Category Archives: Leadership

Learning to Let Go – A Career Lesson on Over-Committing

One of the important lessons I have learned in my career is the value of sharing my responsibilities (and accolades) with others and being careful about taking on more duties than I am able to handle. I’ve come to learn that over-committing myself and not being able to fulfill my part do result in me becoming a bottleneck to my organization and to other colleagues. The ability to say no and to remain focus on key priorities, in my opinion, are very important management skills I am in the process of learning. Too often, in our effort to please our customers/partners by trying to meet all their demands, we find ourselves having to compromise in the quality of our work and worse, we end up failing to deliver quality work in a timely manner. This is easier said than done given the seemingly infinite projects that need to be done with scarce resources. In addition to trying to please customers beyond my capacity, there were other reasons as to why I found myself over-extended. As I reflect back on my career, I think about why was it that I fell into the trap of committing beyond what I was able to deliver. Here are just a few reasons:

– Saying “no” meant jeopardizing future opportunities. Especially during my early part of my career, I thought I had to accept every tasks given to me or risk not advancing in my career.

– I fell into the trap of “hero mentality”. I felt I had to solve every problem that came my way, because that’s what heroes do. Did it feel good being recognized for being the “hero”? Absolutely, but I soon found out I was getting burnt out as I was working too many hours. I also found out being a “hero” also brought out professional jealousy from others who may have also wanted to be the “hero”.

– I felt the need to establish my areas of authority/boundaries when I was promoted to a higher position. Areas of responsibilities don’t always match what is in the job description as duties are not always exclusive to a position. Sometimes, there are more than one person responsible for the same duties.

– I thought I was the only one capable enough to do the job. I had the “expert” mentality. This was a bad mentality, especially in a team lead role. Not only is it a selfish/arrogant mentality, it’s also not sustainable nor is it scalable. When I was the only person who knew how the applications I developed work, I had to do the maintenance myself and that prevented me from moving on to new projects.

– I viewed every projects/tasks as critical/high priorities requiring immediate resolutions. Instead of spending some time analyzing the appropriate response required and planning what needed to be done, I immediately went to work fixing issues/projects that came my way.

I think I’ve changed my ways as I became more experienced and more mature in how I deal with my responsibilities/career. I’ve learned to “let go” and not feel as if I have to take on every responsibilities that come my way. In a way, taking on too much beyond my means seems selfish. I had to change my ways in part, it was out of necessity as I found myself being burned out and not having the appropriate blend of work/personal lifestyle. It was also a commitment on my end as a supervisor to model what I think is the right approach to work to my team members and other colleagues. I’ve come to learn, through experience, the benefits of not always being the one to take on every responsibility. Do I always succeed in my attempt to stop over-extending myself? Of course not. But, I am more careful about putting myself in situations where I may not be able to fulfill my responsibilities.




Minding Our Own Privileges


Easter Sunday is one of the days when many folks bemoan the privileges afforded to other folks who may not conform to their own beliefs. That we are able to express our discontents is a privilege in itself. I’m reminded of the image above which illustrates the point that when we point one finger to point out faults in others, there are three fingers pointing back at us. By no means am I suggesting for anyone to stop questioning things around us. On the contrary, I’m suggesting to question more. In the process of critiquing the beliefs and privileges of others, might as well take the time to examine our own as well.

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Celebrating the Success of Others

Wouldn’t it be nice if the success and accolades given to others are not taken as threats to our own? One of the wonderful things about social media is that I get to read about the personal and professional accomplishments of my friends and colleagues. Life can be hard at times for everyone and so I welcome and enjoy the good things that happen to folks I know. I have so many colleagues who work hard behind the scenes and they unfortunately never get the recognition they deserve. I also think we live in a world wherein we don’t share our appreciations of others enough.

In a perfect world, we’d all be cheering for each other and we should be able to freely share our successes. Unfortunately, we live in a world of scarcity where the success of others can be seen as taking credit away from someone else. This can lead to crab mentality, and as described on wikipedia – “members of a group will attempt to ‘pull down’ (negate or diminish the importance of) any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, conspiracy or competitive feelings.” In my life, I’ve been on both sides. I’m not perfect after all and there were times when negative emotions got the better of me where I became jealous of other people’s success.This is something I’ve worked on as I matured and  I’ve learned to adopt the mentality that people should get the credit that they deserve. I’ve also been a victim of crab mentality in my career which almost caused me a job.

