The highest insult at workplace

I wrote and posted this one today while at work.

1. Unappreciative of Efforts
2. Lack Recognition and Respect
3. Constant Criticism
4. Expect Employees to Be Like Them
5. Hypocrisy
6. Delegate Too Much – or Not Enough
7. Micromanagement
8. Manipulative
9. Don’t Value Employees

What an awful list! Two years ago when I read Glenn Lopis’ article “9 Ways Leaders Insult Their Employees,” I thought who, in his/her right mind, would do these to his/er employees, like hypocrisy, manipulative? Get real! Not in my wildest dreams!

I have seen micromanagement. It is called super responsibility in my vocabulary. I have no complaint about it as long as the manager takes responsibility for whatever under his micro.

Many of the items in the list look like the same thing to me, like appreciation, recognition, respect and value. Of course, appreciation and recognition encourage people to keep doing what they have done. But what difference does it make if you are paid adequately? We are old enough not to crave for recognition, and we won’t do a shoddy job even if we are not duly appreciated. Respect? It would be nice if you are truly respected. But how do you know it’s genuine or not? I can live without it. What matters most is you are treated legally, that is, without any form of discrimination.

To me, the highest workplace insult for someone, who is the key player in a team and who should play the leading role in a project, is assigned a subordinate position and is told to play second fiddle to an outsider who doesn’t know what he is talking about and who interferes in whatever the key player does.

Readers, what is the highest insult that you have experienced at your workplace? Go to LinkedIn to post your comments.

Employees as Customers: Loyalty, Trust, Empathy and Happiness

This is what I wrote today at office,

People might not see employees this way, but when an employee is considering changing jobs, it bears some similarities to a Sprint customer thinking of switching to AT&T or Verizon. Here are four places that show their similarities.

Number 1: accessibility. Because customer service cost money, some companies discourage customers to talk to the real person by making it difficult for customers to reach them. So, making customer service accessible is the first step to a good service. Similarly, a good employer will provide its employees with an avenue through which an employee can unreservedly share his work-related ideas and thoughts. I remember vividly when, back in 2013, my workplace hired an outside listening ear to hear what people had in mind. During the meeting with these outsiders without the presence of our manager, people were like horses being unbridled, vying with one another to have their voices heard. Because they don’t have such an opportunity as often as they wish. Such listening ears should be always available.

Number 2: same expectation. When customers called customer service, they expect customer service agents to treat them with due respect and make them happy and satisfied. When people go to work, they have the same expectation of their employer as the customers.

Number 3, same win-win situation. That is, if the company respects and treats customers decently, making efforts to make them happy and meet their need, customers will more likely to remain loyal to the company and to stick at it for as long as they can. This benefit both the company and the customers. It’s the same win-win situation between an employer and his employees.

Number 4, same empathy. That is, we listen to both employees and customers with the same empathy and same eagerness to help them out. Because we are dealing with human beings, be they customers or employers, we need the same kindness, sincerity and the capacity to understand and meet their need.

The thought for the leaders: if you think customer service is all about making customers happy, we can say the same thing about managing people.

People are different. It is unprofessional to Compare one Employee to Another

Today I wrote this one at the office. Enjoy!

There was one incident at my workplace where a manager told one person, “Look at what L is doing at her role. And what you’ve done?” The word made that employee instinctively on the defense. I was watching and at the time speechless at this unprofessional behavior from the management team.

It is unprofessional because we have our professional standards, in that one employee is not the standard for the others to follow. All the employees are expected to live up to their job descriptions, good clinical practice, FDA guideline, etc.

It is unprofessional because people are vastly different in their personal aspiration and their social, educational, economic, cultural, ethnic background. Each of us come to the office not empty-handed but heavily loaded with values, dreams, hopes, and everything up to that point that has made what we are. Our past defines our present. Some employees dream big while others are happy without any dreams.

It is unprofessional for a manager to say this because it is potentially pitting one against another instead of encouraging teamwork.

The thought for the management: as long as the employees live up to what is expected professionally, accept them as what they are.

Take Nothing for Granted –The Need for Recognizing Good Work

I wrote this article today, while at office.

The company that I was associated with was bought by another entity in June 2011. After that, especially after a new senior executive director came aboard in mid-2013, a new meeting item crept in monthly, that is, massive accolades showered upon the deserved employees within that new entity, almost nothing upon old place folks. This is something entirely new to me.

Some people in my old company might think it nothing but you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours. People just do what they are supposed to do. There is no need to make a fuss about it. This is so not true.

First of all, there is a difference between following your job description and going above and beyond, and between a good job and a shoddy one. There is definitely a need for encouraging excellent job over the not-excellent one by the endorsement from someone, so that the bar will be raised for everybody.

Secondly, recognition will make it more likely for the outstanding people to continue their great performance. It’s like I open the door and let you in first and you say thank-you to me. This way I will do the same next time. This is called the rule of reciprocity that we all embrace. A recognition from the management will most likely make someone a happy employee. We know the relationship between being happy and being productive. People don’t like to be taken for granted for too long.

Third, there is a need for the manager/supervisor to engage every employees by confirming his expectations. Sometimes, a manager can make it known to the employees his expectations by recognizing some people and leaving out some others, sending a clear message to those being left out that they need to catch it up.

A thought for the leaders: keep your eyes open for great performers. Be profuse in your praise for the great ones.

Locker Room Culture and Conformity in Office

Finally I finished this piece on locker room culture last weekend, which I planned to get done the weekend before last.

Donald Trump’s widely publicized ‘Locker-Room Talk’ is at best a sign of adolescence immaturity; at worst, you can say whatever you want. Your imagination is the limit. No comment. The term itself pushes to the front what I experienced when I first started my current position back in 2007.

Urban dictionary has this definition — “The crude, vulgar, offensive and often sexual trade of comments guys pass to each other, usually in high school locker rooms. Exists solely for the purpose of male comedy and is not meant to be taken seriously.” Don’t take me wrong here. Urban dictionary’s definition is too narrow. My office is not like this. Because it is both different and much more than that.

