Leader's Digest #37 (March 2020)

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MARCH 2020


e SOCIAL c n e g i l l e t In

Photo by zhan zhang on Unsplash



PUBLICATION TEAM EDITORIAL Editor-in-Chief Ismail Said Assistant Editor Diana Marie Capel Graphic Designer Awang Ismail bin Awang Hambali Abdul Rani Haji Adenan

* Read our online version to access the hyperlinks to other reference articles made by the author.

















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Leader’s Digest is a monthly publication by the Leadership Institute of Sarawak Civil Service, dedicated to advancing civil service leadership and to inspire our Sarawak Civil Service (SCS) leaders with contemporary leadership principles. It features a range of content contributed by our strategic partners and panel of advisors from renowned global institutions as well as established corporations that we are affiliated with. Occasionally, we have guest contributions from our pool of subject matter experts as well as from our own employees. The views expressed in the articles published are not necessarily those of Leadership Institute of Sarawak Civil Service Sdn. Bhd. (292980-T). No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without the publisher’s permission in writing.


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‘You Breathe. . . Keep Breathing’ Rising above dire circumstances

The Revenant is based on the true story of American frontiersman, fur trapper, and explorer, Hugh Glass (portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio). In one of the most accurate historical accounts, Glass survived being mauled by a grizzly bear, leaving him unconscious with a broken leg and gashes on his back that exposed bare ribs in the midst of extremely harsh winter conditions. Abandoned by fellow members of General William Ashley’s 1823 expedition without supplies or weapons, Glass crawled and stumbled 320 kilometres to Fort Kiowa in modern-day South Dakota. The principal antagonist is John Fitzgerald (portrayed by Tom Hardy), the man who is the primary reason Glass is left for dead, and later, becomes the object of retribution for Glass. He is not lacking in physical courage, but nevertheless is entirely without a moral compass. He cares about his own money and survival— and not very much about anything else. The word “revenant” is derived from the Latin word reveniens that means “returning.” A revenant is a visible ghost or animated corpse that was believed to have returned from the grave to terrorise the living. 4

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Glass returned to confront the bad people in his life and weathered the worst of conditions while embodying stark, unvarnished themes of man’s eternal struggles: courage, adversity, suffering, redemption and conflict resolution. We’ve all faced hard times—when we felt abandoned, when circumstances were tough or when the odds seemed to be against us. Leaders have the added burden of having to navigate the hardships and find ways to thrive. This film, in all its gritty splendour, has some teachable moments for leaders facing the worst of times whether it’s the economy, management restructuring or facing a creative block.

1. Stand up and fight As harsh or as bleak as circumstances are, you’re still in control. You can still fight and dig up every opportunity left, leaving no stone unturned. Glass was a survivor. Even as a massive grizzly bear tossed him around to protect her cubs, he didn’t accept his fate nor decide he was overpowered. He defended himself against the bear and survived. That instinct came from developing his skills as a fur trapper and as an explorer. He engaged those skills in order to survive. Similarly, as a leader, you have taken years developing skills, expertise and certain street smarts. This is the time to tap into all that conscious and unconscious learning. You have the tools, you just need to find them and use them.



You can refine this principle by planning ahead of your current goals, factoring possible hard times or obstacles—giving your mind space to adapt quickly at crunch time.

Against all odds, Glass regained consciousness and pulled himself across treacherous terrain to face his foe—and face him, he did. Proving, the direst of times present opportunities for leaders to grow and develop strengths as well as flex their strategy muscles.

As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe. Keep breathing. When there is a storm. And you stand in front of a tree. If you look at its branches, you swear it will fall. But if you watch the trunk, you will see its stability.

Leadership guru, John Kotter, points out that once the right person is in a leadership role, they take a beating.

—Wife of Hugh Glass

Almost every leader of any stature that I’ve studied has not had an easy life,” he says. “

They’ve been knocked down any number of times. Nelson Mandela was in jail for 27 years, if you can believe that.

2. Lick your wounds Though by no choice of his own, Glass had to give himself some time to heal before beginning his rugged trek. His wounds—not fully healed—began to fester, requiring him to take extreme measures to clean them. Be mindful, as a leader, to not dive into troubled waters without being emotionally and mentally ready. Only then can you keep your head above water and save yourself as well as your organisation.

While it may not be as extreme for those in middle management, leaders can still take a page from Mandela’s handbook by picking themselves up when they get knocked down. “It’s all about working with people to develop some kind of a vision of a future, which is always a change from where you’re at right now,” Kotter says.

So, take a moment to clear your head and rest your body so you can take on the issue at hand with the right frame of mind.

“Then communicating that out to relevant constituencies in a way that gets them to really buy in with, not just with their heads, but with their hearts.”

