Archive for April, 2011

Follow the leader

Posted in learning, psychology on April 19, 2011 by gohelpyourself

"Follow me." (photo courtesy of

By Anthony O. Alcantara
I’m not a leadership guru. And I have a hard time telling the difference between visions and hallucinations. I am therefore not the person to ask if you want to draft a sensible vision statement for your team, or write an inspiring piece on leading an ambitious campaign to wipe out the competition.

But, and that is a very emphatic “but,” my serendipitous research skills can compensate for my utter lack of credibility. Serendipitous because I came upon an interesting article on leadership as I was browsing the newspaper for the latest showbiz gossip while eating a donut, sipping hot chocolate and waiting for my wife to finish a meeting on how to “wear” your baby one Saturday morning. In mommyspeak, that means how to use a baby carrier.

The article is entitled “Top to Bottom, Making a Better Boss” by Adam Bryant of The New York Times. It’s about Google Inc.’s “Project Oxygen,” which sought to crack the leadership code based on some hard-core number crunching and unassailable data analysis.

The results were culled from 10,000 observations about managers and the analysis of more than 100 variables from performance reviews, feedback surveys, nominations for awards, accounts of complaints and other reports.

Indeed those nerds at Google really love data. Maybe they could help my wife and her friends analyze the precise level of happiness of mothers and babies when using baby carriers, and perhaps the precise number of donuts that husbands can eat while waiting for their wives to finish their deliberations.

Anyway, here are the eight directives that Google produced after the study:

1. Be a good coach.
2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage.
3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being.
4. Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented.
5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team.
6. Help your employees with career development.
7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.
8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team.

Now you can print this list and meditate on these directives everyday. Make a checklist if you want. This is perhaps the most compelling distillation of all the world’s wisdom on leadership.

But there’s more. The nerds of Google ranked those eight directives by importance, and they came up with some fascinating results.

Here’s what Bryant wrote:

“What employees valued most were even-tempered bosses who held one-on-one meetings, who helped people by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.”

So if you want to be a better leader quickly, concentrate on those traits. The study also showed that being equal to or better than subordinates in terms of technical expertise is the least important attribute of a leader.

Now please don’t let your boss see you nodding your head vigorously as you read this, okay?

The study also revealed that people cite three distinct reasons why they leave a company. They work in combination too:

1. “I don’t feel a connection to the mission of the company. I feel my work doesn’t matter.”
2. “I have no respect for and I don’t like my co-workers.”
3. “I have a terrible boss.”

The last one, the Google nerds say, is the biggest factor.

When Google applied the lessons they learned from the study, 75 percent of their worst managers showed “significant improvement.” I don’t know how it was done exactly. The author did not elaborate.

But still, Google’s study deserves a good look. Perhaps a similar study can be done here in the Philippines, just to be sure that culture is accounted for.

And if you want to start being a good leader now, go have a pleasant one-on-one chitchat with one of your subordinates. There’s no harm in trying.

(This is a reprint of my editorial in the March issue of PLDT’s ACC:ESS Magazine. The theme is leadership.)

My replacement

Posted in parenting on April 9, 2011 by gohelpyourself

My replacement likes to suck her fingers.

By Anthony O. Alcantara

Strange thoughts sometimes get into my head. It’s shocking when that happens, especially since usually there’s nothing in it. It was around 3am and I was awoken by sounds that my 7-month-old baby Ariadne made as she slept.

I usually check on her several times during the night, just to make sure she’s not sleeping on her stomach. I’ve read somewhere that SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome, is correlated to sleeping on the stomach.

So I’m very scared of SIDS. If I could only put glue on my baby’s back so she sticks to the bed, I would. But then we don’t have glue in the house, and I thought that using the grayish substance in my skull as glue would just increase the IQ of the bed, and make matters worse for me.

When I checked Aria’s sleeping position, I was relieved to find her sleeping on her side. I continued to look at her and make sure she’s breathing.

Then suddenly the thought of my mortality hit me.

I’m staring at my replacement here on earth! Just about a year ago I never gave much thought to having children. And now I’m staring at a small and hyperactive baby girl who will soon take my place in this world when I’m gone.

So what do I do?

I quickly think of ways to prepare my replacement so that she’ll be a much better version of me. I must teach her good values and impart to her whatever wisdom my three functioning neurons can come up with. Perhaps I’ll collect some hackneyed phrases like, “A stitch in time saves nine.”

