Archive for March, 2013

Leadership Lessons from Running a SQLSaturday Event

SQLSaturday Philippines

I’ve been involved with the SQL Server community ever since I can remember. I’ve been both a speaker and a volunteer and I know how it felt like to be on both sides of the fence. However, the one thing I haven’t been is an organizer myself. Until SQLSaturday218. This is the very first SQLSaturday event in the Philippines that was held last 9-Mar-2013.  Attendees, volunteers and speakers all claim that the event was a huge success and that they want it to be an annual event. But what they didn’t realize until the event was finally over was that SUCCESS always comes at a PRICE. The rewards of a champion only comes after the hard work and sacrifice, not before. SQLSaturday218 has reinforced a lot of leadership lessons that I have been practicing and teaching throughout the years.

  1. Find a higher purpose. I’ve blogged about this before and I’ve taught others about finding a higher purpose for things that we do.  SQLSaturday218 for me is more than just a SQL Server community event. It’s an attempt to express my patriotism in ways that I can do best. While most SQLSaturday organizers talk about technical education, I talk about loving my country. With the upcoming national elections in the Philippines, political candidates talk about bringing about change. I just made change happen thru SQLSaturday218. This wasn’t my original idea. Marlon Ribunal (blog | Twitter) and Justin Dearing (blog | Twitter) came up with the idea of running a SQLSaturday event in the Philippines. They included me in the conversation because they knew I was a die-hard FILIPINO. And the rest was history. My higher purpose helped me pursue even when the times are tough.
  2. Find allies, ignore detractors.  Every noble goal will have both. I always say that only fruitful trees get picked on. Nobody picks fruits on trees that don’t bear any. And, so be ready to have both allies and detractors. I heard a lot of folks tell me this is an insane idea. Nobody has ever organized a SQLSaturday event without physically being there. I was in Canada planning and organizing an event that was thousands of miles away from where I am, not to mention with a 12-hour time zone difference. I only knew (and have met) a handful of the volunteers. Regular SQLSaturday sponsors won’t fly to the Philippines just for this event. The odds are stacked up against me. I expected to have detractors. I was willing to take the stones that will get thrown at me. But I also did find allies. Niko Neugebauer  (blog | Twitter,) a fellow SQL Server MVP and PASS Community Evangelist was my greatest ally. He was the one who told me that it is possible and that I can make it happen because he was able to do it before. Allies will help you raise your shield when the detractors start throwing stones at you.
  3. Build a GREAT, UNITED team. People are what make things happen. That’s why you need to build a GREAT team. I’ve enlisted the help of people I knew who had the same passion for the community as I have. Culture is very important to me. That’s why I made sure that members of my team share the same values. They all went the extra mile to do things that I can’t because I wasn’t physically available. Some of my allies ended up being a part of the team.  And that’s why I brag about the people in my team who made SQLSaturday218 a huge success. But a great team will only go so far. A GREAT, UNITED team is unstoppable. In order to build a united team, they need to feel that they are a part of it in the first place. And building relationships is what makes that possible. Talk to team members. Understand what matters to them. Make them feel that they are special. Be willing to go the extra mile for them. If we are willing to do this for them now, imagine what they will be willing to do for you in the future.
  4. Over communicate.  It’s the leader’s job to keep the team informed. But sometimes, the same message has to be communicated several times in order for every one to get it. Over communication breeds clarity. It also addresses misunderstandings among those who receive the message. SQLSaturday has a website that organizers can use to do whatever they need to organize and run the event. While I maximized the use of the feature to send email communications to speakers, volunteers and registered attendees, I went the extra mile of sending personal emails. Every week for the past 6 weeks, I sent event updates to the registered attendees and those on the wait list. I also sent emails to the volunteers, giving them a picture of what to expect and what is expected of them. I also sent emails to my team about things that matter to us in order to make this event a success. I responded to emails, answered questions on instant messenger, did Skype calls, etc. in order to properly deliver the message.
  5. Ask for help but operate with a bootstrap mindset. My idea was to run SQLSaturday218 with very minimal to no sponsorship. That’s is because I wanted to create a mindset of creativity and resourcefulness. Plus, I also understand the challenges that most of the SQLSaturday sponsors have. It’s hard to spend money on sponsorships without the possibility of having immediate returns on their investments. I call myself the “self-proclaimed marketing guy” and I try to practice what I preach. I didn’t just go around asking for sponsorships. I only asked those who I believe will benefit from doing so. I even turned down several potential sponsors and explained why this would not benefit them. However, I didn’t just turn them down without offering them a long-term perspective of their marketing initiatives. And because we kept the bootstrap mindset, we operated as if we didn’t have resources. It’s amazing to see how people come up with creative ideas just because we don’t have the resources. So, when the resources became available, they were used to reward those who came up with creative ideas that got implemented.
  6. Have a detailed plan but be flexible enough when things don’t go as planned. I had a detailed project plan in place from start to finish. I shared it with my team and allowed them to make suggestions and modify it as necessary. But everyone knows that nobody can prepare and implement a perfect plan. Being flexible when things don’t go as planned is necessary for success.  We had delays with some of our deliverables. There were changes in the room assignments that affected the schedule and the signs that we printed out. But because everyone on the team understood what was expected, they all made things possible outside of the plan.
  7. Step back when necessary. Leaders have the tendency to do everything because they believe that success (and failure) lie in them. What they don’t realize is that not stepping back prevents potential rockstars to shine. At the day of the event, I knew exactly what I needed to do. Same thing with the volunteers. What’s really surprising is that I didn’t even have the chance to do a briefing session before we start doing the real work. All I did was shake their hands and introduced myself to them. Now, understand that these are people whom I haven’t personally met. But it’s as if they knew me very well and knew exactly what I expected of them. The volunteers were running on auto-pilot. That kept me focused on what I can do best. Had I not stepped back, I could have ruined the creative ideas that they were able to pull off and possibly discouraged them from trying again.
  8. Give as much A.I.R. as you possibly can. I blogged about giving appreciation, inspiration and recognition. As attendees were commenting on how great the event turned out to be, I took that opportunity to thank the sponsors, volunteers and speakers for making the event a huge success. At the volunteers’ and speakers’ dinner, I commented on the fact that I felt like having a great team from heaven. I sent emails to my contacts about how the event turned out to be, again, mentioning the fact that I had the best volunteers and speakers ever. I sent emails to the local sponsors, highlighting some of their staff who did a great job of volunteering at the event. I kept telling others, even sending personal emails and instant messages to the volunteers and speakers after the dinner, and constantly appreciating and recognizing their contributions. All of them wanted to be a part of next year’s SQLSaturday Philippines.

