Editor’s Note: Grace Ueng is the founder of Savvy Growth, a noted leadership coaching and management consulting firm, and an expert on happiness and human performance. Grace writes a regular column on Happiness & Leadership for WRAL TechWire.


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – I just returned from Cartagena, Colombia where I received my diploma from Tal Ben-Shahar, for completing his academy’s certificate program in happiness studies. A pioneer in the field, Tal was the creator of Harvard’s groundbreaking Positive Psychology course he launched over 17 years ago.

Sombreros everywhere!

I wrote last about seeing red Teslas everywhere, now I share sombrero vueltiaos everywhere! These hats, handmade of native cane, are a national symbol of Colombia.  Our 100 fellow journeyers (what we call those in our program as we are all on a lifelong journey of learning) were each given a sombrero vueltiao hat and a Wayuu Mochila bag, handcrafted by indigenous Colombians.

Wearing these matching pieces made it easy to find each other during our city tour.  Then an interesting phenomena happened, in our free time on our own apart from the group, I started seeing these on every street corner I turned… just like I started seeing red Teslas everywhere, after I took delivery of mine.

Photo courtesy of Grace Ueng

How to speak the same language

As I thought more about what I learned from examining the “similar to me” phenomena (see My Tale of two Teslas), I thought about how different my fellow students were from me. Certainly, much different from the community I have in Research Triangle Park.

Or maybe not….

My local community is a melting pot of cultures and what we have in common is we all chose to live in the Triangle.

In thinking more about how to bond with my fellow journeyers, I realized that we all have a common denominator too.  We are all drawn to become better teachers of wellbeing, happiness, and human performance.  Yet, communicating the specifics of our thoughts and ideas was often difficult in breakout groups and in our free time….

At our graduation dinner, many at my table were from Peru. Something I can discuss with Peruvian native and fellow Triangle entrepreneur, Lister Delgado the next time I see him.

English is a second language for a good portion of our group, so we have simultaneous interpretation in our Zoom meetings throughout the year.  And in person at the retreat, this barrier can keep people from immediately embracing communication.  Those who could speak the same language naturally gravitated toward each other. I wondered if I spoke Spanish, the dominant language of the journeyers,  if I could engage more with the group….

While we wore the same hats and handbags, we spoke different languages. Many of the bilingual students would apologize when they attempted to converse in English.  I quickly said, not to worry, I was just thankful to listen to what they had to say and wished I could speak their language.

Grace Ueng

 Secret Friend & Importance of Being Kind

 The theme of our conference was Kindness.

We were asked to bestow acts of kindness on our “secret friend” during our 3 day retreat.

I drew Cristiana Pinciroli as my secret friend.  Cristiana is a former professional water polo player in Italy and captained Brazil’s national team for 13 years. She was voted as one of the best players in the world while also pursuing her executive banking career. It was a joy to get to know her better at the retreat.

Such a small world, I found out she earned her MBA at UNC Kenan–Flagler Business School. Her father competed in two Olympics on the water polo team for Brazil. Her daughter now plays water polo for Stanford – a dynasty family!

Cristiana told me about how she published her life story in a book, Sport: A Stage for Life, in collaboration with her father.  She offered to send me a copy, but I told her I would purchase one on Amazon, so I could write a review on their site.  I ordered her book so it would hit my doorstep upon my return home.  I read ten chapters over Thanksgiving break….

My tale of two Teslas – Red Teslas everywhere! – and what that means

Doc Rivers: “Me to we”

Cristiana cites counsel of the world’s top athletes and coaches as she was one and has worked with many.  One is Coach Glenn Anton “Doc” Rivers who appears in the Netflix series: A Coach’s Rules for Life. I watched this particular episode over the weekend.

Getting Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce in the mega trade, mid season in 2007, was great for a team with a losing record, but could have easily turned into a game of egos and mismatches of the 3 superstars.

Adam Krikorian, American women’s water polo team coach told Cristiana, “As a coach, you shouldn’t select the best players but the best team.  You have to consider the individuals who will handle those moments of pressure and those who will connect best with each other.”

Former coach of US and Brazilian water polo teams, Sandy Nitta told her, “The quality of a team is only as good as the last player on the bench.”

At the end of a long Marquette board of trustees meeting, a well wisher went up to Doc Rivers and said, “Doc – you guys are going to do it – you just have to practice Ubuntu.”  Rivers said he didn’t know what that meant, so she wrote the word down for him and told him he needed to look it up and study it. She emphasized  “It’s not a word, Doc, it’s a way of life, a way of living. Look the word up, and then become it.”

Rivers looked it up that same evening and studied it until 6am the next morning thinking, “wow, it’s perfect.”

A person is a person through other people.

I can’t be all I can be unless you are all you can be.

I can never be threatened by you because you’re good,

Because the better you are, the better I am.

 He taught the rookies “Ubuntu” and asked them to teach it to the rest of the team.  They did so with passion, humor, and swag. After the introduction by the rookies, Rivers asked the team to put their hands in. Kevin Garnett then shouted, “Ubuntu on 3.”

From that moment on, the Celtics started living Ubuntu.

Rivers drew on this philosophy to inspire his teams and strengthen the bond among players. He shares that putting the emphasis on the team as the top priority was the key to his success with the Celtics, turning them around and winning the NBA title.

If you are leading a team that has room to improve their teaming, I highly suggest watching.

Going toward People

Years ago, I gave a Happiness talk to a large group and had individuals come up at the end of my talk to share with the audience what meant something to them.  One person stated that as a developer, he was used to working alone in dimly lit spaces.  But he learned that when he “went toward people” to share and collaborate, he was much happier.

Our retreat’s theme of Kindness and performing acts of kindness was a gift to me, for I realized that I too needed to go toward people. Instead of wishing I spoke Spanish too, I thought there were other ways I could communicate and offer value.  Reading someone’s book (or their column!) is a way to move toward a person and understand them better.

At the end of the retreat, I found out that I was hired to deliver my HappinessWorks™ program at a women’s executive forum next spring in New York City.  I told the group and asked if anyone was interested in hearing me deliver a dry run and provide feedback, and we could learn from each other.  Immediately fellow journeyers expressed interest as a group and I received individual notes of interest in being involved to help as well.  I am always looking to improve how I teach and what better way than receiving feedback from fellow teachers in a psychologically safe setting.

I realize that our fellow journeyers live Ubuntu, as we focus on teaching Happiness in a way that sticks, allows others to grow, and flourish. We know that together, we are stronger than on our own.

Is your team living Ubuntu?  How much more could you achieve with this as your culture?

About Grace Ueng

Grace is a strategy consultant,  leadership coach and human performance expert with Savvy Growth. Her company offers workshops to move teams forward: Savvy’s Seven: What You Will Learn.

Transformative companies hire Grace to deliver her HappinessWorksp program to boost performance.

Join her Happiness & Leadership community and learn to be a happier and better leader: click here