Every Human Has a Story: 3 Steps to Effectively Lead via Soft Skills

As aspiring leaders in our modern World, it is vital that we understand the importance of mastering the necessary social (soft) skills in order to reach our following. Many people think the idea of having soft skills means simply the ability to communicate effectively. While this is certainly a piece in the overall content of soft skills, it doesn’t stop there. It is important that aspiring leaders understand the importance of factoring in human emotion as well. Using a metaphor, the fact of the matter is, behind each person is a story wanting to be read. We as effective leaders must become the readers of each individuals story. Unfortunately, here is where a large portion fail within their various leadership roles. A vast majority of people (especially in the corporate world) refuse to recognize each individuals story. Therefore, they portray a cold, selfish personality based solely on production and adhering to financial demands. However, most may say that this is simply being a “good business person.” While this may be true, it is only one half of the big picture. Even though leadership based solely on financial terms may bring one physical riches and personal accolades, it is likely to lead to internal poverty and lack of fulfillment. Taking the time to tap into each each person’s story will surly do wonders in one’s quest for effective, impactful leadership. The devils advocate may say something like: “Well, I just do not have the time to learn about each person’s life story, I have a job to do and that is to produce results!” While, this is surly most people’s mindset, it should be noted that it’s often not necessary to read one’s full story, often just a chapter or two is enough to prove your intentions and earn respect. The key here is to take the necessary time to scan their story and find the “touchy subjects” (chapters) specific to each individual. The reality is, we all have a past and we all have our dark moments that live within us in some way or another. These moments effect our mood, behavior, personality & actions (or lack thereof). That being said, it is our job as effective leaders to discover these “touchy subjects” and use them to earn respect and enhance our quality of leadership. This process in involves 3 Steps:

1) Be Vulnerable to Receive Vulnerable

Just like their name implies, “touchy subjects” are difficult to get one to admit or be open to talking about. Therefore, aspiring leaders need to be willing to share their own vulnerabilities to their following. Understand that this creates an atmosphere of acceptance and openness. When we are able to talk about or admit to our past downfalls, it opens the door of comfort for others to show us theirs as well.

2) Relate

Once we are able to tap into a “touchy subject”, it is important to use that scenario and relate it to our own experiences and express it to the said individual. If this isn’t possible, we must then be able show our respect and admiration for their courage and handling of said situation. At the end of the day, human beings find comfort in knowing that they are not alone in terms of experiencing struggle and dealing with pain. The power of relating to/appreciating the handling of other’s difficult experiences can play a huge role in earning respect and building a strong connection with each individual.

3) Use the Power of Earned Respect to Inspire

Now that we have tapped into the “touchy subject” and related it to our own life, it is time to use the power of earned respect. Steps one and two have allowed us to achieve this. After we have the respect of each individual, we are then in position to achieve greatness both in terms of business ventures and overall fulfillment. Now that we have connected with these people on a personal level and earned their respect, they are way more likely to go that extra mile in an effort to not let us and the overall group down.

Each person is a story wanting to be read. Understanding this can be a breakthrough for those looking to effectively lead in 2020 and beyond. In the modern World, personal leadership is a stepping stone towards effective leadership. We all have a story filled with “touchy subjects”. Rather than setting them aside and ignoring them based on time and production demands, let’s choose to open the books behind each individual. Whether we realize it or not, the key to earning respect lies within their pages.

The Invisible Battle: 3 Steps to Succeed in Leadership While Battling Mental Illness

The topic of mental illness is one that makes most cringe and seek to change the subject. Unlike a normal physical injury, mental illnesses have a history of being seen as a sign weakness or looked at in a shameful manner. One who suffers from anxiety, depression or a/multiple forms of OCD understands the complications of trying to explain to others just how draining it truly is. The reason for this is because mental illness, unlike physical, does not come with a wound, bruise or scar visible to the outside world. Therefore, when a victim tries to explain their symptoms, they may be thought of as crazy, weak minded, or simply feeling sorry for themselves. Thankfully, the outlook on mental illness has been drastically changing during the better part of the last decade. More and more people are confessing to their struggles with it than ever before. This is because the idea of being mentally ill is becoming less and less of an embarrassment and touchy subject due to the vast number people who claim to be affected in one way or another. That being said, the amount of people who are suffering doesn’t seem to be decreasing any time soon. It is becoming more and more of a trend to see prominent, accomplished individuals confess to their mental struggles. This begs the question: Is it possible to succeed in a leadership role while dealing with a mental illness? The fact of the matter is, succeeding in any leadership role is enough of a challenge by itself. Those who do not suffer from a form of mental illness still face two daunting battles in route to successful leadership:

1) Effectively leading oneself
2) Effectively leading other individuals

In order to become an effective “self-leader”, one must first embrace the concept of to sacrificing short-term pleasures for long-term success. On top of that one must commit to personal development and find the motivation within to acquire a goal-oriented mindset. This process is hard enough for one with a healthy functioning brain. Once they have succeeded in self-leadership, one must be able to develop the necessary social skills and character traits in order to connect with, inspire and earn the respect of each individual within their following. Only then have they put themselves in position to truly succeed in a leadership role. When one is lucky, the battle stops there. However, many face a 3rd, even more grueling challenge. The battle of mental illness. While this battle thankfully isn’t fought by everyone. It is certainly coming into play for more and more individuals. One might argue that the battle of mental illness is related to the first battle (effectively leading oneself). However, when you really break it down, it is clear that they are two totally separate entities.

