Saturday, November 24, 2012


In 1927, Max Ehrmann gave us timeless advice in a poem called "Desiderata" (Latin for "things desired"):

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons
than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

-- Cited on Character Counts,

Saturday, September 15, 2012

China Stalls IP Reform at Its Own Peril

Sir James Dyson: China Stalls IP Reform at Its Own Peril
The Financial Times
September 4, 2012

China’s rise as an industrial powerhouse is sweeping aside tired stereotypes. It has long been considered the home of cheap, mass-assembled goods. But now the country no longer wants to be seen as the workshop of the world. It wants to become the world leader in invention, patents and ideas. Unfortunately, China’s failure to keep its intellectual property law up to speed threatens to undermine its genuine progress, at home and abroad.

China can and will be an invaluable trading partner to both the U.S. and the U.K. But it cannot afford to fail to protect the ideas that we’ve spent years developing. It’s time to stop tiptoeing around the issue. Regardless of the offender, patent infringement is theft, pure and simple. And without punitive or regulatory action it undermines invention globally. China has promised reform. But that reform needs to be delivered.

Theft of intellectual property isn’t just confined to Rolex watches and Louis Vuitton bags. It includes everything from iPads to entire IKEA stores. Technology and ideas that are stripped apart, mimicked and mass produced. Many people know what they’re buying into when they purchase cheap knock-offs. But with a cocktail of fake branding and photo-shopped packaging, an increasing number won’t — not until a motor cuts out, a dial falls off or something worse.

It’s a growing problem. According to the Alliance for Gray Market and Counterfeit Abatement, as much as 8% of Chinese GDP comes from the sale of counterfeit goods. And up to 10% of all high-tech products sold worldwide are counterfeit. Those are staggering numbers.

Understandably, international companies are applying pressure to prevent knock-offs from flooding the market. For high tech companies China is an increasingly important trading partner. But it becomes an uphill battle if unscrupulous companies can undercut the millions required to invest in technology. The U.S. International Trade Commission reported that U.S. IP-intensive firms operating in China reported losses of approximately $48.2 billion in sales, royalties, or license fees due to IP infringement in China in 2009. And China is not impervious to domestic copycats, either.

Dyson invests heavily in research and development. We have growing team of 1,300 engineers whose job it is to develop new ideas. R&D is not only expensive, it is inherently risky. And it becomes doubly so if you can’t depend on patents to protect your idea. We’ve seen 100 different infringements of our fan appear in 20 countries. And we have to pursue each copycat separately. Evidence can be impossible to track down. Sometimes it can be hard to even find the manufacturer. One recent copycat used a public subway station as its trading address.

I’ve fought court battles over my inventions before. And many of the recent cases we’ve fought have been against Chinese owned and run brands, often in Western guises. We’ve had some victories of late — but it’s an expensive process. Aggressively protecting patents is essential to conserve an edge over competitors and to protect our investment in research and development. It’s frustrating and costly though; we’ve spent over $1.5 million in China alone battling rip-offs. For young inventors and start-ups, having your patents plagiarized is a potentially ruinous state of affairs.

It is of global interest to dam the infringement floodgates. Last week British companies including Dyson and members of the British government met with Chinese representatives. In the summit, the commissioner of China’s State Intellectual Property Office acknowledged that IP infringements in the country are of concern but insisted that they’ve made fantastic progress over recent years.

They’re right — but that progress lags well behind the country’s meteoric growth. Dyson has been waiting three years for our patents to be approved as Chinese companies seemingly jump the queue. The country benefits from strict intellectual property rules abroad, but fails to sufficiently police its own offenders at home. Chinese representatives have insisted there are ways to fast track a patent when an infringement occurs. Our experience is to the contrary but we look forward to resolving these issues. This dialogue is encouraging, but it must be backed by action. Western countries and the World Trade Organisation have pushed China to institute reforms and insist on a level playing field. Continued discussions with world leaders and members of industry will help plot a course to an open and fair patent system in China.

The Chinese government knows that the real profit is in developing world class technology. And its commitment to doing so dwarfs efforts elsewhere. Chinese leaders are looking to increase the amount of GDP they spend on R&D to 2.5% and double the number of patents they grant by 2015. Home grown invention is a good thing. And Chinese companies expect patents to be enforced around the world. The problem is that the protection isn’t reciprocated.

China can and will be an invaluable trading partner to both the U.S. and the U.K. But it cannot afford to fail to protect the ideas that we’ve spent years developing. Bilateral trade depends upon it. If we don’t work toward real reform, we will jeopardise the value of research and development globally. And along with it the jobs, wealth and exports they create.

Roy Hart: Chorus VII from "The Rock" by T.S. Eliot

In the beginning GOD created the world. Waste and void.
Waste and void. And darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And when there were men, in their various ways, they struggled in torment towards GOD
Blindly and vainly, for man is a vain thing, and man without GOD is a seed upon the wind:
driven this way and that, and finding no place of lodgment and germination.
They followed the light and the shadow,
and the light led them forward to light and the shadow led them to darkness,
Worshipping snakes or trees, worshipping devils rather than nothing: crying for life beyond life, for ecstasy not of the flesh.
Waste and void. Waste and void. And darkness on the face of the deep.

And the Spirit moved upon the face of the water.
And men who turned towards the light and were known of the light
Invented the Higher Religions; and the Higher Religions were good
And led men from light to light, to knowledge of Good and Evil.
But their light was ever surrounded and shot with darkness
As the air of temperate seas is pierced by the still dead breath of the Arctic Current;
And they came to an end, a dead end stirred with a flicker of life,
And they came to the withered ancient look of a child that has died of starvation.
Prayer wheels, worship of the dead, denial of this world, affirmation of rites with forgotten meanings
In the restless wind-whipped sand, or the hills where the wind will not let the snow rest.
Waste and void. Waste and void. And darkness on the face of the deep.

Then came, at a predetermined moment, a moment in time and of time,
A moment not out of time, but in time, in what we call history:
transecting, bisecting the world of time, a moment in time but not like a moment of time,
A moment in time but time was made through that moment :
for without the meaning there is no time, and that moment of time gave the meaning.
Then it seemed as if men must proceed from light to light, in the light of the Word,
Through the Passion and Sacrifice saved in spite of their negative being;
Bestial as always before, carnal, self-seeking as always before, selfish and purblind as ever before,
Yet always struggling, always reaffirming, always resuming their march on the way that was lit by the light;
Often halting, loitering, straying, delaying, returning, yet following no other way.

But it seems that something has happened that has never happened before:
though we know not just when, or why, or how, or where.
Men have left GOD not for other gods, they say, but for no god; and this has never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first Reason,
And then Money, and Power, and what they call Life, or Race, or Dialectic.
The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressively backwards ?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Work-Life Balance: A Different Cut

Life-Work Balance
Work-Life Balance: A Different Cut
Stephen R. Covey 03.21.07, 12:15 PM ET

The challenge of work-life balance is without question one of the most significant struggles faced by modern man. I’ve surveyed thousands of audiences about their greatest personal and professional challenges. Life balance is always at or near the top.

Much of my teaching and writing in this area has focused on the power each one of us possesses to: 1) take responsibility for, and become the creative force of, our lives; 2) decide what's most important in our whole lives--developing a vision and deep commitment to the "first things" of life and; 3) to then put those first things first and organize our lives around our priorities. For something that seems so self-evident to most people, it’s remarkable how many of us struggle to translate our intellectual awareness into day-to-day practice and decision-making.

Many people simply conclude that they are not disciplined enough. My response to that idea is that it’s usually not a discipline problem at all. The problem is more often that the person has not yet sufficiently paid the price to get very clear about what matters most to them. Once you have a burning “yes” inside you about what’s truly important, it’s very easy to say “no” to the unimportant.

However, when you get beyond the personal, there is another profoundly pervasive cause for work-life imbalance. It is to be found in the painful and surprisingly ineffective way most organizations work. In no way is this pain more clearly or practically manifest than their inability to focus and execute on their highest priorities. Using what we call the xQ (Execution Quotient) Questionnaire, Harris Interactive, the originators of the Harris Poll, and FranklinCovey recently polled 23,000 U.S. residents employed full time within key industries and in key functional areas. Consider a few of their most stunning findings:

--Only 37% said they have a clear understanding of what their organization is trying to achieve and why.
--Only 1 in 5 were enthusiastic about their team’s and organization’s goals.
--Only 1 in 5 workers said they have a clear “line of sight” between their tasks and their team’s and organization’s goals.
--Only half were satisfied with the work they have accomplished at the end of the week.
--Only 15% felt that their organization fully enables them to execute key goals. --Only 15% felt they worked in a high-trust environment.
--Only 17% felt their organization fosters open communication that is respectful of differing opinions and that results in new and better ideas.
--Only 10% felt that their organization holds people accountable for results.
--Only 20% fully trusted the organization they work for.
--Only 13% have high-trust, highly cooperative working relationships with other groups or departments.

