A Letter to my Son

Son,

Today is the day that you are born. Your mother and I have been taking careful steps to reach this point, from the moment you are a fertilised egg to this moment ten months down. We tried our best to make sure that you will be safe, and whenever the elders advised for your mother not to consume certain food, we will obey. This meant that your mother couldn’t eat many of her favourite food.

In the first trimester, you didn’t seem to like vegetables or fish. Both were mummy’s favourite but she started dreading eating them during this time. As the months go on, your mummy’s appetite improved, and during the last few weeks prior to your birth, her appetite wasn’t good.

She also had to carry you everywhere she worked. As you grew heavier, she too felt the difficulty in taking every step. People on the train and buses pretended not to see her, and some aunty and uncles even stole her seat when a kind person gracefully offered their seat to your mother. You must not be so ungracious. As the days went by, your mother had to buy a waistband to help lessen the strain you placed on her back. It was difficult, and Daddy tried where possible to pick her up from work to bring her home.

We anticipated your arrival like any excited parent. We went to baby fairs to carefully select the cot that you would sleep in. We consulted our friends to see which stroller made the most sense, and which car seat was the most comfortable. We bought small toys thinking that you would like them, and bought your cute tiny clothes so that you would be our handsome son.

This week, when we visited Dr Kenneth, we discovered that your amniotic fluid had decreased. While not critical yet, we were worried that it would affect you. We monitored for a few days, and when the level of fluid further dropped during the Thursday check up, we made a decision to induce labour at Friday 0000H.

We checked into the delivery suite in the wee hours on Friday. I waited to submit the admission forms while having running nose and feeling sick. The nurses helped your mother to put medicine to induce labour. As the time passes, your mother’s cramps got worse and she was afraid that her cervix would not dilate adequately if she is not relaxed. As a result she took the epidural that she didn’t want to initially.

We waited for many hours for your mother to dilate first to 3cm, then to 7cm. The doctor predicted that you would be out about 3-4pm. Your mother continued to have contractions; luckily she couldn’t feel it due to the epidural. Near to 2pm, the nurse declared that your mother is ready and Dr Kenneth was called. Your mother worked hard to push you out. For forty minutes, she breathed in deeply and pushed multiple times during each contraction. Eventually, your head came out and Dr Kenneth pulled you out and placed you on top of mummy’s belly.

Words could not adequately describe my emotions when the scene unfolded before my very eyes. I could still feel like tearing as I write this letter. It felt surreal, and it was a wonderful thing that you were born. I was finally a dad. I was worried whether I was ready, but I am very excited to be your dad.

I followed you around as the nurses used a rubber tube to suck our the amniotic fluid from your nose and mouth. They weighed you and showed me every inch of your body. I counted your fingers and toes, and looked as they measured your head circumference and your height. I was still crying inside with tears of joy. I still couldn’t believe you were born.

We sent you to the nursery and Dr Watt visited you. The nurses cleaned you up and Daddy went to pick you up to meet your grandparents and aunts who have come to see you. Turn by turn, they carried you. Your paternal grandfather and I weren’t feeling well due to the cold/flu bug, so we got masks to cover our faces. When I finished my dinner (after not eating properly since the beginning of the 15 hour labour), it was my turn to carry you. You slept soundly in my arms. No words could express the pride I had of being your father. I now realise what your paternal grandfather meant when he said he loved me and that he would die for me. For that is how I felt. I loved you and you are now my life. I would do everything in my means for your mother and you to live well, safely and happily.

Soon you would grow up. You would go the path that I had gone. You would go into puberty, start becoming rebellious, and maybe we will slowly grow apart. But that is not what I want. I will try my best to be your friend and to understand you as an individual. I hope that you would always be close to your mother and I. No matter what we do for you in future to discipline you and guide you along in your life, we do it with the best intentions.

Your mother and I love you, my son, and maybe one day, when you become a father yourself, you would realise that too.

Love,

Papa

Managing Self-perceived High Profile People

I was watching Hell’s Kitchen Season 4 on YouTube these few days and one common recurring issue with the men’s team is that there is no teamwork and everyone’s ego is too big for their own good. During the episode, one of them realizes communication is an issue and tries to get everyone to think of how to improve communication. Yet nobody needs him, and some were so fixated over the comments that others had made about themselves that they only cared about trashing it out.

