Yeah, we quit – Shutting the doors on the Real Leaders Project

As of yesterday, the Real Leaders Project is officially closed. I’d like to share our closing post. Real Leaders


Dear friends,

We’d like to share the news – the Real Leaders Project will be shutting down as of today. After a long heart-to-heart discussion, we decided that it was time to call it quits. We’re big believers in the importance of persistence and building projects for the long run. So, this was a hard decision for us. However, we believe it is for the best. We’d like to share with you the reasons for calling it quits as well as our learnings from the project.

So, why are we shutting down?

1. We screwed up on our culture. Every team has a culture. We would never have believed it if you told us that a team of 3 friends who had worked with each  other before could really screw up on our culture. But, it is true. We made it a habit to avoid discussing and taking action on the hard issues, we hid under “iteration,” we never focused on the end goal, we weren’t values driven and we were consistently tardy. This wasn’t a pleasant mix and these habits stayed. We are reminded of the quote – “If you don’t know where you are going, you will end up somewhere else.” We did end up somewhere else and we didn’t like it. It ended up creating a lot of baggage and negativity. The alarm bells rang when we realized that our behaviour was very different on a new project with a stronger and intentional culture.

2.  What got us here won’t get us there. We did okay on this project but we also realized along the way that we weren’t going to be able to produce a world class product with our current method of operation (Skype calls). We wanted to be world class and quality technology felt beyond us for the near future. When we asked ourselves if we saw ourselves shipping a better in the near future, we heard “no.” This was a great experience over the past 3 years. However, we’d like to spend this time and energy on creating better things.

3. Other areas of focus. We also became very deeply engaged in a new charitable trust – http://help2grow.org. We have limited time and our attention was being dispersed. This was a smaller contributor but a contributor nevertheless. The good news is that we’ve not screwed up things so bad that we don’t want to work with each other. We’re just focusing this attention on a different project.


Aside from the learnings from the process of thinking about shutting down and then reflecting on what contributed to that, we all took away many lessons from our journey on RealLeaders.tv. They were –

EB

“1) Know your ‘why’: My personal “why” affects how much I contribute especially to a project. Unless I buy into the project spiritually, I don’t give my 100%. It helps to clarify periodically why I am here.

2) Be comfortable letting go: There are certain things that I’m not excited about and I’ve grown a bit more comfortable being okay about it. The Real Leaders experience was an eye opener about being focused on getting the priorities right.

3) All happy families are alike: Most of our ‘Real Leaders’ were obsessive about what they did, were clear about their whys, had healthy routines, their priorities and defining moments were their family, and most importantly were pleasant people to talk to.

Learning aside, I’m most thankful to Rohan and Dhanya for letting me be a part of the Real Leader journey. Both of them were always there to cover for my mistakes and my inabilities. I will always cherish the 1 hour calls that we had as a team every Saturday. I’ve learnt a great deal from you both and I look forward to working to many other projects.”

Dhanya

1) The world belongs to those who try and reachout – I learnt that I could talk to anyone in the world, anyone at all! The world is out there. With social communication and the internet world – anyone is reachable, anything is doable. You can sit in Singapore and help kids go to school in India. You would’ve never set foot outside Japan, but you can talk to a man in Canada – both of you could be sharing the same opinion on world economics! You have to reach out and ASK!

2) Persistence – Reaching out once is something – reaching out till you get what you want is another. The second is what we went for. Rohan was my role model – I learnt an important lesson in persistence these 2.5 years.

3) Great people are nice first – We’ve met many people – our website is the proof of their variety and experience. And we’ve seen many common trends amongst the opinion they shared. But one thing stayed true – great people are nice people. I remind myself at work every single day about this learning.”

Rohan

“1) You can reach and have conversations with anyone. Literally anyone. I never imagined I’d be able to have conversations with my favourite authors (Dan Ariely, Dan Pink, Cal Newport, Bill Bernstein, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Roy Baumeister, Jonathan Haidt), meet amazing venture capitalists (Bijan Sabet, Albert Wenger, Brad Feld), and all the other incredible people I had the good fortune to meet. This idea will live on – I hope to continue to do this on my blog.

