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.



Win-Win for Cross-Island Line?

Background. If the proposed Cross-Island Line (CRL) MRT was to tunnel through the Nature Reserve, there is possible impact on the bio-diversity that lives 40 meters on top of the line (Line drawn in RED in the diagram below).

An alternative was given, routing around the Nature Reserve along Lornie Road and Upper Thomson Road (Line drawn in BLUE in the diagram below). Land acquisition seems inevitable and it will cost $2b more.

For more information, you can read about it here.

If experience serves me right, win-win situations are seldom black or white. They either exist in the grey region or require something out of the box. Disclaimer, I am no civil engineer, but this is what I am suggesting based on whatever I can see on the map, ignoring the fact the we probably need to dig a lot deeper (Line drawn in ORANGE in the diagram below):

Background Map from

I’m suggesting we give Sin Ming a miss altogether and give up connecting the North-South Line and Thomson-East Coast Line at the northern region.

If we really have to, why not just build a branch line like the Cross-Island Line that juts out to Punggol?

Or perhaps Caldecott can be the interchange station to the Cross-Island Line.

In fact, I thought there were some experts who mentioned in the news that a further south alignment would be better? Whatever happen to that idea I can’t even seem to find it anywhere on the Internet no more?


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.


A Tip on Writing an Appeal Letter

One of the best things about returning for reservist was that you get to meet people from all walks of life and the stories they tell you.

Well, one of the guys who worked in the HDB shared about how to write an appeal letter that improves your chances in getting your appeal approved. It’s a very simple tip, but like all tips of this nature, easier said then done.

List down justifications that will help us fight for your case.

~A person who works for the HDB~

“I am more than willing to help,” he said. “But don’t just tell me your problems, give me reasons on why the agency should approve so that I can fight the case for you. If not, it’s going to be tough for me to formulate a justification for you as well.” (*Not the exact words he said, but somewhere along this line)

He also quipped with a tongue in cheek that it’s amazing how people can write so well to get their parking summons repealed, but yet when it comes to HDB related matters, well…


Help me to help you. Fair enough. That’s what I always tell my students too.


a little bit of rebel ~reprise~ (Part 3)

This is the third part of my little bit of rebel series. If you missed out the previous two articles, you can find them here and here.

In this article, I would like explore the final quality which I felt was important: Collaboration.

I must first make a disclaimer that collaboration is not one of my strengths. However more and more, I found it a very interesting aspect to learn about and the importance of it. If you have any opinions to share on this, please share! In the meanwhile, below are my personal thoughts about collaboration…


If I were to write a formula about what collaboration is, I would put it this way:

Collaboration = Win-Win + Common Ground + Soft-Skills


In order for collaboration to happen, the very first prerequisite would be to have a win-win mentality. We might have different visions and different missions in life, however, we value the fact that we might have something to offer at the table to each other. Over here, I just want to make a note that the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven R Covey probably has one of the most comprehensive explanation of what the win-win mentality is about.

In my opinion, win-win would also encompasses openness, the willingness to learn from others and the willingness to share what we know. I put the willingness to learn from others before the willingness to share for an exact purpose. For this, I would like to point to Brene Brown’s research that in order for a person to give something, they must learn how to receive first. Similarly, I think it is easy for everyone to talk about ourselves and what we know to feed our ego. However, we must also humble ourselves and learn to listen to what others have to offer.

Common Ground

In the world out there, a big part of collaboration is actually to co-create something. You might be thinking that isn’t this a conflict to the “different visions and missions” I was talking about above?

There is no contradiction here. I thought that the two actually goes hand in hand. During the collaboration period, collaborators would need to find a common goal to achieve:

A friend of mine was Whatsapp-ing me regarding an idea to create iPhone and Android applications for a business. Meanwhile, I’ve recently learned how to develop Android applications and I am interested to further my skills in this area. At this current moment, his vision was to start a business and my vision was to further my skills in developing Android application.

Our common ground, developing an Android application for his business.


Common ground deals with much with the values of each of the collaborators. There actually isn’t too much we could do about if common grounds cannot be met although we could search for middle grounds.

However, the ability to communicate your thoughts effectively to your collaborators would be something that you could actually learn. Getting yourself into a presentation course could be useful. I want to share with you something which I thought was more powerful, something which I learned from Lusi Group, and that is soft skills.

We might have heard it too many times and I heard it from my coach, Lusi Lim. It is not important to win an argument. The bottomline is, so long the job gets done. Not her exact words, but something to that effect.

In the process of collaboration and sharing, it is unavoidable that our ideals will get challenged and shaped. Having the win-win mentality to accept criticism gracefully is one thing, but what if we are able to soften our delivery of an observation or an opinion so that our collaborators can assess what you have to say more objectively?

In collaboration, we do not keep quiet if we see something we disagree. It is usually more productive to be more open about our different views but because we are all talking about things we are so passionate about, words may hurt others easily and it may get them on the defensive, rather than the open and cordial environment needed for collaboration to take place.

Communication skills anchoring on logic will not be sufficient in this case. Soft-skills to engage and connect with our collaborators would be far more effective. 


Critical Thinking, Innovation and Collaboration. The three important qualities of a rebel a person should possess in today’s context in my humble opinion.

How about the rest of the world, what do they think? I think have some clues to this but I guess I better save this topic for another post before this post becomes a TL;DR. Thank you for reading up till the end of this post~!