Archive for January, 2012

Why Leaders Tell Stories

January 29, 2012 1 comment

“I realize the importance of having a story today is what really separates companies. People don’t just wear our shoes, they tell our story.”

Blake Mycoskie – CEO, Tom’s Shoes

Last week, I was privileged to be surrounded by several of the smartest and brightest minds in the global SQL Server community – Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals, certified trainers, consultants, community influencers, book authors. And when you’re with a group of highly intellectual individuals, one might think that the meaningful conversations will mostly revolve around their primary skillset, in this case, the SQL Server platform. Here are a few things that I have taken away from most of the conversations:

  • Theater arts is a great opportunity to express yourself
  • One can be in Canada for 20 years and still not be a Canadian citizen
  • We all have issues dealing with our health insurance policies
  • Growing an organization requires focusing on the important and saying “NO” to those that aren’t
  • You can tell your daughter that it’s OK to be a forensics expert
  • Filipinos genuinely care about others – not just in the Bay Area but everywhere they are
  • New year’s resolutions can include 1024 X 768
  • Smiling in a service oriented business really does generate profit
  • Technology gadgets – iPad, iPhone, XBox, tablets, etc. – are therapeutic

If you look at the list above, there isn’t anything in there that’s specific to SQL Server (although we did discuss a lot about the technology.)  They are, however, stories that matter to the us. In corporate environments where “companyspeak” jargon float around quarterly meetings and PowerPoint slides, most leaders forget about one of the most important tool that they can use to connect with their staff and influence them into action: storytelling.  When we were kids, we valued the importance of “tell me a story” whether be it inside the classroom or before bedtime, something that we took for granted as we became adults.  However, stories form a connection between the communicator and the listener.  It also gives the communicator and opportunity to be authentic to the listener, showing the human side of the individual.

A compelling message is one that touches both the hearts and the minds of people. So, whether you’re delivering a message about a radical organizational change, a technical presentation or simply teaching a lesson, try storytelling. Let me know how it worked for you. Post your comments here.


Self-Discipline Series: Taming Your Thoughts

January 24, 2012 2 comments

In a previous blog post, I talked about keeping our New Year’s resolutions and how self-discipline plays a very important role in achieving our goals. As I previously mentioned, I’ll start fleshing out ideas regarding self-discipline that affects different aspects of our lives – emotionally, mentally, physically, financially, spiritually, etc. This blog post will focus on one of the most important aspect of our lives that we need to discipline: our thoughts.

In 2005, I have had a chance to read Dr. John Maxwell’s book Today Matters. He outlines several key disciplines that we need to do daily in order to create the life that we wanted. One of the things that really made an impact in my life is the discipline of practicing good thinking. You see, I was very pessimistic back then. What I didn’t realize was that it was affecting my life and my career. I remember a time when I couldn’t get a job because I thought nobody wanted to hire me. But when I started changing my thought process, things started to get better. But it didn’t happen overnight. I had to constantly discipline my thought process and still do so up to now. And this is one practical application of self-discipline that will definitely go a long way. I challenge you to follow these tips and document your progress within the next 8 weeks. Several of them I got from the book Today Matters while the rest were born out of experimenting and seeing what works for me.