People called that office room a big closet because it doesn’t have a window. Once the door is closed, people who are kindred spirits would say whatever they had in mind without any moral scruples, nor any qualms of conscience. One lady almost never spews out one sentence without her favorite ingredient, the f word. See the similarity here? Except they are not people of high school age and not boys. These are people who are old enough to be grandmas.

Trump’s locker room talk makes me wonder why people are succumbed to this kind of behavior. I refuse to believe that people are as mean spirited as their words betray them. I would attribute this to two factors: the locker room culture of that office and the desire to belong.

Each company, each office has developed and cultivated its own subculture, some energizing, some energy-draining, some with can-do spirit, some filled with whining and complaints. The one I was first exposed to in 2007 was certainly not a healthy one. You could even see negativity flowing in the air.

Because nobody wants to be marginalized in a subculture, not even me who already stands out in a crowd as a foreign-minority, people make great efforts to conform to the subculture by trying not to appear different from others. Plus, consider this key fact that I have come to appreciate: America is not the land of independent thinkers. Instead, the pressure to conform is the rule of the land.

Thought for the leaders: make every effort to cultivate positive culture. The herd will follow.

I’m a leader though I have never been a supervisor or a manager or a boss of any kind

This sounds like a classic oxymoron, same difference, right? Right. How can you be a leader and command a group of followers when you are not in a leadership position to command and lead?

Still, I call myself a leader when I treat everybody with due respect like what a real leader should do, greeting everyone with a smile and bellowing out good morning to colleague walking from afar.

I call myself a leader when a group of colleagues complain and I chip in, “What’s the solution? We won’t get anywhere without that.” In other words, what’s the use of complaining? Let’s focus on the real thing. I did steer the herd away from their favorite indulgence.

I call myself a leader when I recognize the positive forces around me and try to encourage that force by letting people realize their own positivity. Like telling people, “You are so positive! I like working with you.”

I call myself a leader when the manager joined the pack in steamy gossips and I, instead of succumbing to this group pettiness, cracked open the door and said a doctor was passing by, which put them back to work.

I lead by example, by simply being the role model that I have aspired to be. Everyone can be a leader in his/her group. Everyone can inspire and influence, command respect and authority, by exemplifying our values and principles.

Everyone has an ideal self. Be that self. And you are the leader.

How to avoid micromanagement

Last weekend, when I was driving to the bookstore, the weather was so nice that it felt like spring. I thought of a Chinese children’s song, “Where is spring? Spring is in the eyes of the children…” The song reminds me of my daughter and of the time when I was singing this song and driving her around. The memory of past threw me into a sad mood. I need to keep myself busy so that I won’t have time for sadness. This much I know and will follow.

This is the notes that I took when I was at Barnes & Nobles on weekend. From magazine, p. 18 the four tips on “The Micromanager’s guide to delegation.” I thought of my son when I read this part.

(1) Keep a work log to keep track of tasks in an organized way.
(2) Have more people report to you.
(3) Know your people (assessing the skills of each of the team members)
(4) Be a good coach.
Last thing, think of delegation as an investment.

A Caring Leader and person

On 3/11, I read this article “ACHE Chairman Diana Smalley: 3 Ways to Become a Caring Leader” by Molly Gamble. Indeed, a leader can be a caring and effective one at the same time. Here are the three ways listed in the article.

1. Be the role model you always wanted or the best role model you ever had.

2. Recognize and build upon your own strengths and weaknesses, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of those around you.

3. Protect healthcare for communities you serve by communicating your perspectives, and be willing to collaborate with competitors when it benefits the community.

A leader is a good role model, leading by example instead of preaching. Of course, people like to be around this type of person.

A leader is able to mobilize all positive forces around her. And a leader can see the large picture and choose win-win option so that all parties will benefit.

We can all be leaders if we can assume these characteristics.

A manager that I could have deposed but I let her go …

I must admit that of so many managers that I have experienced in my life, there are not many whom I truly respect. In fact, most of them are not up to the task at all. True leaders are rare.

Here’s one who is the most unprofessional and unethical. This manager used to gossip about me with other employees, behind my back of course. Can you believe that? Even worse, she included some of gossips in my annual evaluation!

I guess I must impress people as a harmless idiot, so they dare to do this kind of bizarre thing on me. I was so upset that I was contemplating of suing her for slandering, for ruining my reputation, for the psychological damage that her action has brought on me, and for the medical bills since I needed to pretend to be ill because of her. I am sure I have the ability to wreak havoc in her life.

But as a kind-hearted, peace-loving person, I decided to drop the issue and bury the hatchet. Every time I think of this incident, I cannot help wondering aloud: why am I so nice? I could have easily deposed her if not ruined her. I don’t understand why I let her out of this legal mess. Either I was not mad enough or I am really an idiot. I don’t have the answer.

Avoid Topic Proliferation When Talking with Children

On 3/19/2011, while I was waiting for my daughter at a nearby HyVee store, I took up April 2011 issue of Psychology Today magazine, a fascinating subject. I read a piece of writing on conflict resolution and the tendency toward topic proliferation. Though it deals with problems among couples, I think it applicable to conversations between parents and children or between any two parties. Here’s the note.

“The funny thing about conversation is that they can escape into fights, while at the same time they can also spread outward, proliferating into lots of distinct conversations all happening at once as one topic leads to another…. issue proliferating like mosquitoes in a summer swamp.”

Next the author gives an example of one couple’s conversation evolving from one topic “Why are you late again?” to “You are always finding faults with me” “You never admit you are right” “You start the fight again.. I should have ignored you in the first place”… The couple ended up changing topic over 20 times in less than 5 minutes.

The author thinks topic proliferation happens a lot when couples argue. It makes a conversation not only unmanageable but difficult to resolve. I see similar problem in conversations between parents and their children. I think it is very crucial to focus on the topic, one thing at a time, if parents want to have a constructive conversation with their children.

