Sunday, January 31, 2010

Is Nobody Indispensable?

When I ask around, ‘What do you understand by being indispensable?’ I receive a wide range of responses and interpretations.

I tend to hear: ‘Nobody is indispensable!’ What does that mean? It sounds like employees do not really value themselves very much. If you do not value yourself very much, then why would your organization think, otherwise?

Consider the occasions when your team needed you around: year-end audits; during their vacation; when a male staff attends national service; a colleague goes on examination leave; your colleague is on maternity leave. On these occasions, were you most needed to deliver certain tasks? Thus, were you indispensable? Now, whatever number of days you were considered ‘vital’ or ‘cannot do without’, what would it take to extend this period of relevance? That is the goal you will have to think through.

I think the question is not about ‘indispensability’. It is about being valuable. How do you make yourself valuable? What is your brand? What does your brand stand for?

What do you possess that is valuable to your organization? How do you stand out from the rest? How do you position your brand? Which competencies do you possess that is rare, and valued by your organization? What are your mental orientations: contemporary versus traditional; flexible versus rigid; innovative versus predictable; daring versus safe?

Authors, David McNally and Karl D. Speak of ‘Be Your Own Brand’ wrote that ‘When you think of brands, chances are you think about whether we trust them or not, like them or not, remember them or not, value them or not.’ All these words have emotional components.

I just met a 40-something friend today, and he has been an entrepreneur for the past year. He challenged himself to do something different after earning his pedigree MBA degree. For the last six months, he worked on retainer as a consultant, doing business process reengineering. He is, currently, being wooed by an executive search firm for two global positions. Lucky? Perhaps? Hard work? Certainly. Relevant? You are correct. Indispensable? Probably. Indispensable skills. Absolutely.

What will you do on Monday? How will you position your brand? Evaluate your worth.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Leadership Sayings

'The speed of the leader determines the speed of the pack.'

'Always be smarter than the people who hire you.'

Diving Off The Deep End

Yesterday, I talked about jumping to conclusions. How about diving into the deep end?

When you learnt to swim, I’m sure that you did not begin by diving into the deep end of the pool! Instead, you started your swim induction in the shallow end. Shallow and deep are on both sides of the spectrum of meaning, commitment and measurement.

I remember when I was about 17 years old I had to jump off a springy plank off a jetty and into the dark and foreboding sea. It was part of my Outward Bound Singapore sea-worthy, syllabus. It was a tough decision I had to make; all my peers were watching me and waiting for me to dismount. Later, in military school I had to rappel off a five-storey tower. Much later, or more recently, I swam in many water bodies that ranged in temperature, salinity and depth. Having watched Steven Spielberg’s Jaws a few times, does give me that edge when I swim in the open sea at triathlons. Fear can make us alert, and give us that much-appreciated nudge.

Doing something daring, or that may attract undue attention, or criticism may deter most people. It takes guts and much thought to do something new, or outrageous. Today, I shared my draft manuscript of my book ‘The Way of the Triathlete’ with a few confidants – it was not easy for me, I assure you. However, I do believe strongly that the feedback will make it a much better book. I hope to get a few meetings with potential publishers to get more insights on my material. I could procrastinate only for so long.

When was the last time you dove off the deep end?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Jumping to Conclusions

In track or pool meets, we have seen sprinters penalized for jumping the gun. Their anticipation makes them over-react and they move a split second before the starter’s gun sounds off. Because of this, other competitors will have to recompose themselves as they return to their starting blocks. This can throw your rhythm off mildly or totally. A disqualification due to one false start too many can be disastrous.

In conversations, we may sometimes be accused of jumping to conclusions. This can occur when others feel that we do not have all the facts, failed to interview or investigate thoroughly, and make remarks that may be premature. We have to consider the consequences of our ‘false starts’, be it with colleagues, customers or friends. Poor academic researching can be embarrassing when your thesis is poorly supported, and you reach wrong conclusions. Likewise, addressing somebody by an improperly pronounced name and title can be awkward.

Apple's new tablet is called iPad. Hmmm...did somebody jump the gun on that name?

Look before we leap.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Changing The World?

‘I can change the world…’ ~ Eric Clapton

Do you think that little gestures like making donations, acts of charity, teaching children, cleaning a house, building clinics and schools (in an underdeveloped nation) can change the world?

I was watching a Channel News Asia programme called ‘Asians of the Year’ and chanced upon a segment with a social worker. She said that their efforts probably amounted to drops in an ocean. She said that they may not change the world, but they could change a person’s world.

I was touched by her words: Change a person’s world. That has profound implications on somebody’s life. Humans are sensitive to changes in their environment, and if these changes have positive intentions and outcomes, it can affect them significantly.

Mahatma Gandhi suggested his approach for changing the world: ‘One person at a time!’ So, what we do can cause shifts incrementally. Running is merely putting one step forward at a time, sometimes, with a wider stride or more frequency. Yesterday, my friend Reeves bought three packets of tissue paper from an elderly lady who approached our table. He gave her $2 (instead of $1), returned her a packet, and gave one to me: small gestures with considerable impact.

He may have changed the world for all three of us: Ripples in a large pond.

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lead Your Team With the Basics

Managers and supervisors are who they are because they modeled from their predecessors. However, some of these on-the-job, behaviors cannot be tolerated and condoned, as they are out-dated and inhumane.

If you are a volunteer leader, make sure that motivational factors like the basics are delivered. Nobody can work indefinitely without fatigue and boredom setting in. Do take care of your staff’s meal, drink and bathroom needs. Ensure that there are periods of rest for staff; schedule this in, and rotate the staff.

You may flog a staff with ridiculous demands at work; you certainly cannot with a volunteer as they can quit any time. If a full-time staff or contract staff leaves your team, your team may be short-handed.

