Thursday, June 29, 2017

5 Lessons on Fatherhood

I had initially planned to write this upon the 1-year anniversary of Baby Michael's birth. But ever since I started the purposeful journey of knowledge sharing, I have decided it is much more beneficial to share as early as possible rather than later.

Baby Michael just became 9-months old. He is a wonderful boy, full of joy and laughter. And the part that I secretly enjoy the most: his unspoken character.


There is very little a 9-month old can do. Michael is not able to walk without assistance. He has barely learnt how to crawl. He has only mastered a couple of words: "Kai kai and 出去" (meaning, to go out for sightseeing), "Nen nen" (milk), "Mama", "Papa", and a few others. And yet, with some honest reflection, this little boy has certainly taught me a few things about life.

1. What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger


As an amateur crawler, Michael requires supervision when he crawls as he has yet to experience the dangers the little objects around him can bring. Just the other day, he managed to "quietly" crawl off the edge of the bed, and earned his first bump on the forehead.

The pain and shock caused him to cry, but only for a few minutes. After that, he was back to his usual smiling and laughing nature, almost as if all was forgotten.

The lesson here is quite simply: Life is going to be full of bumps on the forehead. We will fall, inevitably. But with each fall, we become a little bit smarter, a little bit wiser. More importantly, we should focus on the joys that life can bring us. It is easy to dwell on the mistakes that we make. If he was a bit older, perhaps I may have even "blamed" him for behaving so recklessly. But because he quite simply did not understand the consequences of his actions, there was no need for finger-pointing. There is only room to look forward and to reflect on how we can make things better in the future.

2. Dare To Ask For Help

For most of my life, I have lived in a somewhat independent manner, refraining from seeking help for fear of troubling others, and often, for fear of appearing silly. Michael is not a very needy baby. He is almost as independent as I am, but he most certainly isn't afraid to ask (cry) for help when he needs it.

Babies have no imagined fear of troubling others and most certainly do not fear appearing silly. He isn't afraid to ask for a his milk. He isn't afraid to ask to go "kai kai". He isn't afraid to sound the alarm when his diapers need changing.

Michael is a constant reminder that in life, there will definitely be things that are outside of our control. As much as we would like to believe we are in control of our own circumstances, about 80% of the time, we are not in control. We can only control our response to each and every circumstance. We can pretend to be in control of the circumstances, but oftentimes, they are inevitable.

But when things spin out of control, remember that help is around the corner. Pretending to take on the world alone provides a temporary ego boost. But reality will harshly remind us that we need more support than we think. When someone else requests for help, it is very often that we are more than happy to assist. Sometimes it is out of generosity, and others, it is so that we make ourselves feel useful.

By this logic, seeking for assistance ALLOWS others to show their generosity and make themselves useful. This is not to appear self-serving. There is a big difference between feeling entitled to receive help vs. having the courage to seek help when needed. More often than not, we should be more daring when seeking help.

3. Remember To Appreciate

As a consequence of No.2, we must remember to show appreciation when help is given. Michael has yet to learn to verbally show appreciation, but when he is given what he needs, he does not hesitate to share his warm smile and cheeky laugh.

There is no doubt that the last 9 months has been an uphill journey. But it was made so much easier with the support of my family members as well as various fortunate circumstances. Below is a list of things that I am eternally grateful for:

i) Parents and in-laws

While I group our immediate family members together, my mother has played an integral role in supporting Michael's well-being. From the little things like cooking healthy meals to comforting Michael when he refuses to fall asleep. My father is ever-ready to bring Michael on educational expeditions to the park for his evening "stroll". I struggle to imagine how difficult life would have been if we did not have the support of our family members. I attribute the majority of Michael's rapid development in verbal skills to my parents.

ii) My wife

Imagine a good night's sleep. Now, imagine that good sleep being interrupted once every hour. That is what it feels like for the first 3 months for a new mother who is breastfeeding. My wife has persevered through the rough times of hourly wake-up calls of the baby, and we still experience the occasional wake up call as Michael is teething.

