Archive for October, 2010

Is Leadership all about Performance?

Oct 30, 2010 // 6 Comments » // Leadership Infusion | Stories Retold

Picture source: pigskinliquor via Flickr

Picture source: pigskinliquor via Flickr

A friend (let’s call him John) who’s a Sales VP of a MNC organized a sales retreat conference for his team of 20 staff members. I was engaged as a facilitator to provide teambuilding workshop on the second day after the first day of long presentation amid the hill top of a luxurious golf resort in the southern part of Johor, West Malaysia.

Like always, the teambuilding ended in high spirit. During dinner, John seems troubled as he was unusually tranquil.

“How do you think the day went?” I asked.

“Oh, I think it went well…the folks seems charged up for the year ahead…but…” His tone was tapering to a whimper.

“But you think…?” I sensed a great concern lurking.

“Every year’s the same…we end up highly motivated, charged-up but it don’t seems to last the race…” He lamented.

“But you know the problem?”

“I don’t know…I mean I know but not sure if it’s true…” John was getting hype up in confiding…

“Try me. I am keen to know what you are not sure about…” saying while staying with him at eye level.

We took our drinks and walked towards the balcony over-looking the golf course, we leaned against the edge of the balcony ledge; as if we are afraid of anyone might eavesdrop on our conversation, John said:

“Allen, frankly, I am not sure whether all these teambuilding works for my people anymore…Don’t get me wrong, I think we need such motivation and coming together from time to time, moreover, my guys enjoyed it and it’s good to reinforce the importance of mutually supportive relationship. But I am sensing that we are missing something…some critical intervention…maybe something to do with our sales leader.. . ” He was referring to his six sales directors who work very closely with the sales managers and associates that are accountable to about 15% of their group revenue.

“I am keen to learn about your observation…” I realized the opportunity to have him tell me more of what he does know.

He look over his shoulder twice as if to make sure that no one was behind us, he went on to said: “Having work with them for more than 3-4 years, accept for Paul who joined us early this year, I can confidently say that they are good with driving numbers and making sure that the folks perform to expectation.” Referring to the sales directors who eventually will step up to take his mettle.

“So what’s your concern?” I threaded carefully and continue to look into his eyes…

“My concern?! Yes, I am not sure this is a concern but I am in fact less worry of them performing in terms of driving numbers per se but more worried for them relating and leading their direct report and people…” He was fiddling with beer mug on his right hand while sharing…

“Is that truly your concern?” I took risk in probing deeper.

“I am quite sure…in fact, many of my second tier managers had threaten to walk out just a few months ago…and the HR report shows that compensation wasn’t the main culprit.” John’s tone turn from serious to flat deadpan.

“So how do you intend to address this?” I somehow knew he might have an idea.

“That’s where I am not sure…you?” somehow he thought the same.

We spent sometime talking about coaching and leading people. We thought may be it would be timely to help the key leaders to identify their critical roles in leading the people to not just perform to their maximum potential but learning to lead others.

“Let’s organize a morning jog tomorrow before the nine-hole outing.” I suggested but to John’s amusement.

“Morning run?! What for?” he responded with suspicion.

“Trust me, you guys are going to enjoy the golf game afterwards…” I said confidently.

I remembered we spoke further on the idea and he still wasn’t sure the potential of bringing the message across to his people, but relented anyway. The next morning, we gathered as planned. The team was grouped in 3 with a fair-mixed of sales director and managers. A planned route of about 1.5km bordering the scenic view of the course garden wing. After some stretching and warming-up, the team was briefed on the route and I said:

“Go ENJOY the run TOGETHER and we shall gather for breakfast after this…” with tonal emphasis on the bolded.

As they set-off, John and I was heading toward the cafe set amid the garden wing awaiting their return. Not to my surprised, an athletic-looking sales associate arrived under 10 minutes followed by others in ones or pairs. Paul’s group was the only group of three that stayed together throughout the course. After some quick warm-down and water to quench thirst, we sat down in circle to have a debrief.

“Damien, you came in first. Tell us how was it for you.” I guessed Damien would be the most ready to share.

