Leadership in Action

A LEADER in the MAKING: Observing Leadership in my Students

I’ve appointed JH to be the chief technical lead of the class project. Within a short span of 5 minutes, he met the rest of the technical lead for a debriefing session, displaying exceptional tact and soft skills that could easily put some of the adults to shame.


He started the session by thanking the technical leads for the effort they have put in.

Integrity and Positivity

He was humble, mentioning that he too was “very messy” during the management of the class project but expressed optimism that the project had advanced at good speed despite all that.

Care for All

During the debrief, one of the technical leads highlighted that one of her team members was difficult to work with and had refused help from her. Together with the technical leads, they brainstormed about how to tactfully ask the team member for her progress and lead her to getting help if she needs it. He advised the technical lead to exercise more patience and expressed that things will go well.

I’m very impressed. I hope that he can continue to bring this into the working world and be a boss of some company. The world is going to need more leaders like him.

Journal, Leadership in Action

BIG PICTURE THINKING and POWER OF INFLUENCE: Observing Leadership in my Students

N was the result-and-task-oriented person, the head of the student club. J was the people-oriented person and a leader from the previous generation.

Both were just as passionate in serving and both were correct in their own rights.

It was two schools of thoughts, just like the one between a conservative and a liberal, one between a democracy and a communism.

They couldn’t convince one another. I see logic in both and I see shortfalls in both their execution. They just have to decide and move on.

N was probably stubborn in his own way, having the likes of a great entrepreneur in the making although not quite there yet. Authoritarian in his approach and expects everyone under him to perform as well as him. Decisiveness was his strength. Anger management and giving up to easily in getting buy-in from his team were where his shortfalls laid.

The Issue in Question

The issue in question was about dealing with additional student manpower for a school event. N was dogmatic that all student volunteers must be of quality. He was willing to interview the over 50 volunteers and will not hesitate to kick anyone out if they did not meet his standard. Harsh were his actions but there were certain validity to it.

J disagreed because no one kicks out volunteers and this is not “how the student club works”. Airy-fairy that reasoning might sound, but not without its truths.

Big Picture Thinking

In leadership training, people were often taught to have “the big picture in mind and not to be bogged down by details”. I often thought to myself what big picture thinking actually means. It was one of those terms, to me, that is so overused that it loses its meaning.

However, being put into the situation to calm both N and J down, for the first time, I was forced to do big picture thinking in a manner that I’m self-aware. One thing that I definitely know:

  • Kicking out student volunteers may allow them to run the event smoothly and make the event-goers happy. It will highly likely result in bad reputation for the student club if not done properly too. This will mean that future leaders of the club will find it difficult to recruit volunteers for all sorts of events.
  • Yet, keeping all student volunteers may sink the event into mayhem. That will also result in bad reputation for the student club and may cause a decrease in the number of event-goers next time.
  • Win-win: Keep as many as we can, train them and give them a memorable experience. Develop them and we have more capable volunteers with us in the future. They will help us make our event-goers feel at home. After all, we need all the help we can get.

A few big aspects about big picture thinking here. To me, big picture thinking (may include but is not limited to):

  • Is cross-generational and for the long term: How a decision can bring positive impacts and negative effects in the long term. Long-term should be defined as beyond the current generation/situation.
  • Takes ALL stakeholders emotions and concerns into consideration: In short, empathy. Yes, we need to take care of the needs of the “customers”. This must not be done at the expense of our own people.
  • Is a Win-Win: This often requires some creativity but when we place serving the people at the heart of solving our problem, I truly believe this will flow in automatically.

Power of Influence

Just as I and my colleague thought that we have settled their differences, the unthinkable happened the next week. J was so uncomfortable with N’s approach that she gathered the support from the rest of the student leaders to lead, plan and execute the event!

From the conversations with the rest of the student leaders, we can see that N’s authoritarian approached failed to gather any form of sympathy or support from them. The leaders were in fact happy that they were able to carry on with their work under J’s leadership. One thing, they felt that they were respected.

In history lessons, we always heard endless stories about how knights and advisors of the west to generals and eunuchs of the east usurped the throne from the king. Some of them wanted the power and others wanted a revolution.

Whichever the case, it is the power of influence that ruled.

Positional power can be easily lost without influence.