2) This was a leadership experiment that didn’t work. I experimented with a detached style on RealLeaders.tv. We started this at a time when I had doubts about whether my strength of personality was a deterrent to relationships and teams. It may not work across all situations but leading a team without being myself is a recipe for disaster. I’ve grown up a bit since then and learnt to be comfortable in my own skin. The learning came at a price though. Leadership is lonely and the teams you build when you lead mirror your strengths and weaknesses. I think I began building real leaders when I was doubtful and tentative and, in many ways, the team we built moved with a lack of cohesive purpose and intent.

3) Culture matters – be intentional about it. Take a stand on what sort of team you want to build and build that. The worst thing that can happen to you is when you spend years build a team and then realize you don’t feel inspired to work with each other. Luckily, we are still great friends.. but I definitely screwed this up.”


We started this project to spread great ideas, meet great people and learn. It turned out to be a tremendous learning experience and we know we couldn’t have made it happen without all your support and encouragement along the way. We know we will never be able to thank you enough and, in many ways, this post is our thank you. We wanted to end it by sharing what we learnt – hopefully there’s a great idea in our closing act too. :-)

Thank you for your support and wishing you the best!
Dhanya, EB, Rohan – The Real Leaders Team
contact@realleaders.tv


As some of the long-time regulars here would know, this project was born on this blog and started with an interview of my mom here. It was a tough decision to call it quits. But, that was a learning in itself. Thank you to all of you for having shared your support and encouragement for the project via your comments, likes, and emails. It wouldn’t have possible without your encouragement.

Lynn Lee, co-owner of Awfully Chocolate – The Real Leaders Project

Dhanya, from the Real Leaders team, has been on a roll lately interviewing women she admires. If you live in Singapore, you’ve definitely heard of Awfully Chocolate’s wonderful chocolate cakes. And, today, we present an interview with the co-owner of the successful chain.

Lyn Lee is a co-owner at Awfully chocolate, a successful chain of chocolate parlours. They have branched into other food initiatives, and are running branches across Asia, based out of Singapore. Lyn co-founded a small parlour back in 1988 with her friends when they realized they wanted to create, own and run something for themselves. They perfected a chocolate cake recipe with is a rage in Singapore today in 20 years. The brand and Lyn herself have grown in so many many ways since the initial days. Today Lyn mentors many youngsters.

My favorite bits –

“I told my friends, “I love eating chocolate and there is this idea of this perfect chocolate cake which I just think would be great.”

“We were careful.  It was more like a hobby at that time because we all kept our day jobs.  One of my friends got retrenched, so she was looking after the store in the daytime.  The rest of us would run there after work, or we would go there on weekends.  It was this fabulous adventure and it was great fun.”

“Over the years we learned from franchising that there is no perfect franchise.  Some of them work so well that we’ve become best friends; we’ve become partners.  Now, when we do franchising we actually make sure that we have a staff member who’s prepared to live in the franchise country for six months to one year, whereas previously it would be shorter time and it would be more visits.  Now we treat it as if it’s one of our stores.  We really stay close with the process.  That has yielded better results.”

“I tell people that I’m a mom and I have three kids.  I really try to spend as much time as I can with them, but I just don’t do it in the conventional way and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  So many women especially – and we want them to have families and we want them to settle down – but I tell them that there must be a way, and don’t be afraid that your way is slightly different.”

“I like to think that if you make the correct small decisions, it is just as good as the epiphany you didn’t have. These small decisions are not hard. Don’t choose the job by the hours you need to put in, or how close it is to you. Sometimes you choose it for the pay package. Think of what you’re going to be doing, what you’re going to learn. Think of the wider things.”

The full version, as always, on RealLeaders.tv

The JW Marriott Pune Team on hiring, training, and building winning teams – The Real Leaders Project

I stayed at the JW Marriott Pune for 3 months this year and found the hotel to be a very special place. The service quality was simply outstanding and the consistency of this outstanding service meant this experience was very special. Aside from the quality of service, it also felt like the staff were genuinely having a great time at work. So, I thought it would be very interesting to pull aside the General Manager, Jatin, for an interview. Jatin insisted that I also interview his 2 top lieutenants with him and I think that already says something about the sort of example he sets. I hope you enjoy the interview.