Banish your thoughts about the roles of superiors and subordinates – this is outmoded and arrogant thinking. Nobody needs to kowtow to you, and act subservient just because you have the label of ‘superior’ on the performance appraisal form. Submissiveness and servant-like behavior limits people’s potential to perform at their best. It also constricts their thinking and creativity to solve problems.

Review your beliefs and values about treating people. You cannot violate universal values like fairness, care and consideration without facing the consequences. Treat people the way YOU want to be treated, and your will stand out as a leader.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

PowerPoint-Less Presentations!

I am reading The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great In Front of Any Audience (Carmine Gallo, 2009). It is based on modeling the presentation techniques of Apple’s foremost evangelist of the runaway hits - iPod and iPhone. Not rocket science really; Jobs still delivers his thoroughly prepared presentation with PowerPoint slides with his unique personal branding and style.

My Australian friend, Alfred Hayes told me a few days ago how annoyed he gets with high-tech gadgets in his hotel: he could not call out from his room in a 5-star hotel because the phone used a screen keypad and his finger kept hitting two buttons at a time. He also shared his annoyance with online airlines and how self-service, ticketing was unfriendly towards consumers.

Invariably, high technology pervades and invades our lives and psyches. Rarely, do we experience a no-PowerPoint presentation. Our reliance on such a digital, visual format knows no bounds. We are hooked on it – like a freely swimming fish caught on a hook with artificial bait.

What would happen if your notebook crashed, or the power supply ceases? What do you do? What do you do? (I was watching a re-run of Speed before I wrote this).

We are, essentially, screwed because technology fails us – as it has before. Our excuse: blame it on technology. It happens! We cannot afford such presentation SNAFUs if we are pitching a sale for our new, startup company or presenting to our senior managers.

Sometimes, traditional or old school methods (okay, Classic style) of presentation will do. Back it up with flipcharts, brochures, photographs, actual samples and ‘live demonstrations’. The pitchman at the department store shows off his competency – product knowledge, skillfulness and technical knowledge – by his entertaining style. The crowd he draws to his booth want to see, hear and feel the experience. They want to learn, be informed and be dazzled by his mesmerizing performance. It is like having a front-row seat in a Sell-A-Vision studio recording. Aim: Show them (successfully) what you told them you would do.

Present powerfully. Know your stuff well. Deliver your message in a clear and concise manner. Do it with KISS. Communicate to lead (minds and mindsets).

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Critical Question to Ask in Entrepreneurship & Creativity

Interviews are not limited to journalists and job interviewers. Interviewing is a process built in into our conversations. When you have a chat with friends and colleagues, hidden inside (often unconsciously) are a plethora of questions. These questions lead us down various Garden Paths of possibility. Each questions directs our attention to purposeful outcomes.

Comprehension is our ability to ask open-ended questions. We need to comprehend before we can understand something fully. The reality of our life is, we may think we understand something, yet we may not. The flaw of comprehension – despite being taught in early primary school – is that we were taught only the ‘5 W, one H’ version. As I found in my research over the past 10 years, many respondents/students miss out the critical sixth ‘W’ question based on creativity/entrepreneur thinking.

With your long-term relationship – do you fully understand him/her? How often has it been: ‘You don’t understand me!’ or ‘I’ll never understand you!’ Do you need to fully understand how a car or electricity works, before you can drive it or flick on the switch? My friend’s father, a former-meteorologist said to me in confidence: ‘Weather is more predictable than people. I still don’t understand my wife!’

Comprehension covers: what, who, when, which, where, why and how. Time and again, about 80 percent of my students miss out ‘which’. ‘Which’ presupposes options, choices, and alternatives: crucial elements in problem solving, and developing a ‘can do’ mindset. Ask ‘which other ways have we not considered?’ and your mind may spark off possibilities. ‘Which’ is non-judgmental versus ‘why?’ which has implications of consequence and repercussion.

Entrepreneurs often ask ‘which’. This question can provoke or invoke a mindset of ‘What else can we do?’ ‘What have we not considered?’ and ’Which other opportunities are there for us?’ Innovation scientists, branding experts, marketing consultants, and new business owners need to, continually, push the threshold of what has been done, to ‘What else has not been considered?’ Remember that ‘entrepreneur’ mans ‘first to enter’. Like Star Trek: ‘To boldly go where no one has gone before!

Be bold. Ask questions. Interview. Enjoy your conversations, and learn from those around you. Everyone is a crucible of potential and possibilities.

Modeling is a process where we study (through deliberate and cleverly designed questions) the mental models of people. We engage in a rapport, and then respectfully interview the person on their experiences, perceptions, opinions, abilities and approaches.

Leadership Homework: Read biographies, or books with transcripts of interviews with celebrities and leaders. Study the types of questions asked; or even the responses. You will get a better sense of who the person is, and how they tick.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Help Haiti in Its Time of Need

My friend, Reeves Lim posted this appeal on Twitter. Donate whatever you can for the unfortunate. It is the gesture that counts. When you give cash, it goes a long way to how it can be expended creatively for the needy.

President Clinton and President bush articulated the following critical needs:

'Our immediate priority is to save lives. The critical needs in Haiti are great, but they are also simple: food, water, shelter, and first-aid supplies. The best way concerned citizens can help is to donate funds that will go directly to supplying these material needs.

Through the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, we will work to provide immediate relief and long-term support to earthquake survivors. We will channel the collective goodwill around the globe to help the people of Haiti rebuild their cities, their neighborhoods, and their families.'

Please do your best.

A Stretch of the Mind and Body

I am deeply encouraged by your readership and comments. Although I do not actively spread the existence of this blog, my network of loyal readers continue to give me a sense of purpose to keep writing, daily and with appreciation. I thank you for participating in this online community that has yielded new thoughts and perspectives for me.

