Dancing with Angels

Dad

My father came from the “old-school” having witnessed the Second World War, the Japanese occupation, the American liberation, and the rise and fall of my grandfather’s cigarette factory. I came into his office when I was around nine years old in the early 80s where the place was just buzzing with busyness as men and women were walking by. Typewriters and telex machines were tapping away in the background as he opened a listing from a book called “The Top 1000 Corporations of the Philippines”. There his company was listed somewhere in the 700s as he pointed at it with his thick stubby index finger projecting from a cuff perfectly extending from his suit sleeve. He says: “Blood, sweat and tears! You need to work like a Devil to dance like an Angel”. He’s up there right now with the angels looking down with a high-brow probably saying; “Well, my son is still working at it!”

A bible verse goes: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Indeed the verse should ring louder for many executives as one would usually encounter a “Faustian Bargain” of sorts especially when they move higher up the corporate ladder. “Everything has a price” as my father would say. I have witnessed, (having been one) many executives who play the risk and bargain of moving up the ladder only to forfeit their health and eventually their quality of life. The wagers are often high! We tend to overlook the quality of our relationships with our loved ones and friends and unfortunately, we also neglect ourselves.

This is not to scold anyone; because I know how it is in the C-Suite when you’re just about to pack up for work at 6:30 PM, your boss peers his head into the office to say: “We have a dinner meeting at 8:00! I’ll meet you up front at 7:30!” There is a huge gap between doing your job really well and understanding and working the business. The latter takes a higher level of commitment which sometimes supersedes many other priorities. Business usually comes first.

There is also a career paradox that creeps into a lot of our decisions. Charles Handy in his book “The Age of Paradox” says that we usually work on our careers so that we earn a better quality of life. However, what happens is usually the reverse. We work so hard that we start neglecting our health. And once we do, our effectiveness at work starts to diminish as well. We work so hard just to appreciate that it takes more resources to guard your health through corrective measures. Sadly the most you get in the end is just a bunch of “stuff”.

In 2012, I had the best year “career-wise” when I often rode a private plane to and from work. I racked up at least 26 billable days per month. We were liquid. We had a lot of cash in the bank but along with it was my obvious gain in girth. While I tried to put in the hours as a “weekend warrior” biking my lungs out whenever I had the time, still the executive life caught up to me. Not to mention the loss of sleep and missing some important dates in my family’s life. Sure, work was good! But when January 2013 came around, I failed the stress-test on my APE (Annual Physical Exam)! After spending a thousand dollars on bike parts, I found that my body was the one in need of dire repair. I was put on a stricter diet and a regimen of Statins and Anti-Hypertension medication. Climbing high could also lead to a crash.

The paradox of career success and health is inversely structured. In your progression towards the top we slowly tip the work-life balance in favour of advancement. We focus on building our careers with the justification of seeking a higher quality of life. We do get to a sweet spot that gets stretched at some point, but somehow the allure of success and a skewed sense of purpose slowly tend to reel us into the career track. Every decision (even the smallest ones) that we make between work and everything else works along a zero-sum sort-of balance sheet that crediting hours to work takes away from either yourself, family, society, and fitness. In the end some of these accounts cannot afford to give anymore. At this point you need to re-align your priorities!

We have to realise that our bodies can only take so much. And just as you would demand for your mind and body to remain productive, it is subjected to physical principles and limitations. What I did learn from working with competitive athletes, of which some are successful entrepreneurs, is that we need to adapt a “physical performance mindset.” At the end of long days of conflict where you seem to be pulled apart in different directions, you will realise that you only have one body. Take care of it! Upgrade it! Enforce a renewal!

  • Time and Motion = Time and Energy. Always set aside the time to condition your body and mind for peak performance. Invest in fitness and you will find that you can push your energies a bit further every time it’s called for. You cannot be the dynamic leader you want to be, if your body is not willing.
  • Manage your Exercise like a task! Invest at least 2 hours a week in cardiovascular exercises. Set appointments with your workout tasks on your calendar. 2 hours can be broken down into four 30-minute sessions. Keeping this into a discipline you will soon realise that you are exercising most days of the week. That in itself is an accomplishment!
  • Find some exercise hacks! Make it convenient enough so that you don’t have an excuse.
    • Buy a pair of running shoes and pack them along whenever you travel. Running is a great way to see a new place.
    • Pack a ready gym bag in the car so you’re always ready to go when your schedule opens up a window to hit the company gym.
    • Learn the “7-Minute workout” so you can work out in your hotel room.
  • Acquire a health baseline. Visit your health professional and get an accurate assessment of your health and fitness. Finding the “need” to correct matters could start you off on the right path with the right priorities.

Investing in yourself yields enormous returns on actual work output and effectiveness. You will find that with exercise, you will have more energy for increasing demands across all areas of life. Being in touch with your body also means you have the ability to listen to what it is saying, whether or not it could push itself or ask you to slow down and recover. Time may be inflexible but with exercise, you can feel that energy could be elastic.

Looking fit and healthy can also give you a boost in your career. A leader who knows how to manage himself and his energy across a wide range of demands is “Fit to Lead”. If your outward appearance seems like it could take an extra assignment, so shall these opportunities open up to you. You will always be that person who looks fit for the job. In a study published by Frontiers in Neuroscience “New evidence suggests that healthy-looking individuals are perceived as better leaders, even over intelligent-looking people.” So if you are looking to increase your executive / leadership clout, you might as well start with yourself! “Be Fit to Lead!”

The familiar paradigms of the old-school need to be redefined in the modern age though they both point to the same thing: “Commitment”. As my dad would say, “You need to have your hands bleed practicing, in order for you to be exceptional”. But I would like to redefine blood sweat and tears along the following directions:

  • Blood: Commitment, Trust, Loyalty with the ones you lead and those who matter. Be willing to give yourself to them.
  • Sweat: Giving yourself 100% to every task, in everything that your do. Strive for excellence and exceptional results.
  • Tears: Connect with those that matter. Engage them even at an emotional level. Everything is personal. “Business is personal”.

My dad is up there saying: “See I told you so!” But dad! It’s more than just you saying it, experience and science say so as well!

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The People versus Strategy Disconnect

John Walter Baybay
Originally Published in The Star Malaysia – Leaderonomics 10.20.14

Now is that time of the year when companies are going back to the drawing boards for Strategic Planning. C-Level executives are busy these coming days retreating into their war-rooms with their reports and scrambling about the figures from last year only to realise that much of their strategies have failed to work. What is it about strategic planning that we tend to get wrong?

