Category Archives: life

Quick thoughts on leadership, impact, and finding my own path

I was talking to a friend about leadership, succession, and impact. In particular, my friend was curious about how to grow more leaders. I realized some things about how my parents made big differences and about how I want to grow.

Succession is hard. Big companies spend millions on leadership programs, have huge, motivated talent pools to draw on, and even turn to external recruitment, and it’s still uncommon to have a successful transition or a long-lived company. It’s even tougher in the nonprofit and volunteer worlds.

I wonder if going sideways can help work around the succession challenge. Instead of hoping for the right intersection of same time, same place, same Bat channel (an interested, capable, available potential leader turning up when you want to start grooming one and sticking around until the right time), what about the franchising approach instead?

I realized that this is one of the things my parents did, and that’s how they managed to do so much. They didn’t count on any one initiative staying around for the long term. My dad probably would have gotten impatient and bored anyway. Instead, they got the hang of quickly starting things up, and they inspired people to start similar efforts. After the first few projects, happy sponsors and relationships made the next ones easier and easier. My dad could just share a crazy idea on Facebook and people would sign up to help make it happen. Professionally, my parents cared about teaching both the art and the business of photography, and having workshops open even to active competitors.

This approach is probably out of scope from most leadership programs that focus on succession planning because they assume you need a specific thing to continue, but franchising is the closest business analogy, I think. It might be a good way to increase impact through a wider reach. It could be like:

  • Getting more out of the stuff you’re already doing: My dad was media-savvy. He could imagine the pictures and news articles that would come out of a project, and he was great at lining those up. Something similar (or partnering with someone who thinks about that sort of stuff) could increase the visibility and impact of things you’re already doing some making people feel good about the projects too.
  • Getting better at sharing the cool stuff you’re doing and the initiatives you’re involved in: pictures and stories on social media could let people find out about stuff, explore things you’re into, get updates, etc. Similar to the previous point, but more personal.
  • Accelerating your startup for ideas: people to talk to, channels for sharing ideas, ways to get people involved, templates, etc.
  • Getting better at sharing lessons learned, questions, and artifacts
  • Automating, simplifying and documenting processes so that people with less experience can do better work: Can be very useful for both your initiatives and other people’s, and it’s good for both direct succession and franchising. This is definitely my focus, and it’s awesome for expanding reach over space and time (even without active attention). My mom focuses on this too, although she often struggles with adoption. The E-Myth book might be relevant here.

Figuring out swarms might be an interesting challenge: how to quickly gather people around a particular project, and how to help other people with their own. There’s a lot that to practice even without a candidate successor, so that might be one way to keep growing.

At the moment, I’m focusing on:

  • automating/simplifying/documenting: Perfect timing! I need to make things simple enough so that a child can do it, and there happens to be one handy for testing. I also personally benefit from automating and simplifying things enough to fit into the snippets of discretionary time I have, and documenting things so that I can declutter my brain and make the most of scattered moments.
  • getting better at sharing lessons learned, questions, and artifacts: Hooray for blogging! I’m getting better at writing on my phone while A- sleeps on top of me (like right now), and I’ll figure out how to mix drawing back in, too. I’m probably never going to feel comfortable using the “expert” voice. I like the “Here’s what I’m figuring out, and here’s what I’m thinking about next” sort of approach. There are so many ways forward, and it’s fun to think of everything as a grand experiment.

We were talking about the 2×2 matrix of size of impact versus number of people affected. My friend said many people focus on the “big impact, lots of people” quadrant. I think I like the “small impact, few people” quadrant, which perfectly characterizes things like my Emacs stuff and my consulting. I like small fixes and improvements. I scale up by trying to help things stay fixed/improved and available even when I’m not actively thinking about them, which is why coding and writing fit me well. If I can get even better at making and sharing those little improvements, and making them findable when other people want them, that sounds like a good path for growing. I also like connecting the dots between ideas, which is another example of a small contribution that can have a larger effect.