Moreover, she has now returned to work and we are continually challenged with interrupted sleep patterns. However, my wife has been solid as a rock and I have to admit that she has done more than her fair share in ensuring that Michael is well taken care of and growing very well!

iii) Pre-loved goods

Everyone knows that raising a baby is expensive. You have to get diapers, the baby cot, stroller, milk bottles, toys, and much much more. Fortunately for us, there is a very supportive community of mothers (and parents) on Facebook that are happy to let go of their pre-loved goodies at a discount from the original retail price. Most of the items that we bought for Michael were pre-loved. Some of the best items that we have were given to us for free! We are still using those items today. Michael really enjoys his walker that was donated by our very kind neighbor.



4. Rome Was Not Built In A Day

I remember the first day when we brought Michael home from Selayang hospital. Within 5 minutes of putting him into the car, he started crying and could not stop. He was crying for help due to the unfamiliar environment. He was a helpless little baby.

Fast-forward to today. Michael is now 9 months old. Usually,  after his nap, he will start crying due to either hunger or just seeking attention. Just the other day, after one of his naps, he woke up but he did not cry. He just kept repeating "抱抱" (Bao bao), which means to carry him.


I also bore witness to his journey of learning how to crawl. He started with supporting himself with his legs, but his arms were not strong enough. Eventually, he could balance himself on all fours, albeit a little wobbly. Then he learnt how to rotate to look around. Subsequently, he started to move, but could only move in reverse. Finally, he actually started moving towards the front. This entire process took almost 2 months.



Something as simple as crawling that we so easily take for granted took us 2 months to learn when we were infants. With that perspective, how long are we prepared to invest to learn the more complex skills in life to succeed? How long are we prepared to invest to learn financial management? How long are we prepared to invest to learn public speaking? Surely, those high-level skills would take more than 2 months.

5. Focus On What Is Important Not Urgent


Going after a crawling infant who is unaware of the dangers surrounding him can lead to a pretty stressful routine. Always chasing after him, panicking unnecessarily. It is also much harder to be punctual for our appointments with friends, families, etc. This is because we are at the mercy of Michael's nap times and we also now have to pack for an extra person before we go out.

Those of you who know me, know that I strive to be punctual for all my meetings/appointments. Having to rely on the readiness of an infant to be on time can be stressful. However, one of the most important lessons that Michael has thought me was to focus on the important things.

For example, it is more important to ensure that we bring his snacks, toys, extra diapers than to be on time for our appointment. It is also more important to ensure that Michael has enough sleep before we go out. Otherwise, he will be very cranky and will end up being very disruptive during our outing.

I have been working on this post for a number of weeks and am finally coming to the end. I am truly appreciative of the opportunity of being a father and a husband. More specifically, I am truly thankful of being Michael's father. While he has certainly added joy to our lives, he has also taught me more than a few lessons. I am really looking forward towards what else he can teach me.



Thursday, June 01, 2017

Lessons in Leadership - Part 2

12 Lessons in Leadership

In this part, I will share the quotes and thinking behind Coach Wooden's leadership qualities. I feel it is best learnt quotes as that provides a context for understanding. No point going through theoretical points.

Lesson 1: Good Values Attract Good People

John Wooden built his basketball program a certain way - athletically, ethically, morally - because he believed it would attract a certain type of person, the kind of individual he wanted on the team. He was right.

“Build it and they will come.”

Character—doing the right thing—is fundamental to successful leadership.

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” He was referring to character—the habits of our daily behavior that reveal who and what we are. I wanted to create good habits in those under my leadership. Standards, values, and attitudes were important to me. I wanted them to matter to those I taught.

Select people who are seeking you and your organization. Perhaps they recognize shared values, standards, and attitudes.

Lesson 2: Use the most powerful four-letter word (LOVE)

Be more concerned with what you can do for others than what others can do for you. You’ll be surprised at the result.

