Posts Tagged ‘Values’

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?

Be inclusive in your talent strategy.

Mar 17, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Leadership Infusion

Picture source: Vestaligo via Flickr

Picture source: Vestaligo via Flickr

A matryoshka doll, also known as a Russian nested doll or a babushka doll, is a set of dolls of decreasing sizes placed one inside the other. The word “matryoshka” is derived from the Russian female first name “Matryona”. The word “babushka”  is the Russian word for grandmother.

Some years ago, I chanced upon one set of such dolls in a gift shop and was intrigued by the concept behind the design. I did some research and found that during Perestroika (Russian term for political and economical reforms introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev), the leaders of the Soviet Union became a common theme depicted on matryoshkas. Starting with the largest, Mikhail Gorbachev, then Leonid Brezhnev (Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko almost never appear due to the short length of their respective terms), then Nikita Khrushchev, Josef Stalin and finally the smallest, Vladimir Lenin. Newer versions start with Dmitry Medvedev and then follow with Vladimir Putin, Boris Yeltsin, Mikhail Gorbachev, Joseph Stalin and then Vladimir Lenin.

One story goes about how a chairman of a global firm called for a board meeting one day. At the boardroom table,  at the front of each boardroom members he placed a similar matryoshka doll. The chairman said: “Lift it up, its you inside…”. They went on to lift the doll one by one by opening up the top-half, for every bigger version they saw a smaller version and one after another it got smaller and smaller until revealing the smallest doll eventually. There’s a note at the end with the smallest doll that says: ” If you are conscientiously hiring people that are ‘smaller’ or less capable than you, someday we will become a midget organization. In contrast, if we put in effort in hiring talents that are ‘bigger’ or more capable and talented than us, we will be building giants for the future.”

Two years ago, I wrote in an in-house HR newsletter how we can learn from the matryoshka doll about leadership. Leaders in organization should embrace talents that are ‘bigger’ and more capable than oneself, so that you can help build an organisation of giants.

Are your next level managers hold the same hiring ideology? Are you decreasing so others may increase? Do you have your ‘generals’ in your organisation that are afraid of ‘decreasing‘ so others might ‘increase’?

At ConversationCircles, we can help you to infuse leadership concept and ideology in a way that is inclusive and embracing. Talk to me today at +65-96559409 or email at