Over-estimating Myself

Just a couple of days ago, I attended the Change of Command parade for my previous grand boss whom I worked with for about two years. A few days before the parade, he casually mentioned that my name would be included in the farewell speech. That made me really excited about what is going to happen, and I thought about what I could possibly be recognised for. I was so looking forward to the speech that I had listened intently for the entire duration, only to discover that my grand boss had honoured everyone by listing their names.

Of course, there were a few at the higher levels who deserved special mention and had more air time. As for me, I am just one of the many names, with no examples of my contribution. I was disappointed, yes, but this also gave me some time to do self reflection. I might have over-estimated myself in terms of my contributions. Perhaps they were just minuscule and I thought they were impactful. Perhaps I could really do more and make a difference.

My closer friends knew what was on my mind when they realised that I was just a name among the many. I was sad, especially when the name was mentioned together with personnel whom I thought was undeserving. But hey, who was I to say as that was not my speech. Thinking deeper, I also realised the implications of not mentioning specific individuals when one already mentioned the names of everyone else. Then I understood, it has to be done this way.

But I need to relook at how I am contributing in my workplace and do even better; and prepare for my next role back in the units.

While talking about something that made me feel down, I should also add that there were “up” moments as well. After the parade, we had dinner and I spoke to my former colleagues. There were two specific moments where I felt that I was appreciated and I had achieved something good. First, my guys seemed really happy at the thought that I could one day return as their OC, even those who I did not think I had impacted them as much. It was very touching and motivating. Second, my encik introduced me to two new personnel in the flight, and one of them expressed interest in becoming an officer. My encik introduced me as “you should feel sad that you didn’t have a chance to work under him before he was posted out”. That made me feel very appreciated and that my little efforts to nurture everyone was on a good track. I also felt excited over the possibility of influencing someone positively to become a good officer in future. I only hope that one day I will have a chance to be his mentor.

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The New Year

And so this is another of the typical new year posts that people do, except that instead of doing it in the new year, it is done four days into the new year. Anyway this is done as a means to reflect back on the year that had past and is not meant to be entertaining.

First things first. At the start of every year, I do some resolutions and it is time to see how spectacularly I have failed. And after typing this, I realised that one of the reason I probably failed that badly was because I didn’t articulate my resolutions properly in 2015. I had done so in 2014, and even did a review in Dec 14 where I mentioned how I will review my mindmaps and set out my goals. Only that I didn’t get down to it.

One of the resolutions I had, but did not express, was to continue my one book a month reading stint. I was reminded of it when I accessed my Facebook today and noticed how friends were quoting that Mark Zuckerberg reads two books a month. In 2014, I was half as efficient as him. In 2015, I should expect to have improved right? Wrong. I was not motivated and I only accomplished half. That’s six books and here they are:

Jan: Value Investing for Dividend Growth

Feb: Common Stocks, Uncommon Profits

Mar: The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

Jun: Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking hats

Jul: The Power Of Forgetting by Mike Byster with Kristin Loberg

Dec: Drive: The surprising truth of what motivates us by Daniel H. Pink

However this doesn’t mean that I only bought or borrowed six books this year. I have had some books on hold for some time, for example, The Fifth Discipline (bought way back many years ago), a Technical Analysis Book, The Intelligent Investor, International Reits and also Mr George Yeo’s collection of speeches. I just didn’t get down to reading as much. Even the book in December was read because I wanted to read it to use it for an essay. This has to change, and to get reading back into a habit, I should start small. I will read 20 minutes a day before I sleep. This should be easy in January as I have to continue researching for my essay.

Next, it finally hit me that my tummy is too disgustingly big and that it has reached a point of no return. Except that this has to return where it came from and I’m not going to carry it for life. To improve on my fitness, I will do sit ups and push ups daily.

In 2015, I received many opportunities at work. I continued to be an effective manager, and carried on my work on reliability. I went on a working overseas trip, and also participated in a study team to look into operational training at my workplace. I was also posted out of my workplace into a new environment which I am trying to adapt and become efficient. To be honest, it wasn’t easy and I am rather stressed out and apprehensive of the work.

So for 2016, I need to be positive and to look at each challenge optimistically. To just do my best and not have any regrets. To this end, I will:

  1. Take on opportunities along the way with a smile
  2. Do daily reflections of what went well and what didn’t
  3. Do weekly reflections on the projects that I am handling (which I did do for a while until I got posted to my new workplace)

For investments, my portfolio did well, but only because the value of USD went up significantly in 2015. Hence even though the value of my portfolio dropped, the overall SGD value increased. However this is not sustainable, so I better continue to read The Edge magazines and to do my read up on companies.

I guess I should end here. The longer the list, the tougher and less fun it gets and the harder it is to make it a good habit to adopt for new year resolutions.