The long-term impact could be mostly about the ripples from people I’ve helped (like the way I get to learn more about cool things to do with Emacs by people who tell me I helped them get curious about it a long time ago! :) ) and maybe maybe maybe someday, books worthy of being part of the Great Conversation / archive of human knowledge.

I probably won’t do anything as awesome as my dad’s advocacies, but I think this path of sharing little ideas, experiments, and lessons learned – this path could work for me. :) If it happens to resonate with you and you want to pass along lessons learned or share the things you’re figuring out, that would be great!

My story about my dad

My sister started collecting stories for my dad months before his death so that he could read them. I posted this on Facebook so that my family could easily include it in their collection (which they did), but I forgot to put it on my blog too. So here it is.

From September 21, 2017:

Our visit home is almost done. I’m not sure when we’ll be back and how long my parents have, especially with my dad’s current health challenges. I’ve been preparing for this moment for years. Maybe I’ll have years more, or maybe not.

It’s good to write now, choosing the memories I want to treasure and the lessons I want to keep. My sisters have great memories of wild adventures with my dad. I’ve always been the quieter sort, happier at home than on the road or in the air. It means, perhaps, that I get to remember a different side to him than most people focus on.

I’ve been thinking about how my dad manages to make such outsized differences in the world. Banaue, advertising photography, RC flying, ultralight flying, the zoo, Photography with a Difference… Even now, he’s planning a national exhibit and an enduring celebration of heritage in Ifugao schools. He can do more in a month than many people do in a lifetime.

The obvious factors: tremendous energy and resourcefulness; playfulness; generosity; persistence almost to the point of stubbornness; constant learning; the skills of photography, editing, and storytelling; the support of my mom and people around them; larger-than-life ideas that spark other people’s enthusiasm; a charismatic personality; a sense for theatre and how to set things up; building relationships through teaching; the savviest use of social media that I’ve seen. I’m not sure. I’m piecing this together from stories and from watching my parents behind the scenes.

And this factor, the one that shines through in the quiet moments my parents share: empathy. My dad lets himself be moved, and he moves others. Not all causes, and not always successfully, but there is a bigness of heart to him, and I think people respond to that as much as they respond to the cheerful audacity of his ideas.

“Will you remember me?” he asks my toddler. I think of all the stories I’ve heard, the videos and front-page news articles he’s been featured in, the people who tell their own tales of encounters with him and were inspired by his example. I’ll share those with her, of course.

More than that, I hope to share the lessons we can learn about making our own differences. We don’t have to follow in his footsteps. I’m not sure anyone can. But we can practice the resourcefulness and resilience that helped him find ways around so many challenges. We can practice the constant learning that helped him hone his skills and the constant teaching that helped him build communities. We can practice the empathy and generosity that helped him move mountains.

And besides, he gave my toddler her first camera and her first Swiss knife. Who knows where those will take us, if we can learn how to use those two tools and what they represent, all the way to their fullest potential?

As for what he gave me… If I can face uncertainties with clear eyes and steady hands, planning for different scenarios and doing what needs to be done, it’s because I learned that from my parents. If I can feel lucky and excited, even now, it’s because of them.

Here are the four things I want to say:

We’re okay. Thank you. I love you. Let’s see.

Post-mortem post-mortem

Random, incomplete list of lessons learned:

