Change Maestro Posts

Business travel seems to have taken off again. But the truth is that jet-setting executives may soon go the way of the dinosaurs.

Not long ago almost every business function required a trip.

I used to cover Asia Pacific – and that meant over 20 countries. I hated it after a while. There were even times when I made day trips to India – I would leave Singapore at night, arrive in India in the morning, Indian time, and leave India around midnight Indian time.

But there are those who relish being road warriors; I guess it gives them a sense of importance.

People flew for the slightest reason – to meet with clients, to meet with suppliers, to meet with colleagues, for training, to connect with the troops, etc.

Thousands of trips add up to millions of dollars, not to mention tons of CO2.

But now, by using world class unified communications and collaboration solutions and services any meeting anywhere can be just a click away.

Indeed, in this day and age, where very technological advanced and powerfully effective communication and meeting tools are cheaply available, do you really, really need to travel?

Of course, nothing can replace human presence, but I have often found that a private personal phone call is a great way to make a direct connection with someone.

Nowadays, technology can even enable us to hold entire all-hands-on-deck town hall meetings – which have their purposes – but lots of work-related issues can also be resolved with a phone call, no need at all to mobilize the troops.

With ever escalating operational costs, companies should be wary of execs who insist that they have to travel. They can’t be too wise, can they?

Remember, people are hired to be part of the solution, not to become a part of the problem!

In fact, nowadays, in enlightened circles, business travel is actually frowned upon when, extended across an enterprise, unified communications and collaboration capabilities have the potential to transform traditional work and travel habits.

Cisco, for example, realized many years ago that 49% of travel was for internal reasons. It has practically eliminated travel for internal meetings, reducing it by 99%. The company has also reduced training-related travel by 98%.

So in this day and age, if someone complains with an exaggerated shake of the head and a loud sigh that he’s living out of a suitcase and traveling too much because of work, as if it’s such a curse, (“but what to do, someone’s got to get the job done”), he’s probably not working for a very enlightened organization or he’s doing it to inflate his own ego, or worse, he’s taking his company for a ride, finding excuses to go on vacations on company expense and pocketing per diem money, air-miles and whatnot. (Yes, there ARE people like that, and most of them have lost their jobs!)

Whenever I come across such “international jet-setting” execs, I immediately form a negative impression of his or her company; I can’t help thinking it cannot be a very well-managed company.

Extrinsic Change

In every organization, there is a group of people who are the untouchables.

Their jobs are always safe.

The company may be suffering numerous consecutive quarters of negative growth and even those who performed and delivered and who have labored for the organization for decades had to be laid off to minimize operating costs, but this group of insiders will continue to keep their jobs.

It’s basically cronyism pure and simple.

These are protected members of the boss’ inner sanctum – the company mafia, its seat of power.

In good times and bad, this unholy alliance can do no wrong.

They run the company as they see fit.

They think they are the only ones that are right.

Even the best and brightest are being ousted.

In fact, anyone that outshines any member of the inner sanctum will be put down.

Worse, this insidious group panders to their toadies and bootlickers, protecting them and shielding them from harm’s way.

Lots of talented resources had their capabilities suppressed so that this mafia could gain eminence – all at the expense of the organization and the constituents it is meant to serve.

But every story has a closing chapter.

As the Chinese say, there is no never ending banquet under the sun. All good things must come to an end.

That is the fate of a mafia group in an organization that I am familiar with.

With the control of the untouchables, the organization continued to be weakened until a coup was mounted and the mutiny resulted in the disposal of boss and his grovelers.

One sees many similar parallels in history –  from Lenin and Stalin to Saddam and Gaddafi, despots were eventually disposed.

There are lessons for us all here.

First, people have eyes. They are not blind. It is said that “when you are in it, you don’t see it” but those on the outside of the inner sanctum can see your shenanigans quite clearly.

Second, everyone has a boss – the mafia met their downfall when disgruntled employees and shareholders petitioned head office. Usually, leaders at head office are protective of those they appoint to run the local offices, but when the level of disgruntlement reaches epic proportions, head office had no choice but to act.