The smallest good deed is better than the best intention.

Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. The individuals on our UCLA teams became true members of my extended family.

“I will not like you all the same, but I will love you all the same. Furthermore, I will try very hard not to let my feelings interfere with my judgment of your performance. You receive the treatment you earn and deserve.”

And while I could have great love in my heart for those under my supervision, I would not tolerate behavior from anyone that was detrimental, or potentially detrimental, to the welfare of our group.

Lesson 3: Call Yourself a Teacher

Each member of your team has the potential for personal greatness; a leader’s job is to teach them how to do it.

In the eyes of many observers, John Wooden’s business card should say “Coach,” but this is not what he would choose. From the earliest years he has called himself a teacher.

Four Laws of Learning: Explanation, Demonstration, Imitation—correction when necessary—and Repetition.

An effective leader is very good at listening. It’s difficult to listen when you are talking.

All won’t follow; some need a push. Some you drive, others you lead. Recognizing the difference requires a knowledge of human nature. That’s where being a good student helps you in your leadership.

Lesson 4: Emotion is Your Enemy

There were four or five games in my career when we started out way behind like, 18–2—just getting killed. I’d look over at Coach Wooden, and there he’d sit on the bench with his program rolled up in his hand—totally unaffected, almost like we were ahead. And I’d think to myself, “Hey, if he’s not worried, why should I be worried?”

  - Fred Slaughter, UCLA 1962-1964.

Emotionalism—temperamental flareups and drop-offs—makes consistent high performance impossible.

If you let your emotions take over, you will be outplayed.

Ideally John Wooden wanted the team to improve during each practice and game—every day, each week—throughout the season until they were at their finest on the final day of the year.

Intensity makes you stronger. Emotionalism makes you weaker.

I came to understand that if my own behavior was filled with outbursts, peaks and valleys of emotion and moods, I was sanctioning it for others. As the leader, my own behavior set the bounds of acceptability.

Lesson 5: It Takes 10 Hands To Score a Basket

Be sure you acknowledge and give credit to a teammate who hits you with a scoring pass or for any fine play he may make.

In basketball, a field goal is scored only after several hands have touched the ball. In business, the “ball” is knowledge, experience, ideas, and information. Whether on the court or off, that “ball” must be shared quickly and efficiently to achieve success.

Have one team, not starters and substitutes. No one feels good being a “substitute.”

Each must feel valued, from the secretary to the salesperson to the senior manager. When they understand that they are contributing members of the team and that their role has value, good things will occur.

No matter how great your product, if one of your departments doesn’t produce, you won’t get the results you want. Everybody must do their job.

I told players that we, as a team, are like a powerful race car. Maybe a Bill Walton or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the big engine, but if one wheel is flat, we’re going no place. And if we have brand new tires but the lug nuts are missing, the wheels come off. What good is the powerful engine then, when the wheels come off? Every part, big or small, on that race car matters. Everything contributes to the running of the race. And, of course, a car needs a driver. I was the driver.

Acquire peace of mind by making the effort to become the best of which you are capable.

Lesson 6: Little Things Make Big Things Happen

There was logic to every move. Details of socks, shoelaces, and hair length led to details of running plays, handling the ball, and scoring points—hundreds of small things done exactly as Coach Wooden wanted them done.

Coach Wooden taught that great things can only be accomplished by doing the little things right. Doing things right became a habit with us. Habits stand up under pressure.

Big things are accomplished only through the perfection of minor details.

High performance is achieved only through the identification and perfection of the small but relevant details, little things done well.

Minor details, like pennies, add up. A good banker isn’t careless with pennies; a good leader isn’t careless with details.

Most observers saw only the trophy. Few comprehended the magnitude of perfected details preceding the trophy.

Talent must be nourished in an environment of high performance standards. Sloppiness breeds sloppiness. When it comes to details, teach good habits.



