Thursday, September 27, 2012

In-Transit & Transitions

I am now on a 6-hour transit in the airport. Thankfully, frequent-flyer status on Star Alliance has allowed me access to the lounge. This proves useful as I can do some work, while lounging around with free, wireless access. I have two more flights from London to Dusseldorf, then to Berlin for this weekend's Big Dance.
While here, I met a running-buddy team: Both from Hawaii, and enroute to a marathon in Portugal. Kamika Smith is a 150-marathoner finisher having done the 50-States and 100-States races! His friend Lisa Ledesma is a first-time Ironman finisher (Louisville, Kentucky - a hot and rolling race) and serial marathoner (35 and counting). We recognised each other by our finisher backpacks. We exchanged notes about racing, nutrition, and the races we had done. Of course, we would track our races through Facebook. I received a couple of race-related correspondence as well as well wishes on this social network this morning. Thank you, friends and I believe that my foot is holding up well.
How we spend our time is our prerogative and priority. We can waste or while it away, doing the mundane and meaningless. Yet we can create many experiences of worth, while respecting somebody's sense of time and territory. Transitions are shifts in time, not just punctuations in our time-lines. Make your moves and be aware of your movements, as you place and displace yourself through your travels ands travails in your life.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Drawing From Your Experiences

What does it mean when somebody says ‘learn from experience’ or ‘sharing your experience’?

Learning from your experience builds awareness, introspection, and wisdom. If we make an active and concerted effort to reflect on what when right or wrong, we may benefit when something similar occurs in our future. Otherwise, we haven’t really learnt the lessons from our failures or non-starters.

You can extract the abstracts (i.e. lessons) by constructing a framework of success. Find out what works, and test it out in your existing model of effectiveness. Even in intangible things, we can mine them for their relevance. Our abstracts can matter more than pure wealth. That is why many of us pursue our sporting passions and enjoy our sense of achievement and fulfillment. Each celebration, achieved goal, milestone, and award received raises our sense of personal importance, confidence and self-esteem. These abstractions do matter or else they become pointless.

Leadership Lessons: How can you share somebody’s experiences? Unless you were involved in a similar or the same experience, it is still subjective. If we are not careful, we may end up speaking in clichés – like spouting out-dated idioms and proverbs. When adopting best-in-class practices, do that which has worked and continues to work well. As long as you continue to benefit from a process, keep doing more of it until diminishing returns set in.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Countdown 6 Days More To the BMW BERLIN MARATHON 2012

Altogether, registered to go and conquer their goals and dreams, will be 40,987 runners from 125 countries, plus about 6,000 inline skaters and about 11,000 participants in the Breakfast Run, over 8,000 in the school mini-MARATHON, and more than 1,000 kids at the Bambini Run. It is expected that over-65,000 athletes will be on their feet on the weekend of 29-30 September.

The BMW BERLIN MARATHON is the largest, one-day, sporting event in Germany with approximately one million spectators along the marathon course through the historical German capital.

Once again there will be a world-class line-up at the start, and leading the pack will be Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya, who ran the fastest marathon of all time in 2011, finishing in Boston in only 2:03:02. While that oldest race (in th world) did not qualify for a world record time, Geoffrey Mutai will now do his best to beat the official world record time of his fellow countryman, Patrick Mackau (2:03:38) set a year ago in Berlin on the course known for its speed and flatness.

I will be racing with a team of Singaporeans including one of our fastest female runners, Sumiko Tan as well as former-military friends (including Derek, Kum Tho and See Mong). I have begun running and look forward to pacing myself well for a hard-earned medal.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Teams Dynamics Matter In Talent Shows

The recent addition of female performers, Demi Lovato and Britney Spears was a wise decision for TV talent show ‘The X-Factor USA (Season 2)’. The younger, feminine energy of established recording and performing artistes balanced the mature, producers in the form of L.A. Reid and Simon Cowell. Each of the panel of four judges has their own credibility, based on their respective capability, interests and capacity found in their own competencies. Judging on a talent show is fairly new to both lady judges. L.A. Reid draws upon his experience from his recent, and first season of X-Factor USA, and Simon Cowell is the most experienced as he created this show, and heads the team of judges. He is also the blunt, barefaced, critic notorious in ‘The American Idol’ which he led since its inception; he left the series in the last season.

