Ask not how the prospects are, aim to have a curtain call without regrets

不问前程如何 但求落幕无悔

This quote stuck with me since I watched “The Empress of China” a few weeks ago. The title of my post is literally the translation of the quote above. I thought it was quite meaningful and it reflects the continuing theme of the drama series very well as the female lead strives to lead a life that does not defy her morals or values even when the prospects might look dim.

The quote holds real life lessons for us as well. How many of us are living our lives based on who we are? Instead most of us are worried about prospects and work to please so that our future is bright. Yet when we ask ourselves, when the curtain calls, would we have lived a life full of regrets?

That got me thinking. I am rather fortunate to be able to find a job that holds meaning for me, and I try to live my life based on what I think is right. Keeping myself to my values and trying not to lose sight of myself. Doing the things that I think matter and trying to maximise my influence so people follow.

While my job aspect has been rather pleasing, I cannot say the same for the other aspects. Indeed there were things that I wanted to do but I procrastinate, and I ended up wasting plenty of time elsewhere when I should be doing other stuff. These undone tasks would indeed be my life’s regret if I continue.

So, do what you want to do, because you only live once? But I think the chinese poetic quote sounds so much better than yolo. Just saying.

The Year Thus Far

I’m taking a little bit of time to resume writing in order to clear my mind to focus on the more important things that I should be looking at this year. Last year was a more successful year in terms of keeping to my new year’s resolutions. I realised that I failed miserably this year because I was getting distracted. Another reason was that I had neglected to write down the things that I had wanted to achieve this year. Last year, I blogged about it.

Because I wasn’t focused, the time went by quickly without me knowing and we are at the end of May already. Time and tide waits for no man, yet I chose to frivolously spent my time on things that do not matter as much. Instead, I should have focused on building my career and charting out my goals.

So here goes:

[To Resume] One book Per Month

I have read two books this year and both of them are on investments. I have started reading “The Intelligent Investor” (only a few pages), and I am also in the middle of a textbook on Reliability Modelling, which I am making slow progress. Soon it will be Jun and I need to catch up on 4 books before I become on track. However what I am doing this year is a little different. I have identified a few areas that I am weak in or need more knowledge on. This year, I am focusing on:

  1. [Book 3 and 4] Investment – Two books so far and to complete “The Intelligent Investor” and my “Technical Analysis Explained” book this year.
  2. [Book 5] Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats – I saw the book being sold in MPH/Times.
  3. [Book 6] Six Sigma – To identify a book
  4. [Book 7] Networking – To identify a book
  5. [Book 8] The Power of Forgetting – I saw this book by “Mike Bryster with Kristin Loberg” at the book stores and I thought it was interesting.
  6. [Book 9 and 10] Books for fun: (1) Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh and (2) What Should I Do with My Life by Po Bronson – Saw these books and thought they were interesting and that I should read this for the sake of reading something different.

I still have 2 spaces for other books though. I realised I have dropped “Productivity” themed books from my reading list as there are not much extra tips and tricks that I can learn. Along the way I have come up with a method I am comfortable with although it is not perfect. I have also dropped leadership books as I have yet to even master the books I learnt last year.

[To Kickstart] Small Coaching Sessions: One Way to Improve / month

I realised I wanted to spend some targeted time coaching my subordinates. Yet I have not been effective because I rarely plan what I want to say to them. As a result I have wasted precious time making small talk when I could have delivered a small coaching session which would have been beneficial.

[To Start Doing] Investment Analysis: One case study a month

I have wanted to start doing this since last year but have never moved. I need to find a way to make this a habit. This is for the future and to achieve financial freedom.

[To Write] My Own Book

I wanted to do this since the start of the year and complete this by the end of the calendar year. Yet I have not written a single word although I have started planning the content. To make this work, I need to make it a habit. To do this, I need to write something on a daily basis before writing becomes an automatic thing to me. I have about half a year left, and I need to make this work.

