Recently, I tried engaging someone online. The engagement started because I got reminded of how I should change one person at a go (starting from myself), if I want to shape the world. The person posted a long analogy online which is actually a pessimistic analogy of what is happening in Singapore, with the minimum sum increment, foreigners living in our midst and new Integrated Resorts (read: Casinos). The writer ended with “Are my children happy?”, which in the non-analogy world (actual world), is “Are Singaporeans Happy”.

To me, nobody could answer this question outright as a yes or no. Just think about it, if I change the question as “Are Singaporeans Vegetarians”, could anyone answer it with a yes or no? The answers could be “No, not ALL Singaporeans are vegetarians”, or “Some Singaporeans are vegetarians”. Similarly, we cannot generalise and say that Singaporeans are happy/unhappy. There are happy people and there are unhappy people both living on this island.

Next, I thought the question was weird when he kept insisting that I commit to a yes/no answer. I thought it was masking the issue. The issue should be why are some Singaporeans unhappy and not giving him what he wanted: “Yes Singaporeans are unhappy”. The conversation ended amicably with my offer to take it privately as a discussion, but I thought I should write my opinion down.

I find that happiness is from within. People who are rich can be happy, or unhappy. People who are poor can be happy, or unhappy too. Happiness has nothing to do with wealth, social status, your ability to buy a car etc. Happiness is something that everyone can have, even in the face of great difficulty and a tough life.

I mentioned this in the previous post but I have to reiterate. This has to do with how you are living your life, “at effect” or “at cause”. Do you blame yourself or the system for your individual failures? People who are interested and want to take a step forward in your life can start reading books on Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP). Or you can just leave a comment and we can discuss. But if we live life “at effect”, we blame everyone else but ourself and it feels bad because when others are at fault, we feel powerless to change things. We feel vulnerable. We feel unhappy about the situation. But when you blame yourself and you find out what went wrong, we can change things the next time and that is hope. There is positivity and we have a chance for something better. Notice how up-lifting the mood then becomes?

In life we always have a choice in our circumstance.

New Year, New Beginning

I’ve used this term “New Year, New Beginning” twice in the first three days of the new year. Both instances happened on the 3rd of Jan which was the first day I went back to the workplace. A change from usual practices was that the new year provided me, or rather, forced me to adopt some changes in leadership style from a “maybe I can do this” to a “let’s just do this now” perspective.

The first time I used the term, I did some sort of a review for one of the Enciks in my flight. Without going into too many details and risk the discussion becoming some sort of finger pointing, I did the review as what I thought my ideal worker was for a person of that rank and stature. I tried to make it less of a feedback but a feedforward; a concept which I had learnt recently from a book. Generally speaking, a feedback is one where we took what had happened vs a feedforward where we discuss how we can do things in the future. It is less finger pointing and more consultative in my opinion.

I am not too sure how much it helped, but my own principles tell me that I have got to do something. I have manpower and I need my manpower to work effectively and efficiently. My management role is then to provide the atmosphere and working environment for such a thing to happen and the review was the first step in aligning mindsets between the both of us.

The second time was for another Encik, but it was not much of a review. Rather, it was a nagging session from me to get his email inbox sorted out. To declutter and start anew so that all messages would be read and understood. The action items could then be sorted out into different categories to work on subsequently.

I’m using it for the third time this year for myself to institute some changes into the way my flight operates. In the previous year, we set up a tasking board and implemented a tasking email notification where we will flash out daily. It did not get flashed out daily to my disappointment, and there was confusion because there are two separate boards. I will make changes to how the two functions are used so that it becomes productive and meet the original intent of setting up these two functions in the first place.

I am also going to get my flight to agree on some golden rules for the sake of having better meetings. The rules are (1) Only one person speaks at any one time, (2) Be present in the moment and (3) A promise is honour-bound. The first is to ensure that there will not be other noises to jam up the discussion. The second is to ensure that everyone is focused on what the meeting is about instead of fidgiting about their handphones or sitting with their eyes closed and ears shut. The last is to get people to commit that the deadlines given to them should be respected and deviations from deadline should not be a norm.

I am also restructuring the Start-of-Day-Briefs so that non-involved personnels in specific discussion pointers can be excused to do their own things. In addition, I want to demand for every member of the team to do a general 1-min brief of what he had done in the previous day and raise any potential concerns. That member will then talk about what he will be doing in that day. This allows us to ensure that everyone is focused on what major tasks they are doing and also for us to do allocation/re-allocation of tasks if required. The idea is for everyone to be gainfully employed.

It’s the 5th day into the new year and I am still motivated to see through the changes that I have planned. Hopefully 2014 will be the best year yet for me.

Of Commissioning and work life balance

A couple of friends commissioned in the past weekend. They were from my batch together with me in Air Force Service Term. Due to some injuries they OOCed and then subsequently got revocationalised and went through OCS again. Hence the great delay in commissioning, but nonetheless they still made it. I thought it was rather interesting how we have people who never give up in the quest to become an officer, vs how we also have people from the other spectrum who go out all the way to have a good relaxed time out of NS.

It’s not my attention to compare and then judge on what is the right way to go for NS, or how a regular should be like. I just stated the comparison to show how there’s always the other side of the spectrum. Many a time we see people online complaining about NS and how lousy life is, but if we think about it, there is the other side where people are positive and enthusiastic and they choose to live their lives as meaningful as they want it to be. It’s like the normal curve, where you have people on this side, and also people on that side. It’s just normal.

But that’s not really the point I wanted to write about. I just think it’s amazing that they commissioned, 1 year later than us, but it’s better late than never. And to think of it, I have “passed out” of my training for 1 year already and it has been about half a year since my appointment, which is the ME equivalent of commissioning.

