Pathways Project 2: Dynamic Leadership: Evaluation: How travelling shapes and transforms you

Unplugged – How traveling shapes and transforms you

Happy New Year, my friends, fellow toastmasters and guests! It’s that time of the year again, where we all recover from vacations. Criteo, a performance marketing company, reported that Singaporeans took an average of 5.2 trips in the past 12 months. That translates to an average of one trip every two to three months. Despite the high number, do we all know the real value of traveling? Or are we just traveling because we need time off, and hence we make plans to travel to the touristy places in the selected country?

Ever since I decided to start traveling solo, since about four years ago, I have learnt countless lessons. For a start, traveling exposes you to various communications styles. I am not talking about verbal communications but all forms of communications as well. I have been in Germany where I had to practice my German and made a cuckoo out of myself.

Thankfully, the locals were patient enough as I had to juggle between my dictionary and maps. That’s the good thing about spontaneous traveling, you get to focus on select ideas and also be flexible enough to change according to the various circumstances or factors. In this case, time, weather and personal interests. I can’t be visiting all 16 states in Germany in two weeks, so I decided to focus on the Bavarian region with priority given to nature.

In my humble opinion, travelling makes one modest. Humble in a sense, you have to remain curious and ask questions of people who may understand or know the city better than you do. In my recent trip, I took a train from Munich to Salzburg and made new local friends along the way. I asked for recommendations for local attractions. As I am such an avid trekker, I was urged to trek an untouched mountain 30 minutes away from the city centre.

I was told it was an easy walk. When I got to the destination, I was all alone, and the whole forest felt like mine. The land was really untouched. I was trekking all on my own till I met a local person along the way, when I was almost reaching the top. So yes, I trekked on my own by accident. But that aside, I don’t just gain freedom, but also new friendships plus knowledge about the city, Salzburg without the need of a tour guide! Am I lucky or what?

Living out of a suitcase, is worth the time and money. Traveling opens up the wonders of our world. I love the idea of how traveling connects us with culture. When in Australia, people go crazy over beef steak, animal sanctuaries. In Europe, we go crazy over cheese, how they solve socio economic problems and most importantly, chocolates. In Asia, we talk about exquisite food with their strong flavours.

What we don’t realize is, how traveling to explore far places actually brings us closer to who we really are. When we are born, we don’t have any social perceptions or stereotypes. We accept everything by heart. Then there are social actors such as families, schools, environments and governments that dictate our perception of life. But they forgot that we all have personalities and identities. For instance, we are proud Singaporeans. We are proud of our chilli crab, skyscrapers and strict regulations. Germans are proud of their beer. The French are always saying their country is better than any other in Europe.

It is only when we step into their country, that we put ourselves in their shoes, we start to see how close we actually are and how we share the same joys about similar things in life. We cannot change our nationality or languages. But we can always open our eyes and minds to understand the various historical, geographical, social and cultural effects of their different lifestyle practices.

Thomas Paine travelled and said “my country is my world, and my religion is to do good”. 1400 years ago, Muhammad said “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled”.

My dear friends, I have travelled, you have travelled. Travel has inspired me to know countries, culture, languages and build communities. Most importantly, to do what I can to make a difference. In Germany, I was impressed at how the country does their best in terms of recycling. I try to recycle my things much more often than I used to before. In other words, it has helped me to become a better world citizen and hopefully a better person when I reconnect with myself and all of you. And I hope it can do the same for you.

Thank you.

 

 

Evaluation for Pathways Project 1: Dynamic Leadership: Starting at Ground Zero

I did my very first Pathways Project on 15th Sept. Here is the feedback from the evaluator. I took a two months break from Toastmasters and just got back on my feet. Hopefully, I will not forget whatever I have learnt. I still have a lot to master! Trying my best not to move around too much, giving eye contact and maintaining confidence. I also realized that I don’t perform well when I have a stressful week and suffered from lack of sleep. Got to bear those in mind!

General Comments:

  • Showing vulnerability.
  • Every speech you deliver is authentic and from the heart.

You may want to work on:

  • Greater eye contact and your physical movements.
  • There was some pacing around – try to remain in a certain area especially when emphasizing serious/ sad points

To challenge yourself:

  • Be more assertive and share confidently.
  • The lessons you learnt when you lost your job is a moment of opportunity to grow personally.
  • Embrace the chance to start at ground zero

Notes from the evaluation form. 

