THE GURU wears a black trouser and a black shirt — as is his style. At 43, he has a lean athletic body, not an ounce of fat anywhere, the result probably of his love of sailing, skiing and trekking in the wilderness.
And that, coupled with a ready smile and a shining shaved head, gives him the appearance of a cool regular guy. ‘I’m just an ordinary person,’ as he says, and which, in fact, he is.
But that apparent ordinariness itself may just be the secret behind Robin Sharma’s phenomenal global popularity as an expert on leadership and personality development. He has written about 10 bestselling books, including the internationally acclaimed ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’.
His Sharma Leadership International (SLI), a globally recognised leadership development firm, has clients like GE, Nike, BP, NASA, IBM, Microsoft, FedEx, KPMG, General Motors and other big names. Even at the venues of these industry giants, Sharma, the success coach, gives his presentations and seminars, donning a plain trouser and a shirt, shunning any hint of formality or pomposity. He has worked with FORTUNE 500 executives and celebrity entrepreneurs for over 10 years with exceptional results. In an independent survey, he was ranked as one of the top 10 leadership gurus in the world. His ideas on self-mastery and organisational excellence have helped millions in over 35 countries.
Robin Sharma is currently in Dubai as the invited guest of Channel 4 Radio Network to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the radio station. ‘To mark this milestone, we always wanted to do something different, that touches the lives of our listeners and guests who are partners in our success,’ said Ravi Muni, Group Head, Finance & Audit of Channel 4 Radio Network, which belongs to Al Murad Group and was the first English radio station in the UAE. ‘We thought what could be more apt than having Robin Sharma, who is teaching millions how to be successful, to celebrate our own success.’
The famed mentor will speak on the success practices of the world’s best performers to invited guests at the Channel 4 programme on October 23 at Park Hyatt Hotel. Of Indian origin, Robin Sharma, who grew up in a small town in Canada, spoke with City Times about his success philosophy.
Just what is the secret of your boundless enthusiasm?
I love what I do. I think the secret of passion is purpose. And if you look at anyone who is successful in business and in life, they have found something that moves them. Not at an intellectual level but at an emotional level. And that’s passion.
So, you are one of the lucky ones to find work that you love…
I think we all are lucky. Even if you are a manager in a corporation or driving a taxicab, we all have the opportunity to find meaning in our work, the opportunity to make it different. Most of us are being too busy being busy that we forget about the value we could add in the contribution we can make to the work we’re doing right now.
According to your teaching, can anyone change his or her own life?
Absolutely. That’s one of my most prized values that there are no extra people on the planet. And every single one of us has greatness within us. We all can show leadership, excellence and can derive great joy and inner peace by doing the right things.
What is the most debilitating thing you have seen that holds most people back?
I’d say it is doubt and behind it one single emotion: fear. And if you fight for your excuses in life, you get to own them. And no great business and no great life has been built on a foundation of excuses. The point is: most of us are afraid to change. Most of us are afraid to realise we have amazing potential. It actually scares us, because with that great potential comes responsibility.
And does your philosophy apply to anyone, irrespective of their present position in life, whether a waiter or an executive?
Absolutely. I’ve a simple philosophy: lead without title, grow where you are planted, be great within your circle of leadership, whether you are a waiter or a taxi driver or a general manager. We all have a circle of leadership or a certain area that we can influence in, shine within, be excellent within, be enthusiastic within. And the funny thing is, the waiter who is great within his circle of leadership actually gets to expand that leadership and eventually can start living his dreams.
My books are published by Harper Collins, whose worldwide CEO started as a secretary. But she was a brilliant secretary. And that led her to the next position and the next and the next. We forget these things. What we do is say, ‘I’ll be excellent and change when I become a manager in this company.’ But that’s missing the point. The point is, be excellent as a mailroom clerk or be excellent as a secretary… whatever.
What about simple uneducated people, like labourers, can they change their lives? And what are the things they could do to achieve that?
Why not? First of all, we become who we drink coffee with. So if you drink coffee with mediocre people you’ll become mediocre. If you drink coffee with people whose life you want to live, you’ll become part of their conversation. You’ll start thinking like them. Their stardust must rub off on you, even at an invisible level.
And how do you build a great career and great life? One day at a time. There’s a very simple formula: small daily improvements over time lead to stunning results. It’s the daily improvements that most people don’t do but could do that over a time amount to greatness or mediocrity.
How crucial is goal setting in this process?
It’s mission critical. Most people spend more time planning the summer vacation than they do planning their careers and lives. Most people have what I call the ‘lottery mentality’. They think that if they do the same things every day, five years from now somehow they are going to win the jackpot, they are going to find success at work, true love, great health, a great life. How do you get to greatness professionally and personally? You plan it. Clarity precedes mastery.
Can you give a simple example of how to plan?
Take a sheet of paper and write about how you want to be remembered when you’re no longer here. In other words, your philosophy. Then write the 5 things that need to happen between now and your deathbed for you to feel your life is successful. Then bring that back. Write down your 1 year goals, 90 days goals and 30 days goals. Every morning take 40 minutes and review these goals. And pretty soon, you will start achieving your goals. Goals give you hope. Goals also give you inspiration, energy and momentum. I constantly write my goals. I take pictures and glue them into my journals, to make me see my goals vividly. That centers me.
According to you, what is the biggest challenge business people face in Dubai?
I think in Dubai one of the biggest challenges business people face is that they get caught up in the noise. And it’s easy to spend the whole life getting caught up in the noise rather than reflecting on what is most important. There are priorities. And how many people get up every morning and actually intentionally focus on these priorities. Not many.