3. Be a person of your word

A wrap up

Fitzgerald was a dishonourable man consumed by greed. Despite believing, he got away with abandoning Glass, karma got to him anyway. It’s a valuable lesson— integrity—and doing the right thing counts. He broke Glass’ and

The Revenant is a thrilling masterpiece that has garnered 12 Oscar nominations this year. Its raw cinematography beautifully captures the harsh elements that serve as a backdrop for the thrilling tale of one man’s drive to survive and face his demon, so to speak.

General Ashley’s trust and there were repercussions.

This film’s theme serves as an artistic reminder that leaders can seize opportunities from the worst of times and come out on top.

Don’t go burning bridges through poor practices and mismanagement. Often in leadership, you find yourself having to rely on peer support and the kindness of others. So don’t make yourself the villain.

4. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Louisa Devadason

I ain’t afraid to die anymore. I’d done it already. —Hugh Glass

Louisa is currently pursuing a Masters of Development Practice overseas, majoring in community development. She is an editorial associate and freelance writer with Leaderonomics. An extrovert who loves the outdoors; she thinks change is exciting and should be embraced.

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Use Your Natural Personality To Shape Your Leadership Style


Throughout history, there has been no shortage of different leadership styles exerted by memorable female leaders. From the fearless approaches of Boudica or Joan of Arc to the nurturing roles of Mother Teresa and Florence Nightingale, two largely contrasting stereotypes have been drawn. Some were tough female leaders, some more caring and relational, but each woman changed the course of human history thanks to their ability to harness their personalities. When trying to develop their own leadership styles, many people would be inclined to use their natural disposition as a baseline. And while this is usually the best recipe for success in coming off as genuine to those under your payroll, you may need to curtail certain elements of yourself to enhance your leadership capabilities.

Too nurturing?

One of the most successful female leaders in Malaysia, Piktochart chief executive officer and co-founder Goh Ai Ching, is one such leader who, by her own admission, may have been too nice at certain points in her career. Developing the company from humble beginnings in Penang with her then-partner, now-husband Andrea Zaggia, Ai Ching has grown Piktochart into one of the most popular infographic companies in the world and leads a team of more than 50 people. 6

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Photo by Alexandru Zdrobău on Unsplash



“Before he sends an e-mail or something, I will need to read through it and say, ‘maybe you shouldn’t say things like this’. He tends to just deliver messages; he doesn’t tend to think about how he is trying to get them across and I think he is learning over time how to be a more relational person.

I don’t want to call my husband and me a yin and yang but it almost feels as if having a man and a woman leader in place is a recipe for success – theybalance each other out very well to be honest.

Goh Ai Ching, Piktochart.

The balance of Ai Ching’s nurturing nature and Andrea’s more goal-oriented mindset have led the company to unprecedented success. Finding the sweet spot of how best to harness her relational nature, however, has been one of Ai Ching’s biggest challenges. Her litany of stories from her time running the business are laden with examples of times when she, while firing an employee, has been known to cry more than the person being laid off! “When I first set up my company, I knew that my natural relational personality would be an asset when leading a team,” she says. “It definitely has its disadvantages as well though and there have been times when I was caught being too soft on the hiring and firing practices. I made a lot of mistakes but I have learnt to balance out my personality. “Previously I was too nice, and it was very tough for me to let somebody go, or make a decision that might hurt somebody’s feelings.”

Too goal-focused?

A Malaysian female leader belonging more to Andrea’s mould of leadership than Ai Ching’s is Acestar founder and CEO Natalie Sit. The tech entrepreneur set up her company in Kuala Lumpur, coming from a sales role in which she was highly successful. Those skills, however, did not necessarily transfer well to the job of managing people. “I thought that sales was the be-all-and-end-all. I knew I could handle the sales and therefore thought that I could run a company,” says Natalie. “In actual fact, it was totally different. I used to think that if you pay somebody a good salary, then they will work hard for you.” She put her sales skills to work and people skills on the back burner, never understanding why her employees were not as engaged in their jobs as she was. Following an extended leave in the early days of Acestar, Natalie returned to work to find that all three of her employees had resigned. She undertook a leadership course in London to better understand how to develop her people.

She developed a mindset of “speak the truth with love” – which means that she has since learnt to channel that nurturing nature into one that can, at times, be upfront with people about their failings. Except, that it comes from a place of wanting to help them develop.

Her eyes were opened to the need to create an internal culture that would give her people pride in the work they were doing. She has since grown the company from those early days to a team of 14 highly motivated people, who work harmoniously in a well-established company culture.

That growth for her, has been met by her husband, who has learnt to embrace his people skills. “Sometimes, when working with my husband I need to be his copywriter and filter out the things that he’s saying,” says Ai Ching.

I learnt that if I take care of my people, they will take care of my clients, she says.

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“We have always had a good relationship with MDEC and the chance to be a part of GAIN was a golden opportunity to scale that we could not miss,” says Ai Ching. “They have always taken an interest in how best to help us, and identify where the gaps are in our company. It’s comforting to know that they are there to help us succeed.”