As touched on before, the battle of effectively leading oneself, deals with personal development and a commitment to a greater cause based on a strong personal foundation and motivation-driven goals. This battle takes on the assumption that mental illness is a non-factor throughout the self-development process. Understanding that, this means those who suffer from mental illness have double the struggle. They must find a way to effectively lead themselves while also fighting the even greater, invisible battle within their own mind. Those who have suffered from a form of mental illness understand the difference between these two battles. The bottom line is, self-development and battling mental illness are not the same struggle.

With that being said, back to the original question. How does one successfully lead while at the same time battling mental illness? Some might argue that this simply isn’t possible. Some may say that the weight of the illness along with the pressure to develop yourself and inspire others is simply to much to handle all at once. Most would likely say that the battle of mental illness must be won first before a person can thrive within a leadership role. While this may be the case for a lot of people. I believe there is a way to put oneself in the best position to lead effectively despite having the burden of a mental illness. Here are the steps:

1) Own It

All too often people feel the need and pressure to hide their symptoms and take on the “Be a man” mentality. The idea of constantly trying to be be invulnerable has been proven to be ineffective and a cause for more internal destruction. There is nothing wrong with admitting to your followers that you are fighting this invisible battle. More likely than not, a number on them are fighting just like you. This admission also creates an opportunity for open discussion about mental illness and creates a family oriented atmosphere of trust, respect and and personal connection. These are all factors essential for effective, impactful and legacy-leaving leadership. Talking about it with others can also be one of the best ways to find some relief.

2) Prioritize it

Going along with owning it, one must then commit to make healing/relief a priority. This means scheduling time in your day aside from your leadership role strictly for self-help activities. This can be meditation, prayer, therapy, keeping a journal and/or medication prescribed by a doctor. The key here is to not simply own the illness and stop there. Owning it must be accompanied with combative action. While it is a vital first step, symptoms will not go away via admission only. One must understand and accept the responsibility to treat the illness in order to proceed and sustain the necessary mindset within their leadership role. Treatment equals hope. When one has hope, he/she is giving the illness exactly what it tries to deprive them from.


3) Understand the 3rd Battle isn’t a Literal Fight

While mental illness is surly a battle. One must understand that this battle must be fought in a totally different way than typical battles. Ironically enough, accepting the symptoms and not trying to fight against them is often the best solution. Just as situations in a leadership role require a sense of calmness, an accepting state of mind and a willingness to handle adversity, the same requirements also come into play for symptoms of anxiety, depression and OCD. That being said, this idea is certainly easier said than done. After all, why should we just let our negative thoughts ruminate in or mind? The key here is to understand and accept that it isn’t our thoughts, but our reaction to them which is causing the problems within. Therefore, the idea is to change our reaction to the thoughts, not the thoughts themselves. I have learned that one’s thoughts or feelings offer zero indication to the quality of that person. It is important for aspiring leaders accept this as reality.

All in all, there is no doubt that mental illness has the potential to sabotage one’s leadership endeavors. That being said, it is important to understand that despite this extra battle in one’s journey, there are ways to navigate the storm and still succeed as a leader. This process is likely to take time while having its ups and downs. It is important for one to understand that and not get discouraged when adversity strikes. Instead of running away and hiding from it, go towards that adversity with faith because the reward is on the other side of it. The willingness to embrace the healing process is key.

The bottom line is, mental illness is real. The number of people fighting this 3rd battle is constantly growing. Those who can successfully overcome it during their leadership journey will not just have success in their ventures, but also leave a lasting legacy of perseverance for all to follow.

Motivation: Capped vs. Uncapped

Motivation is something we all need. We all yearn for reasons to perform each daily task. Without motivation, it is very difficult to accomplish anything. How often have you heard something like, “I have no motivation”, “I just can’t motivate myself to do it”, “I need motivation”. The search for motivation is one that’s allusive to many. The fact of the matter is, a lot of the motivation that we do possess is what I like to call capped motivation and destined to be short-lived. The goal of everyone should be to find unlimited motivation which should last a lifetime.

What is Capped Motivation?