  1. Clarity: Spoken language is clear and is easily understood:
    • Excels at communicating using spoken word
    • Comments: Great visual metaphors such as ‘redeemed myself’
  1. Vocal Variety: Uses tone, speed and volume as tools:
    • Accomplished
    • Comments: Could have used lower tone to show sadness
  1. Eye Contact: Effectively uses eye contact to engage audience:
    • Excels at using eye contact to gauge audience reaction and response
    • Comments: Eye contact could have improved
  1. Gestures: Uses physical gestures effectively:
    • Excels at using physical gestures as a tool to enhance speech
    • Comments: Try to reduce pacing
  1. Audience Awareness: Demonstrates awareness of audience engagement and needs:
    • Fully aware of audience engagement/ needs and responds effectively
    • Comments: You are highly aware of the audience listening to you
  1. Comfort level: Appears comfortable with the audience:
    • Appears completely self-assured with the audience
    • Comments: Very comfortable with the audience
  1. Interest: Engages audience with interesting, well-constructed content:

Engages audience with interest with highly compelling, well-constructed

Pathways Project 1: Dynamic Leadership: Icebreaker: Starting at Ground Zero

Starting at Ground Zero

 

Tim Karsliyev once said, never chase what you want. Elevate your game until what you want pursues you.

This quote is one of the quotes that I live by daily and I try to live my life by it. I try to be consistent at my efforts and do my best to be 1% better every day.

My fellow toastmasters and friends, a year ago, I decided to join this club. Through the ten speeches in the CC module back then, I have laid my life before you in this very stage, sharing with you my life experiences and dreams. You know that my name is Farah Saleh and I am not named after a Charlie’s angel. Most of you know that I enjoy running, writing and travelling.

What most of you didn’t know was that this past one year has changed me. I am not who I thought I was back then. In fact, if it weren’t for the little bit I’ve learned over the past year, I wouldn’t have a clue. Fortunately, I do have a clue. Thanks to an open mind and the support of others, I’ve been able to wake up to a wonderful life, one in which I choose who I am, and what I do.

Not all of my days and nights are smooth and peaceful. I can still get emotionally overwhelmed over insignificant things. I can still spend sleepless nights with a chattering mind, feeling guilty and blaming myself for all the mistakes that I had made, forgetting that self- love is important to get you to your goals. Last year, the biggest turning point in my life was when I lost my job.  That very night, I laid in my bed and just let my thoughts flow freely.  The good, the bad, the ugly. I decided to not be happy. Happiness comes and go. But when life is really good and when things are really bad, having meaning is something that I can hold on to.

I decided to return to the core values that my parents have taught me.

  1. Belonging:
    1. Most essential source of meaning (bonds between families and friends)
  2. Purpose:
    1. Not a job but rather using your strengths to serve others. For most of us, it is through work. That is how we contribute and feel needed. But what happens if you lose your job? How do you find strength to rise up after you fall and move forward?
  3. Transcendence:
    1. Stepping beyond yourself, but in a completely different way, transcendence (States where you are lifted beyond the hustle and bustle of life), your sense of self fades away and you feel connected to a higher reality. For some of us, it can be through writing or religion or bringing up your family
  4. Story telling:
    1. Story you tell others about yourself
    2. Creating a narrative of your life events and then change the way we are telling them. After all, we are the authors of our life (reflect and change)

At this point in my life, I have redempted myself and started a new job in the field that I am most passionate about with new challenges and responsibilities. I have decided to create another chapter of my life by learning German.  Hence, I am starting over at ground zero, with hope to lead meaningful life and tell stories about my life defined by redemption, growth and love.

Danke fürs Zuhören und Guten Nacht which means thank you for listening and good night in German.

Exerting Influence Without Authority

I am not the boss. How can I lead? I am not a full-time employee, just a temporary one. Why would they want to talk to me? I am just a small fry, unlike those big fishes right there in the centre of the room. Perhaps I should skip the meeting.

It is said that we should not aim to achieve triumph in every situation, but rather building bridges and winning hearts over. Communication skills is not easy to master, especially when it comes to dealing with diverse cultures. But at least, with practice and time, we will get used to it and achieve the end goal. It is about identifying the opportunities and stepping in then demonstrate leadership through adding value to the initiative you are in.

One of the articles written by Lauren Keller Johnson suggested lateral leadership. Leadership does not apply to titles or positions. It is the natural inclination of an individual to get things done. The objective is to get things done and not the various ancillary issues that come along with it.

Here are some interconnected strategies that can be used as guidance to help us achieve that.