Throughout the entire journey, I learnt more about the organisation, and more about myself as an individual and leader. Many new experiences which shaped me and they are all valuable experiences. I can’t help but remember the very wise sentence, “to love what you do”. If not, you will get burnt out very fast.

Also, I read an article by a lecturer in NUS talking about Work Life balance and how it is complete foolishness to expect work life balance at the start of your working life. I can’t help but agree, but I bear in mind that critics might point out other countries as example where they don’t have to work as hard. I kind of like to think that schools do not teach us to be efficient and hence we end up working long hours to meet the requisite productivity. It just reminds me of how I should continually seek to improve myself. Just a thought.

Many random thoughts today which I’m not sitting down to review and pen down properly. Probably quite a gibberish article that reflects my tired mind. Onward!

The Retreat

I attended my very first office retreat ever since I started my full time occupation. For the uninitiated, a retreat is an event where people in your company get out of the work routine by going to some relaxing place and think about the future direction for your company/department/office. My very first retreat involved many of us presenting our ideas and to do list for the year ahead; we were expected to have prepared in advanced.

Nonetheless it was an interesting experience in which I gained some new insights and direction for my colleagues and I. Not to mention, the two tea breaks and catered lunch helped me to gain a little bit of weight. I really loved the eclaires that were provided.

Back to the main point, the out of office routine was a good break from the hustle and bustle of the daily workload. It was nice to talk about the future, and it is an exciting place to be for a young person like me. It must have been for any other young, passionate person. At least, that is what I felt.

A retreat allows you to suggest the way forward for the company. During the retreat, the senior management identifies the key concepts and direction for the company, and usually such concepts cover a wide range of possibilities from work to casual stuff like building a great working culture. I was pleased to note the emphasis that we had on people.

To some people, a retreat may sound like work. Why wouldn’t it be? Even though you are physically present in a relaxing place where you don’t have to bother about food and drink, you are still discussing work after all. However, thinking this way would make things boring and less interesting.

Instead, if one views it as a chance to make a difference, it would appear to be more appealing. I had the opportunity and the power to suggest initiatives and the way forward. I would get comments from senior management about my points and get their approval or advice for refinement. I had a voice to say what I wanted my work environment to be like.

However there was something that I stayed silent about. There is this initiative of mine which I wanted to introduce to my immediate work area first. It is an experiment to initiate a change in culture. I wanted to build a place where people contributed freely and spoke about the things that they are passionate about. I wanted to develop a place where people felt no fear or inhibitions; where they could share and be willing to receive critique. For that, I would need to learn more and plan the way ahead. I would need to start from myself, building the culture slowly while encouraging others to be like me. If it was successful, then perhaps it could be applied to a larger pool of audience. But for now, it would be my little experiment.

I think I might have found the hobby and passion in my workplace. Have you?

Spending some part of your work-day talking to someone

How many of you actually spend some part of your work-day talking to someone? I’m not talking about the mindless gossiping required for you to de-stress and cheer yourself up during a boring or stressed filled day. Rather it is making conversation that is important for your work, and it is not entirely about the technical nature of your work, be it analysis of businesses, engineering analysis, economic analysis, medicine etc.

What I’m talking about is the process of coaching, either for yourself or for your team. Or perhaps coaching might be too strong a word. Maybe you can call it building relationships and giving advice whenever required.

For yourself: Talking to bosses and superiors and asking quality questions about how you can improve yourself. Or even questions that consult them on how they did it. For example, how did they manage both work and life on such a dedicated balance and still find time for their other interests? Or things like, how did they manage to survive long meetings without day dreaming?

For your team: Did you speak to your team members individually on how they can improve and reach their own goals. Or do you talk about their goals at all?

I’ve been reading a book on execution, and one of the key tenets of executing is that you have to have team development. When something isn’t right, you have to speak to your team members, find out what’s wrong and guide them into the correct path. Only then can you have effective team members assisting you in your day to day jobs. Team development is such an important part of life that I feel it is worth that 30 minutes to 1 hour of your work day.

That frank opinion coupled with a sincere outlook helps the member to trust you as their leader. By being honest with them and allowing them to speak unabashed will allow you to probe into their deep inner self and find out their real goals – not those goals in which they want to be politically correct. It’s hard, but it will be more effective if the goals are their sincere goals. And the follow up must not be hindered. We need to help them set their own goals and work towards it.

I’ve recently had a short conversation with a newly posted in officer who wants to get a prestigious scholarship to study overseas. He is smart, yes, much more than me during my JC days. Plus he came from a good JC background that seemed as if he should get a scholarship. Yet a scholarship shouldn’t just be about grades. In a career like mine, what people are looking out for are more than people who can study. There is a wealth of knowledge that was not taught in schools – interpersonal relationships, working effectiveness, having a commanding presence, the ability to think strategically and not tactically, to name a few.

I’m not too sure how it went given my lack of experience at trying to connect with people on a deeper emotional level, but I sure hoped my words affected him somehow. Perhaps my expectations of a potential scholar is too high, but I cannot be blamed. For if I lower my expectations any more, I would be questioning why I wasn’t given such an opportunity. I know for sure that I am not of a high level, thus it wasn’t surprising that at the age of 19 I wasn’t awarded the necessary scholarships. Hopefully I will see a renewed sense of determination, a commanding presence as I go back to work tomorrow.

It would make my day if someone came in raw and unpolished, but left my workplace like a polished gem because I spent some time and effort polishing the areas that require effort with.

So, have you taken some time to communicate recently?