Friday, April 28, 2017

Lessons in Leadership - Part 1

Pre-Amble:

A long hiatus doesn't even begin to describe how long it has been since I last wrote anything meaningful. I have kept this series in draft version for a while, with the intention to clean it up before publishing. 

However, I have decided to take a different approach. The lessons that I am about to share are relevant now. Let's just treat it as a work in progress and I will polish it from time and again as I see fit.

This series is targeted at new and mid-level managers who want to make the next leap in their career in the corporate sector. 



Introduction

Over the last 9 months, I sort of chanced upon a journey on leadership. The organization that I work in nominated me as one of the 40-odd people to participate in a course called "Harvard Business Leadership". One of the first "lessons" I learnt in that course is that: ALL models are wrong. Some are useful.

On the surface, it seems like a joke, but on a deeper level, it taught me two very important lessons about myself.

1. I have a strong tendency to rely on models and frameworks in the things that I do.

This is not because I am a robot (which I am). I rely on models and frameworks because they allow me to predict a likely future. Yes, I get my predictions wrong a lot of the time, but I also get them right just often enough to make them useful. For example, I rely greatly on the Myers-Briggs personality categories in my daily interactions with people. It helps me identify why people do the things that they do, and how I can respond accordingly to suit their personality. The trouble with models is that I need to know when to use which model. Because I have actually been relying on models and frameworks all my life, I just seem to know when to apply them intuitively.

2. I NEED to make use of my strength in viewing things in models and frameworks.

I was reminded by one of the things that was said by Brendon Burchard: Frameworks allow people to REPEAT success. While I seem to be an expert at frameworks, I have only been using it for myself. My wife frequently asks me to share my views on many things in life, because of how I can simplify very complex issues into models or frameworks that makes things easy to understand. That is why I started work on this series on Leadership.

The work below is definitely not my own. They are just notes that I have extracted from the book "Coach Wooden's Leadership Game Plan for Success: 12 Lessons for Extraordinary Performance and Personal Excellence".

The crux of the book is centered around Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success. As the name suggests, the Pyramid of Success contains qualities and attributes that are built from the ground up, with the base of the pyramid serving as the foundation for success, building all the way up to the apex of the pyramid.




But before we can dive into the pyramid itself, we must first start with the right ethics and attitude. As with all powerful tools, using them in the right way is essential to create a positive impact in the world. That is why the book starts off with ensuring that all leaders must start from the right intention.

Ethics and Attitude

Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Character is what you really are. Reputation is what people say you are. Character is more important.
I am not what I ought to be, Not what I want to be, Not what I am going to be, But I’m thankful that I am better than I used to be.
Throughout the book, Coach Wooden emphasizes progress over perfection. The key focus to be successful should be on continuous and sustainable improvement.

The Ground Rules for Success

Coach Wooden repeats the mantra set out by his father, which is just a simple 2 sets of threes. Simple, but not easy to live up to.

1. Never lie
2. Never cheat
3. Never steal

1. Don't whine
2. Don't complain
3. Don't make excuses

If what it takes to be successful can be summed up into 2 sentences, it would be below
1. Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to stay there.
2. There are no "big" things, only an accumulation of little things done well.

The Pyramid of Success.

Before we can even talk about what it takes to succeed, we must first define success. And I really like how Coach Wooden defines success:
I don't care how tall you are.
I care how tall you play.
Success is peace of mind that is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

Success is totally under your own control. No one can give it to you; no one can take it away. No one except you.

Don’t judge yourself by what you’ve accomplished, but rather by what you could have accomplished given your ability.



First Tier

1. Industriousness

There is no trick, no easy way. Success travels in the company of very hard work. 
The heights by great men reached and kept,
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Industriousness meant true work at your highest capacity; fully engaged, totally focused, and completely absorbed; no clock-watching, no punching in and out, no going through the motions. 

2. Enthusiasm

Work without "Enthusiasm" is just work. "Just work" is not enough.

As a leader, you must be filled with energy and eagerness, joy and love for what you do. If you lack enthusiasm for your job, you cannot perform to the best of your ability. Industriousness is unattainable without enthusiasm. 