Given the negative reactions folks receive when they share their accomplishments, I think this has lead some to either stop sharing them and/or sharing them in self-effacing manner so as not to be seen as bragging. There are those who definitely can be excessive in how they talk about their good fortunes and possessions but there are also others who I think are genuine in appreciating about their accomplishments and they are excited to share them with their colleagues and friends.

We all need some encouragement from time to time and I do hope that when folks are recognized for the work and contributions they truly deserve, let’s just congratulate them.



My Professional Reading List for 2013

kindle_joe_listThis year has been an intense learning experience for me. It was a year of learning driven by curiosity, the need for background information for projects with folks I met via social media, and in preparation for major projects at work. In addition, a significant portion of my learning came through reading, mostly on my iphone and kindle app. The topics I read include the following:

For the most part, I went through these books by skimming and scanning them. I then went back and deep read those I found really interesting and/or those requiring more analysis. There are some books who could have been better written, but I always start a book with an open mind so I try to find new ideas from them. However, there have been some books I have had to return (Amazon allows electronic refund within a couple of days after purchase) as I either found them to be too hard to read (author uses too many big words I don’t understand and I fall asleep/get headaches), or ideas are not well thought out, or just not very interesting. I found that in reading enough books of similar topics, I came to find themes. It is during times when I could combine themes from across disciplines/industries and analyze them as they relate to my current work and future of higher education that I find myself thinking about possibilities of where my world could be heading.

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Challenges with Change and Innovation – More Than Technology

innovation_changeThe topics of change and innovation, specifically those related to technology intrigue me. I read about concepts of disruptive innovation, diffusion of innovation, and continual improvement process and at this point, I’m still trying to wrap my thinking as to how these relate and when can/should they be applied in higher education. Frankly, I have more questions than answers and so I continue to seek new knowledge and perspectives to make sense of it all.

I work in the technology field within higher education where I’ve witnessed and implemented business processes, enabled by technology, since the mid 1990’s. In the last few years, it seems the pace at which technologies change have become even faster. Who would have imagined the growth and impact of social media, cloud, mobile, and big data just five years ago?  In the last year or so, I started noticing more articles about wearable computing and “internet of things”. The blurring of the lines between computing services and products only available via IT departments years ago and those readily available to consumers , also known as “consumerization of IT“, have only become more pronounced in the last few years. These changes have provided opportunities and introduced new challenges. All these observations have led me to become more interested in trying to anticipate where the future of higher education and technology may be heading.

If change and innovation in higher education is only about technology, maybe, just maybe, it would be easy, if not for the fact that change involves culture, politics, traditions, paradigms, and personalities. Technological changes happen within the context of how higher education views itself in terms of its perceived roles (preparing students for careers,  to provide civic service by molding students as productive citizens, research) and how it operates (shared governance, teaching methods, funding priorities, etc). There is not a consensus on these views. The role of faculty and teaching methods are now being challenged in light of new learning opportunities provided to students because of technology, including Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) and personal learning networks. Current technologies have also added a new spin to the old debate of how individuals learn (objectivism vs. constructivism).

Beyond philosophical debates about the role of technology in higher education, from practicality’s perspective, it takes time and resources to introduce and implement new ways of using technology. It’s a process and the process involves human emotions. As one who works in IT, my role is a service provider to my university’s communities of staff, faculty, and students. At the core of my responsibility is to make sure the systems they use work properly as they would expect. Network outages and disruption of applications/web services are what we try to avoid. Given that failures, trial-and-error, not-so-perfect systems that lead to disruptions of services  are all part of the process when it comes to introducing new systems, how do organizations balance the need to manage for stability and provide room for transformational (and potentially disruptive) innovations? How do organizations gain buy-ins from faculty, staff, students and administrators to adopt new systems and new ways of doing things? I suppose more importantly, the question is when and how do we know when to apply incremental improvements vs. introducing radically new way of doing things and disrupting the system?

I’m hoping someone out there in higher education has figured out the answers to the questions I pose above because I have yet to I’ve figured all these out yet. If you have figured it out or have some ideas, let’s talk.

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