Archive for August, 2010

If you are not good enough – Volunteer!

Aug 28, 2010 // 3 Comments » // Leadership Infusion | Stories Retold

Picture source: ConversationCircles

Picture source: ConversationCircles

Voluntary – of Latin origins voluntarius “of one’s free will”, of voluntas “will”. Originally of feelings, later also includes action. I became interested in the meaning of voluntarism and seeing many volunteers coming from all walks of life committing their time and energy to the recently concluded Youth Olympic Games (YOG).

A conversation sometime last year with a group of friends on volunteering for YOG…

“I have submitted my name as a volunteer for the inaugural YOG next year.” I shared excitingly.

“Oh..good for you. Our organization has also been invited to propose some of our members as volunteers…but it is very difficult for us because the actual event are still so far ahead, we don’t know what and how they want us to volunteer…” a friend lamented.

“What do you meant by don’t know what and how?” I asked.

“The organizing body wanted a list of volunteers but did not tell us what are we volunteering for, how long must the volunteers commit their time…and not even the duration of period we are suppose to commit!” he explained matter-of-factly.

Hearing this I asked: “Wouldn’t voluntary mean giving willingly without precedented knowing?”

I would not elaborate on the rest of the conversation but it did set me thinking deeper into the meaning of voluntarism…

I still vaguely remember when I first volunteered; I was eager to join my classmates in a favorite school-recess game call ‘One-Legged-Chase’ which they have already started before I arrived. I “willingly volunteered” as I wanted to be in the game, I was told to be the ‘One-Legged-Chaser’ (usually the disadvantage role in that game) for me to be in the game; that’s my first sensed that volunteering entails some form of ‘sacrifice’…I was about 9 years old.

Since then, I would suppose that I have ‘volunteered’ countless time in school, home, at church and workplace; for friends, family, organizations and for the nation. But I have not learn about the meaning of volunteering until now. I am begining to understand that the true meaning of voluntarism. Briefly, they are:

  • Giving my time, resource and expertise to causes that benefit the receiving.
  • Doing something that not necessarily I am good at but I might be weak on.
  • Serving the needs and wants of others that may not necessarily satisfy my needs and wants.
  • Attending to the needs of others without attaining the need of self.
  • Ultimately, a calling to serve with a belief of one’s own FAITH.

It took me some time of reflection and realization to come to the above learning. The biggest hurdle for me is about “PERFORMANCE“. I was humbled to learn that volunteering is less of what I can give but what I am willing to give even I am not good at giving. The humbling help me to learn that by willingly giving what I am weak at is a way to learn how selfish I can be in those things that I perceived I am strong, good or of abundance. If I am only giving what I am good, strong or of abundance of, then I am most of the time choose how and when I can give, why I should give and even who should I give to…then I think that is not of WILL but WANT.

The six days and approximately 36 hours of volunteering at Youth Olympic Village enable me:

- to be vulnerable (not knowing what to expect from youth around the world),

- to be youthful again (promoting games and events for youth),

- to be managed by people half my age (leaders are mostly young adults),

- to be humbled by the experiences (the job could be mundane but necessary, total distance traveled about 480km in public transport).

Points to Ponder:

  • In which area of your life that you are good, strong and in abundance of? Start giving…
  • In which area of your life that you are not so good, weak and less of? Try giving…

Giving and Receiving

Aug 15, 2010 // No Comments » // Stories Retold

Picture source: h.koppdelaney via Flickr

Picture source: h.koppdelaney via Flickr

Growing up in the 70s, I wonder how many kids receive home tuition outside of school curriculum. It wasn’t common to have home tuition during those days. In fact, it would consider a luxury to have ‘outside-of-school’ lessons and materials where school is the primary place where you get your education.

I was exposed to an entirely Chinese environment at my paternal grandmother home (where my primary school is about 3 minutes walk away) in my childhood days; from the news and entertainment  from the “Rediffusion” (a public wired-radio) to daily Chinese newspaper 星洲日报 and listening to my uncles and aunties speaking in fluent dialects and mandarin. I was even dubbed the ‘future singing star’ entertaining the adults with many Chinese songs that I learned by listening and reading the lyrics from my third-uncle proud collection of Mandarin pop records of the 60s and 70s.

