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The Key to Productivity May Lie in How Happy Your Staff Are

The Key to Productivity May Lie in How Happy Your Staff Are

What makes you happy to go to work every morning? Is it because the work you do is stimulating? Do you feel appreciated and valued? Maybe you’re working in a great office environment? Or could it be that you are working with some amazing people? Or is something entirely different?

Job satisfaction is essentially about being happy in one’s job. It is the feeling of pleasure and achievement we experience at work because we know what we do matters. The speed and efficacy of our work are often affected by our happiness level. The happier we are at work, the more efficient and effective we become. On the other hand, if we are unhappy, this unhappiness is reflected in the quality of our work. Unhappiness at work can affect our mental and physical state. It can also impact our relationships with our family and friends. In other words, unhappiness at work can translate to unhappiness in life.

Contrary to popular belief, money is not the biggest motivator for job satisfaction. Money is important but it cannot buy you happiness at work if the reasons for your unhappiness are not related to how much you are paid. Take Eric Yuan for instance. Yuan had a six-figure salary, but he wasn’t happy at work. In a recent interview with CNBC’s ‘Make It’, Yuan said ‘Every day when I woke up, I wasn’t very happy. I even did not want to go to work.’ Job satisfaction became a central focus for Yuan’s new company. This year, the company he founded – Zoom – was named one of the top ten happiest companies in the world to work in.

As a leadership coach, I sometimes ask the participants in my workshops to identify three elements they think can lead to job satisfaction. Apart from a sense of purpose, participants identify autonomy, flexibility, recognition, belonging and good relationship with people at work.

Working from home in lockdown, Thai and I thought nothing of allowing staff flexible hours to work. The first week we tried it, I received a text from a part-time employee that works elsewhere too. It had one-word ‘Thanks!’ followed by several happy emojis. Reading it made me happy and I’ve been trying to deconstruct this emotion.

All this while, I’ve focused on the staff’s happiness. What are the things we can do as a company to make our staff feel happy and fulfilled in their jobs? Are we doing enough? Can we do more? It had not occurred to me that a random act of kindness could bring happiness to me – the giver.

If a random act of kindness can make the giver happy, imagine our level of happiness if we can frame our acts in specific, concrete terms rather than abstract ones? For instance, giving our staff some flexibility to take time to work as they need or look after their child is better than just saying I want the staff to be happy. As managers, we know that happy employees produce better quality work, are less likely to make mistakes and will stay loyal to the organisation. Likewise, a happy manager is easier to work with, can get more work done and achieve better outcomes. So, why not give it a go?


The dragonfly effect on creating a happy work culture

The dragonfly effect is a concept mooted by a group of Stanford researchers. The dragonfly is the only insect in the world that can move in any direction when all its wings are working in concert. It symbolises the importance of how small acts can have a ripple effect to create big changes. I’ve been thinking about how we can use this symbol to create a happy work culture.

Consider the four principles as the four wings of the dragonfly: 1) Focus 2) Own 3) Engage and 4) Act.

Remember, you are using these principles in the context of creating happiness for your staff. So, don’t plan organisational goals like meeting deadlines or saving cost. Look at your staff’s emotional and mental wellbeing as the starting point for your planning.

1. Focus on specific goals

Identify a single and measurable goal that can make your staff happy. Define the goal clearly – as you would any organisational goal. Don’t describe abstracts like: ‘My goal is to make my staff happy.’ Be specific. ‘My goal is to make my staff happy by giving them some flexibility to adjust to returning to the office.’

Framing your goal makes it clearer and easier for you to achieve it so be specific about what you want to achieve.

2. Own your happiness strategy

The best way to create a message that is authentic and memorable is to cut through the noise. If you want others to believe it, you have to convince yourself first. Speak from the heart. Be honest. You must genuinely want to make your staff happy. Everything else will flow from there. Happiness has a ripple effect that will translate to their productivity at work. If you are not truthful about your intentions, your strategy may not work.

3. Engage

Once you have the staff’s interest, you can start engaging them in your goal of happiness. Engaging people is about compelling others to care deeply about your cause. If you want to have some flexibility in the workplace, it is not just you who has to be on board. You need the involvement of others in the team too. Engagement has little to do with logic or reason. You might have brilliant arguments why people should get involved but if you cannot get ‘buy-in’, you will not succeed.

Engagement is about creating the right emotional connection with people so they can see and feel what you are seeing and feeling.

4. Act

To act, you empower and enable others to work. If you have been successful in bringing some happiness to your team, then make it an organisational-wide project. Inspire other managers to take the lead from you and bring happiness to their teams too. The fourth wing of the dragonfly is crucial to closing the loop and creating an organisational culture that is vibrant and inclusive.


The four wings of the dragonfly are a metaphor for making a difference in the lives of others. Nearly all managers would like their employees to be happy because we know a happy worker produce better quality work and deliver results. A happy worker is also less likely to leave the organisation. They are genuinely enthusiastic about the company’s success and will work hard to ensure this success. Perks are attractive but they do not always address internal issues. Praise and recognition are motivating but only if the recipient believes them to be genuine. If once in a while, we can pause focusing on we want and orient ourselves to what others want, we are closer to finding out how we can help our staff be happy in their jobs. And as I have discovered in recent times, the pleasure we feel when we know we’ve done something good for others is priceless.

Is Staff Engagement All You Need To Succeed?

Is Staff Engagement All You Need To Succeed?

Why managing upwards and sideways is just as important…

Most leadership advice aimed at building, aligning, and energizing successful teams. We all know that employees who feel they are part of a team have a higher level of engagement, are more productive and deliver better results. But is team engagement the only measurement for success? Or is there something else we are missing? For business and career success, I believe managers today may need to extend their influence beyond their teams to include their peers and ultimately, their bosses.

One of the hardest things, managers have to do is ‘manage’ our managers – or bosses (if you prefer). How many of us can honestly say we’ve got this in the bag? The truth is our CEO rely on their managers to act as trusted lieutenants who are not afraid to pushback or to offer insights that can sharpen strategy. Additionally, we can’t get anything done if we do not have the cooperation from other managers within the organisation. We should also engage our peers on a range of perspectives if we want to drive change or innovation. At the same time, we must be able to inspire and motivate our teams.