Myth and Fact about Leader, Part II

Leaders and managers are separate roles, both being important but neither is necessary to the other.

Leadership focuses on basing actions on an envisioned future; motivating and influencing others; and deciding on, and then committing to, a direction. Management focuses on basing actions on past experience, matching resources to tasks, and following established methods and procedures.

Two examples of leaders:
“My dad’s company once refused to pay its workers a higher wage. My dad was one of the few who confronted management. He asked for what was fair, and he stood his ground. He became a leader, even though that was not his intention.”

“Rosa Parks was a black woman in a time and place where being black was often considered a crime. But when push came to shove, she did not let that stop her from doing what needed to be done. I think that is the essence of true leadership.”

Leaders fight for what is right. It is the desire to lead that makes the difference. You have to believe in something with every fiber of your being if you want to go from following to leading. The building blocks of a good leader: ethics, empathy, curiosity, vision, courage, and communication.

Myth and Fact about Leader, Part I

This is notes from leadership workshop. Unless your ideas about leadership are challenged, you might not even be aware that they are not factual. Some of the myths about leaders are:
(1) Only people in management can become leaders.
(2) Leaders must be charismatic.
(3) Leaders are born, not made.

The fact is, you don’t need to be in management to be a leader. What you do need is an idea, a vision for change, and the willingness and stamina to turn your idea into something real. What makes one a leader is not how she looks but the way she wholeheartedly commits herself to a vision and refuse to surrender to mediocrity, no matter where she finds herself.

You can lead if you answer YES to these questions.
(1) Do you think you might want to become a leader?
(2) Do people often ask you for solutions?
(3) Do your friends at work elect you as their spokesperson?
(4) Are you already a leader in other aspects of your life?
(5) When problems arise, do you come up with ideas for ways to solve those problems but hesitate to mention
your thoughts because you are not in charge?
To be continued…

How to Give or Not to Give Criticism

Once again, as part of my cleaning drive, I took off the wall some parenting tips that I had for a long time, giving criticism being one of them. I post them here as I see tactful criticism very important in all situations, at work or at home.

(1) Begin by asking questions rather than attacking.
(2) Criticism should be timely.
(3) Be very brief and concise–the longer you talk, the less goes in.
(4) Be selective–choose your target of attack rather than a sweeping attack.
(5) Focus on the issue, not the person.
(6) Let the wrong-doer do the dirty work, that is, it is better for the children to tell you what is wrong instead of the other way around.
(7) Show them the proper way of doing things instead of leaving them puzzled and lost.

The Fall of Rep. Anthony Weiner, Not Stupidity But Character

The married Weiner acknowledged he had engaged in inappropriate contact with six women over three years through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook and occasionally over the phone.

We all know Rep. Anthony Weiner is not smart enough to be this stupid. No, it is not his stupidity that has brought him down, though calling him stupid is too gentle on him.

It is the lack of that unshakable quality in his character that finally defeats him. Call it morality or the basic ability to distinguish right from wrong. That’s why I keep telling my children this — the higher you want to rise, the more solid your moral foundation must be. This must be solidly built in your character and become an integral part of your whole being, so that you won’t go awry no matter where you are. Otherwise, you will fall eventually, no matter how high you have achieved.

What Do Distinguished Institutions Look for

On 4/4/2011, I went to Stanford MBA admission site, trying to learn something about their program. Their view pretty much summarizes and represents those of other topnotch institutions like Harvard and MIT.

First, Intellectual Vitality,
…your attitude toward learning is as important as your aptitude
…your passion, dedication, and genuine interest in expanding your intellectual horizons throughout your application
…evidence of the kind of curiosity and passion that will allow you to spark
…the initiative with which you seek out opportunities that enhance your knowledge.
…your willingness to “suspend disbelief”—by mastering concepts that may not be immediately relevant to your intended career, to carve your path in ambiguous environments, and to support the School’s goal of developing knowledge that deepens and advances the practice of management.

Second, Demonstrated Leadership Potential
…your character and your professional competence.
…evidence of behaviors consistent with your ideals, even under difficult circumstances—a sort of directed idealism.
…your personal motivation and convictions, and your ability to confront complex, unfamiliar issues with good judgment.
…how you defend your position with vigor and respect to a peer advocating a different view.
…the ways in which challenges to your beliefs may have changed some of your perspectives and reinforced others.
…we look for both leadership experience and potential.
…We look at your background for evidence of your impact on the people and organizations around you, and the impact of those experiences on you.
…your activities, experiences, interests, and aspirations
…your awareness of what you do well and the areas in which you can improve;
…your group and interpersonal skills;
…your commitment to utilizing fully your opportunities and available resources.
…evidence of your desire to leave a legacy in the organizations you serve throughout your career, inspiring and motivating your colleagues.

Third, Personal Qualities and Contributions
…your experiences, beliefs, your passions, your dreams, your goals
…Take time to reflect on who you are, and have confidence in yourself.

It is what you make of an experience that matters to us, not simply the experience itself. That is, how you interpret what you experience matters.

Summer Volunteer, Leadership and High School Students Part II

I commend children for giving volunteer service, yet I fully expect high school students to do better than library volunteer. Because this type of volunteer is not challenging enough for them. Thus, they are cheap substitute for real hard work.

Why do we have to ask others for volunteer opportunity instead of creating our own opportunities? High school students should rack their brains to be innovative and create their own work which is beneficial to both parties, if they do hope to excel. They deserve credit only if they can invent new ways to volunteer or use their grade level skills to serve. This reminds me of a young man who spent one summer organizing a rocket club among elementary school kids, an unusual experience, showing great leadership skills, and a success in the end. This young man was admitted by MIT.

The key is you don’t always do something that everybody does. You have to be unique. Even in volunteering, a leader is different from the crowd.

Summer Volunteer, Leadership and High School Students Part I

On 4/1/2011, after sending my daughter to her school at 4 PM, I went to a local library, where I met a friend of mine who was with her daughter. They were signing up for volunteer work in summer. This reminded me of another friend of mine whose daughter also volunteers at this library. Another friend of mine told me of her son’s volunteer work.