Capped motivation is the motivation that we gain as a result of seeking approval from outside sources. This can be related to increasing financial status, seeking acceptance from someone and/or group of people, and seeking to impress others via our actions or physical appearance. While restricted motivation may be very powerful at the beginning, it is destined to fail because of the lack of personal fulfillment that it fails to offer. It restricts us from complete personal fulfillment. For example, let’s say an entrepreneur is striving to create a new product strictly because he or she sees a financial gain to be made. Let’s say their sole motivation is to make a profit to buy a new Lamborghini. Even though they are likely to achieve this goal, their expectations on self-fulfillment are likely to be short lived or not met at all. It is human nature to lust for money and luxuries. However, once one acquires these assets, it is rarely enough to sustain their fulfillment. This is because motivation is capped to the acquisition of these monetary objects. Once they are acquired, motivation is destined to level off or drop assuming they were their sole motivating factor.

What is Uncapped Motivation?

Uncapped motivation is the motivation that has zero limits. It is based on the idea of maximizing one’s self-fulfillment from within. If we can maximize self-fulfillment, that becomes our limitless motivation for everything we do. This process starts when we strive to make a selfless impact on society. When we shift our mindset from seeking to receive approval to seeking to give and inspire, our motivation becomes capless. With uncapped motivation, we are no longer limited to acquiring physical wealth, but also mental wealth. Mental wealth is achieved by positively impacting the lives of others. When we strive to give value, we are destined to receive value in return. When we truly develop a mindset based on self-development in order to impact rather than self-development in order to consume, we become unlimited in our ability to acquire mental wealth and inner peace. These are the aspects that truly have an uncapped importance in one’s quality of life.



Top 3 Tips for International Team Chemistry

We all make mistakes in life. This is simply a part of being human. The key to making mistakes is to make sure we do not turn a blind eye to the lessons to be learned they offer. It is one thing to make a mistake in a domestic environment where communication, norms, and business culture is relatively standardized. Yet, these same mistakes are greatly magnified when working as a leader of an international or foreign team. Therefore, it is even more vital that people in international leadership roles recognize and learn from their mistakes.

Tip 1: Direct Communication

Often times in an international role there will be a language barrier that will need to be dealt with. While English will likely be the working language, it is important not to assume that everyone’s English level is at an exceptional level. It is almost a guarantee that there will eventually be misunderstandings due to items getting lost in translation. This emphasizes the importance of direct and specific communication within your team. Take the time to speak to that person face to face and make sure that they understand their role. Unlike working with a domestic team one may be able to simply send an email, working with an international team will likely require more time and effort. The key idea here is to not assume anything is understood. Take the initiative to meet with people one on one and encourage them to ask questions while addressing any uncertainty.

Tip 2: Intercultural Competence

It is important to understand that we must learn how to treat people the way they want to be treated. As successful international leaders, we need to understand the importance of displaying intercultural competence. According to Welcomm.eu, “Intercultural competence is the ability to develop targeted knowledge, skills and attitudes that lead to visible behavior and communication that are both effective and appropriate in intercultural interactions.” As we break this definition down into we first have to develop the necessary knowledge specific to our team. The best way to do this is by reading books. One great one to start with is “The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer. Once we gather the necessary knowledge, we now have to put it into action via behavior and communication. For example, in Asian cultures, the concept of a hierarchy is greatly present along with having a very high-context corporate structure. This means that communication is often very indirect with very little feedback or backlash from employees. This means that one must develop a feel for the situation and search for answers rather than receiving them directly such as in the USA or in most European countries. The Asian’s refer to this idea as “Reading the Air.”

Tip 3: Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

I have learned that one of the most effective ways to earn respect amongst foreign colleagues is to humble yourself while being open and willing to try new things. It is important for international leaders to avoid the trap of becoming biased toward our own upbringing and cultural norms. Don’t be afraid to show your knowledge and appreciation for another culture. This could be something as simple as learning a few phrases in a foreign language that you can surprise your team with. This shows that you are a caring person, brings about some humor, and your team will certainly appreciate & respect your efforts. One of the greatest sins we can commit as an international leader is to show arrogance towards other cultures. Show appreciation for other cultures and even point out a few aspects that you really admire about them. Actions such as these will surely go a long way in gaining respect and overall team chemistry.

The Name Game: Why Names Means More Than You Think

“I’m sorry, I am horrible with names.” We have all been guilty of and/or heard this statement at one time or another. While forgetting names is an understandable, honest mistake, it can also be a rather embarrassing moment. Aside from embarrassment, the act of remembering or forgetting one’s name can play a much larger role than most of us realize. When holding a leadership position, it is important that we understand the importance of name recall and usage as it relates greatly to the process of earning respect and trust among our followers.

The truth is, remembering one’s name is just half of the battle. Even more important is the usage of one’s name when speaking to them. When we can effectively use someone’s name when we speak to them or give instructions, we immediately give that person a sense of comfort and improved self-esteem. I can recall this from my time as a young employee. I remember I took a job cleaning office buildings during the evenings while I was in college. My boss wasn’t particularly the nicest guy in the world but I always appreciated the fact that he used my name when he instructed me. For example, he would always say, “Ok, Zach” before giving any instruction. While this may sound like such a minor concept, you would be amazed how much more serious I took his words just based on the fact that I respected him for 1) Remembering my name, and 2) Using it while addressing me. I have also noticed that this process works great while engaging in normal conversation. When talking to somebody, I always find the experience more personable when someone adds my name before explaining a specific topic. For example, they would always say, “You know Zach” before going off on a tangent about a personal or past experience. This likely unintentional act automatically caused me to become more engaged in the conversation and take whatever they said into deeper consideration.

