“My mom scolded me big time this morning for NOTHING!” That was the first thing Ann told me when we met up for lunch.
“I don’t remember your mom being unreasonable,” I said.
“Of late. We always fight. She complained that I don’t know how to cook! It is not fair!” she said.
Ann loves her mom. Last year, she gave up a job offer in the US because her mom was unwell. She returned to Vietnam. The opposite is also true. Her mom is a single parent and raised her single-handedly. Ann joked that she is the center of her mom’s universe which is probably true.
“Come to think about it, we used to fight like this too. Whenever I had to return to the US after a summer break in Vietnam,” she said.
“Aren’t you going to relocate to the Philippines next month?” I asked. Ann is management trainee in an international firm and part of her program requests her to relocate within the region for the next few years.
“Yup. And?” She asked.
“And your mom didn’t scold you,” I said.
“Listen. She is sad that you are leaving her again and she is annoyed that you are spending more time at work and with your friends before you go. And she is probably worried about how are you going to survive not knowing how to cook,” I said.
Chris is my boss’s boss. He is one of the most down to earth leaders I’ve ever worked with. Recently, he gave me a new exciting project. The same reason that makes it rewarding also makes it scary. Simply put…high-risk, high-return.
Last week, while visiting the headquarter, I caught up with him.
“How are you feeling about it?” Chris asked me, referring to the project.
“To be honest, I am both excited and scared. I am not sure if I can make it,” Come to think about it, I shouldn’t be so candid and vulnerable with the big boss (who knows what he would think of me), but his authentic vibe made it comfortable and irresistible.
Then, I went on to describe my excitement and concerns. He listened attentively.
“It reminds me of one of my own projects, from many years ago,” he replied. “I was asked to revitalize a brand that was dying. It was sort of a do or die. No one knew if it would work. We just tried one step at a time. And like you, I was just a brand manager.”
“And what did you do?” I asked.
“My boss was one tough manager. She set a high bar for the project. But, come to think about it, she also took the shot on all the high-risk decisions. She made it clear that my job was to provide the best solutions humanly possible and hers was to take responsibility for the decisions including those that didn’t go well,” Chris said.
Then he said, “So, here’s my offer to you, Brandon. you do what’s humanly possible, the best you can. If it goes south, the blame is on me because the bucks stop with me, deal?”
He caught me by surprise and I wasn’t fishing for a safety net – my modus operandi has been the bucks stop with me. And I will (and ought to) own up to everything that happens to my business. But, I am proud that he offered because it reassured me that I am working for a kind empathetic human.
One of my favorite leadership books is “Leaders eat last” by Simon Sinek. He said that a leader’s most important task is to create a circle of safety for the team. It is a place where people feel safe to do their very best.
Leaders are expected to eat last because the true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.
On a separate note, this is why I think parenthood is the purest form of leadership. Our parents spend their life time putting our needs above theirs hoping for us to become a decent human being. And trust me, it is not hard being one if you choose to be.
That evening, Chris taught me how to “eat last” and I am inspired to pay it forward. This is one of the 20 minutes conversations that I’d probably remember for the next 20 years.
Small actions go a long way and if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.
“But, what if I don’t want to be a leader?” someone asked me once.
“Then… be a good human being,” I said.
If we strip away our titles – we are first and foremost a human being. So, Be kind to one another.
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I was invited to deliver a keynote speech in the Digital Marketing Conference Malaysia 2017. I spoke nothing about digital.
Here is what I said.
Marketers, allow me to begin with a question.
“Did you sign up to be a fake marketer?”
I am sure none of us did. But, a quick google search shows that so-called authentic marketing is gaining attention over the recent years. If we are not fake, why is the world asking us to be more real?
Because three things have changed.
The consumers have changed. The world today is and will continue to be powered by millennials. In a recent Millenial study, Gallop summarized as Millennials is a generation that values “purpose over the paycheck”.
The living standard for millennials has improved dramatically compared to our parents and grandparents – so the kids have more time and mind space to think about the higher order of human needs in the Maslow hierarchy, in another word, they are more driven by a sense of purpose. They don’t care about you and your brands. Instead, they care about themselves and their purpose.