Third, you may enjoy being at the top, but it’s a law of nature and a matter of time before you will be brought low and humbled, if not totally humiliated and annihilated. Like they say, “every dog has its day” and you will get your comeuppance, eventually. You will be crushed.

Leaders come and leaders go, one day you’re cock of the walk, the next you’re a feather duster.

The rest of the people have all the time in the world to wait you out.

So if you are in a position leadership, do a sanity check on yourself every once in a while.

Intrinsic Change

Having just inked another major contract with a global company owned by one person, I am once again reminded that it is always easier to deal with one strong leader, a decision maker, than with a bloated bureaucracy.

To take on an entity trapped by its own – often misplaced – sense of invulnerability is a Herculean task and no matter how smart one is, the chance of success is rather limited.

Dr Jason Steffen is an example.

Some years ago, Dr Jason Steffen, an astrophysicist, came up with a way of easing congestion during aircraft boarding time.

The boarding process is bogged down by two reasons – first, passengers are often forced to wait in the aisle while those ahead of them stow their luggage, second, passengers already seated in aisle or middle seats often have to get up and move into the aisle to let others take seats nearer the window.

Dr Steffen recommends that passengers board by seat type (ie, window, middle or aisle) while also ensuring that neighbors in the boarding queue are seated in alternating rows. First, the window seats for every other row on one side of the plane are boarded. Next, alternate rows of window seats on the opposite side are boarded. Then, the window seats in the skipped rows are filled on each side. The procedure then repeats with the middle seats and the aisles.

By Dr Steffen’s calculation, his faster method of boarding planes could save airlines hundreds of millions of dollars a year since time is money. Prior research has shown that every minute a plane spends at the terminal costs US$30/-. Assuming the average carrier runs 1,500 flights a day, saving as little as six minutes per flight would add up to US$100m a year.

Presently most airlines board passengers by blocks, with passengers assigned to groups within the cabin – “we are now boarding rows blah, blah, blah to rows blah, blah, blah.”

A comparative study shows that Dr Steffen’s method reduces boarding time by half.

However, the airline industry has shown no interest in his method.

This is hardly surprising. Airlines make loads of money from first and business class passengers and other commercially important passengers for “privileges” like priority boarding. Why would they want to upset these high-end passengers by boarding them like the rest of the “monkey” or “cattle” class passengers?

So poor Dr Steffen is left with a perfect method no airline is interested in using.

Well, you can’t fight the entire airline industry! It’s a losing battle taking on leaders locked and paralyzed by a paradigm. The attitude of many such leaders is “Why fix something that’s been our standard procedure for the longest time?” They don’t even want to make any decisions requiring them to implement changes to the way things are done.

Contrast that with Mario Polegato.

This wine merchant from Italy was attending a trade event in Reno in 1995 when he took a break to go jogging. While out jogging in Reno’s hot desert climate, his feet got hot and he cut a couple of holes in the soles of his shoes with a Swiss Army knife.

He later developed the idea into a viable product.

Geox was born and today it is a global business. The paradigm that the bottoms of shoes shouldn’t have holes was broken.

It is certainly easier to mount a one-man crusade than to fight an entire industry.

As long as industry leaders’ minds are closed to new ideas, no matter how brilliant those ideas are, they will never see the light of day.

Related this are a couple of questions:

Is it worth it to continue to inconvenient one group of customers in order to make more money from another group?

In other words, would you pamper one group of customers at the expense of another group?

Another question: shouldn’t the level of service be the same whether you spend $500 or $5000?

The answer is obvious, but what happens in real life is another story.

Isn’t it?

Extrinsic Change

A company chairman recently engaged me to review and investigate the credentials of someone who has sold coaching services to the CEO of his company’s Asia Pacific operations.

Coaching is the practice of supporting an individual through the process of achieving a specific personal, professional or sporting result.

The term “coaching” is sometimes used interchangeably with “mentoring.”

Actually there is a difference.