Natalie Sit (front row second from left) with the Acestar team in the Maldives.

“Nowadays, I will always invest my time into my people because they are my company’s greatest asset. In order to build a culture, you need something that people can identify with. That’s why we have company trips, to bring people together and to see each other as more than just colleagues.” Those company trips have become the hallmarks of life working as an “Acestarian”; the workforce went to Japan last year and the Maldives earlier this year. The spirit of teamwork has become the focal point of Natalie’s leadership journey and she always encourages her people to develop the “we” attitude when approaching their work. “My style of leadership could best be described as ‘soft but powerful’ and very focused on team building,” she says.

Every task a team member takes on, I ask ‘Is this something you can do yourself or would it be easier if we pull together as a team on this?’

Taking leadership international

Undertaking a leadership journey is not the only thing that these two successful female leaders have in common, as both have used the GAIN programme, launched by the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) in order to take their company’s next steps. As Piktochart builds its reputation as one of Penang’s biggest multi-nationals and Acestar builds solid connections overseas, MDEC have given them the platform they need to grow their companies. 8

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Natalie echoes similar sentiments as she speaks enthusiastically of her time in the programme. “I grew my company to a certain level, but to take those next steps internationally, I needed some guidance,” admits Natalie. “I was very lucky that I found GAIN and I knew how ambitious they were to grow Malaysian companies regionally. By myself, it would have been very difficult to have the kind of international access that I have had and I owe them a lot for their knowledge transfer and development help. “Our dream is to go global. If you want to grow out of Malaysia, GAIN is the perfect platform to do that.” In line with a vision to develop Malaysia’s digital economy, the Global Acceleration and Innovation Network (GAIN) programme was incepted to catalyse the expansion of local technology SMEs that have the potential to become global players through market access, leadership and capability development, technology disruption and scale-up capital. GAIN provides customised assistance based on each and every GAIN company’s needs and goals; whether it is elevating brand visibility, facilitating market access, upskilling capabilities, match-making for merger and/or acquisition or accessing funding eco-system. Customising its programmes to each individual company, the programme’s benefits are wide-ranging and have already helped hundreds of Malaysian businesses achieve their financial and professional goals. For more information on the GAIN programme, visit www.mdec.com.my For more information on Piktochart, visit piktochart.com For more information on Acestar, visit acestar.my,

Matthew Naylor Matt is a former media strategist leader with Leaderonomics. He believes that in this digital age, it is more important than ever for companies to develop an effective employer branding platform. He is an expat who has lived in Malaysia for many years now, and loves spicy food.



Why Are Conscientious People More Successful? BY ROSHAN THIRAN

Let’s get straight to the point. Those who are conscientious are likely to be more successful than those who are less so.

Price’s Law describes the idea that half of the work is done by the square root number of the people involved.

But why is that? And what does it mean to be conscientious?

For example, if you have ten people working on a project, the chances are that three people from that group will do the lion’s share of the work.

One dictionary defines conscientiousness as a person’s ‘wish to do one’s work or duty well and thoroughly’. It points to people who have a laser-like focus on the task at hand, with a mindset that whatever they do is serving their long-term goals. In other words, they sacrifice whatever short-term gains they might receive from distractions and other temptations.

This notion can be applied across any field that produces volumes of work. For example, most of the classical music that’s commonly listened to comes from a handful of composers. These usually include Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and Chopin.

When you walk into a bookstore at the airport, you’re most likely to find books by authors such as Danielle Steel, Stephen King, Paulo Coelho and Agatha Christie. In both the literary and the music world, hundreds of millions of works are published each year, and yet, only a few prominent names stick in our minds. Common among all those who are prolific in their work is that, in their prime, they were the most committed to their passion: their time was dedicated to their work, with little being wasted on anything that did not add value to their longterm goal.

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THE SECRET TO SUCCESS …If you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires. ― Malcolm Gladwell In a 2012 study, Angela Duckworth and colleagues wanted to know who does well in life. What does it take to truly excel? Is it genius? Luck? Financial resources? What they found was that conscientious people excel most in objective and subjective success. They are able to focus on what matters and dedicate their efforts to manifest whatever goal they shoot towards. Explaining their findings, the researchers note, “What seems to tie facets of conscientiousness together is the tendency to act in accordance with long-term, global goals, and standards when there is a temptation to do otherwise.” “In the workplace, conscientious individuals who work hard, complete tasks thoroughly, stay organised, act responsibly, and make decisions carefully are more productive than less conscientious co-workers. “The same behavioural tendencies may help conscientious individuals maintain healthy social relationships, a key predictor of subjective well-being. “Conscientious individuals are more likely to avoid unnecessary interpersonal conflict and amend rifts when they do appear.” Conscientiousness is one of the Big Five Personality traits that measure five major dimensions of personality. These are: openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, extroversion and neuroticism. Forming the basis of personality research, by taking the test, we are able to get a sense of where we sit on each scale of the five dimensions.