Team dynamics is about the energies of team members during their interactions with each other. In most cases, this will involve some degree of conflict due to professional and personal disagreement. The dramas are part of the allure of television reality series. That is why the adventure reality-series, ‘Survivor’ is into its 25th installment (in The Philippines). Audiences enjoy the tensions ad turmoil fraught of dramas so that they may engage their own informed conclusions about each character and personality of the contestants. Drama, leaks, gossip, rumours, tension, shenanigans and scandals attract viewership, and are part of the measure of success. Boredom leads to poor ratings and the cancellation of shows. Simon Cowell was quoted in Wikipedia as saying: 'The new panel will be dynamic and will work really well with the changes...'

Furthermore, this series will draw upon the endurance of each judge, as it is a long-drawn process that includes critique, selection, mentoring and more selection. Decision-making will move from team to individual to audience. Each judge will be placed on a slide, to be examined under a microscope of scrutiny.

Leadership Lessons: How well do you work with/in teams? How do you manage and lead other people’s teams? How do you integrate and interact within a team? What is your biggest challenge when working in a team, and how do you attend to it?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Updates on My Sporting Condition & Boston Marathon 2012

I have decided to run in the Berlin Marathon on 30 September. This is a world-class full marathon, where the world-record was set before. This course is pancake-flat, punctuated with key landmarks of this city with a rich history. Many attempt their Boston Qualifying (BQ) timings to qualify for the oldest marathon in the world. Expect a wide and deep field of marathoners who edge around 3 hours and less.

I am healing well from my stress fracture of my left metatarsal. There is no tenderness to the touch. I can put my weight on one foot when I go on tip-toe. Because of my heavy work travel in recent weeks, I can only get my sports-doctor’s review after the race.

My strategy for the race is: COMPLETE THE RACE COMFORTABLY, AND EARN MY MEDAL AND T-SHIRT. I will endeavour to enjoy the race with my friends, a team comprising military-officers (in the reserves). Chances for a PB is bleak, although if I pace well enough, I might hover around a decent 4 hours. I crossed the line in 2010 in the rainy and cold conditions in 3:37 (a far cry from my sub-3:30 race in 2011). If I can run well with minimal running (but with a strong base of core strengthening, swimming and cycling), I should be quite pleased with myself. Focus and resolve will be my values I will engage on my quest for 42.195K excellence. Toes crossed for mild weather. It should be an engaging and entertaining run.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

10 Ways To Writing Reports That Matter

Report writing appears to be an unpopular, but necessary form of documentation. Yet, it provides a recorded platform for evidence of tasks completed, achievements and the meetings of goals/KPIs. Reports are also used to document events, as well as salient points emerging from the activities associated with it. In practice the more you write and the more specific feedback you earn from it, the more improved you will be as a reporter.

If you have difficulty writing reports, how can you enhance your skills and confidence?

1)    Write about segments of a television program you have watched.
2)    Write a brief film review (100 words or less).
3)    Update your blog.
4)    Report on a sporting activity you have either participated in, or was a spectator to.
5)    Summarise the essence of an office meeting. Keep this to yourself.
6)    Report on the minutes of a meeting. (Sounds brutal, yet it is not if you know it comprises three salient components only).
7)    Read race/sports reports.
8)    Read about travel reports. It can be similar in style to that of The Lonely Planet.
9)    Glean from writers on Facebook and related social media. (I get inspiration from my friends who write well, or report on amusing matters).
10) Appreciate the structure and processes behind writing formal reports. Identify the content required for the Beginning, Middle and End.