"Working Together" Blocks:
3. Friendship

The time to make friends is before you need them. Camaraderie is a spirit of great goodwill that can exist between a leader and member of the team. 

To paraphrase Abe Lincoln, “You destroy your adversary when you make him your friend.” 

4. Loyalty
There is a destiny that makes us brothers,
None goes his way alone,
All that we send out to others,
Comes back into our own.
 
- Edwin Markham
Give loyalty and loyalty will be returned in abundance. First, be true to yourself and your beliefs. Second, be true to your team.

5. Cooperation

Make sure the people you lead feel they're working with you, not for you. Have the utmost concern for what's right rather than who's right. 

It is often difficult for a strong-willed leader to incorporate Cooperation because listening to others, evaluating, and embracing their opinions and creativity may seem to suggest uncertainty and doubt about your own judgment and convictions. The ego gets in the way of your eyes and ears. It’s easy to get lost in your own tunnel vision.

A strong and secure leader accepts blame and gives the credit. A weak insecure leader gives blame and takes credit.

Second Tier

6. Self-control

If you do your best, never lose your temper, and never be out-fought, out-hustled, you'll have nothing to worry about.

Control of your organization begins with control of yourself. Be disciplined.

Self-control is necessary in all areas. The choices you make in your personal life affect your professional life. They are not separate. A leader who lacks self-control outside the organization may lack it within the organization.

It starts with control of your emotions, but it extends to having the resolve to resist the easy choice, the expedient solution, and, at times, temptation in all its alluring forms. 

7. Alertness

Nothing is static. Expect each day to bring new threat and opportunity. Constantly be aware and observing. Always seek to improve yourself and the team. 

Never be a spectator. Be in the fight at all times. A leader who is sluggish in recognizing what's going on will soon be going on without a job. 

Perfection doesn't exist. Thus, actively be alert and looking for imperfections in your team and your competition. It is there. Find it. 

8. Initiative

Failure to act is often the biggest failure of all.

Having the courage to make decisions and the willingness to risk failure. A team that won't risk mistakes won't win many games. 

The team that makes the most mistakes wins. 

Hesitancy brought on by fear of failure is not a characteristic of great leadership. Play to win rather than "not to lose". Do not be afraid to fail. Use good judgment and then use initiative. The leader who fears failure will often fail to act when action is required.

9. Intentness

It's not who starts the game, but who finishes it. 

Stay the course. When thwarted, try again - harder, smarter. Persevere relentlessly. 

Never be satisfied. Work constantly to improve. Perfection is a goal that can never be reached, but it must be the objective. The uphill climb is slow, but the downhill road is fast. 

Good things take time, usually lots of time. Achieving worthwhile goals requires Intentness. There are setbacks, losses, unexpected reversals, hardships and bad luck. Does the fight continue? The team looks to you for their answer. The answer is Intentness. 

Industriousness and Enthusiasm are a powerful combination essential to Success. But the great force they produce must be constant and ongoing. Things achieved without effort are seldom worthwhile or long-lasting. 

Third Tier

10. Condition

What you do away from practice can tear down all we accomplished during practice. 

Ability may get you to the top, but character keeps you there; mental, moral and physical. 

Practice balance and moderation in all that you do. 
"All we've worked so hard to accomplish on the court today can be torn down quickly, in a matter of minutes, if you make the wrong choices between now and our next practice."
Be concerned with your preparation, not theirs; your effort and desire, not theirs. Don't worry about them. Let them worry about you. 

A leader who lacks physical condition is less likely to summon the mental strength to stand up and fight for beliefs and convictions. 

What you do off the job is directly related to how well you do on the job. 

11. Skill

When you are through learning, you are through. 

What a leader learns after having learned it all counts most of all. 

Know your job and be able to do it quickly and correctly. Knowledge of and the ability to execute your responsibilities will separate you from most of the competition. This means being prepared to do all that your job requires.