The term “mentoring” takes its name from the Greek classic, The Odyssey, in which the character Mentor becomes responsible for guiding Odysseus’ son, as the father goes off to war. The presence of an older, and possibly even parent-like, figure as an advisor in a persons’ life is often traditionally referred to as having a mentor.

Whatever it is, like training, it appears that anyone can set himself up as a coach or mentor and come into companies, charge tens of thousands of dollars and make suckers of everyone. This is exactly what happened to the Asia Pacific office of the multinational corporation. This is the reason why the chairman of the company, based in Scandinavia, engaged me to assess the credentials of a particular “coach” and her entire “coaching program” which she managed to sell to the head of the corporation’s Asia Pacific operations.

My counsel has always been this: Before engaging a coach or mentor, ask some hard questions and ask to see certifiable results. If possible, ask to speak to the people being coached by the coach. Also ask to speak to the bosses of those being coached. Has the coaching made a significant, measurable difference to the company’s performance?

Most coaches I come across here are former athletes, management consultants, retrenched executives and failed entrepreneurs. Some are none of these things – just self-styled gurus who managed to sweet-talk some clueless company bosses into engaging their services for the whole company. (Didn’t someone once say that “guru” is easier to spell than “charlatan”?) Undoubtedly some executives do get help from such individuals, but in an alarming number of situations, coaches who lack rigorous psychological training do more harm than good. Indeed, when an executive’s problems stem from undetected or ignored psychological difficulties, coaching can actually make a bad situation worse. I’ve not met any coach here who hails from the world of psychiatry or psychology.

My misgivings about coaching are not a clarion call for psychotherapy or psychoanalysis. I am psychology-trained professionally yet I believe seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist, in particular, does not – and never will – suit everybody. Nor is it up to company bosses to ensure that all employees deal with their personal demons or receive coaching to “realize their full potential.”

I just want to heighten awareness of the difference between a “problem executive” who can be coached to contribute positively to a company’s bottom line and an “executive with a problem” who can best be helped by seeing a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

These are the issues: First, many coaches sell themselves as purveyors of simple answers and nippy solutions. Second, even coaches who accept that an executive’s problems may require time to address still tend to rely solely on behavioral solutions. Third, coaches unschooled in the dynamics of psychotherapy often exploit and abuse the powerful hold they develop over the people they coach. Unfortunately, if allowed to careen off like a runaway train, coaches ignore – and even create – deep-rooted psychological problems that often only psychologists can fix.  I know – if I deposit a ten-cent coin into my bank account every time I am asked to go into a company to do damage control after a coach has left behind a trail of devastation I would be a millionaire many times over by now.

Remember the creepy and revolting Grima Wormtongue in the Lord of the Rings who had Theoden, King of Rohan eating out of his hands? (Wormtongue was the king’s counselor when in truth he was the servant of Saruman.) Coaches are at their most destructive when they win the CEO’s ear. This puts them in a position to wield great power over an entire organization, a scenario that occurs with disturbing frequency.

When I was working for a HR consultancy many years ago, the young managing director was virtually being manipulated by a seasoned, older subordinate who has wormed his way into the managing director’s heart, becoming his personal advisor on everything ranging from which restaurants to eat to which employees to get rid of.

I know someone here who bills himself as an “outplacement consultant and coach” and he has confessed to me that one of the secrets of his success is that he always wears a suit to impress. Imagine that!

Coaches gain a Svengali-like hold over both the executives they help and the company bosses they report to, often with catastrophic consequences. When a person increases his reliance on his coach’s advice, he becomes a victim of what, in the language of psychiatry, is called “transference” – a dynamic that gives the coach extraordinary psychological power over the person he oversees. Most people understand transference, as “falling in love” with one’s therapist and the outcome can be very destructive.

To best help their executives, companies must draw on the expertise of psychiatrists, psychologists and coaches with legitimate skills. At a minimum, every executive slated to receive coaching should first receive a psychological evaluation. By screening out those not psychologically prepared or predisposed to benefit from the process, companies avoid putting executives in unnerving – even destructive and demotivating – positions.