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As Duckworth and her colleagues imply, conscientiousness relates to the level of our work ethic. It makes sense that those who work harder achieve more, right? Well, there’s a little more to it than that. It’s not enough to just work hard ‒ our efforts need to be carried through with diligence, focus, and a deliberate commitment to do the best we can…and to raise our game wherever it’s needed. For some, being conscientious can be a difficult trait to develop ‒ but it can be developed.

Instead of succumbing to distractions or a temptation to procrastinate, we can harness the power of our minds to focus on getting the job done where it helps us to move forward at a quicker rate. Studies on time wasted, for example, have shown that we can waste, on average, up to five hours per day on things like checking email, aimlessly scrolling through social media, watching TV shows, and so on. Over the course of a working week, that amounts to one full day’s worth of work lost. Across one year (assuming an hourly rate of RM20), the time lost amounts to RM26,000. When we boil it down, conscientious people are more successful because they simply make the most of their time. Of course, it’s important to take breaks from time to time ‒ hopefully no-one would suggest we should work 24/7 ‒ but time wasted refers to time that is available outside of leisure time that could be put to more productive use. Some might say, “It’s alright for those who are already conscientious, but what about the people who procrastinate and find it difficult to get motivated?”



Thankfully, like leadership, conscientiousness is a skill that can be learned over time, and there are a few steps you can put into practice to get you started. Let’s take a look at three of those right now:


Don’t try to be conscientious. Instead, focus on the specifics

If someone were to say to you, “Just be more conscientious!” you might (understandably) be confused by such broad advice. Think of it in the same way as fitness. If someone tells you to become more fit ‒ to set that as your goal ‒ it doesn’t really help much. On the other hand, if someone says, “If you commit to running 1.5km four times a week for a month, you’ll begin to see improvements,” that gives you something to aim for. Therefore, set specific goals such as “For the next month, I’m going to reduce my social media use by one hour per day and devote that time to reading/ mastering a new skill/learning how to start an online business.”


Set yourself reminders

Trying to change the habits of a lifetime can be tough, which is why it’s important to set reminders of the times that you’ve committed to improving your conscientiousness. Let’s say you’ve set a goal to read for one hour per day. Set the time aside on your calendar and treat it like an important appointment, such as going to the doctors or attending a job interview. By treating this as time of utmost importance ‒ something that’s going to add enormous value to your development ‒ it will help you to cultivate a new behaviour that will become a productive habit.

Taking that one step at a time has already increased your productivity rate by seven hours every week, and that’s a great start that you can then build on as you become more focused.

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Let people know what you’re doing

Oftentimes, when we set ourselves a new goal to work towards, we fail in our endeavours (New Year’s Resolutions, anyone?). In many cases, this is because we keep our goals private, which limits the accountability to the very person who might procrastinate on our goals…ourselves. By telling a few close friends or family members of our intentions and asking them to help keep us accountable, they can help to minimise distractions and keep us focused by providing support and the occasional morale boost when it’s needed. After all, we wouldn’t want to let down the people who are there for us, and so we’re much more likely to stick to the commitment of improving ourselves when others are in on it.


Remember to reward yourself

One of the reasons people give up while attempting to create changes in their lifestyle is because they feel like they have to push themselves all the way without stopping. In other words, they don’t celebrate the small victories along the way, and that’s a vital component of maintaining your enthusiasm. Self-improvement of any kind should be seen as an investment in yourself, not a chore, so remember to reward yourself.

REMEMBER… The most important thing to keep in mind when making any kind of positive change in your life is to focus on the value you’ll receive from your commitment. Never think of your conscientious efforts as sacrifices. Instead, see them as part of the journey towards creating your best self. With this at the forefront of your mind, you’ll be motivated to keep pushing forward. There’s a good reason why behavioural change is referred to as part of our development ‒ it takes time, and while we might prefer quick-fix solutions nowadays, the old adage still rings true: anything worthwhile takes time. But as Charles Duhigg reminds us in his book The Power of Habit, “If you believe you can change – if you make it a habit – the change becomes real.”

For example, you could approach your goal through the Pomodoro Technique, or you could reward yourself whenever you recognise positive progress. Let’s say you’ve managed to cut out seven hours worth of unnecessary social media scrolling in a week. You could reward yourself by doing something you enjoy, such as treating yourself to your favourite dessert. The important thing here is to create positive associations with the efforts you’re making, which will increase the likelihood of staying the course, rather than feeling that your new lifestyle change is based on sacrifice and denial of small pleasures.


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Roshan Thiran

Roshan is the founder and CEO of the Leaderonomics Group. He believes that everyone can be a leader and make a dent in the universe, in their own special ways.