“I enjoyed the run. The air’s fresh, cool, nice surrounding and 1.5km is no problem for me, you know.” Damien professed with a wide grin.

“I am sure you do, thanks Damien. Who’s with Damien’s group?” I turn the attention back to the group.

“We couldn’t catch up with him…he’s too fast!” a lady by the name of Steff half-protested…”Luckily, Tony wasn’t!” referring to a senior sales director perhaps in his early 50s in the same group.

“I am an old man you know…” Tony followed-up with much laughter from the team and some nodding of heads…

“How about you Paul? Your group came in last but seems to be having fun and not breaking a sweat…” I turn to Paul’s direction.

Paul, looking rather embarrassed, responded: “I actually asked Steven and Judy to go ahead without me so that they finish the run early. But they decided to keep with me and we really ENJOY the run TOGETHER.”

“Did you?” Now facing the group to garner their response.

“WE did. It was fun running at an easy pace and being supportive of each other. We chatted along the way and enjoyed the company. In fact, we did so with much ease that the distance seems too short when we arrived…” Judy shared with obvious agreement from Tony and Steven.

“Yeah, for someone who’s hardly out in her jogging shoes…” Steven was jibbing at Judy pointing at her very new looking bright yellow sneakers.

“Thanks for the insight Judy and Steven. I would now like to invite you to note down three questions for your reflection later during your nine-holes…” I urged the team to take note.

“Firstly, what could we miss-out when Personal Performance took precedence?”

“Secondly, what else is important besides Performance?”

“And not least important, is Leading meant just Performing? If so, why? If not, how?”

John told me later they have one of the most enjoyable round of nine-holes that morning after a hearty breakfast. The folks continued to stay with the same group during their golf rounds and some of them even skip golf just to continue their sharing after breakfast. He wanted me to continue the work that we have just started with the sales leaders. As for the team, I was told that they organized bi-monthly run every alternate Friday evening – Together.

Points to Ponder:

1. Leading from behind, the view can be quite astonishing.

2. Guiding from the wing, the conversation can be quite engaging.

3. Coaching from within, the sense can be quite satisfying.

Be Still – from Conformity to Mobility

Oct 21, 2010 // 4 Comments » // Change Initiation | From The Inside Out

One of the many miracles Jesus’ performed during His ministry; “Calming the Storm” incidentally is one of the favorite story my kids like in their bed-time story. There seems to be this recurring theme about casting our worries unto His care in the Bible – I think this is more than a promise from God but a command He desires from us.

Be Still – a simple posture of not acting seems to go against the grain of our need to do, act and perform; to think useful, to feel valuable and to be justified.

In my career as a trainer and facilitator, I was privileged to meet with some like-minded people and great thinkers from around the world. One of them is Timothy Gallwey – a pioneer in sports motivation and psychology. Tim wrote the first book “The Inner Game of Tennis” in 1972 and follow-up with a series of Inner Game series in the last four decades. It was his “Inner Game of Work” that brought his theory of human potential to main stream business coaching in 1998 and to Singapore in 2002 during the association’s inaugural Human Capital conference; In which Tim and I met and became friend partly due to our love for the game of tennis. I met with him again five years later in Los Angeles and continue to be amazed with his thinking that has transcend from sports to business to communities-at-large.

One of his conceptual idea about learning is mobility – from Conformity to Mobility; the ability to learn and be aware without being paralyzed by doing and external pressure of producing result. Many of us always think that to perform is to produce, hence there is a great need to act and do. Tim has argued that in order to gain mobility is having the ability to STOP – an acronym he shared to debunk the myth of ‘performance momentum‘ – a term he argued that most of us have habitual actions we do in the course of the day without a moment’s thought of why we do them.

Step Back – to step back means to put distance between yourself and whatever you are involved with at the moment. Step back from the momentum of action, thinking and emotion. Find a place of poise and balance – a place where you can think clearly, creatively and independently.

Think – to stop thinking momentarily in order to think may sound like a paradox, but it is not. Here Tim expounded that there is a shift in the thinking gears, a disengagement of thought in order to either rest or engage in a different level of thinking. Here’s where you begin to ask thoughtful questions.