Much has been written about managing teams but there is not much discussion on managing upwards and sideways so this week, I would like to focus on these topics instead.


Mobilising your boss

You know you have some great ideas. But how do you get your bosses to buy into these ideas?

To get your bosses on your side, try focusing on big picture issues and financial results instead. When you are pitching an idea to your bosses, steer away from describing the functions of your role. If you are a marketing manager, the functions of your role include running the marketing department, leading the company’s advertising and promotion campaigns, or growing the sales. Instead of describing the functions of your department, focus on the big picture perspective instead.

Consider the big picture as the top of a mountain. The daily functions in the marketing department are the things you do when you are at the foot of the mountain. You don’t climb up to the mountain every day but there are occasions when you have to scale it. When you do climb up, you are looking down the mountain and the perspective from the top is different. At the top, you have a bird’s eye view of things. You can see the village below. You see the roads, houses, and streets. From your vantage points, things look different. The streets may be crooked, or the houses may not be ideally located.

A big picture perspective helps you see things as they are and not as you imagined. It is an opportunity to observe, correct or improve on things. A big picture challenges you to ask: ‘Why are things occurring the way they are?’ ‘What really is necessary?’ and ‘How can I fit into the grand scheme of things?’ It’s an opportunity to ask yourself ‘How can I make things better for the company?’

If you can present your ideas from this perspective, you are more likely to succeed in mobilising your bosses into action.


Mobilising your colleagues

So, you’ve succeeded in getting the boss’ endorsement for your ideas. But for you to forge ahead, you will also need other managers in the company to come on board. What do you do?

Build a momentum. Lead from the front with a compelling story that can inspire others (including those who do not report to you) to jump on the bandwagon of success.

Here’s the secret: The tactics are the same as the ones you used to mobilise your staff. What do you do when you are trying to sell a new idea to your staff? All the tactics you apply to your staff can be applied to your colleagues. This can include strong leadership, a clear vision, an actionable plan, measurable goals, rewards and recognition and a strong narrative.

To mobilise horizontally, you may have to walk the halls, get out of your office to share ideas with others, listen to their concerns, and build strong alliances.


How to have the ear of your CEO – and what to say when you have it!

The individuals who have the ear of the boss almost always get promoted ahead of others. A recent study by McKinsey & Company showed that managing upwards (the boss) and sideways (your peers) contribute to almost half of a manager’s business and career success. But how do you get the ear of the boss?

One of the most common questions participants at my leadership workshops asked is: ‘How do I get noticed by the boss?’ If you are an aspiring executive, your access to the C-Suite may be far and few. Whether these opportunities are planned, spontaneous or fleeting, you must capitalise it.

Consider these opportunities as an audition for a more senior position. Take control of the situation or issue and communicate succinctly.

Here are some things I advise the participants to do:


1.Know when to approach

Most people find it difficult to discern a good time to approach their CEOs. Engaging in the lift, lunchroom or at the airport may or may not be opportune. A lot of it depends on your boss, the information you want to share and distractions of the moment. It’s important to get this step right.

Ask yourself: ‘How urgent is what I want to say?’ ‘Is it a good time to speak up now?’ ‘Am I speaking up to share something positive about what I (or my team) have done? Or am I speaking up because it is an issue that can impact the business?’

Be aware of the situation. Keep a close eye on body language. If the CEO pulls away to deal with some other matter, they may not be interested in your pitch. Terminate what you have to say and wait for another opportunity to say what you have to say.

Don’t worry too much if you get no reaction. If what you say resonates with them, the CEO will usually make a mental note and will be more amenable in future interactions.


2. Be prepared when the time is right

Do you know that every time you are in front of the CEO or C-Suite, you are being judged? The top people in your organisation are busy executives. When you have the opportunity to connect with them, don’t waste it on small talk or gossip.

Trying to connect with the CEO by talking about your kids’ soccer practice is not going to create any lasting impression. Instead, you should talk concisely about what you want to share. Get your priorities straight and information ready so you can demonstrate how informed and professional you can be. CEOs are always on the lookout for potential. If you display this potential – even in a brief encounter – it speaks well for your future.

One of the tips I tell the participants in my training sessions is to have a mental list of bullet points they can rattle off easily when they are presented with an opportunity to interact with the bosses. This list can be an overview of your department, key points that describes how well the department is performing and how this performance impacts the company at large. Also, include a few original ideas of your own to show that you can be counted on to drive the business.


3. Know when to assert yourself

Timing is the essence. If you uncover an issue in your department or across the organisation, you may want to escalate this information upwards to the bosses. Sharing information upwards is not about gossiping or undermining others. It is about solutions to problems that may affect the business. When you spot these opportunities, you have to act by getting this information to the top.

One of the ways you can do this is to request for the issue to be included in the meeting’s agenda. Ask for a 15-minute time slot to present your case to the management. If you have critical information and the CEO is not available, consider approaching other C-Suite executives.


Being a strong leader to your team alone may no longer be good enough. An effective manager today must also be able to mobilise upwards and sideways. The efforts we put into mobilising our bosses and our colleagues are mutually reinforcing. Most of the time, these actions are geared towards achieving tangible results and advancing corporate strategy. It’s not impossible if we can align it to the big picture.



The COVID-19 global pandemic has led to an explosion of buzzwords in the business world. ‘New normal’ has been circulating on hyper-speed all over the business community. So, have established words like ‘self-isolation’, ‘key workers’, ‘lockdown’ and ‘quarantine’. Then there are the COVID-19 neologisms like ‘covidiot’ (a covid denier), ‘covideo party’ (an online ZOOM or Skype Party) and many others. Finally, we have the terms that have material changes to our professional lives like ‘WFH’ (work from home), ‘quaranteam’ (remote teams created by quarantine), and ‘Zoom meetings’ (meetings on Zoom).

In times of significant crises, linguistic creativity reflects the major preoccupations of the time. It is also a means for us to make sense of the changes that have suddenly become a part of our everyday lives.

As Melburnians move out of tough Lockdown 4 restrictions, a new word is beginning to emerge. RTW or return to work. Victoria’s new COVID-19 cases are now in single digits. Our 14-day rolling average is trending in the right direction. Reopening the economy and allowing workers to return to their offices is becoming real. So, how ready are we leaders and managers for a return to work scenario?

