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Leadership skills begin with self-leadership

Author Robin Sharma offers a fresh fable with key lessons to transform your life, and your work.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

The Secret Letters of the Monk Who Sold His Ferrari

By Robin Sharma

(Collins, 223 pages, $29.99)

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Life is falling apart for Jonathan Landry. His wife has left him. He routinely squanders his chances to be with his son because his job interferes. And work is anything but comforting. He has moved from the design lab, which he loved, to management and selling, which isn't as satisfying. Every time he passes the empty office of his former mentor, Jonathan feels a deep sense of guilt for not supporting the design chief when the big bosses started to attack him.

It's a scenario many of us can sympathize with, and it's the opening for Toronto-based leadership coach Robin Sharma's new fable, The Secret Letters of the Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. Jonathan is suddenly asked by his mother to fly to Buenos Aires to help his older cousin, Julian. He was a high-powered lawyer who years earlier gave up his career to go to the Himalayas where, after meeting a little-known group of monks (the Sages of Sivana), he adopted a life of simplicity and contentment by following the eternal wisdom they shared with him.

Jonathan, who still lovingly remembers the red Ferrari given up by his cousin, is asked to travel around the world to pick up nine talismans, and letters explaining their meaning, which the monks had entrusted to Julian. He had given them to friends for safe-keeping but now they must be brought together so their transformative power can save a life. It becomes quickly obvious to readers, if not to Jonathan, that the life he will be saving is his own.

The book, a sequel to Mr. Sharma's 1990s bestseller The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, becomes a travelogue in part as Jonathan flies around the world, meeting some intriguing souls who exemplify the wisdom in each of the letters. Provoked by the combined spell of their character and the letters, he starts to rethink his life.

The letters teach Jonathan (and us) to:

Live an authentic life: The most powerful gift we can give ourselves is the commitment to live an authentic life. It's not an easy task, as we must break free of the seductions of society and live on our own terms, under our own values and aligned with our original dreams.

Embrace our fears: We are held back in life by the invisible architecture of fear, which keeps us in our comfort zones, the least safe place to live. Jonathan learns to overcome some of his work-based fears (along with his claustrophobia in the catacombs of Paris).

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Live with kindness: Just as our words are our thoughts verbalized, our deeds are our beliefs actualized. In everything we do, we must be kinder and more generous than expected. Every moment with another person is an opportunity to express our highest values and influence someone with our humanity. This reminds Jonathan of his cowardice when his office mentor needed support.

Make small daily progress: If we excel at minor tasks, we will also excel at bigger tasks. Brick by brick, we can build magnificent things. "The tiniest of actions is always better than the boldest of intentions," Jonathan is told; he realizes that the road to winning back his wife and son begins with calling them that very moment.

Doing our best work to lead our best life: Labour is a chance to express personal talents, and to realize the genius we are built to be. For Jonathan, that would mean a return to design work.

Choose our influences well: We should spend our time in places and with people who elevate and uplift us. For Jonathan, that has not been his workplace; worse still, he jettisoned his family to be in the office.

Find the greatest joy in the simplest pleasures: Most people spend much of their life pursuing things that don't matter in the end. We all have a wealth of simple blessings around, just waiting to be counted.

Understand the true purpose of life: How well you live comes down to how much you love. The heart is wiser than the head.

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Stand for something bigger than yourself: Every one of us is here for a reason, a mission. Jonathan realizes he must make his life matter, something he failed to do in the past.

I think you know the ending. But the journey is everything, and this is an enjoyable one, with a touch of suspense about what will be revealed in the successive letters, and about Jonathan's future. The storytelling complements the contents of the letters and although the advice is familiar, the fable makes it stick.


Some recently published books:

Who Will Take Over The Business? (John Wiley, 170 pages, $29.95) by Susan Latremoille, of Richardson GMP Ltd., and Peter Creaghan, of Creaghan McConnell Group Ltd., offers succession planning advice for the Canadian business family.

How's That Underling Thing Working For You? (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 128 pages, $14.99) is the latest collection of Dilbert cartoons from the pen and mind of Scott Adams.

End Malaria (The Domino Project, 208 pages, $25) edited by Toronto creativity expert Michael Bungay Stanier, brings together 62 thinkers contributing short essays about doing great work; $20 from the sale of each book goes toward eradicating malaria in Africa.

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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