The bottom line is, humans want to feel wanted & appreciated. We desire to be addressed by our names because it lets us know that we are recognized and important. This is no different in the corporate world. While business may be considered a very impersonal, bland and blunt process, effective leaders understand the importance of adding a personal touch to this process. Understand that the recall and application of names will likely play a large part in defining one’s respectability, credibility and overall impact within a leadership role. Therefore, do not take this idea lightly. Don’t accept the the norm by simply saying, “I’m sorry, I am horrible with names.” Effective leaders stress the importance of reaching each individual on a personal level. Mastering the name game is a great way to start. The power within a name is truly greater than we realize.

The Madness Manager: 5 Key Factors for Effective Leadership During Times of Crisis

We are definitely living through uncharted & historic times. The recent outbreak is proving to be some of the most challenging periods in recent memory. The fact of the matter is, we can only control what we can control. Unfortunately, times like these often expose our greatest weaknesses as a society. That being said, they also offer everyone the opportunity to grow stronger. These are the times where those in leadership roles either prove their worth or crumble in the midst of the catastrophe. While this current crisis has the potential to expose a lot of flawed leadership, it also has the potential to expose the greatness within us all. At the end of the day, this is a battle in more ways than one. Only the strongest leaders will survive. While times like these surely bring about a lot of pain and adversity, they will also help shape the leaders of tomorrow. Credibility is up for grabs in times of crisis. The decisions leaders make now will ultimately decide their long term fate.

1) Take it Serious

The bottom line is, we all dropped the ball on this one. We underestimated the severity of this situation and the impact it is having. So where do we go from here? As effective leaders, it is time to swallow our pride and take the necessary actions advised to us. Thankfully, this choice is now being taken out of most people’s hands due to recent legal restrictions. That being said, it is important effective leaders act as an example through all of this. Make sure you emphasize to your following the importance of abiding by the regulations given. While we may have acted late, we still have the ability to stop the bleeding by doing our part. Make sure you are setting a good example by prioritizing safety over all else.

2) Be the Calm within the Storm

I cannot emphasize this enough. As we have all seen, this crisis is exposing humanity to some of our worst and most selfish qualities. The bottom line is, effective leaders use times like these to prove their true worth and rise above selfishness tendencies. With all the chaos going on around us it is essential that we accept the responsibility of stability by turning off our “fight or flight” response. In other words, effective leaders must remain stable when others are in a panic. Your stability in the storm is essential for the survival of your group and/or business. Understand that these are times where legends are born. If you can successfully, lead-in times like these, you will surely leave your mark and earn a sense of lasting respect.

3) Embrace Innovation

The fact of the matter is, a lack of personal interaction has already become somewhat of a societal norm due to today’s technology. During these times, we have simply created and official word for it, “Social Distancing”. That being said, our future is “social distancing”! More and more schools and businesses are adapting their strategies to include online courses and meetings. Whether we like it or not, it is only a matter of time until this becomes a standard way of operating (if it already hasn’t). Use this time to educate yourself and your team about the ways in which technology is reshaping our daily interactions. Use this time to embrace what you once likely avoided. “Social-distancing” is our new normal so use this time to embrace and adjust so your team can thrive in the future.

4) Self-Assessment & Development

Now is a great time to assess your actions and give yourself a “Leadership Report-Card.” With this extra time to ourselves, we can use it effectively by analyzing what is working and what isn’t. This spare time can be a blessing in disguise if we treat it as such. We now have a chance to look back and realize our mistakes and weaknesses. Perhaps we were making ignorant decisions and/or implementing strategies that were destined to fail. Perhaps without this time to ourselves, we would have never realized it and been able to change for the better. This is also a great time to create direction and purpose in your actions in order to avoid wasted efforts that may have otherwise been implemented. We can also use this time to enhance our own personal foundation and abilities. After assessing our weaknesses we allow ourselves the chance to turn them into strengths. So take some time to read and study-up on other successful people in your field. The bottom line is, we all have an amazing opportunity to come out of this better than we entered it. The lack of time is no longer an excuse. Embrace this blessing and thrive in the future because of it.

5) Check-In and Listen-up

It is so important that we use this time to show our true care and appreciation for our followers. While business operations may be shut down and you may not be interacting with your team on a daily basis, it is important to take the time to reach out and check-in with each individual. Use this time to connect/reconnect with your followers on a personal level. The bottom line is, outside of normal business operations, we all have our personal lives and issues that we face ( likely now more than usual). Effective leaders are the ones who understand this and truly embrace it. We can also use this time to listen to any issues, suggestions and/or criticism from each member of the group. Use this as an opportunity to allow people to get things off their chest. The goal for everyone throughout this process should be to come back more united and stronger. Don’t allow your ego to get in your own way. Show your followers they matter and take their input seriously.