Let me know what you, specifically, like to read. Leadership Lessons from Triathlons is not just about triathlons, triathletes and leadership – we present, share and engage in topics that are contemporary and perhaps critical to our professions and lives. In recent months, we have presented to you personal branding, values, performance management, employment, and capability. We have introduced entertainment and education through reviews on books and films. Our interviews have also been well received, and linked to other leading websites on sports and leadership.

This morning, I rode out into the pre-dawn darkness at 5.15am to catch a morning bumboat to Desaru, Malaysia. There, a motley team of about 13 riders covered about 140km of rolling roads. It started with cool temperatures, and then it heated up considerably by noon. For those of us who have not been riding every fortnight overseas, this proved to be quite intimidating and challenging, what with the far distance and mainly for the rollercoaster route. We broke for a quick re-fuelling session at a driver’s pit stop that was a welcome respite as we were running on fumes – okay, water. Dehydration saps us quickly of our pedaling power and ushers in fatigue quickly. The experienced riders ate muffins or sucked on energy gels, which nourishes the aching muscles under such debilitating conditions.

As it is less than six weeks to my race at Ironman New Zealand, this stretch of my mind and muscles was appropriate and relevant. The more you test your body, the more it can adapt and become adept at handling similar conditions in the future.

I was pleased, that despite the variance in fitness and goals, our riders took the initiative to assist each other along. Riders took turns to lead, allowing the riders behind to enjoy the draft effect – shading the headwinds and creating a mild suction effect that drew the followers towards them. It was not a day of competition, although we did egg each other on when we inched near the leaders. These playful distractions allow us to refocus on other healthy aspects instead of the pain and discomfort.

It was a fantastic way to end the weekend, and start the new week!

Photo: Taken by JP-Empire (Mervyn) and Matthew's camera.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Leading with a Purpose

It has been an interesting week for me.

I have, so far, raised about NZ$795 for Kids with Cystic Fibrosis (Breath4CF) - the adopted charity of Ironman New Zealand. My business associate has pledged another $1,000 and that means that we have significantly exceeded our initial target. I am so grateful to my sponsors/donors for supporting my cause.

One recent donor/sponsor is Aaron Fleming, author of ‘Purpose’. He suffered a collapsed lung twice, and had an addiction to painkillers. By insurmountable odds, he reframed his life, completed three Ironman triathlons, and is now a speaker to kids about the notion of purpose. He was the ambassador for New Zealand at the Beijing Olympics 2008.

During an evening workshop for accountants, an audience member challenged me, indirectly, by concealing a card from me during my performance of a magic trick. I knew that he was either being cheeky or misunderstood my instruction, however decided to stop my questioning of his integrity prematurely. I watched the body language of members of his table, and calibrated these for his truthfulness. I knew that it was pointless to argue with him, despite the fact that he nearly sabotaged my demonstration. I moved on; it was pointless for anyone to lose face. There was a private time for embarrassment, when there was a lesson to be deliberately taught. The large playing card (12” X 6”) was found on the table later. I said: ‘I knew it was there all along! The question is: How did I know?’

The president of the association commended me at the end of my workshop. He was worried that I would be thrown off balance and be upset – which I never telescoped to my audience. He told me that there were, historically, trainers who were annoyed with audience members, and I wasn’t one of them. I always believed that being professional is about not being personal.

Leadership Lessons: It is important to have purpose in our life. Without a strong sense of purpose, we may become aimless and wander from one distraction to another. Purpose gives us a sense of direction, be it a performance target, sales goal, establishing a new relationship or mending picket fences. Finding a cause, and supporting it also creates a sense of purpose, and our actions that follow reflect it. Go on – create your purpose-driven life!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Reframing: Sleight of Mind

Reframing is a technique in Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) that focuses on changing the way we think, by changing our language. It is about being optimistic, by shifting our focus from predictable to relevant, meaningful and useful. Reframing gives us new points of references that we can anchor onto, with different boundaries, that allow us to be open-minded to possibilities .

We can change the content, or context of our language.

For example, we can reframe customer into: paymaster, shareholder, supporters, tribes, loyal followers, and reason for our business.

For example, ‘Our customer is unreasonable!’ can be reframed as ‘Our customer gives useful feedback’, ‘We have a open relationship with our clients’, ‘Our customer continually challenges us to do better!’ or ‘Our customer has high standards of professionalism.’

Reframing can be used to validate our realities. Our sense of reality needs to be referenced both internally and externally.

Speaking during the presidential debate with Walter Mondale, Ronald Reagan said, 'I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience.' Reagan’s age was not an issue for the remainder of the campaign!

A young worker of IBM had made a mistake that lost the company $1 million in business. She was called in to the President’s office (Thomas Watson, Sr.) and as she walked in said, 'Well, I guess you have called me here to fire me.' 'Fire you?' Mr. Watson replied, 'I just spent $1,000,000 on your education!'

‘I get annoyed when my boss looks over my shoulder while I am working.’ Can reframed to a more useful perception of your reality: 'Is it possible he wants to help, yet does not know how to offer his assistance in any other way?'

Resolutions can be enhanced for their success by reframing it into a future-orientated vision. ‘Imagine what I would look like 5 kilogrammes lighter and fitter?' ‘When I lose all my excess body fat, I will feel more energetic and enthusiastic about movement.’ ‘When I complete my education, I will enjoy higher self-esteem, confidence and be more knowledgeable about an area of my expertise.’

My teacher, Gary challenged me to consider somebody I disliked and ask this question: ‘What can I learn from somebody I dislike?’ This shifts our perspective to something more purposeful instead of limiting our mindset and behaviors.

Change your perceptions and behaviors for the better through reframing.