The last time I was in our Docklands office was more than six months ago. I have not been back to the premises since the first lockdown when the federal government declared that they were shutting down the economy to contain the virus. As we move closer towards a lifting of restrictions, the team and I have been planning for our ‘return to work’ normal.

Here are some useful tips we would like to share with you:

1. Cashflow and your business

Now is the time for leaders to do some serious business planning. The faster you sort out the company’s budget, the sooner your business can get back on track. Getting your finances sorted out will give your workers a greater sense of security when they return to work. They will be able to focus on their work, be more productive and deliver better results.

Consider the following:
       • Cashflow. Reopening the office will require some spending. To reconfigure the office to a COVID-safe environment, your business may have to invest in new furniture and fittings. There are also operational costs like electricity, staff coffees, cleaning, and other bills that the business has not been paying in lockdown.
       • Bank loans. If your business requires a bank loan to help you get back on your feet, you may want to start the process now.
       • Cost-saving. To manage your finances, look at areas where you can save. For example, lease, suppliers, and insurance.
       • Billing. Make sure your billing is up to date before reopening. Have a system in place to follow up on outstanding invoices and finalise any new job quotes you may want to revisit.


2. Your team

Your team must be the most important consideration in the RTW equation. An effective leader tunes in to how their workers are thinking and feeling in a crisis. They keep watch on changes and respond to concerns.

While the team was in lockdown, my managers and I spent a lot of time connecting with them. Working from home was a big shift that most of us have never experienced before. Keeping staff motivated and focused on their work requires empathy, kindness, and patience.

Now that they are moving back to a structured office environment, workers will again require the same level of support from their managers. Understanding that after six months of working at home, workers can become accustomed to the routine and switching back to a 9 to 5 environment will require a period of adjustments.

Five principles and priorities to lead the team out of lockdown
       • Employee-centric approach. Staff should be the Number 1 priority. Workers need to know that their leaders are supportive as they make the transition back to work.
       • Quality communication. Communication is vital. Keep the staff informed of changes without overloading them with information. Be transparent about the changes the company is making. Be proactive by taking the effort to personally talk to every staff so you know what they are thinking and feeling.
       • A shared vision. Focus on a clear, shared vision and a sense of purpose beyond the daily routines. Reframe the transition process regularly so staff can see what is needed in each stage and can focus on these changes.
       • Collaboration and networking. Barriers were broken when we worked from home. Continue to challenge the norm by empowering staff to take on new responsibilities.
       • Empathy and gratitude. Empathy should not end just because our team is back in the office. Be sympathetic about the challenges each individual may be facing. Adjust expectations if you have to. Show gratitude for their efforts and initiative.


3. Health & Safety

Businesses must look after the health and safety of all employees. If every Melburnian does their part, we can effectively manage the virus and keep our economy open.

Here are some measures your business can take:
       • Read the government’s COVID-19 website so your business can comply with the health department’s guidelines of a COVID-SAFE workplace.
       • As a business leader, you will have to put in place clear health and safety guidelines.
       • Consider PPE and hygiene measures in the office.
       • Create a workflow plan that respects social distancing.
       • Communicate to staff how important it is that they follow these requirements. Lead by example.
       • Be aware that some staff may not feel safe returning to the office. Have a plan to help them continue to work from home.
       • Prepare a comprehensive risk management plan that identifies all the measures your business will be taking to ensure the health and safety of your staff, visitors, and clients. Put this plan on your website and on social.


4. Your clients

Our clients were just as affected by the virus as we were. So, when we reopen, we have to consider them as well.

In my business, client meetings are common. During the pandemic, we shifted all these meetings to an online medium. But as we return to the office, we have to be prepared for clients coming into the office. We also have to accommodate clients who may not be ready for face-to-face contact.

Some of the things I have been doing:
       • Contacting my clients to let them know the precautions our business is taking to keep them safe when we reopen.
       • Assuring clients that the online Zoom meetings are still available if they are not comfortable with a face-to-face meeting.
       • Preparing our COVID-SAFE guidelines and risk management plans to be uploaded onto our website and social media platforms when the time is right.
       • Exploring potential new markets that we could diversify to.


When we were forced to work from home, many of us were not prepared for the changes we encountered. My team and I took weeks to adjust. In that time, we faced challenges and productivity was low. But we banded together and somehow made it worked. The lessons we learned working from home can now be applied to when we have to return to work. RTW need not be as difficult as WFH if we are better prepared.



One of the few good things to come out of working from home is that you get more time to pursue activities that you probably wouldn’t have time to do if things were normal. I have been meaning to read Michele Obama’s ‘Becoming’ since it was published but a busy pre-COVID schedule made it take longer than usual to finish the book. Being in lockdown since March, however, changed all that. I managed to finish the book recently. It was a gratifying read. ‘Becoming’ is deeply personal and empowering. In the book, Michele Obama candidly discussed family, love, career and of course, her time in the White House.

One of the phrases that resonate with me when I read ‘Becoming’ was ‘Am I good enough?’ Michele Obama asked herself this question several times in the book. Her reflections shaped by her experiences and her environment helped her become who she is today.

Self-awareness is about the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively. If you have a clearer view of who you are, you will make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. Brene Brown describes it brilliantly when she writes that leaders without self-awareness are a huge energy drain – not just for themselves but for the people who work with them. They also cultivate an eggshell culture that is dominated by fear and hurt. Self-aware leaders, on the other hand, build success by instilling confidence and promoting inclusivity.

As a leadership coach, I have seen firsthand the power of self-awareness. I also know how easily attainable this skill is. So, this week, I would like to share some of my ideas with you.



According to organisational psychologist and author, Dr Tasha Eurich, there are two categories of self-awareness: internal self-awareness and external self-awareness.

Internal self-awareness is associated with our belief systems, values, and aspirations. It is about who we are and what we stand for. It relates to our happiness, job satisfaction and sense of control. On the flip side is anxiety, stress, and depression.

External self-awareness, on the other hand, is our understanding of how others view us in relation to the factors discussed above. Leaders who can understand how others feel about them are more capable of demonstrating empathy than those who cannot understand others.

Success is not indicative of self-awareness. A good leader can have an abundance of self-confidence and other traits, but they are not necessary, self-aware. Research by HRB shows that only 10-15% of successful managers and business leaders have actual self-awareness.

