My Prime Minister Is A “Fellow Left-Hander”, Not The Leader Of Malawi In Disguise

This week is the week that the Prime Minister of my country visited the country I am in.  Exciting times.  Got a few stories to share.

In this story, PM Lee Hsien Loong credited a train attendant for being normal (thanks Jon for the lead).

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, with his wife Ho Ching, sharing a light moment with train lead service attendant John Laliberte, 57, on being a fellow left-hander after Mr Laliberte took his meal order. They were travelling on the regular Acela Express from Washington, DC to New York City on Wednesday. -- ST PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, with his wife Ho Ching, sharing a light moment with train lead service attendant John Laliberte, 57, on being a fellow left-hander after Mr Laliberte took his meal order. They were travelling on the regular Acela Express from Washington, DC to New York City on Wednesday. — ST PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN

This after meeting President Obama the most powerful lefty in the world. Here they are seen trying to cope with the demands of a right-handed world.


And finally, the Pentagon loaded of a video of the Malawi Leader received by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and titled the video as PM Lee’s visit (this is a useless link showing that the Pentagon has already removed the vid, let me know if you clicked it, and I will have a good laugh at you, then refer you to this link which beat our friends at The Pentagon Channel to it).  This caused a huge furore amongst 40% of the population in my home, with another 40% unaware and apathetic, and the remaining 20% illiterate.

I’m not an Englishman in New York, but I think I know how Sting felt.

Finally, I Get Published By Somebody Who Is Not Me

My op-ed entitled The Science of Iran’s Nuclear Behavior.  Many thanks to The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, especially Jess Kuhn for making this happen.

Things you never knew about yourself.


Do you prefer white people?  Or black?  Or are you proudly “colour-blind”?

Last week I subjected myself to an Implicit Association Test (IAT) run by some people at Harvard.  It was a most fascinating test, and I have never taken one like this before.  It flashes pictures of faces of white and black people, and asks the subject to group these pictures together with some positive and negative words, such as “good” and “bad”.

Then what I think the test does is measure and compare the amount of time it takes for the subject to group faces of whites to positive words and faces of blacks to negative words in one section of the exercise, with the times it takes to group faces of blacks to positive words and that of whites to negative words.  Then it declares to the subjects face that he/she has a mild/moderate/strong preference for European-American people or African-American people.

According to Freud, the unconscious mind wields great influence over our behaviour, even though we are unaware of its underlying effects.  Think of our minds as icebergs—the small tip is what we see; the unconscious part is the submerged portion that even we ourselves don’t see or are not even aware of.  The unconscious, Freud quotes Le Bon as saying, is even more prevalent in groups, where we see “the disappearance of the conscious personality, the predominance of the unconscious personality.”[1]  (The stuff Freud and Le Bon talk about in group psychology makes for scary reading, but that’s for another post another day).

So give this IAT a try.  Confront your unconscious mind, see what it’s about, find out whether it is making you more prejudiced than you think is right.  Think about how it is holding you back as a decent human being and why. (I won’t say how to resolve those knots in your unconsciousness, you’d need a shrink for that, don’t wanna mess people’s heads up.)

So what was the result of my IAT?  It says that I have a moderate preference for European-Americans compared to African-Americans.  Sobering.  Apologetic to my African-American friends.  And some self-reflection is in order.



[1] Freud, Sigmund. “Group psychology and the analysis of the ego.” (1920).

Lion (Dance) in Winter


You gotta give it to the Chinese, calling the start of spring in such unspringy conditions.

It was also quite a novelty seeing lion dance performances in C-town Boston. Why? Because:
1. I’ve never seen a Chinese lion in unmatched tops and bottoms. E.g. Red lion with green legs.
2. Even better, red lion with black The North Face track pants.
3. Lion dance backup music without drums (no-bass amateur mix, I think that’s what they would call it).
4. And finally, a truly cosmopolitan troupe, with a Hispanic as 大头娃娃 (scary bald man with oversized head of plastic fanning himself incessantly even in the freaking cold New England winter) and with 鬼佬 on drums. To their credit, they both performed quite well. 鬼佬 probably a drummer in a college band on minimum wage or something.