The next day, 4/2, I was at that library again. There I saw an Asian girl, about my daughter’s age, doing volunteer work.

I observed her a little bit and got the impression that she was like serving her time, looking tired and listless. Perhaps she was there for the whole afternoon and couldn’t wait for her parents to pick her up.

While I applaud for the noble spirit and unselfishness associated with volunteering, I realize many of them see this as a necessary step to a good college. In that case, they are not necessarily motivated by any of the high-sounding noble spirit.

Still Water Runs Deep

On 11/18/2010, I went to work at our west clinic, over 22 miles from my house. Luckily I don’t have to go there every week. I had an interesting and unforgetable observation while I was there.

During lunch break, I went to the break room and noticed many girls sitting around a table, eating and gossiping. They talked about one of our research girls. To be sure, they were not of mean spirited gossip. I noticed the practice manager was among the diner there. I knew her before and knew she was a type of no nonsense person.

This time I was very much convinced of my previous thought of her and much more. Even better, she is a no-small-talk person, too. I observed her while other girls were chatting. For the entire course, she did not utter a word, totally out of the conversation while sitting with the rest of the crowd.

Either her mind was occupied with some issues or she found the small talk too trivial to jump in. Her silence among the chatting group left me a deep impression. For some reason her silent presence commands some degree of respect, at least from me. This might be one of a leader’s quality, so distinctive in a group.

A saying came to my mind that I learned long ago back in China, “Still water runs deep.” It seems a perfect description of her.

A Thought on the Life of a Poet in Tang Dynasty

On 11/21, Sunday afternoon, on the way to the Whole Food store, I shared this following with my daughter. I asked her if it was a good topic for an entry here. “Yes, of course,” said she.

That morning I read a writing on a famous poet in Tang Dynasty, Bai Juyi (772–846) in his senior years, which was, to put it mildly, characterized by a lack of constraint in his dealings with women. I am sure this is not something he could brag about. And I am surprised that people still remember it.

My daughter knows Bai Juyi from the above poem and pipaxing. She was a bit shocked at learning this part of the poet’s life. Indeed, people might have this or that harsh words on the loose behavior in his life, yet his talent and his unsurpassed accomplishments, peerless in Chinese literature, earn him a unique place in history of Chinese poetry. All this enables him to shine through the thick dust of history and continue to glow for the thousands of years to come. History has always been rather generous to individuals of extraordinary achievements.

In one sense, you can apply the same to our daily engagement either at work or at school. You may be doing the same thing as everybody else, but it is your talent, special skills, outstanding character, if you so possess, that distinguish you from the crowd and that make you last longer than your mere transient presence. Otherwise, you are out of mind even before you are out of sight. Think of it when you go about your daily life.

Peace on Earth, Hard to Obtain 2

A nation can demonstrate this catastrophic stupidity, so can be a person when he is entangled in this kind of militant situation and shamefully feeling the urge to prove his masculinity by raising his madness to the dangerous level.

If anything, this once again emphasizes the paramount importance of three qualities in a leader.
(1) Calmness in time of large-scaled crisis.
(2) Ability to resolve conflict through healthy dialogues in any situation that conflict can occurr.
(3) The last and most rare yet also most important of all is the guts and integrity to stand by what one believes is best for his nation and his people. This quality is the touchstone distinguishing a true leader from a follower. This is best exemplified by the late US senator Robert Byrd.

Very often, it seems a political suicide not to cave in to the popular battle cry. In case like this, most politicians are totally without principles. To win popular votes or for their political gain, they readily succumb to the lowest mean spirit of the herd, the majority of people, like the mob lynching of Sherburn in Mark Twain’s Adventure of Huck Finn. In essense, these politicians, never rising above mob mentality, are just followers of the mob instead of leaders.

This is exactly what happened when the majority of democratic party granted George W. Bush broad power to wage a “preemptive” war against Iraq. The only exception is Robert Byrd.

I wish my children will read about this and learn something from these events.

Peace on Earth, Hard to Obtain 1

As people celebrate Christmas day, they also watch in horror the acceleration of tension between North and South Korea, with the South conducting live-fire drill on an unprecedentedly large scale from ground to the air, targeting at North Korea. The North in turn accepts the challenge with its arm-to-the-teeth determination for “sacred war of justice” with the South, with the threat of using a nuclear deterrent.

The higher the war rhetorics grow, the more insane and dangerous people become. Eventually the nations would be thrown into the sea of fire when both sides are overcome by their urge to act upon their threat, as if people have not learned anything from the recent Iraqi war.

Imagine the bloodshed, the loss of lives, the waste of resources and the draining of a nation’s wealth if that happened. All would suffer with the exception of one party, that is, the merchants of death who supply endless streams of mass-destructive gun-power. Nothing is more stupid than this madness of war cry in this supposedly peace-loving season.

To be continued tomorrow…

Public Speech: A Chance to Demonstrate Your Ability

On 11/20, early Saturday, I drove my daughter to University Academy for regional AcaDec competition. She was practising public speech all the way there. This reminded me of the time when my son was doing the same thing to prepare for one of the events at the AcaDec — public speech.

I remember having written something on public speech in leadership category. Still, I have to emphasize once again its importance. You don’t have the chance to make yourself known to many people. Hence, your speech at a large gathering provides you an opportunity to broadcast the best of you and to demonstrate the inner value that you normally have no chance to reveal. You can gain instant recognition simply by making an outstanding speech at such a gathering.

Of course, the speech has to be of high quality, revealing a clear thinking and a well-thought insight, with consistency, coherence and good organization. It takes some practice to reach this level.

What Does Leadership Mean for High School Students

Last Friday after school, 11/12, I took my daughter to her skating lesson, first time after she got well. She felt a bit shaky at first but gradually gained strength and back in shape. While waiting for her, I was chatting with another parent about leadership for high schoolers. Though I have learned a lot about leadership during our company’s leadership workshop, I don’t want to elaborate too much on this simple concept. I shared with her the following key components.