After the episode, I resumed my daily book reading. The current book I am on now is “Leadership lessons from West Point”. The chapter that I started reading today was on managing high profile people, and one point stood out. The chapter described how high profile people would work in a team typically: when they feel that they are doing more than their fair share of work, they reduce commitment and might even act out in destructive ways.

To me, that sums up my learning beautifully. The chefs who made it to the show probably had lots of confidence and ego. Each of them think they are the best and deserve to win Hell’s Kitchen. However the thing is, not all of them have that level of capability. Some might be just average. Their perceived high performance might have led them into thinking that they are the contributing more than anyone else; that they tried more than others and despite making mistakes, put in more effort to recover than others. That led to a dysfunctional team where communication breakdown and no one reaps the efficiencies derived from teamwork. That is why the men’s team kept losing their challenges.

This made me do some self reflection too. Sometimes I do think that I am doing more than my fair share of work. However today’s lesson made it clear that sometimes I perceived that I do more than my fair share. That might not be the case in real life and I must be self aware. In addition, others whom I think are not pulling their weight might feel that they are contributing more than their capacity. This is a good lesson in management that I will do well to remember.

“The map is not the territory”

Overcoming Yourself: Review of my Overseas Work Trip

I had the opportunity to be nominated for a working trip to Indonesia which happened over the past week. The trip was an exchange program for Junior Officers and as part of this trip, I had to help host the Indonesian Officers when they come to Singapore. I was proud that my boss thought about me for this trip, but I was also rather apprehensive because mingling and meeting new people was never my cup of tea.

What I did was to tell myself to “Just Do It”. Actually, after the nomination, I had not received any confirmation for weeks and I thought I was not selected eventually. After some time, an email came to check if I was still available. I had an option: (1) lie and say that I had arranged for something else given that there was no confirmation or (2) tell the truth and accept what comes. I went with option 2. Lying didn’t feel right especially since my boss favoured me sufficiently to nominate me. So I saw it as a challenge to do something that I normally won’t do, as a means to grow up and get used to the fact that mingling and small talk are skills that I need to build up.

The apprehensiveness grew when I realised that the first meeting between the Singapore team clashed with my course. I would not have met them all before the official program and wouldn’t that be awkward if they already knew each other? Eventually the team lead called for a separate meeting and I went ahead telling myself to make new friends. So when the first person sat beside me, I initiated a conversation by introducing myself. And I don’t think I have ever done that. Usually others initiate the contact. I felt good as though I achieved something that I set out to do, and I made a new friend. That gave me confidence. Slowly I memorised everyone’s names as the time goes by, and it felt better, like more personal.

During the Singapore leg of the program, we had to engage our Indonesian counterparts during meals and bring them around. I did not manage to become extremely talkative and engaging, but slowly I managed to break out of the shell and talk to them. I suppose that is a good step forward to change myself and it felt extremely rewarding and satisfactory.

In the Indonesia phase of the programme, we were told to prepare songs as their dinner culture involves getting both sides to contribute singers. I hated that extremely because I was very self-conscious and I disliked putting myself in the limelight for something I absolutely sucked at. At the official dinner, I was quite pleased that it seemed that I would be getting away with it after all, until the Indonesian Colonel spoke to my team lead and pointed over. My team lead walked to me and said “They want you to sing”. And I surprised myself. I stood up and walked to the microphone, and I could feel absolutely nothing. I didn’t think about how weird it would be or whether my voice sucked. I went with it. Luckily they asked another friend to sing with me, and we had a great time. The heads from both Singapore and Indonesia came and sing along like one happy family and I felt very happy.

Life has her way of making you do things and getting you to experience the different side of things. The things which I was apprehensive of, Life made me do it and she made me realise that it is not that bad after all. I am very happy that I chose to go ahead with this program because I grew up a lot and learned many new things. If I were to choose again, I would still choose to attend.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

I bought this book titled “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni on Saturday. It was an extremely light book to read and I completed it within 3 hours. The book is written as a leadership fable, which means it is in a story form and easy to digest. The story follows how a new CEO observed how dysfunctional her team was and set out to change things. Naturally, at the end of the story, all was well.