The practice of Strategic development is as old as civilisation itself. The earliest evidence have been seen etched on the walls of Egypt as early as 1303 BC when Ramses II immortalised his conquest of lower Egypt. Sun Tzu came out with many of his treatise regrading the “Art of War” back in 772-481 BC and Machiavelli wrote The Prince supposedly around 1513. There has been much strategy and conquest since those times. Michael Porter wrote the bible of corporate strategy in “Competitive Advantage” while Kim & Mauborgne later wrote “Value Innovation” in what was later popularised as “Blue Ocean Strategy” in 2005. Battlefields have transitioned to boardrooms after the industrial revolution and yet we still have much to learn about how strategy is executed into reality.

The problem with strategy is really not about the strategy itself but rather Its failure in “execution”. “Execution” is the item for reckoning and the fact that many C-Suite executives are scrambling at this point is due to the fact that they have failed many aspects. In a research conducted by The Economist, they found that around 80% of C-Suite executives are cognisant of their roles in developing strategy and building execution but the same research also reveals that only around 56% of strategic initiatives have been successfully implemented. What are the reasons for this disconnection?

The solution seems to be rooted in people’s perception of what strategy is:

Strategy is a Statement: It is that set of VMOGs (Vision, Mission, Objectives and Goals) written on a big plaque just as you enter the office. Everyone has this memorised but not everyone one knows what it means when they get into their cubicles!
Strategy is an Event: For C-Suite executives this is when all the numbers are reviewed and you are expected to give an excuse as to “why” things went wrong and present “how” you plan to get somewhere next year. You will use a number of strategic development frameworks. You defend your numbers and after everything is done, you say: “Whew! I’m glad I got away with that without losing my job!”
Strategy is an Action: In this best scenario, everyone knows and acts according to where the ship is meant to sail. They have a clear understanding of direction and how to get there. Strategy permeates every single task that they do and they are aware of their contribution to it.

I have spent many years working with executives in developing their corporate strategies. Much of the challenge I encounter is in cascading strategy into actionable initiatives and results. The journey towards creating a strategy cannot be confined in boardrooms and planning frameworks. What is often lacking is a clear transition between what is conceptual or abstract into something that everyone can grasp and translate into action in their daily working lives. For the most part, strategies tend to be cascaded from the top-down. I developed this illustration to explain this cascade:

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 7.40.34 PM

In the best cases of a typical “top-down” scenario, there is smooth transition between the strategic and tactical domains and everyone knows what to do. They have a clear understanding and commitment to their contribution to the overall strategy.

In an alternate approach strategic development could also be driven from an inverted pyramid where people down the line are recruited to developing top-level strategies. In this way, strategic planning turns into democratised process that ensures collaboration at every stage; from development to execution planning. The process tends to be inductive rather than deductive.

By engaging people who primarily work within the operational domain, strategy is better understood to include the strategic and the operational perspectives. Cross functional collaboration also ensures that strategy is understood down the line by making sure that everyone is looking at the same thing. Everyone knows where they are amidst competition, where they need to be, what they need to do and how to get there.

The key to jumping the execution hurdle is never going to be about answering the “whats, where” and the “hows” but rather the “WHOS”.The most often overlooked partner to strategic effectiveness within the organisation is usually the HR Department. Organisations have a wellspring of talent who can move up from the tactical domains to the strategic domains. There is huge catchment of talent waiting to be developed. HR could also facilitate and create the processes for inclusion and collaboration between levels to develop and execute an effective strategy. Perhaps the “people championing” role has relegated HR into a supportive rather than a hard strategic role over the years but that also needs to change to deliver the numbers.

Leadership in the Time of Crisis

John Baybay 09.10.14 (As Published in the Star of Malaysia)

In a previous article where I spoke about courage, I briefly described the situation of having to be driven into the deep forests of Mindanao passing at least three military checkpoints in a vehicle escorted by heavily armed men. While being in an area of prevalent insurgency and where kidnapping was good business especially with the presence of international mining companies having frequent visits from well-paid expats, there is a static presence of risk and threats to security. While the threat looms over employees on site, this on occasion would sometime escalate to unimaginable speeds and urgency that differentiates an already tense situation to an actual crisis.

A few hours before my actual departure from site, transportation was running late, coordinating communication suddenly became scarce, and I was advised simply to be prepared for an unannounced pick-up. They specifically advised that my things must already be packed tightly (no loose articles) and to be ready at any time to jump into the vehicle and leave post-haste. I asked around what time the vehicle would arrive and they simply answered: “I cannot tell you, just be ready to jump into the vehicle once it arrives!” The phone was put down and a chilling tension came upon me in anticipation of the vehicle’s arrival. Within a few minutes, the pick-up arrives escorted fore and aft with armed men also in the back of pick-ups. They come to skidding stop on the dirt road fronting our camp. An armed man jumps out of the back of our pick-up reaching for my bags and hurrying me by saying: “Let’s Go! Let’s Go!” I jumped into the back seat where I sat next to the Chief Mining engineer and an Expat. We got up to speed in haste, careening at the sides of the mountains at full speed. There was a tense silence in the car with only the sound of my heart thumping in primal fear. The silence was then broken when the engineer says: “We apologise but there has been a threat of ambush advised by our intelligence!” He then casually started his story of being kidnapped once in Indonesia as if “It happens all the time”. The sick mitigating assurance for me is that they at least knew what to do with an impending security crisis. I am here after all writing this article some four years later.

Boardroom planners need to have a deep understanding of the differences between risk management/planning and actual “crisis management”. I have often done strategic lectures covering frameworks for scenario analysis using Causal Loop Diagrams and PESTEL (Political, Economic, Sociological, Technological, Environmental, Legal). While these frameworks are useful in giving us an appraisal of risks, it also tends to abstract the realism and urgency of an actual crisis when it is presented. This tends to differentiate boardroom strategists from war-room strategists. While in a boardroom a leader would ideally facilitate, steer, elicit and seek consensus to issues, a crisis manager might see it best instead to direct action. People sometimes must be “told” what to do instead of being asked.

Crisis is often defined by its urgency. There is no luxury of time for consensus gathering. According to S.J. Venette in “Risk Communication”, Crisis is defined by the following common elements: (a) Threat to the organisation (and its people), (b) The Element of Time and (c) Short Decision Time.
The consequence of having a crisis unmitigated and controlled are usually severe. The urgency and the crisis’ rate of escalation is what makes a crisis unique from other problems. A bad situation could take a sudden turn for the worst if not acted upon immediately. Surely it takes a different kind of leader when faced with a crisis situation. In this case, a leader is also expected to signal a crisis when it is impending or immediately upon its onset. It usually takes a certain amount of experience for leader to recognise when a threat could escalate into an actual crisis. At the onset of an eminent or actual crisis, a leader must be also be able to communicate effectively in order for the organisation to suddenly switch from prevailing a “businesses as usual” mindset into a “crisis mindset”. In the latter sense, a consent to direct immediate instruction and marshal resources at hand are temporarily given into the hands of a situational leader. These crisis leaders either rise up to the occasion at the onset or appointed immediately during the recognition or the signalling of an impending crisis.