For more about reframing and reality checks, read: Roger Ellerton, PhD. Live Your Dreams – Let Reality Catch Up.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Are You Reconnecting in High-Tech, High-Touch, Style?

One leading mobile-phone manufacturer used to tout ‘Connectivity’. Are we really more connected with this amazing digital device?

Is this flatter, hotter and crowded world limiting us in our communication?

Have you noticed how colleagues e-mail each other for lunch, even when they are situated next to each other’s cubicle/desk? Do we speak more to people, or send written messages instead? Are we so comfortable with technology to the point that we fear receiving that phone-call, or meeting face-to-face?

It can be absurd how we fail to communicate when it is so easy and simple. Here are some practical approaches on how to be high-tech and high-touch:

1) E-mail a friend you have not seen for a long time.

2) Talk (verbally, not on instant messaging) to a long-distance friend via Skype.

3) Type your text messages (SMS) in full sentences.

4) Only post useful messages on Twitter (I may catch flak for this one).

5) Tell someone how you feel about your concerns and causes (instead of blogging it to random strangers).

6) Arrange to meet friends when you are on holiday (instead of avoiding them).

7) Send handwritten notes instead of digital cards.

8) Personally present actual gifts instead of digital ones.

9) Stop ‘poking’ and start ‘shaking hands’ and ‘embracing’ others.

10)Follow up actual, analog, face-to-face meetings with digital communication.

Read: Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat and Crowded (2009) and The World Is Flat (2007).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Patience is a Virtue

Children have a need for instant gratification; they want it, and they want it now! On the other hand, adults have to learn to delay this need for gratification; you do not get what you want or expect, unless you are patient.

An amateur triathlete suspends his plans for racing Ironman triathlons, for leading neophytes in swim training. This same person runs alongside a struggling and injured training partner, in a marathon. These two deeds require that you draw upon your patience. You may compromise your own personal timing, yet you may experience the deep-seated satisfaction that comes with assisting somebody, and sharing in their celebration of personal achievement.

Waiting for the results of an examination; waiting for your medical tests result; waiting in queues; giving a stranger directions; giving instructions to a new staff – moments where your patience may be exercised.

Patience is more than just waiting for others. It is a personal value that is associated with endurance (in the Values Grid). Endurance involves loyalty and patience, and it is about building relationships and service.

Being patient with clients, who have their preferences and prejudices, means holding back your judgments and hearing them out first. It is about how you approach the matter, without sounding too smart or condescending. Patience is about pacing yourself to the customers, moving at their pace first, and then leading them to more useful outcomes.

The language of intent with patience is: ‘Continue it…so…’ So, organizing and leading weekly swim, run and riding sessions involve patience, and supporting values. Let’s go the full distance with our patience!

Endurance, patience and loyalty are covered in the book ‘Values Grid: Compelling Leadership Values’ by Gary Yardley, Jan Kelly and Sally Rundle. This book is available from PIPS Pty Ltd.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Relevance of Executive Coaching

In my experience training for triathlons, I have found that my coaches have helped me tremendously. I have sought coaches for my swimming (my main weakness) and running (my unfortunate strength). For those new to triathlons or endurance sports, I would strongly recommend that they seek such specialists to enhance their skills faster and safely. Injuries are painful ways to learn, and they are debilitating and can impede your progress as an athlete – sometimes, permanently.

Sports coaches help us with drills, teaching us proper techniques and methods. Drills condition our body and mind to internalize the biomechanics of sports strokes and movements. Perfect practice makes perfect; wrong practice becomes permanent, and are harder to change. The coach teaches by a process of discovery, instead of merely directing.

In Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model, the four leadership styles are directing, coaching, supporting and delegating. They are no best styles, only the suggestion that we be flexible enough to engage all fur styles when appropriate.

Executive coaching, as applied in the corporate world is for up-skilling and developing staff. You can coach a staff to learn technical skills, interpersonal skills, and become more competent and confident in what they do. Coaching can take place face-to-face, via video-conferencing (such as Skype), and over the telephone. Your coach can guide you through a facilitative process, meaning you will engage in a ‘productive conversation’ that has you consider your hindsight, insight and foresight. You will consider different perspectives, and determine alternatives and solutions to existing problems. Instead of the traditional problem-centric approach, you can be solutions-focused.

Seek a coach, and enjoy your discoveries.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Your Blind Side: The Value of Profiling

There are many profiling tools/instruments used in the field of psychology. Some of these are designed to measure personality, personality traits, working styles, leadership styles, attitudes, values, and mindsets. Most of our readers may be familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), DISC, and Situational Leadership. The relevance of a tool depends on two factors: validity and reliability. Validity is about whether an instrument measures what it is purported to measure; reliability is, its accuracy when it is used again in a short period of time.

I watched the film, The Blind Side about two days ago, and like to highlight a point or two about profiling tools and results.

The Blind Side is based on the true story of a young man who went from abandonment to success as a pro-football player and treats it with respect. The plot is almost Disney-like, and therefore inspirational: Michael Oher, is an African-American, gentle teen hulk in Tennessee, who gets taken in by a well-to-do white family. The mother, Leigh Anne Touhy, pushes and mothers the boy, who eventually wins a football scholarship to the University of Mississippi. Leigh Anne can be described in Personality Types as being vain and domineering, at times.

If Leigh Anne did not consider that Michael scored 98% on Protection - which refers to his instinct to protect his immediate family – she would not have strongly suggested to the coach that he play in the defensive position. What shifted Michael’s focus from a game that was fraught with complex rules and play patterns, was when Liegh Anne told him to treat his team as his family – and to protect his family! Despite his, apparently, low score on IQ (probably, due to convenience and negligence) he blossomed as a student with a 2.52 GPA average!