I kept to only four goals this year to make it manageable. These four individual goals are important to me. I have not mentioned my other goals involving my spouse to be, for that is something we will have to plan together.

I think I got more clarity after penning down my thoughts. :)

Respect and Successful Delegation

Today, I am going to share something which struck me today in my own personal experience. I shall eliminate unimportant details to keep this simple.

I was approached by A who had asked me to help to do something. Person A is someone who doesn’t command any respect from the people around him. He constantly delegates all his work, does not contribute to much input but requests people to do his work for him. He conducts long meetings of which time is wasted doing nothing because he couldn’t conduct a good meeting. He has no idea what is going on.

Knowing that I am overwhelmed with things on my to do list, I politely requested for the job to be reassigned. However the reply was that everyone else was also assigned jobs. 

That does not sit well with me because it felt unfair. Surely there are so many other people? But on hindsight, the situation was made worse because of a total lack of respect for this person who do not know how to lead. Neither does he know how to motivate. In the end I concluded that nobody wanted to work for him anyway, so he keeps appointing people who respond to him.

That might be a wrong impression because he might have other thoughts that I am unaware of. But because of the impression he portrays, it is easy for the human mind to stereotype and come to a conclusion. And it feels good too.

Contrast this with Person B who works hard. You stay till 8pm and you see him around too. One day you need some help and he goes out of his way to help you. He politely requests for your assistance on some work, and does not phrase it in a manner that you are expected to help; rather, he is asking.

The result is very different. I said yes to helping. The feeling you get out of saying yes feels good. It definitely feels better than if I had said yes to Person A. But because Person B exhibits helpfulness and a sense of bonding, it is easier to accept an additional task even when you are already overwhelmed. 

It is the same theory as the emotional bank account. When you help someone, you put in money in his emotional bank account. He will feel more obliged to return the favour, and it will be easier for both parties to continue the kind act of helping. 

Fill the emotional bank account of your colleagues or friends today. Show that you value his or her time and effort. Smile. Take the opportunity to communicate and build the friendship. Be hardworking and be empathetic.

You can be sure that nobody liked Person A. It will result in a negative downward spiral where people start to ignore him and cease communications. You will spread bad comments about him, not because you are a gossipy bitch but because he doesn’t command that sense of respect.

In a nutshell, when you command respect among your friends and subordinates, it is easier to delegate certain work downwards. Plus, they will feel happy doing it. The contrast where there is no respect, delegation is hard and people don’t like doing it. They spread the work and you will find it difficult to command respect from other people as well. Command respect and you can achieve more with less.

The Senior who wrote a book

Recently, I got to know that a senior of mine, who was in the fourth year of university when I was a freshie, actually wrote a book. At first I did not think much of it and was just impressed that he took time off to write a book. Today, he provided a link to his website, Finding Home Inside. I realised it was a blog which contained many articles which he had written. In it, he introduced his book and mentioned why he took the time to write it. Looking at the way the book was introduced, with a photo of the book itself, reminded me of internet marketing and that I wanted to write one this year. However I did not do anything to begin this effort. As I looked through his website, I realised he used crowdfunding to fund his publishing costs. I started to look forward to see his book in the book stores. What got me thinking – and writing – was that I wanted to do something similar, although not for the same reasons. I wanted to write something based on my experiences and what I learnt, to benefit people, and at the same time, try out some internet marketing as a hobby. But the thing is, he wrote a book and sold it, while I haven’t written a single word. He wrote about how he was at the lowest point in life, with only twelve dollars in his pockets, and I guess he just went ahead to do it. Compared to him, I feel small inside. Another approach he took that was similar to my style was including some books he had read. While I see that there are only two, it reminded me that I read one book per month last year, and I wanted to share what I had learnt. There were so many things I wanted to do, but I didn’t, because I procrastinated. Hopefully I would pick up the habit of writing again, with this small step of updating my blog. To dreams and beyond. Thanks to my senior who got me thinking again.