Organize your Thoughts – Thinking may not usually occur in a perfectly organized fashion. Especially in longer STOPs where there has been creative thinking about problem solving or strategic planning. ‘Organize’ is your chance to pull your thinking together, bring coherence to your plan, consider priorities, and provide a sequence for actions.

Proceed – You don’t stay on the mountaintop if you want to take action. There is definitely a right time to descend from your thinking space, and that should be when things has been refresh and clarified. When the goals and the next steps are clear, and you have been connected to your motivations and surrounding, you are ready to get back to work.

Again, do not hesitate to STOP once clarity fades. The biggest resistance to using the STOP tool is the habitual comfort of ‘performance momentum’, our inherent way of doing and ‘performing’ that may gets in our way of learning and enjoyment.

Points to Ponder:

  • STOP at the beginning and end of each workday or project.
  • STOP to make an conscious change.
  • STOP to address a mistake, ask a question.
  • STOP to correct miscommunication and to check how your performance momentum have impacted on others.
  • STOP to listen, learn, coach and encourage.
  • STOP to rest.

“Just” me!

Oct 15, 2010 // No Comments » // Change Initiation | Conversational Circles

© ConversationCircles

© ConversationCircles

Hang on! Before you begin to think that I am blogging about ‘Just Me’, think not. I am sharing my learning about “Self-Justification” and probably an important lesson for you too.

Recently, I was intrigued by this simple yet truly great word – JUST.

We use this word ever so often; we use it as adverb such as just now, just do it or just a moment ago etc. We also use it as an adjective such as: this is a just cause, a just reward or punishment and deserving of a just retribution etc.

But it is not the word uttered or use outwardly that intrigued me…but the manner in which we use it inwardly, silently or even unconsciously that amazes me. For example, suppose you are in a long public-train ride and got yourself a comfortable seat besides one that is meant for the elderly; at one stop, the corner of your eye spotted someone that might need your seat more than you do. Now, I guess that the most immediate response from your heart will be to choose to let up the seat for the someone; but here’s how we may often choose to response:

  • The person on the seat meant for elderly should give up, not me!
  • What if the elderly may not need the seat as he may disembark at the next immediate station?
  • I am not alone in this…why should I?
  • What if the elderly reject my offer? This was what happened when I did the last time…
  • This is a long ride for me. I am as legitimate as anyone in this train to the seat, why me?
  • What if…

You see, we have this uncanny ability to JUSTIFY our own choice of action/behavior that is in contrary to our organic response or intention. Our reservoir of logical reasoning that camouflage our heartfelt intention is mind boggling and often disengaged us from our true way of being with others. Worst of all, the habitual “way of engagement” would become our wrong sense of being with others so much so that we deceive ourselves into believing that we are JUST in our own action.

lorryx3_via_Flickr

Last Sunday evening, it was my turn to read bedtime story to Eiffel (our three year old boy). Having just got back from a training assignment on board a cruise ship for three days, I was really tired and was quietly hoping that Eiffel will pick an easy reading and possibly a book with the least pages…To my horror, almost like he wish against my hope, he picked one of the heaviest book from the shelf titled “Around The World in 80 Days”. As I was struggling to stay engaged throughout, for a few times when he wasn’t paying attention, I craftily took more than a few pages at once as I flip the page, and every time I did that I pretend to narrate the new page with exaggerate tone and expression to cover any trace of “fast-forwarding” the pages! Eventually, if not for my clever endeavor I would not have finished the book in half the time – though not rightly so but I am JUSTIFIABLY tired! – a self-justified exclamation even before I went into Eiffel’s bed-room.

“Ok Eiffel, what does it mean when we come to this page of the book?” holding the back cover of the book high up and trying to conceal my yawning…

“it means the end…” Eiffel’s mumbled unwillingly.

“Yes, it means time to sleep and papa will say a prayer for you now. Close your eyes…” I was urging him hurriedly.

“But dad, why is it the story is so different from the one that mommy read to me the other day?” Eiffel asked unwittingly.