Friday, September 14, 2012

What’s The Next Big Thing?

After racing in endurance challenges for the past eight years, I occasionally experience hearing that ‘voice in my head’ that suggests ‘what’s next?’ I have heeded it, and wondered what, if I so choose, would be my NEXT challenge?

Challenges are mainly goals that we assign ourselves to, with the intention of achieving or completing them as soon as we can. Our Bucket List may involve more time, and may include ‘nice to have’ things. Challenges are more deliberate because one we set our minds to them we would have to comply with our conditions to attain them.

Many Ironman triathlon finishers move towards off-road triathlons, trail running, marathons, ultra-marathons, long-distance open-water swims (OWS) and charity-based challenges (most distance covered in 24 hours). They make the shift due to boredom and the routine of discipline, and so apply that discipline elsewhere. This allows them to re-charge their bodies and minds from the grueling lifestyle of enduring physical training. A proper period of rest away from prolonged routine can rejuvenate us. Even injury gives us an opportunity to take stock, and review our inventory of wants and needs.

Leadership Lessons: Seek your next challenge. Uncover those that you ditched away. A challenge is a goal with a deadline. Reduce procrastination. Create enough reasons for moving forwards towards your dream. Make your challenge compelling enough to stay focused on. Above all, practise, rehearse and train for the challenge.

Pen Your Ideas Into Interventions & Initiatives

It is, probably, a truism when it is expressed that ‘the largest things started by being small’. We were once kids, and we grew up. Some companies also progressed from good to great.

Ideas come and go, rapidly and prolonged. It would be opportune just to capture some of these down on paper (or a digital pad). You need not be so extreme to write every dream down on your notebook strategically placed on your bedside. Ideas morph into reality through a series of steps, sometimes serial and other times, sideways and sidestepped. By visualizing these ideas into words or pictures, you gain a better sense of what these latent ideas may become. Let these ideas come to be!

When you review your chicken scratches from years ago, you may rejuvenate a few initiatives: a business plan, a dream trip, creating a new connection, re-establishing existing relationships, or presenting a proposal. Before we can mark out our existence or territory, we will need to make our mark on a page. Motivational speaker, Anthony Robbins wrote his life-plan on the back of a map. The Virgin logo was drafted as a signature on a paper-napkin. The all-in-one, self-contained, beer-brewing unit by WillliamsWarns was thought and talked through in many conversions. How do you brew commercial quality beers within your own home? Put a master-brewer and a few engineer partners together and realize your diagrams and blueprints.

Leadership Lessons: Start small. Build it up from them. Write your ideas down for copyright reasons, and for your own recognition.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Learn To Live And Let Live!

Just go about your way, if somebody annoys you.

To be annoyed or not be annoyed – it is your choice. People can behave in ways that irritate us or upset us, yet avoid letting them get to you. We have choices that allow us to move around, move through and move on, to the next place of most potential. We need not subject ourselves to prolonged pain and agony.

Practise patience, endurance, consideration and respect. Suspend judgement for a while. After all, we are entitled to our own opinions (and these can be temporal and abstract things). Steven Covey wrote that we have our own Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern. What are you doing to affect both spaces around you? How can you expand one and contract the other?

Leadership Lessons: Learn to let go. Proceed to the next useful piece. If something isn’t working, do something else. Instead of changing them, we can change our mind, judgements and perceptions of them. Work with what is within your circle of influence and control.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Happy Teacher’s Day!

I hope I did my teachers proud.

I was a normal student with average grades in school, except for my languages. I never studied hard for my Mandarin but I passed every examination. I did fail in English on two separate occasions; I suspect it was because I did not complete the essay portion on time. I must have done well in both Mandarin (second language) and English for I earned the option to study a third language – I opted for French, which I dropped out after two grueling years; and listening to Monsieur Lecoq while he smoked his cigarette was hard to bear. Nobody in my area spoke the romantic language, and so I fell out of love with it. Mrs Elizabeth Khalil recognized my aptitude for the language, and every one of my Chinese teachers (over 12 years of formal education) treated me well in class, and gave me positive classroom experiences. I have taught in China and Taiwan since 1993, and have taught classes entirely in Mandarin doing my own reading, writing and translation.

