistakenly believed that the Romans would let them through, but Caesar refused and they remained trapped between the walls of Alesia and the inner Roman wall where they slowly starved.

As predicted, Gaul reinforcements arrived. They attacked the outer Roman wall while Vercingetorix and his men attacked the inner wall. The Romans held off these attacks, but more attacks followed the next day. A weak spot was found in the outer wall and the Gauls took advantage of it, again attacking the outer and inner walls simultaneously. Caesar realized the attack on the outer wall’s weak spot would be difficult to hold off so he ordered reinforcements into the area, sending infantry out through the inner wall to fight Vercingetorix’s men at the same time. However, this had little effect and the Roman lines were close to collapsing.

Leading from the Front

With the Roman lines on the verge of breaking, Caesar led 6,000 of his cavalry out through the outer wall and rode around to attack the Gauls from the rear. The sight of their leader among them galvanized the troops and they fought on, forcing the Gauls to flee.

Caesar’s years of experience and success as a military leader had earned him the admiration and loyalty of his troops. He led from the front and he often fought alongside his men on the ground. He learned how to be a great leader by first learning how to be a great soldier. He experienced the hard-working life of being a soldier by eating, living, marching and bleeding shoulder to shoulder with the legions, and his desire to learn saw him on the ground in the front line of battles. In short, Caesar’s experience of being in the trenches taught him the art of war and everything he needed to know to be a successful leader – experience is the teacher of all things.

Personal Connections

It’s documented that Caesar knew each of his men by name. This personal connection is something that can all too easily become lost in today’s busy workplaces. If you are a business leader, take a moment to consider whether your experiences have taught you the art of your “trade” and if you have the personal connections you need to inspire the confidence and loyalty of those around you.

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Melinda Gates: Global Impact

“What great changes have not been ambitious?”

Melinda Gates is a business leader and philanthropist, and co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation alongside her husband Bill Gates. Today, they are the richest couple in the world, but Melinda did not come from a privileged background. She has seen great changes in her life and the ambition that drove her in her education and career now drives her great ambitions in philanthropy.

Melinda’s father worked as an aerospace engineer in Dallas, Texas and her mother was a stay-at-home mom who came to regret not going to college. For this reason, her parents encouraged her and her three siblings to focus on their studies, saying, “No matter what college you get into, we will pay for it.” Melissa’s father created a side-line source of income in rental properties, and everyone in the family, including Melissa, helped to run and maintain the business by doing whatever jobs were required every weekend.

Daily Goal

When Melissa was 14, her father bought an early Apple computer to help with the family rental business and she took to it straight away, learning BASIC and then teaching her friends the programming language during school vacations. At Ursuline, the all-girls Catholic high school she attended, the motto is Serviam, translating from Latin as “I will serve” and the students are expected to get involved in volunteer projects, but Melissa was something of an all-round star pupil. Her former math and computer science teacher has said of her, “Every day she had a goal; the goals were run a mile, learn a new word, that sort of thing, but her ambition was never abrasive. Never. She was always lovely and charming, and she would win people over by being persuasive.”

It was during her Freshman year that Melissa discovered only the top two students from Ursuline had earned places in elite schools. She says, “I realized that the only way to get into a good college was to be valedictorian or salutatorian. So that was my goal.” She achieved her valedictorian goal, and her valedictory speech perhaps gave an indication of the philanthropist she would become: “If you are successful, it is because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a life or an idea that started you in the right direction. Remember also that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person, just as you were helped.”

Career Ambition

She achieved her ambition of earning a place at Notre Dame University. However, a visit to Notre Dame with her father led to disappointment as officials informed them the university was shrinking its computer science department, saying, “computers are a fad” – this was 1982! She chose to attend Duke University instead where she earned her BA, going on to achieve an MBA and then joining Microsoft in 1987. She was the youngest and the only female recruit in a batch of ten MBA’s, but her ambition saw her rise to the position of general manager of information products within nine years before making the decision to leave the company and concentrate on family life – having married the company CEO.

Impatient Optimist

But Melinda’s “goal a day” ambition didn’t stop there. Shortly after their wedding, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was born. Describing herself as an “impatient optimist”, the Foundation’s primary goal is to improve equity in the United States and around the world, and eradicate the illnesses that cause the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of children in the developing world every year. Just over two decades later and Melinda writes in the Foundation’s annual letter: “Polio will soon be history. In our lifetimes, malaria will end. No one will die from AIDS. Few people will get TB. Children everywhere will be well nourished. And the death of a child in the developing world will be just as rare as the death of a child in the rich world.”

A huge ambition, perhaps, but what great changes have not been ambitious? As Melinda says, “Goals are only wishes unless you have a plan,” so what’s your goal for today?

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Ronald Reagan: Rekindling the Dream

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”

Ronald Reagan was President of the United States from 1981 to 1989, a role he stepped into at the age of 69, making him the oldest person to be elected into presidency at the time. Prior to his political career, he was a Hollywood actor, yet he became one of America’s favorite presidents, so what was it about this hugely popular man that allowed him to become a great leader who achieved great things by getting the people to do the greatest things?