I moved back to my family home at Marine Parade when I enter secondary school. Unknown to my parents and I, my weakness in the English subject began to tell when I struggled even to conjured up three decent paragraphs of composition titled “My Dream” – I was thirteen then. With my poor command of the English language, other subjects took its toll except for Chinese where I continued to excel; even representing my class for the school “汉语拼音” competition which I remembered came in 3rd overall. As I continued to be a favorite student of my Chinese teacher; the opposite holds truth for all my English teachers, they somehow given up hope on me as the school system then would have their attention focus on the better students…but not for an angel God sent.

My family of six lives in a single bed-room rented flat with 1.5 meter wide common corridor lining 20 units in a row. At that time, neighbors were closely knitted and keeping each other house-door key was a common practice in case of emergency. Two units away to our right was an Eurasian family of Catholic faith – the Rodrigues family. Their youngest son Paul who at that time was serving the Armed Forces; used to challenge me to a game of ‘carom’ which I apparently am pretty good at it. One day after one such game, as I was still smarting away from loosing three sets in a row, he took notice of my agitation and asked:

“You seem troubled…What happen?”

“No lah…I am ok. Today I not so good…one more game ok?” with my halting spoken English my eyes were wondering and trying to rearrange the “carom pieces” for a new game.

“Are you free tomorrow evening from 7-8pm” he asked gently.


“Every evening 7-8pm?” he probed further.

“Depending lah…what is it?” I began to worry what he has in mind…

“I would like to spend an hour every evening tutor you on English language, sharing with you what I know. Are you keen?”

“Tuition…You mean you want to teach me English huh…wow…but…I can’t pay you…” I replied, embarrassed of my family poverty.

“When I was young like you, I was given tuition by my uncle. He said I should pay for it someday by giving tuition to others in need.” he shared compassionately and I still remembered his keen eyes through his thinly-framed glasses.

He continued: “So you see, the tuition fees were paid long time ago!”

As I was still wondering how he knows I need English language tuition, and more importantly how I can repay his kindness…

He said: ”Someday you will share what you know with others…”


Picture source: h.koppdelaney via Flickr

He saw me as a giver. He made me responsible and believed that I might have something to offer to someone in future…

Today, I realized that I was not a recipient of charity, but as a trusted courier.

Are you a Receiver today? Or a Giver tomorrow?

Because I WANT so I WILL

Aug 12, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Stories Retold

Picture source: MediaCorp Press

Picture source: MediaCorp Press

What a story!

Low Wei Jie, a primary six student from Compassvale Primary School – ran for more than two hours and covering about 15km just to be near to the Youth Olympic flame torch-relay excitement around the North East Community District. He was deemed too slow to represent his school for the start of the relay team but that did not stop him from doing the next best thing – running alongside the torchbearers in his flip-flops and home-cloths, clutching his digital camera along and determined to capture the best moment – rain and shine!

When I read the news this morning, I thought there maybe a lesson or two we can learn from this…

First, the boy – he would probably be very excited when the news about the YOG (Youth Olympic Games) flame torch-relay coming to where he lives and the relay starting from his school. I am not sure he know sure well the meaning of the inaugural Youth Olympic but with the ‘education’ started in school since last year, I am sure he would have caught up with the excitement building toward the event. I supposed he would have dreamed to be an Olympic flame torchbearer since the Beijing Summer Olympic in 2008 and watching the live telecast of the flame being carried starting from the ancient city of Greece towards the capital of China. I can imagine also the disappointment he must have felt when he was not among the two torchbearer selected to represent the school. But instead of letting the disappointment dwell in him and blaming everyone including himself, he has decided to run the course with other torchbearers and supporting them along the way.

What it meant for us? – Wei Jie has epitomized the old cliche of “If there’s a WILL, there’s a WAY”.  I was heartened by his determination – for whatever reason it may be – the point is while I have seen and heard enough tirade against the GenY and younger generation of Singaporeans being ‘soft’ and lack the old school iron will; with this story we should begin to understand that maybe there’s a lesson or two to learn from them after all. A conversation with the young ones to listen to their hearts and minds.

Then, the school – I am sure the school would not have expected the wide media coverage (major local newspapers) and an almost heroic storyline coming out from a flip-floppers and digi-camera clutching Primary-sixer that was deemed TOO SLOW by the school selectors. I can’t help but thought “Why do you need to be FAST to be the torchbearer?”. I have always thought that the Olympic flame torchbearer runs in a painfully slow pace for some specific purpose (media coverage perhaps), so speed should never be a criterion. Endurance? I am not sure the actual torchbearers from the school would have comfortably complete 15 KM running in flip-flops and most of the time side way facing the flame!

