On the morning of May 28, we were all saddened by the news that the celebrated author Maya Angelou had passed away at the age of 86.
But the cultural force that was Maya Angelou lives on, and her timeless wisdom is to be cherished. The thing is, Maya Angelou's words are so sagacious that they apply to all areas of life; they speak to people regardless of their skin colour, cultural background, social status, gender or sexual orientation. This might have to do with Angelou's own extremely diverse life experiences. Throughout her life, she wasn't only a poet and memoirist; she was at different times a night-club dancer, stage and screen actor, fry cook, prostitute, professor, activist, journalist and director. I'm sure I am missing something, but that's because she wore many hats.
She overcame many hardships in her life, including incest, rape and poverty, but she always emphasized the importance of not being a victim and rising above the circumstances in which you find yourself.
We have written before about Maya Angelou's work habits, and how she always took the time to reflect on her day's work. But there are also many things that you can learn from Maya Angelou about how to run your business.
How do your actions and words make others feel?
I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
This is probably one of the most famous Maya Angelou quotes, but it is such an insightful look into how we interact with each other. Any business owner knows that their relationships with others - whether they are employees, clients or investors - impact the overall results of their business. It's said that no man is an island, and in business this is especially true.
Now, I'm sure Maya Angelou didn't mean that you should go out of your way to make people feel good so that you can get what you want from them. No, she meant (and reflected this practice throughout her life and work) that instead we should be kind to one another.
Work, then work some more
Nothing will work unless you do.
Don't expect things to fall into your lap. Your endeavours will fail if they're missing one simple ingredient: hard work.
Pick and choose with whom you do business
In her memoir Letter to My Daughter (which I believe should be read by men and women alike), Maya Angelou recounts a meeting with four television producers who wanted to adapt one of her short stories.
Among the producers, one woman stood out as the leader of the group. Angelou says that she soon realized that this woman wanted "to put me in my place, which was obviously somewhere beneath her."
After a series of sarcastic comments from the producer, Maya Angelou decided, before she even heard the offer, that she didn't want to work with these people. So she refused the offer before she even received it. She courageously said to the producer:
"I know very well that you would not furnish me a peaceful or pleasant environment in which to work. That is not how you work, so I am obliged to refuse any offer you might make."
In a tweet from earlier this year, she reinforced this philosophy. You don't have to say yes to everything and everyone. You can and should pick and choose. You stand for something, and you shouldn't compromise that.
I agreed a long time ago, I would not live at any cost. If I am moved or forced away from what I think is the right thing, I will not do it.
— Maya Angelou (@DrMayaAngelou) April 16, 2014
Change the way you think
"Make every effort to change the things you do not like. If you cannot make a change, change the way you have been thinking. You might find a new solution."
If you read just a little bit about Maya Angelou's life, you will see how much this woman overcame. I have no doubt that one of the ways she not only survived, but thrived, was by not being a victim. By taking action. By changing what she didn't like. By finding new solutions. Which is, at the heart of it, a vital lesson on how to run a successful business.
Leave your mark in the world
"Be certain that you do not die without having done something wonderful for humanity."
In 2014, there's really no reason why a business can't embrace social responsibility. As a business owner, you should really consider how your company's actions impact the environment, your employes, communities that you interact with and other members of the public sphere. If you're not doing any harm, maybe that's ok. But if you're making a positive impact, it will pay off in many, many ways - to begin with, your customers' loyalty and your own personal satisfaction.
An attitude of gratitude
"The ship of my life may or may not be sailing on calm and amiable seas. The challenging days of my existence may or may not be bright and promising. Stormy or sunny days, glorious or lonely nights, I maintain an attitude of gratitude. If I insist on being pessimistic, there is always tomorrow.
Today I am blessed."
Maintaining a positive outlook and an attitude of gratitude is not only vital to your business, but also an important example to give to the team members that you lead.
For many entrepreneurs, it's hard not to consider what they need to accomplish more than what they have already accomplished. There's always the tendency to look forward. Of course, goals are extremely important. But the ability to pause and evaluate what you have done and how far you've come - and realize that you are truly one of the lucky ones - is just as important.
What is your favourite Maya Angelou quote? Share it with us and other readers in the comment section below.
Photo from Oprah's Master Class