“Oh…Mommy read Around The World..?” I gestured at the book cover nervously.

“Mommy’s story has India, Hong Kong and…”. Eiffel was peeling off my self-deception innocently.

Justly, my deceit was exposed. But more importantly, I have learned an unforgettable lesson from our three year old boy about my way of being with others beyond my action or behavior – and my self-justification.

Points To Ponder:

  • The last time when you chose to not respond to your innate calling but act in contrary, how does that felt?
  • If you felt justified acting in contrary to your organic responsiveness, how would you think others might respond to you?

Same Same but Different

Oct 07, 2010 // No Comments » // Change Initiation | Conversational Circles

© Jock McDonald 2008 www.jockmcdonald.com via www.lensculture.com


Photographer Jock MacDonald and animator Paul Blain teamed up to create this visual masterpiece that explores the idea that we are all one. (I suggest you anticipate with some patience during the presentation and gaze into the eyes of the portraits). Have you ever experience the organic desire of sameness yet felt the fighting force of differentiation from within? Do you have a “place” to go to when you are ‘fighting’? When your heart’s-at-war? Let me explain…

I was once in Bangkok, Thailand for work/holiday and chanced upon a t-shirt at a very popular flea market. The design of the t-shirt caught my attention with the phrase “Same Same” in the front, and “But Different” at the back. I was intrigued by the wordings and my curiosity must have caught the attention of the enthusiastic lady mending the store who might have sensed the chance of an early afternoon sales…

Same Same But Different

“This is an interesting t-shirt.” I started the conversation with my usual unassuming way.

With her not so fluent English, she said: “Sawadika. Yes, yes…very nice, very cheap. Only 300 Thai Baht..very cheap. You L size?”

Unfazed by the pushy sales technique that I was getting accustomed to the few days I was in Bangkok, I asked: “Do you know what’s the meaning…Same Same But Different?”.

With her ever broad smile and while holding the t-shirt over my back to see whether I fits a L-size, she commented: “Ahh…we same same like people…but different life, you good life I from poor life…”

I look into her hazel eyes with beautiful crease-lines at the end of it and said: “Khorb khun. Thank you for your blessing, I wish you good life too…I would like to have two of the t-shirt in L-size please…”.

“Khorb khun ka…please come again…” I still remembered her kind voice.

I have used this phrase kind of regularly since then; even my son Tim would utter it when he find a chance to remind me of my idiosyncrasies…

Let’s take today for example. Since you woke up till now, have you experienced moments of anger, dissatisfaction, agitation, road-rage, unfairness, bad news or simply things that’s not going the way you want them to be…Close your eyes and think for a moment. I did and I am quite sure you do, if not today then maybe days past.

These are times when we need to transpose ourselves to a “place” where we experience calm, tranquility, sereneness. It could be any “place” that we can quickly get ourselves ‘into’, for examples:

  • Remember the feeling and all the senses when you first hold your baby.
  • An old picture of someone dear to you.
  • Your first date, kiss, hug, farewell etc.
  • Your first hand-shake on the first day of your new job (remember how does that feel).
  • A prayer (accordance to your faith)

You may even consider a “place” to go periodically to reflect:

  • A book (Anatomy of Peace, Have a Little Faith, The Bible etc)
  • A video (Seven Pounds, Departures, Passion of The Christ etc)
  • A group (social network, conversational circle etc)
  • A retreat

I have downloaded the above video into my smartphone and I must say that whenever I am warring-at-heart it does help me to be calmed at times. Whenever I am in a ‘storm’, I will always have my bible with me and be ready to listen. I am also grateful to the friends and love ones that have always been a support whenever I need my voice to be heard.

Lastly, I am heading for a retreat cum practicum come November to learn more about the purpose of hosting circle and collaborative conversation.

Points to Ponder:

1. Can you remember the first day when you started on a new job; full of enthusiasm, hope, energy. You would probably think, “I am going to work hard, contribute to the best of my ability and be of help to everyone I meet regardless…”. Is the feeling still the same?

If not, what happen?