In my experience in working with the exploration and mining industries, I found that these organisations are always vacillating in the frays of risk and crisis. They are usually subjected to natural and environmental risks, regulatory and social risks, security and insurgency / terrorist risk as well as confrontation and violence. The environment is volatile. I have found that the best crisis leaders are those that immediately take to the field to get a firm handle on the situation. It takes a certain amount of field command. An experienced crisis leader exhibits a certain “grace under pressure” while still acting urgently upon the situations presented to him.

The paradigms of planning still remain although these are taken up in faster cycles during a crisis. Intelligence / information and communication are paramount in importance. These three steps are usually taken up in constant and dynamic cycles: (a) situational appraisal and intelligence reporting (b) marshalling of resources (c) execution and monitoring. Strategic and tactical interventions are taken in very quick cycles until situations are controlled. I have seen crisis situations where round the clock (hour by hour) monitoring is required. War-room activity is hectic. When action and monitoring cycles are getting spaced apart, it usually signals the containment of crisis situations. This eventually stabilises and once announced as “under control” work resumes and activity then goes back to the usual pace.

The principles of Engagement also apply to Crisis Leadership. During a crisis situation, the most precious commodity that a leader should marshal is Trust. When leaders are trusted, it is easier for them to get a consensual control over direction and the marshalling of common resources. According to various sources there is usually a progression as to how trust is developed.

Confidence: The leader must be experienced and knowledgeable of the current situation
Integrity: The leader has a track-record of delivering on expectations and commitments
Trust: The leader can be trusted enough to direct people and resources in a way that is beneficial to the team and the organisation with utmost responsibility.

Modern business is now subjected to greater accountabilities under the public eye where corporate reputation is sometimes subjected to certain risks and probable crises. There are lessons to be learned across various industries and it’s always useful to look back and take examples of cases of crisis leadership and management as you can never tell when these skills are needed.

Credibility is Where the Leader’s Cookie Crumbles

Originally published in the Star of Malaysia – Leaderonomics Section
10.06.14

In a previous article about Crisis Leadership, I mentioned that there were four levels to Human Engagement as written by Gallup authors Fleming & Asplund. I explained that one has to progress from Confidence to Integrity, and from Integrity to Trust, and from Trust to Passion. There are four levels for this progression and ultimately, it becomes easier for us to understand the concept as to why people follow some leaders passionately. We are given the wrong impression that it is either we have it or we don’t. Passion is the result of process and one does not become an effective leader overnight. Even as I explained that Crisis Leaders have some of their leadership leant to the them by the situation, its implication also means that their authority is also consented upon them by the people they lead. There are however some prerequisites.

To emphasise: People “allow” leaders to lead them. While there are many cases where leadership has been implied or stated because of a position, this does not translate directly into influence which ultimately defines a leader’s effectiveness. Credibility is Where the Leader’s Cookie Crumbles! In John Maxwell’s book: “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”, he described his 6th Law as the “Law of Solid Ground” – Trust is the Foundation of Leadership (55).

Just as Fleming and Asplund describe Integrity and Trust in “The Human Sigma”, John Maxwell goes on further to describe the importance of Trust; I quote: “Trust is the foundation of leadership. To build trust, a leader must exemplify these qualities: competence, connection, and character”. While this could be considered as a generalised view of how trust is established, we could see how some of these elements we described have their equivalencies between Fleming & Asplund and John Maxwell. Competence is what builds into Confidence, while Integrity and Character builds into Trust. Trust and Passion are the ultimate result.

There seems to be a common understanding that competence is linked to knowledge or Intelligence Quotient (IQ) while connection could be classified as a function of Emotional Quotient (EQ) and most recently, character is linked with what is now knows as a Moral Quotient (MQ). Given these dimensions added to what is known to be prerequisites for effective leadership, one could easily recognise that you cannot get to the top with just intelligence alone. While knowledge and interpersonal skills and practice could give you the first two prerequisites, we have seen some of the most recognised leaders in history tumble with just one blow to his character.

Moral Quotient (MQ) tends to deal with person’s Integrity and forms much of the bases for trust. Integrity could be defined by its root word: “integer” which is a mathematical term that means “whole number” or a non-fraction. It is further defined as “one that is complete in itself”. The literal meaning lends a number of similes to a person’s character and integrity. A leader of integrity must be in a state of being undivided and consistent. There should be no dichotomy between a leader’s moral and professional life. There are no compromises when it comes to integrity and character.

A leader’s character and integrity are built over time as character is constantly built up with “consistency”. Character and trust cannot be gained overnight. Leaders are always set at the front lines of scrutiny. They are constantly being watched and assessed by people to see if the leaders will deliver consistently. It is implied that leaders and their followers have a psychological contract between them, such that leaders are beholden to their followers in constantly delivering on their promise. This consistency is what builds into integrity in forming his character and thereby results in the people’s trust. A lack in consistency and integrity therefore compromises a leader’s ability to lead. Above all things a person’s moral integrity defines his character and his capacity to for effective leadership.
JUMPING THE CREDIBILITY HURDLE
While we tend to look at effective leadership as the ultimate result of years of character development, we are also presented with the opportunity to lead on a daily basis. Keeping the long-term in sight, we need to use this day to build ourselves to be the leaders that we would like to become. We have to take ourselves back into first steps of developing an acceptable level of “credibility”. Credibility opens the doors to leadership but what exactly gets you through? Credibility simply put, is defined as the quality of being believed and eventually trusted.

Competence resulting in Confidence: A leader must exhibit a certain level of competence in knowing the subject matter, issues, and objectives at hand. While it might be asking too much to have a leader that knows everything, the leader must exhibit the ability to know where and from whom to find the answers to issues. Exhibiting an ability to navigate competently through issues develops confidence in the people you are leading. Do not pretend to be a “know-it-all”. Exhibit control responsibly and with respect for people and process.
Integrity as a Result of Consistency: Always deliver on your promises and be known as a leader who brings consistent results. It is inevitable for you to fail at certain objectives, but do so in a way which communicates how and why these failures happen without making your team members look bad. Take responsibility and focus on the root causes instead of passing the blame. People want to be led by people who make them feel safe. Always speak the truth and be who you say you are.

Being the leader you envision yourself to be might be a steep goal based on the many things we have said about integrity and character, but everyone needs to start somewhere. Start from where you are! Be excellent at work. Be a positive influence to the people around you. Be passionate about what you do and create a reputation for consistently delivering the results. Most of all, be true to yourself so that you could always speak and act with the truth. Perhaps if you cannot find yourself doing and leading from where you are in the next few years, then you owe to everyone else to lead yourself out from where you are into a workplace that is better for everyone.