Image by Pexels by Pixabay

MUSIC has been the cornerstone of every civilisation, great and small, past and present. Rhythm, melody, tone, and tempo have been woven into the tapestry of cultures across the world, each one unique and possessing magic within it to stir the soul. An otolaryngologist from Johns Hopkins says, “There are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does. If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout.” Studies carried out by experts at Johns Hopkins has revealed insights into how music not only lifts your spirits, but can stimulate the brain to reduce anxiety, blood pressure and pain, as well as improve sleep quality, mental alertness, and memory. How can we use this brain-music connection to improve our lives, and perhaps, even boost productivity? Here are three ways:

1. RECALL A MEMORY FROM LONG AGO Humans by nature, are creatures of association. We associate smells and sounds with memories. Music has the power to invoke suppressed or long-forgotten memories. If you’re trying to remember something you’ve forgotten, reach for familiar music – especially something from the same time period you’re trying to recall. Listening to it again jolts your memory and brings you back to that particular point of time.

2. JUMP-START YOUR CREATIVITY We all vibe differently, that is we all react differently to music. Identify the type of music that works for you. What may seem therapeutic to someone may have the opposite effect on you. Some people work best with music that has lyrics to it, whereas others prefer instrumentals or naturistic sounds. Issue 37 I March 2020 13



The right music will help clear your mind and allow you to think clearly, therefore, awakening your creative senses.



We spoke to seven people between the ages of 22 and 35 to see how different their music choices were and how music influenced their productivity at work.

Several studies have been conducted on how music can improve efficiency and make you more productive at work. However, it’s important to note that not all types of music are suitable for the office! Some can hinder your progress while others will help you move along faster. Melissa Chu, writer at JumpstartYourDreamLife.com, explores some tried-and-tested genres that have been explicitly designed with productivity in mind. • Classical music When we think of classical music, composers such as Bach, Vivaldi, and Mozart come to mind. Classical music in itself can be divided into many styles. But what makes this work-suitable music is that a lot of it is instrumental and has a balance of harmonious themes and complex ideas – making it both relaxing and stimulating at the same time. • Soundscapes / Music from nature Background sounds are used mostly to drown out distractions. Listening to the sounds of nature can improve cognitive function and attentiveness, but again, this comes down to personal taste. Do you prefer the sound of flowing water, gentle waves, rainfall, and the rustling of leaves? Some forms even include instruments such as flutes or pianos. These work well to create a calm and soothing environment.

What music do you listen to when you need to get ‘into the zone’ for work?

“I do not have a fixed favourite music genre. As long as the song has good lyrics in it – I’m sold! What the song conveys appeals more to me, but yes, the music is also a contributing factor.” One of the favourites of this graphic designer, for now, is Hamilton. She finds the music liberating and hums the tune when she’s alone or sitting idle. However, when Ummi wants to be productive, she turns to upbeat pop songs. “It helps me cancel out all the noise surrounding me and allows me to create an ‘invisible shield’ – that way I get to give my undivided attention to the work I’m doing at that particular moment.” Ummi Amira

“I like listening to anything that is upbeat or has a strong beat in the mornings because the music puts me in the, ‘Hey, let’s start the day right and get things done’ mood.”

• Video game music You read that right. Video game music.

“Music inspires me to be myself. The way that musicians express themselves through their songs… it inspires me to be myself through my words and actions.”

It actually makes sense. Video game sound developers realise that players play for long hours on end and will want to stay engaged and entertained at all times. Their music is aimed at sharpening concentration and increasing focus.

Some of the music Bob listens to are by Paramore, Linkin Park, Jack Garratt and Fall Out Boy. Bob Lim

Perfect for that looming deadline.


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“I usually listen to indie and classic rock because it’s very engaging – it keeps me feeling awake and productive, and also cuts out noise from my surroundings. I don’t normally get distracted by the lyrics because I focus more on the tune, beat, guitar, and the solo parts. An example of indie music would be Arctic Monkeys and for classic rock, Led Zeppelin.” Nik Najihah



Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

“I listen to all genres of music. It can go as old as Gregorian chants to as bold as Lana Del Rey. What I listen to depends on my mood and what triggers the need for that particular kind of music. For example, if I was speaking to someone about Korean food, there’s a high chance of wanting to listen to Korean music immediately after.” Ikhwan does have his favourite genres: rock and classical. Anything from Muse or Tchaikovsky won’t go wrong with him. To increase his productivity at work, he listens to game-themed music, metal, and rock. He also says that this music brings him into a happy place and gives him the solace needed to be productive. In Ikhwan’s own words, “Doing so blocks out my surroundings and allows me to go into ‘my special bubble.” Ikhwan Tharwan

