I immigrated from Nairobi Kenya in the early 90’s and came to America as a kijana, a young man at the age of 18 to start a new life filled with happiness.

I started a small business in the mid 90’s a few years after learning how to execute on the American dream I had so longed for since I was little boy, I wanted to be a business man.

In early 2000, I had the most difficult conversation with a customer that I’ve ever had to have in the course of my 30 year career.

It was with a commercial customer who owned a very large jewelery store in Atlanta owned by three South African brothers who had hired me to install a $250,000 state of the art burglary and fire system and I was the CEO of the security company.

The owner of the jewelery business called me and asked if we could meet in Midtown as he wanted to talk face-to-face.

an entry-level technician at my company had accidentally crossed a few wires against code and when he accidentally set it off one night on his way home and the police didn’t show up he was extremely upset.

It was a very quick meeting. The executive told me that he expected this not to happen again and asked me to put the proper protocols and systems in place to ensure that.

Then he said to me, “The only way our company sees that we can go forward working together is if you fire the individual who did this.”

It took me about a 1/3 of a second “o think it through.I said to him, “I can’t do that.”

I had to be able to run my own business and make my own decisions about my employees.

The executive had every ability to fire us if that’s what he felt was necessary. But it had to be my decision what the ramifications of that business transaction would be.

Not gonna lie here lol, he was surprised. His company represented about 30 percent of our total revenue at the time.

I was mentally prepared for them to fire us, but at the time, I knew that we had just enough new business coming in that we could afford a year with no profit. I also had enough saved up that, if we lost money that year, I was willing to help bridge the gap if needed. If we could weather that storm, it would be a clear indicator to our employees as to what we really value.

This conversation was one of those interesting moments when you have to decide what you’re going to stand for.

We scheduled a call the next day, and I stood my ground. Luckily, the client didn’t fire us.

I tell that story because modern society’s definition of a “smart business decision” is disproportionately predicated on analytics. Business leaders tend to find safety in the “black-and-white.” They find safety in the academics, math, hard data, and what looks good on spreadsheets.

It’s harder to gauge the 30-, 60-, 90-, 365 day effectiveness of empathy, kindness, and self-awareness in an organization, but their results will play out. When you can eliminate fear from your organization, very good things happen. If employees don’t have to spend their time trying to outmaneuver one another, trying to kill one another politically, they may actually achieve the task at hand.

My friends, I don’t know which fourteen-year-old boy in Georgia is going to invent the system to score this, but at some point, it will be mappable.

This level of common sense and human truth will play out.

In big companies especially, many decisions are predicated on ninety-day numbers. That practice comes from Wall Street and business school, where you’re being judged every quarter on performance.

It can lead to short-term behavior, even though many of us are still planning to be in business over the next five, ten, twenty, or even fifty-plus years.

Unfortunately, the bias toward short-term metrics can also make emotional intelligence a “nice to have” rather than a requirement. It creates a scenario in which a leader looks the other way when one employee makes everyone else in the office miserable, just because that employee happens to be bringing in the most revenue.

It makes people think negative behavior and a poor EQ (emotional quotient) are just side effects of being “good at business.”

“The business world I entered in the late nineties put the black-and-white on a pedestal. At that time, it wasn’t recognized that soft skills could be the key to building a successful company. I don’t recall hearing these traits being emphasized in the mainstream business community. Business was “dog-eat-dog,” an endeavor where “only the strong survive.”

Ironically, I also believe that only the strong survive. I just believe that leaning into your humanity is the actual strength that will help you survive and flourish. Not yelling at someone else in a conference room. Not being a tough negotiator with aggressive words. To this day, I think the strongest person is someone who’s able to deploy kindness in the face of the opposite.

I will describe the dirty dozen and maybe the half of one other leadership ingredients through my speeches this year (we’ll get to what the half means later) these are some of the traits that have led to my success and happiness over the years, in addition to others that I’ve observed and admired: gratitude, self-awareness, accountability, optimism, empathy, kindness, tenacity, curiosity, patience, conviction, humility, and ambition.

The black-and-white is still wildly important, but in my opinion, it’s a distant second to mastering soft skills.

I couldn’t be more aware that there are fifteen to fifty other ingredients that could’ve made it into this book.

But these twelve stood out to me after seeing other leaders fall short in deploying them and how that gap made people around them feel.