  1. Find a PPT (Place, Process and Time). When the weather permits, I usually take a walk or ride my bike to spend time thinking. Other times, it’s in my home office, our basement or walking in our living room. You may have a preferred place where you want to spend your thinking time but make sure that when you’re there, it’s all you do. You also need to find time to think. What’s ironic is that in the workplace, people who are staring out the window and doing nothing are being called out as unproductive. When I used to work in Singapore, I usually take  half-hour breaks and walk along the banks of the Singapore River. It became more frequent especially when I take on critical projects. I just enjoy watching the scenery and trying to clear my mind. What I found out was that these short breaks became what I call my “strategic, work-related thinking time.” I felt energized and filled with tons of ideas when I sit down on my desk and was able to accomplish more tasks. Create a process that works for you.
  2. Purge unhealthy thoughts. Whether it’s because of our experiences or what we’ve been taught, we all have unhealthy thoughts. These range from petty things like “I won’t be able to resist junk food” to more serious matters like “I’m a total failure.” But just like unhealthy habits like lack of sleep and eating a lot of junk food can cause our bodies to be weak, unhealthy thoughts create the same effect.  Disciplining our thought process requires purging unhealthy thoughts. You can start by being aware of your thought process. If possible, write down what you are thinking. While this might seem unnatural for most of us, flagging down unhealthy thoughts is a step towards flushing them out. When I was dealing with my unhealthy thoughts, I didn’t write them down because I was very uncomfortable. However, I did try verbalizing it and identifying the thought as unhealthy. You may want to think of it as “talking to yourself.” But that’s how I started. I remember verbalizing the fact that I was becoming negative about how people think about me. When I became aware of the negative thought, I was able to change it. A word of caution, though, is that it is not easy to purge unhealthy thoughts. It’s like trying to unlearn things that became habits. But that’s where the discipline comes in.
  3. Feed your mind good stuff. (I got this one from Tim Sanders’ book Today We Are Rich) One of the books that I started reading as part of my discipline was The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. Because it was hard to purge unhealthy thoughts in my system, I needed something that would replace them. I recounted times when I was happy, energetic and lively. I started to list down all of my successes and envisioned myself growing and moving forward. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, I began to see what I was capable of and that created a lot of opportunities for me. While most people don’t buy the idea of positive thinking, it did work for me.

Try applying these tips and see how they work for you. I’ll continue with the series on self-discipline over the next couple of blog posts because I, too, need to constantly do these things (remember commitment, consistent and courage?) as part of my continuous self-improvement.

How are you taming your thoughts? I would like to hear from you by leaving a comment here.

Leadership Starts At Home

I’m seeing myself responding to blog posts more often that I get to create content in the process. This time, it was a guest post on Michael Hyatt’s blog on leadership from Kelly Combs (blog | Twitter). I’ve been wanting to write a post on leadership at home but this one is spot on because it was written by a mom who understands kids better than most dads do. Here’s my version of leadership lessons at home.

  1. Communicate appropriately. Kids, and employees, have different levels of maturity and understanding. We need to know where they are at and communicate according to their level, whether it’s sharing a vision, a plan or changes that may affect them. Use the appropriate words, analogies and stories.
  2. Discipline like a father but nurture like a mother. We need both discipline and encouragement. Most managers practice the concept of “seagull management” (I blogged about this here) where they only drop in on their employees when something goes wrong but are nowhere to be found when things are OK or the employee has made an achievement. Mothers are very good at encouragement and nurturing. They notice the smallest things – from the nice color combination on their daughter’s drawing to the bike-riding skills of their son learning without training wheels. Employees need constant recognition, affirmation and nurturing like we all do.
  3. Serve with love. Managers and leaders, especially men, feel that serving undermines their authority and shows a sign of wekness. Same is true when the husband helps the wife with doing the dishes or cleaning the house. They feel that since they are the bread winner in the family, household chores and taking care of the kids are the wife’s responsibility. Christ demonstrated servant leadership with his disciples when he washed their feet. Find an opportunity to serve your staff.
  4. Delegate. One of my popular Twitter pots, “Only do what only you can do.Delegate the rest.” When kids, and employees, are capable enough to handle responsibilities, delegate.

If you’re a leader or a manager, you may have your own version of leadership lessons from home. I’d like to hear about yours by posting a comment here.

Work-Life Balance For The Technology Professional

This ended up as a response to Brad McGehee’s (blog | Twitter) Editorial post on about DBA and the Career-Life Balance. It turned out to be a long response so I’ve decided to make it a blog post.

It all boils down to priorities and developing your daily disciplines. I blogged about investing in your personal growth and how it comes at a price. In organizations where you are expected to work on company time and learn on your own time, this is really a challenge (I am not in favor of such practices but you have to live with it). But this is the cost of growth. The question is not whether or not we want to grow but whether or not we are willing to pay the price.