A Likeable Fellow

Well, at his funeral in 2004, Ronald Reagan was described by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as “a cheerful and invigorating presence” and “big hearted, idealistic, daring, decent and fair” by former U.S. President George Bush. The people who worked for him described him as a humble, kind and decent man, and his ability to communicate with all people on all levels led to him becoming known as “The Great Communicator” – in short, he was a likeable fellow. Ronald himself once said, “An actor knows two important things – to be honest in what he is doing and to be in touch with the audience. That’s not bad advice for a politician either.” His greatest skill as a leader was being a leader that people wanted to follow.

An eternal optimist, Ronald Reagan had a vision of the future that he was able to communicate and share with his “audience”, not only getting everyone to see his dream, but getting everyone to feel inspired and excited about being a part of achieving it. In this sense, the message was heard because of the messenger conveying it, demonstrating his belief that, “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”

 A Human Being

 A great leader recognizes their strengths and their weaknesses. He may have been President, but Ronald Reagan remained a human being. Throughout his years in the White House, he never allowed ego to stand in the way of changing policies that were not working; he admitted mistakes, learned, and moved forward. He never failed to be gracious or to treat everyone he met with respect, treating waitresses at dinners in the same way as the dignitaries around the table.

It was his humor and humility that took him into the hearts of the American people and many others around the world. At his funeral, former President George Bush told a story of Ronald Reagan’s recovery after an assassination attempt in 1981 that captured his character beautifully: “Days after being shot, weak from wounds, he spilled water from a sink, and entering the hospital room aides saw him on his hands and knees wiping water from the floor. He worried that his nurse would get in trouble. The Good Book says humility goes before honor, and our friend had both, and who could not cherish such a man?”

An Honest Man

 He was often accused of not working hard enough as President, but Ronald Reagan understood the importance of creating a balance in life, and the importance of delegation. He knew that the contributions of a strong team would always be more effective than attempting to micromanage everything himself, and he knew that talented people needed freedom in their work to remain motivated and inspired to do it to the best of their ability. He didn’t want robotic people around him acting only on instructions, he wanted motivated individuals who would remain positively inspired to achieve the greatest things.

In response to the accusations, he used his trademark humor, saying, “It’s true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?” and he once famously quipped, “I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency, even if I’m in a cabinet meeting.” These responses demonstrate his tremendous strength of character and confirm that even as the U.S. President, Ronald Reagan did not take himself too seriously. He firmly believed that the greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things, and his success is proof positive.

Take a moment today to consider whether your dream for your company or organization is a dream that is shared by everyone in the team, and then take a leaf out of “The Great Communicator’s” book by ensuring that the things you do and the things you say are inspiring those around you to do the greatest things to achieve that dream. Are you a leader that people want to follow?

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Hillary Clinton: Breaking Barriers

Hillary Clinton Quotes

Hillary Clinton was the First Lady of the United States from 1993 to 2001 but there have been many more firsts in this famous First Lady’s life that have perhaps been overshadowed by events in her political career.

Born in 1947, Hillary has been known to say that the unusual spelling of her name is down to her mother naming her after mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary. Sir Edmund and Tenzing Norgay made history when they became the first men to scale Mount Everest, but, as this event took place in 1953, it suggests that this was not the case. In fact, it has since been suggested that the Everest-conquering namesake version of events became a family story created by her mother to inspire greatness in her young daughter – and it would appear to have had great effect.

High Aspirations

During her school days, Hillary was greatly inspired by NASA and the Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. At around the age of fourteen, she wrote a letter to NASA to ask what she would need to do to become an astronaut – an indication that her mother’s story had indeed inspired her to achieve great things – but the reply she received informed her that women were not accepted on the training program. In high school, Hillary was class vice president in her junior year but lost her battle against two boys for class presidency in her senior year. At the time, one of the boys said to her, “You are really stupid if you think a girl can be elected president”. This was back in the 60s, but it seems that these happenings sparked her on-going drive to tackle gender inequality and her belief that staying positive and optimistic is the key to knocking down barriers and getting to wherever you want to go in life… “There is a sense that things, if you keep positive and optimistic about what can be done, do work out.”

In today’s world, it’s hard to imagine that speaking up for women’s rights was considered controversial when Hillary Clinton made her famous “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights” speech as First Lady of the United States at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, but her words are considered to have been key in terms of empowering women. However, it was another speech given in 1969 that began Hillary’s string of firsts. As a student at Wellesley College, she became the first student ever to give a speech during commencement festivities; a speech that earned her a seven-minute standing ovation. She then graduated from Yale Law School in 1973, one of only 27 females in a class of 235, and became the only female on the President Nixon impeachment investigation team. In 1975, Hillary moved to Arkansas where she join the Rose Law Firm. By 1978, she had co-founded Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and been appointed chair of the Legal Service Corporation, the first female to hold the position, and then in 1979, she became the Rose Law Firm’s first female partner.