A Sudden Lunch Appointment

So today my Grand boss (my immediate boss’s boss) called me up today and asked if I wanted to go lunch with him. I was caught off guard but agreed nonetheless because its not everyday that your boss’s boss call you for lunch. I got onto his car and just went to the hawker centre.

We chatted a lot during the ride there, while having lunch and the ride back. That was the first time I spoke so much to him. I could see that he was trying to know my workload and my surroundings. We spoke about my future possible posting plans and about possible transfers between my staff. He even spoke to me about my performance and told me the areas I could improve. All of a sudden I felt slightly guilty that I raised a point as part of a group presentation during a Command Effectiveness Programme on Monday that I think the people at my level and the enciks should be mentored more. I spoke about how it is important to know how we are doing and how we can improve.

I felt an understand between my Grand boss and I when he said that he used to be like me. He asked me to be more vocal and I asked him how did he decide that he needed to change. He told me that his perspective of life changed. Although it wasn’t a concrete suggestion on the steps to take, but I understood. I had changed over the past few years as well. Experience shaped me and slowly changed me. We make small incremental changes and slowly they become a big change. He spoke about being an introvert and how we tend to think more than speak up. It felt great, like he knows how I feel.

I appreciate that he invested a lunch time session with me. No boss had done that with me on a one to one basis for lunch before. It was an enriching session and extremely beneficial for me. But beyond that, I felt that my Grand boss was one of us, and less intimidating as someone who is your boss’s boss should be.

So today I learnt how it would make people feel to have some form of conversation and frank talk. How it would make someone’s day to just invest some time in telling him how you appreciate his work and how he could improve. I had always wanted to coach and to mentor, but I did not find the time to. It cannot be an excuse that I do not have the time; I should find time. I should spend time doing the things I think are good investments. And when I leave, I would leave behind a legacy, not just another random boss who came and left.

Hence, though the lunch wasn’t good because the food was so-so and it was hard to really concentrate on the taste, I had a great lunchtime which impacted me till now and beyond. I am thankful for the session and I will provide such sessions downwards on a more regular interval and beyond just a small chat by the water cooler.

Merry Christmas: A good time to do a stock take of the year

Merry Christmas.

I realised that I haven’t written anything in this blog since August 3rd. Unfortunately I hadn’t been very disciplined to blog and I wasn’t disciplined to follow my new year goals too. In this holiday season, I tried to pick up where I left off, and am feeling a little more motivated to see things through. Nonetheless, here is a review:

[Workplace] To read one Logistic Orders daily (knowledge gaining)

I did this with gusto with a colleague for about 5 months and this just died off when we started being so busy. This is an excuse, because I could have done something about it but I didn’t. Nonetheless I did reap some benefits and this should be an effort to continue. Question is, how to make the guys do this too?

[Fitness] To run twice a week at the earliest opportunity

This was done diligently too, at first. I can’t remember when was the last time I ran, but I really need to do something about this.

[Fitness] To regain my Silver in IPPT by May 14

I achieved the goal by May 14. I would need to put in more effort given that the IPPT test was recently revised. I would need to train on push ups and sit ups as well.

[Personal Development] To read one book a month and mindmap them

This is an area which I am rather proud of, although I can’t say that all books were completed or mindmapped. After a while, certain topics found had already been learnt and hence I tend to skip certain segments of the books. Here is the list of books I had read in 2013:

  1. Jan: The First Time Manager in Asia
  2. Feb: 5 Levels of Leadership
  3. Mar: The Fine Art of Small Talk
  4. Apr: [I can’t remember the title, but it was about Neuro-linguistic Programming]
  5. May: Clarity
  6. Jun: Secrets of Productivity Ninja [Can’t recall the exact title]
  7. Jul: Start with Why + The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team
  8. Aug: 3 Minute Coaching
  9. Sep: The Power of Habits
  10. Oct: Leading Change [This was something I saw in Kino, and after reading, I realised it was recommended by HBR too]
  11. Nov: Awaken the Giant Within [I didn’t complete it. The main gist of the book is similar to the concepts in NLP]
  12. Dec: Secret to Peak Producitivty [Skimmed through as it was a entry-grade book which did not benefit me much]

Note that I read 13 books. This exceeded the 1 book a month plan. Moving on, I have also identified certain books to read in the new year. I will address that in a seperate blog post. In this year, I have also downloaded and listened to an audio book by Brian Tracy. It is titled the “21 Success Secrets of Self Made Millionaires”. While I agree that driving is a huge waste of time which could be made use through audio books, I can’t say that it is an effective means because my mind tends to drift off during the drive.

