Category: <span>Extrinsic Change</span>

I used to help at a rehab center in Malaysia for ex-substance abusers. One day we were overjoyed to receive a phone call from the owner of a canned food factory, saying he wanted to make a big, generous donation of canned food to the center. Soon a truck showed up, filled to the brim with canned food. Our joy was short-lived, however, when we noticed that every single can has expired. Some cans were rusty and bulging from whatever was reacting inside. The factory owner assured us that the food “won’t kill anyone.”

I wonder if he will eat them himself.

A friend was helping to collect items donated for charity and there was a huge, damaged electric massage chair being given away. He declined to accept it and was scolded. The donor insisted that the chair could be sold for money. “That’s my contribution to charity,” she declared.

On December 6th The Straits Times carried a news item about Singapore-based lawyer Dipa Swaminathan’s collaboration with Starbucks to supply unsold food items to foreign workers. it is a commendable act. Efforts like food banks acting as distribution middlemen between eateries and the needy sure seem more sensible than international charities supposedly driven by disasters and whatnot.

However, her comment “As you know, they [the foreign workers] would never be able to go into Starbucks and get a drink or muffin. What better thing to do than to take perfectly good food destined for the bin and to give them a snack” reminded me of my own experiences with charity work.

In my nearly four decades of doing my own small part to better the circumstances of the unfortunate and the underprivileged, I must have ploughed through tons of garbage disguised as gifts. I have sorted through literally thousands of pairs of torn and moldy clothing, broken shoes – smelly footwear deemed unusable by any estimation – and even worn, unwashed, stained and filthy underwear – including push up bras, G-strings and you better believe this, crotchless panties! –  discarded by people and dumped for charity.

This phenomenon is not unique to Singapore; mountains of thick winter clothes were dumped in Thailand for the 2004 tsunami victims. Following that same disaster, 4,000 tons of donated drugs arrived in Indonesia, well beyond local needs, labeled in foreign languages and were close to expiration.

Even when there isn’t a disaster, donations are being raised round-the-clock by dubious organizations with questionable intentions. In the west, an entire industry has been set up purportedly to send aids to Africa. Operators of these “charities” pocket the main bulk of the monetary donations received but items like unwanted fur coats are shipped off to “needy women and children” in sub-Saharan Africa.

For the rest of us, I suspect our behavior may be due to a number of some misguided beliefs and deep-seated psychological reasons:

  1. You can’t afford a eight-dollar frappuccino? Well, maybe you didn’t try hard enough at being successful? Surely you deserve the state you are in, so you should shut up and appreciate it! How else would you get to stuff your stupid face with a mouth-watering Egg Omelette Croque Monsieur from Starbucks?
  2. It’s not good enough for us anymore, but those who never had a fur coat, or a pair of knee-high winter boots, ought to rejoice having one, even if it’s way too warm for this climate.
  3. It’s Christmas, so let’s do something nice for ourselves, like shopping for a new wardrobe with the year-end bonus we’ve got and at the same time get rid of old stuff; it gets rid of any feeling of guiltiness too.

Let’s not hide behind charity to assuage our guilt and rationalize our insatiable need for conspicuous consumption. Those who claim that giving is often for the giver are not necessarily wrong. But we ought to remember that we give to meet needs, not because we have needs to be met. We give because there are those who are in dire straits, not because we have to dump a damaged massage chair.

Jack London wrote that “A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.” Yes, giving is not giving unless it hurts!

And also, we shouldn’t be giving because of religious reasons. Recently the Catholic Church in Singapore announced that it hopes to raise S$238 million for next 7 years, and asked Catholics to make monthly contributions.

The money will be used for the construction of its upcoming S$150 million center for archdiocese-wide activities and priest retirement residence; a new S$19 million seminary and formation center; and a separate S$3.1 million residence for retired priests.

I understand that many Catholics are happy to abide but a couple of my Catholic acquaintances actually bristled at the suggestion. “This is making us like Christians!” they complained. I am no theologian but isn’t tithing a Biblical concept, and aren’t Catholics also Christians?

It is startling that too many today who claim to be churchgoers cherish a life of pleasure and prosperity by traveling the world – sometimes even alone, leaving their loved ones behind –  to seek out culinary delights at Michelin-starred restaurants, and bragging about quaffing rare and expensive single malts, and exhibiting their narcissism on Instagram and Facebook – they seem to thrive on “likes” –  yet they seem to also live a life which is totally devoid of sacrifice. It appears that these people are the ones with the most screws that need tightening.

Finally, charity consists not the sum given, but the manner in which it is bestowed. People have pride; they may forget what you said, but they will forget what you did and they will never forget how you make them feel.