Secondly, the world has changed. Sorry to say the world is quite fu*cked up now. It feels more divided and chaotic than ever. Do you remember the good old days, when we ran free and could enter our neighbor’s house freely? Today, you get buglers breaking into your house despite having some of the most advanced security systems. There is a global epidemic of trust-famine. We now live in a world where we are starved of trust. Read More
I get these two comments often because of my special abilities.
Whenever I go out for dinner with my friends, they would forewarn me to eat in half of my usual speed because I will vacuum up my food. On top, they also tell me to quiet and eat!
Yes, I eat too fast and I talk too much.
When TEDxUUM asked me to share the secret to great communication, I thought, “Oh yeah? You want ME, a guy who talk too much to talk about talking and keep it under 18 minutes?”
I can eat anything under 18 minutes, but not for talking because I like to talk about talking.
You and I, the younger generation, tends to celebrate speaking up as a sign of intelligence and strength. When we see someone who speaks up eloquently, we subconsciously think he or she must be smart and good, right?
Well, speaking up is good until you over do it.
My friend is doing her part-time MBA with one of the most prestigious business school in the world. Interestingly, her class attributes 25% of her credit to “classroom involvement”, in essence, for speaking up.
She oftentimes tells me the story about one of her classmates, Albert. While my friend always said, “I just want to get my homework done”, Albert is THE champion. He is always the first one who raises his hand because he has an opinion and the last one who puts it down because he has run out of things to say.
Sometimes, he repeats the same point in 3 different ways for 5 different times. Obviously, he usually ends up confusing himself and the hell out of everyone else. But, Albert probably took home full 25 marks on “speaking up”.
Albert has very high “share of noise” in the class. Show me a raise of hand if you know a friend, family, colleagues like Albert?
That was me too. I talked a lot. My mantra was to “talk first and think later”. Making noise was my way of life. I use it to mark my attendance and to let people know that “I am here”. I wanted to be noticed.
But, noise is not voice.
I can not communicate with each other if the only thing I hear is my own voice. So, like what my friends do, they filter me and hush me “Shhh”.
About 10 years ago, my already not-so-good communication with an important person broke down.
I was young and hot-blooded. I thought I was always right and he was always wrong. There were many things that we didn’t see eye to eye; from how fast I should drive, when I should come home, to which political party to support. etc etc.
I became emotional, angry, and frustrated.
Every time we try to communicate, It was as if going into a war zone. I would have formed a defensive answer in my mind ready to fire back before I heard what he had to say. I speak to him because I wanted to prove him wrong. I heard him but I never listened.
We talked but we did not communicate.
The entire process was emotionally draining. So one day, I decided to stop.
For the next few years, our conversation became mechanical.
How are you? I am OK
Have you eaten? Yes
Weirdly, he never missed slipping pocket money into my wallet and fill up the fuel on my car. He would still call to make sure I come home before the curfew.
Yes, this person was my father.
Eventually, I got less hotheaded and ready to talk again. But I felt awkward to the extent that I did not know where to restart anymore. So, I let it be and the silence continued.
One day, I got an offer from P&G for a job in Bangkok. With a one-way ticket in my hand, I was going to leave home to start a new journey.
In the airport, my mom pulled me aside. She said, “I might not be the smartest and most capable mom in the world, but I try my best.” My mom has always been a great listener and that was all that an angry son like me needed.
Then, unexpectedly, she put her hand on my shoulder and said, “So is your father. He is trying hard too. You just have to listen. You know, give him a chance. He just doesn’t know how to talk to you because you seem to shy away from him. Try to listen to him. He loves you and you know that.”
My phone buzzed before the plane took off. It was a text message from my dad.
“I love you. Remember to come back often.”
I wondered, “How much courage did he muster to send the simple message?” Only God knew. I was ashamed.
As a son, I should be the one who says I love him first; I should be the one who reaches out to communicate; I should be the one who listens first. Why didn’t I listen?
This life experience taught me an important lesson about communication. You see, communication is more than your share of noise, the language you speak, or your body language. The fundamental of communication is something simpler yet difficult.
Can you listen?
Do you listen?
You connect two souls when you listen.
Make no mistake. Listening is tough.
That’s why God gave us two ears and one mouth. One ear to hear to what people say; the other one to listen to what they really say Very often, when you truly listen, you uncover the real story.