[Workplace] To do the Individual Development Action Plan with my team members (One every two weeks)

An area which I completely failed at. I didn’t find the time. Also, in the middle of the year, I read the book about the 3 minute coaching, and I tried to implement that instead.

[Investment] To research on and analyse 1 company per month. Evaluate the best price to enter into the stock market.

Another area where I did not do anything concrete on. I wanted to evaluate it more holistically, but what I did was minimal. I did make many purchases and I missed some as well. Overall I think I learnt a lot on investment through the year.

In the next few days I will review the mind maps that I have done, and also do some thinking about what I want to do with my life. Following which, I will present the new goals for 2015 and hopefully I would have a better report card in Dec 2015.

Merry Christmas all.

Living the Vision

If you had read books on leadership, you would have known about the importance of setting a mission and a vision, and the job lies with the boss of the organisation. The purpose of having a mission and a vision is to align everyone to the same goals and to let all employee know what the company stands for. A good vision inspires all to follow, and their actions in the course of their work would reflect the common values that a company has.

However, I am sure that anyone who has worked for a living would realise that it isn’t that simple. A vision could be set, but nobody would follow. An important point to note is that the managers and supervisors down the line from the boss to the lowest ranked employee is responsible for carrying the vision. They should share in the vision and their actions should be aligned to the vision so that their direct reports could be influenced likewise.

It is now opportune to introduce the concept of the Toxic Leader. The Toxic Leader can be found in most organisations. He does not believe in the vision and has a mind of his own. His character can single-handedly destroy the passion anyone below him has for the vision. If you do anything that he does not believe in, he disapproves and you feel unvalued.

An organisation may decide that it is important to conduct team communication sessions in order to build team spirit and understanding. A Toxic Leader will frown and that and think it is a waste of time.

An organisation may decide that it is important for work life harmony and introduce advisories against managers from contacting staff about work beyond 7pm. A Toxic Leader doesn’t care and still calls you anyway.

Day after day the employees get frustrated because the things that are set in place to build workplace happiness and effectiveness are not done. Some feel that the organisation doesn’t care. But doesn’t it? The organisation cares; it is the Toxic Leader that does not. Talented employees might choose to leave one by one, leaving behind people who might just be as toxic as the Toxic Leader. The company has a vision, but no one to carry it out.

The thing is, one of the more important aspects a manager or leader should have is to “Agree to Disagree”, only after due effort has been spent communicating the arguments from each side. After the discussion is finalised, the boss makes a decision and everyone else can only follow. Not only follow, but they have to live by the decision, and live by the vision.

But of course this is a rather simplified story. Reality is much more complicated than that. The boss has the responsibility to make the right decisions, but in reality sometimes the boss makes the wrong decision and the managers might be right. The boss has the responsibility to influence such that everyone is committed and hence no Toxic Leaders are formed. In reality, the boss might be too busy to do such a thing, and leave Toxic Leaders to do their work. The bosses will not know the situation, because employees under the Toxic Leader are more likely to feel unsecure enough to report their Toxic Leader’s wrongdoing.

The morale of this entire blog post is: Down the line from the boss to the managers and supervisors, we have our role to play. Many times we think of a vision as the responsibility of the boss. However it is also the responsibility of us, as the managers and supervisors, to live out the vision no matter how busy we are. Be self aware of what we are doing and saying, and make sure that we do not become the kind of Toxic Leader that we didn’t like when we started out in the industry.