JWM PuneJatin, Subhash and Abhimanyu lead up the operations of JW Marriott Pune. Even by the JW Marriott’s very high standards, the Pune hotel has been winning awards for it’s customer satisfaction scores since its inception 3 years ago.

Jatin is the General Manager of the hotel, Subhash is the Director of Operations and Abhimanyu is the Director of rooms.

 

 

My favorite bits –

“From day one, the kind of guest satisfaction scores that we got and the appreciation that we received in our internal Marriott system is something that we never thought we would achieve.  One of the best hotels in terms of our guest satisfaction and scores in the Marriott system is in the Asia Pacific.  Once that happened, I think that really drove people to maintain that number one spot.”

“Managers actually lead by example.  They won’t just give trainings and philosophies in meeting rooms, but they actually walk the talk.  They do it themselves. Whenever it’s busy, you’ll see them running around.  Associates really look up to them and respect them because of that. ”

“Some hotels leave it to the front desk to be responsible for guest complaints and ensuring that all guests leave satisfied, but here even a steward in a restaurant or a chef would come up to the front office team and say that they think a guest is upset, maybe we should have chat with him.  Otherwise all of these areas are too busy doing their own thing.  That’s what makes it a total hotel approach.”

“It’s about our people.  We’re in an industry where people are serving people as opposed to a manufacturing unit or some other place where you do your job in rigid processes.”

“We ensure that a happy chef makes happy food.  We hire people for attitude and a specialized skill. If they have the skill, and they have the attitude also, then we develop them into our business.”

“We have a very open system called a DIR which is a daily incident report.  We encourage people that if there is a problem, report the problem.  When you report a problem, we can then solve the problem.  There is nothing to hide, there is no reprimand.  If you make a mistake, you are not reprimanded tomorrow morning.  You made a mistake, you owned up to the mistake, and you reported your mistake.  Then there are senior managers who are in their job to do their job and resolve your mistake and to see to it that the guests come back. There is a whole culture that nobody works on threats, because you cannot deliver exceptional service with threats.”

“One of the best parts which has happened with us is that after we’ve been opened for a good three and a half years, 35% of our workforce is still from the pre-opening stage.  What that means is we’ve been able to grow them.  We’ve been able to build their courage; we’ve been able to build their confidence, and this is what the associates see when they join.”

“To say the least, you will rarely go to hotels where a housekeeping boy leaves a note for you with his own name to say that he hopes everything is fine, or goes and picks up a box of chocolate and leaves for you as an amenity.  A lot of times these things are left for managers to do – to write a nice flowery note for a guest.  However, we don’t believe in that.”

“One way that we do that is we have certain key initiatives that we roll out every year to ensure that our standards remain number one.  We get a buy-in right from the associate level on what we need to do.  Everybody gives their input.  We put it all together, and roll it out as one strategy.”

“When you’re hiring, if you are concentrating on the attitude part of it – that’s positive.  You cannot teach anybody to be humble. ”

“For example, if I’m unable to communicate to you in some great accent or in a great English language, usually as long as you see genuineness in my eyes it’s a winning moment because you will understand.”

“The guest is coming to have breakfast in the morning and he’s coming at 11:05.  All he wants is a muffin and a coffee and he’s out but they say, “Oh sorry the breakfast is cleared, you have to order a la carte.”  He has to wait 45 minutes for the order.  Maybe the customer will never come back.  In the long run it’s going to be a bigger revenue loss than those 200 rupees that we earn that day.”

“People are standing, smiling, and saying good morning and good evening, but sometimes they don’t even know why they are doing that.  Why am I saying this?  What is the ultimate theme of our hotel?  It’s to ensure that every guest leaves satisfied.   We train them in such a way to show them the forest rather than just the tree.”

“Business excellence models like PDM or Six Sigma are nothing but making sure that you are a process-oriented company and not personality-driven.   I still say we as a hotel are more personality-driven, but we are also process-oriented company.  We are somewhere in the middle. We as a team do great stuff together.”

