Sallyann Della Casa is the head of the Growing Leaders Foundation (GLF), an organisation that develops soft skill curriculum and corporate training for companies, educational organisations and NGOs in the Middle East and the Caribbean. Before moving to Dubai in 2013 with her husband, a hospitality consultant, Ms Della Casa, from Trinidad and Tobago, who formerly worked as a corporate lawyer in the US for 10 years, currently employs seven staff to train leaders and potential leaders around the UAE. Her first photography-led book, Who will I become, was published last year.
As soon as I open my eyes, I say thank you for another day. I know for some it sounds morbid, but monks think about death five times a day, and they’re the happiest people around, because they live each moment as if it’s their last. This is something I’ve been practising for about five years, and it makes such a difference. My days involve either teaching, or at least once a week I have a creative day. On teaching days, I spend an hour in bed running through my presentation in my head and flushing out any issues. Then I wake up properly, sit at my desk with a cup of tea and make a mind map of the areas I’m talking about. Now I’m ready for showtime.
I eat breakfast with my husband in the club area of the Sheraton Grand Hotel and Residences where we live – it’s always granola cereal, coffee and two pieces of smoked salmon, because I heard it makes you stay young. I’m then on the treadmill for 20 minutes, listening to podcasts. There are two that I love – NPR radio’s Ted talks, and the Unmistakable Creative. They’re the only reason you’ll find me at the gym, because I hate exercising.
On my creative days, I lock myself away from the world until lunchtime to work on my new book, Wake Up Leaders, or write new curriculums, presentations or columns. I’ll make an effort to have coffee with someone outside of my regular circle, which helps with my creativity.
I try to schedule my training in the mornings as it’s my most creative time. I take a Careem ride to the event and on the way, work through my presentation in my head. I’m also preparing all kinds of back-up material, so I might end up doing a presentation completely different to the one I wrote on my mind map that morning. I judge it by reading my audience’s faces, the energy in the room and the types of questions they have. If they perk up on a particular issue, I have to make sure I have a lot of material in that area, which might be off-course. I’ve learnt to do this over time. When I was young, I never went off-script and I think that’s where many people make mistakes.
My training might be a full six-hour day or a three-hour half- day. I was recently brought in to a particular company to train and develop their people and culture. I immediately realised that the issue was not with the employees but with the upper levels of management. I completely changed my strategy, and instead of doing leadership training with the employees, I gave them tools on how to deal with their own managers and owners.
I keep lunch light with a salad. For years my quick fix was chocolate, but I recently got this “Fruitful Day” service where a box of fruit is delivered to me each week. It’s been an eye-opener to realise my sweet tooth doesn’t have to be chocolate, and my body’s used to it now. After lunch I nap for half an hour, because I’m very brain- focused in what I do so I need eight hours of sleep a day. My nap saves me.
Whether I’m teaching or not, I always set aside an hour for learning. I’m currently doing a masters at Harvard in organisational behaviour, and a class at the University of Berkeley on happiness.
My UAE workday finished two hours ago, but my other role, with the foundation in the Caribbean, which focuses on building up leadership skills in the young and disadvantaged is just beginning. My nine staff there reach out to me and I answer their questions, guiding them on any issues they might have regarding the thousands of kids taking the leadership programme there.
I’m married to a very Italian husband, who expects to have a home-cooked gourmet dinner. Being a good wife, I cook. At the end of each day, I send myself an email, asking me to rate myself out of 10 on the things I do that are important to me. My criteria includes whether I learnt something new, created future work opportunities, or made another human being feel appreciated by letting them know they’re special. This habit ensures that I stay focused on becoming a better person.
I’m off to bed, unless I have a late-night class – recently I dialled into a class in Boston between 11pm and 2am. I’m like a computer at bedtime – the button goes off when my head hits the pillow.
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