Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Difference Between Managers And Leaders

No one enjoys working under a terrible boss. Whether you're at school or work. They think they know everything, but they don't. They suck the life out of their minions. They don't even do any proper work.

Of course, 'boss' is such a crude word. Instead, they tend to carry pompous titles such as 'senior executive', 'lead administrator' and 'vice director'. At their worst, they deserve to be called names that I'd rather not say. At their best, they are 'managers'.

Managers are mediocre. Average and Adequate. They're not bad people, but they aren't good for you either.

Leaders are who we really need. They don't bother with titles. They inspire people to rise to their level. And above all, they actually shit done.

Managers vs Managers

Here's 10 ways to tell the difference between a manager and a leader:

1. A manager delegates, a leader decides

2. A manager focuses on setting rules, a leader focuses on getting results

3. A manager works on jobs, a leader goes on missions

4. A manager calls for help, a leader is called to help  

5. A manager's power comes from position, a leader's position comes from power

6. A manager blames his subordinates for his own mistakes, a leader blames himself for the mistakes of his subordinates

7. A manager defines success as the absence of failure, a leader defines failure as the absence of success

8. A manager arranges meetings to talk, a leader arranges meetings to listen

9. A manager thinks himself as a leader, a leader doesn't think much of himself as anything.

10. A manager instructs, a leader inspires

Manager vs leader

A World Of Leaders

Unfortunately, true leaders are hard to find, managers spring up everywhere. Hence, chances are, we end up working for the latter.

We can't really control who we work for, but we can control those who work under us.

So be a leader to others. A leaders inspires others to step up as leaders as well. A leader isn't worried about losing power. A leader isn't worried being replaced. A leader isn't worried if others lead instead.

For everyone can and should be a leader.

For leadership is a state of being, not a title of authority. A leader is someone who merely leads the way. A leader doesn't and shouldn't aim to stay in the lead forever. A leader leads when he's the right person to lead, and steps back when he's not.

Managers tend to stick around at the top forever. Leaders come and go.

And that's why, ironically enough, it's easier to encounter a manager than a leader.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A Life Full Of Stars

Most of us, for most of the time, don't know what we want out of life.

Just when we thought we have managed to figure it out, stuff happens and certainty fades away.

And that's normal. That's how life goes. And that's what makes life so great after all.

When I was growing up, I used to read about dinosaurs. And then my eyes turned to the stars, and wanted to be an astronaut instead.

Not too long ago, I used to be a lawyer. And then I kept stumbling upon new exciting opportunities, and can't be too sure what I'll do next.

Just last month, I used to be jogging in the evenings. And then I had to tweak my work schedule, and now jog late in the night instead.

My (imaginary) neighbourhood

Man Without A Plan

Nothing in life ever goes according to plan. So there's no point planning too far ahead.

I don't know even know what I'm planning to eat for lunch tomorrow. I'll start thinking about it, well, maybe tomorrow morning. Even then, a friend can buzz me at mid-morning, and I'll have to change my lunch plans.

Obviously, you do have to make certain plans in life, short-term and long-term. Like buying insurance. Or when to move out from your parents' home.

But let's be honest. How many key moments in our lives did we actually see them coming? 

Do you know exactly when you're going to get married? Or change jobs?

Sure, we do have some rough ideas sketched out in our minds (or in an Excel sheet, if you're an accountant). But most of our best-laid plans often get delayed and derailed.

As John Lennon once said: "Life is what happens when you're busy making plans."

Keep Looking, Keep Wanting

I still want to be an astronaut.

Well, maybe not technically an astronaut in a spacesuit walking in space. But I do wish to get out of Planet Earth, and live on some other exotic world. 

Maybe I'll burn to crisps within five seconds out of the atmosphere. Or maybe I'll be infested by some bug-like alien. Or maybe I'll learn the ways of the Force and battle evil Sith Lords.

Life is predictable until it isn't. Life is full of surprises even when you're expecting them. Life is interesting if you let it to be.

By planning our life journey every step of the way, we're only limiting ourselves to the paths we know and the horizons we can see. But how can you truly know what you want out of life if you haven't explored the world?

I didn't know what I want out of life when I was 10, 20 or even 30.

A a wise man once said: "Life is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get."

My mom didn't tell me that - nor allowed me to eat chocolates

The Happiness of Pursuit

We're all in the pursuit of happinness.

But what's really important is not happiness, but the pursuit itself.

When you look back at your successes in life, you don't really focus on the moment you stood on stage receiving your award, or that day in office when your boss announced your long-awaited promotion. 

What really warms up our heart is the struggle, the sweat and tears, the journey of life.

What really gets us up in the morning is the never-ending possibilities the world can throw at us.

So what if, sometimes, shit happens? It's better to go up and down than to stay still where you are. Don't settle. Keep on moving.

For a life full of surprises is like a sky full of stars.

Now you see me, now you...

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Why Post-Mortems Go Wrong (And How To Do It Right)

Post-mortem is a great idea. At the end of a long project, everyone sits around to openly share their thoughts about what worked and what didn't, and what to adopt and what to avoid in future. We can learn a lot from such constructive discussions. We can improve as individuals and as a team.