Leadership means taking initiative, taking the lead among your peers, even if you are not the leader;
Leaders can influence others with their ideas so that people will follow the lead;
Leaders do not need to be told when an action is needed;
Leaders are self-motivated and self-directed;
Leaders are locomotives of the train while followers are the carriages.

An example of leadership in action — you find the need to raise awareness for environment protection in your school and there is no organization fulfilling this function. Hence, you start an environmental protection club…

Martin Luther, a Leader Possessing Knowledge and Courage

While my daughter was working on European History course, I also picked up a book on the subject in fall this year. I have been very much impressed by many remarkable individuals in European history. One of my favorites is Martin Luther, the man of great learning and courage.

He initiated the religious reformation movement in western world, thus ending the papal dominance and permanently dividing Christianity into two large camps: Catholics and Protestants.

He was first of all an intellectual. I love intellectuals because they are intelligent, learned and must have worked hard to achieve that level of knowledge.

Knowledge is power, citing the famous word of Francis Bacon. Luther belonged to the rank of great individuals because of his knowledge and courage to stand by what he believed.

Knowledge empowers and encourages one to rise above the crowd and consequently be the leader moving the history forward. So was it at the time of Martin Luther, so it is at the present.

P.S. Yesterday I tried to view this site, but was blocked. I had a feeling that some big change was going to happen. This feeling was confirmed when I read this shocking news, “McKesson to buy US Oncology for $2.2 billion.”

Take Initiative, Take the Lead

Last Saturday morning, on the way to the City Market, I talked to my daughter about one of the qualities of a leader — take initiative.

Most people need someone to tell them what to do either at school or at work. If they are not at either place, they are clueless as what they can do. They might spend a long time looking for a job, but they do not know how to put value into their prolonged job-hunting time.

A leader never needs to be told. She can always find some meaningful activities to put value into her time, in addition to job-hunting. While looking for a job, she will take initiative by seeking out any place that can make use of her talent to render services, free of any compensations.

By injecting value into her time, she will have a meaningful life story to add to her resume. The prospective employer will see in her the leadership quality, the one that no money can buy.

If anything, she distinguishes herself from the majority with her self-initiated experience. Therefore, I wish my children will develop leadership skill by taking initiative and taking the lead. Never ever in your lifetime should you waste time waiting for a boss to control your time. Even after you find an employer, still, be your own boss even when you work for others.

The Qualities of a Leader: An Example

On 9/23/2010, during our monthly meeting, we invited the pharmacy manager of the company to give us a talk on chemo drugs. I knew who she was before but I had been wondering, young as she looks, at most early 30s, how she became pharmacy manager of our company. I am sure there are other pharmacy PhD holders with more experience than she is. What distinguishes her from the other pharmacy folks?

That day my question was answered. She is not just knowledgeable in her field. Much more than this, she impresses me as someone whose mind is far above daily pharmacy activities. She overviews the drug development history, sees the big picture, pattern of research, and the trend of future development.

What I see is the quality of a leader in her that goes above and beyond her knowledge of chemo drugs. This proves once more that it doesn’t matter which field a person is engaged and no matter how young she is, she can be a leader as long as she possesses the right qualities.

I shared my thought with my daughter after that.

How to Resolve Interpersonal Conflict VI: Aggression vs Assertive Confrontation

During the workshop, we talked about the difference between aggression and assertive confrontation. People tend to associate confrontation with aggression, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It is much easier to be assertive if you confront a situation the first time you realize there is a problem and deal with it tactically.

If you fail to be assertive and avoid conflict by putting it off, the problem will never go away by itself. On the contrary, you run the risk of making it worse. The longer the situation continues, the more anger and frustration builds up inside you. Finally, you let it go, and direct that anger towards the other person.

To make sure that your communication remains assertive, be certain that you present facts as facts, feelings as feelings, and opinions as opinions. Don’t mix them up. Confronting a situation right away also reduces the temptation to refer back to previous incidents, which tends to shift the focus from prevention of a future occurrence to finding out exactly what happened in the past.

In one word, be assertive and timely so when you have to be this way and never let anger and frustration build up and eat you up. This applies to all sorts of conflicts.

P.S. I started working on two locations since this Monday, SW and SMMC. When I went back to SW, old friends greeted me with so much enthusiasm, which made me embarrassed as I could hardly remember their names.

How to Resolve Interpersonal Conflict V

We learned from the workshop that sometime it is better to confront the person than to avoid her. We can stop some type of conflict from escalating through constructive confrontation.

Constructive confrontation can be a real challenge, but when it is done correctly, it prevents tension and minimizes defensiveness. There are three key elements to a successful constructive confrontation.

(1) Assertive: support your confrontation with clear, direct communication that isn’t blaming or condemning. Assertive communication describes your reaction to the behavior, and doesn’t make judgments about the person or the motives behind the confrontation.

(2) Current: confront unacceptable behavior when it happens. If that’s not possible, you can still confront the person shortly afterwards, but it is unacceptable to bring up incidents long after they’ve occurred. Referring to misdemeanors that happened a long time ago increases the possibility of conflict because both parties are more concerned about proving what really happened.

(3) Specific: when you confront unacceptable behavior, you need to be specific about what needs to change, or what you want to happen in the future. The other person should know exactly what is expected of him, and your words should not be ambiguous or open to individual interpretation.

Keep in mind these these elements when you have to confront someone with some unpleasant issues.

How to Resolve Interpersonal Conflict IV

One of the ways of dealing with conflict that we learned is avoidance. This is part of the workshop that I had on 9/21/2010. I had not planned to write on this topic before, but something happened on that evening that made up my mind. Because I want my children to be free from this mode of behavior.

Life is full of conflicts and unpleasant encounters of diverse forms. You have to pick your fight, the one that is worth putting effort or running the risk of creating ill feelings. It would be an extreme waste of time and energy to split hairs over insignificant issues.