Equally important, companies should hire independent mental health professionals to review coaching results. This helps to ensure that coaches are not ignoring underlying problems or becoming part of the problem themselves.

In medicine, pathology is central to learning about disease but in management we don’t perform enough autopsies on people who call themselves coaches to determine their true worth. If these parasites and fraudsters prove unworthy, like malignant tumors; they should immediately be excised and flushed down the gutter.

I am sick of hearing about coaches who take companies for a ride. They get in the way of the real pros who are trying to do their job.

Thinking of getting some coaching? Tread carefully.

A wrong move could cost you a lot of grief.

Intrinsic Change

In 2014, Korean Air vice president Heather Cho, daughter of the airline’s chairman, and a one-time member of the advisory board of Nanyang Business School, Singapore, became unhappy with the way a flight attendant served her nuts on the plane, (from the original packaging, in conformity with the airline’s procedures instead of on a fancy plate). Cho abused the cabin crew, summoned the cabin crew chief and assaulted him while he knelt down in front of her to beg for forgiveness. She then ordered the aircraft to taxi back to the airport’s gate and ordered the cabin crew chief to get off.

Also in 2014, Singapore-based socialite Nancy Gan, was upset that her teenage maid Dewi Sukowati served her a glass of water on a plastic tray instead of a silver one so she splashed the water on the maid’s face and hit her with the tray. The maid responded by smashing Gan’s head on the wall and killed her by drowning her in the pool.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is a telegenic, supposedly smart (and tattooed) prime minister of the new generation and a very well-liked person.

But in May this year, during a parliament debate, irritated by what he felt was a delay tactic by the opposition, Trudeau stormed across the floor, grabbed a legislator by the arm, and pushed him back into his seat. Along the way he used the F word to swear at a female MP while elbowing her in the chest.

Heather Cho, Nancy Gan, Dewi Sukowati and Justin Trudeau all succumbed to their emotions. All lost their cool. Gan lost her life.

Anger is obviously a psychological emotion, but it is also physiological in nature. Anger involves chemical reactions in your brain. When you get angry, your amygdala, the center for emotional processing, sends a distress signal to your hypothalamus, which sends epinephrine along your autonomic nervous system through the path of the sympathetic nervous system to the adrenal glands, which starts pumping epinephrine (adrenaline) throughout your body. The adrenaline prepares your body to meet a threat, increasing your heart rate and sharpening your senses.

This serves a physical and biological purpose, preparing you to fight or to take flight, but you have an anger problem when your threshold for what triggers this physiological response is too low, for example, if you fly into a murderous rage when someone nearby drags a chair across the floor nosily.

Maintaining a façade of cool is of critical importance.

We are civilized people, not savage animals.

I am reminded of Jorma Ollila, Nokia’s former chairman and CEO, who was known to have a short fuse and was well known for shouting at people at the top of his lungs.

Here in Asia, the moment you lose your cool, all respect for you goes out of the window. Your self-control determines how the world views your external image. With a public persona damaged, you are no longer effective. Some societies will regard you as persona non grata. In their eyes, you have ceased to exist and being cold-shouldered is worse than death, sometimes.

So how should you deal with anger?

First, recognize that you are entitled to be angry and anger is not unnatural. There is such a thing as righteous indignation, when you hear of the massacre at Orlando, when you see the image of the migrant boy washed up dead on a beach in Turkey, when you see cats being eviscerated and killed for fun, when you hear of hit-and-run drivers, when onlookers at an accident site are more interested in taking pictures with their cell phones rather than helping the victims, when public officials are paid millions yet do a second-rate job, or when you discover that the potential candidate you are about to hire is a résumé cheat, you must be one passionless, heartless, cold and insensitive zombie if you don’t feel any rage.

But the right to feel angry doesn’t come with the right to hurt yourself or others.

Therefore, learning how to manage your anger is an essential skill.