Quarterbacking Competence: 5 Keys to Success in an International Environment

Credit: Marc Schwarz Photo

The position of Quarterback is the most magnified and influencing position in all of sports. In the sport of American Football, the quarterback acts as the overall leader of the team on the field along with being the team-manager off the field. The quarterback is responsible for success when the team is winning, along with shouldering the blame when the team is losing. It is a high-pressure position that comes with tremendous highs and lows. The corporate world is no different. Managers and Quarterbacks are very much alike.

In business terms, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, the term quarterbacking means the act of managing, controlling or organizing something. It is key that leaders of a team/business are able to manage and control their team chemistry and environment. This process becomes magnified further when working with people from all different backgrounds and beliefs.

As a former Professional Quarterback in the USA, Poland, France, Germany, Italy and Austria, I was able to adapt and successfully lead men of all backgrounds despite age, cultural and language barriers. However, this is one of the beauties of professional sports. We set aside our differences and beliefs for a common cause. Nevertheless, issues within can and do occur. People at the top of the organization must know how to put their teams in the best position to avoid any of these potential conflicts when it comes to working within an international team.

1. Understanding & Acceptance
It is important to understand the people one is playing/working with. A good leader understands the skill set of each member and uses those skills to help make their organization better. Understanding the various backgrounds of each member is also a key component in building intercultural competence. When one is able to be a good listener and show understanding, they will develop the respect of their fellow teammates/players. All athletes strive to be respected by their fellow peers. Understanding people within your organization can go a long way in earning respect.

In an international atmosphere, it is also important to accept that there will be differences. People from other countries are raised in an entirely different culture, language, mentality than one may be used to. However, in the world of sports and business, there is a bottom line. Winning. When teams win, they thrive. It is important to put aside personal beliefs and issues outside of sports and focus on the aspects of building a winning team. If one is able to bring in players that fit what they are trying to accomplish on the field, they should be accepted with open arms.

2. Credibility
All athletes want to be led and coached by people with a track record of success. It is important for teams and organizations to put people in charge who have the drive and potential to get the job done. Experience surly helps, however do not be afraid of youth or lack of practical experience when that person clearly possesses the necessary skills and drive to get the job done. Opportunity is what leads to greatness. The bottom line is that elite athletes only care if that said coach or leader can make them a better player. If that person has the credibility and respect of his/her fellow peers, regardless of age, then the athletes will be more likely to buy into the culture around them.

3. Swiss-Army Leaders
This is a term I have developed based on being a diverse and adaptable leader. Just as a Swiss-Army Knife has many tools to accomplish various tasks, an effective leader must be able to adapt their leadership tactic in order to fit all situations and personalities. Your team/business needs to have great leaders to set the example.

Part of being a great leader is understanding that some people react differently to the same style of leadership. For example, maybe you have a player/employee coming from an Eastern European background. Typically, these people are raised on toughness and being pushed to their limits in order to reach their full potential. In this case, you can lead in a more demanding way. While in contrast, maybe you have a player from South Italy, where the environment is more laid back and relaxed. It would be unlikely that a demanding leadership style would work in this case. Therefore, one may have to take a more encouraging form of leadership until they adjust to the culture of the team and/or business.

It is also important to have a mindset geared towards what your team/business is trying to achieve. This will help one identify the type of people that fit the system and will help ease the transition into that specific environment.

4. Trusting Relationships
Any retired athlete will tell you that the thing they miss most about sports is the relationships and bonds that are built with their teammates and coaches. This could be a bit more challenging in an international environment due to language and cultural differences, however, that is why the idea of relationship-building needs to be emphasized even more.

It is important for leaders to organize team events and get-togethers in order to help create a bond of team chemistry. The overall goal is to build a comfortable working environment where players and coaches trust each other no matter the circumstances. A lot of time athletes and coaches may be facing criticism from fans or media and they need to have each other to lean on for support during times when outside sources are trying to pull them apart.

5. Selflessness
Any successful team/organization has a collective goal in mind. Yes, all people have egos and want to have good statistics and personal success. However, too much of this attitude can destroy a team in the long run. It is important to develop an atmosphere centered on the team. Despite the intercultural differences, when athletes step onto the field, they rely on the skills and abilities of each other.

When playing a certain sport, there is not intercultural difference. That particular sport is played the same way all over the world. It is important for players to have a “WE” and not an “I” mentality. If the leaders are able to create a culture of talent centered around being selfless, that is the recipe for success.