Push yourself to keep learning or you will stay as close to the bottom as to the top.

Whether in basketball or in business, you must be able to “get open” and “shoot.” One without the other makes you a partial performer: one who can be replaced because your skills are incomplete; one whose leadership falls short because of your own limitations when it comes to knowing your job.

You must also be fully aware that mastery is a lifelong process of learning. The best leaders are those who realize it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts most.

Knowing what you’re supposed to do means little if you don’t have the Skill to do it.

12. Team Spirit

Initial definition:
Team Spirit is the willingness to lose oneself in the group for the good of the group. 

But... a "willingness" to be selfless does not satisfy the requirements. It suggests begrudgingly doing what is required for the team's welfare. 

New Definition:
Team Spirit is the eagerness to sacrifice personal interests or glory for the welfare of the group - is a tangible living force that transforms individuals who are "doing their jobs willingly" into an organization whose members are dedicated and eager to work at their highest level for the good of the group. 

The star of your team is the team. 

"We" supersedes "me".


Fourth Tier: Getting to the top: Trademarks of Greatness

13. Poise:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same...
- Rudyard Kipling
Just be yourself. Don't be rattled by events, whether good or bad. 

Hold true to your belief that what counts most are your own high standards and making the effort to do the best of which you are capable regardless of how bad or good, the situation may be. 

Poise means being true to yourself even if it goes against popular sentiment, even if you must stand alone. 

How do you acquire Poise? In fact, you don’t. Poise acquires you. It is part of the harvest you reap near the top of the Pyramid. Suddenly it is there, part of you and your leadership style and substance: Poise. It also becomes the style and substance of your organization.

Have respect for, without fear of, every opponent, and confidence without cockiness in regard to yourself. 

14. Confidence

You must earn the right to be confident, the kind of confidence that comes from proper preparation

Confidence cannot be grafted on artificially. Real abiding Confidence, like Poise, is earned only by tenaciously attaining those assets that allow you to reach your own level of competency.
Beyond the winning and the goal,
beyond the glory and the fame,
He feels the flame within his soul,
born of the spirit of the game.
And where the barriers may wait,
built up by the opposing Gods,
He finds a thrill in bucking fate
and riding down the endless odds.
Where others wither in the fire
or fall below some raw mishap.
Where others lag behind or tire
and break beneath the handicap,
He finds a new and deeper thrill
to take him on the uphill spin,
Because the test is greater still,
and something he can revel in.

- Grantland Rice from
“The Great Competitor”
Fifth Tier

15. Competitive Greatness

A goal beyond victory, a standard above winning.

Competitive Greatness: Performing at your best when your best is needed; a real love for the hard battle. 

Competitive Greatness exists in the journey and culminates in the tough competitive fight in which you and your organization are at your best because you’ve prepared to the full extent of your abilities.

When you define success as John Wooden does, the only thing to fear is your own unwillingness to make the effort - 100 percent - to achieve your potential in leadership and teach those on your team how to achieve Competitive Greatness as an organization.

Personal greatness is not determined by the size of the job, but by the size of the effort that one puts into the job. This applies to everyone on your team.

16 and 17: Faith and Patience: Symbolic Mortar

A leader must have Faith that things will work out as they should - a boundless belief in the future. 

A wise leader also knows that good things take time. If difficult goals could be achieved quickly, more people would be achievers. But most people - many leaders - lack Patience. 

Big things are accomplished only through the perfection of minor details. 

Success may result in winning, but winning does not necessarily make you a success. Success, as I define it, is harder to achieve.

The above are pretty much quips and quotes scattered throughout the very user-friendly book written by Coach Wooden and Steve Jamison. I highly recommend reading it in its entirety for budding and mid-level managers in the corporate sector. I would even encourage sharing the book with the rest of your team as it will definitely set the direction for your department and team culture.

In the next part, I will start diving into the 12 Lessons in Leadership that Coach Wooden has to share.