1) Share with us about how you came to be a ‘Motivational Team Strategist’ and how you overcame the challenges you faced when entering the speaking & training industry at a relatively young age.
I started at age 27 with an intense desire to inspire people. It had taken me many years to find the answer to the question of “What do I really want to do in life?”, and finally I managed to answer it and join this industry.
It was really tough because nobody was interested in hiring a young trainer. In fact, there is a lot of bias against young trainers, who are thought to be immature and lacking in experience. Why would people need to listen to me? I was new and young and a nobody. But I knew clearly that I wanted to serve corporate clients, despite having no ‘track record’ to show.
Thankfully, my first MNC client actually gave me a chance. I remember presenting the proposal to four managers. I went without a name-card nor brochures and only had a simple typewritten proposal with me. I just went and shared about what I could do for them, and the results I could guarantee. They hired me, loved the program so much that they duplicated it for other departments and the rest is history.
I started the business when I’d just gotten married too. I’d worked for just two and a half years previously and whatever meagre savings I had was used to repay my overseas study loan. Then I got into debt again from buying a house and getting married. Needless to say, those were tough times. Those first few years, all my life savings were wiped out. For many months, I had to pay for my housing loan using cash ($498) because my CPF was wiped out.
I survived on a couple of hundred dollars a month. I ate at home, I ate a lot of instant noodles, and sometimes just plain bread. At one point, I had only $22 left. And I knew that things had to change. I cannot just survive. I need to prosper.
One interesting thing I noticed about myself is that I gave up everything just to pursue my dreams and future but I was not happy. Then I realized that passion alone is not enough. It has to put food on the table and it must be sustainable.
2) I know you to be someone with lots of positive energy. What do you do to put yourself in a positive state?
My philosophy in life is that in anything that we do, we can decide on the state we will be in. Why not decide that it is going to be exciting and life-changing? Every time I do something, i will look at what I can learn, how I can grow, and how I can enjoy the whole process, and this makes work a lot of fun! Thus, when I’m on stage, when people see me, they see me with so much energy and so much life that I just transform the whole environment that I’m in.
I started emceeing at age 16 with a Christian youth organization and I realized that on stage, you need to adopt a different persona. You have to go up there and remember it’s all about the audience, and all about how you transfer the energy down to the audience. The stage experience I gained through the different gigs, like emceeing for tele-matches, dinner and dance programs, beauty pageants, and even game shows helped me a lot when I started in the training business. Little did I know, back then, that all the things I did when I was much younger was to prepare me for my future.
I have also learnt that people are generally attracted to people with high energy and drive. If you have energy, you will be noticed. People will watch your actions and sometimes are drawn to what you believe and do. The best part about having high energy is that it rubs off on people and they will naturally get energetic and excited as well.
Be in a positive state, decide what kind of energy you want to manifest and remember that you can influence your environment if you are energetic.
3) You’ve won an award – the JCI Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World Singapore. Tell us about the interview questions which you’ve described as “tough” and “intense” and why you think you won this award.
It was a very tough interview session. There were 8 people there – from the business federation, Dr Fatimah Latiff, Eunice Olson (our previous NMP), people from the business industry, even professors from our universities!
I got ripped apart, metaphorically. It was a very humbling experience when they asked, “Why do you deserve to win the award? Why you, and not somebody else? You give talks, I also give talks, why you?”
I think it’s about making an impact and how do we consistently make an impact on society. I think I won them over with my passion and demonstration to them of my ability to be of influence and also being able to deliver results from my work as well.
Since I started training about 7 years ago, I have spoken to numerous corporate clients and trained in 8 different countries, to over 7500 people. If you asked me when I first started – did I ever dream that this will happen? The answer is ‘no’. All I know is that when you do something that you are passionate about and you constantly lift yourself to a higher standard of excellence, you can only go upwards and onward.
4) You’ve mentioned that employees feel happier when they are “winning” at work. What does this entail and what can employers do to help employees feel they are winning?
