Monday, September 20, 2010

On Leadership

There is an on going debate whether leaders are born or made.  I am not pretty sure if which one is right.  But one thing I can say, I love to lead.   Ever since I was a kid, while doing role playing, I would take on the role of a teacher, the boss or the mother.  And when I went to school, I have been pretty active taking not only leadership roles in classroom works, but including various extra curricular activities as well. It is not because I like to take charge and take control of things.  But because I like create an impact and more so, create positive influence.

And when my sister asked my help on her assignment, I was deeply touched.  Her assignment was to interview her leadership mentor... And she chose to interview me.  Deep inside, I felt a sense of pride.  Of all the people I want to create the most positive influence on, that would be with my sister.  

So, here's how our interview went:

1)  How did you get started in the industry?

I am now currently working in a law firm as a Senior Secretary. And previous to this, I was with a multinational company working in various departments in Sales, Marketing and Human Resources.  As you can see in my now 10 years of career life, I am exposed to a wide range of fields.  

My career In both my legal and corporate indusctries, it was not an intentional pursuit to be in this position, as I have no background in both areas.  I graduated with a major in Journalism.  But I had an open mind.  I made myself flexible and versatile as much as possible by trying opportunities outside my box, pushing beyond my perceived limits and exploring something new.  

When  I applied for both positions, to me, there was a tiny chance of getting in . But there's no harm in trying.  And I'm glad I tried because the doors of opportunity were opened for me.  

2) What are the highs and lows of your career? How did you deal with lows of your career?

The highs in my career is seeing people under my care learn, grow and develop.  More than achieving 101% target achievement, I feel far greater satisfaction in seeing people under my care learn, grow and develop.  And the pay off is more long lasting.  To see them get promoted, being able to progress in their life, buy a car, buy a house, makes me happy.  Until now I keep close connections with some of them and they update me with their achievements.  And modesty aside, they thank me for the training I imparted on them. Not that I expect that they would, but when they do, it makes me glad and fully satisfied.

My lowest point in my career came at the highest point of my position.  The saying that goes it is lonely on the top is true.  Being in the middle management, you sometimes have to make a stern decision, sometimes a decision you do not want to make because it might affect the comforts of other people.  But you have to do it for the greater good of the company.  Therefore people begin to misinterpret good intentions and somehow cordial friendships turn sour.

At first, it was hard.  I admit I cried some tears when I was alone in my room.  But over time I have learned not to take things personally.  I tell myself that I am paid to do my job, get the results and not to make friends comfortable.  I also learned to act tough and unshaken, but little do they know that deep inside I am quivering.  Sometimes, it is all about image and projection.  But once I know what I am doing and as long as it is within the company's mission, vision and values, I am confident in carrying out my decisions.  Sometimes hard decisions must be made.  That is part of a management principle, and that is what separates a leader from a follower.

3)   What achievements are the most memorable to you?

Like I said, it is in people development.  There are a couple of applicants that I had to vouch and fight for to my superiors.  At the onset my superiors saw no value of them, but to me I see them as a diamond on a rough.  So I had to convince them to take in this person because I see the potential.  Once my superiors agreed, I trained them and now they are doing well in their respective careers promoted in the head office and some of them are now assistant managers.  From a warehouse man to assistant manager; from distributor salesman to assistant manager; from an agency coordinator to assistant manager... the list is endless.... 

4) Who do you consider as your mentors?

Wherever I go, I try to collect nuggets of learnings from each bosses that I had.  I work with them and learn as much as I can.  Even from the bad bosses, I learn what not to do.

I also consider John Maxwell and Stephen Covey as my mentors, as I read and study their books.

Last but not the least, my mother.  Ever since I was young she has exposed me to different fields of interest.   

5)  What are the most important things you learned from him/her?

From my bosses, operational stuff, what to do in the processes.  Also how to deal with people.  From John Maxwell and Stephen Covey it is all about the essence of leadership, more than management.  From my mom, this constant hunger for learning and passion for excellence.

6)  What are the qualities did you emulate from your mentors?

Summarized on two words:People Development.

7) Did you ever see yourself in the position where you’re at right now?

No. Actually not.  Looking back, when I was younger I wished to be a plain simple housewife, married to an Expat. Hahahaha! So far from it.  Quite opposite.  

8)  How would you define leadership?

Leadership is all about influence.  It is not measured by how many people reporting to you, but how many leaders you have developed.  

9) Have you ever thought of yourself as a leader?

Yes.  I love to lead.  Ever since I was a kid I have always been a leader.  Even when we were playing games with my friends, I would always take on the role of a mother, a teacher, or a boss. 

10)  What qualities do you think are important in becoming a leader?

A leader needs to have a vision and can inspire and influence others to carry out that vision.  A leader must also know the team, looking at them not as mere employess, but as indivisuals, as a person.  A leader must learn how to teach, coach and mentor.  A leader must likewise know to enforce discipline, should for such arise.  A leader must know how to motivate the team.  And lastly, a leader must know how to communicate well with the team and other stakeholders.