Leadership expert Dr. John C. Maxwell once said that “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” It’s one of the reasons why I’ve been a student of leadership for the past decade.  The lessons I’ve learned help make me become a much better leader and also inspires others to do the same. With the outcome of SQLSaturday218, I think this will become an annual event with the help of the local SQL Server user group.


University of the Philippines and the Mindset of Entitlement

University of the Philippines Oblation

University of the Philippines Oblation by randyg

“With rights come responsibilities. If we aren’t willing to take responsibilities, how dare we claim the rights.” 

I’m rarely vocal about my political views for “fear” of being branded as a leftist (I used the word fear because leaders are not immune to the feeling: they just know how to deal with it.) When I was in the university, I was almost always associated with the leftist primarily because of what I wear and who I hang out with. Most people know me as somebody who’s passionate about my country – the Philippines – even when I was still a kid. And I consider myself as an “unofficial Philippine ambassador.”

Last Friday, I noticed several media personnel in the University of the Philippines (UP) (Manila campus.) I wasn’t aware of any issues surrounding the premiere state university in the country because I try to avoid reading the news. I was intrigued. When I got back home, the first thing that I did was check the news. It turns out that there was a freshman university student who committed suicide because she was forced to take a leave of absence for failure to pay tuition fees. This became instant news, especially with the upcoming senatorial elections in May of this year. A friend of mine posted a very intriguing question on Facebook regarding the incident: is the University of the Philippines for (a) Poor Pinoy students, (b) Academically Excellent Pinoy students or (c) Academically Excellent Poor Pinoy students? I responded. Not because I wanted to defend my alma mater. I wanted others to understand that there was a much deeper issue that had to be dealt with. It was an issue of the heart. An issue of entitlement. It’s sad to hear about the loss of a loved one. More sad to realize that people are blaming the system without first looking for answers from within. Some say the student was killed by the system. Others say she was a victim of  a repressive policy that wasn’t in favor of education as a right. A characteristic of true leadership is taking responsibilities for any actions done. Below was my response to the question. 

