Archive for December, 2012

Create An Environment For Learning

December 31, 2012 1 comment

Salamat sa regalo

Every time we have an opportunity to go back to our home country, the Philippines, I try to give back as much as I can.  We also try to schedule our travel around the Christmas and New Year season because it’s like a pilgrimage for every Filipino living overseas. It’s the season of getting together as a family and, most important of all, GIVING. Our alumni association based in Singapore – the University of the Philippines Alumni Association (Singapore) – has an annual community program called Pamaskong Pambata. Thru the program, the group partners with a local non-profit organizations that focus on the welfare of children and it becomes the beneficiary for the year. I take this opportunity to teach my kids about the value of community work while at the same time opening their eyes to the living conditions of our less fortunate countrymen. In 2007, my youngest son and I joined the community program as they partnered with an orphanage. As a 3-year-old, my son had the opportunity to distribute food and gifts to kids much older than him. One thing he remembered vividly was putting on a Santa hat as he started giving gifts. He still remembers how each recipient had immediately put on a smile as they received the gift he was giving.

This time around, I took my eldest son with me on this trip. I was informed that the location for this year’s community work was in Payatas in Quezon City. Payatas happens to be the main area for garbage disposal in Manila. Most of the people here make their living by collecting and selling recyclable garbage from the dump. The girl in the picture below is sorting out recyclable plastic in a place that she considers both her home and workplace.

Payatas Dump - Plastic Recycler

Payatas Dump-Plastic Recycler by suvajack

It’s easy to teach kids (and adults) lessons on gratitude and the importance of properly managing one’s resources. We can talk about it in the dinner table or even in the board room when we want to emphasize operational efficiency in the company. Internal memos, emails and parental nagging may end up being ignored and not get the results we want. But to really drive the message across, we need to create an environment for learning. And not just learning thru theory and concepts but something that they will always remember. Here are few ideas that you can use to achieve the results you want:

  1. Put it in their calendar. As early as November, I’ve already made arrangements to join the community outreach program. There were slight changes in the date but I made sure I update my calendar. I told my son about the schedule so that he can make the necessary preparations. Creating an environment for learning requires telling the people involved that it has to be on their schedule as well. 
  2. Engage their emotions. Theoretical and conceptual learning only lasts for a while. Emotional learning creates an impact. I bet you remembered a very important lesson that your parents or friends told you because of the experience associated with it. As we were heading to the meeting place, I kept showing my son the difference between our house and the ones he’s seeing along the way. He did see several kids playing near the dumps, most of them don’t even have anything to protect their feet. It’s priceless to see the look on someone else’s eyes (both kids and adults alike) as they see other people searching thru the garbage to find food that they immediately take in. That experience immediately teaches them the deeper meaning of gratitude.
  3. Tap in to their passion. My kids have different personalities. While my youngest son would enjoy engaging with people, my eldest is a bit timid. I thought about how he can make the most out of this trip. Then, I realized that he likes taking photos and videos. I told him to charge up his iPod and be ready to snap photos. I also let him take charge of my DSLR camera. Since I already taught him the basics of digital photography (I’m still learning myself), I was confident that he’d do a great job. And he did. As I was distributing food to the kids, he was taking as much photos as he can. It was easier for me to engage him in the moment because he was having fun with what he was doing.
  4. Re-tell the experience. The day with my son ended up with a trip to my alma mater. As we were enjoying a great snack, I asked him about the experience. I also told him some of those “remember when…” stories: “Remember when we couldn’t even buy you an ice cream cone?” We’ve told him this story several times but this time was different. Because now he has seen kids that are younger than him who can’t even afford to go to school, who need to scour the dumps in order to have something to eat and who think having an ice cream cone is a luxury. The lessons and stories we used to tell him now made  more sense because of his personal experience.

Whether you’re teaching a lesson to a kid or an adult, it is important to make sure that the lessons do stick. Because it’s not just about teaching them lessons, it’s about creating memorable experiences.

Question: What is that one lesson that stuck with you? Did it come with a memorable experience? You can share your story by clicking here


Stop Wearing Someone Else’s Outfit

I don’t usually buy clothes. For the past 15 years, I’ve relied on shirts given to me when I speak at conferences or those that my wife insists that I buy.  I do have a couple of dress shirts that I keep when the need arises. I don’t dress to impress – I dress to be comfortable. This was largely affected by my time in the university. Prior to entering college, I wore signature, branded apparel. I aim for the expensive and well-known stuff. That’s because I work hard to earn the money I use to buy my clothes. And, then, there’s college. I went to our nation’s premiere university for five-and-a-half years (an engineering degree takes 5 years to complete but because I wasn’t smart enough, it took me half-a-year more as I highlighted in a previous blog post.) Those years have totally changed my lifestyle – from my way of thinking to the clothes that I wear.

Fast forward 20 years. I was at a Walmart store in Pennsylvania to grab something to drink when my wife told me to go buy an extra pair of jeans. I wasn’t really planning to get one but I realized that I do need to get an extra pair that I can use when travelling. My first instinct was to go to the section that has the popular brand that I wore in high school. As soon as I grabbed a pair that I think fits me, I immediately felt time going back to my high school days when my classmates would ask how I managed to get one of those branded jeans. You know, those times when you’re the center of attention. Don’t we all love the feeling? Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to try them on as the fitting rooms were all being renovated. I immediately drove home to see how they fit me but to my surprise, I don’t feel comfortable in them.