I hope I will remember to periodically do my reviews so that I will be able to end 2016 saying that I met most of my resolutions.

3rd Time Being a Brother

Today was the third time that I helped out in a wedding as part of the brothers team. And it was the easiest session. Partly because the session started only at about 10am in the morning, and there were minimum travel (Just meet at bride’s house, go to groom’s house, to Marina Barrage to take photos and to the banquet venue) and partly because I was more experienced.

It was also this time which I had gained sufficient experience in previous sessions to be able to think ahead and contribute more. Perhaps I have also grown to know what role a brother should fulfil after having planned for my brother’s tasks as a soon to be groom.

The entire session was a fun experience even for the brothers. Although I yelled myself hoarse trying to make the yum seng as loud as possible.

But the thing that impacted me the most was the realisation that I too am getting married in a week’s time. I had two years to plan for this wedding after proposing in end 2013. During the two years, there was sufficient time to procrastinate, although we did complete many of the tasks ahead of time. There was so much time in between that everything didn’t seem urgent and we could slowly do them. And even when the wedding date draws nearer and the furniture in my room gradually was replaced into a couple friendly environment, it didn’t feel as sudden as this. That next week, it would be me standing there and going through the entire thing.

I guess attending a wedding from a brother’s point of view about one week before a wedding would give rise to such thoughts. If I did not attend this wedding, I might not have thought about it this way. It is through seeing it first hand that I realise this would be me next week. And it worries me that I might be too nervous to enjoy the entire process. What to say and what not to say. Whether it will all turn out good. Whether I would have forgotten something, or that my planning was insufficient. Suddenly the jitters are building up.

I told my fellow brothers that marriage seemed to be like a step function. One day you are single and bam! Next day you are married. The lifestyle change that comes along with it is so sudden that it needs some time getting used to. Even I probably need to adapt,  not to mention my bride who will be staying with my family for the next two years. I must remember to be more understanding to her feelings as she transited from a family that she was used to living with for 27 years into mine which she only need to meet during the weekends.

I am excited for the upcoming nuptials, and at the same time worried too. But it will all be well, I guess. Most of the things have been planned and my brothers would be skilled enough to execute the plan. I will just have to endure the next six days before my wedding date arrives.

🙂

The Three Focus Areas

So my great grand boss came to visit the department yesterday and spoke to everyone. It was a getting to know you session since he took up this appointment recently. He did speak about his expectations and his experience, but he touched on three focus areas that he would advise that we focus on in our career.

The three focus areas are leadership, communication and critical thinking.

I agree with them, although personally I think there are so many more interesting aspects that we can focus on as well. But this post will be on my reflections on the three focus areas.

Firstly, leadership. What great grand boss mentioned was that leadership is not only for people at the management level. Leading can be at the subordinates level where a specific person is chosen to lead in a specific project. Personally, as more and more work piles up, I would be grateful if the guys could step up to lead in certain initiatives. It would take a huge load off my shoulders, and at the same time they would also prepare themselves for eventual appointments.

Many people have the appointment but cannot lead. They might not have the flair for it and might end up turning people off with their attitudes. They might care less about others and more about themselves. But to develop people into capable leaders at the management level, they need to be leaders at the tactical level.

Secondly, communication. I cannot stress the importance of communication. There are two parts to this: listening and speaking. Listening allows you to grasp your boss’s intent quickly. Why is he saying this and what does he actually want? If the reply you provide hits the nail on the head, good! He would feel that you are able to think at his level and that you didn’t waste his time. As for speaking, it is not good enough to understand intent quickly; you have to be able to phrase your ideas well. Else, the first sentence that comes out of your mouth will only sound gibberish, or reflect that you are unable to understand the crux of the issue.

Communication at the workplace takes many forms, and each form requires a different kind of mastery. Spoken communication during huddles and meetings. Written communication in the form of emails. Other forms of written communications can be approval papers to push a certain agenda or ask for certain resources. Without the clarity of thought and the ability to go straight to the point, bosses will end up taking an excessive amount of time to read and this doesn’t reflect well.

Thirdly on critical thinking. This bothers me quite a bit that there isn’t a structured way to learn critical thinking. Critical thinking requires one to challenge the fundamentals and question the assumptions. This is also applicable to my field as a maintenance engineer. This is because we work with contractors who provide recommendations on a particular way of troubleshooting. However we need to be able to think critically, see past the smoke, and ask correct questions in order to isolate the assumptions and make our decisions. However this is an area that many are weak in, and subordinates who behave like this would end up being questioned on their presentation. They don’t look good and don’t get the recognition that they deserve.

These three points not exhaustive; there are more points that one can focus on. Great grand boss spoke about being experts in a field through learning more from the internet. Personally I am encouraging people to work productively by finding tips and tricks to energise your day, sort the clutter of information bombarded through email, Whatsapp messages and face to face meeting, and prioritise on what matters.

