Lessons from the past year

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle you know nothing about – Ian MacLaren

A year older, a year wiser. Anniversaries are a time to reflect on how to better oneself as a leader.

AS entrepreneurs affecting change in society, we are called upon to constantly better ourselves – both personally and professionally – so we can be more effective in leading others.

Having just celebrated MaGIC’s one-year anniversary with our Impact Report (impact.mymagic.my), I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on a few things I’ve learned to reinforce over the past year. Here are my top nuggets:

On Taking Risks and Action

I’d rather regret doing something than regret not doing something – James Hetfield

1. Don’t over-think decisions. Indecision is worse than making a bad decision. If you treat every decision as if they were experiments, they would seem less daunting, because you can always change it.

2. Be comfortable with the uncomfortable, and uncomfortable with the comfortable. Similarly, be familiar with the unfamiliar, and unfamiliar with the famailiar.

3. Life is not fair, and it was never meant to be. Deal with this fact and move on.

4. We don’t have to know exactly what we want to do in life right now. We just have to figure out what we don’t want to do, to eventually get closer to what we want to do.

5. Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned. Visible output is a good sign of progress. If the idea just stays in your head, then it’s as good as nothing.

On Facing Adversity

I always think that cynics are really romantics who have been crushed sometime in their lives and have put up this cynical mask to protect themselves – Jeff Bridges

1. Prove the critics wrong by showing, rather than telling.

2. When provoked on social media, the best policy is to ignore. People who love controversy feed on your emotional responses to fuel more controversy. Ignoring them completely will drive them up the wall. And they will stop.

3. Play the 80-20 rule. Sometimes, in order to fulfil a bigger purpose (the 80%), we have to compromise and do things we don’t fully agree with (the 20%). As long as it doesn’t violate your personal values and principles, you can live with it.

4. There are black, grey and white scenarios in ethics. Never do something in the black. When asked to do something in the grey, bring the matter into the white by pulling a third party in or shedding transparency on the matter. If you keep compromising values and do things in the grey, you won’t know when the grey starts becoming black.

5. Never respond to something when emotions are high. Wait an hour or two, and I can guarantee you that the response will be different.

On Personal Growth

The most important investment you can make is in yourself – Warren Buffet

1. Your career can only go as far as your personal growth and development.

2. Curiosity is a huge asset. People who are curious ask more questions, care more and learn more.

3. Resourcefulness is street-smartness. It’s probably the one quality that differentiates between a good and great entrepreneur.

4. Journaling forces us to transform the clutter in our minds into coherent stories. Putting thoughts into words provides clarity and helps us see beyond the negativity.

5. Live on the 3Gs principle: Be Grateful, Always Give, and Keep Growing

On People Issues

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle you know nothing about – Ian MacLaren

1. Trust your gut when it comes to people. It knows more than you think.

2. Learn how to have difficult conversations early on. Humans are very complicated, and sometimes we have to peel a few layers to understand underlying issues.

3. When having difficult conversations, start with “I feel” rather than “You didn’t do” or “Why did you”. You build empathy when you start from sharing how you feel, and the conversation starts from a more constructive tone. Starting from an accusatory or derogatory tone will make someone defensive.

4. Many people are good at criticism. Rather than assigning blame, strong leaders offer constructive criticism, delivered in the right way at the right time. And they balance it with praise, appreciation and acknowledgement.

5. If you want to raise an issue or concern, always proactively think of solutions first, or seek help from others. Otherwise it’s just a complaint or gossip, and is not very helpful.

On Leadership

Good leaders energise people. Bad leaders drain life out of people

1. When in crisis mode and you’re at the helm, pause and take a deep breath (it will reduce your heart rate). Then smile and calmly say that everything is going to be okay. Everyone in the room looks to you for leadership and direction. If you’re hasty, emotional and reactive, everyone will follow suit.

2. Leading with vulnerability means that you’re willing to put yourself at risk in the way you communicate and interact with employees. People trust leaders who don’t need to prove their superiority.

3. Listening authentically means doing it with the intention of understanding another’s worldview. To influence people to see your way, be open to see what they see and feel what they feel so that barriers that cause people to withhold trust can be broken.

4. People will move mountains for you if they know that you genuinely care about them and not just about results. Leadership isn’t about the leader, but rather those being led. Take an interest in their career aspirations and value their opinions.

5. Everyone has a superpower – something that they’re naturally good at. If you’re in a profession that leverages your superpower, you will achieve natural greatness and fulfilment. Most people try to be someone they’re not because they’ve mistaken someone else’s superpower for their own. Accept your own strengths and build a team around you with other superpowers you don’t have.

On Success & Happiness

Success is about liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it – Maya Angelou.

1. Start your life by writing your eulogy; what people will say about you when you die. Use that end story as a guiding principle.

2. Success is a peace of mind that you did your best to reach your full potential and purpose.

3. Much of our own unhappiness or dissatisfaction with life is in our heads. We can choose to change the way we see things.

4. There are two kinds of happiness; one internal, the other external. External happiness is fleeting, dependent on your environment and what happens day-to-day. Internal happiness is the kind only found within your core, when you’ve striped away societal definitions of success. You’re comfortable where you are in life, in your own skin. No matter what happens externally, your core is not easily shaken, because you’re self-accepting, self-confident and have self-love.

5. Happiness or success is only real when shared. Make sure you identify the important people in your life, and don’t leave them out while pursuing external happiness and material success.

On Family, Friendship & Love

Love cures everything.

1. Our upbringing and childhood influences so much of our character and values in adulthood. Understand your past to understand present behaviours. But don’t let your past define who you are and who you want to be.

2. Hurt people hurt people. Forgive hurt people, so they can forgive themselves and people who’ve hurt them.

3. Expectations are the biggest cause of unhappiness for most people. Try to reduce expectations, and just give and love out of abundance.

4. The key to having deep connections with others is your ability to be open and vulnerable. Vulnerability lends to authenticity. Authenticity leads to more meaningful conversations.

5. People tend to take “quality time” for granted. You can often be with someone, but your mind is not really there. Being fully present for the people you care about is the greatest gift you can give them. It shows that you respect them and want to be there with them.

> Cheryl Yeoh is the Founding CEO of the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC). She has been recognised with many industry awards.


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