Change Management and The Iron Lid

08.20.14 – Originally Published in the Star of Malaysia

The legacy of the industrial revolution has left much of what remains to be a way of thinking that the human organisation will respond predictably according to new concepts and strategies. Throughout the 80’s and 90’s the call for reengineering has popularised the subject matter with many of these, being also rebranded as change management. Awful as it may sound, the perils of not being able to effectively implement change could mean the demise of the organisation. Change management while it seems internally focused within the organisational context is actually dictated externally by the changing environment. Change or adaptation is forced rather than implied. Change is a matter of success and survival.

Change imperatives are so powerful that strategies need to be adjusted to the point where mission statements sometimes need to be overhauled. It is easy to craft change management initiatives within the confines of conceptual frameworks. It all makes sense on paper however when the rubber meets the road, we realise that the results of change initiatives are more difficult and less predictable than previously thought. The human element is often the most overlooked aspect of these initiatives.

COMMON REASONS FOR FAILURE

Focusing too much on the results rather than the process:
There is very little argument as to why change is needed in response to the changing environment. The top brass tends to look more at the ideal outcomes resulting from change, but have very little appreciation as to how it affects human individuals working in the organisation. The path to change is riddled with human land-mines. The human experience in implementing change is often wrought in emotional investment. Effective change management needs to focus on how it is implemented with sensitivity to the human experience as it is being effected. The focus should be shifted to process rather than pressing others for immediate results. Managers need to realise that they are managing the human experience within the organisation.

Motivational Misalignment:
Change management usually entails some changes in expectations from both the side of employers and employees. People in organisations tend to fall under the concept of a “Psychological Contract”. The Psychological Contract concept was popularised by organisational and behavioural theorists by the names of Chris Argyrist and Edgar Schein back in the 1960s. In their studies it was observed that employees and employers have an implied notion of what was expected of them as makers of the “psychological contract”. At the time of employment both employers and employees have a good idea of what to expect from each other. This expectation tends to be reinforced over time and becomes the basis of their relationship. When change is being implemented, these mutual expectations tend to get misaligned. The objectives of employees and the new expectations of employers get disconnected. It is like renegotiating the psychological contract. The old motivations for career advancement sometimes change along with some of the investments made in the old path. This causes a great deal of insecurity and distrust towards management. It is very important for managers and leaders to get down to the level of their employees to reinforce trust with the assurance that they care about the future and careers of their employees and the commitment remains for the mutual benefit of the employee and the employer. If personal motivations and corporate intentions remain to be misaligned, there is no way for the employee but to see his way out or just wait for a golden parachute.

Underestimating the Personal Impact of Change:
A focus on ideal results also overshadows the impact that is brought about by change. Leaders must realise that embracing change also entails being open to changing “the way we do things”. An employee spends years or even decades to be proficient in what he does. He is usually appraised and remunerated in similar ways. When change is evident, this investment to mastery is sometimes cast aside for new and improved processes. Also, rapid changes in the industry sometimes force companies to restructure their value chains to the point that some of their key activities could be outsourced, automated, or junked. The same goes for the people that use to own these processes, they could either be repurposed or scrapped. That is the prevailing fear among employees in company that is going through some major structural changes.

LEADERS AS SOLUTIONS
Fear often tends to point towards the worst scenarios. It is the role of leaders to accurately communicate the extent of change management initiatives as well as explain exactly what the process entails. Leaders must have a concrete knowledge and be able to explain the scope or extent of their change initiatives.

Blue Ocean Strategy Authors, Kim & Mauborgne explains that “Fair Process” needs to be observed and that Fair Process is described as having the 3E’s namely: Engagement, Explanation and Expectation clarity. This idea is self-explanatory in its simplicity where you “Engage” employees in discussing the strategic change initiatives, “Explaining” why and how this will be implemented, and clarifying the “Expectations” from the makers of this Psychological Contract.

The greatest barrier to change is often the leaders themselves, but they can also be the best pivotal elements in a successful change management initiative. The ability to change operates under the principle of an iron lid. Leaders can act as a lid or limit to change potential but conversely, they can also be the agents. When looking at implementing a change management program, the board also needs to identify localised leaders which form the vortices of influence within the organisation. These kingpins also serve as thermostats or regulators for organisational behaviour. Organisations need to identify, develop, and invest in the leaders within to effectively implement change. Leaders must also need to have a human approach towards their team in building confidence, integrity, and trust for a smoother transition. Focus on “how” you do it rather than blindly trying to achieve the “what”.

It’s The Way He Said It! Speaking the Unspoken Language

Originally Published in the Star Malaysia 07.09.14 for Leaderonomics

How many times have you heard someone walk into the room uttering the words: “It’s not what he said, It’s how he said it!” The phrase is usually said in negative reaction to messages uttered by bosses, who seem to be (as research would indicate) the primary reason why good employees leave the company. Could they have been simply misunderstood?

The workplace of the millennium has changed wherein there is greater integration of diversity from all aspects. We have multigenerational perspectives, gender as well as varying levels of cultural and ethnic diversities. This makes the workplace more dynamic for leaders who only want to come across and be able to communicate strategic direction or perhaps just maintain the delicate balance in the working environment. In other levels, being able to communicate extends beyond the doors of the office. You can be on the phone with a client or even face to face with them. In many varying aspects, it is easy to think that speaking another language could be a plus.

When I was working through school in the US, I worked in a clinic which processed almost 100 patients per day. During those moments of having to speak with many of them, I thought it would be great to learn how to speak Spanish. So I did, and I still carry this learning to this date. However it was not about the language per se where we received some of the most violent objections. Most of the time they complained about how they were treated through process delays but more importantly they were usually upset at how rudely they were treated by staff. “Rudeness” tends to be subjective as sometimes in multicultural environments, accents and inflections were grossly misinterpreted. In other aspects, this issue of communication is beyond words where you might find some cultures are more gesticulate than others. A head nod in one culture could be totally ambiguous or even opposite to another. A wave of the hand could either be a welcome or a curse. The effects of these non-verbal signals could be devastating. Subjective as it may be, these valid human encounters are worth managing.

The workplace is no different as people need to be considered as internal customers. As a leader you should also look at your staff as consumers of your leadership. But there’s more to communication than the spoken language. Most often you will find people again and again upset saying: “It’s not what he said, it’s how he said it!” Words seem to fail us, and even if I consider myself to be a pretty good writer, I still find myself having to meet face to face in order for me to accurately convey what I mean. According to recent articles, employees don’t leave their jobs they leave their leaders citing that “poor communication” is often the cause of the break-ups.

There is a huge amount of study which suggests that a majority of how we communicate is “non-verbal”. This is literally beyond words (pun intended) where most of our messages are construed mostly out of delivery rather than the words themselves. So goes the familiar phrase again: “It’s not what you say, but rather HOW you say it!” In a long term study conducted on communication, Researchers: Mehrabian & Wiener in 1967 and Mehrabian and Ferris in 1967 resulted upon the often quoted 55/38/7 formula.The numbers represent the percentages of importance of varying communication channels have with the belief that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.