Many people in conference halls, dinners, lunches, buses, and flights would tell me stories of these twelve ingredients being neglected.

One of the sad things about human nature is that negativity is louder than positivity. It’s been one of the driving forces of my life to make positivity louder.

One of the reasons I have a podcast and YouTube channel, a Twitter and LinkedIn presence, a future book I want to write, is to cheer for these traits and put a spotlight on them in business.

My greatest challenge has been extracting these ingredients and articulating them.

They’re not tangible.

They can’t be tracked or measured on a spreadsheet.

This speech is cathartic (word of the day) for me because it allows me to do what I can’t on social media, given the fragmentation of my communication style.

I think humility is one of the biggest reasons for my success, yet if you watch a one-minute video of me pontificating with uncanny conviction around an opportunity within a TikTok environment, you might say, “Bloody hell this know-it-all.” As you’ll find, you can be humble and curious but also have conviction in your beliefs. It’s not either-or.

Over the next few months, you’ll see me combine these twelve ingredients into complete “meals” and show you how they can be used together when you face different challenges in business.

For example, accountability and conviction are often seen as opposites to empathy and kindness; they’re traits that have more “teeth.” Traits like humility and conviction, ambition and patience, and gratitude and accountability might also be interpreted as opposites.

My speeches will help you understand how many ingredients that might seem like opposites actually work together.

Developing these leadership ingredients individually is the starting point, but knowing how to cook the meal is the real takeaway.

Even if you have all the ingredients in a solid place naturally or you were lucky enough to have learned some of them by experience, you still have to know how to use them together.

You still need to be the “chef” who “cooks” them.

There’s a time and a place for chicken tikka masala, but I wouldn’t serve chicken tikka masala if I were planning a meal for twenty-five strict vegetarians. Every dish you make needs to be made in the context of the situation it’s being served in. These traits have to be used in different mixtures in every business scenario. That’s all I’m ever doing.

Let’s say that you’re a store manager or a department supervisor and you’ve just hired a kid who grew up on the other side of the tracks. He or she doesn’t know the protocols for a fancy dinner with one of our merchants, and you end up losing the deal as a result. This is where you have to pull gratitude and accountability from the spice rack. I think it’s important to remember to be thankful for even having the opportunity to be a leader or to be a business owner and learn this new account. You show accountability by realizing that you’re the one who hired but failed to properly train that person. All of a sudden, everything else become secondary.

It’s impossible for many of these leadership ingredients to work with our patients at the core. If you’re baking a pie, patience is the crust. People might think ambition contradicts patience, but I think patience is the path to your ambitions.

People often don’t achieve their ambitions because of their own insecurity. In the desperation to put wings on the board so the audience claps for them, they end up taking shortcuts. It’s hard for such people to build meaningful business because they’re so focused on making $1 million and buying clothes, boats and other fancy things without having cultivated patients.

Whatever you do professionally is normally going to be something that will make up most of your life, so patience is a practical way to get your ambition. Lack of patience is a huge vulnerability, and it has led to more bad decisions than any other factor.

As a leader or manager, you also need patience as your as you watch your employees associates develop. Many of my partners and hires didn’t start out great in the role they became best at. Most important, you need to be patient with your self as you develop these leader ship ingredients. Those who think they’re running out of time get frantic and become vulnerable to bad decisions. When I was watching the Queen’s gambit on Netflix with my wife, I noticed that as the chess timer got lower and lower, players got more frantic. So I went and watched videos of the greatest chess players, and I noticed the same thing. Their body language and decision making became more frantic when time became part of the equation.

I believe the majority of people starting in building businesses do not have a good relationship with time. They misunderstand it. They’re basing their choices and low probability events, like getting hit by a bus.

They forget that they live they forget that they may live to 90 or 100 as life expectancy increases. Patient has kept me from dwelling on bad deals that I’ve made and allowed me to work in a family business when I wasn’t making the salary I could’ve been making elsewhere. It’s what is allowed me to take steps backward in the micro and macro without getting crippled my discouragement.

I think I have a lot more time to play. Whether that’s actually true or not, I feel and enormous amount of day-to-day happiness as a result of that belief.

That’s me!

What do you think? Does this story have any legs? 📚

Published by Zarir Merwanji

Empathy lives at the intersection of my family FIRST and my work space SECOND through influence, leadership, sales and technology.

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