As leaders, we are prone to define our leadership styles based on some “popular beliefs.” Most people will say that a great leader needs to have charisma, popularity and power. While there is nothing wrong with having all three, I strongly feel that leadership styles should start with the heart. Who you are as a person should define your leadership style because everything that you will do is but a reflection of who you are. Unfortunately, we all have a picture of what a great leader is and should look like. We try to do our best to at least look like it. Here are several reasons why you need to “stop wearing someone else’s outfit” when it comes to leadership styles:

  1. You are a unique individual. There can only be one Steve Jobs or Martin Luther King so don’t expect to be like them. I used to want to become like Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric, because of what he did to the company when he led it. But then I realized that his personality is totally different from mine. I have certain personality traits that I could capitalize and use in my own leadership styles. One of the things that I tell aspiring leaders when asking about strategies and techniques to become better leaders is to…
  2. Take stock of your personality traits. You already have what it takes to become a great leader. It’s just a matter of knowing what they are.  Myers-Briggs and StrengthsFinders are just two of several tools that you can use to identify your personality type and strengths. As unique individuals, we have certain traits that stand out from the rest. And since we already have these in our system, it wouldn’t be that hard to build them up. If you are a people person,  it wouldn’t be that hard for you to be personal in your leadership style. I’ve learned by taking stock of my past experiences that I am a teacher at heart. I use that information as part of my leadership style.
  3. If you’re not comfortable in your own skin, you won’t be in someone else’s. Much have been written on the concept of authentic leadership. Bill George, author of the book of the same title, states that “if we conform to a style that is not consistent with who we are, we will never become authentic leaders.”  We can only be authentic if we operate on the basis of the real us. It’s like putting on a pair of jeans that don’t fit – we feel uncomfortable.

Leadership can be developed and learned. There’s nothing wrong with learning from others and copying their leadership styles. However, before we conform to the popular notions of how leadership should be, we need to first search from within and develop our leadership style based on our own unique personality traits and strengths. You’ll be surprised at how much natural talent you have to take your leadership to a whole new level. And be sure you try an outfit first before deciding to take it home.

Question: What personality trait have you found out that you now use as part of your leadership style? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Intentionally Ignoring the Inessential

I’ve skipped a couple of weeks of blog posts in preparation for my presentations at SQL Server Live last week in Orlando. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make up for the lost time.

I don’t want to claim that I have an OCD but most people think I do. Let me explain. I was raised knowing how to keep things in tip-top shape. I keep my personal stuff clean and orderly. I remember the time when my step-sister paid me a visit before I was about to go to college. She looked at my closet and was shocked to see that it was way, way better than hers. I think my army reserve training made it worse that I ended up folding my shirts with the aid of cardboards and lining up my shoes according to color and usage. I brought that with me today as I travel. I’ve always tried to fix my bed before I leave my hotel room. Aside from my OCD behavior, it’s my way of helping the housekeeping crew make their jobs a lot easier. With my hotel room well maintained, it’s one less room that they need to worry about. I’ve always done that whether it’s a motel room or a hotel suite.

Until this past week. I stayed at the wonderful Loews Royal Pacific Resort in Orlando, FL as part of the reservations for the SQL Server Live conference – nice rooms, great ambience, wonderful staff. I had a whole day workshop on Day 1 and I wanted to make sure that I had a good night’s sleep, a nice meal and a prepared mind. I woke up at 5AM which was unusual for a night owl like me. Since I can no longer get back to sleep, I started preparing for my whole day workshop. While getting ready to take a shower, I started all of my virtual machines to see if they are in a state where I wanted them. I was surprised to find out after getting dressed that my iSCSI storage allocations were all corrupted. My instincts tell me to start fixing them before my workshop starts  but my eyes started to glance at the bed and the sheets, waiting to get done. I know I won’t be able to fix them all in time but at least I can get started and fix everything that I need for the morning session.

A story was told about the great violinist Jascha Heifetz who skipped doing his bed every morning to start playing the violin. At a very young age, he understood the leadership law that Dr. John Maxwell taught on his best selling book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. Having done so has led him to become one of the most important and influential violinists of the twentieth century. He knew how to say no to the urgent to say YES to the important. Dr. Maxwell taught on the concept of the Pareto Principle that states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This principle has been applied in business and time management throughout the years and has helped me as lot in my personal as well as professional life.

We are all prone to responding to the urgent things in our lives. I, for one, would have ended up fixing my hotel room and leaving it the way I wanted to at that time. It would have been easier for me because I’m already used to it. But understanding that my priorities need to define the difference between what is important to me versus what is urgent helped me decide. It was a no brainer. I started working on my virtual machines knowing that my bed was left undone and my suitcase all messed up. When I left the room, I knew I was ready to deliver my workshop with confidence and expecting a great reward. Dr. Maxwell outlines three key questions that we need to answer to evaluate our priorities.

  1. What is REQUIRED of me? I was in Orlando for a reason and that is to deliver a presentation. I’m not there to clean my hotel room nor to keep the housekeeping crew happy (although those were reasons I try to keep whenever I travel.) Keeping myself focused on my primary reason helped me make those decisions.
  2. What gives the greatest RETURN? I’m very good at keeping my stuff clean and organized. But doing that is simply for personal satisfaction. Delivering a great presentation in front of a large audience gives me a much greater return because I know that those who will attend my sessions will go back to their work with new ideas to implement. Empowering others gives me the greatest return.
  3. What brings the greatest REWARD? Living out my personal mission statement gives me a high. Call it addiction but I feel the most satisfaction when I see someone grow and develop their full potential. While I know that keeping my hotel room well organized and clean also gives me some sort of personal satisfaction, it’s nothing compared to the feeling I get when I get to do what I am called to do.

As a leader, we need to get our priorities right because other people depend on us. Doing so will help us intentionally ignore the inessential.

Question: What things do you intentionally ignore to keep your important priorities? You can leave a comment by clicking here.