“ “

“When I’m really rushing something and need to concentrate, I usually listen to music by Banks, Ella, Vos, Lana Del Rey, Bon Iver, Lights & Motion, and Explosions in the Sky. The beat gets me into the momentum and helps me zoom in on the work.” Sarah Lim

“Music kills my productivity. It’s because I have a background in music, so my mind goes straight to the music and starts to follow and analyse it. If I do listen to music while I work, I’ll have one song on repeat the entire day, so that my mind just registers it as background noise after a while.” Hui Yi-Wen

“I lean towards Carnatic-fusion music the most as it connects deeply with my interest. Compared to the traditional version of the Carnatic music, I’m more attracted to the fusion version, because it’s extremely refreshing to listen to classical songs in modern day tunes.” Prakash further added, with the combination of classical and modern instruments in a Carnatic song, it feels like a fresh coat of paint has been painted on an ancient building – giving it a new perspective. The Carnatic raga (melodic framework), has its own benefit to the person who listens to it. The songs are composed in a certain melody with its own charm and set the right feel/mood for the listener. In his own words, “Carnatic music is inspiring, energetic and brings out the hidden feelings and emotions within us. So, when my mood is good, my productivity increases too!” Prakash Nambiar

Roubeeni Mohan Roubeeni is a writer and content curator at Leaderonomics. She believes in making an impact with written words.

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A 2017 Harvard survey of 182 senior managers in a range of industries found that 33 per cent of meetings are actually useful or purposeful. In addition, 71 per cent of managers said meetings are unproductive and inefficient, and 62 per cent they miss opportunities to bring teams closer together. According to GlassDoor, a company that provides average salary information across a range of roles and industries, the average salary of a manager is $110 000. They say there are approximately 75 people at this level in a number of large organisations, and they spend between 35 per cent and 50 per cent of their time in meetings. This can equate to a loss of $5775 per week due to time spent in wasteful meetings. In addition, a 2014 Bain & Company study of time budgeting at large corporations found that a single weekly meeting of midlevel managers was costing one organisation $15 million a year. It is such a big problem that Harvard Business Review has even developed a Meeting Cost Calculator app to help organisations figure out exactly how much meetings drain the bottom line. This level of spending in any other context would be tightly controlled by the finance team. Yet, someone as junior, as a current intern can be responsible for setting up and running a weekly team meeting that consistently and constantly brings down teams, and the whole organisation, without any regulation. In most organisations, an employee’s success (or failure) is measured against key performance indicators (KPIs). There are no KPIs for ‘attending ineffective meetings’, yet there is an expectation that people will do just that, on top of getting their task-driven KPIs done.

This requirement to attend poorly executed meetings while also managing to get stuff done is what drives down employee engagement scores and drives up feelings of discouragement.

The issue is that most managers run meetings according to their default calendar app, which is automatically set to 60 minutes. Waiting for latecomers, going off track, having an unclear agenda, watching mobile phones and wasting time fixing tech all contribute to wasted time in those meetings of that length. Yet doing work in short, focused bursts has long been supported as a way of efficiently using time and energy. Parkinson’s Law explains that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’. Hence, when you give people time to get stuff done, they will use whatever time you allow them. That is what happens when managers default to 60-minute meetings, where in fact, they could get the same amount of work done in half that time. As far back as 1911, Frederick Taylor Winslow, one of the very first management consultants, made the connection between productivity, effort, and rest or breaks. He found that people who gave a focused amount of effort for 25 minutes and then spent the next 35 minutes resting, increased productivity by 600 per cent. Francesco Cirillo’s book The Pomodoro Technique centres around short bursts of work for 25 minutes at a time, followed by a short 5-minute break. This choice of 25 minutes was not arbitrary and was based on several different trials, experiments and iterations. When managers concentrate their efforts in shorter, controlled periods of time, they achieve more. A 2002 study published in the Journal of the Association for Psychological Science showed that people who imposed strict deadlines on themselves for tasks performed far better (and more consistently) than those who didn’t. More interestingly, they found that those who allotted too much (or ample) time to complete tasks often created more work for themselves. When managers trim their meetings back to 25 minutes, they will find that the wasted time spent on tech issues and pointless chit-chat will be eradicated, too.

Donna McGeorge Donna McGeorge is the author of ‘The 25-Minute Meeting: Half the Time, Double the Impact’. She is a speaker, author and mentor who helps people make their work work.

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I often get asked about the difference between cognitive and emotional cultures. Here is my take on it.