  1. Networking:
    • Build a network of relationships in and outside your organization
    • Know the people who can connect you to bigger networks
    • Be genuine and associate with all
  1. Constructive persuasion and negotiation
    • Try to achieve a win win situation
    • See your ‘targets’ as peers and learn to listen to understand rather than respond
    • Put yourself in their shoes
  1. Consultation
    • Take the time to visit the people whom you need to be on your side
    • Ask their opinions about the efforts that you are championing
    • Get their ideas and reactions to your ideas
    • Involve the people to participate in defining the process for achieving the outcome
    • Make sure everyone feels part of the journey and not feel left out
  1. Coalition building
    • Gather influential people together to form “a single body of authority
    • Get to know the people before the kickoff of a project
    • Clarify the destination point
    • Strategic and ‘BIG’ picture thought leadership comes effective at this stage
  1. Acknowledgement and feed forward
    • Acknowledge people’s views and thank them for it
    • Celebrate success and always be forward thinking
    • Review areas of improvements at every stage

Often enough, we get so engrossed in our silo roles that we dont really know who should be included in the networking or coalition building effort. To counter this, one should take time to know who are the stakeholders, who are the advisors. For instance, setting aside a day to have lunch with a different person each week.

The next time you want to get more proactive when it comes to driving projects, initiatives, you should say, let’s work things out and make it happen!

 

Art of negotiation

We all negotiate on daily basis. From trying to bargain from items to negotiating to salaries to dealing with a difficult stakeholder. It’s not easy. So how do we deal with such a scenario?

First thing to do is to take a step back and start talking.

Look at the situation with fresh eyes and find that one way (18th camel)  to resolve it with humanity and peace. And it is up to us to play a constructive role to resolve the conflict through communication and reconciliation. At times a third hand may need to intervene, to remind us to get to the balcony, cool down a bit and keep your eyes on the price.

Secondly, offer kindness and hospitality when you expect hostility. Find the potential to change the game, but before that, we must change the framework, the way we see things. See hospitality in hostility, see tourism in terrorism for instance (game changer).

Lastly, find a common ground. You may have to approach a stranger from a different culture, different country, different ethnic group, engage with them and listen to them. That is the third side action.

That’s the third side. The third side is each one of us, taking the first step to the world, bringing peace.

This is a very generic guide to negotiation. But it’s a good start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson 6: Think Fast, Talk Smart

I don’t know about you. Sometimes my mouth works faster than my brain. That’s not good when you said the wrong thing and regretted it later. It’s like the consequences have already occurred but your brain takes a while to process the damage. As a result, I would be worried if I am going to be judged, treated as rude and worse, lose a friend or an opportunity.

I decided to listen to this ted talk called ‘Think fast, talk smart’ by Matt Abrahams from Stanford Graduate School of Business. He offers several techniques to help us speak spontaneously with greater confidence and clarity.

Spontaneous speaking occurs more often than we thought and it can be more stressful than planned speaking. For instance, they may happen during the following instances:

  • Introduction
  • Feedback
  • Toasts
  • Q&A

Before we speak, we need to work on the following:

  1. Anxiety Management:
    • Emotions under control otherwise audience will not receive your message and they will be uncomfortable in your presence
    • Greet anxiety: Acknowledge it and its normal to prevent the anxiety from escalating
      • Reframe the speaking situation as a conversation and not a performance
      • Start with questions to get audience involved
      • Use conversational language
      • Be present oriented instead of being worried about the future
        • Listen to music or walk around a building or say tongue twisters to warm up or get into the mood
  2. Ground Rules
    • Improvisational speaking
    • 1st Step: Get out of your own way: We want to be perfect in our speeches
      • Work against your muscle memory to solve problems
      • Do this by shouting names of random things to see things that we do to prevent us from reacting spontaneously
      • Dare to be dull instead of striving for greatness for a while and you will reach that greatness
      • But using greatness as a target can cause you to freeze up, because you tend to overthink
    • 2nd Step: change the way we see our situation we find ourselves in. See it as an opportunity rather than a threat
      • Be aware of the environment: challenges in the room, cold, emotions, acknowledge the emotions of the audience but don’t name the emotions and reframe the response in a way that makes sense
      • Rephrase it as it allows you to reframe the response
      • If audience is remote, engage them to interact, be mindful of them
    • 3rd Step: Approach to a situation/ question: ‘Yes and…’
    • 4th Step: Slow down and listen and respond
  3. Speaking spontaneously
    • Tell a story
    • Use a structure as it increases processing fluency and keep the audience engaged
      • Problem/ Opportunity > Solution > Benefit structure
      • What > So what? > Now what? structure

I am going to practice these techniques in my attempt to be a more effective communicator and achieve my goals at work, during meetings, hostile situations or even outside, while interacting with loved ones. I hope the summary helps to give you an overview of what it takes to speak spontaneously too.