Three Effective Ways to Enhance Your Language Learning: Both Abroad and at Home

All of us at one point or another have taken part in some sort of foreign language course. Most of us did this somewhat reluctantly in high-school or college. However, as I have grown older and began my international journey, I realized just how important and necessary learning a second language is. We are now living in a time where the world is more of a melting pot than it has ever been. Therefore, the likelihood that you will come across people who speak languages other than English is also higher than ever. That being said, the benefits of learning one or multiple foreign languages are more than you may realize, not only for your intercultural experiences but also for your personal growth.

I have come to realize that trying to learn a new language is like going to the gym. Think about that time in your life when you decided to start working out. Maybe you started going to the gym 2-3 times a week along with adjusting your diet to consume more protein, vegetables and less sugar. It is likely when a person commits to this lifestyle that they will experience great initial results. However, as time goes on their results will level-off. In the fitness world, this is known as the plateau effect. In order to break through the plateau, one must decide to alter and/or do more hat they had previously been doing. Go to the gym 3-4 times a week and maybe cut out all beverages besides water. My point is that language learning takes on the same idea. At first, it may seem rather easy-going and fun as you learn and withhold a lot of useful vocabulary necessary for basic interaction, but there will come a point when you must go the extra mile and sacrifice time and often put yourself in uncomfortable situations to break through that plateau. This often is not easy. I have also struggled with this concept. However, through that struggle, I was able to experience growth in my language capabilities. Therefore, I have come up with three unique ways to enhance my language learning and breakthrough my plateaus. I will start by saying that the best way to truly learn a foreign language is to live in the country which speaks the language you are learning. That being said, I know that’s not a possible solution for most people. That being said, I will include options for both people living in abroad and also people learning from their home countries.

Abroad: Find a Group of Friends who aren’t speaking English
I have noticed to be one of the best techniques to truly indulging yourself in a language. When you have a group of friends who are speaking the foreign language you are trying to learn, you can use this as a great opportunity to pick up on vocabulary and learn how the language is spoken amongst the natives. It is important that you also ask questions when you do not understand a word or a phrase so that next time you will likely be able to identify the meaning. Then it is also important to interact with this group of friends and try to speak with them. This may be a bit embarrassing and uncomfortable at first, but it is a necessary step that must be taken to enhance your speaking ability. Don’t worry about mistakes because you will make them, and if these people are truly your friends they will appreciate your efforts and try to help you.

Home: Find a Group or Take a Course
Nowadays, there are so many chances to learn a foreign language and interact with people trying to learn as well. Therefore, you can search for courses within the various language schools in your area. This is often a bit expensive, but at least you will have a few hours a week strictly dedicated to that foreign language. Often, people can find small groups who meet a few times a week to speak and/or together.

Abroad: Avoid Your Comfort Zone
I cannot emphasize the importance of not resorting to English. This is way easier said than done because naturally when we are in a position of discomfort, we automatically tend to resort back to our comfort zone. In this case, speaking English. This is the number one way to set yourself back. You must try your best to avoid using English. I will give you an example of this. During my time in Austria, there have often been times where I started a conversation with someone in German only to hit a point where I did not know how to continue the conversation in German. At this point, I switched to English and we never got back to speaking German. Then the next time I saw that person again the conversation naturally began in English rather than German. My point is, if you are constantly reverting to English, people will also realize that and begin to speak strictly English with you. This is often a difficult step in your language learning process because depending on where you are located, often when the natives realize that you are a foreigner, they will automatically change the conversation to English. This, at least for me, can be very frustrating. That’s why it’s important to not respond to them in English when they try to convert the conversation. Stay strong and do your best to let them know that you want to try and speak their language.

Home: Designate Time in Your Day for Audio/ Video Learning
When living in the country of your native language it is not possible to interact with people in a foreign language. The next best option is finding a quiet place and watch movies, listen to music, podcasts and so on. What I found effective was to have a vocabulary book where you can write down the words you hear and you don’t understand. Then from there, you can translate those words in your mother language while also writing a sentence with the specific term or word in the same book. Then you can say this sentence aloud a few times. Start with ten new words a day along with the sentences and hopefully as time goes on you increase that number. Another option that you can implement is listening to podcasts and or music while you are in your car / working out. This may be difficult until you develop an understanding of standard vocabulary however, hearing the language is a big part of eventually developing a better understanding of it.

Abroad: Speak to Kids
The trick to picking up on and improving your language abilities is to always remain curious and motivated to improve on what you do not know. Staying curious is your key to growth as a foreign language speaker. We have adopted the mentality of a child when learning a new language because we are a child as far as our speaking abilities in whatever language we are trying to learn. Just as a child is always learning/experimenting with new things, we must develop this same sort of mindset to improve. That being said, I have found that the best way to learn some of the basics in a foreign language was to speak with children. I was fortunate enough to have a job as a sports teacher for elementary level students during my time in Italy and Austria. This time helped me as far as my interaction and usage of the language. Understandably, attempting to speak with adults may be intimidating however, speaking with children may be more of a comfortable task at least at the start.