So don’t give like you’re throwing crumbs from your table to a beggar, or scraps to a stray dog; don’t give grudgingly or make a big show of it, or keep a ledger. Charity is not about chalking up Brownie points.

Don’t be petty. Be a cheerful giver!

And one more thing: giving should be unconditional; you don’t give because there’s a quid pro quo.

A case in point – smog from Indonesian forest fires have plagued Singapore since 1972, but Singapore continues to help Indonesia during times of crisis. When Aceh was nearly wiped out by a that killer tsunami in 2004, 1,500 men and women from Singapore were there almost immediately to help stabilize the mayhem. They were accompanied by three supply ships, 12 helicopters and eight transport aircraft from Singapore.

Meanwhile Indonesia continues to mock Singapore and scoff at us whenever we expressed unhappiness about the smog. In fact, the Indonesian vice president even said that we should be thankful for the oxygen provided by Indonesian forests for the rest of the year and quit complaining about the one month of haze. Yet, when the same province of Aceh was struck by an earthquake of 6.5-magnitude last week (December 7th) Singapore was among the first countries to respond with help. Singapore Civil Defense Force officers and Mercy Relief officials flew to Aceh the next day. The Singapore Armed Forces has also offered their help to the Indonesian national armed forces and the Singapore Red Cross has pledged a sizeable donation as well in the calamity that has displaced more than 65,000 people.

Singapore expects nothing; hence we suffer no disappointment.

Before long, this disaster will be over, but smog from Indonesian forest fires will continue to plague Singapore, and Indonesian authorities will continue to insult and ridicule Singapore when we grumble about the pollution but should another disaster strikes Indonesia, Singapore will – in a heartbeat – again lend a helping hand very willingly.

Now, this is what I call real charity.

Extrinsic Change

Ancient Gaels believed that on October 31st, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and the deceased would come back to life and cause havoc. Masks and costumes were worn in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits in order to fool them. What was the Festival of Samhain evolved into present day Halloween.

I am surprised to learn of a Halloween Festival was held this year in Singapore, though here, Halloween seems to have been observed for several years now, with stores – including FairPrice supermarkets – stocking up on Halloween-related paraphernalia, complete with “bloodstained axes”, fake blood, chopped limbs and other scary stuff every October.

What further surprised me was parents making their toddlers up to look like creepy ghosts.

While Singapore may be a metropolitan state with people from all over the world working and residing here, I can’t help but wonder if a “festival” that can hardly be considered international in nature and one that traces its roots to paganism has a place in our predominantly Asian culture.

What is so edifying about skeletons, blood-soaked zombies, dead babies and scary ghosts? Are we desensitizing our young ones to gore and violence, even if they are all done in the name of fun? What next? Creepy clowns? It is a phenomenon already sweeping parts of the United States and has apparently just made its way here too.

We should be discerning in what to emulate and adopt. I don’t see how a fright fest adds value to our culture. Merchants should not simply jump onto the bandwagon just to make a few extra bucks.

Retailers love any occasion that can make them money. Given the current economic climate, that’s perfectly understandable. I have no statistics on Singapore, but in the US retailers rejoice during Halloween as they warm up their cash registers to receive a projected US$82.93 from each of the 171 million Americans celebrating Halloween this year.

Total Halloween retail spending was projected to be US$8.4 billion this year, a new record.

In my humble opinion, Halloween has no place in our society. In previous years lots of youngsters paid good money to be frightened out of their wits at the Night Safari. It has since done the right thing by scraping Halloween-related activities. Life is ugly enough and we can certainly do without more dark, ghoulish imagery. I am a firm believer that what you see becomes a part of you. What you see stays with you. Hence I do not open emails from people who have this irksome habit of sending me gruesome pictures of accidents or videos of beheadings and the like. Remember in our younger days, how our parents would tell us to turn away – “Don’t look!” – whenever we chanced upon sights that may scare us; our elders had good reasons to shield us from looking at things that may not be pleasant to look at. Indeed we need to seek that which is edifying. Let’s fill our lives with beautiful images, shall we? Let’s winnow out the wheat from the mountains of chaff in our lives.

Some may think Halloween is all harmless fun and Hollywood has added to the “fun” a wide assortment of fictional characters. But the fascination with vampires and werewolves for example, as glorified by mindless movies like the Twilight series, certainly isn’t improving our mind, but it sure is making someone a lot of money.

Let not get suckered into that.

Extrinsic Change

Major firms are doing away with annual or semiannual performance reviews, news that generated a bit of a buzz.

In the various companies I’ve worked for in the past, very often performance review time was when I was told to evaluate myself and then submit my own assessment to the boss, who will then “bargain” the ratings down; we would agree on a “compromise” and from there, salary adjustments and bonuses are then decided.