Today, I am a part-time life coach. Oh, my! It is a misunderstood profession. Many people thought my job is to talk and give brilliant advice; Oh no! they are so wrong. As a coach, my job is to shut up and listen.
“Brandon, Sometimes I feel like I am not being myself. I constantly want to make people around like me. Should I continue with it?” I get questions like this rather often.
If you listen with both of your ears, the story she wanted to tell me was not in her spoken words.
“Do you like the person you have become in the process of pleasing the peoples around you?” I asked. One of the ways to truly listen is to get clarity by asking questions.
“Then why do you do it?” I asked.
she said after a long pause, “Because I am afraid of being alone”
The story she wanted to tell me was, “Brandon, I am scared because I think I am not good enough.”
What she needed at that time was not a reply. She knew her answer anyway. So, I gave her a hug.
Sometimes, silence is the best communication.
We can divide the world into many types of listeners. Here are the three interesting ones.
We listen like a debater…to reply
We listen like a jury…to judge
We listen like a curious kid... to understand and explore
When I was a little boy, my dad bought me to the zoo for the first time.
I was so excited because I finally get to see the animals I wanted to see, like the tiger, giraffe, and the monkey. I ran around the zoo, holding my dad’s hand and I asked so many questions.
“Papa, why is the lion yawning?” I asked.
“Mr. Lion is tired. He slept late last night just like you,” My dad said patiently.
Then, I went on and asked many other questions about the other animals. My father answered all of them patiently. I listened carefully, then I asked questions again. We went on. The communication between us was smooth.
The 8 years old Brandon knew more about communication than my 18 years old self. See, you and I had the magic of communication in us since young, some of us just forgot it as we grew up.
Lastly, how does it matter to you?
The world is noisy. We have too many debaters, jury, and too little curious kids. That’s why we have conflicts that can be easily prevented if only we have listened.
My friends, one day, the world will belong to you.
You will graduate, leave the campus, and do amazing things. You will become someone’s manager, boss, lover, partner, and eventually a parent. Some of you will even build a castle in the air.
You owe this ever noisy world a simple favor…
P.s: I send out tiny bits of inspiration every day to my exclusive reader community. Interested? HERE is YOUR invitation.
Every year, the gym is always busiest in the second week of January but tapers off by the second week of February. Unfortunate but true that some people’s New Year gym resolution expired faster than a can of tuna.
Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, and Harvard Business School professor said, “We’re really bad at setting reasonable goals.” These resolutions could actually be doing more harm than good. One of the reasons why New Year resolution dies prematurely is that we tend to focus on the “What and How” before being clear on the “Why?”.
Fitness is everyone’s favorite New Year Resolution but everyone does it for a different reason. Vishen Lakhiani, the author of The Code of the Extraordinary Mind, wants to be fitter than his 20 years old self by 70. “I want to be able to spend quality time with my grandchildren. By quality time, I mean play a real football game with them for the full 90 minutes!” He said. He is 40 this year.
On the other hand, a friend of mine, Kerry wants to lose weight. When asked why, she said, “to stop people from teasing me.” A “why” that depends on external affirmation is vulnerable; never outsourced your self-esteem.
Between Vishen and Kerry, Who do you think will find fitness more fun, purposeful, and get better results?
Instead of New Year resolution, a friend created New Year manifesto.
She is a God-fearing lady. Her manifesto was “To Serve God”, a simple but clear reflection of her value.
Her manifesto is both an amplifier and a filter.
She asked, “Is this in line with my manifesto?” If it is a “Yes”, she amplifies it; she does more of it and does a better job of it. If it is a “No”, she filters it.
She asked, “What can I do to amplify my manifesto?” For example, she has decided that going the extra miles in her work is a way to serve God. Since then, she has doubled down her performance.
“It gives me more clarity to WHY I do what I do. It focuses me on the most important thing,” She said.
In the ancient time, when GPS was non-existent, the sailor sailed by searching for the North Star. The star guided them. A manifesto is the North Star in your life. It is simple yet you know it is always reliable. Read More
Recently, I was invited as a speaker to a university event where we shared about our experience as alumni. During the event graduation dinner, my colleague, Maya said, “Look at them, I think we have come a long way ourselves, huh?” She nudged me while observing the kids dancing on the stage.
