Vote Wisely

We have general elections every five years in Singapore. And of course these are important times.

But we don’t need to wait such long periods to vote.

We vote when we

buy.  How often do we buy green or ethical products? For those of us who can, are we prepared to pay more for things which have have been produced so people who produced them were treated with dignity? How often do we buy more than we really need? How often do we shop to numb realities we don’t want to face? How often do we buy branded things to make ourselves feel like we matter more?

eat. How often do we eat healthily? How often do we eat humanely? How often do we eat so it helps instead of hurts the environment?

make our career choice. Do we learn about our gifts, strengths, passions and let them guide us towards what we could do? Or do we do what others expect us to? Do we work for money only? Or do we create meaning and purpose through our work?

start a relationship – any kind of relationship.  Do we have fairly positive relationships with ourselves before we seek romantic relationships? Or do we expect someone to make us happy? Do we spend more time planning for our wedding than our marriage? Do we blame the other or take responsibility for our lessons? Do we learn about marriage or parenting or think it will come naturally? Do we express gratitude, forgiveness, apology and love when it is time?

 – spend our time in a myriad of ways. How much time do we spend on TV/shopping/facebook/zoning out on the internet/checking emails or the mobile phone/reading and watching things that don’t enrich our lives in the ways we truly yearn for? How much time do we spend truly connecting with friends and family? How much time do we spend helping others? How often do we say we have “no time” to do the important things and then at the end of our lives, when there is really no time, we wish we had done less of what had taken up most of our time?

 – speak. How much we do criticise and how much do we appreciate others’ strengths and our own? How much do we focus on what is above the surface and how much do we speak of underlying feelings and needs that give rise to conflict? How conscious are we of our tone? Do we know when to be silent and when to speak?

how we treat ourselves and others. Do we leave people feeling better or worse off after we interact with them? Do we love and feel compassion for ourselves so we can love and feel compassion for others? How often do we focus so much on the destination that we forget how we treat our fellow travellers on the way there?

how we respond when people hurt us or life deals us harsh blows. Do we shrivel up in pain but put on a hard armour and hurt others with it? Or do we let the pain open us up to a new and brighter way of being; forgiving, loving and growing?

Let’s be awake to how we vote everyday.

A friend, Karen Loh, recently pointed out, “I agree that happiness is a choice. However, there are times when an amalgamation of environmental and social factors can overwhelm the individual, and the individual becomes incapable of choosing and feels somewhat helpless. The result could be depression, or any other host of emotional problems we see nowadays.”

I am grateful to Karen for reminding me of this.  Sometimes we need other kinds of support before we can access our choices.  My post is aimed towards those of us who can access choices now. 

We have tremendous power over our lives. And we can be leaders of our own lives. As Barack Obama said:  

 Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

Leaving a Trail of Light

I am still on my experiment to live as though this is my last year.

One image that has emerged from the time I started this experiment is that of light.

Several years ago, I watched a man, John Diaz, who had survived a 2000 Singapore Airlines plane crash speak on Oprah. Eighty-three people were killed in that crash. He said the inside of the plane “looked like Dante’s Inferno, with people strapped to their seats, just burning. It seemed like an aura was leaving their bodies—some brighter than others … I thought the brightness and dimness of the auras were how one lives one’s life.”

John said, “I want to live my life so my aura, when it leaves, is very bright.”

That stuck with me. I would like that too.

Two weeks ago, I was lying on the grass, watching the stars. Did you know that the light we see now is from stars which died thousands of years ago?  Imagine that.

The light that we see is from stars which died thousands of years ago. When we die, what imprints would our actions, speech and thoughts have left behind in the world? That starts with what kind of trail we leave behind every day... now...

When we look back at our lives, what characterises the trail we have left behind? In each engagement,  how can we brighten the moments of those we meet? Do we leave people better and brighter or feeling worse off? We don’t need to die to leave behind a legacy. We leave it everyday with each engagement we have.