Also, there is no correlation between internal and external self-awareness. This means that a leader can have a high degree of internal self-awareness but little external self-awareness or vice versa. The diagram of the four archetypical leaders below explains:




Experience and power can give a leader a false sense of confidence over their performance and abilities. As their power grows, they can become less willing to listen to others because they think they know better or because feedback can come with a cost. For example, the experienced marketing director who thinks he/she knows everything about the industry may choose not to conduct crucial research. A successful CEO who has made up his mind on how to progress a project may not want feedback from others that could potentially derail his/her plans.

I like to challenge the managers at my workshop to consider reasons that can hinder their self-awareness. The most common reply is a cliché – ‘It is lonely at the top!’ At executive floor, a CEO has fewer opportunities to interact with the shop floor. This means less chances of receiving genuine and candid feedback. Also, their position of power becomes a barrier to communication. A clerk who is uncomfortable talking to the boss is more likely to hold back important feedback.

To find out what is going on, leaders have to find a way to encourage their workers (from all levels) to speak comfortably and candidly with them. If you do not know what is really happening in your organisation, you cannot lead effectively.



Introspection doesn’t always improve self-awareness. Whenever I make this statement, I get a reaction from the managers I am training. Most participants assume introspection – examining our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviours – make us more aware of who we are and therefore gives us the self-awareness we need to succeed.

While it is true that introspection helps us contextualise our actions and behaviours, it focuses on the individual i.e. ourselves. Introspection answers the ‘why’. ‘Why did I lose my temper in the meeting?’ (Behaviour). ‘Why do I dislike A so much?’ (Emotion). ‘Why do I not like this idea?’ (Attitude). Usually, many of the answers we are seeking do not exist in our conscious mind. Our emotions, attitudes and behaviours are influenced by our unconscious. To compensate, we make up answers that can explain things. Not all these answers are true.

Leaders who reflect on their roles and the impact their roles are having on others, however, develop a greater sense of awareness. Essentially, we ask the ‘what’ and ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’. ‘What am I doing here?’ ‘What is the fallout of the decision I make?’ ‘How will it impact my staff?’ ‘How do I get my workers to talk candidly with me?’ Self-reflection is about asking ‘Am I good enough?’ And by whose standards? Mine? Ours? Theirs? Self-reflection extends beyond an honest and objective appraisal of ourselves. It is also about the willingness to accept candid responses from others and to acknowledge the work of others. Managers who focus on developing both internal and external self-awareness, learn to see themselves better and in the process become better leaders. Finally, no matter how much progress you make, there is always more to learn. That is why self-awareness is such a rewarding journey. Have you started questioning ‘Am I good enough?’

Ask The Elephant If You Want To Improve Productivity

Ask The Elephant If You Want To Improve Productivity

In recent weeks, I have been following the COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry with some interest. The Inquiry showed that systemic issues were a major contributing factor to the hotel quarantine failure that resulted in the second wave in Victoria. It started me thinking about the elephant in the room.

The elephant is a large animal. Even a baby elephant is going to occupy a lot of space. As managers, we know what ‘having an elephant in the room’ means. It is an issue that everyone is acutely aware of, but no one wants to talk about. An ‘elephant in the room’ can derail a lot of organisational goals. So, let’s talk about the elephant today.


Elephants in the rooms are taboos

Every organisation will have its ‘elephants’. Unfortunately, not every organisation has a culture to confront these elephants. In many organisations, ‘the elephant’ is an undiscussable topic. A taboo that everyone avoids at all cost.

In my role as a leadership coach, I have come across some pretty big elephants in the room. Sometimes, the problem is twofold – personal reluctance and organisational defence.

Our basic instinct in the workplace is to talk about ‘safe topics’ – i.e. the topics that we think others will bring up if we don’t mention them. It is a diffusion of responsibility. We rationalise our decision of not saying something by assuming it’s someone else’s problem or thinking that the problem will work itself out. Additionally, we are concerned about peer pressure and social rejection. We think to ourselves: “If I say something, will I upset the rest of the team? Are they going to exclude me from everything now?” So, we don’t say anything.

Likewise, our leaders could be our problem. If we have bosses who are defensive when we raise an issue with them, we will learn very quickly to keep things to ourselves.

Neither scenarios are ideal. If the elephant in the room is not resolved it becomes a problem. An undiscussable culture feeds organisational distrust, demotivates staff, strains relationships and affects productivity.


Elephants and leaders

The elephant in the room may have been in existence long before you joined the organisation but you – as the leader – can do something about the beast. It begins with self-awareness. Self-awareness is knowing who you are and what others think you are. It is the ability to see yourself objectively and clearly.

Many of us think we know who we are. We spend a lot of time dressing up our resumes to convince an employer we have all those wonderful abilities to be a visionary leader, a team player, a great communicator, a creative problem solver and so forth. After all, we are the only person who has direct access to our every thought, feelings, and experiences. So, who better than us to know ourselves, right? But, a recent Harvard Business School study revealed that out of 95% of people who claimed they are self-aware, only 10-15% actually are.

As a leader, you probably know it is important to pay attention to what your workers have to say. But do you know you can enhance productivity by also paying attention to what your workers did not say?


Here are some questions to consider:

1. Whose contributions in your team do you value most?

Are you prioritising the contributions of those who can think quickly on their feet over the ones who may need more time to reflect on a problem? Are the men in your team given more airtime than the women? Are you showing preference to the employees who are physically present over the ones who are working remotely from home?


2. What personal needs have precedence over others?

Are you being fair to everyone? Are you giving the flexibility to the mother with a child over the single dad with teenagers? Are you treating people with physical health problems differently from those who may be suffering from mental health challenges? Are you on ‘buddy terms’ with the staff who share similar interests with you but barely acknowledging the ones who have nothing in common with you?


3. What bad behaviours are you permitting?

A staff seeks you out to complain about a colleague. Do you entertain them? You allow your favourite employee to have special privileges others don’t have. Everyone in the office knows about it. A manager repeatedly produces poor quality work that others have to fix. You don’t do anything.