The data is sobering. It matches my own experience with people in organizations of every kind all around the world. Despite all our gains in technology, product innovation and world markets, most people are not thriving in the organizations they work for. They are neither fulfilled nor excited. They are frustrated. They are not clear about where the organization is headed or what its highest priorities are. They are bogged down and distracted. Most of all, they don’t feel they can change much. Can you imagine the personal and organizational cost of failing to fully engage the passion, talent and intelligence of the workforce? Can you imagine the waste of time, energy and resources?

The bottom line is, when people are crystal clear about the most important priorities of the organization and team they work with and prioritized their work around those top priorities, not only are they many times more productive, they discover they have the time they need to have a whole life. We have found there are four keys or organizational/team disciplines that produce this kind of freedom and productivity:

--Discipline 1: Focus on the Wildly Important. This means you need to narrow your focus down to the one, two or three most important goals you must achieve. These goals are so important that if you don’t achieve them, nothing else you achieve really matters much.

--Discipline 2: Act on the Lead Measures. After you’ve narrowed your focus to the few key goals you must accomplish, you need to select the few key activities that are predictive of goal achievement and that you can influence on a weekly basis. These are called “lead measures.” These lead measures are 80/20 activities--that is, 80% of the results come from 20% of these activities. The 80/20 rule is also known as the Pareto principle.

--Discipline 3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard. Once you’ve defined your goals and measures, you need to put them on a scoreboard so everyone knows all the time whether you’re winning or losing.

--Discipline 4: Create a Cadence of Accountability—a rhythm of team-based engagement and accountability.

Want balance in your life? Then sure, get your own act together, but don’t forget four powerful disciplines of execution in your team and organization. You’ll not only produce results, you’ll create your own freedom.

© 2007 FranklinCovey Co.

Stephen R. Covey is a co-founder of the FranklinCovey Company and the author of a number of best-selling books, including The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People. Dr. Covey is now offering a monthly live Webinar series. Learn more at

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Austerity Misdirection

The Austerity Misdirection
Fixed exchange rates are especially unforgiving of welfare states that destroy their ability to create wealth
Updated May 4, 2012, 7:17 p.m. ET

You might think there exists, among onlookers to Europe's struggles, a debate between fans and critics of austerity. There's not.

Across the spectrum, most have believed from the beginning that it was a very bad idea to squeeze economies with higher taxes and sharply reduced outlays to pay back debts that were unpayable.

Almost universal has been agreement that policy should focus on cutting debt, even if it means default, and restoring growth, not squeezing blood from a stone. What difference has existed is the old difference between Keynesians and their critics. Keynesians advocate (even in the circumstances) increased government borrowing and spending as the way to restore growth. Their supply-side critics favor tackling impediments to growth with more efficient tax codes, deregulation and privatization of state-owned assets.

Cutting crosswise through these groups, too, are degrees of willingness to advocate a measure of inflation to help the adjustment.

So how did we end up where Europe's solution has consisted mostly of tax hiking and spending contraction? Put aside those whose polemics are shaped by a need constantly to construct and reconstruct their mental worlds so all their "enemies" are on the wrong side of every debate.

Even among the non-deranged is a habit of ignoring constraints. Good ideas that can't be put into effect aren't good ideas. Bluntly put, the Keynesian remedies (borrow, spend, adjust later) require things of Germany that German politicians cannot deliver.

Governments engage in austerity not because they want to, but because they have nowhere to get the money they'd like to spend and spend. The German people don't want to tax themselves—or indirectly tax themselves with inflation—so Spaniards, Greeks and Italians can spend the money.

And inevitable is the half-spoken argument about the size of government. Whether or not Europe's governments are too big, they are certainly too big for the euro. Fixed exchange rates between sovereign, democratic countries may be practical in a world of atomized businesses and individuals who don't conceive of an alternative to organizing their lives by price signals. The gold standard certainly worked well for the better part of a century.

But that's not our world and never will be again. In France, 56% of national income is controlled by the state. Across Europe, the first recourse of every interest group and voting bloc is to expect the state to protect them from inconvenient adjustments dictated by mere price signals.

To say Europe walked blindly into monetary union is an exaggeration. Bureaucratic Europhiles hoped it would necessitate a march toward a United States of Europe. Pro-business Europhiles hoped it would force a return to the market.

The inchoate answer coming from Europe's voters, however, was "we want neither." It may be today that the message coming from voters is "we don't want the euro." Much depends on Germany. To choose not to choose (the current path) is probably to concede a chaotic version of the inflationist-Keynesian program. The European Central Bank will print money. Governments will spend it. Any commitment to pro-growth reform will be problematic and haphazard at best.

The alternative, assuming Berlin won't lead a forced march into a United States of Europe, would be for Germany, and any countries desirous of being in a currency bloc with Germany, to drop out of the euro. Their new currency would rise versus the remaining euro countries, costing them a painful short-term adjustment. This would be sad. It would strike many Germans as an unfair reward for their competitiveness, though they'd also be well-positioned to benefit from an asset fire sale in Europe. But if Germans hate inflation as much as they say they do, leaving may be the only alternative to losing a war (already begun in this weekend's French election) for control of the European Central Bank. On the current path, it's only a matter of time until the ECB surrenders and makes its contribution to adjustment by debasing the euro. Can we admit now the simple lesson is against excessive debt? Don't be impressed by those who protest that Spain and Ireland were brought down by private-sector extravagance. If we've learned anything, in a debt crisis the distinction between public and private disappears. Too, a closer look shows the Irish state an intimate participant in Ireland's housing boom, collecting 40% of the price of every new home in taxes. In Spain, regional governments owned or controlled the lenders that financed the construction binge.

A fixed exchange rate system is an especially unforgiving environment for a welfare state that destroys its ability to create wealth. But the universal lesson is: Don't be a welfare state that destroys its ability to create wealth.

A version of this article appeared May 5, 2012, on page A15 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Austerity Misdirection.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Need Space in a Relationship? Just Don't Say It That Way

The Wall Street
Updated June 26, 2012, 12:41 p.m. ET
Need Space in a Relationship? Just Don't Say It That Way

Columnist's name

Several years into her marriage, Jessica Carr discovered a receipt on her husband's desk for a late lunch at a waterfront restaurant in Seattle, 45 miles from the farm she shares with him in Orting, Wash. He had told her he'd spent that whole day in business meetings.

"Uh-oh," Ms. Carr, now 38, remembers thinking. She'd thought her husband had seemed emotionally distant because he was overwhelmed by raising two small children. Now, she worried something else was going on.

Ms. Carr, who owns a horse training, breeding and boarding business, confronted her husband. "What were you doing, and why did you lie to me?" she asked. She braced herself for the answer, and it surprised her: He'd just needed a little time alone. Elizabeth Bernstein and relationship experts answered reader questions on June 19. Many couples say that space, or "giving each other plenty of space," is the single most important reason they think their marriage has survived.

"It seemed selfish to take the time for myself, but sometimes I need to unplug," says Rich Carr, 49, owner of an interactive marketing company.

I love asking happy long-time married couples to tell me the secrets to their successful union. Over and over, I hear this answer: "We give each other space."

Having enough space, or privacy, in a relationship is even more important to a couple's happiness than a good sex life, according to a recent unpublished analysis of data from an ongoing federally funded longitudinal study. And women tend to be more unhappy with the amount of space in their marriage than men.

Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, has been studying 373 married couples for the past 25 years. When she asked participants if they felt they had enough "privacy or time for self" in their relationship, 29% said no.

Dr. Orbuch recently analyzed one year of data from her study and found more wives than husbands (31% versus 26%) reported not having enough space. She believes this is because women often have less time to themselves than men. Even when women have jobs outside the home, they still are typically the primary caregivers of children or aging parents. And because they also tend to have more friends than men, they often have more social obligations.

Dr. Orbuch asked participants if they were unhappy in their marriages. Of those who reported being unhappy, 11.5% said the reason was lack of privacy or time for self. That is a more common answer than the 6% who said they were unhappy with their sex lives.

"When individuals have their own friends, their own set of interests, when they are able to define themselves not by their spouse or relationship, that makes them happier and less bored," says Dr. Orbuch, author of the book "Five Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great." Space gives people time to process thoughts, pursue hobbies and relax without responsibilities to others. And the time apart gives partners something new to talk about. "Space brings excitement and novelty," Dr. Orbuch says.

A person's need for space is a function of innate personality, and of their "attachment style," which is determined in infancy largely by the way we are parented, experts say.

People who had affectionate, nurturing parents are comfortable with both being close to others and being alone; they have a "secure" attachment style.

Those whose parents were inconsistently available to them emotionally often have an "anxious" attachment style. They crave closeness, fear abandonment—and need and want less space. Those whose parents were rejecting often have an "avoidant" attachment style, resisting closeness and seeking space because they fear they will be hurt.

People who fear closeness tend to seek out people who are warm and inviting. This is how someone who needs a lot of space ends up with a partner who hates to be alone.