Home: Read Children’s Books/ Watch Children’s Shows
As ridicules as this may sound, we have to remember that at the start we are essentially an infant in our foreign language/country as far as speaking ability, therefore we must not feel embarrassed to start from square 1. Children’s themed books and shows can go a long way in helping us develop a basic vocabulary to which we can then use to advance on into higher levels of our language learning.

When Language is a Barrier: Top 3 Strategies for Making Connections in a Foreign Country

As a young 20-year-old college student, the last thing I thought I would ever do was to play American football professionally in Europe. I originally hoped it would simply be a cool experience that I could tell my friend and family about. However, it ended up becoming a long-term life change. In a seven-year time frame, I went from being an American teen who couldn’t pinpoint a European country on a map, to an Italian Citizen who has lived in 5 European countries and speaks 2 foreign languages (Italian/German). Along my journey, I have had the pleasure to meet amazing and interesting people while also being able to work and lead them in a variety of roles. These experiences have taught me valuable lessons that I wouldn’t trade for anything. However, it surely wasn’t and still isn’t easy to network and build relationships with people from other countries. This is due to a variety of reasons depending on what country you are in. For myself, my European trek started in South Italy (Naples). I emphasize South Italy because there are differences both economically, socially, mentality and linguistically between North and South Italy. I will never forget the winter of 2015 when I committed to try and build a life in Italy. From my experiences abroad, Italy was undoubtedly the country where I experienced the most challenging language barriers. Despite the normal daily struggles, I developed somewhat of a method and strategy to connect with the Italian people along with building a solid network. Here are my top 3 strategies for making connections when language is a barrier:

Strategy 1: Observe, Understand, and Try
The first step in any relationship is to show that it is not about you. No substitute or course will teach you more than traveling to and interacting with the people of the foreign country you are trying to make connections with. This is true for any relationship in any country. However, I believe it is magnified when you are working with foreigners speaking a different language. Let’s first look at the term observe. By observe I mean the body language of the people. It is amazing how much we can learn about a person from the mannerisms and facial expressions. This requires no knowledge of the foreign language because body language is universal. If we can determine the mood, attitude of this person based on what we observe, we can have an idea of how to initiate a conversation in the most effective way possible. The next term is understanding. By this, I mean both language and tone of voice. Your initial verbal communication will likely begin in English so we must remember and understand that just like speaking a foreign language would be nerve-racking for us, it is also the same effect for the people we are speaking to. Therefore, we must understand the discomfort that this person is likely experiencing and do our best to make them feel comfortable and confident. This could be as simple as complimenting them on their English-speaking skills or apologizing to them for not speaking their native language while letting them know that you are trying to learn their language as well. Simple comments such as these show that you appreciate that person and their efforts. This can go a long way. The third term is trying. By trying I mean two things. First, we must make an effort to speak slowly and clearly. Remember that this person likely is not used to hearing the English language daily so we need to focus on speaking with clarity. I am not suggesting enunciating each word too slowly because this can sometimes be disrespectful, however, a clear tone with precise grammar usage will go a long way. The second part is trying to speak their language, even if that means just a few basic words. From my early experiences in Italy, I would always search for some basic terms in Italian that I could potentially use in whatever meeting I was having. This may be uncomfortable at first, but it will lighten the mood and ease some tension with a few laughs among each other. This is a very easy way to earn some initial respect and appreciation.

Strategy 2: Be Selfless, Ask, Encourage
This strategy deals with a potential second meeting and/or after you have developed an initial connection with an individual. Most importantly we must show our interest not only in that person’s country but also in the story specific to that individual. This means being selfless and making the conversation more about that person than ourselves. This is a successful strategy for any type of meeting but especially a meeting with a person from a different country. It is amazing to hear some of the stories that some people have to tell, and you will certainly learn a lot and become inspired and appreciative of the various obstacles that some people had to endure to get where they are. This is another way to become more appreciative of your situation. So it is a win-win. Going along with being selfless is the term asking. By asking, I mean raising up questions beforehand that will help the conversation flow. Some example questions I have used are: What is the best part about living in Italy? How did you get to where you are today? What do you like/don’t like about Italy and/or the USA? What for you is important in your life? How can we help each other both in improving our language skills? What are some ways in which you feel the Italian people are different from others in the world? If you look at these questions, they all have one thing in common, they involve deep and interactive conversation. These are the type of conversations where you will truly learn about that person and what makes them tick. I have come to learn that these types of discussions can aid in developing mutual respect for one another. Another important exercise is to encourage. After asking questions we need to encourage that person positively. I will give you a common example I experienced in Naples. Many times, during the first conversation I sensed that person was nervous about having a deep conversation with a native English speaker, they might even say something like “I am sorry my English is so bad”. In this case, it is important to encourage that person and let them know that their English is not as bad as they assume and that you as a foreigner are likely much less experienced communicating in their language but you are trying. A comment like this shows that you are a humble person who is non-judgmental and pleasurable to be around.