4. Are you your worse enemy?

Do you say ‘I’ or ‘we’ when talking about the department’s success? Are you impatient when an employee is struggling with a new skill? Do you brush aside someone else’s idea in meetings? Are you expecting an immediate response to your 4 a.m. emails?


How to bring up the elephant

So, you’ve noticed there’s an elephant in the room. What do you do next? Calming the elephant in the room can be messy but if you want a happy, motivated team who are productive and effective, you may have to tame the beast first.

Identify and name the issue. It can be hard bringing up the elephant in a team environment because of the group’s dynamics. A team that has been working together has some history – there is established trust, mutual respect, groupthink, and peer pressure. Naming the elephant is not easy. The best advice I can give is to do it gently and with care. Be sensitive to the feelings and reactions of the team. Remember, it’s not just the responsible individual (s) who will be upset. The rest of them can also be affected.

Focus on the issue, not the individual. Issues and goals do not have feelings. People do. Unfortunately, elephants in the room are manifested by humans. The best approach is to focus on the big picture consequences rather than the person’s faults or shortcomings. For example, if a certain behaviour is affecting the timeliness of a project, then use the project deadline as the starting point of the discussion.

Make it easier for everyone. The purpose of bringing up the elephant in the room is not to embarrass or humiliate anyone. So, the best way to handle a sensitive topic is to be genuinely concerned and slightly inquisitive. The more comfortable people feel discussing the elephant, the more likely you will achieve results.

Don’t dwell. Once the issue has been discussed and resolved, move on. Don’t dwell on it. It becomes personal after that.


How to bring it up with the boss:

‘I’ve noticed a dynamic on our team that I am curious/concerned about. Can I share it with you?’


How to invite a dialogue with your team:

“I know every company will have sensitive topics. Our organisation is no exception but that’s not the culture I want to create. Would you be willing to share with me a topic that you have avoided bringing up so far? What commitment do you need from me so you can speak freely about the topic?”


The ‘black elephant’ on the executive floor

Given the current global crisis we are in, I feel it’s important to talk a little about ‘the black elephant’. The term most commonly used to describe the pandemic is ‘black swan’ but I prefer Adam Sweidan’s ‘black elephant’ instead. It is a term derived from a cross between a ‘black swan’ and ‘the elephant in the room’. It describes an inevitable disaster that no one wants to address.

History has produced many examples to learn from. The 2008 financial crisis, Facebook-Cambridge Analytical’s 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Scandal, Marriot International 2018 cybersecurity breach and climate change. In the past, we can dismiss these threats as local or regional, but the world today is interconnected and a disruption in one part of the world can rapidly spread to the rest of the world. The COVID-19 crisis is all the proof we need that it can happen.

As business owners, we have a responsibility to build organisational resilience. Organisational resilience is the ability to anticipate and respond to change or disruption. To be resilient, companies must monitor potential black elephant events and plan a response that can handle every kind of threat – including the ones that becomes an existential one for the business.

The human spirit is a wonderful thing. ‘Phoenix rising from the ashes’ is the phrase that pops into my head every time I see or read about how individuals, groups and companies around the world have survived the fallout of the virus.

The phoenix is a mythical bird in Greek mythology. It has a fiery plumage that burns for 100 years. At the end of its life, it settles on a nest, catches on fire, and is turned to ashes. But from these ashes, a new phoenix is reborn, and the cycle of life continues. There are hundreds of examples of the human spirit. The world has just completed a global experiment in working from home and guess what? We found out collectively, it can work! In Melbourne, our real estate industry is showing homes virtually and actually selling them as well. Our local barista is a grocer. And the boutique distillery now makes hand sanitisers.

Resilient companies do not just survive a crisis. They thrive. This can only happen when we have the right type of leadership in place. Leaders within the organisation with the business acumen to think creatively and respond proactively about the future. Inclusive leaders with a clear set of values who can inspire and motivate their people to respond effectively to pull the business out of the threat. The type of agile leaders who can see and act on the possibilities of doing things differently or better.

Taking on the elephant in the room takes courage, time, patience, and heart. If we don’t start discussing the undiscussable, we cannot ensure our people, or our business, are operating to their full potential.



The other day one of my staff asked what a return to the office would look like. Until that afternoon, I have not given it much thought. The COVID-19 lockdown is so protracted that is has become second nature. We don’t think twice about working from home or Zoom meetings anymore. It feels so familiar these days, it’s hard to imagine a time when we have to go to an office.

But the reality is Victoria’s new infections and death rates are dropping, and the Andrews’ Government will start relaxing strict social distancing rules if this continues. Employers must start asking ‘What would a return to the office look like for their business?’

The good news for employers is that our workers (up to 61% surveyed) are keen to return to a physical office – according to a recent survey by the ABC. Everyone is tired of being locked at home. The novelty of working from home is wearing off and workers are craving the structure, efficiency, and social interaction of an office environment.

But if employers think we can just press the ‘restart’ button and everything will return to pre-pandemic days, we are mistaken. The world has yet to defeat this deadly virus. Returning to the office is going to look and feel different. Our workers may be worried and anxious about this return. As employers, we must prepare them for this re-entry.

So, I have been thinking a lot about strategies that can help employers prepare for a return to the office. We start by helping ourselves first. Here are some ideas I would like to share with you:


Accept that autopilot work may not happen

The office we are returning to is going to be different from the one we left in March. For a start, the physical changes will be obvious. If we are working in a building, we may have your temperatures taken before we can enter it. We will be told to use hand sanitisers before and after we use the lifts. When we get to the office, we find our workstations have been re-configured and we are sitting alone with a 1.5-metre distance between us and our colleagues. We could be wearing masks.

It’s not just the physical that has changed. Our mental framework has changed too. Employers must accept that our staff returning to the office cannot simply flick a switch and return to pre-COVID productivity. They will need a period of adjustments. To confound things further, the environment we operate in is likely to change constantly and we have to change with it. The new normal is not the old ways.


Manage anxiety

Here’s the thing, every time we are faced with the unknown, we are going to start feeling anxious. Feeling anxious does not necessarily mean something bad is going to happen. But it is a natural human reaction when we are out of our comfort zone.

Coming back to a new work environment can trigger this anxiety. Some of us can suppress our fears and bury them under layers of feigned confidence and positivity. Others wear them on their sleeves. No matter how we cope with anxiety, we have to pay close attention to it. If we are not managing our stress, we can end up taking it out on others.

