A peek into my book list: “Winning” by Jack Welch

One of the best things in life is having the luxury of sitting (or lying down) in one corner with a good book and nice cup of tea or coffee. I cannot remember when my love affair with books actually began. As far as I can recall, I was a big fan of “Sweet Dreams” series back when I was still in high school. I was one of my school’s pocketbook “libraries”. My classmates would often borrow the latest Sweet Dreams books from me and I was just too eager to share my “goodies” with them. For me, books are meant to be enjoyed by as many people as possible because they seem to become more meaningful if their pages had been touched by countless fingers and ‘yellowed’ slowly by the passage of time.

Looking back, I think that my love for writing also developed from my love of reading. When young people ask me the question, “How can I become a writer like you?”, my initial reply would often be, “Just enjoy reading and experiencing more of life.” There is really no magic formula, I guess. However, I can say that reading helped me tremendously in my writing and analytical skills. Reading not only helped me understand the world and people around me, it also allowed me to explore my imagination and enhance my creative thinking.

Books bring us to places beyond our imagination. (Photo credits: http://www.signatureillustration.org)

As I grew older (and hopefully, wiser!), my taste on books also evolved. I began reading the classics such as those written by Jane Austen (author of Emma and Pride and Prejudice, among others), Fyodor Dostoyevski (author of Crime and Punishment), and Charles Dickens (of A Tale of Two Cities). And then, I began ‘falling in love’ with works using the magical realism approach such as those by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (of  One Hundred Years of Solitude), Isabel Allende (of The House of the Spirits), and Laura Esquivel (of Like Water for Chocolate). I hungered for more and began enjoying the philosophical-literary (if there is such a term?) approaches of Milan Kundera (of Unbearable Lightness of Being) and Marcel Proust (in Search of Lost Time). I also began reading works of Asian/Asian-American writers such as Arundhati Roy (of The God of Small Things), Amy Tan (of the Joy Luck Club), and Sun Tzu (of The Art of War).

It also became a necessity that I began reading books tackling management and leadership. One of my favorite reads in this department is Winning by Jack Welch (with his wife, Suzy Welch). It is actually a gift from a very good friend of mine so if she gets to read this post, she’d know that the book did not go to waste. :) Anyway, Winning is a good read because it gave a lot of real-life examples to   stress important points. Mr. Welch used to be the chairman and CEO of General electric (GE)–where he stayed for forty years–so you can be assured that he knows what he is talking about.

The first part of the book, under the heading, “Underneath it All,” discussed important corporate issues such as on mission and values (with emphasis on the values of candor and differentiation). I think these two values are controversial and tricky issues particularly that they require gut-level honesty and integrity. Mr. Welch, in his straightforward style of writing and speaking, said this:

Jack Welch believes in candor and differentiation. (Photo credits: Harper Collins Publisher)

“…I have come to realize that I underestimated its rarity. In fact, I would call lack of candor the biggest dirty little secret in business. What a huge problem it is. Lack of candor basically blocks smart ideas, fast action, and good people contributing all the stuff they’ve got…When you’ve got candor–and you’ll never completely get it, mind you–everything just operates faster and better.” (Winning, page 25)

While I do not agree in everything that he discussed in the book, this is an analysis that I had readily accepted as true in most cases. I think that people, managers, and companies should really encourage and embrace this trait or value. In the Philippine (and even Asian perhaps?) setting, I think that this is easier said than done. I do not mean this in a derogatory way but more on a situational and cultural analysis. I think many Filipino (and even Asian) managers will agree that it is simply difficult to be straightforward and candid with co-workers and colleagues. “Hiya” or the feeling of shame is just an important aspect of relationships here that it is always a consideration when making decisions in the workplace. I think many will agree that it is simply difficult to tell your subordinate that he is not doing well. It is fairly easy to praise someone’s work and outputs but telling him he messed up on his latest project is like going to the guillotine. No one looks forward to moments like that.

However, Mr. Welch is right in saying that “candor gets more people in the conversation”, generates speed, and saves the company significant resources. “Think of how candor replaces fancy PowerPoint slides and mind-numbing presentations and boring off-site conclaves with real conversations, whether they’re about company strategy, a new product introduction, or someone’s performance,” he emphasized.