Couples can work out their space issues, if they understand each other's different needs and why. "Underneath, both individuals want love," says Vondie Lozano, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Glendora, Calif. The space-seeking partner's need may be greater because he probably has fewer social connections, Dr. Lozano says. "When the couple can see he is just afraid of being hurt and she is just afraid of being abandoned, and it all goes back to their families," then they can stop taking it personally, she says. Individuals who don't get the space they need will find a way to create distance, Dr. Lozano cautions. They may lash out or withdraw. "If you don't give them their physical space, they will take emotional space," she says.

Mr. Carr grew up in an Air Force family, moved around a lot and often lived on farms. He says this upbringing made him self-sufficient. He experienced periods of isolation after each move, because it would take time to make new friends. He learned to entertain himself by riding horses and hiking in the woods.

Ms. Carr says she would like less space because she spends a lot of time alone in her work day, doing chores and riding.

Earlier in the marriage, Mr. Carr sometimes would schedule a meeting in Seattle and spend an afternoon walking around Pike Place Market. "That meeting with business representatives took half an hour, and my meeting with myself took two," he says. He often took back-to-back business trips.

At home, he often snapped at his kids, grunted at his wife or sat there, scowling. "I needed to get some stuff out of my head," he says. Ms. Carr tried not to take her husband's grumpiness and distraction personally, but it was hard. "I started to pull back because I thought he wasn't happy with me," she says.

Around this time, the Carrs overheard a couple, whom they didn't know, arguing. Each presented his or her view, then calmly discussed it. At one point, the husband noted they were late for an appointment and suggested they talk again the next day. "I saw that and thought, 'We need to schedule time to talk, to visit and discuss what we each need to get done,' " Ms. Carr says.

Now, the Carrs have marriage meetings. At 5:30 each morning, espressos in hand, they sit for an hour by a wall of windows overlooking Mount Rainier, catching up on personal stuff. Then they call up their joint calendar online and discuss the day's schedule—including the personal time each one will need. "What works is making this a part of a normal conversation," Mr. Carr says.

After the meeting, he goes for a walk of a half-hour or more with his Labrador retriever. Some afternoons, he sits in an old chair overlooking the pasture in back of the main stable. For a "major reset," he schedules a stay at a business retreat center in Austin, Texas. This year and last, he spent three days alone at a rented cabin in the woods, Father's Day gifts from his wife and kids. "When I give him his space to do what he wants," Ms. Carr says, "he is more engaged, more excited and more rejuvenated when he comes home."

Room of One's Own

Here's how to negotiate for more space without hurting your partner.

• Be specific. Say, 'I need the afternoon to myself.' Simply saying 'I need space' sends confusing signals.

• Explain why more space makes you happy, so your partner knows it's not about him or her.

• Enjoy the space you take. Guilt defeats the purpose, says Barbara F. Okun, counseling psychology professor at Northeastern University.

• No secrets. Tell your spouse what you did and with whom when you were away

• Don't get carried away. Too much space weakens your connection.

• Don't forget to schedule couple time and family time, too.

—Write to Elizabeth Bernstein at or follow her column at

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

To increase your workplace efficiency, take a nap or take a walk

June 16, 2012
To Stay on Schedule, Take a Break

WANT to be more productive? Keep your nose to the grindstone, or your fingers on the keyboard and your eyes on the screen. Because the more time you put in, the more you’ll get done, right?

Wrong. A growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity — and that skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion.

I think I’ll go to the gym now.

Mental concentration is similar to a muscle, says John P. Trougakos, an assistant management professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management. It becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover, he explains — much as a weight lifter needs rest before doing a second round of repetitions at the gym.

Breaks are great. But I feel guilty taking too many of them.

Breaks can induce guilt because they’re “this little oasis of personal time that we get while we’re selling ourselves to someone else,” Professor Trougakos says. But that’s just the point.

Employees generally need to detach from their work and their work space to recharge their internal resources, he says. Options include walking, reading a book in another room or taking the all-important lunch break, which provides both nutritional and cognitive recharging

It’s shortsighted not to take this time, or for managers to discourage employees from taking it, he says.

I mean, if you think .... uh, what I mean to say is ... oh no, my head feels a little fuzzy. I think I need to walk around the block.

Try to take a break before reaching the absolute bottom of your mental barrel, Professor Trougakos says. Symptoms of needing time to recharge include drifting and daydreaming.

After that walk, I’m “in the zone” and want to keep working. Do I really have to take another break anytime soon?

There is no need to take a break if you’re on a roll, Professor Trougakos advises. Working over an extended period can be invigorating — if it’s your choice. What drains your energy reserves most is forcing yourself to go on, he says.

Well, I don’t want to strain myself. What if I can’t do this topic justice? I need to get another cup of coffee. Oh look, someone brought in her baby. I need to update my Netflix queue. Maybe I’ll visit Fred on the seventh floor.

Don’t go too far with this, Professor Trougakos says. Too many breaks can abet procrastination. “Anything at an extreme level,” he says, “is not going to be good.

Mostly, though, workers don’t take enough breaks — especially breaks involving movement, says James A. Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic. He has done studies showing that workers who remain sedentary throughout the day are impairing their health.

“The design of the human being is to be a mobile entity,” says Dr. Levine, who is also a proponent of standing, and even walking, while working and during meetings.

I want to make some more calls, but I’m so sleepy! I wish I could take a nap underneath my desk.

Dr. Levine is a supporter of nap breaks, but only if they are allowed by management, he says. Otherwise, nappers can be perceived as slackers — even though research shows that naps improve productivity.

When it comes to productivity and concentration, everyone has a different capacity. Management should encourage employees to devise individually effective break routines, Dr. Levine says. But he also has some general guidelines: try working in intense 15-minute bursts, punctuated by breaks, in cycles that are repeated throughout the day. This works because “the thought process is not designed to be continuous,” he says.

“Long hours don’t mean good work — highly efficient, productive work is more valuable,” Dr. Levine says, and frequent breaks promote that.

They also encourage those flashes of genius that employers value so much, he adds, noting that Albert Einstein is thought to have conceived the theory of relativity while riding his bicycle.

When you come right down to it, Dr. Levine says, “the work should break up the break.”

Now that’s an idea I can get up and walk around the room to support.

Source: The New York Times

Try to make it work before throwing in the towel

Try to make it work before throwing in the towel
This is a column on workplace issues
The Straits Times - July 2, 2012

NANTHA asked: Under my company's two-year rotation plan, I was offered a role that was not my forte. I still gave it a shot. But now, 1 1/2 years later, I'm struggling. My choices within the firm are limited, given my lack of experience, and my aggressive job search has been in vain. Should I end my misery and quit, then look for a new job, or continue to bite the bullet till I land something?

IT WOULD be a peachy world if we could walk away every time things get really sour at the workplace, with little concern over the impact on our wallets or other consequences. But reality bites.

Do yourself a favour. Unless you are certain your opportunities in the firm are limited, push past this period of worry.

By that I mean, put in the effort to check out the options in your current workplace - even if you may be financially secure. A resume which screams 'job-hopper' won't do you any good.

There are merits to the rotation system. It is a tool that provides the opportunity for staff to broaden skills, gain knowledge and enhance professional and personal growth, says Mr Maneesh Sah, Towers Watson's Singapore and South-east Asia marketing director.

It helps firms to assess their talent and know how best to maximise their staff's divergent skills.

Remember, when a job is easy, it is rarely a challenge to personal or professional growth.

Naturally, there are tasks which you would prefer and those you may excel at. Employees should understand that the exposure is a test or chance to stand out from the rest, says Mr Josh Goh, GMP Group's assistant director of corporate services. Have you spoken to your supervisor or human resource manager?

'It's important for you to understand that it's as much the organisation's responsibility as it is the employee's to make the rotation assignment a success,' says Mr Sah.

There are other ways to help yourself - get help from a more experienced colleague, perhaps. Or divide or prioritise the work into manageable portions.

And yes of course, while you are being positive and pro-active, crank up the job hunting. What do you have to lose?

After all, you have got only six months left of the rotation, so look forward to your new posting or better still, ask for it.

Many people do not love what they do. But life is what you make of it.

If you really cannot stomach the situation and it has become stress-inducing and dreadful to work there, then leave.

'Unless the whole ordeal is affecting his mental and physical health adversely, it is not advisable that he quits without a firm job offer,' says Mr Goh.

Remember: There is no guarantee you would like your new job or the job after that. But don't let fear paralyse you from action or change.

If you cannot change your job, change your attitude. Flip that switch - focus on your strengths instead of the 'can't dos'. Ultimately, you are the best judge of your strengths.

Side note to readers: If you are on the job-hunt circuit, send your resumes to recruitment firms. I know my strengths - head hunting is not one of them. Good luck.

If you want a fresh take, write in to Senior Correspondent Anita Gabriel at

Beat job burnout, no need to quit yet

Beat job burnout, no need to quit yet
Here's how you can recharge and find new passion in your work
The Straits Times - July 2, 2012

JOB burnout is a common syndrome in today's pressure-cooker workplace, given the long hours many workers put in and the elevated stress levels that result.