And yes happy Chinese New Year (aka Spring Festival to some wacky Chinese). It’s good to be back.

Heifetz (Lefty) & Linsky (Unknown, so probably not) on Surviving the Dangers of Leadership


Here at the halfway point of the Heifetz Leadership class, a summary of the key points lifted from part of this excellent book.  I pray all in the class will reflect well and be fine over this weekend.  I pray the Lord bless my classmates with great, life-changing insights from the rest of this class, so we can go out there and change the world, each a little bit.  I also pray we enhance the capacity to return the burdens to our ancestors, and not pass on any to our descendants.

The Challenge

Leadership is dangerous because in adaptive situations, people look to their leaders for answers when the answers actually lie with themselves. The initial challenge, and risk, of leadership is to go beyond your authority—to put your credibility and position on the line in order to get people to tackle the problems at hand.  There must be a willingness to challenge people’s expectations of you.  Resistance from the people comes from the prospect of loss—of values, habits, attitudes, etc.

Four forms of danger face the leader:

  • Marginalization – “carrying” a specific issue, colluding with the marginalizers, personalization.
  • Diversion – moving or diluting the leader’s focus, getting swamped by work.
  • Attack – physical attack, character attack, misrepresentation, as a result turning the subject of conversation away from the real issue.
  •  Seduction – causing the leader to lose his sense of purpose, e.g. desire for the approval of one’s own faction, leading to one “carrying” a specific issue (see Marginalization)

Responding to Danger

Get off the dance floor and get on the balcony.  Distance yourself from the fray to get a clearer view and the bigger picture.  To get beyond your own blind spots, use these diagnostics:

  • Distinguish technical from adaptive challenges
    • When people’s hearts and minds need to change
    • Problem persist despite technical fixes
    • Conflict persists
    • Occurrence of crises
  • Find out where people are at – learn people’s perspectives.
  • Listen to the song beneath the words – interpret people’s words correctly, get the intentions behind the words. Don’t just process the literal message.
  •  Read the behavior of the authority figure for clues. The authority reacts to all factions in the organization.  Assess where he stands on the issues you have raised. A cooling attitude reflects the resistance of the organization to your initiative.

Think Politically, invest in personal relationships.

  • Find Partners—people inside and outside the organization who share your goals.
  • Keep the Opposition Close—work with your opponents, not just your supporters.
  • Accept Responsibility for Your Piece of the Mess.  You may be the one who needs to change.
  • Acknowledge the People’s Loss.  When you ask people to change, you are asking that they give up something precious.
  • Model the behavior.  Lead by example.
  • Accept Casualties.  If people cannot adapt, they will be left behind. Accepting casualties signals the leader’s commitment

Orchestrate the Conflict.  The challenge is to work with differences, passions and conflicts in a way that constructively harnesses their energy.  Ideas to orchestrate the conflict:

  • Create holding environment—to contain and adjust the heat generated by addressing difficult issues
  • Control the temperature—raise the heat enough that people take action, and lower the temperature to reduce a counterproductive level of tension
  • Pace the work—people can only stand so much change at any one time
  • Show them the future—remind people of the positive vision that makes the current angst worthwhile

Give the Work Back.  When one takes on the issue, one becomes the issue.

  • Take the work off your shoulders and challenge your people’s expectations of you.
  • Place the work where it belongs, because the relevant parties need to resolve the issues in order to have lasting progress.
  • Make your interventions short and simple, by making observations, asking questions, offering interpretations and taking tangible actions

Hold Steady and maintain your poise so you can plan future actions.

  • Take the heat and receive others’ anger in a way that does not undermine your initiative.
  • Let the issues ripen.  Hold off before addressing the issue, or ripen the issue so it can be addressed earlier.
  • Focus on the real issue the attentions of those who need to change.