These words are sources of wisdom. While it is indeed challenging to be affront and candid, I think that businesses and companies can achieve more if there is more openness and frankness in the workplace. And this openness should be practiced in both levels–in the management and rank-and-file levels–because it is not fair to to allow management to give a candid (honest) evaluation of their subordinate’s performance but not allow subordinates to enjoy the same openness when evaluating the performance of their superiors.

This culture should be practiced in all aspects of management including human resources management, such as when evaluating and closing the files of employees who decided to move on to other companies or pursuits. For example, there is an industry practice of doing background check on prospective employees before they are hired. This procedure should be critically evaluated because it summarily (and unfairly?) puts the prospective employee in a “no-win” situation because it often leads to a one-sided judgement. An employee who had been candid enough to his bosses and may have good and valid reasons for leaving a company can still be misconstrued as a “bad” employee simply because the HR personnel or manager who answered the phone call from the prospective employer had an axe to grind against him (who, for example, had been candid enough to express that there was something wrong with their department’s strategy). Who gets to validate such judgements? Oftentimes, prospective employees are not even given the chance to explain their side. Their CVs automatically go to the trash bin. This, I think, reeks of too much injustice. If I am an HR Manager, the more should I call this type of prospective employee to an interview because I would definitely be curious as to what really happened in the company that he left and more importantly, how he learned from his experiences, which may sound negative at first (particularly if heard from the former HR Manager’s perspective). I am sure that I would also learn insights from his experiences and maybe, motivate me to avoid the same errors in judgement or pitfalls.

Mr. Welch may have not really expounded so much on other HR concerns but the book covers many other facets of the corporate life and even offers advice on career and time management. For instance, he devoted a whole chapter on work-life balance (Chapter 19). There is a lot of honesty in this chapter because he himself admitted that he had oftentimes relegated the tasks associated with family life to his wife. Such candid approach makes him more credible. He offered these bite-sized knowledge and counsel:

  • Work-life balance is a swap–a deal you’ve made with yourself about what you keep and what you give up.
  • It is not that bosses want you to give up your family or your hobbies. They’re just driven by the desire to capture all of your energy and harness it for the company.
  • If you want real work-life balance, find a company that accommodates it as part of its everyday business.

(Direct quotes from the book, pages 318, 321,and 328.)

In one of his parting words, he said that “…leadership is helping other people grow and succeed. To repeat myself, leadership is not just about you. It’s about them.”

I think this is indeed a reminder that a true leader does not prioritize his achievement but is fired up by the passion to motivate people to grow, succeed, and also become genuine leaders for the sake of people whom he serves. I enjoin you to lead with both the heart and the mind!

___________

(For more details about the book, you may want to visit this link. This is not a paid blog.)

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Religion and beauty pageants: Why our Shamcey did not win the title

This is my first time to write about beauty pageants. I have nothing against this type of competition but I also think that the pageants can be a lot wiser and more gender-sensitive if the contestants are not required to wear skimpy bikinis. After all, women are beautiful creatures (and even men, for that matter) and they do not have to reveal too much skin to prove that. :)

Shamcey: Truly an honor to this country. (Photo credits: Binibining Pilipinas website)

However, I will not dwell on this sensitive issue because that is not really the reason for this post. Let me share my two-cents’ worth on why I think our Ms. Shamcey Supsup did  not covet the Ms. Universe 2011 title. Let this be clear though: I really liked her and have high hopes for her. In fact, I was already predicting that she will be Ms. Universe. My No. 2 choice was Ms. Angola, Leila Lopes (who was eventually crowned). However, I started to have some doubts when Shamcey began responding to the question during the final round. The question for her went something like this,  “If you were asked to change your religion first before getting married, would you agree?”

On an intellectual point of view, her answer was a very intelligent and clear one. She explained that she will not do that because her God, being her Creator, is her priority, and if her boyfriend loves her enough, he should also love her God. Biases aside, I think her answer was the best among the five finalists’. The others’ responses were either too ‘generic’ or ‘played safe.’

