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5 of the worst faults a leader can have

5 of the worst faults a leader can have

Leaders should lead as far as they can and then vanish. Their ashes should not choke the fire they have lit.
— H. G. Wells

Most of us, if not all, will have the opportunity to be in a position of leadership. Whether in the classroom, your CCA, in National Service for the guys, or in the workplace in future.

by definition, a leader is one because he/she has followers. If you find yourself in a leadership position yet are not listening to and working on behalf of your followers, then you can't possibly call yourself a leader.

There is no such thing as a perfect leader. Extraordinary leaders are not born, but made. Which is why good leaders are conscious about improving themselves - through self-refection, investing time in others, and figuring out how to get the most out of everyone around them. It's hard to pinpoint what makes a good leader, but here are 5 things we can be sure that good leaders do not have:

1. Being egocentric

Simply holding a leadership title doesn’t automatically make one a leader, and one of the worst faults a leader can have is too much ego, pride and arrogance. People in leadership positions must accept that it's not all about them and remember that, while they may set the overall tone and direction, they are not necessarily the most important person there.

If a leader doesn’t understand the concept of “service above self”, they will not inspire the trust, confidence, and loyalty of those they lead. A true leader is most concerned with the well-being of their people, investing time in truly understanding their needs and giving value to their opinions.  

2. Being bad at communicating

Great leaders can communicate effectively. They not only speak well, but they listen actively, think fluidly, and knows when to dial it up, down, or off. When leaders are able to describe what they want done in a clear and succinct way, it helps their followers prioritise what they need to do effectively. For example, if the general cannot express where he wants his troops to travel to next, the entire army is confused and thrown into chaos. 

This being said, having good communication skills is more than just directing others to follow you - it's also about maintaining healthy relationships and developing the ability to encourage your people to envision the same goals as you. Your role is to paint the bigger picture so that your followers understands your vision and what is expected of them. In an office environment, this is illustrated best when seeing the CEO of the company making it a point to talk to staff on a regular basis. By cultivating healthy lines of communication, it will result in creating a more positive and productive environment.

3. Being a micromanager

Have you ever had a designated project leader delegate the various roles of a group project but end up breathing down each of your necks to check up on your work? Didn't it make you feel annoyed, as well as not feeling empowered to get your part done?

One of the most common mistakes a leader makes is to keep focusing on what they're good at and what has been proven to work in the past. If you cannot let go of your desire to be an effective "doer", this prevents you from having your eye on the bigger picture, as you will be busy trying to make sure everyone else is doing a good job. This is also known as micromanaging others.

Micromanagers can produce good results, but they alienate their followers along the way. One way to avoid this is for leaders to make conscious efforts to share their goals and the intent of actions with their teams so they understand the direction to move in together. An effective team should act like a school of fish, individuals moving in the same direction while giving each other the space required to perform their tasks. 

4. Practicing favouritism

I remembered when I was a prefect in secondary school. Whenever there was a surprise spot-check, I would be the one helping my friends to hide their contraband items because the teachers wouldn't check the prefects.  

This made me look good in the eyes of my friends, but I'm sure my other classmates hated me for that. When someone in a leadership position singles out individuals to play favourites with, it can be one of the most damaging problems as there is no chance to build a culture of trust. If trust is low, people instinctively assume the worst intent rather than the best intent. This is extremely divisive, and worse, it might start to pit peers in the same team against each other. 

And good leaders will not allow that to happen. 

5. Lacking in commitment

During World War II, Captain Henry "Jim" Crowe of the United States Marine Corps said the following words to his troops: "You'll never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!" The Purple Heart is one of the highest order that a soldier can be awarded, and is usually awarded for extreme bravery and honour.

When Captain Crowe made that statement, it was more than just an order. it was his action of not showing fear, and leading by example by being in the front lines fighting alongside them, that motivated his men. If a leader expects his or her team to work hard and produce quality results, they're going to need to be down in the trenches working alongside everyone else.