While the percentages are often misused and misquoted, a vast majority would agree to the point that the majority of what we perceive is non-verbal cues over the actual words used and thus validates the issue that non-verbal communication and the unspoken language are equally if not more important than words in communication. This argument behooves leaders to take a closer look at “how” they say things rather than “what” they say.

Thousands of years before the invention of emails and even way beyond the fax machine, there was a classic tradition called oration. Oration or Ars Oratia was a Roman art of speaking in public which was linked to an inherited tradition from Greece. Oration was considered a highly developed professional competence that was necessary for leaders to learn. Even Julius Caesar during his youth was said to have been schooled by masters in Greece to learn this fine art. In modern times this Greco-Roman remains to be a highly developed professional competence that is traditionally carried by lawyers and politicians. In the modern sense from which most modern legal dramas are played, “Trial Lawyers” or Barristers take to the courtrooms to deliver a persuasive argument in front of juries and judges. With persuasion and influence being the desired effect of these skillful displays, it is easy to think that effective delivery goes beyond just words but everything else that delivers a persuasive argument.

In my own formal study as a speaker, we were also taught that delivery is much more than words and that delivery in the non-verbal aspect can be broken down into the following elements.

  • Vocalics or Paralinguistic – Beyond words this could include inflection, tone and pronunciation. This is how most perceptions are based. This is “how” things are said and therefore perceived or received. Pay attention to your tone of voice and the volume when you speak. Paralinguistic can also refer to sounds which are non words such as: hmmm, huh or ugh! Even if these sounds are not really words, they could be equally if not more communicative to the receiver.
  • Kinesics – includes gestures and facial expression. For example, the way you wave your arms around could affect the type of attention and reaction from your audience. When extremities are placed within a comfort zone, it could connote formality, diplomacy or sometimes defensiveness when arms are crossed or behind your back. A simple point of a finger could mean either specification or culpability.
  • Ocalics – is the use of your eyes or eye contact. This somehow is the primary point of connection with your audience. In some cultures and context, looking directly into someone’s eyes could be rude, while in some cultures if one does not look directly into the eyes, it could mean you’re hiding something and thus erodes trust. In public speaking, it is good to make eye contact with those that seem to be agreeing with you. It also helps ease pressure from the speaker as he feels like he’s connecting and conversing with his audience.
  • Proxemics – is the use of space between the speaker and the receiver. There are appropriate conventions to this that ranges from intimate (0-18”), personal (18”-4’), social (4’-12’) and public (12’-beyond). Cultural norms apply. Speakers usually stay within a 3 feet bubble, but using the space within a stage or a room by moving around could give the speaker a stronger presence. The movement also leads the audience to follow him thus creating more attention.
  • Haptics – is the use of touch. This type of body language is powerful as it could be inappropriate in some context. A touch on the wrist, the elbow or shoulder is a physical form of persuasion. Often used to connote a certain level of closeness and sympathy with the receiver. The touch is used to signal a receiver towards a concurring response or agreement. Please use this with extreme caution! It can also be construed as a form of flirting.
  • Chronemics – is the use of time and sequence. While it is expected for people to be prompt, in Latin cultures tardiness tends to be more acceptable; thus the term “fashionably late”. Tardiness is frowned upon in anglo-american cultures thus in a bilingual Hispanic American context appointments are usually specified as “Hora Latina” (Latin Hour which is +/- 30 mins) or “Hora Americana” (on the dot, or “en-punto”). On another note, for experienced speakers “the pause” which is a momentary moment of silence at the height of expectation is also used to draw tension, attention, and control for the speaker.
  • Objectics – is the use of objects such as rulers (as teachers would use), props, and illustrations to drive a point. Clothing, accessories, and even vehicles could also be used to lead the audience towards communicating a role and social status to direct an audience towards a desired response. This too is a form of non-verbal persuasion.

As a leader and communicator, one must recognize the importance of the unspoken language for effective communication. In the worst cases, “conflicting” messages are a result where non-verbal cues are inconsistent or at odds with the verbal message. This often leads to miscommunication and mistrust. The results could be extreme. It could even lead an employee to leave. On the other hand a combination of proper verbal and non-verbal cues could make a compelling message or a persuasive presentation that leads to positive action. Do remember that action within this context speaks louder than words. Learning the “unspoken language” could make you a more effective and persuasive leader in the workplace.

From Checkpoints to C-Suites: 4 Things That Can Help You Connect the Dots

John Walter S. Baybay

Originally Published in the Star of Malaysia Leaderonomics Section – 06.12.14
In Steve Jobs’ commencement speech in Stanford, he made mention of connecting the dots; and that connecting the dots only makes sense looking backwards and not forward. While I do have a full appreciation for this, many of my experiences may not be as glamorous as most people would think. More accurately, it was “somewhat” glamorous towards the end, but never ever glamorous in the beginning.

Seven years ago I took a field assignment to a place that not too many people would dare to go to. The Philippines is a country largely unexplored as an archipelago of more than 7000 islands with issues so socially complex that flying for less than an hour can take you to another place that is terribly unfamiliar and not to mention scary due to its reputation. Being flown to place that has been known in the news due to armed conflicts and where towns have been razed to the ground, does not seem to strike the traveler as a dream vacation. But duty does beckon and one could only hope that expectations can be reversed once you land. The problem is that it usually doesn’t!

2107_60529108328_960_nDue to the bigger hotel being fully booked, we had to stay in a small hotel that resembled a place that was left in the 70’s. I had imaginations of a CIA agent sitting in the corner of the same coffee shop wearing a red hawaiian shirt, dark wayfarers with a Pina Colada in one hand and a newspaper in the other. To make things worse, we were advised to leave post-haste in a white van that drove for more than an hour to a safe house to change into another vehicle which turns out to be a convoy of large pick-up trucks with the backs loaded with heavily armed men in fatigues. Off we went with a huge cloud of dust behind us as we were careening at the sides of a twisted mountain trail at full speed. There was an eerie silence in the car which is not typical of Filipinos (usually full of chatter and laughter) while I was accompanied by a young British colleague who came with me on my field assessment. We passed several military checkpoints which seemed customary to most in my company, but unsettling for me and the rest of the team. I was texting my wife for updates on how I was, still alive but not knowing exactly where I was. I was scared and as I looked at the phone, the bars which signified the signal and my connection to the rest of my life was getting lower and lower as we went deeper and deeper into the woods. The signal went down to zero and I felt like my lifeline to the rest of civilization was severed. What if something happened? Anything could happen! We could have been ambushed or kidnapped but then who would know? As I was clutching on to my phone, I sighed with fervent prayer saying: let me be OK. After that, a thought: “What am I doing? How did I get here?”