But I am writing because the story seemed to reflect the way my workplace is now. Not the dysfunctional part, but the things that we do or are told to do are similar to what the CEO does to build her team. This means that my workplace had it all thought out and provided the resources and efforts required to make us less dysfunctional. So much so that if we are still dysfunctional, it would be our fault and not the organisation’s. And if you know where I work for, you would understand that there are many complaints about it. However, my opinion is that it is the people that made it this way and if we want to change the organisation, we should change from within.

The story starts off with a series of retreats being planned where they discuss personality types. In the fable, the Myers-Briggs personality model was discussed. People talk about one another’s personality and how they would like to be treated. Drawing a parallel to my workplace, we had sessions called the Command Effectiveness Programme where the boss bring us all together to chart the way ahead for the next year. In this programme, we go through a personality “test” called the Tetra Elements. Briefly speaking, the test groups us into one of the four elements and each elements have some specific personality and character. Each element have a special way of doing things and a preferred way of being approached. That the reactions you get from your colleagues are based on their personality and not what you think by standing in your own shoes.

I won’t go into detail of what the five dysfunctions are, but I will briefly talk about the few which had impacted me.

The first is “Absence of Trust”. Trust does not mean the belief that your colleague will do the things he need to do. Trust is a little less straightforward in this example, but what it means is that you do not feel comfortable enough to have constructive criticism and discussions with one another. Meetings are spent feeling bored because people keep to themselves. They do not trust each other well enough to voice out; nor do they trust each other well enough to know it will be appreciated or taken the right way.

When I first read the “Absence of Trust” chapter, I thought that it was quite an easy dysfunction and that it does not happen in the workplace. But upon further thought, this is the bedrock of how we have been conducting ourselves for the longest time. Most teams we form do not have “trust” in them. People still feel guarded and do not contribute. I reckon part of it is due to our Asian values and the other part is the structure; the rank that tells you he is your boss and hence he knows best.

As leaders we need to foster “trust”, but it is not an easy task. We need to build the culture and show that it is alright to have constructive criticism. That no criticism only leads to failure and not team success.

The next and final dysfunction that impacted me the most is “Absence of Accountability”. Without trust, we don’t criticise. We don’t exert accountability on people and make them responsible for their actions. This “Absence of Accountability” can happen because of two reasons. First, the person is someone you didn’t want to bother about. You do not feel close to the person to want to hold him accountable. You might be afraid that he will lash out and conflict will arise.

Secondly, it can happen because the person is someone who had contributed a lot but had that one little time where he didn’t perform well, but nobody held him accountable. It is difficult to criticise someone who had put their heart and soul into something. But if you do not hold him accountable for his misgivings, he might not be able to learn and overcome this weakness of his. It doesn’t matter what type of person he is; we have to hold everyone accountable. Thing is, to do it in a respectful way.

I am quite glad that I can rattle off 2 out of 5 dysfunctions easily to a certain depth. It might mean that I have slightly internalised the lessons. With the lessons on the five dysfunctions, I will try to build a team who will work for one another and bring us into greater heights.

Parkinson’s Law: Work expands to fill the time available

The book that I have read for the month of Jun is “How to be a Productivity Ninja” by Graham Allcott. I borrowed this book from the National Library (had to reserve it because it was that popular) after reading some bits of it in Popular Bookshop. I borrowed it last night and read throughout the night. Today, whenever I have breaks during the course, I read it too. I just completed it after reading the last bit at home. I also drew two mind maps!

But the main point of this post isn’t about the book. Rather, it is about this interesting concept which I have learnt from the book. It’s called the Parkinson’s Law and it goes like this: “Work expands to fill the time available”. When I read about this concept, I recognised it instantly because it is true for me. There are certain tasks which could be completed in X number of hours. Yet because I had Y hours to do it, I took my time, got distracted in the middle, and I only completed those tasks in Y hours.

It was a serious waste of time and productivity.

When we know our deadline is not today, but next week, we will tend to procrastinate and take our time to do it. Soon, we have spent too much time on this single task and only manage to hand it up on the deadline and not before.

It is interesting to note that the human mind is a lazy one and will seek to be distracted when you give it opportunities to. Linking it to the concepts I read in “Thinking Fast and Slow”, I realised that this is because the brain does not need to work much when we engage in activities that distract us easily (like Facebook, Twitter, replying messages etc) as opposed to activities that require much thinking and effort to pay attention to.

