Words of Wisdom from Gene Simmons’s Mom

4 09 2017

Flora Klein is a lovely, Hungarian woman.  She is on in years.  Born in 1927, she is ninety this year.  Jewish, she survived the death camps of the Third Reich.  To say she is quite a remarkable lady is an exercise in understatement.

As a fourteen-year-old girl, she watched her mother and grandmother go to their deaths.  Her grandmother was given the death sentence and her daughter—Flora’s mother—did not want her mother to face death alone and made the incredible decision to join her in death.  A profoundly moving example of sacrifice and selflessness in the face of evil.

Having survived the horrors of the war, she emigrated to Israel.  There, she married  a carpenter and had a son, Chaim, in 1949.  Her husband eventually left the family and left mother and son to fend for themselves.

In 1958, Flora and Chaim journeyed to America to forge a new life, as have done many Jews over the past century or more.

They settled in New York.  Chaim grew up and took his mother’s name, Klein, and exchanged his Hebrew name for Eugene, or “Gene” for short.  Gene Klein.

Gene—still “Chaim” to his mother—received all his direction, nurture, and inspiration from his mother.  It is no exaggeration to say that Gene worships the ground his mother walks on.  Not his father; his mom.  Mention her and ask him to talk about her and he tears up.

Gene was trained in rabbinic Judaism at a New York yeshiva and eventually worked as a New York City school teacher.  He was a young musician and pursued that, his mother cheering him on.  Eventually he formed a group with his friend Stanley Eisen.  He and Stanley changed their names.  Now they are known as Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.  You’ve probably figured out that Israeli-born Chaim Witz is Gene Simmons of the rock group KISS.

Gene eventually went on to superstardom in the entertainment industry.  In recent years, he’s gotten into many different business ventures—some as startups rooted in KISS®, the brand.  Others are independent enterprises.

A few years ago, when asked on the Canadian talk show The Hour (minute 11:10) where he got his inspiration to be a success in so many fields, he answered without hesitation, “My mother.”  He began to choke up as he told the audience he wished she could be a part of all their lives.

His advice:  If you want inspiration, look to your mom.  She’s his inspiration to this moment.

He spoke of the time he got his first $10,000,000.00 (yes, that much) check—a one lump sum—as a return on his work with KISS.  He brought the check to his mother, wanting her to be proud of him.  “Mom, look at this.”

She said, in her broken English, “V’wonderful (pronounced VWAHN-dare-fool).  V’wonderful…..Now what are you going to do?”

Superstardom.  A ten-million-dollar check.  “Now what are you going to do?” Are you serious?

“Precisely the point,” says Gene.  One doesn’t rest on yesterday’s accomplishments.  Tomorrow is a new day.  What will you do to better yourself?  How can you improve what you do?

This is timeless—and distinctly Jewish—advice and perspective.  How about you?  Are you going to rest on yesterday’s successes?  Or worse, are you going to give up because of yesterday’s failures and disappointments?  Or will you value the gift of life and make the most of it that is possible?

Not sure?  Ask Chaim.  Better yet, ask his mother.

 

Suggested Resources:

The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement (Steven L. Pease)

The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank)

 

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Passing the Buck or Not?

29 08 2017

President Harry S Truman was famous for many things.  A plain-spoken man.  He made the terribly weighty and controversial decision to drop two nuclear bombs on the Empire of Japan, no doubt hastening the end of World War II.

But he is perhaps best known by a little sign he kept on his desk (see image above).  He was the chief executive officer of the United States and Commander-In-Chief of our armed forces.  He made choices that affected history and lives.

“The buck stops here.”

Buck-passing is currently in vogue now and has been for some time.  But it has never served anyone who has participated in it.  President Truman used this maxim to communicate one thing: I am ultimately responsible. See the picture.

Some time ago, I heard someone say, “The moment in which you grow up is when you take complete responsibility for your life.”

Complete.Responsibility.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, owning up to my position in life.  I’ve done my share of buck-passing, blame-shifting and the like.  What I have found, however, is that as I have embraced full responsibility for my life—where things went bad, where I fell short of some objective, where life ended up being the pits—I feel strangely liberated.  Like a young man who moves out on his own for the first time and assumes the responsibility that had been his parents’.

As a leader, you will grow rapidly as you wrestle with this challenge and not permit yourself to be seduced by the siren song of the culture.  No more will you say “I can’t” about a thing when you know inside that you can.  It will just cost more.  Longer work.  More exercise.  Loss of a friendship because you tell the truth in love.