Cognitive Culture

Cognitive culture is sometimes defined as “our mental and symbolic representations of reality” or in other words, our worldview. This is very much about “thinking.” Cognitive culture is the culture that is typically addressed upfront by organisations. This is the culture that is advertised to the external world – in particular, clients – but also the culture that the business is aiming for, often called target or ideal culture. Typical elements that feed into the cognitive culture include: • Cultural attributes such as customer centricity, collaboration, innovation or agility • Behaviours. For example, speaking up, responsiveness, empowerment, making things simple • Stated values. These values are identified by the organisation as those needing to be lived by employees in their daily interactions. However, what we often find is that stated values are not always the values espoused by the people. This is where emotional culture makes an appearance. • Any artefact or norms. Processes and systems fit into this category. They have been designed (or not) to push people to behave in a certain way. For example, the performance management system may reveal that collective performance is more important than individual performance, or viceversa. 18

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Cognitive Culture Vs. Emotional Culture

Cognitive culture sets the tone for how employees think and behave at work. It often starts with an intellectual exercise, and it is the elements of culture that are usually the most visible in the business.

Emotional culture Emotional culture can be defined as the culture centred around the shared affective values of an organisation ‒ i.e. feelings, moods, and attitudes. The emotional culture is made up of emotions and feelings, including fears, that employees experience in the workplace, and of everything that leads to those emotions being expressed or repressed. Typical elements that feed into the emotional culture include: • Lived values. These are different from the stated values. Lived values are often the result of external and internal events, such as a crisis, changes in leadership, changes in the environment, or deliberate attempts at shaping values. • Feelings are often the direct result of particular emotions playing out in the workplace. Engagement data measures those feelings, and in particular, how committed employees are in doing their work. • Emotions. A huge variety of shared emotions can be found in any organisation. I often find the following fears when conducting culture assessments: fear of exclusion, fear of making a mistake, fear of leaders / hierarchy, fear of not knowing, fear of not being perfect.



What does this mean for your culture journey? Working on culture means aligning your emotional culture with your cognitive culture. The smaller the gap, the healthier your culture. You may be across your cognitive culture but may not know your emotional culture. One of the first steps of a culture journey is to discover your emotional culture. This is about diagnosing culture to understand why it is the way it is. What is the shared belief system that exists in the organisation and pushes people to behave in a certain way? What are the values that are truly lived? What are the fears, emotions, and feelings that impact people?

• Any artefact or norms that contribute to the creation of particular emotions. Many symbols in an organisation can send a message about what is valued and create emotions and feelings that are at odds with what the business intends to create. Put simply, cognitive culture is about thinking, emotional culture is about feeling.

What is the link between cognitive and emotional cultures? One does not exist without the other. The emotional culture can reinforce the cognitive culture or play against it. A large gap between emotional and cognitive cultures tends to indicate that the culture is not being managed actively in the business, that leaders may not walk their talk.

Once you deeply understand your emotional culture, you can compare it with your cognitive culture and assess the extent of the gap. To reduce the gap, you will need to support your leaders in becoming role models of the behaviours you want to see displayed by employees. You will also need to realign your systems and processes with what you are trying to achieve. Furthermore, you will need to support leaders and managers to have more courage to act in spite of some of the fears they may experience. Core qualities of responsible, principled, and openness will provide employees with tools to face their emotions and feelings. Negative emotions and feelings will take time to shift. This can be done with a combination of 1:1 and group coaching, select use of specific symbols, and an active communication and engagement program. Emotional culture is rarely managed as deliberately as cognitive culture ‒ and often, it’s not managed at all. Companies can suffer a lot as a result and should therefore make sure they tackle both types of culture.

When this is the case, you find a lot of cynicism amongst employees, and the emotional culture undermines what the business is trying to achieve. The two types of cultures are created and reinforced through different mechanisms. Cognitive culture is created through strategic culture planning, role modelling by leaders, and a combination of systems and symbols. Emotional culture is less influenced by systems but a lot more by leadership and symbols.

Jerome Parisse-Brassens Jerome Parisse-Brassens is a culture change expert and a management consultant with over 25 years of experience in culture transformation, change management, leadership development, and business improvement. He helps organisations assess and shape their culture in alignment with their strategic goals. Photo by Ricardo Moura on Unsplash

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Tapping Into Body Language BY DR CAROL KINSEY GOMAN

Reading Your Customers’ Non-Verbal Cues A customer-centric culture is not just about offering good service. It’s a way of dealing with customers that creates an engaging and positive overall experience in order to drive repeat business, customer loyalty and profits. Whether your organisation is in healthcare or high tech, whether it is selling merchandise or marketing, the success of its customer-centricity depends on salespeople building positive and powerful relationships. That’s where body language comes in.


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Reading between the lines You and your customers are having two distinct conversations, and only one of them is verbal. In my programme, Body Language for Salespeople, I show the audience how to analyse the ‘second conversation’ by reading the non-verbal cues that signal how their customers are really feeling. Let’s say you have just presented two written options to a potential client and you notice that your prospect’s gaze lingers longer on one than on the other.