One solution would be to quit and take a long break to re-evaluate life and work. Another, less radical option would be to take a short break to recuperate.

Ms Crystal Lim Leahy and her husband Mark nearly split up a few years ago because he was burned out from work. They saved their marriage by quitting their jobs and leaving their cushy life here to live in rural Australia.

Ms Leahy, 33, says they had reached the point where they no longer knew what life was about and they were unable to enjoy even the simple pleasure of watching their children grow up.

She was a banker turned headhunter who became an instant mother after she married Mark, who had a child from a previous marriage.

He had a 'highly stressful job as the managing director of a global investment bank - which meant constant travel, up to 20-hour workdays, conference calls on weekends and late at night, and being unable to turn off his phone even on holidays'.

'On holidays, instead of relaxing, we would look at buying property in the area where we were vacationing, discuss our financial portfolio, or quarrel or fret over the fact that no matter how much we had in the bank, it never seemed enough,' says Ms Leahy.

Their two-year break on Mornington Peninsula, not far from Melbourne - where there were no maids or chauffeur, but they did have four hectares of forest, a micro-vineyard, an orchard and a vegetable patch - provided the perfect tonic.

However, few people can afford a change on that scale. Also, quitting is not an easy option and not always possible.

You can consider less drastic steps, which can be effective too:

- Ask for a change within the organisation. It might involve a new project or task, a different area or a new team. This way, you would not run the risk of losing your income.

- Ask for help. If you have too much work and not enough time to complete it even though you are working nights and weekends, you can approach your superior to renegotiate your workload, says Mr David Leong, the managing director of human resources firm People Worldwide Consulting.

- Start an exciting or a fun project. This could fire up your enthusiasm for work in general.

- Hibernate in between big projects so you do not tire yourself out - that is, if you can.

- Take a sabbatical - again, only if your company or boss allows it and you can afford to.

- Do not think of a sabbatical as a beach vacation where you just sit around and do nothing. Take a course, or do volunteer work or something you have always wanted to do.

'For those who have worked too long and too hard, and are at a personal and professional crossroads, the best way to get fired up again is to stop and breathe. Once you're ready, move out of your burnout and jump back in with a new passion,' says Mr Leong.

- Go for short breaks. 'Most burnouts are temporary. Adequate rest and time off from the activities that led to the burnout typically do the trick,' says executive coach Paul Heng.

'People have varying levels of ability to bounce back from a burnout. For me, all it takes is a couple of days away from Singapore, doing nothing much except eat and rest.'

At one busy firm, the executive director does just that. When the stress gets to him, he takes an impromptu trip by himself to Vietnam, Thailand or some other place in the region.

- Go for a retreat - for yoga, meditation or emotional healing.

When things got rough, Ms Leahy and her husband attended a therapy retreat that put them through a programme called the Hoffman Process. It changed their lives and spurred their move to Australia, where she decided to start her own retreat business for senior executives called Legacy Process.

'Everyone seemed to be burned out and looking for direction,' she says. 'Not one person we knew in our social circle was truly happy despite the bonuses and luxurious lifestyles.'

She says she wants to use holistic therapy - combining physical, mental, emotional and spiritual approaches based on principles of psychotherapy, meditation and financial resource management - to help people discover how to put passion and purpose back into their lives.

She also wants to help them move towards a more meaningful work-life balance. 'Although many bankers know they want to leave the field after a certain period, it's scary for them to take the first step,' she says.

Her plan is to run a week-long residential retreat on the Mornington Peninsula four times a year.

It would not be for the average Joe, though. All included, the price would come to US$19,800 (about S$25,000) per head, although the first retreat, planned for August, will offer a 30 per cent discount.

'Burnout usually creates emotional exhaustion and de-personalisation at work. Recovery means recharging, and taking a new perspective on work and how to engage peers and superiors,' says Mr Leong.

When churches are charities

When churches are charities

Straits Times
07 Jul 2012
Author: Willie Cheng

THE City Harvest Church court case has resurrected the periodic question: Why should a church, or for that matter, a religious institution, be accorded charity status?

The naysayer's reasoning goes like this: Charity is about helping society's poor and needy. Sure, churches can be charitable and give some money to those in need, but so do many other organisations which are not charities. Religion, after all, is fundamentally about God and spiritual matters.

A proper discourse on this subject however requires an appreciation of how the definitions of charity and church have evolved over the centuries.

Charity and church defined

SINGAPORE and about 60 other countries trace their legal heritage to England. Specifically, the legal definition of charity harks back to the Statute of Charitable Uses 1601 of Elizabethan England and its subsequent refinements in common law.

Chief among the common law cases was Income Tax Special Purpose Commissioners v Pemsel (1891) where four categories of charitable uses were defined:

• the relief of poverty;
• the advancement of education;
• the advancement of religion;
• other purposes beneficial to the community not falling under any of the preceding heads.

Over the years and across the world, the fourth category has been used to cover an increasing variety of causes such as vulnerable groups (the disabled, elderly, etc), animal welfare, environment, the arts and heritage. Singapore, for example, specifically added sports as a charitable cause in 2005.

One reason for including the advancement of religion as a charitable cause in early England was that much of the charitable work of providing for the poor and needy was being done by the church. Religion, in those days, meant the Church of England.

However, over the centuries, the religious scene has changed significantly. For starters, there has been a proliferation of and diversity in churches.

In the first few centuries after Jesus Christ died, Christianity was consolidated and became widespread with the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church. Starting in the 16th century, a movement by certain priests to reform the Catholic Church led to the formation of several Protestant denominations such as the Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans and Methodists. In time, these denominations sprouted further subdivisions and sects, alongside untold numbers of independent 'non-denominational' churches. Larger ones with weekly attendances of 2,000 or more, such as City Harvest Church, are called 'megachurches'.

These churches may differ in opinion regarding theology and/or liturgical practice. But they mostly subscribe to Jesus Christ as the saviour and the Bible as God's word (even if they may interpret its contents differently).

Some critics consider independent churches shallow in theology while being deep in secular models of entertainment-based worship and marketing. For example, critics take issue with the doctrine of the 'prosperity gospel' some of these churches around the world subscribe to. The prosperity gospel teaches that financial blessings are the will of God and more donations to the church result in increased material prosperity to the individual. It is a philosophy which some theologians argue has no sound Biblical basis.

Another key distinction among the various forms of churches lies in their structures and leadership.

The Catholic Church and the mainstream Protestant denominations have fairly well-established organisational structures and processes for the formation and conduct of the clergy. For example, a Catholic priest is ordained only after an intensive period of scrutiny and formation of eight or more years, upon which he takes a vow of chastity, obedience and, sometimes, poverty. He is expected to live less than modestly. In Singapore, Catholic priests are given a stipend of $500 per month, with their board and lodging provided by the church.

On the other hand, most of the non-mainstream churches are essentially independent congregations, some loosely affiliated to each other, but mostly with their own rules and practices. Many of these churches do not have the same kind of rigorous institutionalised approach to selecting and developing leaders. Indeed, leaders often emerge by virtue of their charisma and ability to win followers. It is the congregations, rather than institutional rules, which determine leaders and lifestyle expectations of the leaders.

Should such charismatic leaders have flawed characters, they can do untold damage. In extreme cases, such organisations are classified as cults. Cults are banned in Singapore, but not in some countries. Yet, by granting charity status to such cults or near-cults as some countries do, regulators confer on them tax benefits and, more significantly, legitimacy.

Keep religious groups out of charities?

GIVEN the historical broadening of the definition of charity, it would be, in my opinion, wrong to narrowly target religion for exclusion as a charitable cause.

Yes, (most) religions are about God and the afterlife, but they are also fundamentally about goodwill and bringing out the goodness in man. Which is to say: they are about the community good.

If religion is excluded - say, we revert to the layman's notion of charity as helping the poor and needy - we need to also exclude sports, the arts, heritage, animals, education and health care. We would, in fact, exclude the whole gamut of other causes of 'community good' that have grown over time.

At the same time, we also need to recognise that there are churches and there are churches. What then do we do about the errant religious organisations that may not be extreme enough to be classified as cults (and thus be banned) but, in all other respects, qualify to be charities? The default answer is: Treat it as any other errant social service charity or sports charity.

In other words, have a clear set of rules and regulations for how charities are to be governed and managed. And if there is a breach by any of the charities or its personnel, throw the book at them.

Special features of religious groups

HOWEVER, the application of such rules and regulations to religious charities is not so straightforward. There are three related and distinctive features of religious organisations that regulators have to grapple with.