A few months back I was the Executive Director of a Trust that helped young people get into business through funding and mentoring. I worked in Enterprise Development at the International Labour Organization (ILO) as a Programme Manager from six years ago and this has been my career since 2001. With that I found myself in a pickup full of armed men six years later doing a feasibility assessment in a place where enterprise development was needed the most as part of a mining and perhaps post-conflict rehabilitation. I dialogued with some of the tribal leaders as well as the local mayor who shared a story of how his whole town was razed to the ground by rebels. People were walking with their families on the streets in an exodus out of town with only the belongings that survived with them. It was a razing of medieval proportions! With that story, he was even insinuating that I stayed longer for a better appreciation. My thought was: WHAT?

I did the assessment with a Micro Financing partner who later pulled out with the news that a micro financing worker was murdered during our stay. I left my footprints there, I sent in the report and called it a week of work.

Four years later I receive a call from the same lady that gave me the scary assignment in Mindanao. At that time I had just finished some of my best corporate consulting work after leaving the Economic Development sector. Corporate work is as glamorous as people would expect it to be. Being able to work in posh environments and brands that sparkle in your resume is always a delight. I was offered to work for another mining company for a year doing the same nature of work I did in Mindanao, but this time in a more hospitable environment. With some hesitation I took the job by instinct and I found myself flying in a private plane every week on site. Again I asked myself: “How did I get here?” The answer was actually simple, I just had to look back. There are a number of scenarios in the past that build into where I am right now.

The truth is that decades of experience has brought me to where I am. If I hadn’t worked for the ILO and the Prince’s Trust program thirteen years ago where I was screening up to 50 business plans per week, then I would not be the business planing consultant that I am now. With that experience of working with young entrepreneurs, I am now able to provide coaching and advisory services to some of the most recognizable entrepreneurs in the country. Many of those young people whom I have mentored and coached a decade ago have moved on to greater things as successful entrepreneurs. Some took the enriching experience to pursue very promising careers beyond school.

Another point is that If I had not taken that scary trip to Mindanao in the back of an armed pick-up and checkpoints, I would never have imagined taking a private plane to work and back on a weekly basis. My economic planning experience and analysis have brought me face to face with other firms such as Michael Porter’s Shared Value where I was able to showcase some of the best examples of how their own frameworks like Value Chain Analysis could be used on field. The experience has also allowed me to have a deeper look into some of the most compelling economic issues that plague our country. The first hand insight has led me to write some of my best work that is currently being referenced by many development economists online. Most importantly, it has developed a greater sense of social consciousness that has fueled many things I have written about. Without having taken the risk in the past I would not have the experience to write about this now.

(Loosely quoting Steve Jobs) Connecting the dots, looking forward is always hard. It is easier looking at the dots looking backwards. This said there are Four things that I want you to remember:

  1. Have courage: You will be faced with many unsettling circumstances in your life. Have the courage to move forward despite difficulties and remember that at the end of the day you will have 3 things: Your Faith, Your Family and Your Friends; With those things you will always have everything you need to move forward.
  2. Know Your USP: Know your Unique Selling Proposition. Know the skills and talents you have in the offering. Know your purpose and design.
  3. Create a strategy for yourself. Perhaps doing a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis on your own personal brand could be your first step?
    Opportunities for growth will always stretch you. Perhaps you might find yourself slightly inadequate or lacking experience. Take the opportunity anyway when presented. Walk through the open door and you will find that your ability to learn will always help you grow into a new role.
  4. Attraction: Who you are determines what and who you will attract. Look for patterns in opportunities that are recurrently being made available to you. If you’re always being shortlisted for certain assignments, then that gives you a clue as to what you are great at.

We learn more from mistakes than our triumphs. Make your mistakes early and you might find that many of those mishaps could even lead you towards a greater understanding of your potential. If there is anything you must do, it is that you must keep moving forward. Keep connecting dots. The further you move along, a greater image of your life will be revealed to you carrying you on to your destiny.

The Leadership Vantage: Seeing the Forest and the Trees

John Walter Baybay
Originally Published in the Star Malaysia – Leaderonomics 04.20.14

I have been working in the area of strategy and planning for the past 17 years and I would have thought I have seen everything at this point. I worked with many companies who at some point have been considered to be the most innovative companies that the world has ever known. I once had a client whose company was once known as the leader for lighting after WW2 and was one of the pioneer of the compact disc in the 80s and 90s only to suffer in more recent days to commoditization as cheaper products most of which are copies of their own designs are flooding the markets from China. One thing is inevitable and that is “change”. There are no hard feelings about it, when we realize that we simply have to innovate.

Industry structures shift and those who fail to see these changes early when they start to happen usually are the ones who are hurt the most. This failure to see the shifting environment has resulted in some of the most harrowing examples of restructuring and lay-offs in corporate history.

Leaders need a better vantage point to see what is going on. Change management gurus have headed up the boardrooms to develop breakthrough strategies and introduce game-changing strategies to steer the company in new directions. Some have been more successful than others. Many however always attribute successful changes to leaders who had the ability to see the big picture and determine industry shifts that were going to change the rules of the game.

The likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were able to usher in the era of personal computing in the 80s through their forward thinking perspectives. The airline industry is close to 100 years old and the industry still continues to shift on both extremes from the highly differentiated Virgin Atlantic to the reconstruction caused by the budget airline segment led by the likes of Southwest and Air Asia. The ability to see the big picture and go beyond what everyone else is thinking has been the determining talent that has led to the prosperity of innovative companies. Many of which were able to thrive in periods of volatility and challenge.

The roles of leaders in having to identify changes that will affect their organization and industry for better or for worse cannot be understated. While it is very unlikely that we can have a reincarnation of Steve Jobs or have the divergent creativity of Richard Branson on demand, the ability to see the big-picture is a key talent of any strategic leader. The question that remains however is whether or not having the ability to see the big picture is enough? It is obviously a “yes” in a situation where the organization has a crisis of innovation and needs to get unstuck from its status quo. A fresh perspective is always needed.

The importance of having a good vantage point is that it allows the leader to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. It allows him to see what is happening in the world outside the organization and its impending effects to the current strategy. It allows the leader to get out of their own processes and go deeper into the employee and customer experience. This is an ability that we would like to call “Seeing the Forest and the Trees”.
The former notion is that a leader does either-or. Either he focuses only on the big picture (forest) or he sees them for the trees (internal processes). There is a danger of being too much of either.
When you only see the bigger picture, you might find yourself in a position where you believe you have motivated people on the new strategy, only to find months later that nothing seems to be moving.

On the other hand, if a leader is too caught up with the details, processes and procedures, there is a great danger that the organization might not respond quickly enough to changes in the industry and customer demands. Worse! Stakeholders get impatient in not seeing immediate results of the intended changes and lose confidence both in their leader and the team. Pink slips are being issued, the leader is replaced and the company starts all over again, and that is if it has not imploded yet. This then sends ripples outside in the marketplace and the public loses confidence in the company and its management. Everyone says goodbye.