What is your focus area now?

My Report Card

Today, I sat down and had a talk with one of my colleagues and I spent some time trying to coach him. It was a fruitful session as I got him to think and tell me how he felt, and I think I made a connection. At the same time, he told me about my department and to me, that was my report card for my more than three years here since I joined in May 12.

In my department, I was given the opportunity to head three teams which performs maintenance and engineering solutions to different systems. Given that the systems they were maintaining were independent of one another, the team dynamics were naturally different. Instead of going into specifics on what systems they work on, I will just refer them to team A, B and C, representing the order in which I “joined” the team. The story involves A and B.

Team B had disagreements with my working style and the direction that I gave them. They didn’t see the point of executing certain tasks and perhaps felt that it was a waste of time and effort. When Team B was voicing out their displeasure, Team A was present. I had spent most of my working career with Team A, and I was heartened to know that they stood to defend me.

Team A understood that I do not do things for the present, but considered a lot for the future. As I said, they spent the most amount of time with me and had the chance to see my ideas and direction come to fruition. My colleague admitted that there were clashes initially and disagreements were aplenty, but they grow to see how it eventually pans out and were convinced. I guess, despite me nagging them on a daily basis, they were the closest to me and benefited from my thoughts.

I’m not angry after knowing that Team B was unhappy. It might not be entirely their fault as by the time I had effectively “joined” in a position to influence them, I was already saddled with other work commitments and couldn’t spend as much time and effort. While I am heavily involved in Team A and C and work with them on a daily basis, I only get updates from Team B on a weekly basis; sometimes if I am unavailable at work, I would miss the weekly session.

In addition, there is not much time to see things to fruition. The farmer plans a seed, but might not live long enough to see the tree bear fruits. Now when I am watering the sapling, the results are unclear.

I wished that I had more time and effort to spend with Team B. There were many areas which I had hoped to positively influence them on. Team B should rightly be called Group B as my other colleague put it, as there were no team dynamics nor common goal that binds them together. They are just a group of people bunched up together by the organisation to work on something. But they could be coached and with time, grow to become a team. I wished I had more time with them.

However, there is no point wasting time crying over spilled milk. I need to make the best of my time left with this department to coach them adequately so that they can be self sufficient for the future. I want to build teams that I would be proud of; teams that would represent my legacy. That, to me, is self fulfilment.

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.

My Weekly Review

Plenty of productivity articles talk about having the daily or weekly review sessions to keep track of what you have done and do projection for the time period ahead. I have been doing my daily reviews diligently to determine what I need to do for the day; however I have never started doing any weekly reviews even though I had learnt about this technique for over a year or two.

Just last week I initiated my first weekly review and I must say that it was a good break from the hectic work life to do re-focusing. Not only that, doing a review forces you to think about what is the next phase in a project. No longer is an action item just marked done and left as it is. Now, I have to think what I need to do subsequently. This meant that the possibility of neglecting the project and leaving it to rot has reduced significantly.

I would like to take this opportunity to share my current method of doing a weekly review. There might be better ways of doing a review, so do share with me if anyone has any ideas. I will also be tweaking this to make this better in future.

The weekly session happens on a Saturday because (1) I am able to have more sleep and feel more refreshed and (2) my partner is working on Saturday mornings so it would be the best time to do such reviews without sacrificing our quality time together.

The session is broken into two phases, (1) the review phase and (2) the forecasting phase.

The Review Phase

During this segment, I will write down what I have done in the past weeks. For example, I might have finalised a paper on maintenance training, or collated safety information from various departments. A good tip is to look at your calendar and go through the meetings that you have attended. Next, to think about each day (Monday to Friday), and remember what we have done out of the meetings.

After this is done, we will have a whole list of tasks performed. I will ask myself what the next step is. It could be to submit the paper for approval, or to write an email to the Safety Officer on my collated data. These “action items” are transferred to my “to do database” for subsequent planning in my daily cycle.

What I do for the above is to draw a table with two columns: (1) what I have done and (2) what I need to do subsequently.

The Forecasting Phase

The forecasting phase involves looking at my calendar to refresh my memory on what meetings I have been scheduled for in my next week. This allows me to think of the next question: “What do I need to prepare for these meetings”. I would come up with a list that might include delegating some information gathering to my team, and I would have to mentally factor in additional time slots for periodic check backs. This is because not everything can be done to standard within the first try, and most of the time additional information needs to be requested.

Next, I look at my “to do database” to determine what are the big ticket items that are (1) urgent and important or (2) important but not urgent. Such items are placed on the weekly priority and should be completed. Point (2) is key as if we do not tackle these items, these items would be elevated to the “urgent and important” category as the deadline approaches.

I’m in my second week of the review session and it has worked well for me so far. Try it!