“The best part about delivering is that every week when we all meet together on a Friday, every now and then somebody will come up with a great idea and we’ll all be really excited.  Once we execute that, we have to jump to the next thing.  That’s the challenging part – that we keep learning something new every day.”

Full transcript, as always, on RealLeaders.tv

 

Angela Kapp on retail marketing, branding, and stepping out of the comfort zone

I read about Angela Kapp on Seth Godin’s book ‘The Icarus Deception’ and mentioned her on our Real Leaders project team meeting. Dhanya reached out to Angela and Angela agreed to interview with us and I enjoyed reading and listening to her. Thank you, Seth, and thank you, Angela.

About Angela: Angela Kapp is an entrepreneur, digital pioneer, multi-channel retail expert, and serial traveler. Angela is president of Kappcorp, an advisory and investment company for her interests. She currently works with select fashion and beauty brands in the U.S. and China on consumer marketing and global expansion. She is also the executive vice chairman of The Luxury Club (Hui She Shang), the first brand-authorized luxury e-tailer in China, and a strategic advisor to Baozun, the leading digital and e-commerce service provider in China.

For 17 years, Angela was a senior executive at Estee Lauder Companies. At ELC, Angela created and was the general manager of three different multi-million dollar businesses in three retail arenas: freestanding stores, online, and on university campuses. Internet World hailed her as one of the “Top 25 Shapers of the Net.” Shhe was a member of ELC’s Executive Management Group. Prior to ELC, Angela was founder and president of New York Wise, a fundraising and special events firm.

Angela is a sought-after commentator on multi-channel retailing and global luxury consumers. She is frequently called upon by press, including CNN, The New York Times, China Business Daily, Wired, and Women’s Wear Daily. She is a co-founder of the elite industry group DIG (Digital Influencers Group).

My favorite bits –

“If I look back, my dreams were always changing. Most of the things that I’m doing I might have bet you 5 years ago that I’d never be doing. That’s part of the interest of life.”

One of the things that’s true in fashion, or luxury, or beauty (but particularly in fashion and luxury) is that you typically have a creative force. You have Tom Ford at Gucci; you have Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. But then you have the business side. That duo is really important, and when understanding how to deal with someone who is a creative force, the business person is actually someone who can serve you a lot.”

(On Wharton) “They used to say that you’re going to make a finite amount of mistakes in your life. The point of business school is to let you get some of those mistakes out of the way where it’s not going to cost you anything.”

“Depending on the category that you’re in, the internet is either your lifeline or it’s an enhancement to what you do. If you’re in office supplies, it’s your lifeline because nobody’s ever going to walk in to buy office supplies again. You’re not going to walk in to retail. You better invest all of your money in that. If you’re in the beauty business, it’s enhancing and it’s convenient; it has a sense of opportunity and intimacy. Great merchandising makes you want to buy stuff. You have to understand both, and then play them to their best advantage.”

“What people forget is just how much of the luxury business is driven by the aspirational consumer. It’s not the man or woman who can afford everything, but it’s the one that wants to afford just one thing. There’s a lot of business being done by those people.”

“Don’t leave before you leave.” I’m a firm believer of that. Don’t start thinking about the next thing. Make sure this thing gets done. In fact, in everything that I’ve done, I always keep a picture of the last thing that I did to remind of where I was, but also to remind me that I’m not doing that. I’m going to go blaze a new trail. I think that part’s the most important part. Just focus on doing a great job.”

“I’m a big list person. My husband always says that my lists have lists. I make lists for me, I make lists for him. It just helps me organize my thoughts.”

“First, I’m going to tell you the one that I’ve always tried to live by. It was this stupid little thing that my mother gave me when I was in my teens. It was one of those little wall-hanger things and it says, “Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail.” In my work life, that’s always what I’ve tried to do.”

“I’ve found that the more experience and the more success I’ve had, the more interested I am in mentoring people and seeing them succeed. I want people to overtake me. I want my team to be better than I am. I want to learn from them. I want to make them better, stronger, faster, happier, etc.”

“If you’re going to fail, fail fast, and fail cheap.”

