African Business School — 7 Great lessons“Super Mac” Sandy MacDonald taught me about winning.
Tucked between Murawaha’s Hill and Champken Kopje lies the sleepy suburb of Florida in the eastern border city of Mutare in Zimbabwe. In September the purple blossom of the Jacaranda trees along Edward road, the fiery red of the Frangipani’s on George road, the fragrant aroma the white Bohemia on Henry street was a sight that the angels stopped in mid-flight to behold. This was home in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.
At 5.6” he was as tall as he was wide. A low center of gravity with biceps the size of my thighs, hand speed quicker than Mike Tyson and foot work that even Muhammad Ali would have been proud of. “Super Mac” Sandy MacDonald was a bodybuilder and blacksmith by trade. “A friend is someone you share the path with”our Elders say, Super Mac was my best friend and many a road we shared, be it bumpy, smooth or at times non-existent. Such was our friendship, and here’s to 7 great lessons he taught me about winning over the years;
1. Have Presence. “A man who uses force is afraid of reasoning”~ African proverb. When you walk into a room either you raise eye brows, turn heads or silence the idle talk and the attention is on you. By his natural physic, bulging muscles, tight T-shirt, skin tight jeans and super pro track shoes, Super Mac would make his entrance into a club or public function. Confidently we would make our way to our favorite location, a table close to the washroom entrance. We figured out that at some stage during the evening you were going to have to go to the washroom and come pay homage and respect.
This simple act of using your natural physic, dress and walk defines the “bull in the kraal”. The careful positioning in the function forces everyone at some stage during the event to acknowledge your presence. Use your presence and location to do the talking on your behalf without saying a single word.
2. Element of surprise. Our elders say “A man is like a chilli pepper, till you have chewed it you do not know how hot it is.”
More often than not has young teenagers we would get into an argument which would eventually escalate leading to a punch up. The trick is to identify which argument would end up in a fist fight well before it got to that stage. This moment or point in time usually can be identified two or three minutes before it erupts into one. Either you walked away before the flash point occurred or you brought the flash point on before your opponent has decided he now wants to engage. The shock and awe were needless to say 100% effective with many a quiet K.O with little or no disturbance to the function or event.
Beating your opponent with minimal force or fanfare is key in business. The K.O is important and they are often left wondering well after the event what happened. “We didn’t do anything wrong”the famous words of the Nokia CEO when their handset business collapsed. In today’s world of AI and AR this is efficiently executed with cold logic rendering your competition useless and they don’t even know it.
3. Pick your battles.“Ears that do not listen to advice, accompany the head when it is chopped off” ~ African proverb. Just like the Wild West every up and coming martial arts, body builder, street fighter, attention seeker would look for an excuse to take on or provoke Super Mac. He simply didn’t engage on their terms. I witnessed numerous provocations which would have triggered any normal guy to engage at that time.
I recall him being verbally abused by some intoxicated guys at a club one night. We simply left the premises and went home. Early the next day we pay each guy a visit at his home in his bedroom and resolve the matter. Word quickly got around that such displays of bravado were not appreciated in public and were dealt worth in private in the comfort of your own home.
Always pick your battles on your terms. The time, the place and the method you wish to deploy. This way you maintain control and decide the outcome way before your opponent realizes it.
4. Win the peace. This is the golden rule of any conflict. It does not matter who wins or loses the actual fight. What matters is who wins the peace. Our elders quip that “Peace is costly but it is worth the expense”. A devout teetotaler and body builder par excellence Super Mac always had the drop you. He simply kept in tip top shape and was alert as a feline. He would go through great lengths to win the peace even before the hostilities started. Often, I was the chief negotiator always looking for the diplomatic way in and out of a situation.
We won more peace accords then we fought battles. Always focus on the relationship after the ultra-cation as this is what is important. The objective must always be to exist harmoniously in the environment in which you operate. “If you can’t resolve your problems in peace, you can’t solve them by war” ~ African proverb. If you must fight, and fight you will, do so with a view of winning the peace first and the fight second.
5. Discipline is everything. Being a bodybuilder in a time where supplements and specialized shakes etc. were unheard of was not easy. Super Mac walked the talk with discipline. His rigorous work outs, attention to detail and meticulous attention to time were his everyday mantle. “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far” ~ African proverb was a favorite. We would work out at the Old Railway Gym in town after work, walk home to play basketball at the Florida Social Center every week day. Sticking to a solid routine builds sound habits with amazing results. It was the disciplined approach that got me to university, a first in our neighborhood. It is the same rigor I use today to stay on top of my game in everything I do.
6. Humor is life, without it you are dead. If you cannot laugh at life it will laugh at you “Life is like a mirror it reflects what you do. If you face it smiling it will smile right back at you” we would often sing. More often than not we would “Return to old watering holes for more than water; friends and dreams are there to meet you” ~African proverb. Our bond was simple “You can eat chapatis and cry if you want to”, in other words life is to short to worry about the small stuff. No bread, no milk, no sugar, no electricity, who cares, nobody died, we would simply laugh it off, and send the pet monkey called Joko over the fence to pick the ripe fruit in any yard we happened to walk past. Then of course there was the pet baboon, that’s a story for another time
7. Music is power. Nothing beats the melodious sound of the harmonica and the gentle strumming of a simple blues blue rhythm. Champion Jack, Sony Terry, Brownie McGhee, Howlin Wolf, BB King, T-Bone Walker just to name a few. We listened to them all. Our Sunday morning run with a Sony Walkman and head phones, was Gene Ammons “Play Me” and Stevie Ray Vaughan “Lenny” . These were songs that bound a band of brothers.
Music was the glue that held us together when the world around us was falling apart. In today’s fast and furious corporate life, I find solace going back in time and listening to old skool tunes. The comfort of familiar sounds and lyrics is a source of warmth when everything around you is freezing cold.
Learn to use music to your advantage to control your emotions and responses to stimuli around you. It is not unusual to see me with ear phones walking around the campus nodding my head psyching up or cooling down before or after a difficult meeting. Boxers do this all the time before they walk into the ring.
You don’t need a college education or university degree to be street smart and savvy to the ways of the world. Super Mac would say “The mouth is stupid after eating it forgets who gave it the food”. My best education came from the streets and the friends I made there. What I learnt in the classroom is simply testimony to the practical harsh reality of growing up in the dusty streets of Florida, Mutare.
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