Thus, psychological and psychometric tools are guides, yet they need to be interpreted and used; it would be pointless to measure for the sake of measuring. A tailor would not take your measurements unless you wanted a jacket made! There is relevance if you acknowledge your blind sides (refer to the Johari Window).

As an aside: Watch this film. The cast is well rounded with Sandra Bullock leading the way to several nominations; this could be her chance to be fully accepted as a credible and highly flexible actress! The football scenes are captivating. You will not leave the cinema, or your TV set, when the credits roll alongside all the real-life photos of Michael, Leigh Anne, and the rest of the family that are featured in the credits. It is a touching film about people at their natural, generous, and charitable selves. It also shows us how encouragement can be a powerful process for nudging a person’s potential along.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Headwinds and Headways

This morning as I was riding on a road that parallels the airport runway, I was working harder than usual due to the presence of a strong headwind. The notoriously stubborn breeze slowed all the riders down appreciably, and it was so easy to be winded by pushing even harder. I cannot imagine how salmon consistently and persistently swim against the currents of a raging river, to reach an originating location where they can spawn and then perish.

The upside was, when you returned from the other way you accelerated significantly, and it was effortless. That tailwind assisted us by giving us a much-needed push in the right direction.

I felt as if I was working on an experiment on aerodynamic profile in a wind tunnel; so, I leaned forward and adopted the tuck-in position, with my abdomen almost touching my thighs. Resorting to applying physics helped, although the occasional side-winds also presented a challenge, too.

Headwinds are present in our daily lives: in our conversations, and in our relationships. We face resistance, hesitation, indecision and inertia. Knowing that these will be present, we need to plough through without over-expending our resources, patience and passion. We can only get frustrated if we hit the wall, and insist on breaking it down. Some walls may not be easily toppled; instead, we may need to scale them. Headwinds are necessary if a plane is to take off and land safely. When others doubt us and our abilities, they are controlling the winds for us, albeit for a while until we sail past these pre-judgments.

Headway is when we turn our face towards the winds. It is more important how we work with the direction of the wind. Making headway indicates that we have made progress through previously similar conditions. When a client chooses to participate in our conversation, we have collectively made progress as we open ourselves to possibilities and our potential.

Tailwinds may be useful and make for easier work, however an over-reliance on them can lead us to become economical in our energy. We can become lazy by agreeing to work selectively. It is almost akin to riding downhill, where gravity takes over, and the rider cruises along until he reaches the bottom of the hill.

Leadership Lessons: The winds of change shift constantly, and we need to catch them – the way we launch a kite and fly it. Perhaps it is in our nature to push when we are pushed. However, we can sometimes relent and release, and surrender ourselves to alternatives and align ourselves to other people’s ideas and perspectives.

Addendum: In THE HARD CORE APPROACH, Matthew suggested that hard core also involves passion. I agree. Passion can be a strong driver and motivator for sustaining a hobby, pursuit, cause or project. Passion can energise artists to create beautiful works of art, or art installations that state or symbolise a strong message. Leo Tolstoy's War & Peace, Michelangelo's painting of Judgement Day on the altar of the Sistine Chapel, and James Cameron's Avatar (and Titanic) paid abundant attention to detail - their persistence, patience and determination achieved outstanding results.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Hard Core Approach

After this morning’s swim-run set at the lagoon, I started a discussion with Matthew based on watching a regular group of undergraduates training at the beach. These students from the National University of Singapore (NUS) swam and ran (brick) for a few grueling sets. The words ‘hard core’ sort of, popped up while we were ready to leave the venue. Single-discipline athletes already view triathletes as hardcore; triathletes think that Ironman triathletes are hard-core; marathoners think ultra-marathoners are hard-core.

What is ‘hard core’? How would you describe the notion of ‘hard core’? Mind you, this does not refer to the twilight world of alternative adult entertainment.

A snapshot, colloquial or casual definition of ‘hard core’ could mean ‘obsessive’, ‘intense’, ‘disciplined’, ‘committed’, ‘excessive’ and ‘overboard’.

Hard core (noun): 1) The permanent, dedicated, and completely faithful nucleus of a group or movement, as of a political party. 2) An unyielding or intransigent element in a social or organizational structure, as that part of a group consisting of longtime adherents or those resistant to change. 3) Those whose condition seems to be without hope of remedy or change.

These definitions read as negative, inflexible and hapless. How then can being ‘hard core’ be useful?

One triathlete wrote: ‘Friends who've WON Ironmans are true multi-sport aficionados - beyond great at all three disciplines. Every second counts over 8+ hours.’ Do you reckon that this writer is hard-core in his mindset and attitude? Triathletes can train upwards of 10 hours per hour, and 15, 20 and 30 hours are not unheard off among elite age-group competitors. If you want to qualify for Kona in the Ironman World Championships, then training at such volumes may seem unimaginable and insane.

Being perceived as hard core can win you a following, when what you do receives attention for its positivity and relevance. If you are steadfast and resilient in achieving success for your cause, then it can be inspiring to others. Role models incite and elicit emotions in others, despite their apparent ludicrousness and absurdity at times. People can interpret one’s sense of discipline as being hard-core, if one goes overboard by being overly rigid. Being compliant is reasonable as long as we do not ruffle feathers, or rub them in the wrong way.

Leadership Lessons: You can have a hard-core approach to doing things well. Surprisingly, in the cloudy world of customer service, excellence may just mean doing things right and doing it well. Excellence means ‘to excel in something’. Few service professionals seem eager to excel, let alone do the basics adequately. In your capacity as leader, be hard-core by exceeding your abilities, challenging yourself constantly, and indulging in integrated innovation. Seek assistance when you need, involve others, get them to participate in a shared cause, and set higher expectations/standards. If you seek personal mastery, then you may have to extend and exceed yourself in ways never before. Stick to the Big Plan, and others.