Full transcript, as always, on RealLeaders.tv

Prof Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on flow, intrinsic motivation, and happiness

For a person interested in psychology, human behaviour, and happiness, Prof Mihaly’s work on “flow” is the stuff of legend. It was a real honor interviewing him (it was a very memorable experience too). For all those who are reading about Prof Mihaly for the first time, I’d recommend his wonderful TED talk.

About Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

featuredProfessor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has contributed pioneering work to our understanding of happiness, creativity, human fulfillment and the notion of “flow” — a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work. Csikszentmihalyi teaches psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University, focusing on human strengths such as optimism, motivation and responsibility. He’s the director of the Quality of Life Research Center there. He has written numerous books and papers about the search for joy and fulfillment.

 

My favorite bits –

“We published several articles from was the study of internet chess and how people play.  We asked people who played against each other to fill out how much flow they had in the game afterwards.  In a week we collected over 1000 games and it was a good way to study whether our hypothesis was correct.  Our hypothesis was that the greatest enjoyment would come when the two players were exactly matched in terms of their skill level because that means that the challenges and skills were equal for both players.  We found that was almost true, but it was even better if the opponent was about 7% better than you were.”

“Junk flow is when you are actually becoming addicted to a superficial experience that may be flow at the beginning, but after a while becomes something that you become addicted to instead of something that makes you grow.  You find that even in chess, which I love.  I think it’s very difficult to exhaust chess as a source of growth, and yet you find that so many chess masters when they reach the end of their career, even while they’re young in their thirties or forties, can’t go beyond their skill level anymore.”

“The Greek philosopher Plato wrote a thousand years ago that the greatest challenge for teachers and parents is to teach young people to find pleasure in the right things.  He called it pleasure, but actually what he meant was enjoyment.  The problem is that it’s much easier to find pleasure or enjoyment in things that are not growth-producing but are attractive and seductive.  After a while you get trapped by a cycle of short term bursts of excitement, and then it becomes a habit; and now you feel bad if you can’t play, but you don’t feel good when you can play.  That’s a problem that goes beyond flow.  It goes to the philosophy of life.”

“Usually I find that people who become intrinsically motivated in their job, whether they’re surgeons or cooks in a restaurant, are the people who paid enough attention to what they had to do to discover small differences in performance and small differences in the product and became fascinated with the possibility of improving what they were doing.”

“The activity becomes a form of self-expression. This who I am, this is what I can do, etc.  When that happens, the work becomes intrinsically motivating which means that even if you are paid for it, or even if you get other rewards for it, it also very importantly gives you a sense of this is who I am.  This is what I can do well, and this is what I am called to do.”

“Twenty years ago I discovered a little passage in Dante Alighieri’s book The Monarchia which was written in 1317 – 700 years ago.  He says that every being enjoys most of all expressing itself.  We had dogs for a long time, and after I read that I realized that each dog was the happiest when it did what it was bred to do.  The hunting dogs liked to hunt; the guard dogs liked to keep people away from the door.   The sheepdog loves to chase children around until they get together like a flock of sheep.  When they do that they look happy, content, and proud.”

“Happiness is not something that is guaranteed, or that comes with our birth certificates.  It’s a possibility that we have to discover how to be happy.  Happiness is to do things that are harmonious with who we are, with what we can do, with what we like, and with what we think is right. Do it. Don’t figure that somebody else will do it, or that you don’t have a right to do it. “

Thank you Prof Mihaly for that wonderful interview. The full transcript, as always, is on RealLeaders.tv

Josephine Ng on workplace, women, and leadership

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Dhanya interviewed Josephine Ng after seeing her on TV in a show about women CEOs in Singapore.

Josephine retired from running an ad agency, and now runs a social enterprise that provides development opportunities for women of any age. She and her husband run this business together. It’s a simple idea – they run expert-managed alteration houses in Orchard. The venue looks less like the regular alteration house we would have been to and  more like a classy fashion house.

You can read more about Alteration Initiative and Josephine Ng at http://www.alteration.com.sg/

My favorite bits –

“Business concept wise, we felt there was a huge market gap for high quality alteration. If you look at Singapore, or even Asia – alteration has been very hole in the wall, very messy, they would start looking for your things everywhere. There would be threads all over the place.”

