The USA holiday of Thanksgiving carries a special meaning in our family as many years ago it marked the exact day we started our immigrant journey to the United States. From a small town south of Rome, to Zurich, and then on to Cleveland, my youth was brimming with dramatic cultural changes.
Our USA trip was arduous from the start as my family was literally lost in New York. On arrival by cruise ship, traveling with an uncle who we thought spoke English; we were taken to the wrong train station. For the planned train journey to Cleveland, instead of Grand Central, we were dropped off at the nearest New York subway station.
Late into the night of a long day, we made it to Grand Central and boarded what looked like a very old train. The ride was very uncomfortable as the floorboard was very hot. Somewhere in Pennsylvania, the train broke down and in the middle of nowhere we were transferred to another train. On arrival in Cleveland, I still remember my face against the car window and being surprised that money does not grow on trees in America.
The first year required my father finding a job, being immersed in a classroom where I did not understand the language, trying new foods such as turkey (on my first day in America), and struggling to make new friends in a foreign land.
By the second year, I quickly discovered that shaping your own future requires aggressive personal initiative. As a pre-teen, my first job was singing "naughty" Italian songs at family and friends parties while my cousin passed around a hat collecting donations. I failed miserably at my second job of delivering newspapers.
In junior high school discovered that you could get paid for side jobs working in the bookstore and running the projection department. With encouragement from the teachers, started getting involved and leading multiple school clubs, a tradition which continued in high school.
By age 15, I had my first real job working in a local Cleveland supermarket. Started as a bagging clerk, but then quickly had an insatiable urge to learn all the aspects of working in a retail store. Throughout high school and while completing two university degrees, I was the very eager back up to all positions inside the supermarket and ended up temporarily running produce, dairy, night crew, and carrying the store keys to check refrigeration on Sunday.
While working full time and attending college, I started getting involved in church and neighborhood organizations. These activities led to multiple other leadership positions. Still remember the thrill of being the youngest speaker in the room delivering growth motivational messages. Greatly enjoyed organizing neighborhood events, celebrating and rewarding success, and as a priority putting people first.
I am thankful for the following five leadership lessons from those early difficult years that continue to shape my life today:
A Change Advocate
My father had a difficult life in America. At middle age, the culture differences between his life in Switzerland / Italy and the United States were literally oceans apart.
The constant change in my early life was an asset for quickly adapting to new skills. "Change is inevitable. Change is constant." Advocating focused change was a key part of the formula for personal and professional growth.
Insatiable Search for New Ideas
A passion that I discovered early in my life was the insatiable search for new ideas. This skill is especially critical today. Knowledge is power, today more than ever.
New Technology is Your Friend
Early in my career, I linked new technologies to professional growth. Technology is the spark of my current personal tagline 'global visionary connector of ideas and people for profitable business growth'.
Success has always been a social activity. From publicly branding your own value, to becoming indispensable at work, to crafting your own personalized life's success journey, new technologies allow you to be master of your destiny.
Setting Goals that Turn Dreams into Realities
Waiting for the future to magically reveal success has never been an option in my life. The clear dreams of what I wanted to achieve evolved into personal and professional goals with a deadline.
"Dreaming means 'rehearsing' what you see, playing it over and over in your mind until it becomes as real as your life right now." Key is translating those dreams into actionable life milestones. It is true that what you intensively focus on, consciously and unconsciously, you will achieve.
Putting People First
I discovered early that leadership is a team sport. Think 'confident humility'. The authors of this term called it the 'Untold Secret of Great Leaders' and they are correct. From my point of view, the balance between confidence and humility is achieved by putting people first.
The road to success starts with a few simple steps. Be a change advocate, have an insatiable appetite for new ideas, embrace new technologies, turn your dream in goals with deadlines, and always put people first. Enjoy the ride towards the bright future that lies just beyond the mountains on the horizon.