Seeing the Forest and the Trees is having the ability to view things from different lenses at different points in time when they are needed:

  • Situational Appraisal and Scenario Analysis: Use a big picture perspective and engage your team in looking at the facts together and have a shared appreciation to determine a broad strategy. Develop a broad sense of vision and direction amidst the sea of competition. See the future through a telescope and build a navigational roadmap.
  • Use other people’s perspectives in visualizing different scenarios that could affect the execution of your strategy. In this case you are not using your own lens but that of your Cross Functional Team (CFT). This gives a leader a chiastic perspective across the organization. This helps the leaders anticipate barriers to execution.
    Have a diagnostic mindset: Sometimes a leader needs to take a “deep-dive” into their own organization to identify constraints to execution. These constraints could be motivational or systemic. They could also be resource based. At this point a leader needs to have a lens similar to microscope to get to root causes of problems and deploy measures for corrective action.
  • Instrument Flying: Have a dashboard for navigating the strategy. Build a system for measuring progress and milestones. Have the necessary indicators for strategic traction that measures finances, learning and growth, customer perspectives and internal processes. Use a balanced scorecard perspective.

The good news for the leader is that he does not have to be omnipotent to see the Forest and the Trees. He needs only to have the right perspective at the right given time and if he chooses to specialize in certain aspects, then a true leader recognizes the need for the other perspectives and gives way to empower others to formulate and execute strategy.

Gone are the days that one leader does all. Leadership in the Age of Execution as I wrote about earlier, demands more collaboration and a broader cross-sectional perspective to make things work. This demands a certain level of leadership from all of us and we cannot have a zero-sum perspective of power and influence.
Having a leadership vantage makes us realize that strategy goes beyond the self or the leader. And while it may take a visionary to cast direction, it takes a whole crew to navigate a ship to its destination especially in troubled waters. Use the right lenses and get the right perspective.

If you found this article to be useful do not hesitate to drop me a note by following me on Twitter: @JohnSBaybay or visiting our website: square1coaching.com to leave a comment.

Time and Traction

Originally Published at The Star Malaysia – Leaderonomics 03.26.14

“Traction” is a recent buzzword that I thought I left behind in my days of working with start-ups and business planning. In my case, it was often used within the context of funding where infusion is sometimes done in tranches. Where a sum of money is allotted for the capitalization of a business, a business plan would first have to prove “traction” within a critical period of time to ensure that the business was actually making any progress and therefore has some semblance of sustainability. In some cases the term is also used when a business has passed the start-up phase and has entered the growth phase, evidences of progress are referred to as traction. Metrics or indicators that prove business progress such as revenue growth, market share, brand awareness and efficiencies could all be considered summarily as traction. There is no prescribed way of defining it. Traction could be used under broad contexts under different applications.

The easiest way to define traction is to bring the term back into its simplest forms. When you ride a bicycle just as I do, “traction” is the measurable force that directs power to the ground and in turn propels me towards a forward momentum within a given direction. Without traction or grip, the bike cannot go in a direction, will lose its momentum and will fail to reach its destination. The same could be said in the business of life. Output will always be the ultimate measure of effectiveness, and effectiveness is defined by your capacity to reach your goals. Simply put, going back to the analogy of the bike, “traction” indicates whether or not you are actually getting anywhere in life and business.

To understand the importance of traction, it is best to retrace the steps using the framework that is broadly described within the orders of: Input – Process – Output. At the end of this equation is a singular “Output or Outcome” which is a summary of a desired result. Taking it another step back within the realm of “Process” are subsets of objectives that are results of activities that need to be accomplished. Within this area of process and objectives are measurements of progress that are referred to as “traction”. Taking a further back in step is the realm of “Inputs” where resources are used to start the process. Here is a real life example to make things easier.

I am currently coaching a business led by a driven CEO named David who had his goal set on finishing an Iron Man (Triathlon Event) in Melbourne last March 23, 2014. While a goal of finishing a strong Ironman event may sound overly simplistic, seeing through a framework of Input-Process-Output puts the matter under a deeper perspective. The key here is having an end in mind but also the knowledge of breaking down your goal into smaller objectives, activities, smaller tasks, and material inputs. I usually teach a framework that a mentor also taught me when I was working for the International Labour Organization. It is called G.O.A.T., which stands for Goal, Objectives, Activities and Tasks. It helps you break down a goal into smaller manageable chunks. In this case the Goal is to finish a full Iron Man under 17 hours. The Goal broken down into a set of 3 sub-objectives would be to finish the 3.86 km swim within 2 hours and 20minutes, a 180.25 km bike ride within 8 hours and 10 minutes and a 42.2 kilometer run within 6 hours and 30 minutes.

Goals and Objectives are considered outputs and tracing things back, objectives are driven by processes and activities that are measureable. While David was racing in Melbourne, his friends were giving a minute-by-minute report online. David finished the first event, the swim leg within 1:13:09 and the bike leg within 5:18:09. With two legs out of three out of the way with measurable speeds way below the cut-offs we are almost sure of a very strong finish. This is what we refer to as “traction”

Traction is a measurement of progress and a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) that signifies that you will accomplish your goal or mission. In the end David finished the race strong with a few seconds above 11 hours. That is 6 hours below the cut-off.

Activities
You cannot get these types of outputs and traction overnight. The hours saved per leg are a composite of how much time was invested in training. The effects are in direct proportion to the amount of hours spent in the pool, on the bike, and inside your running shoes. The point is that time and traction are directly correlated. The amount of measureable performance that indicates traction is directly proportionate to the amount of time invested in training. This is the very reason why I love working with athletes. They know that strategic goals and objectives cannot be achieved without an investment of time and resource. According to BeginnerTriathlete.com, training for an Ironman event requires a cumulative of 20 weeks of training of up to 18 hours per week. That is approximately 360 hours of training for a 17-hour event.

Tasks
There are prerequisite inputs and “Tasks” such as taking the proper nutrition, managing your schedules, getting equipment and mental preparation. You also need to have the base fitness before getting into a rigorous training program.

The same could be said with any goal. You must understand the commitment, time and resource involved before reaching them and yes, all of these processes will take time. It takes about 2 hours for me to write an article such as this even before it gets to the editing phase for later publishing. Perhaps you’re looking at “running a marathon” to knock it off your bucket list, if you haven’t done a “half-mary” or worse, haven’t started running yet, and then perhaps you should start walking today? Perhaps you need to get a pair of running shoes first? Develop the Input-Process-Output mindset and after you’ve made up your mind, you can follow it through with the GOAT framework for planning.