Work-Life balance is a concept that the 20th century work environment has developed to create a separation between work and play. The reason why it is advocated by many is because they are stuck in a work environment – or even in a job – where they’d rather be someplace else. If we look at history, technology is “partly” to blame for this phenomenon. And, then, there’s the 8-hour work day and the 40-hour work week. In effect, there really is no such thing as balance since we spend most of our time at work. So, how do we deal with it? Try P.D.A.

  1. Prioritize. List down the top 5 items that mean a lot to you. If you spend more than enough time at work than with your family, it simply means it is higher up your priority list.
  2. Discipline. Once we’ve defined our priorities, we need to develop our daily disciplines to support our priorities. One example, in my case, is making sure that I walk my kids to the school bus stop every morning no matter what. It also means having lunch date with my wife every Friday. Because they are on my priority list. I also account for the time I spend meditating and praying in the morning, reading before going to bed and taking walks when the weather permits.
  3. Accept. We need to learn more about ourselves – our strengths and weaknesses – and accept the facts. We need to accept the fact that we cannot do everything. This means being secured in who we are. It gives us the courage to say no to our boss when we know our priorities and daily disciplines will be affected. I’ve accepted the fact that I know nothing about BizTalk nor don’t have any clue at all what the Mercator’s map is all about. I can’t even read my own handwriting sometimes and will probably not be playwright ever. But I’m fine with that.

As technology professionals, we have succumbed to the pressure of what the industry requires of us that we let it define who we are. We need to take a step back, take charge and be different. Then, we can begin to really see what work-life balance truly means.

What about you, how do you define work-life balance? You can post your comments here.

Self-discipline: How You Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

January 7, 2012 3 comments

The first and best victory is to conquer self. 
– Plato –

One week into 2012 and we’re all still hyped up about our new year’s resolutions. On New Year’s day, I blogged about what new year’s resolutions are all about and since then have been reviewing keyword searches that have led to my blog post. The top keywords are leadership, new year’s resolution and tips. This means that my blog post resonated with a lot of people who are planning their year ahead. But while it’s easier to envision yourself and create an action plan as I’ve mentioned in my previous blog post, the most difficult thing to do among the three is commitment. And I’m not going to tell you that I’ve already made it as far as commitment is concerned. Yes, commitment is one of my key strengths because early on in my life, I’ve built the habit of keeping my commitments no matter what the cost. It’s also the reason why I try to really think about the commitments I make before I even make them. But every once in a while, I fall short on the commitments I have made to myself. That’s why I think the key ingredient in keeping your commitments – and your New  Year’s resolutions – is self-discipline. By definition, self-discipline means “training and control of oneself and one’s conduct, usually for personal improvement.” Now, notice the keywords used in the definition: control, self, improvement. When we engage ourselves in self-discipline to achieve a specific task, we need to control ourselves first. But what most of us do not realize is that the purpose is for improvement. Often times we think that we’re just making our lives more difficult by engaging in self-discipline. We all have a natural desire to improve and develop ourselves. But it does come at a price. Just like how an athlete trains to become better at what he does, we need to train ourselves to become better individuals.

Self-discipline requires three components – commitment, consistency and courage.

  1. Commitment. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, this is something that only you can do. If you’ve built a habit of keeping your commitments, you’re on your way towards self-discipline.
  2. Consistency. I blogged about consistency and how it needs to be a part of our daily habits. Once we’ve defined what goals we need to achieve and the tasks that we need to accomplish to achieve those goals, it’s time to get our hands dirty and start making things happen. This requires consistency. Even if it’s just 15 minutes a day of exercise or 20 minutes a day of reading, it has to be done consistently. This past week, I started on a new Bible reading plan for 2012 on my iPad from YouVersion and just like my previous reading plans, I already missed two days. But because I have already built a habit of having daily morning quiet times and Bible reading, it was easier to catch up this time as compared to the previous ones. It’s the same with my daily reading before going to bed. But it didn’t happen overnight. It started as a habit that I have built consistently.
  3. Courage. You might ask,”What does courage have to do with self-discipline?” I say, a lot. The fact is, self-discipline is never easy (I’m also not going to pretend that it’s easy for me because it isn’t.) That’s why we need all the courage we can get to do the things we need to do – the courage to say “no” to your peers going to a bar for a men’s night out because you need to work on your personal project, the courage to say “no” to your bed when you need to be up early to exercise, the courage to say “no” to buy that gadget online because you wanted to save more this year and get out of debt quicker. Mark Twain once said that “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of it.