The first is the basis of donations. An inviolable principle in the charity sector is 'donor intent'. This means respecting the basis for which a donation is given. In the case of religious institutions, most believers give with a blanket fiat for their leaders to do with the donation as is deemed fit rather than for specific or even general charitable purposes. The second is evangelisation. The missions of most religious organisations include evangelisation, not just of the converted, but of the broader community. Evangelisation sits uncomfortably with regulators in the more secular countries. Yet, it can be argued that evangelisation is no different from, say, the advocacy of other charities, such as the healthy lifestyles (to avoid certain diseases) promoted by health-care charities like the Singapore Heart Foundation and Sata CommHealth

The third is the leadership of these organisations. The governance and management of religious institutions tend to be bound together, rather than be separated, as is considered best practices by secular bodies. Religious leaders also have a sway over their followers which can sometimes be seen by regulators and outside parties as bordering on the irrational.

The interplay of these three factors has challenged regulators when they seek to implement a single sector-wide approach to regulating charities.

In Singapore, the same set of regulations is applied to all charities, regardless of sub-sectors (for example, the religious, social service and arts sub-sectors).

There is, however, differentiated treatment in the Charity Code of Governance based on the size of the charities: the bigger the charities, the more controls and scrutiny are needed.

As highlighted above, there are unique aspects of religious charities, as there could be for charities in other sub-sectors.

It might be timely to review these sub-sectorial differences for a more targeted and meaningful approach to charity governance and regulation.

The writer, a former partner at management and technology consulting firm Accenture, is author of Doing Good Well. He sits on the boards of several commercial and non-profit organisations, including Singapore Press Holdings, Singapore Institute of Directors, and Catholic and secular charities.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Settle issue in court, not the church

Settle issue in court, not the church
Monday, July 2, 2012

MUCH disquiet has followed the arrests of key leaders of the City Harvest Church (CHC) over allegations that they had misused over $50 million of church funds to promote the music career of Ms Ho Yeow Sun, the wife of pastor Kong Hee, the church’s founder. Her secular music had been described earlier by the pastor as part of a ‘cultural mandate’ to extend the church’s reach.

The criminal breach of trust charges brought against the five leaders are plainly neither about the church itself nor the ‘Crossover Project’ (the church’s plan to widen its reach through pop music) per se. Also, the authorities have been at pains to emphasise that the court action was directed at the individuals and not the church, which would be able to carry on with its religious work unimpeded.

The issue before the courts is one of governance. At issue is not a question of whether church members minded that their money was used to support the music career of their pastor’s wife (some clearly don’t). The central question is whether funds were diverted without the knowledge of the church’s executive members. If so, who knew what, when and why? Nor is it a matter of whether the funds used were eventually returned. A crime would have been committed if funds were diverted for uses that the church’s executive leadership was kept in the dark about.

The weekend’s effusive demonstration of support for the five leaders by CHC members would seem natural enough,given their strong personal loyalty to their charismatic pastor.Earlier, some leaders of the church had come out to expressly state that they 'stand with’ the five who have been charged and reject any suggestion that funds had been misused. They went on to claim there was restitution of funds and those charged gained no personal profit.

Such comments are ill-advised at this juncture. It is established practice for all parties to refrain from commenting on the merits of a pending case, as the court is the right and proper forum for all evidence and arguments to be presented and debated.By coming out strongly in public to refute the charges, the CHC’s leaders are raising the ante needlessly. A confrontational stance carries implications that have a bearing on the delicate balance between religion and the state.

A calm and measured response would be more appropriate while the case is before the courts. This case raises several larger issues on governance in religious groups and charities that will continue to reverberate even after it has been dealt with by the court. For now, it would be prudent for all parties to prevent passions from running high, and counsel patience for the law to take its course.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Great Sin

Today I come to that part of Christian morals where they differ most sharply from all other morals. There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves.

I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which We are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.

The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the centre of Christian morals did not lie there. Well, now, we have come to the centre. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

Does this seem to you exaggerated? If so, think it over. I pointed out a moment ago that the more pride one had, the more one disliked pride in others. In fact, if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, "How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronise me, or show off?" The point it that each person's pride is in competition with every one else's pride.

It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise. Two of a trade never agree. Now what you want to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive—is competitive by its very nature—while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.

We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If every one else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone. That is why I say that Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not. The sexual impulse may drive two men into competition if they both want the same girl But that is only by accident; they might just as likely have wanted two different girls. But a proud man will take your girl from you, not because he wants her, but just to prove to himself that he is a better man than you. Greed may drive men into competition if there is not enough to go round; but the proud man, even when he has got more than he can possibly want, will try to get still more just to assert his power. Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride. Take it with money. Greed will certainly make a man want money, for the sake of a better house, better holidays, better things to eat and drink. But only up to a point What is it dial makes a man with £10,000 a year anxious to get £20,000 a year? It is not the greed for more pleasure. £10,000 will give all the luxuries that any man can really enjoy. It is Pride—the wish to be richer than some other rich man, and (still more) the wish for power. For, of course, power is what Pride really enjoys: there is nothing makes a man feel so superior to others as being able to move them about like toy soldiers. What makes a pretty girl spread misery wherever she goes by collecting admirers? Certainly not her sexual instinct: that kind of girl is quite often sexually frigid. It is Pride. What is it that makes a political leader or a whole nation go on and on, demanding more and more? Pride again. Pride is competitive by its very nature: that is why it goes on and on. If I am a proud man, then, as long as there is one man in the whole world more powerful, or richer, or cleverer than I, he is my rival and my enemy.

The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But Pride always means enmity—it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that—and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison— you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.

That raises a terrible question. How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound's worth of Pride towards their fellow-men.

I suppose it was of those people Christ was thinking when He said that some would preach about Him and cast out devils in His name, only to be told at the end of the world that He had never known them. And any of us may at any moment be in this death-trap. Luckily, we have a test Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil.

The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether. It is a terrible thing that the worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very centre of our religious life. But you can see why. The other, and less bad, vices come from the devil working on us through our animal nature. But this does not come through our animal nature at all It comes direct from Hell. It is purely spiritual: consequently it is far more subtle and deadly.

For the same reason, Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices. Teachers, in fact, often appeal to a boy's Pride, or, as they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity—that is, by Pride. The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-con trolled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride—just as he would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense. Before leaving this subject I must guard against some possible misunderstandings: (1) Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. The child who is patted on the back for doing a lesson well,the woman whose beauty is praised by her lover, the saved soul to whom Christ says "Well done," are pleased and ought to be. For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you wanted (and rightly wanted) to please. The trouble begins when you pass from thinking, "I have pleased him; all is well," to thinking, "What a fine person I must be to have done it." The more you delight in yourself and the less you delight in the praise, the worse you are becoming. When you delight wholly in yourself and do not care about the praise at all, you have reached the bottom. That is why vanity, though it is the sort of Pride which shows most on the surface, is really the least bad and most pardonable sort. The vain person wants praise, applause, admiration, too much and is always angling for it. It is a fault, but a childlike and even (in an odd way) a humble fault.

It shows that you are not yet completely contented with your own admiration. You value other people enough to want them to look at you. You are, in fact, still human. The real black, diabolical Pride comes when you look down on others so much that you do not care what they think of you. Of course, it is very right, and often our duty, not to care what people think of us, if we do so for the right reason; namely, because we care so incomparably more what God thinks. But the Proud man has a different reason for not caring.

He says "Why should I care for the applause of that rabble as if their opinion were worth anything? And even if their opinions were of value, am I the sort of man to blush with pleasure at a compliment like some chit of a girl at her first dance? No, I am an integrated, adult personality. All I have done has been done to satisfy my own ideals—or my artistic conscience—or the traditions of my family— or, in a word, because I'm That Kind of Chap. If the mob like it, let them. They're nothing to me." In this way real thoroughgoing Pride may act as a check on vanity; for, as I said a moment ago, the devil loves "curing" a small fault by giving you a great one. We must try not to be vain, but we must never call in our Pride to cure our vanity; better the frying-pan than the fire.

(2) We say in English that a man is "proud" of his son, or his father, or his school, or regiment, and it may be asked whether "pride" in this sense is a sin. I think it depends on what, exactly, we mean by "proud of." Very often, in such sentences, the phrase "is proud of" means "has a warm-hearted admiration for." Such an admiration is, of course, very far from being a sin. But it might, perhaps, mean that the person in question gives himself airs on the ground of his distinguished father, or because he belongs to a famous regiment.

This would, clearly, be a fault; but even then, it would be better than being proud simply of himself. To love and admire anything outside yourself is to take one step away from utter spiritual ruin; though we shall not be well so long as we love and admire anything more than we love and admire God.

(3) We must not think Pride is something God forbids because He is offended at it, or that Humility is something He demands as due to His own dignity—as if God Himself was proud. He is not in the least worried about His dignity. The point is, He wants you to know Him; wants to give you Himself.

And He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble—delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life. He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible: trying to take off a lot of silly, ugly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots we are.

I wish I had got a bit further with humility myself: if I had, I could probably tell you more about the relief, the comfort, of taking the fancy-dress off—getting rid of the false self, with all its "Look at me" and "Aren't I a good boy?" and all its posing and posturing. To get even near it, even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.

(4) Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call "humble" nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course,he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.