I try to avoid telling others that I went to University of the Philippines (Diliman campus) primarily because (a) I failed “17 courses” in my undergraduate program and (b) nobody wanted to hire me because of the former  Now, when the UP system was founded back in 1908, the ultimate goal was to provide a high quality of education to the Filipino people. Nowhere in the original goal did it mention that it was for “anybody poor.” The system has evolved into what it is today primarily because it was partly subsidized by the government. With the economic journey of the Philippines after World War II, where it used to be a first-world country in Southeast Asia, most people in the government took advantage of the UP system as a means to advance their political career. Because there was an increase in the population of those living below the poverty line, the UP STFAP was born. The UP STFAP program was conceived in the late 80s, following the People Power revolution. This was the time where there was an increasing gap between the rich and the poor. This created an ever increasing “entitlement mindset” among those who are poor-yet-deserving students to go to the UP system. The very reason why tuition in the UP system is way higher than the other state universities is because they subsidize other state universities. So, to answer your question, the UP system is for the academically excellent Filipino students, regardless of economic status. For those who feel that they deserve to go to UP, go ahead and prove that they indeed deserve to go there. I couldn’t afford a UP education because it was relatively expensive for me. I had a choice between not pursuing a university degree (cheaper,) going to other state universities (a little more costly,) going to other private institutions (most expensive) or going to UP (bordering between cheap and expensive.) I chose to go to UP. I fought to stay in UP. I sacrificed a lot to go to UP. Now, do I deserve to go to UP because I was poor? Absolutely not! But I made a choice to go there, stay there and earn my university degree for there no matter what. I knew how it felt like to go from UP STFAP’s bracket E1 to bracket A (during my time, the UP STFAP used a numeric system for the brackets.) I knew how it felt like to scour for funds to finish my degree regardless of what my STFAP’s status was. Education, I believe, should be a right. But with rights come responsibility. If we are not willing to take the responsibility, we do not deserve to enjoy the right.

Be Consistent With Your Brand

More Broken Glass

More Broken Glass by autowitch

Black baseball cap with a fashionable army jacket. That’s the image that people who know me recognize when they hear my name. When I started speaking at conferences and events here in North America, I became intentional about the image that I project. Let’s just say that everything started with a profile photo I gave Microsoft Singapore for use in their marketing collaterals. I couldn’t find a professional-looking profile photo when they asked for one back in 2007 for a conference I’m scheduled to speak at. So I gave them one that I have. I was wearing a baseball cap. That photo instantly became my official profile photo – from the book chapters I wrote to the case study documents from Microsoft Learning. And so I’ve decided to maintain that image and became very intentional about its consistency. I’ve also taught professionals how brand consistency helps in improving their career. A simple test that I do is perform a Google search on my name and check the results. If I get the results that I want consistently – be it the profile photos or keyword combinations – that means I have done a good job in creating the brand that I want.

I like doing experiments. I always like to try something new to test a hypothesis or just to break away from the rut. Several days ago at an event where I am supposed to speak at, I’ve decided to do a social experiment. I’ve decided to abandon the “baseball cap and the army jacket” image and just stick with my good old fashion self, the one where you can barely see hair on my head. On top of that, I’ve decided to include my new personal assistant – my eyeglasses – as part of my image. I wanted to test if I have successfully created a personal brand throughout these years. I knew the side effects of being inconsistent with my personal brand when I’ve decided to rename my LinkedIn and Twitter profiles several months ago. And so I went on with the experiment. The people who knew me well didn’t have much problems recognizing me. They were confused at first but have gotten over it. Moving on. I walked among the crowd. I heard people saying they wanted to attend my session. That’s not surprising since I knew many people wanted to learn more about the topic that I’m going to present on. What’s really surprising is what happened next. I heard people asking if they’ve already seen me. Some of the event organizers are starting to become restless because they couldn’t find me anywhere. Somebody told them that I was already at the venue. They just couldn’t find me. Or maybe they were looking for somebody else. Maybe they were looking for the guy wearing a baseball cap and the army jacket.