I did not go to the top schools or junior college. I graduated with my first degree as a mature adult (through a corporate sponsorship); I decided to complete my Masters degree soon after graduating. Earning relevant degrees was the way to go, if I was to enhance my credibility as a consultant and corporate trainer. I enjoyed my interactions with my overseas tutors and supervisors. To me, my conversations with them (related to practical aspects of my studies) were far more valuable than earning upper-percentile test scores. I believed that my journey in my learning was as relevant as the destination.

In my youth, I taught in the military as an Instructor (topped my cohort and class on two separate occasions, in the Methods of Instruction module). I was a gym-trainer for three years, had a brief hiatus as a journalist, then resumed training as a full-time profession since 1993. I became an independent educator in the year 2000, and I never looked back on the teaching profession since. Just this week, I taught in my 20th country in 19 years.

I was a decent athlete in school, self-taught, and self-styled but encouraged by my form-teacher Mr S K Cheong (who I reunited with a few years ago at a public race together with his wife - my former-Mathematics teacher - and their two children). Since 2004, I have completed multiple marathons and Ironman triathlons. I enjoy teaching tremendously, and relish in my time with students. I also enjoy my personal learning with my own mentors and teachers. I am fortunate to have found my calling early in my career. It took a long while to get here, yet I am grateful for my journey. I am a teacher and I appreciate teachers. I am encouraged by teachers who extend and expand themselves further than a fixed syllabus, timetable, or salary. They breathe of true potential.

I trust I did my teachers proud.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Values In Customer Relationships

Values matter. When somebody violates our values, we become alert and cognizant of that. Even the insurance industry realizes that it is about promoting the values of ‘being sure’, ‘certainty’, ‘being insured’, and ‘assurance’. Having stated that, what about continued business that focuses on ‘reassurance’? What can we do to ensure that our clients think and feel assured about their buying choices and decisions?

Nobody likes to feel foolish about his/her buying decisions. Yet, we occasionally do fall prey to clever advertising and marketing. How can we bypass these unpleasant experiences and create new and pleasant ones for them? How can we assist our clients to feel more valued about this worthy relationship with us? Endear and endure to create responsively useful relationships, instead of reactively ‘fearful’ ones. Create reliability, responsiveness and a sense of responsibility. Give value, and add more value. Your purpose behind your value offerings matter, too. Do this well, and your customer will be reciprocal in his/her relationship with you.

Create your own personalised, conversational scripts. Instead of sticking rigidly to a prescribed speech or spiel, write your own dialogue. Speak from your heart. Be heartfelt and thankful for their business. Be arm but avoid raising temperatures. How would you provide advice and counsel to a person you value and care for? How would you create attention and make your sharing session an attractive one? Once you meet this criterion, clients are more likely to attain, and attain again. That is the process of ‘customer loyalty’.

Drawing Inspiration Around Us

I have been watching snippets of the London Paralympic Games 2012 on television. I have been amazed and inspired by the depth of competition, and extent of competencies demonstrated by the athletes.

There are numerous categories for some sports. Each athlete works around his/her disability. The physically-challenged athletes are not handicapped, especially when they perform as well as able-bodied ones. Some have limited use of their limbs, whereas others rely on their sense of touch and sound. I have, initially, watched the Games wondering which are their disadvantaged. After a while, I stopped guessing and started enjoying the drama of athletic competition. These Games are some of the major highlights of human abilities and capabilities.

I am smitten by their raised sense of consciousness, heightened sense of competition, and enhanced hunger to be their best. These Games are not about physical disability, but rather about sports spread over a larger canvas of human possibility. Every effort counts. Their results reflect on our dreams, hopes and aspirations. We can share in their joy, jubilations, frustrations and disappointments. We share in their emotions and engagements. Thank you athletes for helping us raise our personal bars of ‘higher, stronger and faster’.