A friend of mine worked in essential services throughout the first and second wave. She became worried about wearing PPE at work and started taking upon herself to police her colleagues. Naturally, she upset many people at the factory with her constant admonishing.

Stay on top of your anxieties and stress. Find someone you can confide in whether it’s your superior, a family member or a healthcare professional. If we don’t manage our stress, we cannot be there to help our staff manage theirs.


Be patient and flexible

I talked about staff needing time to adjust earlier in this article. Even the 9-to-5 routine is going to feel strange for a while. Our staff will not only be dealing with transitioning challenges, they may also be called upon to adapt to sudden and unexpected changes. Even our customers’ behaviours have changed in lockdown and we may have to change the way we communicate and interact with them. Every one of these issues can present a challenge to an organisation.

Moving forward, the best way to manage is to be patient and flexible. Give our staff sufficient time to transition. Adjust our expectations and adapt the performance measurements to manage these changes.


‘Watch out for the APE in the room’

I get a reaction from the audience every time I speak about ‘Being an APE’. APE is the acronym I use to describe assumptions, perceptions, and expectations.

Assumptions are our preconceived notions of how a person works, thinks, or behaves. In times of uncertainties, our convictions can become stronger because it is our coping mechanism.

Perceptions, on the other hand, refer to our understanding or interpretation of something. Perception is fundamentally individual to the person. Two persons attending a concert can have diverging perceptions of the event.

Expectations are what we believe will happen or occur. Our expectations are based on specific experiences we have at work as well as our personal life experiences. It is normal for managers to have expectations about our staff’s performance or response. But when our expectations are not met, we can become frustrated or disappointed.

Now is the time to practise empathy in the workplace. Empathy is not sympathy. It is not about feeling sorry for your staff because they cannot find a babysitter but has to report to work. It is about putting yourself in their shoes and trying to feel what they are feeling. If you can do that, you will find it easier to adjust your expectations.

Likewise, our staff have expectations too. For instance, they expect us to have the answers. You are likely to get questions with no clear or satisfactory answers. Be honest and upfront with your team. If you don’t have the answer, tell them so and commit to updating them as soon as you can. It is also perfectly fine to ask them to help out if you need it. The best leaders are not afraid to ask for help.


Stay focused to motivate

We may not be able to control the environment, but we can stay focused on what we have to achieve. Keeping the business viable is a big picture goal everyone can aspire towards. It means keeping people employed. It is a good way to motivate the team to be productive again.


Bring some happiness

One of the best ways to make a transition smoother is by making it easier for others to cope. Be the person that will bring a smile to others. Strike up a conversation and ask them about how they are coping. Share an inspiring story or a funny anecdote and show appreciation if someone has put in the effort. You don’t need a strong argument to express gratitude. You can even say ‘thank you’ to someone for simply being around. While you are doing your best to bring happiness and laughter back to the office, don’t forget about the team members who are still working from home.

Everyone is different. Each individual is going to respond differently to the transition back to the office. If we are sensitive to their feelings, we can ease their transition.

Back in March, when the government took drastic and immediate measures to shut the economy, many of us were taken by surprise. We had few precedents to guide us. Turning my dining table into a workstation, adapting to video, and coordinating multiple projects remotely was not easy. There were times, I felt overwhelmed and ‘lost in the unfamiliar’. I knew my team was feeling the same way. What we did to survive bears testimony to this year’s most powerful word ‘together’. We banded together. We became resourceful and creative. Eventually, we made it worked.

As we embark on transitioning back to the office, we must once again call upon our combined strength – our togetherness – to make it work, again. This time we can be prepared. We don’t have to be caught by surprise.

Empathy – why it matters in leadership now

Source: CNN

Empathy – why it matters in leadership now

One of the people I admired most in the world is former First Lady – Michele Obama. I think she is the personification of wisdom. An African American woman who has obtained an Ivy League education, built a successful career, brought up two beautiful daughters and married a man who has changed the History of America forever. I love the fact that she has such an optimistic outlook on life. And how she can combine heart with head to simply ask the rest of the world to do what is right.

Recently I had the privilege of watching Michele Obama deliver one of the best speeches of 2020. What she had to say at the DNC opening night hit a nerve. She explained that she had spent recent times thinking about ‘empathy’ and the importance for all of us to recognise that ‘someone else’s experience has value too’. Obama pointed out that many of us practice it without a second thought. If we see someone who is in trouble, we try to help immediately. ‘It is not a hard concept to grasp. It’s what we teach our children’.

In Melbourne, we are now feeling the full impact of the virus. We are still in one of the strictest restrictions Australia has ever experienced as a nation. We have to wear masks and keep a 1.8m distance from others when we go out. We cannot move beyond our 5-km radius unless we have a reason to do so. We are not allowed to travel to work unless we have a permit. And every evening, we have an emergency curfew taking away our nights. While still in Lockdown 4, the number of new COVID-19 cases are still fluctuating with extended restrictions.

This frightening and uncertain environment is alarming to many of us. We are worried about our jobs, our children’s education, and our family’s health. Now, more than ever, we need to practise empathy, kindness, and compassion towards one another. It is a time for companies to step up to the challenge and make good the promises we have been touting for decades – ‘Our people are our most valuable assets’.


Empathy is a connection

Empathy is the capacity to feel what someone else is feeling. It is about putting yourself in their shoes. It is the understanding that what they have to say and how they feel is valuable. It is about acting upon it so you can make meaningful changes to their lives and the lives of others.

The measure of a good leader today is empathy. But it is easier said than done. The COVID-19 health crisis has forced leaders to extend themselves beyond their typical roles and under tremendous strain. We are juggling untested remote working, low staff productivity, and increased occupational safety and health concerns while also trying to balance our own private and professional lives.

It is a lot on our plates. But we have to do what is right. Because it matters.

Empathy is about what matters. Perhaps the best way to describe empathy comes from American professor and bestselling author, Brené Brown. Empathy according to Brown is about connection. You don’t have to suffer a terrible personal tragedy to be empathetic. You only need to connect to the other person’s emotions. If you can feel how they feel you are a lot closer to connecting with them on an authentic and personal level.