A typical example of splitting hairs.
“You did it. I remember it.” A said, over a very trifle matter.
“No, I have never done it. You remember it wrong,” B insisted and came up with some explanation.
“Yes, I remember clearly you did it the other day.” A raised the voice.
“OK, it’s so trivial. I don’t want to argue about it any more,” B gave up in disgust.
“I am not arguing with you. I just want to find out the truth. And the truth is you are wrong. You have done it.” A returned.
“Does it matter that much that I am wrong and you are right over this trivial? OK, you are right and I am wrong. I don’t care whatever and I don’t want to say anything anymore.” B’s last word on this.
“Yes, it does matter and you are wrong, whether or not you care. You have to admit you have done it…” A continued endlessly because A desperately wants two things (1) B is wrong (2) A must have the last word, as if that were the most important thing in A’s life.

This is the type of conflict that we should avoid at any cost.

How to Resolve Interpersonal Conflict

Now we know the two types of conflict and that we should avoid affective conflict by keeping emotion out of it. Here are four methods in creating an environment conducive to cognitive conflict and keeping conflict constructive.

(1) Empathy
Show empathy for the other people’s idea before you oppose it. Try to remain positive when others question your ideas, but don’t reciprocate the empathy. Remember that such questioning is a necessary part of the critical thinking process. e.g. I understand why you …. but

(2) Focus on the issue, not the person.
Be careful to avoid personal criticism, sarcasm, and blame, even if the other person does not do the same. Instead, communicate a willingness to understand, and stick to the problem being discussed.

(3) Focus on interests, and not your position.
It is easy to react aggressively when you are being challenged. But if you are more concerned about whether you are winning or losing, you forget what you initially wanted to achieve.

(4) Focus on the future, not the past.
Resist the temptation to use past behaviors, incidents, or problems to prove your point, unless there is something positive to be learned from them, or an aspect that can be applied in this new situation. e.g. I think there should be some kind of contingency plan in the future for cases like this.

These four methods are so wonderfully useful for parents, too.

Two Types of Interpersonal Conflict

At workplace, people with different goals, ideas, and cultural and ethnic background provide the best breeding environment for conflicts of all sorts. There are two broad types of conflict–affective and cognitive.

Affective — focus on individual, is emotional, personal. It is based on feelings of anger, mistrust, dislike, fear, resentment, etc. Filled with sarcasm, personal criticism, trash-talk, puts-downs and even dirty words, it is usually destructive, particularly if it is allowed to escalate, easily precipitating into something out of control. We often see the eruption of this type of conflict in a family setting, typically between a parent and a headstrong teenager.

Cognitive — focus on issue, substantive, exclusively issue-related topic. Rational and not emotional. It occurs when people disagree over such things as procedures, opinions, and reasoning process. It can be constructive when it is dealt with correctly. e.g. “I think this would not be feasible since we only have one week before deadline.”

Sometimes, a conflict starts as cognitive, but slips into affective when people start focus on person instead of issues.

P.S. my daughter does not have school today, so I take today off.

Interpersonal Conflict, a Healthy Part of Daily Life II

Continued from yesterday’s topic.
There are some myths about conflicts. 1) conflict is undesirable, hence we should avoid creating it or avoid dealing with it. 2) Conflict is something you can avoid.

As a matter of fact, conflict is both unavoidable and a healthy part of our daily interactions, no matter where you are. What we need is a positive attitude toward conflict, seeing conflict as a source of information and an opportunity for growth and a chance of turning things for the better, not a problem to avoid or put off.

Check out this situation — when the child stays on the internet for hours without getting his homework done or he is watching TV shows way past his bedtime or he is a picky eater, no veggie whatsoever. Imagine the conflict when his parents try to intervene. For the benefit of the minor, in situation like this, parents must step in. Imagine what would happen to the child if the parents leave the child alone for fear for causing conflict! I know some parents give green lights to whatever the kids please, resulting in stinky spoiled ones.

In fact, these are conflicts of very rudimentary nature. The challenge is to learn how to handle that of more complicated kind of conflict, typically among adults or between parents and their teenage children.

Interpersonal Conflict, a Healthy Part of Daily Life 1

We had a course as part of leadership workshop on 9/21/2010. It was on conflict resolution. Prior to that we needed to take an online course, titled “Resolving Conflict with Communication Skills.”

As I got deeper into the course, I found it both interesting and instructive. Not because it works wonder for any workplace conflict, but it seems more fitting for any conflict in a more intimate environment like in a family.

The culture at our company is characterized by non-confrontation, strengthened by wide-spread passive aggressiveness and behind-the-back gossiping, with total absence of open conflict. Hence, though this course might make sense elsewhere, it seems out of touch with the reality of our company.

To me, the course throws some light on the conflict in a family. I am going to share my gains from it in a few postings.


Notes on Leaders and Leadership Workshop

Two postitive moves at work.
(1) On 7/15/2010, one of my colleagues left for another company. I think she has lots of guts in taking this step. Changes often involve risks, uncertainty and the unknown. Most people, even if they are not happy with their status quo, would not venture into a new territory and meet the challenge by leaving the old familiar workplace. To me, she is more courageous than most of the colleagues that I see around me.

(2) On 7/20, during one of the leadership workshops, I had a nice chat with the organizer of these workshops. It is amazing to see how she has grown and developed all
these years from an unhappy receptionist to the current management position. Quietly she went to college after work to earn both bachelor and master degrees and moving up and up. Two features I find that distinguishes her from the rest of the herd are: 1) no small talk even if she is among the ordinary folks 2) tenaciously goal-oriented.

People at leadership workshop talk about company’s annual survey with disbelief. When I mentioned that these surveys were annonymous, a colleague said, “Really!” with a rather cynical tone. Some of them don’t come out with what they truly believe for fear of negative percussion. Imagine what it says about the culture of the company.