Leadership Lessons: How do you gain your inspiration? What are you most inspired by? How do you engage with your own inspiration? How do others draw upon you for their inspiration?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Listening In to Conversations

Active listening is a useful set of skills for capturing the interests and needs of a person. Language comprises surface structure and a deep structure. A ‘chair’ is a piece of furniture when we describe concrete thinking, and ‘chair a meeting’ is an abstraction (of a set of behaviors). The deep layers of language require us to listen attentively and acutely, so as not allow abstract reasoning to escape from our awareness.

Active listening is a soft skill, fraught with the risk of confusion, vagueness and ambiguity. If you do not ask questions, you may be misled by the ebb and flow of the conversation. If you drift into boredom, you may miss chunks of useful information presented or hidden in the jetsam and flotsam of a person’s language. Pay attention also to the body language of doubt, confusion and emotions inherent in their manner. Look, and be able to ‘see’. Observe, identify with, and detect signals and cues. Work off responses and feedback.

Leadership Lessons: How often do you practise active listening? How astute and accurate are your listening skills? What can you glean from pedestrian conversations? How close do you keep your ears to the ground of your organization?

Leading With Abstracts

Having been on the road for the past few weeks across four countries, I have reminded myself constantly to pay dense attention to my use of language in teaching and instruction. Although business and conversational English is one of the widely spoken languages, it can be challenging for many with its abstract forms. When you travel on business, you learn to pay attention to how well your communication with others, go. You learn to engage with precision, accuracy and deliberateness.

Be mindful of when you use figures of speech. Abstract language relies on the deeper structure of language. A table is a piece of home furnish whereas ‘under the table’ or ‘table of content’ refer to different things entirely. Stick to concrete language and only migrate when the conversationalist shows higher competence in managing such language. When in doubt, ask them: ‘What do you understand by…?’ It tends to reveal the gaps in understanding of daily business language. Challenge their use of abstract language, such as ‘What do you mean by not pulling their weight?’ and ‘How do you define overloaded with work?’

Leadership Lessons: Beware of using abstract language, especially figure of speech. Be aware of the use of metaphors, analogies, proverbs and idioms. Non-native speakers may have difficult comprehending and understanding the nuance of language such as subtlety, innuendo and entendres. Question people on the use of their words if you, too, have difficulty comprehending or understanding.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Inspirational People: Uncle Kor Hong Fatt

Uncle Kor qualified for and completed Boston Marathon 2011. He is Singapore’s oldest marathoner to have completed that race. He continues to inspire veteran and new runners to train and race. He leads by example, within his family, as well as in the community. He walks his talk, and backs it up by racing occasionally. He is a positive driving force with runners and would-be runners.

Starting A Business

How do you start a business? How do you go about doing this?

I had pondered over this about 15 years ago. Before that, I had no business acumen and savvy, other than running other people’s business as a paid staff. I sold club memberships, advertisement space, and sports equipment. I enjoyed these opportunities for it fostered a confidence for creating business relationships. I learnt earlier on, that commercial enterprises relied on educating others in the process and to be a beacon of optimism and hopefulness. 

There are some useful guidelines on how to engage in the process of starting your company. I will elaborate on these more in future.

1)    What are you passionate about?
2)    Do you think you can turn your passion into a business?
3)    What is the market for your expertise?
4)    How long do you intent to stay in business?
5)    How will your business benefit others? Who will it benefit most?
6)    How will you build your credibility in business?
7)    Which relationships will you need to establish immediately?
8)    Who can you learn from, regarding business and on this type of business?
9)    Which success stories can you emulate?
10) Which will be the indicators of your success and what will be your expected timelines?

Leadership Lessons: Lead with your dreams. Your dreams are your visions. Back them up with action.