The experiment highlights few key points regarding branding:

  1. You/We are a brand. Whether we like it or not, our personalities are our brand. Same is true with companies, products and services. Quit avoiding the fact. You might as well do something about it and…
  2. Be intentional. Don’t wait for others to define your brand for you. You do not have control over that. Instead, define it for them. If you don’t define your brand, others will do it for you. I chose to be intentional about the brand that I have built over the years and I expect the results I’m getting.
  3. Know thy self. It’s hard to define something if you don’t even understand what it is. Whether it’s a person or a product, we need to know what it i and hat it stands for. Knowing one’s self takes time but it is key to successfully creating a brand.
  4. Be consistent. Imagine seeing a Coca-Cola logo with an orange colour. I can’t. That’s because I’m used to seeing it with the colour red. It becomes confusing when a brand is inconsistent. That’s the main point of my experiment. If we are inconsistent with our brand and our personality, others will be confused. Worst, they will eventually forget who you are.

If there’s one key point to consider when it comes to branding, that’s CONSISTENCY. And it doesn’t just work for branding. It does so too with leadership. You’ll earn the trust and respect of the people you lead.

When You’re Right In the Middle Of Failure

I was about to deliver my presentation on preparing and delivering presentations when my MacBook just couldn’t get the projector to work with it. One guy from the audience started making comments about using a Windows laptop instead of a MacBook so we switched to one but still without any luck (that proved that it wasn’t a MacBook problem but that of the projector) After almost 3 minutes of trying, I told everyone that I would just skip the slides and proceed with the presentation.

People who have seen me deliver presentations know how engaging my slide decks are because of the amount of effort I put in to preparing a presentation. Everything I do is intentional: from the story line that ties up everything included in my presentation to the font type and color pallet I choose for the slides. The worst part of this is that I am delivering a presentation about presentations and I’m stuck with literally nothing. Prior to going on stage, I was rehearsing my presentation with the slide deck that I will be using. With very limited time, I even rehearsed the stories that I wanted to tell and removed those that weren’t relevant. But when I felt the audience started to feel a bit uneasy waiting for my presentation, I just went ahead without the materials that I was supposed to use.

Most presenters have been in this kind of situation. But, as I commonly say, failure is a state of mind. Whether you’re in the middle of a presentation that’s about to go south or in a middle of a crisis, what you do determines whether or not the outcome will still be a failure. Here are several things to keep in mind when you’re i the middle of a failure situation.

  1. Recognize that it is happening. Reality bites but we need to face it whether we like it or not. We need to recognize failure as it is happening so we can assess the situation and think of what possible ways can we drive it around to a full turn. When both my MacBook and the Windows laptop didn’t work with the projector, I knew I had to ditch all of the hard work and effort that I have put in to prepare my presentation.
  2. Quickly think of an alternative. It’s hard to think of an alternative without recognizing that failure is happening. Once we’ve recognize it, immediately switch to problem solving mode. My alternative was one that does not need anything other than me. So, I told the audience that I will be proceeding with my presentation without slides.
  3. Include others in the process. I’ve seen the other presenters before me so I immediately used them in my opening lines. Since the audience has already seen them before me, they will be able to relate to what I am about to say. I used the two previous presenters as examples to drive a point and that made a whole lot of sense to the audience.
  4. Tap into your soul. Your experience, your character and your values provide more meaning to who you are. That’s what others see in you. Use it to your advantage as you navigate away from the failure that is currently happening. I’ve almost memorized my presentation because I’ve delivered it a few times now. But that’s not important to me at that point. What’s important is that the audience will still be inspired to become great presenters after seeing me struggle with the projector issue. I told them a story about my presentation at a SQLSaturday event in New York City about failover clustering but wrapping the presentation around the story of 9-11. Everyone remembers 9-11 so the audience understood how powerful the presentation was even without being there. My experience about delivering a previous presentation was what I used to drive another main point in my presentation.
  5. Realize that you just turned a failure into a success. Failures only stay that way if we don’t learn from them. The biggest impact that a failure can have on anybody is when the very object of failure is what moved them to become successful. After navigating thru the depths of failure towards success, you can pat yourself on the back for doing a great job. That’s another item on the failure list that you can use as an example for success.

After my presentation, one of the attendees approached and thanked me for doing a great job delivering the presentation. I was a bit reluctant to accept it because I knew at the back of my head that I could have done better. What she said to me after wards is what really struck me. Despite all of the problems with the projectors and computers, she remembered the three most important things in my presentation: the goal of delivering a presentation is to educate, entertain and to encourage.

You can find a copy of my “undelivered” presentation slide on SlideShare for your reference.