The moment you feel your blood boiling, quickly take stock of your emotions. Anger often masks other emotions. As a matter of fact, anger is often a secondary emotion to hurt, sadness, loneliness, grief, downheartedness, or fear. Anger rears its ugly head as almost a defense mechanism because it is easier for many people to deal with than the other emotions. Ask: Do I allow myself to feel a wide range of emotions? You may be suppressing emotions that you think you “shouldn’t” feel.

If you commonly substitute anger for other emotions that you find more difficult to deal with, learn to handle those emotions, or find a good book that will empower you with tips. Temperamentally-challenged people not only mess themselves up, they cause much consternation to others. Being with such people is like having to walk on egg shells.

What I saw on the UCAST screen in a SMRT taxi I was in the other day makes a lot of sense; it said “Stop for a moment, Think about your actions, Act in the safest way.” It was meant as a reminder to the taxi driver who’s on the road many hours a day, but applies to all of us as well.

Manage your emotions well, and you manage your “personal brand” well; you manage the organization you represent well and present a positive image to the outside word.

Simply put, it’s just not cool to lose your cool.

Extrinsic Change

Paper qualification is often used to gauge a person’s capability.

A degree earned shows the world that you have had academic training on the subject for which you were awarded the degree.

Due to the emphasis on paper qualification, people strive to earn as many degrees as possible and also to get themselves certified in as many areas of expertise as they possibly can.

Studying for a degree, spending time on campus, interacting with professors also give a person the experience of co-existing with others, a process which, hopefully, also eventually contributes to a person’s social skills and build up his EQ.

It is therefore important that people attend the right schools.

What’s the point of going to a sub-standard institution and ending up with some qualification that’s not worth the paper it is printed on?

Equally important would be the certification that people acquire to enhance their competency.

The thing is, people jump on bandwagons and suddenly experts emerge from everywhere.

If big data analytics is now the flavor of the month, all of a sudden, you’ll see experts in that field emerging from God knows where, each clutching a piece of paper declaring them to be experts. Big data is more hype that its proponents care to admit. Among other flaws, spurious correlations – associations that are statistically robust but happen only by chance – increases with more data and can lead to completely wrong conclusions or prognostication. I would caution all those big data evangelists to pay heed to what The Economist calls “the classic hype cycle, in which a technology’s early proponents make overly grandiose claims, people sling arrows when those promises fall flat, but the technology eventually transforms the world, though not necessarily in ways the pundits expected. It happened with the web, and television, radio, motion pictures and the telegraph before it.”

When it rains it pours, and when it rains big data hype it quickly turns into a monsoon of mass hysteria, basically, mob psychology in action! I enjoy spotting and scoffing at big data BS promoters on places like LinkedIn, half of whom not sure of what they’re babbling about. They’re just on the big data bandwagon just as they’ve jumped headlong on the Japanese single malt bandwagon, suckers for flavor of the month.

It’s the same with change management.

Change management may appear commonsensical, but the fact of the matter is that most change is resisted because it’s corporate-centered and then repackaged to try to coerce employees to embrace the change. Now, why would employees embrace change if it means more work, more stress, more KPIs to achieve and less personal time for themselves? No wonder people fight change.

Unless you have the appropriate rigorous training and the relevant experience, you cannot possibly possess a deep understanding of psychological principles and research methodologies that are at the intersection of theory and practice in organizational settings. The strength of a real expert on change management lies in his ability to identify key psychological theories and applying them successfully to a wide variety of challenges facing contemporary organizations.

Work backwards starting with the fear of the people who will be impacted by the change and change will get embraced but you need the pertinent training and experience to do that. Attending courses and paying for a certificate doesn’t make you an expert in anything.

But as with big data – the latest buzzword – suddenly everyone is an expert in change management, never mind the fact that many of these self-styled experts are brandishing certification of one kind or another from dubious organizations who claim to know enough about the subject that they have the nerve to go around certifying people and making them change management experts overnight.

Seriously with no background even in psychology, can these so-called experts or organizations that declare them to be experts claim to know anything deep about change?