In her bestselling book, ‘I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) (2008) Brown listed four attributes of empathy. Leaders can use these four attributes to develop empathy in the workplace.

       • See the world as others see it.

Put your judgements, bias, and feelings aside and ‘see’ the other person’s side instead. Don’t immediately label a staff ‘dinosaur’ or ‘incompetent’ just because he or she is struggling with technology. In the office, there are techies who can come to fix computer glitches immediately. Working from home, your staff may only have the kids and the family pet.

      • Be non-judgemental.

Don’t judge a staff just because they cannot log in eight-hours a day, five-days-a-week. They may have other pressing matters at home that you are not aware of.

      • Understand another person’s feelings.

To be able to understand how others are feeling, you must first be in touch with your feelings. Managing from home is difficult. You are overstretching yourself and in danger of exhaustion and burnout. If you can recognise these feelings, then put them aside and focus on your staff. You may be able to sense what they are suffering too.

      • Communicate your understanding.

You must share this understanding with the other person. Rather than saying ‘It could be a lot worse…’ ‘At least you…’ Try saying ‘I’ve been there, I know’ or (an example from Brown’s book) ‘It sounds like you are in a hard place now. Tell me more about it’.


Empathy is not sympathy

Empathy is not sympathy. When you empathise with someone, you don’t feel sorry for them. You feel with them.

When you sympathise with someone you are saying, ‘I feel sorry for you’. You are not connecting to how they are feeling. You are merely reacting to what they feel. How did you react when your staff told you about her concerns for her daughter who is sitting for Year 12 exams this year? Did you say something like ‘Everything happens for a reason’ or ‘At least she can do online learning’ or ‘I hope things get better for you.’ You are reacting to her feelings. You are saying, maybe things will improve. Let’s move on.

Sympathy is a disconnection. It drives the person away; makes them more disengaged with their work and less motivated to deliver results.


Empathy is practice

Empathy doesn’t come easy. It grows with time and experience. It takes practice. But if you persevere and keep at it, you will attain it. There will be times when you will miss the opportunity to show empathy to your staff. Don’t be afraid to walk back. Ask for a second chance so you can try again.

Some of the things you can do to develop empathy are common sense. Be kind. Be curious. You can’t fix the world’s problems. You may not even be able to fix the individual’s problem, but you can listen. Listening is powerful. Try to understand what that individual is feeling not how you will feel if you are in a similar situation. Empathy is not about you. It’s about them. Help people know they are not alone. Let them know you are grateful they shared with you. And say, ‘thank you’.


Empathy is the little acts of kindness

Even the simplest acts of kindness can be deeply felt in these times of uncertainty. No act is too simple or a moment too small to bring comfort and healing to others. Now, is the chance for all leaders to show they understand and care about the challenges every one of their employees is going through. You can ease their fears by talking to them about the crisis and assuring them their futures are secure. You can give them a safe workplace.

Show your employers you appreciate and value them with a simple ‘Thank you’. Surprise the team with a pizza Zoom meeting. Send a sick staff a ‘Care package’. Personalise e-greeting cards to all the fathers in the office. There are so many little things you can do to energise your staff to keep them engaged and productive.

As a leader, you can be vigilant for the signs of struggles such as distress, poor productivity, or social withdrawal. Raise it with the staff if you notice it. Ask them how they are feeling and really listen to what they have to say. If you can help, help.


Empathy is about looking after ourselves first before we can look after others

Sometimes we are so busy worrying about others, we forget about ourselves. Managers cannot lead and inspire their teams if they are also struggling. On an aeroplane emergency, we are told to put on our oxygen masks first before we help others. The same applies here. If you don’t look after yourself first, you cannot model self-care and support to your staff.

Finally, you must model the right behaviours. If you want our staff to be engaged virtually, you have to first demonstrate your enthusiasm and interest. If you want your staff to be disciplined, you have to define the boundaries and adhere to them ourselves. Be the role model that your staff needs.


It seems that empathy has become the latest buzzword in business these days. I have no problem with this. If that is what it takes to help us survive this pandemic crisis, then ‘I ask you ‘(to coin a famous Michele Obama’s catchphrase) to take on this shared responsibility.

Player or Spectator

Player or Spectator

In the world right now, with so much uncertainty, there are two types of players who seem to be coming up the most.

First ones are the C Players, who are not really working on their skill, binging on tv series and movies and watching things happen around them without proactively participating in them.

The second are the A Players. The people who are in the game, aim to better themselves constantly, making a difference everyday, by doing something of value. Like learning a new skill, completing a personal goal, contributing to their well being etc. They leverage crises and turn them into opportunities and they do their best to prepare themselves to come back stronger and better once the whole pandemic is over.

I hear so many people think there is not much we can do when we are in the middle of a global pandemic. But this is so not true.

I think that there is not much we can do right, we are in the middle of a global pandemic. What we often forget is that the pandemic will be over very soon. it is the global recession that will come and bite us every harder. So if you still think there is not much you can do about it? think again!!! The global recession that will follow it will strike harder. What are we going to do then?

The experts in the industry predict not only that businesses will continue to close down, and some corporations will be using this to let go of all the under performers.
So if you don’t bring the A game back.
The job market indeed is more competitive than ever.

In a market like that, honing and harnessing on just one skill, no matter how polished it is, it just won’t cut it.

HR is already having trouble measuring productivity ever since people are working from home because there seems to be no metric to measure. It is tough as pandemic is something we have never experienced before. New measurement and procedure will need to be in place .

It also means there is a lot of uncertainty in businesses.

So if you can’t perform well and are not being able to give more values and adapt change fast. You will be the first one to go.

So staying ahead in the game through the crisis is the key to it!!!

So think again. What type of player are you going to be?

Because the top 5% are going to be…people who are capable of doing more than one role and can transfer their skills in different departments. Your ultimate skill is what makes you to be that top 5%

In a place as fierce as this, why not be prepared for the future and develop different skills that not only will land you a job, secure your role or even give you leverage to negotiate your salary in the future.

It’s about aiming for the best and preparing for the worst. Hence by developing skill, you’re going to be able to stand out of the crowd.

And I know you must be thinking, ‘Oh my god, what are we going to do, how do we know what skill to work on?’