Strategy 3: Be Open, Adapt, Embrace
This third strategy is the most effective and important for building and maintaining international relationships. Start by being open. This can sound like somewhat of a general term, but it means to be accessible to any opportunity that you are presented with. You will find that foreigners will go out of their way to show you the history and various interesting aspects of their culture and city. We must be accepting of what they have to offer without making complaints or refusing to participate. This was especially common in South Italy, refusing an invite is considered very disrespectful. This means that we need to make a conscious effort to step out of our comfort zone. The second is adapting, this is more of a specific term for people who are living in a foreign country for an extended period. The bottom line is that when we live in another country we have to live by their rules and their cultures. Adaption to the culture in the country you are living in is absolutely a must. This may take a bit of time at first as you learn the way of the ropes and slowly drift away from the way of life you had in your native country. However, this is often easier said than done. Naturally, foreigners tend to be biased to their homeland, therefore you may begin to nitpick at the things that you feel the people do strange while questioning why the people act, eat, talk the way they do. Nevertheless, I have discovered that like anything else in life it all comes down to your true motives and what you want to do. If you truly commit to the adaption process, which includes learning the language as well as embracing the culture, you will find a way to do it. Humans have adapted since the beginning of our existence. So, the important thing to keep in mind is that adapting is not only possible but necessary if you prioritize and make it something you genuinely want to do. This leads to the last term which is to embrace. I have learned to truly enjoy connecting with others abroad we must embrace and appreciate the entire experience and opportunity. We now live in a time where travel traveling the world is as easy as hopping on a plane and communication with people from all over the world is easier than ever. We have apps where you can learn a language, instant online translators where we can communicate with anyone via text. We no longer are limited to the language in which we were born and raised. We must do our best to take advantage of these realities and resources that we have available to us today. As a linguist learner, I encourage you to not limit yourself or let others limit you. Understand that language is a barrier only if you allow it to be. If you truly embrace change and difference, you will soon discover that making connections will leaning a new language is far more an opportunity than a barrier.


Top 3 Reasons Why Age Is Just a Number (Now More Than Ever)

In the year 2020, age is truly just a number. Our ever-changing world has transformed this somewhat questionable cliche into an unquestioned reality. As we look back at life 20 years ago there are very little comparisons to reference. Yet, we as a society continue to look at our past as a guide for our future endeavors. I am not saying that the past can’t teach us valuable life lessons. I am simply saying that life in 2020 contains important aspects that simply weren’t available to us as we were growing up. Therefore, what does this all mean? It means that the playing field has been leveled among all walks of life. Age and experience are no longer held with such high regard. This is likely a tough pill to swallow for most. However, the reality is, what we once learned and considered valuable is quickly becoming outdated and in many cases, rather useless. As hard as it may be for some to admit, these are the facts. It is up to each individual to decide whether they want to adjust and succeed in the future or remain stubborn and ignorant to change therefore, being left behind.

1) Rapid Technological Advancements:

Technology is changing the world for better or worse. From business interactions to everyday life, there is no doubt that it has taken over. We as a society religiously use smartphones, various social media platforms, video technology, and the internet to essentially “run” our daily lives. As soon as we think that technology has hit its peak, we are suddenly proved wrong. That means that those who refuse to embrace this new technology will soon be left behind. Call it what you want, this technology is here to stay. We can sit there and call out its flaws and how it is destroying the morality of society. Unfortunately, it really doesn’t matter what we think. Whether we like it or not, technology will only continue to develop and play a larger role in both our work and social lives. This means that past experiences that predate today’s technology boom simply don’t mean that much anymore. We are in a new era with new rules and we have to treat it as such.

2) Experience Carries Less Weight

What was once (and even still) considered the golden rule for acquiring a quality job, past experience is becoming more and more irrelevant. Young people fresh out of college are often turned down by various companies due to their so-called, “lack of experience.” While this may still be a logical excuse for some fields, the companies who continue with this methodology will be the ones who suffer as time goes on. As young people grow-up in this technological boom, they are the ones who are actually more capable than most current, tenured employees. This is where the egos come into play and understandably so. Basically, these companies have had a lot of success doing things the same way for a long time. Therefore, many are hesitant to change, adapt and admit that the old way is no longer the most effective one. The bottom line is, youth is no longer a disadvantage but a great advantage. It is only a matter to time until this is fully realized in the corporate world.

3) Effective Leadership is Being Redefined

Without credibility effective leadership is practically impossible. In most fields, age and tenure are considered pre-requisites for acquiring a leadership position. However, as time goes on and our world continues to change, this past experience is becoming less and less relevant to modern-day life. As people’s personalities and motives continue to change, effective leaders must adapt in accordance with these changes. Effective leaders in 2020 and beyond must contain a diverse array of social skills along with a solid personal foundation and most importantly, the willingness to adapt to the modern-day norms. Those who refuse or fail to adapt will have a very hard time earning respect and maintaining credibility as our world continues to diversify. Now more than ever, the playing field is even regardless of age or experience. Age is truly just a number…Now more than ever.