Let me reiterate: you don’t become an expert by paying a fee, sitting in a classroom, and then take a test that result in you being rewarded with a piece of paper, a piece of paper that allows you to hang up your shingle and set up shop.

Ditto trainers. I have seen jokers with multiple certification declaring them to be training experts and what do they do? In front of a class, behind PowerPoint slides, they stand there blinking and twitching and trying to look intelligent.

Pathetic, really.

It’s the same with coaching as well.

Everyone is a coach nowadays.

I’ve had people bragging about the millions they’re making from coaching.

Well, I supposed if Angelina Jolie can be a professor at London School of Economics I guess there’s hope for everyone. I am not aware of Ms Jolie having acquired a single academic qualification in her 40 narcissistic years upon this earth – let alone the qualifications to earn the title of “professor.” What next? Desmond Kuek of the problem-plagued SMRT being appointed professor and asked to teach a course on how to run a breakdown-free mass rapid transit system?

If you read the book Conversations with a Maestro, you know how I feel about coaching and coaches and all those other snake oil peddlers. (You may get more information on the book elsewhere on this very web site.)

I hate to sound negative, but most of these self-proclaimed coaches are unemployed losers who cannot go around stating on their CVs that they are jobless, so they call themselves coaches.

So the next time you declare yourself to be a certified expert on whatever, do yourself a favor and ask “Will I become a butt of jokes?”

And the next time someone claims to be an expert, be sure to check his credentials, get a real expert to test his understanding of the expertise area he claims to possess, investigate his track record thoroughly by conducting background checks and take everything presented to you with a large pinch of salt.

No real expert will resist scrutiny by anyone and provable track record determines the difference between a person’s head knowledge versus what he has actually been able to deliver.

Knowing is not the same as doing.

Rid the world of charlatans!

There are already too many.

Intrinsic Change

When my grandson was just three, there was once when I sat down with him to look at a photo of his “classmates” in his childcare center.

Little Blake would point out each one of them and call out their names.

And when he came across a kid whose name he could not recall, he simply said in his innocent way, “I don’t know.”

He didn’t seem embarrassed and he wasn’t ashamed to admit that he didn’t know.

He made no attempt to hide his ignorance and he didn’t pretend to know and he certainly didn’t attempt to hoodwink me by just mentioning a name. If he had, I wouldn’t have known anyway.

I wish adults are as honest as kids. I wish adults are not so self-conscious over their ignorance about stuff.

I have met my fair share of adults, many of them in so-called honorable professions, lying through their teeth.

People must know that it is perfectly ok to say that they don’t have the facts.

With my professional training and years of engaging with all kinds of people from all over the world, it is easy for me to see through lies.

People with no guts to say no for whatever reason but instead put forth a whole lot of lies – these people waste a lot of my time and energy.

The woman who interned under me and then went on to claim that she was the one who actually started the practice in the firm I was with; another person – a political animal with zero ethics – who claimed to have started a department I was running long before she came on board – these are liars too. And they even have the gall to make such fraudulent claims on their LinkedIn profiles!

And who are those who are worse than these dishonest people?

Those who say things like “I don’t want to get into that conversation” or those who simply do not respond to emails. The tactic of avoidance.

I am reflexively allergic to idiots who do not reply to emails. This behavior is anathema to the way I do business.

Recently I had to send this email to a contact:

Dear D

Going through my email archives, I realized I haven’t received a reply from you.

My email to you was sent in November last year.

Hope you are not being rude.

If for some reason or other you have not received my original email, please accept my apologies.

If not, then I maintain that it is only basic courtesy to send a reply or at least acknowledge it, something which I shouldn’t have to remind you of.


Here’s another one I just sent:

Hi T

Not having heard from you for over a month, I am assuming that this subject is closed.


What’s wrong with some people?

One word really: “unprofessionalism.” Plain and simple.

Now, if this is how some people want to present themselves to the rest of the world, it’s their prerogative.

I am no baby-sitter, but I will put you in your place.

You can trust me on that.