However, if we will scrutinize closely (and I think many of the judges did this), her answer–without intending to–may have sounded like it was bordering on being discriminatory vis-a-vis religious freedom. (Again, Shamcey may have not intended to make it sound that way… we won’t know for sure and we have no right to judge her.) On the philosophical (or even spiritual) point of view, it sounded like her religion (I suppose that she is a Catholic or Christian believer although that is not even important in this discourse) is a “better” religion than the others’ (e.g., in the hypothetical question, her boyfriend’s) or that her God is better than the God of others (or her boyfriend’s). It may be quite disconcerting to many people. She did not really say it outright but the message that got through was clear enough. She–again, without intending to–sort of debased other people’s religion. I would choose to assume that she was simply nervous to choose the right words. (Who wouldn’t be, anyway, in a moment like that?) We are not in the position to judge her or anyone, for that matter, but I think this question reminds us that we also have to be careful when affirming our faith, beliefs, or religion (although they are not the same concepts…but that is another long post so I will refrain from discussing this either).

We only have one God and He is not a discriminating God. No matter what our religions are, there is only one God. And your God, Shamcey’s God, and my God are the same. We call him in different names and we go to different churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples, but for sure, we all believe in the same God. There is only one God who is the source of the Truth. [As we think about this, we also need to remember that some people do not believe in "God" or the presence of divinity or  deities so we also have to accept and embrace this reality as a part of a very diverse world and no matter what a person believes or holds on to, it should not deter us from treating him as an equal.]

Anyway, you may find it interesting that I am of different Church from my other immediate family members’ congregations. Nevertheless, I find the same peace and comfort even if I attend services inside another Church/congregation. A few months ago, I joined my Mom in attending Saturday services in another congregation. It was a beautiful service not only because the speakers and pastors were great leaders but also because it gave me a quiet time to pray with my Mom. I enjoyed it not because the “Church” is different or better or anything like that but because wherever I may pray, I know that God is just there. I can pray under the rains or on top of a mountain or inside an MRT coach because I know that God is listening.

To be fair, I genuinely believe that Shamcey did not intend to belittle other people’s faith. The sheer tension of the moment will definitely make anyone nervous. I think that if she was given another minute to think about it (which, of course, does not happen in the final moments), she would have come up with a very carefully-worded, well thought-out, and less discriminatory-sounding response.

However, when all the pageant’s noises have gone down, a profound moment may find Shamcey thinking and she may look back on her reply. For example, what if her boyfriend is non-Catholic/Christian or of different religion from her? He may feel some discomfort also. It is not really about the fact that he will make her choose (I think genuinely sensible and well-grounded men will not make their girlfriends choose between them and their girlfriends’ religions) but more really on the fact that actually, there should be no “contest” on whose religion is better (e.g., so it will be the “winning” religion, the religion that the marrying couple should choose as their “unity” religion). Because between two persons who are truly in love and united by a common God–the  One God–there is really no contest. Sometimes “religion” muddles up the whole equation. Actually, at the end of the day, for a couple who has a very strong foundation and whose relationship is not confused by religious ideologies, faith is clear enough. God is clear enough.  

No matter what our faiths or religions are, we are all the same in the eyes of God. He does not teach us to love and respect only those who belong to our Congregation or religion. He teaches us to love and respect one another. He does not care in what name will we call him. He only wants us to do what is right and follow our inner compass because in our core lies our true connection with Him.

If we will also look at it from the “universal” point of view–after all, the pageant is called, “Ms. Universe”–her response can also be misconstrued as an attack against the concept of ‘universalism’. Or even the philosophical underpinnings of “universal human rights”, which clearly state that we should not discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender, color, or religion. Her reply, without meaning to offend or hurt anyone, may have raised some eyebrows simply because it somehow compared her hypothetical boyfriend’s religion and her religion. Her answer seems to oppose the very core principles of ‘universalism’ and the context of “Ms. Universe” as ambassador of global peace. A “Ms. Universe” is expected to epitomize the values of open-mindedness, of embracing other cultures and religions, and her answer clearly showed where she stands amid a world where conflicts, wars, or terrorist attacks happen because of religious differences or in some cases, fanaticism.  But again, it is a tough competition–the final moments even tougher–and not everyone can land in the Top Five.

Ms. Angola brings beauty pageants a notch higher. Congratulations! (Photo credits: Telemundo.com)

So to Ms. Shamcey–thank you for doing your best. We are proud of you! The whole country honors you for going that far in the competition. You may have not won the title but to our hearts, you are already a winner.

And to Ms. Lopes, congratulations and best wishes! I am sure that great things are in store for you. May your reign bring you to new levels of personal and spiritual awareness. God bless you and Angola!

_______________

This is not a paid blog.

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