Credit/citation: Formal definitions from

Friday, January 15, 2010

Reinventing Yourself

Sarah Palin is now a political commentator for Fox-TV. The interview-savvy, former-governor of Alaska, now-author, who is a favourite with Republicans, will appear on television regularly. Talk about a major career switch - from public office to bubblegum for the public eye.

Hewlett-Packard coined the term ‘Reinvention’ as part of its ‘Journey’ when Carly Fiorina was its first female CEO. It also shifted its business from computers to focus on ink cartridges and printers in early-2000.

A senior executive, holding many key positions including CEO, eventually settled to the public service as a vice-principal of a junior college. He wanted a change of pace and fulfill his sense of purpose.

Reinventing ourself is vital in total’s context if we are to remain relevant (and employable). It means making necessary changes, being adaptive and adept at what we do. We review our competencies to ensure that these are contemporary, and up-dated. Personal Branding 2.0 becomes the new focus, as we orientate ourself around new bearings, establish new relationships and sustain existing ones. We reconnect with our networks of relationships via Social Media. No longer do we keep our life private and tight-lipped, but keep the social door ajar so that others may get a glimpse of us in more casual surroundings.

Leadership Lessons: Do different things for a while, and stick to your script. Just when people find you predictable, shift gears or roles. Decide on what else increases your value. Do things that get attention, be attractive to others, and get them to be attached to your leadership style and values.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

State of Control

The dark clouds were looming tonight; I was unsure about training. If I rode, and it poured it would get very tricky for me. The westerly wind was persistent and committed to assert itself in ways to be taken seriously. I had a marathon meeting in the afternoon, and that had taken its toll on me. To run, or not to run – that was the question for me. I decided to quit making excuses and take control over myself. Go for a run, I encouraged myself. If I felt lousy, I would cut it short; if not, I would just go for as far, for as long.

Thankfully, I scored a personal best time-in-training – a good start to the year. I was glad I regained control; it is so easy to be distracted, conveniently create excuses for my inertia, and surrender to comfort. Coach Luis Vargas of MarkAllenOnline wrote that we should ‘never let the weather dictate our training.’ Now the notion of control in management is a serious one. Why the need for control?

It could have surfaced with the management roles of planning, organizing staffing, directing and controlling – management functions and roles.

What can you control? You can control processes, certain parameters and variables, and aspects of the environment.

What can’t you really control? You cannot control people’s choices, thinking, beliefs, values, behaviors and experiences. You can tease the best of your staff, but you can only control them for so long. Morale and motivation wanes through time, with rewards or not. Managing is not about controlling people. It is about empowering people to become better, if not the best – they can be.

There is this animal known as the ‘control freak’ – a condition either organic, or learnt. They have an uncontrollable (ironical) urge to control other people’s action, thinking and decisions. They just have to know, and interfere with the actions of others. They are overwhelmed by a need to check, inspect, interrogate, and inquire. People around them feel threatened, vulnerable and phobic about their presence for these control-orientated managers may be constantly looking over your shoulder. They may appear to have a lack of trust over their staff and team members. They, too, are insecure and fearful and they transfer these abnormal behaviors onto others.

Leadership Lessons: Learn to let go at times! You cannot control indefinitely, and certainly not with people. People may not allow you to control them through your unruly and high-handed behaviors. Wrest control away from others and influence instead. Control is limiting, and converges actions and intents into the internal world. Instead, release control at times, and free others to be creative and connected with the larger, external world. Focus on your customers, not merely your company. Never let the weather distract you.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

11 Ways To Lead With Influence and Impact

If the contemporary orientation to control is about foreseeing, instead of focusing on errors alone, then let us consider aspects of our leadership for the new decade. If we will take charge of our future, what can we control in terms of the direction of our leadership development? Here are some suggestions that have served leaders well over the past decade, and deserves support and sustainability:

1) Make insanely effective presentations about a cause, product or service you strongly believe in (like Steve Jobs or Anthony Robbins)

2) Stay actively connected to your networks and optimize social media tools of communication (but not at the expense of your working hours)

3) Encourage staff to enhance their potential, and build on their capability

4) Challenge yourself to do something uncomfortable (occasionally)

5) Make time to talk to your management, and leaders in your company

6) Seek people’s opinions, and ask them how they will approach things

7) Surround yourself with a pool of experts (outside of your area of expertise) and activate them regularly for projects and assignments

8) Continue to learn, improve and grow (and aim for mastery)

9) Be non-judgemental and aligned with people’s values, and be mindful of your own

10) Integrate other people’s thinking into your collaborative communication (acknowledge and recognize others in meetings, presentations and interviews)

11) Exercise your courage in different ways (demonstrate you have true grit or gonads of steel), or stand up for somebody, or do the right thing

Recommended Reading:

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs – How to be insanely great in front of any audience by Carmine Gallo (McGraw-Hill, 2010)

Leadership, by Rudolph W. Giuliani (Hyperion, 2005)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Busting the Mental Myths

Facilitators, trainers and educators are highly influential people, and what we spout in class or in a coaching session can be taken at face value. So, we have a humongous responsibility to be truthful, factual and exact.

Yesterday, I received from Douglas O’Loughlin, author of Facilitating Transformation this article.

This raised an alarm bell in me: where in the world did we get the source of our facts? It is so easy to ramble on like a world almanac with interesting bits and bytes of facts and figures, however, are we being exact? Do we test our facts like the way Wikipedia challenges us to compliantly, authenticate and verify our facts? Of the three myths, I was particularly amused, in an annoyingly sort of way with this: We Use Less Than 10 percent of Our Brain.

Do we really?

