Seize every opportunity life gives you!

The speaker at a recent graduation ceremony spoke of an event in his life that he would never forget.

He described how he had seen a previous work colleague from the back after a conference that they had both attended – he wanted to go up to her, perhaps have a coffee to catch-up after not having met up for so long. But he got diverted and did not make the special effort to chase after her.

Shortly after, he learnt she had just passed away, leaving behind her husband and young child. A flood of regret washed over him.

Could he have offered her an encouraging word if he had made the effort to catch up with her when he saw her?

Life, he surmised, has to be taken at its opportunity.

An opportunity not pursued, an opportunity not created, is an opportunity wasted, and only leaves behind the residue of regret.  

So many times, especially at funerals, we hear people speak of their greatest regret being not spending enough time – more time – with the person who had just passed on, time when that word of encouragement, that word of love and understanding, that word of care and concern, or simply the silent presence, could have meant so much.

We need to live our moments of opportunities, and recall what Stephen Grellet, an American Quaker missionary, had once said:

“I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

Leadership is taking the moments and giving them purpose.

Honour is taking the moments and giving them extra meaning.

Special Education Teachers share Special Lessons

 The Leading Award

This past week, I had the very interesting opportunity to meet the special education teachers who won the inaugural Leading Foundation Awards, which was established to honour excellent early childhood and special education teachers.

Their stories of the challenges of coping with children with special education needs such as autism, dyslexia and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), were truly inspirational. The children are not easy to deal with and success is making progress on helping the children be able to take care of themselves. Independence is the goal.

In as much as these teachers are dedicated to being different from other teachers in their life mission and their sense of purpose, it certainly makes them leaders we all should appreciate and honour.

One of the teachers talked of taking 15 of her students on an immersion programme overseas. These are children with special needs, yet they went without their parents.  Extensive preparations had to be made to familiarise the children with the new situations they would experience, as these children function best when life is predictable and familiar.

An important event, for example, would be flying in an aircraft for the first time.  The teacher had to arrange for the children to go to a simulated aircraft cabin in one of the polytechnics, and also had a familiarisation experience on a SilkAir aircraft (on the ground).

Remarkably the children leant to be independent on the overseas trip without mishap, while the teacher had a continuous stream of questions and concerns from the parents back in Singapore who were wondering all the time how their children were doing. The teacher was clear that an important purpose of the trip was to teach the children that they could manage themselves. Such clarity of objective is absolutely impressive.

Another of the teachers described taking the children under her as well as their families on a trip to Melaka. These are children from low-income families who, together with their parents, would never have been able to experience a holiday trip. The school saw the building of relationship between parents and their children to be very important, and thus makes the effort to raise funds to give the family the holiday.

I was particularly struck by a statement one of the teachers made, that the caregivers – mostly the parents and family at home – are the ones who carry the most burden in caring for the children with special education needs.

Thus the teachers see themselves as giving the parents some time when they are relieved of having to look after their children. And while the teachers do not have an easy time with the children, they say they only have to spend 5 hours a weekday with the children, whereas the caregivers have to look after the children all the rest of the time.

So if the teachers look at the time in perspective, and the teachers think of the good they are doing for parents and families and not just the children, that is how the teachers derive their energy and motivation.

This is certainly something all of us can learn for our lives, and something all leaders have to think about: What good are we doing for the lives of others?

How to preserve wealth beyond 3 generations

Wealth does not last beyond three generations

As mentioned in the first few pages of “The Leader, The Teacher & You”, “Wealth never lasts 3 generations. The first generation creates wealth, the second generation preserves it, the third generation squanders it.”

The question is why this should be so.

I saw at least one perspective on this in a conversation with a professor in Hong Kong.

He said we have to bear in mind that the second generation comprises siblings. There may be differences of views among the brothers and sisters, but they have been brought up in one household with a more-or-less common set of values and a more-or-less same attitude towards life. Thus the way they look at issues, and the way they go about identifying and solving problems, may be different in emphases but oftentimes they can agree on the outcomes they seek and the approach to take in seeking solutions.

What is critical to note about the third generation is that it is a generation of cousins, brought up in different households, where values and life attitudes are likely to be different.  Coming to decisions therefore become a lot more difficult, when even agreement as to what the problem is may be elusive.

Thus while the idea of wealth never lasting 3 generations may sound simple and empirical, an understanding of the phenomenon leads us to the importance of values and life attitudes. This is the commonality and identity all companies and organisations seek.  It is what defines culture, and what makes for winning organisations.