There is no greater motivation than seeing the person in-charge prove that hard work is done on every level. Showing commitment to the cause will not only earn respect among your followers, but instil a passionate energy within them as well. If you've pledged something, keep your word. You want to create a reputation for not just working hard, but also be known as a fair leader. The best leaders build into their team, support their team, and genuinely care for their team. 

Free iPhone apps that will actually help you study better

Free iPhone apps that will actually help you study better

Thanks to the wonders of technology, student life is much easier. Can you imagine back in the days when your parents had no Google to get immediate answers, but had to rely on library books to discover new knowledge? Today, there are hundreds of apps that not only help you to cope with everyday tasks, but teaches you too. Here are some of our picks that are completely free. Now you have more excuses to be on your phone while studying: 

Tinycards

This app is basically a set of flashcards which can be used to memorise virtually anything. You can choose from topics already in the app, or make your own decks. The cool thing is, it learns from you as you progress through a deck and shuffles the information around to help you memorise more effectively. You can also share decks with your classmates (unless you are super competitive and want to keep them to yourself, of course.)

iTunes U

Created by Apple, this app started out as a way for teachers to distribute their lectures and homework online, but grew into a place to get free access to lessons from some of the best schools in the world. From Statistics 101 from Harvard University, to Stanford's course on how to code your own app, there is something new to learn every day. 

Easy Study

If you're the type who sits down to study, but no idea where and how to start studying, this app is for you. Just put in all the subjects you want to study for, how long you want to study for, and this app will churn out a study timetable for you. Just stick to its suggested hours and you may find yourself optimising your time in a really efficient way. 

GoConqr

Visual learners, rejoice! This app has numerous features that are a great help when you are revising your notes. You can create flashcards, quizzes, as well as a study planner to track how much you're learning. But what makes this app unique is that you can create a mind map to guide you in visualising how things are connected. By seeing how information is broken down from a main subject into smaller topics, it can help with both memorisation and understanding.

Dragon Dictation

Do you have a stack of study notes that you need to type up, but your hands feel like they are going to fall off due to the sheer amount of writing you have been doing? Try a dictation app! With this, you just speak into your phone, it converts it into text, and you can copy/paste it into a word document to save. 

Acceleread Speed Reading Trainer

Most people are only reading at 1/3 of their potential speed and produtivity. When you have a ton of textbooks to read while studying, being a speed-reader would really come in handy. Well, this app will help you train your brain to become a super-fast reader so you don't continue to plod through all those texts and waste valuable time.


 

5 free online tools every student should know about

5 free online tools every student should know about

Often short on time, sleep, and money, students need all the help they can get! Thankfully, there's no shortage of free online tools designed to help manage everyday life, learn new skills, and even to study better for exams.

By taking advantage of these resources to improve and streamline your workflow, you'll get more done at the price of absolutely free. Here are 5 websites dedicated to being your new best study-buddy.

Google Docs, Sheets and Slides

Everything is going mobile these days, why shouldn't your study notes? Google's suite of office software is exactly like Microsoft Office, except completely cloud-based, so you can create and edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations anywhere you are from your laptop or phone. Our favourite thing about the Google apps is if you are working on a group project, you can create a document, share it with your group mates, and everyone can collaborate by editing the document in real time. (It's kind of magic when you see words appearing out of nowhere as your group mate is typing his/her part)

GoConqr

Visual learners, rejoice! This site has numerous features that are a great help when you are revising your notes. You can create flashcards, quizzes, as well as a study planner to track how much you're learning. But what makes this site unique are the mind maps. You can create a map to guide you in visualising how things are connected. By seeing how information is broken down from a main subject into smaller topics, it can help with both memorization and understanding. 

