Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Most of us practice some form of instruction in daily life. For the teachers, instruction comprises the bulk of work. For the rest of us, instructing people is common and it is necessary to co-ordinate actions between working parties.

Coming from the viewpoint of an instructor, we expect our instructions to be heard diligently and to be delivered effectively. I don’t know about you, but I think most of us dislike being questioned during or after the period of instruction. I guess it feels like the person questioning you is disrespecting you. Though this may seem true on the surface, I've come to realize something quite to the contrary. Sometimes being questioned is a good thing.

When we listen to someone's instructions, we construct a general idea of what the person is saying. Even if the person gives us elaborate instructions, our minds can only catch hold of that much information at once and thus, we only form a general idea of what is being said. So for example if a person is telling us how he wants some excel sheet done, we will get the general idea of it but we'll tend to miss out on the minor details like maybe how big he wants certain columns or what information he needs the most from the file. These details, though minor, actually matter the most.

And this is where inquiry comes into play. Inquiry bridges the gaps within the general idea conceived from instruction. It helps make the instruction given that much more complete. For the person mentioned above, only when we ask about the minor details of the sheet will we be able to fully understand what he wants. 

So when a person inquires or questions you, it's not really a bad thing! It actually shows that the person is trying to understand what you're saying. If anything it's a good thing.

With this in mind, I would actually be quite worried if the people I'm instructing have nothing to say at the end!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

On being a man of your word

Throughout my time in the army, I’ve faced many experiences where my superiors never lived up to their words. I'll explain through examples.

Back when I was in OCS, I had requested one of my superiors to give me information on how to apply for local citizenship. He told me that it would not be a problem and that he'll get back to me. I thought he had done something about it, but at the end of OCS I realized nothing was done. I wasted nine months waiting.

Similarly, back in OCS I had some questions regarding the weapons we were being taught to use. I had asked another superior the definitions of terms like ‘maximum effective range’ and he told me he’d get back to me. He never did.

I’ve noticed through my encounters that many of my superiors gave me their word on issues but never lived up to it. And of course I can understand why. These guys had more important tasks to worry about. How important can it be getting back to a subordinate on some unimportant issue, right?

Rational... yes, but I’ve always felt this is wrong. It is wrong to give someone your word and not live up to it. Ever since I became an officer I told myself I would never commit this mistake. If I give someone my word on an issue, I will remember to get back to that person, even if the issue is a minor one in the grand scheme of things. I made this my work ethic since I assumed duties as a platoon commander.

I just want to share how I manage all the promises I make to my men.

Basically if any of my men raise any issue up to me that I cannot solve right away, I note it down in my Blackberry immediately. I just make a short rough note under the memo section. This helps me remember things that pop up during the day. I also have a detailed to-do list in my Blackberry with different tasks and dates and timings for them to be done by. Usually when I’m free, I translate the rough notes into detailed tasks in my to-do list, along with the day and time for them to be done. By putting in this effort, I pay attention to the most minor of details that make up the most major of contributions.  

An example would be a couple of weeks back when some of my guys raised up discrepancies in their salaries. They raised this issue over a casual conversation- something like "SAF doesn't pay me well, they cut my salary"- and didn't even intend to pursue the matter. I however saw this as an important detail that needed to be looked at and told them I’d get back to them on it. Of course, I could have just said that to show concern and forgotten about it later. On top of that, I really did have other important things to do. But nonetheless I noted it down immediately and got back to them the week after with instructions to help fix the issue. With the help of technology, I was able to keep my word and maintain the trust of my subordinates.

I'm really learning a lot through my experience as an army officer. It's quite brilliant. More to come!