Journal, Leadership in Action

My One Week Boot Camp to Saying No

Like many people, I struggled saying “No” to people. Therefore, it was not surprising that I’m usually faced with high busyness both at work and with my personal commitments. Busyness is fine in general, but working on things that you don’t feel like working can be unsatisfying.

In the previous week at work, I was forced to say “No” to many additional commitments. It had reached a point where it was just humanly impossible to complete those jobs. The hardest part about saying “No” was how to do so without blowing up. I’m down with flu. I get irritable easily. I’m on the verge to vent my frustration. I managed to keep at least half of my responses nice although the other half were more of the short and emotionless sort of response. Like what my Toastmasters friends has rightly pointed out, I thought that I might come across as arrogant if my response is too short.

It has been annoying. But I can say that I am glad I was put to the test.

Towards the end of the week, I saw an article which may help me say “No” without feeling all the guilt, without making up stories of how people are going to despise me if I said no to them in my mind. It was about Adele saying “No” to performing at the SuperBowl.

The article ended with a common sense that I had never thought in that perspective before:

“Every time you say yes to something you don’t really want, you’re actually saying no to the things you do.”

With the training and the insights, I guess I’ll be more ready to say “No” next time.

Journal, Leadership in Action

HARD lessons about myself as a WAR TIME LEADER: Learning from Leadership Experiences

My life coach used to tell me that the true test of leadership comes in time of crisis. It is simple to be a peace time leader, but how will you react in times of crisis?

Got a Good Service Medal this year. This means that I’m half way through my liabilities.

Recently, I was put to a mini test during my 10-day stint as a reservist with the Navy, being put into the role of acting company quartermaster. Although I’m with the same company for the past four service periods, there is still a learning curve; I have two days to learn the quartermaster’s role, after which, plan and execute logistical arrangement for a 3 days 2 night mission for my company while he’s away.

I wonder how many people may think that I am crazy, but I am thankful for the opportunity that was given to me. I learnt a lot of hard things about myself and deep down inside me somewhere, I actually hope that I will be given the chance to do this all over again, and perhaps redeem myself where I found that there were shortcomings. And this is even though I knew that holding an appointment means extra time and extra work in service, and missing out on my “vacation” away from work.

Crisis is good. Test me. I’m quite confident I can pull through it and I will contribute better the next time.


By the way, these are some of the takeaways I had learnt through the experience:

The Art of Delegation

This is where I thought I fare better. After observing someone else on the job, I knew I must delegate as much as possible. I usually take it upon myself that I should be doing the most difficult job, after all, shouldn’t the leader should the most difficult items in the list?

Going through the process, I realised, not quite. I should be shouldering the items that cannot be done by someone else in the list.

Aside from that, who to delegate for what task is another crucial factor.

Commands are just Necessary Communications

I feel shy about “commanding” people. Thinking back, we are all in the same team. Our success depends on each other and one of my roles is to communicate directions. Without directions, the company will be “lost” (although, strictly speaking, the winner of three consecutive Best NS Men Unit are a great bunch, has lots of initiatives, largely automatic and won’t be that lost).

My feel is that directions needs to be clear, affirmative and decisive (and definitely, not rude!). They are a form of communication too, absolutely necessary for success and there’s nothing to be shy or embarrassed about. Oh yes, and ranks don’t matter.

Quick and Accurate Decisions

I still hold back on decisions that needs to be made quickly. Decisions are needed in order to keep moving. Slow decisions, work done slowly. Hasty decisions, reaped what you have sown. How to balance between the speed and accuracy of the decisions, or even better, have the cake and eat it too, I guess I need to do more of it and the experience will pull me through.


What I am most thankful through this experience, is to find that people are pretty willing to give frank opinions about me, and offer me their support.

I’m very grateful for the pep talk that OC gave me while we are out on the mission. His candid feedback gave me a lot of learning points about my strengths and blind spots. “F”, the guy with an infectious laughter who brightens up the room, who not only initiated some of the best ideas but a doer as well, as he helped to carried the ideas out with me. “O”, who prefer to stay out of the limelight and hides in a corner, but never failed me when I needed help.

There were many many others too I would like to thank, who in their own ways had lighten the burden I carried.