F.lux

Did you know your computer screen is designed to look like the sun? So during the day, looking at it is fine.  But, at 9pm or 1am, you probably should not be looking at the sun. This app helps makes the colour of your computer's display look like the room you're in at any time. When the sun sets, it makes your computer look like indoor lights. In the morning, it makes things look like sunlight again. This helps preserve your eyesight from straining when you are studying, as well as help you sleep better.

Evernote

For daily reminders and class timetables, your sticky notes are up to the task... until they lose their stickiness or you start to have so many of them you have no clue what each one is for. Evernote helps to store all your notes, research, and thoughts together in one place. One of my personal favourite tools, if you struggle with organization, this site can help! Evernote can be used in many ways: as a dumping ground for stray thoughts, a daily journal, keeping research notes in order, organizing presentation notes, for in-class note taking, the opportunities are endless. Simply create a note, and after you've typed, drawn, or added a photo to it, you can add tags to the note that are relevant such as 'Science Project' or 'To Memorize'.  The best part is it can sync across computers and phones.

Marinara Timer

Inspired by the Pomodoro method of productivity — work for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break, the Marinara Timer is dedicated to helping you increase productivity levels. Whatsapp, YouTube, and even snack breaks prevent us from focusing on our task. By trying out the Pomodoro method, you might just reduce distractions and become more efficient. Just click on the 'Start' button and let the timer sound to remind you when you can take your 5 minute break and when to go back to studying again. Bonus: This time comes with entertaining alarm sounds like “alien bot ordering lunch”

Brinkmanship (Series on Game Theory)

Brinkmanship (Series on Game Theory)

In a previous post, we introduced you to the concept of game theory, or specifically, the Prisoners’ dilemma. In this post, we will be showing you how another Game Theory concept, brinkmanship, applies to our lives.

another thing that the concept of brinkmanship can teach us is that you should just do what you are supposed to do

1. Project work

Sometimes when doing project work, after everyone has finished their individual parts, someone needs to compile. However, many times people do not want to contribute more than others by compiling. Yet someone clearly has to do it.

Enters the strategy of “brinkmanship” where each person tries to wait out the others, hoping that someone else’s patience will run out first. As the time passes, the risk that no one will compile and the whole group will fail to hand in the project on time increases. Each player lets the risk escalate to the point of his own tolerance. The one who cannot take the uncertainty anymore will eventually sigh and compile.

Taken to the extreme, some group members will not even do their individual parts. Clearly, it is not in their interest for the project to be uncompleted when the deadline arrives. However, they purposely do not do their parts, hoping that you will not stand it anymore and will help them do their parts. This kind of people test your tolerance and want to see how close to the brink of disaster you will let the situation go. The only way to deter this kind of behaviour is to show that you have a high tolerance for risk. “You haven’t done your work even though it is due tomorrow? Make sure you finish it tonight. If not tomorrow, we will all get a scolding from our teacher”. Then make sure you stick to your subtle threat and do not even go onto Google docs to see whether that person is working on the project. Chances are, the previously uncompleted part will be ready the next day. If not, prepare for a scolding from your teacher but show that you will not let anyone take advantage of you. The next time you collaborate with this freeloader (hopefully not), you will have an easier time.

2. Interactions at home

gaming

This strategy of brinksmanship might also be seen in your family. Are you the kind who likes to try your luck? If so, you have found a companion in my past self. In the past, before I got a smart phone, I loved to play computer games, so my mother would limit my usage of the computer to 1 hour per day. However, even when the time was up, I would try my luck by continuing to play. My mother, being a busy woman, would just shout from another room for me to turn off the computer. Then, she would go about her own business for another 15 minutes. This would continue for several rounds (with my mother’s voice sounding shriller and shriller by the minute). This could be explained as an exploration of previously untested limits of my freedom and my mother’s authority.