Or maybe phrases like “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” That can certainly help if my baby decides to be a cook. Perhaps I’ll include quotes from Seth Godin too. I will teach her how to be a purple cow, a grass-fed purple cow with dreams of becoming remarkable.

I will also include quotes in the Bible. Quotes like “There is a time to reap, a time to sow, a time to rest,” or something like that. Can’t remember the exact words. Or maybe “Be fruitful and multiply….,” though that will have to wait until she gets her Ph.D.

Perhaps I should also include some quotes of my own: “Hard work is not always valuable. It is only valuable when you apply it to what you love or what is important to you.” All these quotes and wise sayings I will compile for her.

I think she should also learn to love martial arts. I’m an enthusiast and practitioner of a few disciplines.

She will learn Aikido, Taekwondo, Pekiti Tirsia Kali, Jujitsu, Judo, Kung Fu. She will learn the one-inch punch and then she’ll innovate and come up with her one-centimeter punch. She will patent it, create a new martial arts discipline, build dojos, create a line of clothing and accessories for her students, and perhaps create a movie out of all this. She will then retire rich and happy.

Of course she will also learn music. I never went beyond playing the first few bars of Chopsticks on the piano, though I can play the guitar well. So Ariadne will learn to play Rachmaninoff with her toes.

She will also cultivate that rare ability called perfect pitch, which is the ability to identify or reproduce a certain note without any external reference. She will be able to identify the notes sung by that rooster I sometimes hear in early morning, or the key of Rebecca Black’s neuron-zapping song “Friday.” My wife has perfect pitch. So I guess that’s her job.

Then my baby will learn to sing like her mother, who’s a coloratura. With her high-pitched shrieks, Ariadne is well on her way.

I will also teach her to love books as I do. So far she likes to eat them. I’m delighted. Ariadne also likes to turn the pages of a book with her feet. There was also a time when I gave her a brochure from SM Hypermarket. Within minutes, she tore its pages to pieces with her hands and feet. She loved the sound it made.

Then I will encourage her to become a great writer. I will tell her to write about intellectual stuff and use language that is more refined and educated. I will encourage her to read the Economist, and perhaps all the volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Then I will ask her to join Mensa, the high IQ organization, so she can learn that it takes more than IQ  to succeed in life. I will also encourage her to get into Harvard or any Ivy League school so that she will realize that all people basically have the same capacity for genius and stupidity no matter what school they come from.

I will also teach Aria to be generous. Nothing in this world gets accomplished without the big hearts of people. She doesn’t have to be as rich as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett or Henry Sy.

This is certainly exhausting. There are lots of plans and lots of dreams. But I guess parents can only do so much.

In the end I get inspiration from my idol Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “There are two things children should get from their parents: roots and wings.”

That’s what I intend to do.


Less crowded

Posted in philosophy on April 2, 2011 by gohelpyourself

Few people aim to be No. 1 at anything. (Photo courtesy of

By Anthony O. Alcantara

“Go for excellence. It belongs to a space less crowded.”

That’s the advice that Manuel V. Pangilinan, one of the country’s most influential and successful businessmen, gave to the graduating students of San Beda College yesterday.

Most people don’t know that. They haven’t been there. Who would have thought that there’s plenty of room in a place called excellence or success?

MVP said, “I learned how to set high goals, and high ambitions. Even today, I tell myself and my associates, if our goals are not high enough, why bother?”

This is the memorable part of the speech for me:

“Of course, ambition is one thing, and execution another. I learned not just to dream, but to work towards that dream–inch by inch, stone by stone, step by step. Setting high goals means taking big risks and, inevitably in some cases, making mistakes.

“This is another lesson I’d like to share with you: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because you’re still young and can afford it, and because you’re likely to learn more from them than you will from your successes.

“Today people see First Pacific as a hugely successful business. But they also forget that we made mistakes along the way. The difference is that I wasted little time on feeling bad and sorry for myself after a failure. The best antidote to failure is action–because the world out there is nothing if not a world of endless action, of choices made daily, of decisions taken constantly.”

I feel like running a full marathon now. In a nutshell, the key takeaways for me are:

1. Go for excellence. Not many are trying.

2. Set high goals not mediocre ones.

3. Work on your goals one step at a time.

4. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You can always bounce back.

5. Action is the best antidote for failure, which is always a temporary condition.

All these seem to be common sense, and they echo the wisdom of other successful people in the past. What if many people aimed for excellence? The world would probably be a very different place.