Who came up with this research number? 10 percent is a whole number, and what happened to the additional decimals behind it. I’m sure that our brain is a work-in-progress, akin to a beta version with an expanding RAM and memory space.10 percent referral fee is moderate, yet for my potential, 10 percent 'brain power' is relatively, short-changing to my clients, those around me, and myself. My take on that is, less than 10 percent (or whatever amount that you give your brain credit for) of what we think or do is within conscious learning or control. The remainder of our brain prowess - 90 percent, or so - is governed by unconscious brain processes. I insist that we can enhance our intellect and intelligence – based, of course, on Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences.

The way to enhance your intellectual currency is: Use your brain for a change! Ask different questions. Explore. Learn. Discover. Disagree. Confirm. Validate. Verify. Enhance. Refute. Challenge.

Can you give more of your brainpower, intellect, intelligence and intuition in your profession? How do you become more productive when you do not fully commit to using your brain?

There is also a corollary to this myth – that we are right- or left-brain dominant. We are whole-brained. Full stop. The corpus callosum is then bridge/causeway between the two cerebral hemispheres. Why tell people that you are only half-a-brain? No, if we multiply ninety percent of that to half a brain, then we get 5%. The math is not optimistic, and the odds of getting creative will be severely lessened.

You have a nice bus (brain), but who’s driving your bus? Just a thought.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Optimising on the Power of E-Mails

A good week to our readers!

This morning, I thought that we could focus on e-mails, as it is one thing I do upon arising. 'Early to bed, early to rise, check your daily prescription of e-mails twice.' Check for these electronic communication at the start and end of my day, I do.

I can expound of the relevance of e-mails, however stop it from dominating your life. If you cannot do a day without checking on your Blackberry, iPhone or e-mail cache - you may have an addiction. Seriously.

Here are some pointers to enhance your communication technology, powered up for 2010.

1) Ensure your e-mails are intended for one recipient or several. Be exact and clear.
2) If it is 'BCC', it means 'Blind carbon copy' - therefore, it should be on another section. BCC refers to other people on your mailing list who the main recipient is unaware of.
3) Ensure that your Heading is precise and clear. Headings can be the 'decisive point' of whether I read that mail, or not. Spam is, usually, detected by poor grammar and spelling. There are patterns of headings that indicate a potential waste of your time.
4) Use e-mail as an extension and expansion of your digital communication. I have closed business deals and opened them, via text message/SMS. E-mail gives me permission to elaborate and explain further the details. I may include attachments.
5) Some agencies and organisations have spam-bots that quarantine your e-mail, because you send attachments (which the software deems dubious) or include e-mail links. Check with your client or business partner if these are activated, or else you will consume time re-sending your e-mail, and it can be frustrating.
6) Stop sending Chain Letters. As well-intended you are, many of these have malicious intent. If I do not reply to you within a stipulated time, woe behold me! I may suffer the deadly curses due to my procrastination or busy-ness. Many of these chain-letters are hoaxes. Check '' for the latest pranks.
7) Seek permission to send messages, even if this is a private and solicited list. Phrase your e-mail appeals (for charity) well, so that it does not sound like spam; some letters have a mechanical personality - so, rewrite and customise them. Study what the top online marketers write these days, minus the plethora of hyperbole and over-hyphenated-adverbs.
8) E-mail is a tool; probably, the most basic but relevant, longer-format, tool in digital communication. Like Steve Jobs, write clearly and be to-the-point.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Loneliness of the Long-Distance Athlete

This morning, a band of 15 of my triathlon friends headed for Malaysia to ride 242km. This is, by far, the longest ride most of them have done. This event was part of a progressive series of rides, which is targeted at triathletes preparing for long-distance triathlons. It will be a test of endurance for many, as the road conditions and weather will be challenging. However, upon their completion, and I know many will - they will come back stronger, more robust and confident.

Confidence is built when we test ourselves, and succeed. Just completing an enduring ride, regardless of speed, can be comforting to the psyche of the cyclist. I completed about 90km this morning, and was pleased that the conditions were made tougher with persistent head-winds. I was grateful to the coterie of cyclists riding solo, or in pairs who indirectly encouraged me to continue riding, and defer my hunger.

Riding can be a lonely business. You may start as a pack,and then this team disintegrates into a longer convoy of riders; each person tending to their own demons and strategies for dealing with desolate self-talk and endemic self-doubt. However, this sense of isolation can help build a sense of independence, self-reliance and confidence - enticing elements of personal leadership. We live with our thoughts, actions and consequences; if we give up too readily and easily, we will have to live with ourselves, and our self-castigation for not doing more.

Do we get lonely whilst on these long rides? We might. Some people may be loners, yet that does not mean that they are lonely. Loneliness is based on a strong dependency of others for company. Loners may just enjoy being by themselves, sometimes; cycling and long-distance running fits very well as sports for such private personalities.

I can't wait to enjoy the many stories with the riders later this week - it promises to be wild, whacky and weathered. Meanwhile, train safe and be well!

Photo credit: Pee Kay

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Delightful Conversations

Last night, John Cooke and I had dinner with Deca-Ironman Kua Harn Wei. I had the pleasure of interviewing him to months ago. We chatted, at great lengths, about how to train for longer distances, including the infamous, incredible '10 X Ironman triathlons'.

On closer inspection, we discovered that the finisher of these unsettling endurance races has a very settled mine. We learnt that it takes a clear mind to complete such races, as well as prepare for them. He shared that he has trained in the evenings in his office - when the air-conditioner was off - peddling on his indoor-trainer for up to three hours. His training regime is so unique that Ironman Hall of Fame inductee, Mark Allen could not commit to training Harn Wei for this year's assault on the deca-Ironman.