I smiled. “Do you know the term take a knee?” I asked her. She said no. So, I explained.
In the movie “After Earth”, When Jaden ran frantically out of fear in the dangerous earth, his commander cum father Will Smith repeatedly instructed him to “take a knee” until he stopped. And when he did, he realized he was poisoned by an alien insect on the back of his palm. He was dying. If he had not taken the knee, he would have run till exhaustion and dropped dead.
In the military, “take a knee” is an order given when troops are tired and need a break; or that action happens when troops are pausing to observe, orient, and decide the manner by which they will move forward against the enemy.
In life, we need to take a knee too.
Sometimes, we tend to be oblivious to how far we have journeyed because we get busy. We get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and we just drift away; We just move along.
“How do you take a knee in life?” Maya asked. Read More
I call this note My life’s little instructions. I wrote it for my 29th birthday.
Since then, I update it yearly as a birthday ritual.
This week, I turned 2930 31.
#1 Everyone is fighting their own battles
“If we threw our problems in a pile and got a look at everyone else’s, we would fight to get back ours“, Regina Brett wrote in her book “God never blinks”.
A few weeks ago, during my team dinner with the boss, she said, “I wish I could invite you guys to my house, but my father does not like visitors.” We asked why.
“He suffered a brain injury and became atrabilious ever since. Sometimes, he lashes out at my mom.” I thought she had a perfect life, then I got a glimpse of her vulnerable side.
Everyone is fighting their own battles. Even Obama has constipation.
#2 The best way to trust someone is to trust them
A friend’s boyfriend cheated on her.
She asked me,” How could ever I trust anyone anymore?”
“Keep trusting. I know it is painful, but I would trade another betrayal than stopping trusting people. Why let someone’s misuse of trust turns you into one of them? There are more than enough people who love you. Trust them,” I said.
#3 Don’t compare life
My sister’s HR manager asked her in her interview, “How do you feel having high achiever elder siblings?”
My sister replied, “Good for them. Now, If you may, It is time for me to live mine!” We have our own destiny and it begins when you stop comparing.
Never try to live someone else’s life; never try to chase after other’s destiny. Because you are awesome the way you are. Read More
I was alone, stranded in the middle of a safari. The sky was painted bright orange and a soft blue – I couldn’t tell if it was sunrise or sunset.
“How did I get here?” I shook my head hard but my memories were blank. It was as if God sneezed while He was painting my destiny but smeared off a chunk of my memories.
I dusted the dirt off my body and looked around, spotting a huge parade of white elephants. There was easily three dozen of them in various sizes – one as large as a hot air balloon! “He must be the alpha male,” I murmured.
Suddenly, gunshots echoed from afar. The earth started moving. I could barely find my balance. When I finally did, two dozen panicked elephants were storming towards me!
“FUCK!” I yelled. I ducked instinctively. I was bouncing up and down on the ground like a basketball during an earthquake.
“I had a really vivid dream!!” I later WhatsApp-ed my friend, describing the white elephants and their earth shaking stomping.
“Perhaps it was not a dream,” she replied.
A strong 6.0-magnitude earthquake had just rocked Sabah and shattered Mount Kinabalu. We were to hike the mountain exactly 24 hours later. The gunshots in my dream were, in reality, the sound of shattering glasses in my room. I came very close to facing the white elephants on Mount Kinabalu.
Over a hundred of climbers are stranded at the peak of Mount Kinabalu. Some might not even survive the sub-zero temperature at night. I prayed for their safety. Had I decided to hike one day earlier, I would have been one of them. I might not come home at all.
I couldn’t help but think…“What if?”
There are only so few people and so few things that truly matter in our lives.
“I would’ve called my family to say a final goodbye if Digi had the reception at the peak,” my friend said. We had decided to spend our planned climbing weekend near the beach instead. I sipped my latte.
“My parents would’ve been so heart-broken. It would break my heart to see my parents mourn for me,” she continued. “I think it is a blessing if our parents pass before us.” It reminded me of literature I read many years ago.
It was a book on the French revolution. At their final moments, a group of revolutionist captives was lined up heading towards a Guillotine – a tall, upright frame with a weighted, angled blade is raised to the top and suspended. The captives were to be locked at the bottom of the frame, their neck directly below the blade. Public beheading was a scare tactic to suppress the revolution.