Extracted from CS Lewis' Mere Christianity

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Swearing off the profanities

Opinion – The Straits Times, Monday, June 18, 2012

Swearing off the profanities

PROFANITY on the Web is so common these days that it has lost much of its impact. It is poor substitute for wit or a clever argument, of course, but it's a no-brainer for some bloggers when words fail them.

Consequently, swearing for effect tends to be seen in a negative light, as noted by Glen Mattock, formerly of the Sex Pistols, in a television interview: "It's pathetic when people just swear for the sake of it." He should know, as the punk band didn't do itself any favours by spewing vulgarities fair no apparent reason on the most inappropriate occasions.

What is appropriate, of course, depends on the context of a group and a verbal exchange. In working class interactions and the online chatter of the young, foul words are so routinely traded that some would consider it a way of merely building rapport.

Hence, the measured response to the expletive-filled blog post of a junior college student commenting on this year's annual Pre-U Seminar where Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean was the key speaker. The student deleted the post afterwards and apologised for his words, which an Education Ministry spokesman noted were "rude and unbecoming". The spokesman added: "We hope to turn this into a teachable moment both for the student blogger and students in general."

More troubling than just the language was the student's attitude - he wanted answers to national issues, from the minister rather than to be asked for his views on them. It spoke of a lack of understanding that citizens own and shape the societies they live in, not government leaders or officials. Carried to extremes, this much lamented what's-in-it-for-me attitude is antithetical to fostering social cohesion and consensus on the way forward on the many challenges this country faces. Beyond this, the swearing incident raises questions of public manners and how public discourse should be conducted.

Even so, it would be unrealistic for language gestapos to even try to stamp out such conduct entirely. Swearing is so much a part of popular culture that it has surfaced every everywhere, from acclaimed books like J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye to the HBO drama Deadwood. In real life, however, if the intent is to show disrespect or desecration, it can spark a chain of reactions that can spin out of control.

Worse, profanity for its own sake can vulgarise a community and degenerate the tone of public discussions. It could foster a cynical culture, more ready to knock down than to nurture and build. With maturity, the young may come to see that it is all a question of time, tone and place. Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Wandering Minds

At this very moment your thoughts are buzzing like a swarm of bees. The reduction of this fevered complex to a unity appears to be a task beyond all human power. Yet the situation is not as hopeless for you as it seems. All this is only happening upon the periphery of the mind, where it touches and reacts to the world of appearance. At the centre there is a stillness which even you are not able to break. EVELYN UNDERHILL

IN 1994 SVEN BIRKERTS WROTE The Gutenberg Elegies, in which he predicted that in a decade or so the electronic revolution would have changed our world beyond recognition: "We will be swimming in impulses and data-the microchip will make us offers that will be very hard to refuse."

Today, we know just how accurate his prediction has become. We click through an endless stream of Internet links, multitask in numerous media, write a daily blog, check our e-mail every few hours, text friends and others regularly throughout the day. Neuroscience studies are now showing that the neural pathways of our brains are being rewired accordingly so that our capacity for sustained attention is decreasing.

Of course, everywhere we go we hear people complaining about our wired world-about how complicated it has made life and about how frustrating it is-all the while utilizing every technological gadget at their disposal. The truth of the matter is we enjoy our technological gluttony. It is all so stimulating and interesting.

Actually, the Internet culture is only a surface issue. Our problem is something far more fundamental. This deeper, more basic issue can be summed up in one word: distraction. Distraction is the primary spiritual problem in our day. The Internet, of course, did not cause this problem; people were distracted long before it came along. Blaise Pascal observed, "The sole cause of man's unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room." The fact that our schedules are piled high and we are constantly bombarded by multiple stimuli only betrays that we have succumbed to the modern mania that keeps us perpetually distracted. The moment we seek to enter the creative silences of meditative prayer, every demand screams for our attention. We have noisy hearts.

Sadly, our Christian worship services are of no help here. Today, for the most part, they have become one huge production in distraction. Worship meant to draw us into the presence of God has become little more than an organized way of keeping us from the presence of God. So it is little wonder that when we are first learning meditative prayer, we need help in how to control a wandering mind.


The first counsel I would give regarding a wandering mind is for us to be easy on ourselves. We did not develop a noisy heart overnight, and it will take time and patience for us to learn a single-hearted concentration. Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers wise counsel precisely on this point: "The first thing to remember is not to get impatient with yourself. Do not cramp yourself in despair at the wandering of your thoughts. Just sit down each day and wait patiently. If your thoughts keep running away, do not attempt to restrict them. It is no bother to let them run on to their destination; then, however, take up the place or the person to whom they have strayed into your prayers. In this way you will find yourself back at the text, and the minutes of such digressions will not be wasted and will not trouble you."

The inner chatter we experience the moment we try to be still and listen to the Lord no doubt tells us something about our own distractedness. It is not wrong for us to devote the whole duration of our meditation to learning about our own inner chaos. Beyond this, sometimes we need to gently but firmly speak the word of peace to our racing mind and so instruct it into a more disciplined way.

Often I will keep a things-to-do pad handy and simply jot down the tasks that are vying for my attention until they have all surfaced. Then the buzzing thoughts can settle down, and I can be still.

If one particular matter seems to be repeatedly intruding into our meditation, we may want to ask of the Lord if the intrusion has something to teach us. That is, we befriend the intruder by making it the object of our meditation.

Now, if we are to deal substantially with the problem of a wandering mind, we need to begin before the actual time of meditation. It is important to find ways in our contemporary circumstances to crucify the spirit of distraction. A beginning way might be to practice a Sabbath time from all electronic media. I would suggest a fast from all our Internet gadgetry for one hour a day, one day a week, one week a year. See if that helps to calm the internal distraction. I have a friend who when leading retreats asks the retreatants to turn in (not just turn off) their cell phones and BlackBerries and iPads. She reports to me that when she makes this request, people look at her as if she had just asked them to cut off their right arm.


I want to offer a counsel for focusing a wandering mind that may seem strange to you at first. I am talking about the selective reading of poetry. Three things make poetry especially helpful in settling our mind.

First, poetry startles us with its economy of words and beauty of language. This is unusual in our wordy world where advertisers and politicians are constantly prostituting words for sales or votes. Words, carefully chosen and beautifully written, have a way of slowing us down and focusing our attention on essential matters.

Second, if you are anything like me, you simply do not understand what the poet is saying on the first read. This forces us to stop and go back and read the words again. And again. If we are patient, our racing mind slowly will become present to the poem. A poem most often has a double meaning, and it takes us a little while to move past the surface subject of the poem to the deeper issue the poet is after. As we begin to understand the poem, we realize that the racing of our mind has calmed down considerably.

Third, the mind is often captured by the metaphor of a poem. A metaphor, of course, takes two very different things and shows one way in which they are similar. We are employing a metaphor when we call that small, gray computer device we use every day a "mouse." Or think of Robert Frost comparing our life to a journey: "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I---I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference." Our mind is captured by the image of the fork in the road, and that focuses our attention as we think about the choices we have to make in life. So the metaphor in the poem helps to center a wandering mind.

Briefly, I would like to recommend to you three poets: John Donne, George Herbert and a contemporary poet, Robert Siegel. Of course, you may have a favorite poet of your own, or perhaps you enjoy writing poetry yourself.

John Donne is perhaps the greatest of the metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century. We know him, of course, from the famous line, "No man is an island, entire of itself. ... Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee." I like him especially for his vivid imagery and overwhelming emotion. Consider this fragment from his Holy Sonnets:

Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me; and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

George Herbert, of course, was a contemporary of Donne. He wrote an excellent book on spiritual formation in the context of a pastoral setting, The Country Parson. But smack in the midst of all the ordinariness of his parish life-births and deaths, broken marriages and anxious parents, pastoral visits by the score and cups of tea beyond numbering-Herbert was also writing the most astonishing poetry. And something in his poetry has a way of settling our minds and hearts. You can get the idea quickly from a brief selection from his huge collection of poems called The Temple:

If as a Flower doth spread and die,

Thou wouldst extend me to some good,

Before I were by frost's extremity

Nipt in the bud.

Robert Siegel is a wonderful present-day poet. He is already being compared to Keats and others. I am not qualified to comment on such matters, but I am deeply drawn to his uncanny ability to see in the natural world small epiphanies of ordinary life. He writes on all manner of topics, but when he turns to the created order, something mysterious, almost mystical, occurs. Consider this poem which provides the title to his newest book:

Yellow flames flutter

about the feeder:

A Pentecost of finches

Some have called poetry the language of God. I can see why.


It feels almost sacrilegious to transition from words that have been cut and chiseled and polished to something as prosaic as a meditation experience. Nonetheless, I want to provide you with a simple handle for dealing with a wandering mind. I call this meditation experience, for lack of a better name, "pull the plugs” ii

Find a comfortable setting that is free of distractions. Perhaps a favorite sitting chair. In your imagination you may want to picture Jesus in the chair across from you. He smiles and nods.