This situation has two endings. The first is when I reach my own tolerance for risk and turn off the computer before my mother’s outburst. The second is when before I can turn off the computer, my mother gets so angry at my disobedience that a confrontation takes place. My mother’s mood becomes soured, I get scolded and I do not get to use the computer for a few days. The latter is a blow-up that results in a lose-lose situation.

risk

One thing you might observe is that when people want to try their luck and take advantage of others, there is an undercurrent of tension and things get ugly quickly. So another thing that the concept of brinkmanship can teach us is that you should just do what you are supposed to do. Your group mates and your parents will thank you for it.

Group Projects

Group Projects

What are the benefits of group projects and how can you do well in them?

You probably have had group projects during some point in time in your education years, mostly in polytechnic, junior college and university. If you have not reached that stage yet, you will soon be exposed to carrying out group projects. What are the benefits of group projects and how can you do well in them? This article seeks to find out.

shared perspectives that members of the project group can bring different insights and perspectives into a certain topic, further broadening a student’s understanding and knowledge of the topic

Group projects are often cited to be the bane of a student’s life. Having to struggle with individual assessment criteria, they also have to ensure that the group project does not go bust (or their grades will go with it!). Having to deal with the project’s progression as well as potential conflicts or issues that arises when working with a group can be quite of a headache. It always seem like the school is torturing us to put us through these negative experiences but these experiences have some benefits to them.

Benefits of group projects

1.     Working with others

cooperative

Group projects help students to learn how to work with others outside of their own social circle. These people may have come from a background that is different from them and thus have different perspectives on certain topics. The variety of insights, questioning and analysis may result in better solutions and performance. Sharing what they know and respecting each other’s views also further reinforces the notion of teamwork.

2.     Mastering content by deeper understanding

perspective

Group projects help students to master the content of the topic on hand. Researching into the topic forces students to dig deeper into the content than what is learnt in the classroom. In addition, the shared perspectives that members of the project group can bring different insights and perspectives into a certain topic, further broadening a student’s understanding and knowledge of the topic.

3.     Mirror of the corporate world

mirror

Group projects are a mirror of the corporate world, where often, employees have to come together to solve complex problems at hand. Group projects provide this experiential learning experience that students can bring into the workplace. Knowing about different people’s working style and adapting to it comes with practice, where group projects can give. Conflict and disagreement resolution also plays a large role in the working world, in which group projects may be able to help students develop the techniques and methods for.

While it is absolutely true that not all group projects have the said benefits, it is so for those that are well managed and well designed. When group work is carefully constructed and when teachers help groups that have group dynamic issues that compromises group effectiveness, group work brings about certain invaluable skills that the student can learn.

How to do well in group projects

Interrupting or insisting that your idea is the best one without first hearing others out may lead to tension and conflicts that you definitely do not want to be embroiled in!

While it is impossible to control how your group members behave in a group setting, there are some tips that you can make use of, to make sure the project is more smooth sailing.

1.     Planning and Preparation

Successful group work always start with planning. Planning how the project progresses across the weeks can help members to have a mental preparation on what is to come and what to expect from that group work in the weeks to come.

2.     Respect

Respecting other people’s views and listening out to them helps in the group dynamics. Interrupting or insisting that your idea is the best one without first hearing others out may lead to tension and conflicts that you definitely do not want to be embroiled in!

3.     Do your part

Of course, doing your part is a given. Being a freeloader in the group work will give you an extremely negative reputation. Also, doing your part and your delegated work will aid in the pace and progress of the group project.

All in all, don’t be too worried should you be assigned to work on a group project for it can bring you invaluable skills that you can use in the workplace. All the best!

Project Work

Project Work

A positive working culture starts with you and me

Ask JC students what their most dreaded subject is and many of them will answer, “project work”, in a zombie voice and with their shoulders all slumped over. Unless you were born into this world grinning and all ready to take a selfie in your birthday suit (#ootd), if not, social skills did not come to you naturally. Social skills have to be learnt and for many of us, we have not quite mastered them yet.

So today we have with us Penny, from The Big Bang Theory, who will give you a few tips to help you function better in your project group and to get things done at the end of the day.

big bang theory

Basecamp: So Penny, welcome!