Looking back on myself, I realised that there were many times which I took my time to do certain things because I didn’t like doing it, whereas for activities that I enjoy doing or see the purpose and hence develop passion for, I find it easier to complete those tasks in a single sitting. The effort for both tasks are the same, yet for the ones I dread, I take many times longer. I could have done it faster and used the remaining time on other task, yet I didn’t because the rest of the tasks weren’t urgent. Yet by the time I completed the original task, these tasks then become urgent and require immediate attention.

As a result, I constantly feel tired and overwhelmed to the point I feel as though I have burnt out.

But need it be like this? No!

The lessons from the book could help me escape this, but I need time to try those out and see how effective it is. Will write another post on it if it is effective. There are a couple of concepts which I had already known but did not diligently do though; these concepts are from David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology. The Productivity Ninja book also gave me an awareness of the Pomodoro concept, which is to have 25 minutes of focused do-time, followed by 5 minutes of rest. I shall explore it and give my verdict in the future. Stay tuned!

Clarity

Clarity is the solution to many problems in a young graduate’s work life. Before a graduate starts work, he is involved mainly in academics. In a day, an undergraduate will have much free time to do as he pleases, to relax and recharge before going for the next lesson. When a young graduate transits to work, this free time would be suddenly robbed from him and there isn’t any time to sort out your thoughts. You just have to continue doing the work that you require to be done.

We get inundated with work and things pile up. Nobody taught us how to deal with these growing piles or to manage this sudden spike in intensity. We lose sight of the things we need to get done and a vicious cycle develops. Because we couldn’t clear the work on time, we end up with having more work and again less times to sort out this growing mess. Less time to prioritise means the wrong things get cleared and the important things become more urgent. And more work piles up and less focus and so on and so forth.

The solution to this entire issue is simple, but not easy. The word is “Clarity”. I’ve searched for “Clarity” throughout the 3 years that I have started working. There are much material online that teaches you various ways of achieving the required focus. Heck, I even bought a book called “Clarity” which I thought would teach me how to become focused. Yet the same book ended up confusing me as it was more of being aware of how we perceive things rather than how to actively sort things out.

I’ve managed to achieve “Clarity” on good days but on bad ones I lose sight again. It isn’t difficult to achieve clarity; it is difficult to sustain it. However, on the days that I manage to get clarity, I end up having an extremely productive day. On days which I lose clarity, I get negative, I feel overwhelmed and I end up thinking, FML.

But what is Clarity.

Clarity is:

  1. Being aware of all the things you need to do
  2. Being in control

There are different ways that one might use to achieve clarity, and the same method might not work for all. Hence, the purpose of writing is merely to share and encourage others to try it. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, well that’s one less method to do.

I manage my clarity through a combination of several mechanisms, but all of which have the same purpose: to be aware of the things I need to do. Here are the things that I do to keep my clarity; I will not go into much depth because that might be a post for another day.

  1. Managing my “Baskets”. These are not physical baskets but metaphorical ones. I have baskets where I store my to-do lists and the basket serves to group the task by projects. Some examples include “Things to Research”, “Safety” (because I am the Safety Officer), “Mess” (because of my role in the mess) etc. With these baskets, I know what I need to do.
  2. Managing my “Inbox”. The email inbox can be a daunting mountain to climb. I get an average of 50 emails a day. To fight the email inbox, I try to apply certain techniques (which coincidentally, another blogger had described here) to move through my emails. There are certain things that do not require attention, and there are some which requires more attention. I sort them out into “baskets” based on urgency and at the same time, write them in my project “baskets”. Things that require less than 2 minutes, I do them immediately and for those that require more time, it is off into the sorting hat they go. We have to make it a point to have 0 mail at the end of the day. It is do-able, we just have to believe in it. Things that are good to note for information, I scribble them into a big notebook full of interesting tidbits that help me recall what tasks were done previously but not yet closed.
  3. Making use of the Trusty Moleskine. I just got my first Moleskine, but previously I was using a notebook from Typo. Whatever works. My personal preference are notebooks that open fully at each page, so both Moleskine and Typo filled the job. I learnt a technique from the internet which I use for my Moleskine. I divide the notebook into segments. You must have at least 2 segments: Tasklist and Scribbles. Tasklist are to account for your baskets and scribbles are what you write in meetings, in short, notes. At the end of the day, the tasks that arise from notes must be transferred to the Tasklist. To manage the scribbles, you can paginate each page. This helps when you have scribbles of the same nature but are not running consecutively as perhaps, another meeting took up that page in between. You can then put “transferred to page 5” for example. Yes, if you read correctly, I have two notebooks (point 2 and point 3).
  4. Doing Reviews. Reviewing all the things you have written on a periodic basis is important. Your mind cannot remember everything; that is why you wrote them down. If you didn’t review them, you wouldn’t know what you forgot. Reviewing makes you remember what you need to do. There are 2 reviews that we should do, one on a weekly basis and one on a daily basis. The weekly basis review is to consolidate what has been done or what has to be done to give you an overview. The daily review enables you to plan your day. I use a 1-3-5 method to be discussed in another post.