  • I am responsible for being out of shape. I chose to eat poorly and not exercise.  Now I’m trying to eat better and am exercising and weight training regularly.
  • I am responsible for my career advancement or lack of. I chose to stay in an unfulfilling job when the time came to go.  I chose not to pound the pavement and send out résumés.  I chose not to further my education in one way or another.  I spend my weeks furthering my learning, polishing my skills and gifts.  On my own time.  Without monetary pay.  There’s more than one form of remuneration, after all.
  • I am responsible for inferior relationships. I chose not to cultivate friendships or to repair those that have taken a beating in the rough and tumble of life.  I’ve recently reconnected with old classmates.  It’s an important step.

Challenge:  Take a long and honest look at your life and see if there’s a time you ducked responsibility.  Evaluate it.  And own it.  Then craft a plan to do things differently the next time you are thus challenged. You will feel empowered immediately.

 

Suggested Resources:

Where the Buck Stops: The Personal and Private Writings of Harry S Truman (Harry S & Margaret Truman)

Personal Responsibility: Why It Matters (Alexander Brown)

 

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After Me!

22 08 2017

The world was stunned on July 4, 1976 at the news of the incredible rescue of over one hundred Israeli hostages by members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at Entebbe, Uganda.

The hostages, mostly Israelis and therefore Jewish, had been traveling from Tel Aviv to Athens aboard an Air France jetliner when their plane was hijacked by terrorists.  The flight was then diverted to Uganda where the terrorists were given haven by dictator Idi Amin.

A plan was put into action immediately in Israel to bring the hostages home safely.  At the head of the team to lead this effort was a 30-year-old soldier, Lt. Col. Jonathan Netanyahu, “Yoni” to family and friends.

A mockup of the Entebbe airport was assembled in the desert based on Mossad intelligence.  The raid—dubbed “Operation Thunderbolt”—was practiced over and over and over.  The clock was ticking.  And time was not on the side of the hostages.

In the IDF, the motto for military leaders is “After me!”  Leaders are the first to lead the way into danger and put themselves in harm’s way.  It was no different for the raid at Entebbe.

The operation was a resounding military success.  The terrorists holding the Israelis were killed and all but four of the 102 hostages survived.

But there was one other casualty.  Col. Netanyahu died leading the raid.  He took fire during the rescue.  This was not wholly unexpected.  He had at other times put himself in the jaws of death to care for his men and his people.  Netanyahu’s story is eloquently recounted in the book Self-Portrait of a Hero.

It is the nature of a leader that at times he (or she) will face danger.  Will stand alone.  Will lose approval or popularity.  But a leader does this because human beings matter and the stakes are very high, even eternal.  A leader doesn’t wait to have someone point the way.  He is the beacon, the true north.  The bedrock that people can stand on.

Stand up and lead.  More people are counting on you than you can possibly imagine.

 

Suggested Resources:

Entebbe: A Defining Moment In the War On Terrorism (Iddo Netanyahu)

Follow Me: Leading from the Front (Kim Kristensen)

 

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Indifference

17 08 2017

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

(Elie Wiesel)

Suggested Resources:

Night (Elie Wiesel)

All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs (Elie Wiesel)

 

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Declare Your Independence!

4 07 2017

It is the 4th of July.  The sun is out, the weather balmy.  A holiday from work for many of us.  Naturally, our thoughts turn to independence.  Here in the United States, it is Independence Day, when we celebrate the founding of our nation.

The birth of our republic involved a declaration of colonial independence from England and King George III.  Taxation without representation was one of the catalysts.  There were others.  The history is well-known.  No need to recite here.

What does it mean to really be “independent”? (Here we are reminded of Hermie and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer striking out on their own.  “We’re IN-DE-PEND-ENT!”)

Independence might also be called “undependence” or “nondependence.”  The underlying theme is standing on one’s own, not relying on others for certain things, being personally responsible.  In many areas of our lives this is a good and healthy thing, a mark of maturity and emotional stability.  Personal responsibility is not enjoying good press but it’s still the soundest approach to life there is.

Here are some healthy declarations of independence.  You can add your own (please!):

  • I am responsible for my happiness in life or lack of it. I will not blame others if my life is not the one I’d hoped for and want.
  • I am responsible for my choices. After all, I made them.  People and situations may have influenced me, but in almost, if not all, situations where I needed to make a choice, I did not have a gun to my head.
  • I can improve my lot in life. Ultimately, I am not dependent on others.  If I don’t like my job, I can find another.
  • I don’t have to accept the biases of the broadcast and print media, of either the Left or the Right. I can—and must—do my own homework and think for myself.
  • I don’t need to be owned by the zeitgeist, with its irresponsibility and blame-shifting and constant need to be made much of. The story of Echo and Narcissus should be writ large again in our land.  Were that the case, there would, at the least, be way less selfies plastered all over the net.
  • I can handle losing the approval, even of those closest to me, if I’m being true to my values, conscience and identity. Rejection, while unpleasant, is survivable.