There are actually many ways to reward a person. There are so many people at work who are just very tired of work, deluded, and sometimes they also ask themselves what they are doing here.
We have to help people see the purpose in their work, feel that they are making a difference, and that whatever they are doing leads to a larger purpose. If the bosses, leaders or managers can help employees see that, the staff will definitely go the extra mile. But how do people who, for instance, do the paperwork or warehousing, feel engaged and that there is a purpose in what they are doing?
Here’s a story about Tom Shoes, a very popular brand in America… They have a simple concept: when you buy one pair of shoes, they will donate one pair of shoes to the children in South America who don’t have shoes. If you work with them for more than 2 years, they will actually send you to South America to distribute the shoes to the people. They will pay for your expenses in order for you to physically give the shoes away.
I’ve seen videos where people just cry upon realizing that whatever they are doing right now leads to a bigger purpose. So that’s what you must do for employees. You must create meaning for their work. Help them find meaning in what they are doing right now and show them how it matters to the organization, and to the society at large.
Companies can help their employees win at work by helping them discover that what they do means something, has helped people or even changed the way people do things. If your employees feel that they do things that contribute to a higher purpose, they will feel more engaged at work.
You can help employees win at work by helping them feel that they are making progress too. For instance, help customer service staff see that their work has brought about progress, e.g. if the satisfaction ratings are within your performance indicators, the volume of sales transactions has increased, or that the goals that they set at work have been fulfilled. Like in a soccer game, teams usually play better when there is a scoreboard that tracks their progress. If there is no scoreboard, they tend to just play for fun.
Consistently recognise your staff when they demonstrate excellence in their work as this helps them know that what they do matters to the company. Help your people feel that they are making a positive influence and winning at work, and they will go all out and do their best.
5) Give us some tips on how we can feel inspired at work, and what to do when we have colleagues we dislike but still have to work with as a team.
How do you feel inspired at work? It’s a difficult question to answer because everybody has different inspiration points. What works for you may not work for me. And it’s very important, first of all, to be very self aware – know what excites you and drives you. That is the key to a lot of things. For example, I’m a person who likes to drive things, create things and influence people. If I do that, I am extremely satisfied.
One way to help me feel more motivated in life is to watch a lot of inspirational movies. My favorite movies are Braveheart, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Bucket List, Click, etc. Even reading books on such topics help a lot as well.
So what inspires you?
It could be an inspirational song. For me, it’s Bon Jovi’s ‘It’s My Life’. The lyrics are very inspiring as well.
What are the things you can constantly listen to or watch to keep you motivated?
Working Together With People You Dislike
If people really hate each other, there’s no way we can have a high performance team. I tell my clients that they have to sit down, share about their differences and ask themselves about what they want out of this working relationship.
People tend to focus on the unhappiness, the anger, what they had to go through as a result of the unhappy circumstances, etc. While it is important to acknowledge that all those things happened, what is next? What do they want to have happen after that? Most people generally want to work it out and move forward, but do not want to bring this up openly with their colleague.
If the two people that are having difficulty working together are not going to speak to each other, it is just a matter of time before they head towards disaster. Remember, this will not be just between two persons, it will drag the rest of the team members down as well.
So what can be done? Firstly, understanding personality types is very helpful in explaining why a person acts in a certain way. I use personality profiling to help people become more self- aware of their own actions and to be aware of others as well – what makes another person frustrated, or happy, etc. Thus, they learn to be appreciative and empathetic towards each other.
Team-building helps people really bond and decide that, at the end of the day, they should work together for the team, and that when the team wins, we all win as well. A team building retreat can help people bond, have shared experiences, spend time just interacting beyond professional work, chill out, share their personal moments together, and all these help in building the team camaraderie and team spirit.
My advice is this can be done through team building or other activities, but you must have the time for people to spend together meaningfully, a time when people can talk openly, without fear of backlash, without fear of what other people would say, but just share openly, and also have fun together as a team. If you have any activities that fulfill all these criteria, I can guarantee you that this team will slowly grow to care for each other.