Extrinsic Change

From The Spectator, I learned that Pembroke College, Cambridge has cancelled a fancy dress party with the theme on Around the World in Eighty Days to avoid the potential for offence. One college has objected to the serving of sushi as “cultural appropriation” and another cancelled yoga lessons for the same reason.

James Bond fans will remember Felix Leiter telling 007 in Diamonds are Forever: “People are so damn sensitive about color around here that you can’t even ask a barman for a jigger of rum. You have to ask for a jegro.” That was from Ian Fleming’s book published in 1956. (Of course now the term “negro” has since being considered taboo as well.)

Cecil Rhodes’ statue at Oxford’s Oriel College risks being removed because he was an “imperialist.”

And in the US, if I so much as compliment a female colleague on her dressing, I can be sued for sexual harassment.

And the country’s 7th president was removed from the 20-dollar note because he was a slave owner.

To me this is political correctness gone mad.

One reason for Donald Trump’s popularity is that he doesn’t care about being politically correct – he just says what he thinks and of course, in the process, has insulted just about everyone.

I’m not condoning Donald Trump but his loudmouth has verbalized what many have not dared to say in public and his words resonated with lots of people. He articulates what people think. His bravado also feeds well into people’s idea of a hero – swashbuckling, swaggering butt kicker who will takes no enemies and go where no one has gone before.

It’s all good entertainment for the general public and the rest of us who are not Americans.

A certain measure of restraint is of paramount importance when voicing one’s opinions.

That applies to wannabe Trumps too, like Rodrigo Duterte, the Davao mayor who’s running for the Filipino presidency.

How you communicate with words is a measure of your maturity and your EQ.

Lies are a no no but if one bothers to think things through, a message of impact – if well crafted – can still be delivered in a most graceful manner.

Any other way would have come across as crude and uncouth.

It’s one thing to be frank but quite another to be rude.

Nobody should shirk from speaking the truth in the name of political correctness.

But there’s no need to have a gutter mouth either.

Please engage brain before putting mouth in gear.

Change the way you talk!

Intrinsic Change

In one of my first jobs, when I was in my early 20’s, because I was new (and naïve), people in the company who were more senior than me would order me to do work. “Hey, do this, ASAP!” an account executive, for example, would arm-twist me to craft a press release right away. (“I needed this YESTERDAY!!!”) Now, the company had a rule, all work done must be recorded by submitting a document entitled “Job Completion” form that you complete and pass to a dragon lady in charge of all that admin. I was aware of this rule, but no one told me about another rule, and that is, all work requests must first be accompanied by a “Job Order” form which is to be filled up by the person requesting the work.

Here’s how it is supposed to work: the account executive completes a “Job Order” and gives it to me, (with verbal instructions), and when I have done the work, (in this case, the press release), I would give the work to him, then submit a copy plus a “Job Completed” form (with his “Job Order”) to the said dragon lady. She would do her thing and I suppose the account executive would eventually be held accountable for incurring my time (his department would probably be billed, etc) and the dragon lady would also update another document somewhere that shows the head honchos of the company how my time was been utilized.

But, being new, I was being taken advantage of, and unware of it. Higher-ranking employees above my paygrade would order me and force me to do work without “Job Order” forms. Everything was either urgent or super urgent. Everyone wanted their work done ASAP or “by yesterday.” So stupid old me was going around doing all kinds of stuff for people, (how could I turn anyone down? – they were all my seniors) but the dragon lady would scream at me whenever I went to see her to submit the “Job Completion” forms (without accompanying “Job Order” forms.) At one stage, she even refused to see me and would scream at me to get out of her office. I was young at that time, not street-smart and utterly inexperienced and absolutely new in the workforce. Those moments literally gave me nightmares. I still shudder when I think of those exasperating days.

It was exasperating because on record, when management checked my name, there were no “Job Order” forms submitted, neither were there “Job Completed” forms. I was busy as hell, working till late at night, almost every night – with no overtime pay, mind you – but when the top dogs in the company looked at my time utilization, the picture they had was that I wasn’t doing anything at all. No sign of submitted forms meant no activity. So I must have been sleeping, they thought. No wonder all the strange looks, no wonder they all looked at me with disdain.

