An Occasion When Words Would Utterly Fail

He built a nation and a people in his image. In each of us, there is a space that Mr Lee Kuan Yew occupies–we are products of his beliefs, his convictions and his governance. Even as he departs, he lives on in all Singaporeans, who are the heirs of nation that he built. We, the heirs, have just lost our father. They say you can’t choose your parents. In this respect, Singaporeans are one of the luckiest of them all. Mr Sidek Saniff says such a person comes along once in a few decades. Consider the chances of such a person appearing right at the tumultuous time that we were going through, in the situation we were in, with the team that he had. I’d say maybe once a century or two.

So we mourn the loss of and say a final farewell to the philosopher-king, the father who made us, molded us, disciplined us, and dare I say, loved us. We love you back as children would to a father and hope and pray that we shall meet again.

Deconstructing Heifetzian Leadership

I’ve done about half of Heifetz’s Leadership on the Line, and this is my attempt at breaking it down into a few bite-sized pieces. And hey, I know people are busy and may not have enough time for the book, so this is it (Disclaimer: Use this for your exams/assignments at your own risk!):

1. We talk about leadership as something that is desirable. This is because it is not just about power and authority, it is about values. It is about mobilizing people to tackle tough problems. The book addresses leadership in terms of adaptive work, defined as the learning required to address the conflicts in the values people hold, or to diminish the gap between values and reality.

2. Authority is the conferred power to perform a service. In societies with established and coherent institutions, authority is always there. In times of adaptive challenges, the role of authority is paramount.

3. Adaptive challenges are different from technical challenges-those for which the appropriate response has already been developed. Type I situations are purely technical; Type II situations are those in which the problem is definable, but with no clear-cut solution in sight. Type III situations are those in which the problem is not defined, and technical fixes are not available.

Leading With Authority

4. People in authority have powers at their disposal for mobilizing adaptive work. The following are the tools built into a framework: one, the power to provide and manage a holding environment (defined as a relationship in which one party has the power to hold the attention of another party and facilitate adaptive work); two, that to command and direct attention; three, access to information; four, to control and manage the flow of information; five, to frame the issues; and six, to orchestrate conflict and contain disorder.

5. Leadership is a razor’s edge because the leader in authority oversees a sustained period of social disequilibrium. The tools above can be arranged into the following strategic principles:

i) Identify the adaptive challenge.
ii) Keep level of distress within tolerable range for doing adaptive work.
iii) Focus attention on ripening issues, not on stress-reducing distractions.
iv) Give the work back to the people, but at a rate they can stand.
v) Protect voices of leadership without authority.

6. While his civil rights policy worked according to these principles, President Johnson’s Vietnam policy, however, showed how not to exercise leadership. Here, he played lone warrior, did not present the adaptive challenge to his people, let distress levels exceed productive levels, did not discipline attention and distribute responsibility to his people, and did not use dissent as a source of insight and options.

This is not the end, of course. It’s just where I’ve read to. Will continue as I read.

And welcome to the first post entirely done on a mobile device. 🙂

Incongruence

Doesn’t this blog look weird? It claims to be a blog for lefties, but then posts on lefty perspectives are interspersed with ill-fitting articles about Wikipedia, social networks and the apparent demise of the printing press. What’s it all about?

I apologize but there’s a method to all this madness. See, I’m taking this course on digital media at the Harvard Kennedy School, and one of the assignments of this course is to start a blog with your own domain name (start a blog for homework, how cool is that? Much more than working through calculus problem sets, I can say that for sure).

Another cool thing on this course is that one turns in homework by posting it on one’s blog. So once in a while (every 2 weeks, to be exact), my esteemed readers (some gratuitous flattery to keep you coming back) will get some unexpected 800-worder on some digital media issue that has got absolutely nothing to do with the deft hand. It will look super-boring unless you are a nerd (you know who you are…those who are not, don’t worry I’m not being mean and neither will those who are take offense cos it’s a legit and unoffensive term to describe who they are…and by the way, I am not a nerd so don’t call me one). Furthermore if you are charitable and would like to help me graduate from the Kennedy School, you could like those posts to influence the faculty grading it. I would be most grateful. (Though by no means am I suggesting my professor is the pliable sort, no way. Not in any way/shape/form. I should probably have deleted this…ah well…)

While you mull on my rambling, I will be spending the weekend mulling over what to write to Professor Nye (read: midterm paper!!). So remember me in your prayers.