While this may seem all personal and not much to do about business, then take another look. David runs a company that distributes some of the best brands known to endurance athletes such as Pinarello, Cervelo, and Felt Bicycles. He also distributes soft goods such as 2XU, Zoot, and Aquasphere goggles along with race nutrition and other performance gear. Being a competitive Ironman is actually very strategic for him. It gives him the personal brand profile advantage that he could use for his suppliers and customers. It pays dividends both in his personal brand equity and the company he runs. The passion and personal commitment that he attaches to his sport and his business gives him enormous credibility with the people he works with, as well as the brands that endorses. In my experience in working with him, I could truly say that he’s getting a lot of strategic traction but also because he puts in the time.

To learn more about these frameworks please feel free to follow and tweet me a message @JohnSBaybay or go to my website: square1coaching.com

Courage is Never Having to Ask “What If?”

John Walter Baybay
03.12.14

“Courage” seems to be a big word that many seem to misunderstand as something that applies to everyone. The mere mention of the word “courage” sends us conjuring images of action movies such as Brave-heart, 300 or perhaps The Lords of the Ring. It escapes many people to believe that great examples of courage do not require a film viewing or distant look into history. Most of what we know about courage is based on fantastic tales of adventure, battles and conquest. Unfortunately not much applies to how we live our lives everyday and perhaps the missing sense of adventure is what keeps our lives interesting enough for us to enjoy. The truth of the matter is that great examples of “courage” can be found simply by listening to the stories of our forebears.

In the early 60’s my mother left the Philippines on a plane bound for New Jersey (USA) to seek a better life as Registered Nurse. It was her first time to fly an airplane. She was 18 years old and alone. The experience must have been terrifying to think that those metal objects could actually fly. Terrifying to “not know” the life that awaits her when she lands. She got over it. She worked as a nurse for a few years, met someone and got engaged. She took another flight back to the Philippines to tell her parents about their plans. On a stopover from Narita-Japan to Manila, her story took a twist when she met a dashing gentleman who insisted on sitting next to her on the plane. Persistent as he was in getting her address, she resisted. When they landed she found her luggage missing, only to have the dashing debonair rush to her aid to assure her that she will get her luggage. He offered to take care of everything. He’ll use all of his contacts (being a hotshot executive) and get to the bottom of things and soon enough her luggage will be delivered to her house personally!

The luggage was found after a few days and the dashing debonair gentleman is at the front door of her house in a Buick Riviera to deliver it. They fell in love in a whirlwind romance. She broke off her previous engagement and never went back to the US until they got married in 1968. My father was the dashing debonair gentleman who later revealed to me that he had bribed the luggage handlers to keep my mother’s luggage so that he could get her address. The “other” man who my mother was supposed to marry was heard to have never married and went into depression and died lonely in Canada. Now I am writing this article and sharing it with thousands to honor her because:

Someone took the courage as a woman to think across borders and go beyond the norms. To get an education and to work abroad at the age of 18.
Someone took the courage to get on a plane, not knowing what kind of life awaits her when she lands.
Someone took the courage to fall in love. To follow her heart and build a life over again and so here I am…
Courage does not always have to look like blazing guns and flashing swords. Apparently “courage” seems more like a tipping point towards a difficult decision. It is easy to recognize courage with its brilliant displays, but it is more difficult to recognize in the moments where courage seems missing.

When I was in College in the US, I took a bus from the Eastside to the Upper Westside. Living on 1st Avenue, we were the 1st stop on the bus’ route. There was a girl I had a crush on and she got on at the 2nd stop every weekday and got off near Julliard near the Lincoln Center. I took the bus through an extra stop later than I had to just to see her get off the bus. That being my stop comes before hers. It was like that every day. I sat in the same spot just so I could sit across from her. I would have lingering thoughts of her even hours after she got off the bus. I would memorize how her hair looked and what she wore. As much as I wanted to engage her, I always thought to myself: perhaps tomorrow. School broke for the summer and I never saw her again. I said to myself, “someday”.

A few friends came over to the apartment on a Friday and told me to pack my stuff for a weekend in Fire Island. I went and as we were hanging out by the beach, the girl was there a few meters in front of me with her friends sun-bathing! I said to myself, that “someday” has arrived but I relented. I even gathered her name “Danielle” as her friends was talking to her. I told myself, I’d wait till her friends leave. The window opened! But alas! “Courage” was not there. Instead I found courage’s bedfellow: “fear”. The moment never happened again. Never again! And I found myself struggling with the question “what if?” Having “Courage” is never having to ask “What If”.

In 1996 I found myself in a situation that could only be described in today’s language as: “It’s Complicated”. I met a girl and fell in love, but she didn’t know it yet. This time I was not going to let the moment pass. I’ll make a move. Though I didn’t know what to say, I said I’ll write a letter to her instead. Write I did with a poem by Archibald McLeish “Not Marble Nor the Gilded Moments”. She didn’t get all the similes but I did get a date. We fell in love and got married. We have three kids and a home. This is what I learned from the second experience.

Courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to work through the fears and the accompanying anxieties that come with the situation of an unknown result. Courage is never having to ask “what if” and punching through the membrane to know the end results. Fear is present but with passion, desire, belief and experience, we can muster the courage to push our fears aside and penetrate the barriers that separate us from our desired future or result.

In 2001 I left the comforts of my father’s business to work with a UN Agency called the International Labour Organization. I worked under a Specialist on Enterprise Development helping young people get started in business through entrepreneurial training and financial support. It took a lot of courage for me to leave the family business into something unknown. But if I had not, I would not have the opportunity to travel to different continents to share my expertise. I would have never gotten the opportunity to look through hundreds of business plans per month and now teaching and coaching companies about planning. What was the feared unknown has turned into my career for thirteen years. I branched out from business planning, strategic planning, project management and economic planning.

There were times I had been taken to highly militarized zones and escorted by pick-up loads of armed men. Sometimes I flew in private planes! I have walked through the dark streets of the urban slums and the fecal matter riddled dirt streets of rural India where water was difficult to obtain. I have walked, advised and lectured in the highest boardrooms and I have walked 15 kilometers off-road across mountains for fieldwork. Sometimes having to go to the bathroom where there isn’t any. Each time, there was risk and fear. And each time it takes a little bit more “courage”.

With that I was invited to speak in front of a high-school class about courage, and for the first time in years I was afraid. It was a very unfamiliar audience and so I shared the very same stories I’m telling you today. A constant bedfellow fear is to courage, but here I am today telling you about it. Never have to ask “What If?” I owe it to my parents and my family who supported me through our life’s adventure and misadventure. Still a life worth lived with not too many moment of saying “what if”. Take courage along with the things you already have with you: talent, skill, encouragement, purpose, passion, and belief and you can live a life without regrets. Take inventory of what you have right now and some of those things that I said and build a plan based on it. You will find that courage is that final tipping point in making your most important decisions. Look back at where you came from, look at the things you have on hand, and then take courage to look forward into a life of adventure.