Questions:

  • Are you quick to take responsibility for your life—your choices, successes, failures? Or do you blame others (“you made me this way”)?
  • What areas of your life are passive—meaning you’re depending on someone else when you shouldn’t? Where have you been responsible and independent?  If you take charge of your failures, you have the right to take credit for your successes.

Suggested Resources:

The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (Jack Canfield)

Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor E. Frankl)

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (Stephen R. Covey)

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A Failure of Nerve

7 12 2015

A Failure of NerveThe book you see above this post is simply the best book on leadership that I have ever read.  Ever.

I read a lot.  A great deal of what I read devolves in some way upon leadership–autobiography, biography, leadership as art and craft, critical leadership arenas, failures of leadership and so forth.  This is a rich field as there are so many great authors and leaders.  The usual suspects: Winston Churchill, Steve Jobs, Douglas MacArthur, John Maxwell, Seth Godin, Warren Bennis and political leaders ad infinitum.  I’m sure you could assemble your own list of leaders and leadership mavens and their writings.  (Matter of fact, please load up the combox with your suggestions!)

Edwin Friedman was a rabbi and therapist who did most of his work in and around Washington, D.C. up until his death in 1996.  The strength of his work (his entire corpus comprises five volumes, two of which were published posthumously) is that leadership is ultimately a function of the leader himself/herself (hereafter his/him for the sake of brevity).

A Failure of Leadership gets at the essence of good leadership.  The focus of this book is on a leader’s self-leadership, rather than leadership techniques, punch lists, alliterations and the like.   The leader sets the tone in any environment by 1) maintaining a non-anxious presence in the midst of anxious and emotional people, whether family, congregation, business or government and 2) practicing his own inner leadership as a self-differentiated individual; that is, one who is clear about his goals, vision, purpose and values and is able to hold to them in a steady way, especially when times are tumultuous and the tendency to herd rears its head and threatens to pull him into its toxic vortex.  The self-differentiated leader is moved by reason–namely, his goals and values–rather than emotional current.

There is so much more to this book in general and Friedman’s work in particular that we will explore in future writings.  Topics such as orienting towards adventure rather than safety, focusing on personal responsibility and challenge and not simply “feeling another’s pain” (empathy).  Fodder for later posts.

Buy this book.  He wrote it during the Bush (41) and Clinton years–years in which he described our country and culture as anxious and stuck.  One can only imagine his response to our own times with the challenges of the post 9/11 world and ubiquitous social media which, at best, is a mixed blessing.

Stick around.  There’s more!

Further reading:

Friedman’s Fables

Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue

The Myth of the Shiksa and Other Essays

What Are You Going to Do with Your Life? Unpublished Writings and Diaries
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Take COMPLETE Responsibility For Your Life

23 04 2014

responsibilityThe opening chapter of Jack Canfield’s fantastic book, The Success Principles, has this challenging title: “Take 100% Responsibility For Your Life.”

 
The chapter is worth the price of the book. Easy. It is slowly but surely changing my life. The concept will radically alter your destiny if you embrace it and practice it. And great mentors talk about this as the fundamental step that will reinvent your life. Jack Canfield. Stephen R. Covey. Brian Tracy. All attest the same.

 
100% responsibility.

 
Think about it. Aside from obvious things over which we have no control (planes crashing into our house, forms of disease, tornadoes, and such), we really have the marvelous opportunity and ability to craft a life.
To do this, you must become a good swimmer. Why? Because the current of our society flows against personal responsibility. It has strong undertows of victimization, blame-shifting and an unrealistic sense of entitlement. And it has kept leaders from emerging. You must swim against it. And you are well able to do it.

 
I heard Brian Tracy once say that assuming complete responsibility for our lives is the mark of adulthood. It means being a grown-up. As kids we long for that moment. Now, we can maximize all the possibilities.

 
Here are some challenges for the coming days:

 
• Every day embrace the reality that you have the God-given ability to better your life and circumstances in some way. Viktor Frankl learned this in Hitler’s death camps. He realized that the Nazis had no power whatsoever over his thinking and inner life. Unless he gave it to them.
• Every day work to improve your skills of attention, concentration and laser-like focus for whatever task you happen to be doing. Be all there. Be fully in the moment. If it isn’t worth doing with all your being, is it worth doing at all? I did this last night as I walked for two miles in the bone-chilling cold air of winter. I embraced the frozen air and punishing wind. And became stronger because of it. I enjoyed it and improved my physical and mental life as a result.
• Write down your goals. There’s something about putting pen to paper that sets a course in motion within you towards the fulfillment of those goals. Your subconscious mind engineers reasons and plans for achieving what you’ve set as a target. Dream it, write it and be very specific. And then work your plan.

 
This is your moment. Hold nothing back.

 
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