Leaderships — Four Different Styles

I am pretty sure I have written about leadership styles before, still I found it helpful to re-visit these styles for parents and for those who want to excel at work. I am not sure which style works best for parents, but I know children resent greatly against authoritative parenting style. By the way, parents are leaders, too. Here are four leadership styles.

(1) Authoritative style
An authoritative leader is one who exerts his authority and expects obedience. He is the parental figure. If you do what he says when he says it, you will be rewarded. If you oppose his authority, you will be punished. This type of leadership is becoming archaic, though still in existence. Most people won’t tolerate being treated like children.
–An authoritative leader never consult others before making the decision
–He does not listen to other people’s ideas when he presents his decision
–He expected immediate compliance and becomes irritated when someone questions his authority.

(2) Receptive style
A leader who has a receptive style has authority but chooses to discuss ideas and plans with his team before making final call. She practices active listening, and proactive leadership

(3) Independent style
An independent leader promotes independence among his employees. He allows them a large amount of autonomy and reduces his own role to that of an assistant. That is, he helps group members by making information more accessible, and he acts as the go-between for the rest of the organization. In essence, he is the point man. This style allows group members to focus on delivering a quality product in a timely manner. The independent leader has authority but prefers to exercise it as little as possible.

(4) Flexible style
When you have to change your style depending on the project circumstances or each group member’s ability to do the job, you should use the flexible style. That is, go with the flow.

Flexible leaders use a variety of techniques to get the best results for the customers and for each team member. You might need to coach one person, train someone else, let go of another, or give explicit instructions to a different person.

Personally, I prefer flexible style, but then this seems the most challenging one of all. On the other end, authoritative style is the easiest of all, both for leaders and parents.

A General With a Loose Tongue: Bad Habit Hit Hard

Below are some excerpts from General Stanley McChrystal’s interview with Rolling Stone magazine.

He was quoted saying he felt “betrayed” by the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, who last year argued against troop increases in a telegram to the White House that was leaked to the media. “I like Karl, I’ve known him for years, but they’d never said anything like that to us before. Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books. Now if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so’.”

US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke is a veteran diplomat with whom the general would be expected to work closely. But the general was dismissive when he received a message from Mr Holbrooke on his BlackBerry. “Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke. I don’t even want to open it.”

The general reluctantly attended a dinner in Paris as part of a mission to persuade the French government to maintain its efforts in Afghanistan. He was quoted saying “I’d rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people than go out to this dinner… Unfortunately, no one in this room could do it.”

When he was asked about Vice-President Joe Biden, and the general laughing as he says: “Are you asking about Vice-President Biden? Who’s that?”

One unnamed adviser says Gen McChrystal was disappointed after his first meeting with President Barack Obama.

Another unnamed aide dismisses Gen James Jones, the Obama administration’s national security adviser, as a “clown” who is “stuck in 1985”.

As the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, a striking high-profiled public figure, you would expect General McChrystal to behave with some political acumen and canniness and would think more than twice before popping out those flippant and dismissive remarks about top Obama administration officials. You would think he did this by accident. No.

First, he talked with an attitude. It is okay to hold a different view but the general should know better than airing his view through this channel. Second, what I see is an undisciplined habit of tossing out of his mouth improper words and comments without going through any mental filtering. He might blurt out inadvertently, but his listeners are never inadvertent.

If you are an ordinary citizen, you can get away with this casual blurting. But this casual habit will cost your position and even career if you are in a leadership position. To be a worthy leader in any field, your behavior must be exemplary in the eye of public. So it is true with good parenting. I wish my children can learn a lesson from the fall of general McChrystal.

Leaders — Six Fundamental Qualities

We are going to have another round of leadership workshop. Before that, I reviewed some of the handouts that I had last year. I found it especially relevant today for both of my children. In fact, these are pretty good qualities for anyone with the desire for constant self-improvement and self-evolution. Hence, my notes on the six qualities are out with readers today.

(1) Ethics
You need to have a clear sense of right and wrong. Define clearly your values and beliefs. Know what you will and won’t do to obtain your goals. You must be consistently ethical if you want to earn the trust and respect of your peers and thus be a successful leader.

(2) Empathy
Show that you care about thoughts and ideas of the employees and your co-workers. Listen to them. Learn about the strengths and ask how to use them to help them meet a goal that will benefit all. Finally, understand the concerns of the employees and take them into consideration.

(3) Curiosity
Keep learning. Life moves pretty fast; you need to keep up with it if you want to be effective. Use your knowledge to refine and reach your goals. Informed decisions are the only kind of decisions you should make.

(4) Vision
Look at the world a little differently from how everyone else does. Reach into the chaos and pull out order. Offer solutions. You should know where you want to go, and you should have the ability to make plans for getting there.

(5) Courage
As Marie Curie said, “Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood.” It takes courage to follow your dreams. Face your fears. Learn about them. Then master them.

(6) Communication
You must be able to express your interest in others and your total belief in your vision. Communication is the glue that ties it all together. Without that connection, everything else is nothing more than good intentions.

In summary, to be a leader, you must be ethical, curious, empathetic, and courageous, as well as a visionary and a strong communicator.

Alas, life is so great and beautiful when we imagine working with leaders with these wonderful qualities! Even better, we ourselves possess all these excellent qualities and make difference whenever we are!

SMART Action Plan from Workshop 4

Continue with the leadership workshop from 8/10/09 post — Results Orientation & Achievement, SMART plan. To be sure, SMART plan is nothing new to me, but it was amazing to observe how it was tried out here in class.

Two major problems came up during the experiment:
(1) The SMART plan was not well laid out in the first place. Nearly all present, except me, did not know how to write a SMART plan — Specific, Measurable, Agreeable-upon, Realistic and Time-bound.

(2) It is so easy to get disengaged from the original plan. It takes some discipline to religiously follow one’s plan. Yes, discipline is very much missing among people here. Otherwise, they would not be here at all.