But more post-mortems are badly executed. Discussions spiral into heated debates. Everyone gets super defensive of their own turf. The exact causes of things that went wrong aren't properly identified. The right lessons don't get learnt. The bad lessons turn into policies.

Whether it's at office with senior managers and co-workers, or at college with administrators and students - post-mortem is almost always a total waste of time.

Why is this so?

Post-mortem rocks!!!

1. Passing the Blame

Everyone has an ego. Everyone has vested interests. Everyone has an agenda.

People will say things like "If we were given more time to prepare, we could've done a better job."

No shit, Sherlock. Thanks for stating the obvious. More resources would usually get better results (although, in some cases, this is debatable as well). But your task was to attain Goal X with Y amount of resources. And you failed. Belatedly complaining about how Goal X is unrealistic or Resources Y wasn't enough just smacks of being a sore loser.

Anyway, what's glaring is not so much the merits behind their criticism (unrealistic goals and lack of resources are still valid points), but their motivation.

The mistakes were done way before they got on board. Their great plans were wrecked by bad luck. They could've done better with more support.

It's always someone else's fault that things went wrong.

They'll almost never say, "I spent so much time focusing on Task A instead of Task B - my bad".

Or: "I sucked. I couldn't handle the pressure. I need to seriously rethink my role in the organisation." 

Post mortem should focus more on internal self-reflection, rather than external finger-pointing.

2. Passing the Work

Some post-mortems are actually quite positive.

"Next time, we should be doing this and that."

Sounds great, right?

Except that there is no next time, because the 'we' here refers to the 'other people'.

I once attended a post-accident meeting. Serious stuff. A lot of people got hurt, it was all over the papers. The best brains from different departments huddled to come up with a plan on how to avoid such tragedies in future.

Instead of sticking to their turf, people started poking their noses in other places. Legal being critical on Engineering stuff, Engineering being critical on Marketing matters... Quite a comedy skit.

Whilst thinking-out-of-the-box interdisciplinary creative thinking is to be encouraged, most suggestions were just practically unworkable, if not theoretically flawed. Worse still, people were just throwing out random things that came to mind, without doing prior homework.

Consider the following exchange:

Legal: "Why didn't the valve shut off?"

Engineering: "The fail-safe mechanism, well, failed."

Legal: "Shouldn't we have a back-up system if the fail-safe fails?"

Engineering: "The workers were supposed to monitor the operations, and intervene if the fail-safe failed for whatever reason."

Legal: "And if the workers weren't paying attention - like in our case - then what?"

Engineering: "Then... accidents happen. Look, no system can be 100% accident-proof. We already employ the Swiss cheese risk-mitigation model in our design..."

Legal: "Design a second fail-safe!"

Engineering: "It's not our design. We got it from our suppliers."

Legal: "Then source a better supplier with a better fail-safe mechanism. You know, initiate a tender process..."

Engineering: "We already do. The design is pretty universal."

Legal: "You guys should design a better valve mechanism then!"

Engineering: "Sure, we'll put 'reinvent the wheel' on our action item list as well. Now, moving on..."

The passing-of-the-buck syndrome also applies >within departments. One team botches up a project, then makes a list of useless recommendations for the next team to pick up.

"Double the work hours! Have more regular meetings! Get more members on board!" 

Er... no thanks. Your work is bad, and so are your ideas. Right this way to the exit, please. No pushing, no talking...

Star Trek's latest super villain

How To Improve Your Post-Mortems

Here are some constructive tips on running post-mortems.

a. You can only comment on what you did wrong

Stare into the mirror, and reflect on where you screwed up. That's all. No finger-pointing. The best part is, everyone else will start to feel bad for you and point out things you did well to cheer you up. Positive vibes, yay! And even when people give you suggestions on how you can improve, they're coming from a genuine desire to help you (and not to put you down). It's a good constructive feedback loop.

b. You can only comment on matters not involving yourself if you have sufficient knowledge and expertise in the area

No more "we should've set up the day before and do more rehearsals" crap (Hello, the venue was only available few hours before the event, were you even listening during meetings?). Fact-check and think before you speak about someone else's responsibility. Don't speak for the sake of participating. It's better not to give any ideas than to give bad ideas (which may end up on the action item list).

c. You can only recommend major changes if you're executing them or accountable in their execution

Brainstorming ideas are easy-peasy. Execution, not so. So if you wish to bring up any 'bright' ideas, you better make sure you're also involved in the planning, execution, or at the very least, monitoring. Otherwise, just shut up. If you have no 'skin in the game', very likely your ideas suck. And it's really unfair to push your untested ideas for others to execute and take the blame if they don't work.

Post-Mortem About Post-Mortems

Yes, I know it's rather ironic. In essence, this post is a post-mortem about post-mortems.

But it's really critical to do your post-mortems right. Otherwise, you'll just keep on repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

Post-mortems are meant to find good answers, not raise stupid questions.

Post-mortems are meant for reflection, not deflection.

And above all, post-mortems are meant to get shit done, not throw them all around.