If, in addition, you see his eyes open wider and his pupils dilate, you know for certain that he has a much greater interest in this particular option. In general, people tend to look longer and with more frequency at people or objects they like. A person may be trying to look uninterested, but his eyes will keep returning to the object that attracts him the most. The same is true with person-to-person eye contact. Most of us are comfortable with eye contact lasting about three seconds, and prolonged mutual gaze without breaking can make us nervous. But when we like or agree with someone, we automatically increase the amount of time we look into his or her eyes. Disengagement triggers the opposite gaze reactions. The amount of eye contact decreases as we tend to look away from things that distress us and from people we don’t like. Similarly, a customer who is bored or restless may avoid eye contact by defocusing, gazing past you, or glancing around the room. Eyes signalling dislike or distrust will narrow slightly. In fact, eye squints can be observed as people read contracts or proposals, and when they occur, it is almost always a sign of having seen something troubling or problematic.

The eyes are the windows to the soul Researchers have known for years that eye pupil size is a major clue in determining a person’s emotional responses. The pupils are a part of our body we have practically no control over. Therefore, pupil dilation can be a very effective way to gauge someone’s interest. Pupils dilate for various reasons, including memory load and cognitive difficulty, but you can expect your customer’s pupils to dilate when they have positive feelings about you or your product/service. And you will notice that when that customer is upset or disappointed, his or her pupils will automatically constrict.

What’s in a smile Another way to judge someone’s emotional reaction is to ask yourself: Is that smile genuine? Typically, someone who agrees with you will smile and nod as you speak. (Disagreement shows up in the form of compressed or pursed lips, clenched jaw muscles, or a head turned slightly away, so eye contact becomes sidelong.) But smiles are often used as a polite response and to cover up other emotions. A fake smile involves the mouth only. Unless someone is expressing genuine pleasure or happiness, it’s hard to produce a real smile – the kind that crinkles the corners of the eyes and lights up the entire face.

How are they projecting themselves? Gestures are also telling. In general, the more open the position of your customer’s arms, the more receptive he or she is. Watch for expansive, welcoming gestures that seem to flow naturally from a person’s behaviour.

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When someone reaches towards you or uses a lot of open-hand gestures, it is usually a positive signal of interest and receptivity. In contrast, people who are defensive or angry may protectively fold their arms across their chest, clench their hands into a fist, or tightly grip their arm or wrist.

What are YOU projecting? People who agree with each other tend to mirror each other’s behaviours. One will lead and the other will follow.

The shoulders and torso also play an important role in a customer’s reactions.

If you notice your customer has assumed the same basic body orientation as yours, move slightly and see if she follows suit. If she does, you know you’ve made a positive connection.

When people agree with you or like you, the more they will lean towards you and the more closely they will stand before or beside you.

Of course, your body language is also being evaluated, and the way you dress, sit, stand, move, gesture and speak says more about you than you may realise.

On the other hand, when you say or do things your customer disagrees with or is uncertain about, the more they will tend to lean back and create space between the two of you.

For example, do you know that you only have seven seconds to make a positive first impression?

When you see people turn their shoulders and torso away from you, you’ve probably lost their interest. In fact, orienting away from someone in this manner almost always conveys detachment or disengagement, regardless of the words spoken. When people are engaged, they face you directly, ‘pointing’ at you with their torso. However, the instant they feel uncomfortable, they will turn away – giving you ‘the cold shoulder’.

Are you aware that there are two distinct sets of nonverbal signals that customers need to see from you? Do you realise that when your body language is out of alignment with your verbal message, people will believe what they see and not what you say? And most importantly, do you know how to use your body language to build positive and powerful customer relationships?

And if someone is feeling defensive, you may see an attempt to shield the torso with a purse, briefcase, laptop, etc.

Dr Carol Kinsey Goman

Dr Carol Kinsey Goman is an international keynote speaker at business meetings, association conferences, and for government agencies and universities. She is the creator of LinkedIn Learnings’s best-selling video course, ‘Body Language for Leaders’ and an expert on the impact of body language in the workplace. Her new book, STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence, will be published in September, 2020.


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Leadership Institute of Sarawak Civil Service in partnership with State Human Resources Unit (SHRU) organised the launching and showcase of SCS Learning Management System (LMS) during Hari Perkhidmatan Awam 2019 on 4th December 2019 at Borneo Convention Centre (BCCK). The SCS Learning Management System (LMS) is a blended learning platform for SCS employees to learn online at their own pace from hundreds of courses or learning videos, e- books and audiobooks, in addition to classroom training which set to be a game changer in SCS training and development roadmap. The implementation goal of this SCS LMS is to increase outreach and availability of knowledge to bigger group of SCS employees through job-based learning, assessment, coaching and mentoring anytime, anyhow and anywhere. This SCS LMS platform is a great avenue to empower all of SCS employees with knowledge and to be in charge of their own learning. All Sarawak Civil Service employees are invited to browse through the SCS Learning Management System at


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Be Kind • Stay Home • Save Lives





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