Over the next couple of blog posts, I’ll write more about self-discipline and how we can apply it on different aspects of our lives – emotionally, mentally, physically, financially, spiritually, etc. Here’s to looking forward to a better ME for 2012.

Question: What areas in your life do you need to develop self-discipline? I would love to hear from you by posting your comments here.

What New Year’s Resolutions Are All About

January 1, 2012 4 comments

The Christmas holidays are usually time for me to do more reading, studying and reflection. It’s also when things slow down a bit because a lot of people go on vacations (except when I have to do on-call duties). I take this time to take stock of what I have done in the previous year and plan ahead for the coming year. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been hearing about New Year’s resolutions that a lot of people advocate as they approach the new year. I still remember listing down my very own “New Year’s resolution” when I was in 4th grade and the frustration of not having to fulfill them. I think I’ve done it at least three time until I finally gave up. But ask yourself this question, “What are New Year’s resolutions all about in the first place?”

Before you come up with a list of your New year’s resolution, let me give you my personal definition of what they really are about: continuous personal development. I think the reason why I don’t even bother with New Year’s resolution was because I’ve already made a conscious choice to continuously grow as an individual. As Dr. John Maxwell stated in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, “Leadership develops daily, not in a day.

I’ve already made choices early in my career that I simply manage daily. Yes, I do make plans and goals for the coming year to make sure I have my calendar straightened out. But those plans are simply a by-product of my daily disciplines. I’ve used these guidelines to plan for the coming year.

  1. Vision: How You See Yourself. I am a natural-born teacher and educator.  But I only found out about it during my last year in the university. I went back to all of the things that I have done and accomplished and I noticed a recurring theme: teaching and educating. While I didn’t consider teaching to be a full-time career, I knew that I can take advantage of this gift as I pursue a career in IT consulting. But what made all the difference was when I started seeing myself differently. I started envisioning myself speaking in large crowds, particularly in worldwide conferences. This is also when I started seeing myself traveling around the world to do presentations. And this is why my yearly plan includes items for both developing myself as a speaker/presenter as well as events that I intend to speak at. This is just one aspect of how I envision myself. A quote that I have used quite often when encouraging people to continuously improve is, “You can only go as far away as you can see.” Create a clear vision of how you see yourself. And, don’t settle for anything less than what’s best for you. The sky is the limit.
  2. Action Plan: Vision Without Action Is Futile. Visions and dreams are great. But without a plan to execute them, they remain just that. A very famous Japanese proverb states, “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” Now that you have created a clear vision of yourself and what you want to accomplish, prepare an action plan to achieve your goal. You can be as detailed as you want or just provide high-level items. The point is to make a plan to guide your actions. If you see yourself as a great painter, your action plan might include visiting art galleries and do practice painting on a regular basis. Whether you see yourself as a cake decorating expert, a great book author, an excellent CEO or a professional graphics artist, you need to have an action plan that will support your vision.
  3. Commitment: What Only You Can Do. You can always ask somebody for help in defining a vision – a mentor, coach, your boss, spouse, etc. Same thing with creating an action plan. But commitment is something that only you can do. And this seems to be the hardest thing of all. Commitment spells the difference between success and failure. It also means executing your action plan even when you don’t feel like it. As Dr. John Maxwell stated in his book The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, “Commitment separates doers from dreamers.

    Most New Year’s resolutions end up as list items simply because those who made them were not committed to see them through – from those who drop out of gym memberships to those who went back to smoking and drinking. I myself have fallen short on committing to take action when I need to. But that is part of the growth process. What matters is getting back on track and sticking to it. Now, that’s commitment.

As you write down your New Year’s resolutions, think of these guidelines. What are your resolutions for 2012? You can share them here. I will definitely look forward to how much you’ve accomplished by the end of 2012.