 

Lesson 5: 10 ways to have a better conversation

Damn my big mouth! That’s how I feel after every interview or any other social event. I always have this perception that I talked too much and people may perceive me in a negative manner.

So I listened to this Ted Tv titled as stated in the heading in my attempt to improve my communication skills.

So here are the tips to listen and talk to people:

  1. Don’t multi task:
    • Be present and be in the moment
  2. Don’t pontificate: 
    • Enter a conversation assuming you have something to learn
    • Set aside your personal opinions, and you will slowly open up your mind to your listeners
  3. Use open ended questions (Who, What, Why, Where, How)
  4. Go with the flow
    • Thoughts come to your mind and let it go out your mind
  5. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know
    • Be accountable for what you know, expert on, and what you don’t know
  6. Don’t equate your experience with others:
    • Eg: someone talks about loss of a family member, you don’t talk about your bad day at work (It’s not the same)
    • It’s not about you, its about the other party
  7. Don’t repeat yourself, don’t rephrase your points
  8.  Stay out of the weeds
    • People don’t care about the details in your head that you forget to tell them
    • They care about you, what you have in common
  9. ***Listen
    • The most important skill to master
  10. Be brief
    • Be interested to listen
    • Keep your mind open and be prepared to be amazed

So I am going to try these techniques and try to talk to people. I might try a couple of these for my next interviews as well. Hopefully, I won’t set myself up for failure. Fingers crossed!

Lesson 4: How to act quickly without sacrificing critical thinking

Often enough, we get into situations where we should act quickly. If we were too slow to respond, we may be entangled into nasty situations where we get consumed or get caught off guard. If we are too fast, we may be perceived as micromanaging or end up making short term decisions.

How do we balance out both?

According to Jesse Sostrin, we all have reflective urgency. It is defined as the ability to bring conscious, rapid reflection to the priorities of the moment — to align your best thinking with the swiftest course of action.

Step 1: Diagnose your urgency trap:

For a start, we need to set time aside for thinking. I do that three times daily. When I wake up, before lunch and before I leave the office. It may be counterproductive if we don’t know what will limit the quality thinking time. One should recognize the habitual, conscious, counterproductive ways that will prevent us from making us of this dedicated and delicate time.  For instance, attending a meeting unprepared or multi-tasking.

When unsure, ask yourself this question, “When the demands I face increase and my capacity is stretched thin, a counterproductive habit I have is….”

Step 2: Bring focus to the right priorities

Start with things you must focus on, rather than tempted/ wanted to work on…

Step 3: Avoid extreme tilts

Do not treat every situation the same. Evaluate the situation and decide if you need to turn down or increase the level of urgency or reflection. Evaluate if you require tactical action or dynamic thinking more and then allocate time for it.

Anyone can use these three techniques, for work, public speaking and so on. When you combine these micro reflections with a heightened sense of urgency, your decisiveness and speed to impact will not be at the mercy of the counterproductive habits and unconscious oversights that occur when you act without your best thinking.

 

Lesson 3: How to change your brain for good

We all have our ups and downs in life and that often require us to be mindful of what we feel and we will need to motivate ourselves.

There are four steps we can follow to change our brain for the greater good.

I  do hope that by doing this, we will become more focused and certainly reduce the chances of us getting Alzheimer’s disease, seizures, strokes etc.

So here are the four steps to change our brains:

  1. Relabel
    1. Put a label on experiences that are going away from long term values
    2. I am anxious: ‘I am getting anxious now’
    3. Acknowledge your feelings and emotions
  2. Reframe
    1. Use mindful awareness
      1. Process your thoughts into grey instead of black or white
      2.  Know when its good thoughts and when they are bad (cognitive distortion)
    2. Emotional reasoning: Relabel and reframe: figure it out reality versus emotions
  3. Refocus:
    1. Focus your attention in the moment:
      1. Do something constructive using control approach
      2. Divert your attention to something constructive
      3. That’s when you rewire your brain
  4. Revalue
    1. Comes easily when you do the first three regularly
    2. Pattern the first three into your daily life and revalue comes easily
    3. Becomes a positive feedback for your brain to react after

I’m going to try these techniques as I tend to overthink too much at times and often enough, my thoughts do go random.