Who do you know who has left us but whose light is still with us? What do you do to pass that on?

(I was at a funeral today and listened closely to the eulogies about this gentleman who had died. The trail of light and love he has left emerged with each voice that spoke about him. I dedicate this post to him and those whose lives he touched.)

Read more about John Diaz’s story.

Related: One my mentors’, the late Marjorie Doggett, is an example of someone whose light I still carry within me.

North Star artwork on this web site copyright by Peter H. Reynolds/ FableVision.

The Power of Facilitation

I’m truly excited to share in this post a gem I have discovered in the last year. Facilitation.  It has the potential to harness greater potential of people we work and live with. It recognises the power of questions. And it is a life skill.

The organisation that has brought this into my life is the Facilitators Network Singapore (FNS), which was founded by Prabu Naidu and Janice Lua.  I wanted to share the idea of facilitation to people fairly new to it so I thank Prabu for kindly agreeing to this interview. (I’m also listing this post under my “Singapore’s Hidden Gems” category because I think people travelling to Singapore could check out if any of the workshops appeal to them. Why not pick up some skills when travelling?)

Prabu in action (Image credit: FNS)

Prabu has 19 years of experience with multi-national corporations and 12 years of experience in facilitating, training and consulting work in organisational development. He holds a Masters in Organisational Behaviour and is an International Association of Facilitators Certifed Professional Facilitator and an International Institute for Facilitation Certified Master Facilitator.  AND my ears pricked up during a session when he said he’s a facilitative parent. What’s that? Read on! 

What’s the difference between process facilitation and training?

In training, the guru in front bring content (knowledge and skills) to the learners. With process facilitation, the person in front does not bring content but helps the group move towards an outcome. A facilitative trainer would deliver content in an engaging manner and involve the learners in the process.

Could you explain using an analogy?

It is like an open sea fisherman who brings his boat out to sea. He then selects a spot and casts his net into the waters. He waits awhile and then draws in the net. As the water drains out, he will see his entire catch. In the net will be all sizes and types of fishes, prawns, crabs, sea shells, sea plants, debris, and occasionally a rare find of something precious (like a sunken treasure or may be a ‘mermaid’ or a ‘merman’). When facilitating a group or when leading a discussion, it is important to allow the group to share what’s on their mind first and then help them move towards some form of conclusion. This is called divergence-convergence in facilitation.

An insight many of us could learn from?

Simply because there may be a lot of ‘noise’ and poor ideas does not mean that we cut-off ideas from everyone during a brainstorming session. One of the rules of brainstorming is that no idea is a bad idea. All ideas are noted down. Evaluation of the ideas can happen later. In the beginning, all ideas are flip charted exactly as spoken. From these ideas, may appear that treasure: a ‘mermaid’ or ‘merman’ idea that could prove to be the saviour for the group (or organisation).
What’s the value to organisations in using a facilitative approach? Could you give an example?
The current generation of knowledge workers prefer to be consulted and involved in decision making. No one person has all the answers. Facilitative approach engages everyone.

One manager I know, used to make all the decisions and then informed his staff to carry them out. He found that the staff were doing bare minimum to get by. They were operating in a compliant mindset. On my suggestion, he changed his approach and included his staff in some key decision making. Initially the staff were cautious with the change in his style but later when they realised his true intentions, they were forthcoming and actually performed beyond his expectations. They were now operating from a commitment mode. Engaging them turned them into ardent supporters of his plans as they feel valued.  

Participants get off their feet and become active learners. (Image credit: FNS)

What would training using a facilitation approach look like?
A facilitative trainer would ask questions and allow the learners to share their own wisdom and past experiences and arrive at the learning objectives. There will be evidence of the group doing most of the work. The trainer speaks less and need not appear as knowing all the answers. Definitely no ‘death by PowerPoint’ presentations and one way speaking!
Under what conditions and what kind of leaders are best able to create a culture where facilitation processes can bring out the best in employees?
The first and foremost is, in my opinion, the willingness of leaders to trust their people as able and willing. Next is for them to be ready to hear what may appear as bad news but therein lies the opportunity to educate themselves and their people.