I just returned from a morning swim at the Sentosa lagoon. The turnout has stayed strong, with a consistent community of sea-worthy swimmers led by swim-organiser, Matthew. South-African, Neil and I zipped up into our new wetsuits and swam the warm six laps (about 380-400 metres each way) of the mildly temperamental water. We wanted to find out the areas of our wetsuit that would cause abrasions on our skin. When you swim 3.8km in a race, you do not want to emerge from the wake with persistent and painful reminders on our skin. Abrasions are physical burdens that we do not want to carry for the remainder of the 222km. Our conversation at lunch revolved about which wetsuit-friendly lubricants could be used: then top-four listed were petroleum jelly, Body Glide, silicon-based lubricants, and WD40 (which one tri-buddy claimed was safe for the skin and worked like a charm!). Such is the fodder of post-training meal talk.

We finished off with a fast 4km run; Harn Wei shared that Mark Allen strongly believes that it is beneficial to run off the bike, for a fast 3-4km. The idea is to accustom the body to work at a higher threshold, especially when the legs are relatively fatigued from cycling.

The last 16 hours have been useful, as good conversations and friends make the effort relevant and delightful. I am looking forward to riding - alone and with another group - tomorrow morning.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Facilitating Transformation: A Review


The answer is a definitive ‘YES’. Not only do shifts happen we can, consistently, facilitate fundamental changes in how people and organizations create the future to which they aspire.

This new book shows you, in concrete and practical terms, how you can make the soil fertile, plant seeds, nurture growth, and witness the harvest of deep and lasting change. From the power of intentions to the positioning of chairs, the applications you discover may help you make the difference between a good session and a transformational one. Whether you facilitate workshops, teach classes, or coach and lead people, exploring this book will expand your capacity to do transformational work.

Douglas O’Loughlin is a skillful facilitator, and his experiences and skillfulness are captured in his first book. It may be said that this may be his body of work over the last 20 years, or so; yet, far from it, this may be one of his thesis of several to come. Douglas has consulted, trained and taught everything that begins with Organisational: Behavior, Development, Effectiveness, and Theory.

Here are some testimonials, which strongly summarises what I feel makes this book worth considering. I strongly recommend that you buy this book, and learn from it by doing. Leaders lead by learning, and doing.

‘Doug is a great facilitator- we have always learned a lot from him and he never fails to energize us with activities, processes, stories, etc. That is the reason why we keep inviting him back every time. The 12 strategies in this book provide a valuable roadmap for people having the desire to expand their effectiveness as facilitators.’

‘Transformation - the distinct shift into a markedly better mindset or behavior by a work team at any level--is that almost magical breakthrough all managers and change facilitators aspire for but seldom consciously achieve. In this practical but path-finding book, Douglas O’Loughlin shares key strategies from his deep and extensive experience into the alchemy of achieving that critical shift for better performance. This is a great handbook for all managers written by an outstanding change facilitator and management educator.’

‘In our hands is a valuable resource containing the experiences, insights and wisdom of an extraordinary facilitator! Trainers, facilitators, and participants too will benefit from the Strategies that Douglas has generously put together for all of us!’


Paperback: 184 pages

Publisher: Candid Creation Publishing LLP; 1st edition (October 30, 2009)

Language: English

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Conversations over Coffee

‘Let’s have coffee!’ The sound of word-associated, nectar to my ears!

In 2002, I travelled from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to Penang to conduct sales training for food and beverage (F&B) staff of the Shangri-La hotel group. It was a delightful experience, which was part of my assignment with a major coffee-supplier. Next to working with a beer brewery, coffee was my other beverage of choice and one of my indulgences.

I admit that I tend to go to three places for coffee: Starbucks, Yakun and the local coffee shops. There are certainly differences in tastes of the coffee; the ambience and environment are different; so, is the range in prices: From eighty cents to $1.30 to $5.80 (in Singapore dollars). The relevance of these places for me: I can curl up with a book and cover a few pages as my coffee cools; or, free-associate ideas and write it in my business diary; I may, surreptitiously, squat a little longer at the more premium-priced, ‘angelic’ place.

Caffeinated coffee, versus the pale leached version, stimulates the brain. It is a stimulant, and enhances alertness, enervates and energises you. Kaldi, the famous goat-header who, apparently, discovered the coffee bean after his hyperactive goats annoyingly bleated the whole night – took to an affinity for the bean, after he figured out how to make the bile-tasting drink more palatable. The secret to coffee’s multitude of flavours and texture, was in its roasting.

I enjoy watching coffee-baristas preparing my brew. Isn’t it interesting that we can brew tea, coffee and beer? Do you believe in coincidences? So do I! What a coincidence!

I love to observe the barista prepare my coffee. With the commercial chain of coffee cafes, brewing coffee can be almost an exact science. You see them stick thermometers into your brew, whip up a foaming frenzy with your cappuccino, and then pour it with care into your cup. Before my meeting with clients on Monday, I bought myself a mocha espresso drink. I learnt that Starbucks uses 60-percent, post-consumer fibre for its patented cup-holders.

A wonderful accompaniment to good coffee is good company. I take a good conversation over coffee any day, without reservation; however, coffee helps lubricate my brain and palate as it is almost a ritual, or near-iconic status. Somehow (and I gather this from a biased population of coffee-drinkers), it is believed that ‘Let’s have coffee!’ sounds distinctly more masculine, and testosterone-infused. I don’t know about that - but, I have my suspicions.

The down-side of caffeine-allergy, or its inherent properties are diuresis (loss of water from your kidneys), hyperactivity, risk of dehydration and increased heart rate. The up-side of caffeine include mental stimulation, alertness, and a useful aid for endurance sports. Perhaps, that is why people get animated and alive when chatting over coffee. Caffeine is now legalized in the sporting community, and can be found in sports-gels and drinks, however within limits.

I can go on with the philosophy, psychological and physiological responses of coffee, and coffee drinking; however, we will keep it for future conversations. When did you last have coffee? Invite a friend for coffee and enjoy the their company.