“As for the group of people we wanted to help, we sought to speak to social initiative experts. Single mothers were a group of people who came up. They would like flexible work hours, and ideally work from home even. So we put sewing and single mothers together. If they have the basic skill, we could help them improve/teach them and help them earn a decent living.”

“Currently our beneficiary group includes matured women. More than 50% of our staff includes women above 59 years of age, formerly employed women who for whatever the reason can’t go back to their employment.”

“When they first come in it’s a huge culture shock for them, with or without skill. Even with skill they find that we are very particular about our workmanship. Every little thing matters in our work – the thread colour, inseam finish, outside finish, straightness of line.”

“One of the things I am very proud of doing is this – of creating women who can think about what they are doing, and not do it blindly. They learn to put in the extra effort, to show care.”

“I remember this as our very first experience. When we redecorated our workspaces, we thought a lot about the customer’s view. Coming from an ad agency, that was very important to us, the ambiance. We spent money on doing up the decor and the especially the lights. When they went in, they asked why the lights were so dark, and why were the cabinets all black. To them the setup of the tailor’s work station was important. And we ended up realizing how our thought process went against what was really important.”

“It’s always about this one thing – whether we are doing enough to create value.”

Thanks Josephine for taking the time. Full transcript, as always, on RealLeaders.tv

Morgan Housel on money, psychology, and investing

We interviewed Morgan Housel, columnist at “The Motley Fool,” after reading his excellent post – 140 things to know about investing. As many of you who read this blog know, I have a lot of energy for increasing financial literacy and I really appreciate folks like Morgan who’re focused on doing just that.

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About Morgan Housel

Morgan Housel is a columnist at the Motley Fool. He is a two-time winner of the Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers and was selected by the Columbia Journalism Review for the Best Business Writing 2012 anthology. In 2013 he was a finalist for the Gerald Loeb Award and Scripps Howard Award. He holds a B.A. in Economics from the University of Southern California.

 

My favorite bits –

“What’s really interesting about finance –  and I think this is true for a lot of fields whether you’re in physics, math, chemistry, history, or whatever it is – the more you learn the you more you realize how little you know.

“If you really just started in investing, what’s really important is not necessarily when you’re young the investment decisions that you make.  It’s saving as much money as possible rather than getting caught up in the details about the different kinds of investments that you’re making.”

I think if you’re the kind of investor who really has no interest in business, finance, or the stock market, just investing in a low cost index fund, dollar cost averaging so you’re putting in the same amount of money every month over time is really a smart approach for most investors that don’t want to spend a lot of time doing this or are really not interested in it. “

“I really think that people who are interested in business, commerce, and economics, but not necessarily interested in trading or the stock market, are the people that I think can really do well for themselves over the long run – over the course of 20, or 30, or 40 years – by investing in really good high quality companies that they feel confident about.  They can do well by investing in a good diverse mix of companies that they plan on holding for a long period of time.

“I think a home makes a good place to live in, and that provides value for you of course.  You’ve got a great place to live in, spend the holidays with your family, have a barbeque with your friends, and that’s great.  The idea of the home as an investment, there’s really not much evidence backing that up.

Almost invariably the best investors are the people who have control over their emotions. Why do some people survive and other people perish?  The common denominator in survivors in these extreme situations is that the survivors did not panic when everyone else did.”

“In today’s 24 hour news cycle, where we have so much information online – Yahoo Finance, CNBC, and whatnot – it’s tempting to look at your portfolio all day long, minute by minute.  I think that’s very dangerous for a lot of people.  Most people should be looking at their portfolio once a quarter, four times a year.”

“The most important thing to know when you look at long term financial history is that volatility in the stock market is perfectly normal.  It’s the equivalent of having summers every year. If you look historically, the stock market falls 10% basically once every year.  If you go back through more than 100 years of data, it happens almost every year.  You get a 30% crash basically once a decade.  You get a 50% crash 2-3 times per century.”

The single most important variable for how you’ll do as an investor is how long you can stay invested. I’m always astounded when I think about compound interest and the power that it has for investing.  Time is massively powerful.  That’s my secret to investing.  That is the most powerful concept in investing.  It’s very importantly the single most over-looked aspect of investing as well.”

The full transcript, as always, is on RealLeaders.tv.