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The Value of Engaging In Conversation Thru Feedback


I’ve been very busy with speaking and presenting at different events this year alone. As a speaker, I value great feedback especially when I know that I can take it to improve myself. While events and conference organizers provide feedback forms in both paper-based and online formats, I make it a point to ask attendees for their personal feedback after my presentations.

At the last PASS Summit in Charlotte, NC, I spent some time at the Community Zone to engage attendees in some conversation. Both first timers and alumni have their own different perspectives about the event. I was specifically interested in what the first time attendees had to say so I scanned name tags to see if they were indeed first timers. Conversations after conversations, my question simply boiled down to a single theme: How was the PASS Summit experience for you? The responses were similar, ranging from “Great” to “Wonderful,” but that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I knew for a fact that these would be the common responses. That wasn’t the goal. The goal was to find out what specific details led them to saying it was a great experience.

I like asking WHY questions (Michael Hyatt wrote a blog post about 7 Suggestions for Asking More Powerful Questions.) Apart from the fact that I’m just really curious, the WHY questions lead to more WHY questions. This triggers the one answering the question to really think about and articulate their response. It also engages the individual in a conversation. Let’s be honest, we all feel like we have something to say. We sometimes just need an opportunity to be heard. That’s what I try to accomplish whenever I ask for (and provide) feedback. When I asked the conference attendees why they consider it a great experience, they started telling stories about their experience on how they felt being at home in a group of complete strangers. For the event organizers, this is a more detailed feedback about knowing that the feeling of community is something of importance to the attendees. Of course, my curiosity didn’t stop there. I asked what specific event that made them feel that way – Community Zone, speakers, SQLKaraoke, SQLRun, etc. These are just a handful of events happening within the context of the main event. Everyone of them made the attendees feel like they were a part of a bigger community.

Unfortunately, these types of detailed feedback go unaccounted for. Feedback forms are not made equal. What’s worse is that a lot of feedback forms are designed to capture scores and not engage in conversation. The challenge I see here is that it is difficult to automate the process of capturing meaningful feedback in free text format. Imagine trying to read every single comment from thousands of attendees. Even businesses who try to capture feedback from their customers have this challenge (Aaron Bertrand (blog | Twitter) provided some insights on the PASS Summit feedback for speakers.) What’s more important is to think about gathering (and providing) feedback in a way that engages conversation. Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, was known for visiting stores and asking employees how they feel about the store and asking for suggestions to improve operations. While he could have afforded to pay consulting companies to design and implement the perfect feedback form, he opted to have a conversation. No scores nor numbers, just conversations and stories that he took from those he talked to.

Beyond scores and ratings, providing and gathering feedback should be a conversation. And when the conversation starts, meaningful insights emerge. No amount of business intelligence technologies can substitute for the insights gathered during meaningful conversations. What’s more, relationships are built which, for me, are the most important factor in the overall feedback system.

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.

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.

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.

How Much Did Your Word Cost? Or Earned?

September 12, 2012 2 comments

“We must not promise what we ought not, lest we be called on to perform what we cannot.”

-Abraham Lincoln-

We live in a society where it’s easy to just forget about what we promised – customer satisfaction guarantee, warranty coverage, and even a simple promise made to an employee or spouse. I was just reading a customer satisfaction guarantee form inside a store where I bought my kids’ iPod charger that said they will do anything and everything to keep customers happy. Yet, the owner of the store even pointed out that I was at fault for the malfunctioning charger. Sometimes, words are skilfully crafted to work around so as not to keep what was promised. But what if we did keep our promise even if the cost is high?

US$800 a day is not something I usually spend, considering the fact that our monthly grocery budget is only half that. We keep our costs down as much as we can in order to meet our other financial obligations. So, when the cost to travel to New York City to see my son for his birthday was that much, my initial reaction was to bail out and just tell my wife that I can’t afford to make the trip. I was about to make the phone call when I realized that I promised my son to be with him on his birthday – and I told him one too many times to reassure him. That was more than enough for me to pick up my tablet and booked the flight to New York City. After getting my confirmation code, I kept thinking about how much I have spent just to keep my word. Aren’t we all like that sometimes? We look at how much it costs to keep our word and bail out when we measure it against our balance sheets. Believe me when I say that keeping our integrity is not easy.

But what if we counted the benefits of keeping our word instead? Zappos and 6pm.com turned a US$1.6 million blunder into a great marketing and advertising story that earned more customer loyalty and sales. That could have been a red mark in their balance sheet but they chose to keep their word. Michael Hyatt (blog | Twitter) on his podcast talked about how his former manager kept his word which, in turn, earned Michael’s loyalty. Keeping our word has benefits that far outweigh the costs of not keeping it.

Please don’t make promises you can’t keep. But we would definitely love it if you just work hard to keep the ones you already made.