Journal, Leadership in Action

Finding a Win-Win Solution: Observing Leadership in Action

It was a very real predicament:

  • A man’s wife who was not emotionally stable and in the final days of her pregnancy. She wanted him by her side.
  • The man has to attend an important interview followed by a day’s long chance of a lifetime event with his team mates. Failing to attend the interview, not only himself, his team mates as well, will lose an irreplaceable opportunity of a lifetime to attend the event.

What will you do? Is there anyway to have the cake or eat it too?

Arrange for someone to take care of his wife? Good thinking! He tried to but was unable to find one.

It sounded much like a dead end situation where he has to sacrifice his team mate or sacrifice his wife.

This situation happened to a friend of mine. What he did was commendable and he remained accountable to both his wife and his team mates.

He calmed his wife and asked for permission to be away for just two hours and no more. In those two hours, he attended the interview with his team mates and ensure that they gained entry to the event. As for the event that he and his team mates wanted to go so badly, he gave the event a missed himself and returned to his wife.

While it seems like a pity that he has to miss the event, I felt that he made the right decision to stay with his wife! And he definitely did so while being accountable to his team mates who made it to the event after all. I don’t think I can think of a better win-win solution given his circumstances.

“chess board” by Adam Raoof

Lesson of the day: Win-win solutions are usually not black nor white.

Journal, Leadership in Action

Leadership is a Choice: Lessons from My Students

I’m grateful to be reminded by my students constantly that if you put your heart to whatever you do, we will make it there somehow. Today’s story is about a student whom I shall call him H. I visited H nearing the end of his internship and we spent a good half hour catching up with each other, as I tried to find out more about his internship experience. Apparently, he was offered a contract for extension of his services. Two to be exact, one from the company which he was attached to, and the other was with company’s customer.


When I first met H a few months ago, he started off saying that he do not wished to go for internship. After all, he was an entrepreneur himself with employees under his charge at his disposal. But this is what the school requires all students to go through: an internship opportunity before he can graduate with a diploma.

I also remembered suggesting to H that he could treat it as an opportunity to experience what it was like being an employee, so that when he go back to his company, he can become an even better boss, a boss that understood what his employees had to go through and their difficulties. He returned two hours to my office after that short meetup then saying that he will do it.

And he did.

And in a manner which I least expected.

From the half-hour chat I had with him, I got to understand that he was handling customer relationship and doing operational planning during that attachment, which was strange, because important tasks like those were usually taken up by the permanent staff of the company. In the midst, two other interns from another vocational institute was also “placed under his charge”, which makes it a very strange relationship.

In H’s own company, H is the boss and naturally has the authority to give orders to his employees. As an intern however, that sort of authority to give orders would not be implicit. He has to win the respect of those two other interns. It is even weirder that eventually, the permanent staff was sort of “under his charge” as well. The project he was handling move forward in good pace. Relationship with his colleagues were strong.

To the best of my understanding, H didn’t put himself into the position he is in right now. It sort of crept to him. Frankly speaking, I do not think I can pull off a hat trick like what he did when I’m a student myself.

“Leadership is a choice, not a position”

~ Stephen R Covey ~

I think we all have some form of leadership in us somewhere. Whether we would like to exercise, practise and refine makes the difference.H chose to make that difference.


To end off, I thought I will share a TED video about a similar topic. Please see below~

Journal, Leadership in Action

Getting Priorities Right: Observing Leadership in Action

I’m currently in the middle of my 12-day service back with the Navy. (For non-Singaporean visitors to my blog, you can read more about Singapore’s conscription process right here.)

I’m pretty sure that a lot of people may disagree but I thought everything has gone rather smoothly, even though the Company Sergeant Major, the Company Quartermaster and his trusty sidekick are not around with us this time.

Taking over the main coordination work was the (at first I though he would be) reluctant but (in the end) he gave it his all Operation Specialist. Obviously, he was a lot more slower in gathering the stores compared to the experienced Company Quartermaster but the process I thought was generally smooth.

There was a small “little hiccup” though as he started counting the number of pliers and wire-cutters he had just drawn from the store, where he was solemnly reminded by the officer not to do the counting himself but to continue his coordination work with him.

In a “crisis” mode, I thought I might have done the same as him. It was just a solemn reminder to me as well that getting priorities right is crucial, which in his case, he can entrust the counting to another person who can do the same thing, while continue on the coordination work which he was the only one who could do it.

But still, not a bad attempt for a person doing major logistics work for the first time. I’m quite impressed actually. 🙂