The root of problem with most of people is their just-do-it attitude without a well-designed plan to follow, to verify and test the result to see if, in the end, we reach our goal and get what we specifically want. It is like driving out for a vacation without any planning. It runs against a Chinese saying — “Never engage in an unprepared war.” (bu da wu zhun bei zhi zhang) Imagine my frustration working with them. Alas, so much to learn just by observing these lovely people!

Workshop #6: Planning & Organizing Work, and time management tools. Sometimes we complain about lack of time, I think it very beneficial to use action-priority matrix to exam how we use our time –identifying Major Projects, Hard Slogs, Quick Wins, and Fill-Ins.

What often happens is we tend to spend more time on “Fill Ins” when we should be on “Major projects.” Once again, it takes some self-discipline to focus on “Critical activities” and to stay away from “Distractions.”

I have shared these time management tools with my son who runs out of time all the time. I sincerely believe these tools are essential to manage time well.

Communication Style, Teamwork from Workshop 3

We went through self-assessment test to find out our own communication styles during this workshop. We learned four major types of communication styles- Open, Close, Direct, Indirect. Thinkers/Analyzers tend to be close-indirect. Yes, that is me.

Miscommunication is likely to occur between people of different styles. The emphasis is on understanding the difference. Once you know a person’s communication style, communication is likely to go smoothly. As a Chinese saying goes, “Know yourself, know your enemy, every battle can be won.”

The fourth workshop focused on Critical Thinking & Problem Solving. We talked about three problem-solving techniques. Personally, I believe 5-Whys Analysis is the worst of all. We are unable to provide a clear answer to any of the questions when we allow ourselves to be led one question after another, like chasing the tail of all without catching any. Fishbone diagram lays out all aspects of concerns, allowing us to better visualize the problem. This is my favorite one.

Traits of Outstanding Leaders from Workshop 1

Yesterday was our last leadership workshop. To be honest, I am glad to see the end of it because I am getting more and more impatient sitting with the rest of the class. Though I have learned a lot, I also become a bit frustrated with the prejudice, ignorance and general lack of enlightenment that I encountered.

Workshop #1:
We learn traits of outstanding leaders.
1) Nurturing ongoing and interactive relationships
2) Being in touch with innermost thoughts, feelings, and values.
3) Walking the talk — act in a manner that is consistent with your words.
4) Leading by influence — use influence instead of power or authority.

What I learned from this workshop are:
(1) Leaders are human first, leaders second.
(2) Leaders are not necessarily managers, though it is very easy to confuse the two.
(3) You don’t have to be in leadership position to lead. You play the role of a lead any time you play a positive role or reach out to energize and influence people around.
(4) I challenge myself with this question: is it really a big challenge to be such a lead?
(5) I just realized that I have not been fortunate enough to meet a leader with any of these traits. A sad realization, even sadder sitting with a group so much void of these traits.

To be continued…on this favorite topic of mine.
Do you know the datetime lined up perfectly once in your lifetime? Enjoy the Friday, thanks to a friend of mine.
12:34:56 07/08/09
12 34 56 7 8 9

Ability to Listen and Understand — Key to Grow and Development

Last Thursday’s leadership workshop was not consummated with a happy smile on the face of all the attendants. Thus, the next day, the organizor emailed everybody to see if anyone had any more to say on the topic. The email ended asking for more feedback, but then, the person wanted the follow up to be “on a positive note.”

I was toying with these thoughts and was very much attempted to reply-all with the following, but then I only sent it to the organizor because I am sure it is too far above most of people if I do.

(1) Why people express negative views when they know it is going to be anonymous? Is this the only way for people to tell what they truly think?

(2) All we have to do is to listen and understand. What happened during the meeting reveals nothing but our mental inability even to listen to anything negative without getting hot-headedly defensive. Does this attitude help to lead and transform all forces into productive and positive ones? What does it say about the accomplishment of this leadership workshop? If we cannot bear the different views, does it constitute the essence of intolerance?

I believe the company, like a person, can benefit tremendously from listening. On the note of self-checking, if the purpose of the workshop is to lead and influence, regardless of what, what do we learn if all we can say to those who express views different from that of ours is “You can leave the company if you don’t like it?” Is it so hopelessly difficult to change people who came in to workshop with prejudice and went away unchanged?

So much for a wonderful sunny Monday.

Traits of Outstanding Leaders and Parents

We are having a workshop on leadership lately. Not sure if it is ever useful to me. Still, as I am exposed to some ideas on leadership, I have discovered that these are actually nice ideas, so wonderful that I am going to share with the readers here. It might be of some help to us as parents. You might be surprised to learn that leaders are humans first, leaders second.

Traits of Outstanding Leaders and Parents.
To be sure, the workshop was never on parents, but I keep thinking it for parents. Call it professional bias. Here are the four major traits.
1) Nurturing ongoing and interactive relationships
~~~~Allow for an equal exchange of ideas (so that they feel comfortable speaking up what they have in mind)
~~~~Consider the needs of employees (show you care about them)
~~~~Meet the needs of employees (so that they are willing to go extra miles for you)
~~~~Validate employees’ concerns (you actually listen to them)

2) Being in touch with innermost thoughts, feelings, and values.
~~~~Cultivating alone time
~~~~Connecting with nature
~~~~Assuming distance from the mission
~~~~Mediating and thinking deeply
~~~~Enjoying silence and solitude
~~~~Reflecting and writing
~~~~Visualizing and relaxing
~~~~Exercise regularly
~~~~Reading continually
~~~~Engaging in creative activities
~~~~Knowing yourself
Have some time at the end of the day for yourself, stick to your exercise schedule, take time to relax. Some people say exercise is an outlet, letting out the steam built up inside.

3) Walking the talk— act in a manner that is consistent with your words, practice what you preach. It is the epitome of leading when talk and actions fuse. Good leaders must truly believe in what they are doing. Sounds so familiar to me. Of course, the leaders learn it from Parents magazine.

4) Leading by influence — use influence instead of force. No spanking, that is.

It gives me such a warm fuzzy feeling to imagine having leaders fully equipped with these traits. Well, don’t be silly.

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