Begin by reading or rehearsing in your mind a favorite biblical passage, perhaps the Lord's Prayer or the Twenty Third Psalm. There are plugs on all ten fingers and all ten toes, and when you are ready, pull these plugs and watch as a cloudy liquid flows out and into a drain in the center of the floor. The liquid represents all the distractions and concerns that occupy your mind. The regrets of yesterday, the responsibilities of today, the fears of tomorrow. As the liquid flows out, you watch as the level drops down, down, down until it is all gone. You then replace the plugs, and Jesus, smiling, comes over, opens the top of your head and begins to fill you with a bright, crystal-clear liquid. This represents the Word of God, which is filling you to such an extent that there is no room anywhere in you for distraction of any kind. Your body is full of the Word of God. Your mind is full of the Word of God. Your heart is full of the Word of God. All distractions are gone, and in this posture you listen for the Word of the Lord.

Franyois Fenelon wrote, "God does not cease speaking, but the noise of the creatures without, and of our passion within, deafens us, and stops our hearing. We must silence every creature, we must silence ourselves, to hear in the deep hush of the whole soul, the ineffable voice of the spouse. We must bend the ear, because it is a gentle and delicate voice, only heard by those who no longer hear anything else." Oh, may you, may I, hear nothing else.

John Donne, 1573-1631; George Herbert, 1593-1633.

In Celebration of Discipline I describe another meditation experience with a similar purpose called simply "palms down, palms up" (p. 30). You, of course, are welcome to create your own meditation experience

Extracted from Richard Foster's Sanctuary Of The Soul

Monday, May 21, 2012

Expository Thoughts On Matthew - Matthew 7:21-29

Expository Thoughts On Matthew - Matthew 7:21-29 J.C. Ryle:

The Lord Jesus Christ winds up the Sermon on the Mount by a passage of heart-piercing application. He turns from false prophets to false professors, from unsound teachers to unsound hearers. Here is a word for all. May we have grace to apply it to our own hearts!

The first lesson here is the uselessness of a mere outward profession of Christianity.Not every one that saith "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of heaven. Not all that profess and call themselves Christians shall be saved.

Let us take notice of this. It requires far more then most people seem to think necessary, to save a soul. We may be baptized in the name of Christ, and boast confidently of our ecclesiastical privileges; we may posses head knowledge, and be quite satisfied with our own state; we may even be preachers, and teachers of others, and "do many wonderful works" in connection with our church: but all this time are we practically doing the will of our Father in heaven? Do we truly repent, truly believe on Christ, and live holy and humble lives? If not, in spite of all our privileges and profession, we shall miss heaven at last, and be forever cast away. We shall hear those awful words, "I never knew you: depart from Me

The day of judgment will reveal strange things. The hopes of many, who were thought great Christians while they lived, will be utterly confounded. The rottenness of their religion will be exposed and put to shame before the whole world. It will then be proved that to be saved means something more than "making a profession." We must make a "practice" of our Christianity as well as a "profession." Let us often think of that great day: let us often "judge ourselves, that we be not judged," and condemned by the Lord. Whatever else we are, let us aim at being real, true, and sincere.

The second lesson here is a striking picture of two classes of Christian hearers. Those who hear and do nothing, and those who hear and do as well as hear, are both placed before us, and their histories traced to their respective ends. The man who hears Christian teaching, and practices what he hears, is like "a wise man who builds his house upon a rock." He does not content himself with listening to exhortations to repent, believe in Christ, and live a holy life. He actually repents: he actually believes. He actually ceases to do evil, learns to do well, abhors that which is sinful, and cleaves to that which is good. He is a doer as well as a hearer. (James 1:22.)

And what is the result? In times of trial his religion does not fail him; the floods of sickness, sorrow, poverty, disappointments, bereavements beat upon him in vain. His soul stands unmoved; his faith does not give way his comforts do not utterly forsake him. His religion may have cost him trouble in times past; his foundation may have been obtained with much labour and many tears: to discover his own interest in Christ may have required many a day of earnest seeking, and many an hour of wrestling in prayer. But his labour has not been thrown away: he now reaps a rich reward. The religion that can stand trial is true religion.

The man who hears Christian teaching, and never gets beyond hearing, is like "a foolish man who builds his house upon the sand." He satisfies himself with listening and approving, but he goes no further. He flatters himself , perhaps, that all is right with his soul, because he has feelings, and convictions, and desires of a spiritual kind. In these he rests. He never really breaks off from sin, and casts aside the spirit of this world; he never really lays hold on Christ; he never really takes up the cross; he is a hearer of truth, but nothing more.

And what is the end of this man's religion? It breaks down entirely under the first flood of tribulation; it fails him completely, like a summer dried fountain, when his need is sorest. It leaves its possessor high and dry, like a wreck on a sand-bank, a scandal to the Church, a by-word to the infidel, and a misery to himself. Most true is it that what costs little is worth little! A religion which costs nothing, and consists in nothing but hearing sermons, will always prove at last to be a useless thing.

So ends the Sermon on the Mount. Such a sermon never was preached before: such a sermon perhaps has never been preached since. Let us see that it has a lasting influence on our own souls. It is addressed to us as well as to those who first heard it; we are they who shall have to give account of its heart-searching lessons. It is no light matter what we think of them. The word that Jesus has spoken, "the same shall judge us in the last day." (John 12:48.)

Over 100 trees uprooted at Changi

Intense storms, strong winds wreak havoc over weekend

The Straits Times

May 8 2012 By Grace Chua

More than a hundred trees were uprooted after intense storms and strong winds hit Changi Beach Park over the weekend

The National Parks Board (NParks) said 13 trees near a footpath at the coastal park fell on Sunday afternoon while 100 toppled trees were found deeper in the park's wooded areas.

They were casuarina trees, a slender, multi-branched type adapted to growing in coastal areas, said Mr Simon Longman, NParks director of streetscape.

He noted that exceptionally strong localised winds had downed the trees. Heavy rain over the weekend had also softened the soil in the area.

According to Meteorological Service Singapore, 33.5mm of rain fell over one hour in the Changi area on Sunday afternoon. The highest wind gust recorded there was 78kmh at around 1.10pm.

The strongest wind gust ever recorded in Singapore was 144kmh in April 1984. The storm was a Sumatra squall, said a Meteorological Service spokesman. These eastward-moving thunderstorms, which bring strong winds and heavy rain, can develop at any time of the year.

Dr T. Appasarny, director of landscaping firm Flora Landscape said the sandy soil in beach areas tends to become loosened more easily than clayey soil elsewhere.

"When heavy rain occurs, the sand cannot hold the tree root properly," he explained. Trees with thick crowns are also vulnerable to being toppled by the wind. Another 10 trees were also hit by strong winds in other parts of Singapore.

No reports of injuries were received, and all trees causing obstruction have been removed, NParks said. Its officers are also conducting additional tree inspections in areas affected by storms.

Torn branches will be carted away while trees which show signs of instability because the soil around their roots is water-logged, will be cut down.

NParks has advised the public of not to visit parks and nature reserves during and just after a heavy storm.

Tree-fall in natural areas after soil severe storms is not uncommon. Last October, towering casuarina, the trees were no match for strong winds which uprooted them at the southern island of Pulau Hantu. Earlier last year, storms flattened a 1.2km swathe of trees at Mandai.

Weather reports can be obtained from radio broadcasts, the National Environment, Agency's. (NEA) weather forecast hotline on 6542-7788, website, mobile weather service at or Twitter at @NEAsg.

For feedback on fallen trees, the public can call NParks on 1800-471-7300. The weather outlook for the next one week is for inter-monsoon conditions to prevail over the region, with thundery showers in the late morning and afternoon.

Rainfall this month is likely to be average to slightly above average, the NEA said. Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

21 trees topple over at Pasir Ris Park

21 trees topple over at Pasir Ris Park

By Leslie Kay Lim

Twenty-one trees, some as tall as seven storeys, toppled over near Carpark C of Pasir Ris Park on Sunday night.

The National Parks Board (NParks) was notified of the damage at 7am on Monday, and it set about removing those causing obstruction. It will take a few more days to clear the debris, it said.

Its spokesman said the cause of the incident is being investigated, and would not be drawn into speculating what caused that many trees to fall at one go.

Nobody was hurt and no property was damaged.

Copyright © 2011 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.
Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Better Than My Best by Annie Johnson Flint

I prayed for strength, and then I lost awhile
All sense of nearness, human and divine;
The love I leaned on failed and pierced my heart,
The hands I clung to loosed themselves from mine;
But while I swayed, weak, trembling, and alone,
The everlasting arms upheld my own.

I prayed for light; the sun went down in clouds,
The moon was darkened by a misty doubt,
The stars of heaven were dimmed by earthly fears,
And all my little candle flames burned out;
But while I sat in shadow, wrapped in night,
The face of Christ made all the darkness bright.

I prayed for peace, and dreamed of restful ease,
A slumber drugged from pain, a hushed repose;
Above my head the skies were black with storm,
And fiercer grew the onslaught of my foes;
But while the battle raged, and wild winds blew,
I heard His voice and perfect peace I knew

. I thank Thee, Lord, Thou wert too wise to heed
My feeble prayers, and answer as I sought,
Since these rich gifts Thy bounty has bestowed
Have brought me more than all I asked or thought;
Giver of good, so answer each request
With Thine own giving, better than my best.