Then why and how? Academic results? General conducts perhaps? Physical superiority? Good looks (Wei Jie quite a JJ Lin I thought)? Whatever the reasons, I would like to hope that the selected torchbearers resembled the same determination and willingness to hold the honor just like Wei Jie; and not DOING the lapse because they NEED to…that would have doused the spirit of the Olympic flame.

What it meant for the school? – We pride ourselves being a meritocratic society and it is one of the most important foundation of our 45 years of nation building. But I am not sure should other guiding principles such as compassion, love and tolerance get equal weightage in school early on before our young’s (they are only in primary school) eventually envelope by the meritocracy-centric working world awaiting…

INFLUENCE – beyond just Doing but Being

Aug 11, 2010 // 3 Comments » // HR Insights | Leadership Infusion

Picture Source: Alex_Bates via Flickr

Picture Source: Alex_Bates via Flickr

Two Sundays ago, after our Sunday worship at a local church; and after fetching my second boy Eiffel from Sunday school, I was waiting for my eldest boy Timothy from the children worship hall two levels down from the adult worship hall. He is always full of enthusiasm after his bible study; armed with many questions prepared to ask me…

“Dad, you throw a pebble into a still pond and caused a ripple…the ripples spread out beautifully through the surface of the pond. What causes the ripples?” He speaks with his usual clear and  a wee bit mature voice for a 11 year old.

“Hmm…the first ripple.” I was trying to be scientific about it and was prepared to explain the law of physics…

“Nope!” came a immediate negative ascertain from Tim.

“Uhhh…the pond! Without the pond there won’t be any ripples…” sensing there might be some riddle-like trickery…

“Noooo…that’s an obvious Dad…Think!” Tim was half laughing and staring at me.

“Oh…I know, I know…THE PEBBLE! Without the pebble there won’t be any reaction in the first place.” I thought I got it at last and saying in much confidence and matter-of-factly.

“No Dad, its YOU! You caused the ripples by throwing the pebble into the pond…” He replied with a tad of ridicule and as he finished, he ran away looking for his brother Eiffel down the hallway.

I stood there thinking and still smarting away from the implications of what my son has ‘taught’ me…and the whole of Sunday I was still thinking about the meaning of INFLUENCE.

A recent conversation with a client lead us to explore the notion of Influence; they recognized the importance of people managers being in the position of accountability and positive impacts on their people…

“So would you like to share with me about your leaders in this organization; especially the managers.” I asked.

“Oh, we have about 15 senior to junior managers across the functions, they are in their early 30s to mid-50s…” She lamented matter-of-factly.

When she has finished, I asked: “Who do you think they are to others?”.

“What do you mean?” she responded impatiently.

Sensing a window of opportunity to dwell deep…I asked: “As a manager, what would you say about your influence to others that matters in this organization?”

“Umm…I guess I am very much a positive influence especially to the younger colleagues and new staff.” She continued: “I for one is pretty new to this organization; therefore I have no historic baggage with me here…for example…”.

“That’s great! I am glad you did. So how do you think I may help this organization?” I asked in earnest.

“My colleague will agree with me that one of the biggest challenges for our managers in general are the willingness to take accountability so that they will influence others to do so…We hope they can be more responsible beyond their scope of work.” she responded spontaneously.

“Tell me more.” I sensed the flow…

“Don’t get me wrong. Our people are very good in what they are supposed to do and they are experts in their respective field…But we also happened to believe that we have great products that will change the well-being of people around the world, but we also understand that we need people that are willing to bring this organization to where we should belong…”

Cave Ripples_Donald Noble via FlickrWe have a wonderful conversation sharing and understanding observations, examples, behaviors and assumptions that gives me great insight to the probable challenges the people in this organization may face. One of the key message when we meet with the team next month, is to help them be aware of their behaviors and action that may influence others and how they may want to commit to change that may impact others around them and the organization.

Have you ever ask:

‘What is my influence to the people around me?’

‘What is the implication of my thoughts, feeling and my action to my colleagues?’

‘How can people that I care or people that I have yet know could be in the realm of my influence?’