High Expectations

Hillary’s string of firsts didn’t end there. In 1986, she was the first female to join Wal-Mart’s board of directors, and in 1987, she became the first chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession. In 2001, Hillary was sworn in as U.S. Senator from New York, the first female to hold this position, also making her the first ever female to be elected into office after serving as First Lady.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s dream of breaking through “that highest, hardest glass ceiling” to become the first female U.S. president may have been dashed, but her achievements continue to inspire women around the globe. Back in 1969 when she gave her speech at Wellesley College, Hillary said, The question about possible and impossible was one that we brought with us to Wellesley four years ago. We arrived not yet knowing what was not possible. Consequently, we expected a lot… We arrived at Wellesley and we found, as all of us have found, that there was a gap between expectation and realities. But it wasn’t a discouraging gap and it didn’t turn us into cynical, bitter old women at the age of 18.” She has maintained throughout her life a sense that things, if you keep positive and optimistic about what can be done, do work out.

We all face challenges in life and all of us, at times, question what’s possible, but something we can all learn from Hillary’s achievements is that it’s only by remaining positive and optimistic that we can make change happen and make the seemingly impossible possible. In her words, “You have just one life to live. It is yours. Own it, claim it, live it, do the best you can with it.”

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Marissa Mayer: Creating Impact at Yahoo

Marissa Mayer Quotes

Marissa Mayer became CEO of Yahoo in 2012, a post she stepped into after thirteen years at Google where she had been one of the company’s earliest employees and the first female engineer. On arrival at Yahoo, she became the youngest woman ever to lead a Fortune 500 company, and while her success in this post is up for debate, there can be no denying that Marissa is someone who’s not afraid to step up to a challenge, or in her words, “I always did something I was a little a little not ready to do.”

Growing up, Marissa describes herself as “painfully shy”, yet she pushed through this to become captain of her high school debate team, Spanish club, and pom-pom squad, alongside taking part in a wide range of extracurricular activities including ballet and piano lessons. Perhaps overcoming her natural shyness taught her how to do what she was “a little not ready to do” but she says, “I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough. Sometimes that’s a sign that something really good is about to happen. You’re about to grow and learn a lot about yourself.”

Being in the Room

Marissa graduated from Stanford University with degrees in symbolic systems and computer science. She had intended to major in paediatric neuroscience but switched to symbolic systems – a combined study of computer science, philosophy, linguistics and psychology – which she describes as “studying the brain without the gore.” After graduation, she had any number of job options open to her but chose to sign up with Google because she felt the company offered greater opportunities to be a part of the decision-making process. She explains her choice by saying, I also interviewed at McKinsey, which is a great company, but I had some friends who went there, and they said, ‘Well, we give the presentations, and then we leave the room, and the executives make the decisions’ … I just felt like at Google I could be in the room. Even if you fail, you learn so much by being where the decision is made.”

When Marissa joined Yahoo, the company was struggling, and the first thing she wanted to do was change the culture. She wanted the people working there to feel valued, and she wanted to attract new recruits who would feel excited about joining the company, so she spent the first few weeks listening to people and building a picture of what could be done to generate a sense of pride in the workplace. She says, “One of the things that make people proud to work somewhere is having insights into how decisions are made.”

Go Time

Marissa made herself available to talk to people in the cafeteria every day, and she remembers on one occasion soon after her arrival, an employee approached her and asked, “Is it go time?” Having only been there for a few days, she made it clear she wanted him to stay and give her a chance, but he then let her know she’d misunderstood him; when he said “go”, he meant it as in getting to work. He explained that he was frustrated by the amount of time it took for management to make decisions, saying he had ideas he wanted to put forward.

This was exactly the attitude she was looking for and she opened up a weekly forum to encourage all employees to put forward their ideas which were then shared with the board, helping to demystify management decisions and create transparency across the company in the process. While at Google, Marissa learned from personal experience that being “in the room” and being a part of the decision-making process helped to generate a sense of trust between employees and the board which, in turn, helped a sense of pride to develop. Her leadership style and the decisions she has made have been criticized by many but she has her own way of dealing with this, saying, “One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten is there are always a lot of good choices, and then there’s the one you pick, commit to, and make great.”

As of this writing, Yahoo has been sold to Verizon and Marissa will not be a part of the future rebranded company called “Oath” (merging the capabilities of Yahoo and AOL). While Marissa’s future is uncertain, a leader as bold and innovative as Marissa is sure to find her way. We all have moments at work and in life when we feel a little not ready, but just remember, it’s pushing through those moments that helps you to grow – and it could be a sign that something really good is about to happen!

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AttaCoin

It’s not often that people get to do what they truly love. At LQD, we love nothing more seeking out inspirational stories in history and in current events so that we can help motivate our readers. It’s for this reason that we’d like to thank AttaCoin for generously sponsoring this blog.

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