Waiting! Yes, patiently waiting!
Till next steps made plain shall be;
To hear, with the inner hearing,
The Voice that will call for me.

Waiting! Yes, hopefully waiting!
With hope that need not grow dim;
The Master is pledged to guide me,
And my eyes are unto Him.

Waiting! Expectantly waiting!
Perhaps it may be today
The Master will quickly open
The gate to my future way.

Waiting! Yes, waiting! still waiting!
I know, though I've waited long,
That while He withholds His purpose,
His waiting cannot be wrong.

Waiting! Yes, waiting! still waiting!
The Master will not be late;
He knoweth that I am waiting
For Him to unlatch the gate.

J. Danson Smith

Friday, May 4, 2012

O Help My Unbelief by Isaac Watts

O Help My Unbelief

1. How sad our state by nature is!
Our sin, how deep it stains!
And Satan binds our captive minds
Fast in his slavish chains
But there's a voice of sov'reign grace,
Sounds from the sacred word:
"O, ye despairing sinners come,
And trust upon the Lord."

2. My soul obeys th' almighty call,
And runs to this relief
I would believe thy promise, Lord;
O help my unbelief!
To the dear fountain of thy blood,
Incarnate God, I fly;
Here let me wash my spotted soul,
From crimes of deepest dye.

3. Stretch out Thine arm, victorious King,
My reigning sins subdue;
Drive the old dragon from his seat,
With all his hellish crew.
A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On thy kind arms I fall;
Be thou my strength and righteousness,
My Jesus, and my all.

Help My Unbelief by John Newton

I know the Lord is nigh,
And would but cannot pray,
For Satan meets me when I try,
And frights my soul away,
And frights my soul away

I would but can’t repent,
Though I endeavor oft;
This stony heart can never relent
Till Jesus makes it soft,
Till Jesus makes it soft.

Help my unbelief.
Help my unbelief.
Help my unbelief.
My help must come from Thee.

I would but cannot love,
Though wooed by love divine;
No arguments have power to move
A soul as base as mine.
A soul so base as mine.

I would but cannot rest,
In God’s most holy will;
I know what He appoints is best,
And murmur at it still.
I murmur at it still.

Help my unbelief.
Help my unbelief.
Help my unbelief.
My help must come from Thee.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Creed to Live By

Creed to Live By

Don't undermine your worth
by comparing yourself with others.
It is because we are different
that each of us is special.
Don't set your goals by what other
people deem important.
Only you know what is best for you.

Don't take for granted
the things closest to your heart.
Cling to them as you would your life,
for without them, life is meaningless.
Don't let your life slip through
your fingers by living in the past
or for the future.
By living your life one day at a time,
you live all the days of your life.

Don't give up when you
still have something to give.
Nothing is really over
until the moment you stop trying.
Don't be afraid to admit
that you are less than perfect.
It is this fragile thread
that binds us to each other.
Don't be afraid to encounter risks.
It is by taking chances
that we learn how to be brave.

Don't shut love out of your life
by saying it's impossible to find.
The quickest way to receive love
is to give love; the fastest way to lose love
is to hold it too tightly; and the best way
to keep love is to give it wings.
Don't dismiss your dreams.
To be without dreams is to be without hope,
To be without hope is to be without purpose.

Don't run through life so fast that you
forget not only where you've been,
but also where you are going.
Don't forget, a person's greatest
emoti need is to feel appreciated.
Don't be afraid to learn.
Knowledge is weightless, a treasure
you can always carry easily.
Don't use time or words carelessly.
Neither can be retrieved.

Life is not a race, but a journey
to be savored each step of the way.
Yesterday is History,
Tomorrow is a Mystery and
Today is a gift:
that's why we call it
The Present.

By Nancy Sims. Cited on Graphic Humor & Inspiration. To subscribe send a blank email to with Subscribe to GHI in the Subject line. Editor: Richard G Wimer.

People leave managers not companies

Dear friends

You may have seen this article before, but it is always a different feeling whenever I read it time to time. Really an important point for us to ponder on and wonder!!!

Come to think of it. This is almost 100% true. Read below & find out the answer. Early this year, Arun, an old friend who is a senior software designer, got an offer from a prestigious international firm to work in its India operations developing a specialized software. He was thrilled by the offer. He had heard a lot about the CEO of this company, charismatic man often quoted in the business press for his visionary attitude. The salary was great. The company had all the right systems in place employee-friendly human resources (HR) policies, a spanking new office, the very best technology, even a canteen that served superb food. Twice Arun was sent abroad for training. "My learning curve is the sharpest it's ever been," he said soon after he joined. "It's a real high working with such cutting edge technology."

Last week, less than eight months after he joined, Arun walked out of the job. He has no other offer in hand but he said he couldn't take it anymore. Nor, apparently, could several other people in his department who have also quit recently.

The CEO is distressed about the high employee turnover. He's distressed about the money he's spent in training them. He's distressed because he can't figure out what happened. Why did this talented employee leave despite a top salary? Arun quit for the same reason that drives many good people away. The answer lies in one of the largest studies undertaken by the Gallup Organization. The study surveyed over a million employees and 80,000 managers and was published in a book called First Break All The Rules.

It came up with this surprising finding: If you're losing good people, look to their immediate supervisor. More than any other single reason, he is the reason people stay and thrive in an organization. And he's the reason why they quit, taking their knowledge, experience and contacts with them. Often, straight to the competition.

"People leave managers not companies," write the authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. "So much money has been thrown at the challenge of keeping good people - in the form of better pay, better perks and better training - when, in the end, turnover is mostly manager issue." If you have a turnover problem, look first to your managers. Are they driving people away?

Beyond a point, an employee's primary need has less to do with money, and more to do with how he's treated and how valued he feels. Much of this depends directly on the immediate manager. And yet, bad bosses seem to happen to good people everywhere. A Fortune magazine survey some years ago found that nearly 75 per cent of employees have suffered at the hands of difficult superiors. You can leave one job to find - you guessed it, another wolf in a pin-stripe suit in the next one.

Of all the workplace stresses, a bad boss is possibly the worst, directly impacting the emotional health and productivity of employees. Here are some all-too common tales from the battlefield: Dev, an engineer, still shudders as he recalls the almost daily firings his boss subjected him to, usually in front of his subordinates. His boss masculated him with personal, insulting remarks. In the face of such rage, Dev completely lost the courage to speak up. But when he reached home depressed, he poured himself a few drinks, and magically, became as abusive as the boss himself. Only, it would come out on his wife and children. Not only was his work life in the doldrums, his marriage began cracking up too.

Another employee Rajat recalls the Chinese torture his boss put him through after a minor disagreement. He cut him off completely. He bypassed him in any decision that needed to be taken. "He stopped sending me any papers or files," says Rajat. "It was humiliating sitting at an empty table. I knew nothing and no one told me anything." Unable to bear this corporate Siberia, he finally quit. HR experts say that of all the abuses, employees find public humiliation the most intolerable. The first time, an employee may not leave, but a thought has been planted. The second time, that thought gets strengthened. The third time, he starts looking for another job.

When people cannot retort openly in anger, they do so by passive aggression. By digging their heels in and slowing down. By doing only what they are told to do and no more. By omitting to give the boss crucial information. Dev says: "If you work for a jerk, you basically want to get him into trouble. You don't have your heart and soul in the job."

Different managers can stress out employees in different ways - by being too controlling, too suspicious, too pushy, too critical, too nit-picky. But they forget that workers are not fixed assets, they are free agents.

When this goes on too long, an employee will quit - often over seemingly trivial issue. It isn't the 100th blow that knocks a good man down. It's the 99 that went before. And while it's true that people leave jobs for all kinds of reasons - for better opportunities or for circumstantial reasons, many who leave would have stayed - had it not been for one man constantly telling them, as Arun's boss did: "You are dispensable. I can find dozens like you."

While it seems like there are plenty of other fishes especially in today's waters, consider for a moment the cost of losing a talented employee.There's the cost of finding a replacement. The cost of training the replacement. The cost of not having someone to do the job in the meantime. The loss of clients and contacts the person had with the industry. The loss of morale in co-workers. The loss of trade secrets this person may now share with others. Plus, of course, the loss of the company's reputation. Every person who leaves a corporation then becomes its ambassador, for better or for worse. We all know of large IT companies that people would love to join and large television companies few want to go near. In both cases, former employees have left to tell their tales.

"Any company trying to compete must figure out a way to engage the mind of every employee," Jack Welch of GE once said.Much of a company's value lies "between the ears of its employees". If it's bleeding talent, it's bleeding value. Unfortunately, many senior executives busy travelling the world, signing new deals and developing a vision for the company, have little idea of what may be going on at home. That deepen within an organization that otherwise does all the right things, one man could be driving its best people away.