  • My dad lived such an incredible life. That made it so much easier to celebrate his awesomeness than to feel regret. We had time for all the things that mattered, and we had those serious conversations throughout life.
  • He was very clear on what he wanted regarding advance directives, cremation followed by viewing, what to do about the business, what he wanted to wear, and so on. That made tough decisions easier, because we could follow his wishes.
  • Cremation before viewing made it easier for people to focus on the stories and pictures people shared instead of remembering my dad lying so still. We should make sure the mortuary knows it’s a closed casket and post someone to enforce that, since people can be curious.
  • It was really helpful to have staff members taking care of organizing all sorts of details.
  • Drawing up a five-day meal plan could help increase variety. It’s good to offer meals that have a lot of choices: chicken, beef, vegetables, etc. Packaged meals are good for flexibility because you can order based on the numbers you see, and then order more as you run low. Catering the last night was a good idea, though, since it made it feel more like a party.
  • It would probably have been worth it to get proper coffee set up every morning. That would make people happier than instant coffee. Tea and chocolate would be good to offer too.
  • The pre-need memorial plan and the memorial plot that my parents purchased didn’t end up getting used because my parents decided to go with cremation issued, but they can be transferred.

  • We should have posted visiting hours in the initial announcement, since people who stayed overnight hardly slept.

  • It helps to think of significant pictures or moments that you want to have, and who should be in it.
  • Insurance companies want original forms.
  • Line up birth certificates and marriage contracts beforehand. One per insurance company, one for estate tax, plus extras for various paperwork requirements.

  • Official receipts for funeral expenses should be in the name of one of the heirs so that they can be claimed as part of the estate tax deduction.

  • The first paperwork deadline is the BIR notice of death, which can be handled by registering for a TIN for the estate. The deadline is two months after the date of death.

  • The Roman Catholic Church prefers burials over cremation, and forbids the division of ashes or keeping ashes at home. We should probably have looked up customs and updated rules before death, as that could have saved us a little money.

  • It was a great idea to collect stories even before death, and to collect and print more stories during the wake. Kathy did an amazing job collecting, formatting, and printing all those stories. It was good to have a printer there, a couple of Autopoles, clotheslines, and clothespins.

  • You can never have too many pens.

  • Light-coloured envelopes are easier to label than dark ones.

  • It’s hard to organize papers with a curious toddler, so it’s good to keep expectations low.

  • Uber drivers assume you’re already standing outside, and might cancel if they don’t see you.

  • Korean Air let me extend my trip without a change fee, since we found a seat in the same fare class and with no fare increase. Travel insurance cost a bit more to extend, but that’s okay.

  • It’s good to have a large picture, a digital copy, and a slideshow ready to go. It can also help to bring a laptop, or at least an OTG cable and a USB drive.

  • It’s good to plan the mementos to be placed inside the niche. That would avoid last-minute scrambling for prints or frames.

  • It would have been helpful to decide on the columbarium before arranging for cremation or the wake.

  • I should remember to ask about all payment methods. Sometimes Visa debit or MasterCard debit can be treated as cash.

  • I should remember to verify actual location, chair setup, and ventilation of a site before giving the okay. It would have also been good to always bring someone else along – more questions, and backup in case A- needs my attention.

  • I’m happy with how our priorities worked out: people before paperwork.

Our trip to the Philippines

Because my dad was in poor health and it was possibly the last Christmas that my sister and her kids would spend in the Philippines, we decided to all go despite the chaos and expense of flying over the Christmas holidays. It turned out to be an excellent decision. We got to spend lots of time with everyone, and we had lots of conversations that helped us prepare for what happened.

We initially planned to be away from Dec 17 to Jan 10. When my dad was scheduled for potential surgery on Jan 8, I extended my trip until Jan 26, while W- kept his original itinerary. It was a good thing I extended my stay. My dad died on January 6. We had a wonderful wake for him until Jan 11, and I had a couple of weeks to spend time with family and help with paperwork.

I’m feeling surprisingly okay with the whole thing. We prepared a lot for this scenario, and I know we can get through it. In fact, this trip has helped me develop an even deeper appreciation of my family.

A- had a marvelous time. She played with her cousins, who were both enamoured with her. She took to asking her Lola to read to her, which my mom did with delight. She learned many new words and names. She liked following the household staff around so that she could help with washing the dishes or sweeping the floor. She started experimenting with establishing her boundaries (“No grab. This mine!”) She stopped being anxious around dolls. She often sought out her cousins to play with them. At the wake, it was delightful to hear the kids bouncing around and being their usual cheerful selves.