To what extent are you harnessing collective intelligence at your workplace? (Image credit: FNS)
If you are a leader, how can you be more open to ideas from your staff?

There might be fears of allowing people to think for themselves. What’s your response to this?
If people are able to run their own affairs and families, then they should be able to run workplaces and the community too. I believe that if people are given their boundaries and allowed to shape their actions, most times (not all the time) people rise to the occasion.

One powerful point that came up for me was that facilitation isn’t restricted to work settings when we’re formally facilitating a group. It is a life-skill.
Yes it is.
You mentioned that you have become a more facilitative parent and that one conversation which may take a few minutes using a top-down approach may take 30 minutes taking a facilitative approach. So how would you explain the value to time-stretched parents…What might a conversation with a young person look like using a facilitative approach? And what impact have you noticed in your own experience?
Yes it is time consuming. On the other hand, as parents – no matter how much time stretched we may be –isn’t our primary duty to help our children shape their attitudes and beliefs to become responsible citizens? The cost to society to correct wayward adults is greater than investing time in being facilitative parents when they are young and impressionable.

The conversation will be one of asking questions to find out what and why of their position. Then instead of directing them, offer and discuss the various options and the consequences of each. Let them make the decision – so long as it is legal, ethical, and moral!

I have two boys who I believe are turning out to be responsible young adults.

How else has facilitation impacted on your life?
Nowadays  I tend to be more asking and consultative with colleagues, family and friends. Much different from my earlier style when I was very much directive and forceful in my approach!

Allowing people to be part of creating their own solutions and ideas can unleash the kind of innovation and productivity we are striving for.

The Facilitators Network Singapore website has a listing of upcoming workshops. 

Related: Free Spirit

Free Spirit

Take six minutes to watch FREE SPIRIT from Nic Askew to catch an inspiring glimpse of what a free-spirited leader looks like.

Ann McGee Cooper speaks of love in the workplace, something I truly believe in. Like her I believe that “love is what transforms life”.

Here are some gems from the video to help you feel into how much of a free-spirited leader you could be:

Do you inspire “the spirit of hope and possibility”?

Do you live your calling and invite others to live their calling?

Did you know “love is the only emotion that is known to expand intelligence”?

“Effective leaders have the courage to fall in love with what they can do, the people they bring toward them and they always connect to the best in that person.”

“…child-like is where all creativity happens…”

“When we’re not connected to our authenticity, we die.”

And Nic Askew leaves us questions to ponder:

“Are you able to see those around you through a love of life?”

“Is your spirit free to live and lead within the structures that surround you?”

Related: Authenticity is… and if you’d like to see what Ann has to say about leading change through self-transformation, read this interview with Pegasus Communications Inc.

The Imperfect Stamp

I went to the Singapore Philatelic Musuem recently for the first time. And this was my favourite exhibit.

The text below reads: "How many holes are there on the phone dial?"

Here’s an excerpt of a HuffPost Living interview with Dr Brene Brown who researches imperfection, vulnerability and authenticity:

Rosenberg: You write that the Leonard Cohen song “Anthem” — “There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in” — serves as a reminder to not control everything and try to make everything perfect.

Brown: Yes, not spackle the cracks is how I put it.

Rosenberg: You also discuss spackling the cracks with regard to perfectionism.

Brown: Many people think of perfectionism as striving to be your best, but it is not about self-improvement; it’s about earning approval and acceptance. Being addicted to perfectionism is actually a process addiction no different from the being addicted to food, or gossip or debt. Sometimes these are called counterfeit comforts.

Log on to the full interview. 

Related: Be compassionate – to yourself

Which of your imperfections make you a collector’s item?

Which imperfections of your loved one makes them one too?

PS: The fuller Leonard Cohen quotation is:

Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.