Penny: Hi! Hi! Wow I look absolutely ah-mazing in that photo. So badass. Anyway, thanks for knowing that what I lack in IQ, I more than make up for in terms of EQ. I am so touched. It’s just that all my life, I have been told this and that and I… (sob) I.. (sob)… I feel so vali— what’s that word?—  Oh yes, validated. I am so-

Basecamp: Cut to the chase!

Penny: Ok, ok, jeez, there is no need to be so uptight! So here you go, a few tips to help you with your project work…

#1 Set expectations from the start

together

Does everyone want an A? Even at the expense of your team dynamics? Set goals as a team. If you are the only one who wants to create the perfect report when everyone else is okay with an 80% report, then work out your differences nicely. Learn to give in at times. By making it clear that “we are all in this together”, your team members are much more likely to think of you as someone to cooperate with.

#2 Embrace diversity

Most people do not set out to be free-loaders. From the start, find out everyone’s working style. Do some people work better under pressure? Are some people better at Powerpoint slides and less capable at report writing? Delegate the tasks accordingly. When people get to do something they are good at and which they like, they are more likely to be involved.

#3 Hate the sin, but love the sinner

Sometimes we don’t get to choose our project mates. Or sometimes, you thought you chose the best group mates ever, aka your best friends, only to find that good friends do not necessarily make good group mates. At times like this, do not go on an accusation spree. Do not attack this person personally. Do not bitch about that person behind his or her back.  Doing so will only shatter the dynamics of the team and make the working environment very, very toxic.

#4 Look inward

Why is it that all your team members hate you? Are you the only righteous (wo)man in an erring world? Sometimes, it may be that your working style is too oppressive for everyone’s liking. Sometimes, it is okay to let your hair down and have a little fun. Be humble, be receptive to feedback, even if you feel that you are the only one working for the greater good.

#5 Be nice

Give people the benefit of doubt; some people really have more on their plates than you realise. Ask them, “I see that you have not wrote anything on Google docs. Is it because you are very busy recently? Do you need help?” If that person is not free-loading on purpose, they would be really thankful for your offer to help.

#6 Offer feedback constructively

feedback sandwich

In spite of all the tips in front, sometimes we have no choice but to stand our ground and raise our objections. This is where the feedback sandwich comes in. Say something along the lines of one positive thing about that person, one area for improvement and end off with another positive thing.

It can go like this, “Ah Ming, thanks for bringing so much joy to the team. I think without all your jokes, this team will be really lifeless. But right now, we are quite tied for time, maybe we should focus on the research at hand first? I think if you can bring your vibrancy and creativity to researching this topic, we can come up with a really unique report. “

#7 Be nice (again)

Don’t see your project group mates as only a stepping stone to your A. They are human beings who have feelings too and are capable of trust and honour. If you don’t like people bossing you around, then don’t boss your project mates around. If you do not like people talking behind your back, then do not gossip behind your project mate’s back. When you do that, they will start viewing you as an honourable and kind person. And no one takes advantage of Mother Teresa, do they?

Best-selling author Stephen Covey, the one who introduced us to the Eisenhower decision making matrix, used the term “emotional bank account”. Every time you do something nice for someone, you are depositing into your relationship bank account. Every time the other person feels like he/she is doing you a favour, you are withdrawing from the bank account. So when your bank account is brimming with credits because you have been extra nice to your group mates, getting them to finish their part of the report on time would not be a problem. 

Penny: So there you go, I think that’s about it.

Basecamp: Not bad, Penny, I am impressed.

Penny: Oh yes, that reminds me, I have one more point.

#8 Give credit where it is due

Everyone likes to be (uh, what’s that word?... oh yes) validated. If your project mate spent one entire night creating a Powerpoint slide, then tell him/her that you really appreciate it. A positive working culture starts with you and me.