What is your advice for people in Dubai who have no time or inclination to do these things?
I’d say we all are blessed with 24 hours in a day. The greatest leaders in business and in life actually find time to think. Even if it’s 60 minute while the rest of the world sleeps. They find time to write in their journals, to review their goals professionally and personally, to read. We all can find sixty minutes in a day. But most people get seduced into being busy being busy. And that’s where the discipline of leadership comes in. Pull back from the noise. I suggest get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and spend sixty minutes. Make that your Holy Hour. And the paradox is: that’s not a waste of time. This will make you so much more productive at work, more successful, happier and healthier. It will make you more money.
The essence of your teaching is: we all can change our lives, we can shape our destiny etc. But what about one incontrovertible element: luck. You may do everything correctly, but if you don’t have luck, success will elude you. Do you agree and what have you to say about it?
This question is so profound and exciting to me because I have spent hours and hours on this question. I’ll answer it in one line. I believe that human beings have enormous personal power, abilities and potential to create the lives they want. But that’s not everything and that’s your point.
And I summarise my life and this is just the philosophy I live by: do your best and then let life do the rest. So, just because we may not have total control over the way our lives are going to unfold, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our part: being excellent, setting goals, reading, being loving people etc. But once we have done that, then wherever life leads us that’s when you say, ‘Let go, let life.’
Can you tell us about your new book, The Greatness Guide?
Most people know me for The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. The Greatness Guide is a practical book, with 101 lessons telling people how to be more successful at work and in life. In the book my whole message is: you can create a world-class life and career and business by starting today. And anyone can get to those things by small daily improvements which over time give fantastic results.
How can normal people inject passion into whatever they are doing?
To quote Oliver Wendell Holmes, ‘Any calling can become great when greatly pursued.’ For instance, a chef in a restaurant has a choice. He can say, ‘All I am making is food,’ or he can say, ‘Through my work I get to create delicious meals which create unforgettable memories for people.’ So, it’s all how you approach your work, approach your life.
What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership is not about title. It’s not about where you sit. It’s about what you do. Leadership is a way of being, it is a philosophy. Taxi drivers can show leadership, teachers can show leadership, students can show it. Because leadership is simply an attitude and behaviour. The hallmark of leadership is lead by example. High level of integrity, finish what you start, commit to daily never-ending improvement, commit to being the best in the world in what you do, keep your promises, innovate where you are. But remember, there can be no greatness without integrity.
What has your own success taught you?
Humility. Nothing sells like success. The day I start believing our press releases, the day I fall in love with myself and what people tell at my book signings, I’m in trouble. So, success has taught me that the more successful one becomes the more humble should one become. The more I learn the more I realise I have to learn a lot more.
What you teach has been told, in essence, since millenniums, by scores of inspirational coaches and gurus. Why do you think you are so successful?
The principles of leadership, greatness and fulfilling life have been the same for five thousands years. I’m not going to set about trying to change that. As for my success, it’s probably that people see me as an ordinary person. They can relate to me. They read the books and they hear the speeches and say, ‘Well, if he can do it, I can do it.’ Secondly, I think my message is really relevant. So, people say, ‘He’s not saying I can’t have a Ferrari. He’s not saying I can’t have a nice meal and make lots of money. He’s actually saying if I can do these things, I can have that but there is another piece that needs to be attended to as well. Thirdly, my message is so simple. Fourthly, the books are entertaining, they’re full of anecdotes, stories. So people have fun while reading them. And having fun is a crucial part. It’s really important, as you build greatness in your career and in your life, to make time for fun everyday.
What give you the greatest satisfaction?
The greatest satisfaction is I was not born into this. The greatest satisfaction is I am small town kid who got lost along the way, who discovered the ideas that I now share, apply them in my whole life and get to do what I get to do. I am not different than anyone else.
How do you recharge your batteries?I am a great believer in massage. Secondly, I make time for silence every day. You sit in silence for 20 minutes and go deep, and it is very renewing. I recharge myself by reading great books, on leadership, on travel, on design, travel, art. I am very lucky I spend time with fascinating people. Their stardust rubs off on me. I exercise. What is the point of being the richest person in a graveyard? And I must journaling. I write in my journal every day. There are few things as powerful as recording your life journey, your insights, your learnings, feelings.
Barring financial problems, purely on a human level, can any business, even a small one, turn itself around? Of course. And it can start with a single person, with a single staff. How was the Taj Mahal built? One block at a time. A company that is in trouble through small daily improvements over time can end up in a whole different place. Ultimately, you can change your life with one idea. You can change your life with one meeting with a person who says something that revolutionises the way you see the world. So, if a company gets one idea, maybe it is planning, maybe it is treating people with respect, maybe creating a value for customers rather than thinking of getting their money.
Robin Sharma’s definition of success…
Success means being comfortable in your own skin, living life on your own terms, achieving balance in being successful in your career and successful in your world. There is great pride in achieving, but that is not all of it. Success is also being successful as a human being.
What Robin Sharma really wants people to know…
I’m the most ordinary man. I grew up in a town of 2000 people. I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth. I read voraciously. I’m curious about life. I’m always learning. Sometimes I write 25 pages in my journal in one day. I’m a student of leadership and of life and, with that awareness, I can do what I do. I have many weaknesses that I am trying to improve each day. I have many doubts, many fears…
Life wants us to win. We just have to get out of our own way. Everyone has just as much creativity as Salvadore Dali or Picasso. I truly believe that. You may think I have a special creative gift. I don’t. I have just tapped into the well spring of creativity that resides in every single one of us. And one of the ways I learnt to get to that creativity is to be silent and to go into wilderness and to make time for silence.