And the supertalented HR people who oversaw all that went on to become Managing Directors of HR – yes, such titles exist! –  or VPs of HR or VPs of Talent Management or Chief Talent Officers – yes, yes, such hifalutin titles indeed do exist! – in big, world-famous corporations.

Why am I wriggling my toes? Oh, because they are laughing, since you asked. I bet those HR honchos are also experts in balanced score-cards, data analytics, executive training, coaching and mentoring, labor laws and competency models too; HR know-it-alls.

Some companies even have quotas on how many promotions are allowed for a certain period of time and even if you make it, you will not receive your due rewards. I know a star performer who was eventually let go, because HR told him “It is now cheaper for us to hire three Indians than to keep you, despite your having far superior qualifications and have a proven, verifiable track record for the past ten years.” This was said by the HR fellow with a straight face, who, by the way, is still working in the same organization. No wonder many people have the impression that most of the time, HR practitioners seem to treat preserving their own jobs as the number one priority in life.

If you ask me, the entire HR dog and pony show needs a major shakeup.

Such practices by revoltingly unqualified HR “professionals” make a mockery out of performance reviews and if these practices still exist, they should indeed be scrapped altogether.

Also, often performance reviews consider the tangible results; for example, some employees are judged by the volume of business they can generate. In fact, with a certain company I’m acquainted with, almost all country general managers are promoted into that position as a reward for having being good salespeople.

Sure, you may be a super salesperson, but if your nasty, arrogant, and cocky attitude leaves a trail of broken toes behind, how should you be evaluated during performance reviews then? Few systems take into consideration your EQ and intangible qualities like that. And companies are short-sighted if they only value rainmakers.

In fact, there were a number of times when I accompanied various country general managers to client meetings and I had to cringe when they talked like used car salespeople in front of CEOs – complete with splattering saliva. It’s a sad day when you are ashamed of your own country general manager.

Brand name companies announcing that they are stopping performance reviews makes for great PR, but if you really think that these companies are abandoning the tracking of employee performance, then you must be really naïve. Even religious organizations track their staff!

No matter what they call it, all companies have one form or another of monitoring employee accomplishment, even in those companies that say they have stopped performance reviews altogether. What gets measured gets done.

Reviews are part of performance management, so what makes an effective performance management system?

An effective performance management system must start with a detailed goal-setting process between the manager and the staff who will be managed and whose performance will be reviewed. Goal-setting of KPIs must be a joint exercise because if you shove these down the employee’s esophagus, there will be no ownership, and literally nothing will happen.

Next, regular feedback and appraisals must be carried out. And not the way one of my managers did it before. She responded to each of my detailed monthly report with a one-word email: “Noted” and refused to meet me face to face, because she had zero idea of my subject matter expertise. “No need to meet,” she told me, “nobody complains about you, so you must be doing great. Besides, I don’t understand what it is that you are an expert of.” Incidentally she is now with a very well-known multinational corporation as head of HR for Asia Pacific and on LinkedIn, she has listed that expertise of mine she claimed no knowledge of as a core strength of hers. Unbelievable!

Now you know why I said HR needs a major shakeup.

A good performance management system also identifies employees’ developmental needs and includes vigorous reward and recognition practices. We don’t live in an altruistic world, unfortunately; people don’t work for philanthropic reasons – even pastors get handsome salaries, complete with CPF –  and they must and should be incentivized, especially for exceeding performance goals.

The system should also encourage collaboration and teamwork. A “superhero” working alone adds no value. I have had colleagues in the past who hid in a corner and nobody could fathom what it is they do but they are “untouchable” because they had “godfathers” who protected them. Yes, if I reveal the name of the company, you will be shocked, but that was what happened and is still happening.

See How Not to Change from Hero to Zero.

What is HR, the so-called custodian of organizational conscience, doing amidst all these shenanigans? I suspect, most times; they were just being used as henchmen of the corporate “mafia” that exists in every company.

Experts agree that fundamentally, a performance management system is composed of process and people elements. The process element includes items such as job descriptions, rating criteria, the time period of performance appraisal discussions, and reward and recognition systems. The key component of the people element is the manager, who drives the system by setting expectations, communicating plans, encouraging development, and giving and receiving feedback.

But most companies invest in world-class processes for their performance management system, but overlook the importance of the people element.

A company might have a world-class performance management system in place, but the system is only as effective as the managers who implement it.

The human element is the most important component in whether employees perceive the system as effective. The relationship between an employee and his or her manager is the key factor in driving those perceptions.

These are what the experts are saying.

Contrast that to what is happening in real life!

Companies that want to increase organizational and employee performance and productivity must put in place the right managers; those who refuse to meet their subordinates because they are intimated by their subordinates’ knowledge or reply with one-word emails should not be hired at all.