Learn something that you always wanted to, something that is either going to help you personally and professionally. All ecommerce industries are on the rise, so perhaps learning some relevant skill that you can practice and become good at in the long run is a great idea.

I’m not asking you to stop watching netflix, but if you’re spending a couple of hours on netflix, maybe cut it down a bit so you can use the remaining hours to focus on self development or even just well being. Instead of watching netflix 24X7. What about go and cook a meal, play a game, exercise, connect with your partner or your friends, indulge in wellbeing and relaxation, give your mind a break from the screen.

Detach yourself from it, so you can think better and make better decisions.

It’s about striking the balance between personal and professional, especially now.

Don’t let pandemic determine your life.

You design your own future and be the A player who is going to WIN every single race!!!

The Leader in You

The Leader in You

People often ask me, what does it take to be a great leader? In my opinion. A transformational Leader is someone that is constantly leading and learning about themselves.They empower and inspire teams to innovate and create change that will help grow and shape the future success of the organisation.

The crisis that we face today is like no other. In fact, many businesses face many challenges that are unique but this is something that none of us were prepared for. In times like these, it is the leader who knows the way, shows the way and goes the way. The shift of corporations to work from home has been the biggest migration in recent times. Many employees were let off, and the ones that remained had no hopes or motivations to work from home. The job of the leader in this case is to get the employees feel accountable for themselves and get them inspired to work from home. Motivating or inspiring without micromanaging, holding the team responsible and putting your trust in them.

There are four I’s of Transformational Leadership.

Intellectual Stimulation: Ones who challenge the status quo and encourage creativity to explore new ways of doing things.

Individualized Consideration: The leader who involves full support and encouragement to each team member for growth of the team.

Inspirational Motivation: Ones who have a clear vision of where they need to go and can guide the team well.

Idealized Influence: The kind who plays almost a role model, lays their trust in their team and the team trusts them. The team internalizes their ideas.

People think it’s about strategy, it’s about coming up with ideas that change the world. You have the vision, now you must come up with a great execution. Your team now has one goal and adheres to one execution.

Largely, It means you create a culture where each member of the team is as much a part of the vision as you are. You can not micromanage each little detail. When you micromanage, productivity is compromised. You lay your trust in the team and earn theirs.

There are many things a leader can do in the time of Covid-19. Do not underestimate the power in a good conversation in this time of uncertainty. Keep in touch with your team and let them know you’re there.

It is imperative in today’s day to build skill. Of the team and the leader. To increase productivity without compromising quality. The goal is to strike the balance.

Often managers say they are great at communication skills. I believe it is a great challenge to be good at it since it is a constantly evolving field.
It’s great to be self aware, it is more important to be open to working on yourself. Being in a position of authority does not mean you know everything. Building skill is more important.

It all starts within. We often do not recognize our potential until it is pointed out to us.

Productivity comes down to building trust, implementing an execution and providing support to facilitate it, especially in these challenging times.
Covid-19 has thrown us off every strategy we could have ever come up with. Provide your team with a template and let them work out an execution. It might take more time but delegating your tasks is better for you in the long run. You must sometimes go slow to go fast. So establish a guideline. Maybe the leader is missing from the leadership. Build Engagement. Create a human connection. You’ll have a team that will believe in you through thick and thin. And be a great leader.

Reconnecting with Life

Reconnecting with Life

In this time of uncertainty, with so much happening around the world, a lot of us have barely got the time to check in with ourselves and to acknowledge our feelings.

However, that does not mean that we have been numb. In fact a lot of us just haven’t had the time to process any of our emotions. When i think of all the people who are at the frontline of this crisis that we are up against, the doctors, the nurses, the people in the supply chain, the logistics teams who have been working day and night so that we can be safe, with our loved ones. Often in a life so busy, we forget to slow down and take a moment and look after ourselves for an inward reflection.

Sometimes as humans, we just have to let it out and reconnect with ourselves. And of course we all connect in different ways which mean you can feel any emotion and express however you like. We are here to accept the good and the bad within us. Which is the imperfect part of ourselves makes us PERFECT.

To be in touch with ourselves, we have to be aware of our feelings and emotions and accept them. Most people see crying as a sign of weakness. I see it as just an expression of an emotion, just like laughing is, only associated with sadness or despair. There is nothing wrong with letting your emotions out. If you can laugh about it you can cry about it.

Especially in these challenging times, we must be kind to ourselves and others. We need to be able to Reheal, Recharge and Upgrade ourselves for this battle.

And we are in this together. So here are few things you can do when you are feeling overwhelmed:

Somethings that you can do when you feel overwhelmed are:

Reach out to a friend

    ● Reach out to your friends or families when you want to talk. Just saying things out loud play a part in acceptance. When you are assured that you can confide in someone, you are comfortable in their presence and that is a good place to start. You also want to be there when someone needs you. It’s all about supporting one another. I highly encourage you to find a safe space for yourself. Where you can be vulnerable. Sometimes giving yourself a permission to even reach out for help is a big achievement on its own already.


    ● I cannot stress enough on how meditation and expressing gratitude has helped myself, my community and my team to be calmer and more stable in all aspects of our life. Every morning, just 5 to 10 minutes can help you to gain clarity, better intention, grounding yourself and expressing your own feeling in a new positive perspective.
    ● A great way to prepare for the new challenges.

Watch what you eat

    ● Having a healthy diet is very important during this time. We cannot fight this war without a healthy body. Since we are spending more time at home, make some nourishing food. If you don’t want someone throwing in rubbish into your own home and your own businesses. Why would you accept garbage in your body? This is the perfect time for you to reset your body and give it the BEST fuel in order to for a long run.

Be mindful of your Money Story

    ● With a lot of jobs being made redundant lately, most people are having a financial challenges. and it is so easy to fall back in to those negative money story you have been telling yourself. It is important to think of what you can do rather than what you don’t have. Use this time to developing you skills…..Think about developing your skills into something that could be your side hustle in days like these. Upskill your existing skill set or learn an alternate skill to bring in some passive income. With a plethora of courses available online, one can practically do anything. Digital Marketing, Public Speaking, Analytics, the choice is endless.

We need to stay together as people during this time. So, be mindful of your wellbeing. Look after each other, stay in touch with your friends and family and connect with yourself often.

The virtues of Patience, Positivity and Perseverance will get us through this.