Be Liked and Be Rewarded

Chua Chin Kiat
Chairman, Centre for Enabled Living and former Director of Prisons

Be Liked and Be Rewarded by Chua Chin Kiat

Dear Young Officer,

As a public officer, before you start work every morning, you should ask yourself this question: “What can I do to add value to someone’s life today?” (If you are a CEO in a listed company, I think the question should be: “What must I do today to make my shareholders richer?”)

Don’t laugh! The beginning of motivation is the ability to preach to yourself and ask yourself the right questions. By doing so, it helps us to always keep the fundamental firmly in mind.

The question I started my letter with can be more specific to your posting. When I was Director of Prisons, the question I asked myself was: “What can I do to add value to some prisoners’ lives today so that they never have to come back to prison again?” The answer to the question differed as my thinking on the matter evolved.

I quickly realised that I could not accomplish what I wanted to do on my own. No matter how well we prepare a prisoner to renew and restart his life, many factors can derail our work. What if his wife refuses to forgive him? What if his children reject him? What if no employer wants to give him a job? These other key people in his life are not within the ambit of the Prison Service.

This problem led us to seek to collaborate with other agencies in order to touch these key people in a prisoner’s life. I think one of the most neglected of leadership qualities is likeability. As we embarked on these very complex collaborations to help released prisoners,

I realised that people collaborate with you not just because they like your ideas. Very often, it is also because they like you.

Let’s be honest! Who will work with people they dislike, if given a choice?

Some of us are by disposition more likeable than others. But there is always something you can do to lift yourself up the likeability scale. Let me offer a few commonsensical suggestions.

First, be a person of your word. Never renege on a promise, however small or big it is.

Second, make yourself useful to other people and agencies. If you help others in small things, they will help you in big things.

Third, be a good listener. Show interest in others’ viewpoints. If you understand their viewpoints and respond to them, they will respond to yours.

Fourth, be patient and don’t talk above people’s heads. This is a problem with very smart people. I have attended meetings with two very smart people in the room. They carried a dialogue all of their own and lost everyone else. If you are too clever by half, no one would want to collaborate with you. So if you want to bring people along with you, you must adjust your speed to that which people are able to follow.

In today’s public service, one cannot accomplish much without collaborating with other people. Very often, your key collaborators are going to be people outside the public service. If you are an introvert like me, you are going to be somewhat disadvantaged. You have to overcome your natural shyness and take the initiative to reach out to people.

Work on your likeability. You will be richly rewarded.

    Jan 1, 2012
    Chua Chin Kiat
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