There was an innocent young girl among the captives. She did not know that death was near. As the captives approached the deadly structure, the adult revolutionists pushed the girl to the very front of the line. I didn’t understand why the adults could be so cowardly.
“It is love,” my literature teacher replied with a graceful smile. Read More
Last year, I jumped off a plane. It was my first tandem skydiving experience.
Commercial tandem skydiving is easy and hassle-free. We went with an academy in Pattaya run by an Australian boss. We were given a short 10 minute brief on “what you should do if you want to get yourself killed” in a half-jokingly manner. He included “do not puke in mid-air” and “pee before you jump”.
My tandem buddy was an American by the name of John. He looked like he was in his late thirties.
John spoke in a thick west American accent that reminded me of sunny California beach. He also spoke fast and loud – sounded like a carefree cowboy from Texas.
There were 10 of us and the propeller-powered plane could only take two pairs of jumpers at a time; I went last so I had quite a fair bit of time to kill. John and I walked around the hanger to check out a collection of gliders.
“Hey John, what brought you to Thailand?” I knew it was common to have Farang in Pattaya anyway, but the question felt like a safe ice breaker.
“Well, life. Life brought me here. I started sky diving in my twenties and I got hooked. The jumps became part me ever since. I went around the world to dive; and at each place, I hang around a little while. Bangkok is my 20th stop. Or wait, or maybe 23rd. Well, I lost count.”
“Wow! It must be a heck of a life! Do you like Thailand better than any other countries?”, I asked. Now he got my attention.
“Son, this is a wrong question. The world doesn’t make you; you make the world. Thailand is as great as I want it to be, or as miserable as I want it to be too. It is up to you to make a lemon into lemonade…or a cocktail. I prefer it with extra shot though. ”
“How do you make the world?”, I asked.
He tapped his finger lightly on my forehead and said “Start with your head”. He pointed to the dark cloud that was forming not far away and I can vaguely see our plane in the sky.
“See that? What do you see?” Tiny figures dropped out of the plane.
“Storm’s coming and I will probably not make my turn later?” I said.
“Well, yes and no. I see a clear sky for a perfect jump after the storm moves west. Or if the storm does linger on, you just saved your own life. Either way, it is good for you!”
He went on. “Everything has no meaning until we assign them one. You see that?” He pointed to a bright yellow single seated aircraft at the far corner of the hanger.
“It is just an aircraft in our eyes, meaning beautiful mechanics part put together, at best. To him, it is a painful memory. The plane belonged to Mona”. As he spoke, he casually pointed to Alex who was busy getting ready to buddy my friend. Alex is the owner of the academy.
One of my most vivid learning on leadership has to do with lingerie.
The name is Daniel Franco. Once upon a time, he made lingerie.
It was an afternoon many years ago. I was at home switching between TV channels looking for something interesting to watch. This scene caught my eyes.
A girl (whom I found out her name was Chloe later on) was sobbing and she said between her chokes: “You are such a good person; and to me, it is more important than being a great designer”. I downloaded the episode – what happened before and after Chloe’s sobbing scene made my heart warm and my eyes teary, even after years.
Here are 6 of my favourite quotes from the video and why.
1) “I think lingerie is sexy and I think it is supposed to come off!”
Follow the leader with a wrong vision and he leads you to somewhere. Follow the leader without a vision, however, he leads you to nowhere.
Between somewhere and nowhere – I would risk the former over the latter because at least you are moving forward.
A leader without a vision is like running a marathon without being in the track, you are not even in the race. A leader with a wrong vision is a marathon runner on a wrong track, you can adjust route eventually.
My friend’s father said, “A vision is a painting you see in your head; when and if everyone else sees it, it is no longer a vision”. It is fine your vision is not agreeable by everyone, but you must have one
A vision gives birth to a purpose and purpose creates passion.
I remember one day during a casual conversation, I asked my marketing director,“how do you know I am ready (for a bigger role)?”
He said,“You always have an opinion”.
If having a vision is too far-fetched for you, start by listening to your opinions.
You will find clues because an opinion is a dressed-down version of a vision.Read More