Offspring

Friday wasn’t a bad day. In weather terms it was simply awful, it just rained and rained and rained here in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But I could handle H2O (and a bit of crap that managed to dissolve into it on the way from 25,000 feet back to earth) coming down in little droplets. In school terms it was alright, a couple of classes; a last-minute attendance at a job fair in which I was conspicuously the most-comfortably dressed (read: least well-dressed; I tend to like to see things from the bright side) person in the room; a fascinating reading about the errors of Robert McNamara during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War (a must-read for aficionados—find The Fog of War on Amazon.com). In family terms it was great, a rare opportunity to interact exclusively with the only other adult member of the family for a relatively sustained period of time (read: date night!). And in food terms, a delight in which the antipasto trumped the pasto and the postpasto (apologies Italians, I am so mangling your language)—a delight at Caffe Vittoria—trumped all else.

So it wasn’t a bad day by any measure. Except when Wifey dropped the bombshell over dinner.

“I think Baby is right-handed.”

See, I have three youngins and that makes three of them righties.  Don’t get me wrong they are fantastic kids and I love them so but in this solitary aspect, three times I have been disappointed.  I have done my part though.  For one, I have always ensured I hand them the pencil/pen/crayon/their mom’s lipstick on their left-hand first. Every time, the left hand of the boy would then pass the drawing tool to his right, and the right would then proceed to create the next masterpiece. Without fail.  As someone who looks on the bright side (sometimes to the point of delusion, as you shall see), I tell myself it’s the left hand bossing the right hand around. In moments when I am more grounded in reality I just say not again.

Many well-meaning friends and strangers look at our three boys and suggest to us in half-amusement (and sometimes with a straight face, can you believe it) that we should try for a fourth so that we “will” get a girl.  To this remark I usually have a couple of responses that I mutter under my mind’s breath.  Apart from the one about them needing a class in stats and probability to sort out that aspect of their life so that their own personal decisions in the future will not be as screwed as the past decisions they had previously made with this bad piece of math, I have a more pertinent response (pertinent to this blog anyway).

Forget the girl, I might be tempted to try for a lefty.

How It All Started

It’s one of those things. No one ever remembers the day one decided that one was going to be left- or right-handed.  Presumably, a toddler picked up her pencil/pen/crayon/mother’s favorite lipstick and started to doodle on the paper/table/floor/original Mona Lisa way before she could retain memories in her head.  (If you happen to read this and do remember, do leave a comment and share your amazing experience, or the reason why your parents gave you something to write with so late in life).  Almost like being circumcised.

One of the earliest indications of my minority status came up at the dining table. During dinners with the extended family, when we would take turns to sit at the round dining table (because there were more people than seats at that table), some family members would suggest that the lefties sit together so they would cause minimum disruption to the table procedures of the rest.  However my most vivid memory was when, I musta been about 6, Mom decided one day that it was not good for a child to write with the left. I was, and still am, not quite sure what caused her to suddenly think that there was a need for such radical reforms.  At 6, I thought I was doing pretty ok.  Did a mean uncle tell her about how my left arm impeded his quest to be first to the chicken drumstick? Or did she come across dodgy research about how lefties have 10 years less on this wonderful planet?  A clue I hadn’t.

But one day she decided that it wasn’t good. She sat me down on my home dining table (square, so the person who snitched musta been someone from the extended family), and told me that I needed to practice writing with my right.  My memory fails me ‘cos it was so long ago (sometimes I wish I journal’d), but there was some yelling, some corporal punishment, some tears (on my part), and strong resistance.  Now I am no longer able to recall why the strong resistance.  Maybe the right-handwriting was so atrocious even a 6-year-old like me could tell it was fugly. Bottom line was, Mom failed utterly at that instance (I don’t blame her at all, she did what she did out of love, and she is a fantastic mother). And that thing that was and is so intrinsic to the person that I am, survived. It survived to join me to face the rest of this strange world for the rest of my life.