There’s more paperwork to be done, of course. My next priorities are:

  • Take care of A- and figure out new routines considering the travel we’re planning for the year
  • Handle all the medical appointments and other things we planned for this phase in Canada
  • Keep track of work in progress and coordinate paperwork as we go in and out of the country
  • Help check on my mom as she deals with the transition
  • Invest in little improvements

We might experiment with a cycle of two months in Canada and one month in the Philippines, at least for this year’s transition period. It’s going to take a lot of money and effort, but I think it might be worth it in terms of relationships and paperwork. I’ll scale it back if we get too disrupted by the changes in environment and routine, but maybe we’ll be able to take it in stride. We’ll see!

Replaced my Philippine taxpayer ID

I needed two pieces of government-issued photo ID for Philippine paperwork. My Philippine passport counted as one. I decided to replace my taxpayer ID because the taxpayer ID does not expire, while the barangay ID and the postal ID do.

I had my taxpayer ID number (TIN), but I didn’t know which regional district office I needed to apply to. Once I was in the Philippines, I called the TIN Verification Office (63-2-981-7000 local 7030). I gave them my name, date of birth, and TIN, and they told me which office I was registered at.

There were no notaries in front of that office, but the security guard directed me to where we could find notaries working on the sidewalk about five minutes’ walk away. The notary stamped my affidavit of loss for P 150, which was probably higher than it needed to be, but which could definitely be considered a contribution to the Philippine economy and a vote of support for people willing to work in the hot sun.

We walked back to the BIR office. Both W- and I showed IDs to get in. A-‘s presence got us put in the fast lane and processed within five minutes or so. The BIR clerk updated my details at the same time. I should probably have brought my marriage certificate, but he was okay without it. He printed out a card right away. It’s a good thing I checked it, since it had a typo. After he corrected and reprinted the card, we were all set.

I needed a 1×1 ID picture for the card, so I got ID pictures taken at the mall near my house: P 85 for 6 2x2s and 4 1×1. I signed the card, and the people at home helped me get it glued and laminated. That’s another piece of ID all sorted out!

Working around my phone plan’s lack of roaming

Constraints:

  • I need to deal with SMS one-time passwords, especially for online banking in the Philippines.
  • I like my plan with Freedom Mobile, but they don’t offer roaming in the Philippines.
  • My Philippine prepaid SIM will expire if I don’t regularly load it.

I could leave my SIM plugged into a phone and set up some kind of forwarding or logging. However, this means I can bring only one phone to the Philippines. Having two Android devices was handy for setting up WiFi Baby Monitor and for writing even if my battery was running low. On the other hand, we could use W-‘s phone as the receiver, I can keep a power bank or charger handy, and there might even be a spare phone at home that I can set up.

Alternatively, I can try to set up my Fongo number for incoming texts. I’m planning to pay for Internet access anyway. Some services like Namecheap won’t let me use the Fongo number for two-factor authentication, but others do.

I can check with W- if he has roaming. If so, maybe I can use his phone number as a backup.

I can use my Philippine prepaid SIM as the contact number (likely to be more successful with Philippine banks anyway), enable roaming before I leave, and periodically reload online to keep it active. If I can find the Smart Pinoy SIM, that can receive text messages with zero balance and it expires a year after the last load. I might also be able to change the contact number online once we’re back in Canada.

Hmm… Plenty of things to try. I think I like the convenience of bringing both phones, since they’re already all set up for writing. I’ll try Fongo first, then I’ll try the Philippine SIM if that doesn’t work. If I have to keep my SIM active by buying a roaming SIM and/or spending a few dollars a month, it’s probably worth it, and it won’t be for a super-long time anyway. It’s a good opportunity to experiment with paying for convenience.