Because when they eventually worm their way into multinational corporations and become regional heads of HR, the damage they inflict will be a lot more than when they were doing just a local job.

Extrinsic Change

Is there really a dearth of talent in Singapore? Or are there other reasons?

Why are some company directors, directors of so many companies?

Not long ago, I did a count. Here’s what I found at that time:

A particular company director was found to be a director of 117 companies.

Another held a total of 114 directorships.

Yet another sat on 105 boards.

It is the view of experts that a full-time executive with three or more board seats faces time constraints which may render his service ineffective.

And for retired execs, it is deemed that they are ineffective if they sit on more than six boards.

Studies also found that the presence of such directors on the board correlates with excessive CEO compensation and imply that busy directors do not contribute as much to effective corporate governance.

When companies announce the appointment of an outside director that is a full-time executive at another firm and holds three or more other board seats, the market reaction tends to be negative.

Yet, this happens all the time in Singapore.

When I see a person sitting on so many boards, I immediately form a negative opinion of that person.

Do they actually contribute anything useful? Do they add value?

How can such a person be really effective?

Of course it is glamorous for narcissist to be named as a director of this board or another and of course one can make a heck of a lot of money collecting director fees, but this phenomenon should end.

In other countries there are laws limiting the number of directorships one can hold.

Here in Singapore, the Singapore Institute of Directors refuses to take a firm stand.

What is worse is when people with totally zero subject matter expertise are helicoptered into companies to sit on their boards as a favor – many politicians, retired armed forces leaders, friends, relatives, etc all sit on boards of companies in which they have no professional knowledge about. True, an outsider’s view may be refreshing but what is a retired army officer doing as a director of a hospital, for example?

Boards should also have a balanced mix of skills, knowledge and experience, and conflicts of interest should be avoided. Board members should not have conflicting appointments rendering them unable to objectively and satisfactorily discharge their duties.

The length of service is another disturbing factor.

It is therefore heartening to recently see a major institution like the Monetary Authority of Singapore leading by example in refreshing itself, vis-a-vis the board of directors, to stay nimble and forward-looking.

Its Code of Corporate Governance suggests that, for reasons of independence, directors should not serve beyond nine years.

If you are involved in directorships, it’s time you ask some hard questions.

Surely you don’t want people to think that you are involved in a company that is more like a zoo or a circus.

Extrinsic Change

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

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

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

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

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

There’s someone I know who doesn’t answer his phone because it is permanently set to silent mode. After every few hours or so, he’ll check his phone and returns calls to those he wishes to return calls to. Same with text messages. This same person refuses to put the number of his house outside his residence, despite complains by the postal authorities. “Get used to it,” he told the postman. He’s secretive about what he really does for a living, but wants to know everything about everyone. What he does for a living is shrouded in secrecy, and any information he shares is released through drips and drabs, giving the impression that hoi polloi like the rest of us are not deserving enough to enjoy full disclosure from him, an international jet-setter.

I consider this type of person wishy-washy.

Some people are just walking shells, externals with legs, completely superficial and fake.

Remember the story of the Velveteen Rabbit?

It asked the Skin Horse one day, “What is real?”

And the Skin Horse said, “Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Velveteen Rabbit .

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “But when you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

Maybe the person I mentioned feels vulnerable being real, that’s why all that façade.

When a person has to put up a front, it says a lot about that person.

Being Real sometimes hurts. The alternative to being real, however, is unimaginable.

But the reward for being Real?

Back to the wise Skin Horse; he said “Once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

What better way to live than to be authentic and genuine?

People who are Real, affirm the following in their self-talk:

“I am not handsome, but I am a person of intellect. Take me for what I am.”

“I may be a school dropout, but I am no less a child of the universe.”

“I am the way I am, accept me for who I am, warts and all.”

“My time will come, don’t rush me.”

“I am not slim and sexy but I don’t have a body image problem. Why are you having problems with the way I look?”

“I am not wealthy, but I cease to compare with others who may be wealthier but lead less fulfilling lives.”

“I refuse to give others permission to upset me.”

“No matter how you look at me, I am proud of myself, I have no problem accepting myself. Because your opinion of me does not affect me.”

“I have every right to express joy and as well as sorrow, courage and fear, peace and anxiety. I am only human.”

“Precisely because I am human, I want to be needed and wanted and liked and loved.”

“I try to be self-actualized. I take my own time. If others judge me, so what?”

I would hate to live a life that sees me hesitant to take phone calls, or to display my house number. It’s a worse life than being a jail breaker, isn’t it? It’s as if this person has deep, dark secrets to hide.

And the saddest part of it all?

It’s not even necessary. We worry a lot more about what others think about us than what others really think. That is, if they think about us at all. So no need for all that paranoia.

So drop that act, and get Real.

No one loves a phony.

Extrinsic Change