Now, it does seem like a lot of work to be done for clarity. Doesn’t it contribute to more work? Yes it does, but the productivity gained from clarity would offset it. You don’t need much time for review. A 10 minute period each day to look through your task list would help. What you have to take note is to diligently fill up your baskets and review them so you can lessen the tasks listed inside.

Try it and you will see. It worked for me; it might work for you. What is the more difficult thing is to sustain these actions. Personally, I have yet to find a solution to sustaining this effort. If you know of any solutions, share it with me.

How unnecessary anger destroys your professional image

I had an urge to write about this due to an experience I had this morning. I wanted to write because this comes from the viewpoint of an employee and how an employee feels. In addition, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about setting organisational culture and that culture also helps you retain your people aside from monetary and other welfare benefits.

I was required to send an information dissemination email out to certain groups of people, except that this group was too big and I wasn’t sure of the structure of other business entities. As such, I was advised by a superior to pursue it from a top-down approach, and direct the information to the bosses instead and have the bosses decide whom that information should be sent to.

In the next morning after I sent the mail, I received a phone call from one of the bosses whom I have never seen before or interacted with. The first thing that came over was “Am I a mailbox to you?” And he continued with a barrage of questions designed to hint of my incompetence and how he shouldn’t be doing my job for me. All I could do was apologise and tell him that I will sort it out myself. He hung up the phone without an additional word.

The incident left me feeling unnerved and hugely affected. It was a good morning and he ruined it. I tried hard to control my emotions so other people would not realise and I hoped I would not accidentally ruin other people’s mornings as well.

But what made me upset was that I wasn’t incompetent. I could have tried searching for the relevant personnel on the address book, but that might mean that some would not have gotten the necessary information. In addition, I didn’t have a real chance of explaining myself and I felt wronged.

In the field of Neuro-linguistic Programming, one of the presuppositions that we learn is “The Map is not the Territory”. What it means is, our visual representations of the world around us might not be the reality of what has happened. Briefly speaking, what the boss interpret of my actions was different from what I sought to do. I did not seek to look incompetent; I was advised to approach it this way.

However, I realised that it is too late to repair the damage. I’m not talking about the damage of my reputation in the boss’s eye. Rather, the damage of his representation in my mind. I will only be able to see him as someone who called me over the phone to give me a good scolding without finding out the reasons why I did what I did. The relationship is strained, and I have yet to meet the guy in person. I don’t even know how he looks like!

And I think it is really sad that someone you do not know holds such an image of you. Such torn relationships can never be easily mended, and your impression in the eyes of your subordinates will stay bad for some time. All you will appear to be is someone who didn’t care for others, whose ego is bigger than his compassion; someone who was rude.

The question is, why would we want to end up like this? If we did not assume, and approach the person in a different way, we might even gain some respect. For example, calling the person up and telling him “I will help you disseminate the information, but perhaps in the future you can do it this way…”. The subordinate would feel grateful for the advice and your help. He would have respect for you even if the both of you have not met.

Look at the vast difference..feelings of positivity vs negativity.

Also, let it be known that positive emotions are the building blocks of high performing teams. As we seek to become more productive and do more with less, you need all the high performing teams that you can get.

That said, I am also suddenly aware that my own actions can have the same consequences towards my subordinates. It has also given me more control over things I might choose to say and I can effect changes I want to see in the organisation through my sphere of influence. So thank you, that particular boss, for ruining my perfect morning.