It took me a while to wise up and once I got smarter, I would not lift a finger to do anything unless the request comes with a “Job Order.” Even if the president and CEO of the company himself asked me to handle an assignment, I would insist on a “Job Order” first.

The company’s almost anal insistence on documentation and my persistence that I comply with company procedures – and nobody could fault me for being a compliant employee – protected me from being bullied into doing further “free” work for anyone again.

Documentation has its place and is important; having said that, if – like the case of another local (and rather renown) organization I am familiar with – people will only act if there is a piece of paper or a “business case” then I think the organization ought to question the caliber of its leaders.

The key is to act when the need is there, and not only because someone has filed a document requesting for work to be done. In many cases in real life, one has to act immediately to salvage a situation and then do the paperwork later. If leaders are so rigid, dogmatic and their behavior strictly by the book, they may be perfect adherents of procedures, the ultimate “company men” but is that always the right thing to do? Leaders ought to be situational-adaptive!

If everyone in an organization will only act when there is a piece of paper, or a business case, then, is initiative no longer relevant? Is there no longer a need to make on-the-spur or even life-or-death decisions? Will leaders lose the ability to make crucial decisions in nano-seconds?

Is this the reason why there seems to be a movement now to do away with human thinking completely? Is this the reason why we now have robots to fry our rice in restaurant kitchens? (Tung Lok’s fancily-named Artificial Intelligence Cooking Machines come to mind. One AICM can fry up to 100 kilograms or about 200 pounds of rice in half an hour, a feat no human can match.) Is this why we are now promoting the use of robots to serve customers in restaurants? (Budget 2016 has included a S$450 million expansion to the National Robotics Program.) Is this the reason why we are all hoping to own a driverless car in the near future? Is this why Nike has come up with a self-tying shoe recently?

We need to change the way we practice the art and science of leadership.

Essentially, leaders must lead and when I say lead, I don’t mean yelling at subordinates to get things done. Any idiot can shout. Any moron can press a button to get a machine going.

If everything can be made auto-pilot, aren’t leaders redundant? Taking the concept a few steps further, are we all working towards the ultimate elimination of the human race entirely?

So the next time you demand for a piece of paper or business case before you will act on anything, ask yourself, are you even necessary? Weren’t you hired for your brains? Have you lost your ability to think? If so, maybe you should be replaced by a robot!

Extrinsic Change

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Two incidents happened recently in an organization I am associated with, one was a case of blatant dishonesty (someone claimed that I agreed to something) the other had to do with gross incompetency (someone ignored my request for certain specifications to be met.)

In both cases, the leader did not have the courage to confront the persons responsible, he just “let things go.”


Because he wants to remain “a nice guy.”

That’s one of the worst traits of a leader – someone who would rather let the ship sink rather than stepping in to right the wrongs, to put things in order, someone who is more concerned about his own acceptance and popularity than for the good of the organization.

Leadership is not a popularity contest, neither is it a beauty contest.

It has nothing to do about being well-liked and it is not about looking good.

Roosevelt said that in any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, well, I beg to differ. The right thing is the ONLY thing you should do.

But doing the right thing requires courage, it puts you at risk, it may alienate some people.

But leadership is a risky proposition anyway, and if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Nobody said it’s going to be easy. Nobody said you have to be an alpha either.

Just do what is right!

Leadership comes with great responsibilities and a lot of the so-called, self-proclaimed leaders have to really man up if they are serious about being leaders.

To be blamed are also decision makers who place the wrong people into positions of leadership.

Just because someone has an advanced degree, just because someone’s job title makes him sound like the natural leader of whatever outfit he’s in, doesn’t mean that person must play the leader role.

The world is full of PhDs with head knowledge but zero EQ, book scholars who can’t even run a village store and they now run huge government ministries or even an entire country’s transportation system.

And when they can’t express themselves, they yell and throw tantrums.

Or they keep quiet and let things slide.

Intrinsic Change