12: Leadership Consultant, May Tuck Wong on Aligning Head, Heart and Gut

Aligning Head, Heart and Gut

Most people are trained to think analytically, which has vast benefits—but it can also disconnect us from our inner wisdom. For leaders leading in today’s rapidly-changing workplaces, intuition has a large part to play. Being connected internally, we begin to lead with integrity – where our minds, hearts, and actions align. This is a more sustainable and liberating way to lead, work and live.

In episode 12 of Agile Leaders Conversations, join May Tuck Wong and me as we discuss the importance of knowing oneself in a leader’s pursuit of agility. Personal mastery is now more critical than ever. In this video, May shares the ELSP model from the Leadership Coefficient and how it can work hand-in-hand with 8 Paradoxes of Leadership Agility and the Five Inner Voices.

Connect with May Tuck Wong at https://www.linkedin.com/in/maytuckwong/

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May Tuck Wong: The first stage is about auditing our leadership mindset. And that is absolutely so essential. We don’t even talk about being agile as a leader. If we don’t even know ourselves in that area.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Welcome to agile leaders, conversations where executives, business leaders and experts from all sectors come together and share leadership insights around leading in today’s workplaces. They will be sharing some tips on how they use the agile mindset to make sense of the complexities and lead with authenticity and ease.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: My name is Chuen Chuen and I’m an author, executive coach for the fortune 500, a speaker and a facilitator. I specialize in leadership agility, helping organizations and leaders grow the agile mindset so that they can sustain the success in both life and career. And I’m so happy to have you in this episode of agile leaders conversations.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: In this episode, my guest is Ms. May Tuck Wong from Malaysia. May is an executive coach and facilitator. And prior to that has worked as a leadership consultant trainer, facilitator, and coach with IBM for 10 years, where she added value in the areas of employee development, talent management, multicultural effectiveness and leadership development.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: She has worked with leaders across all levels of leadership in Malaysia and Asia Pacific and contributed to the career growth and development as leaders. I’m so glad to have May on our show today. May, would you like to say a few words about yourself?

May Tuck Wong: Hi, I’m really pleased to be here with you Chuen Chuen. And as you said I was with IBM, so yes, I retired from IBM five years ago. And I see that largely, although I have retired, there’s so much more that we can still do, at least I know I can still do. In terms of helping to focus on enabling and developing leaders and there is a need out there to do that.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: May and I connected over LinkedIn, and May got a copy of my leadership agility blueprint, where I highlighted five stage framework for leaders to grow the agile mindset using the five inner voices and in there also three most prevalent paradoxes that are written in my book. So I’m interested to know may from your vast experience, what are your thoughts of the leadership agility blueprint?

Leadership Agility Blueprint Helps us Realize What our Values are

May Tuck Wong: Yeah! As you said, actually, I connected with you even before LinkedIn, it was actually to one of the conferences where you were a speaker. And that was where it triggered my interest to say, “gosh, this is interesting.” I wonder what this blueprint is all about in terms of helping a person to focus on their leadership agility.

May Tuck Wong: When I looked at it, I say, “huh, nicely packaged.” And the three stages, the way it’s set up. And the three stages that particularly stood up for me because I am a very much of a structure and framework person. When I found that it was particularly useful is really where you started it from ground up.

May Tuck Wong: The ground up from my perspective is really foundational because the first stage is about auditing our leadership mindset. And that is absolutely so essential. We don’t even talk about being agile as a leader if we don’t even know ourselves in that area. It’s like essentially taking a stock take of our lives. Know our baseline. Know what we are aspiring to. It would give us a very good clue as in terms of how well we are doing in those areas, and what we need to be able to take action on to narrow. So knowing ourselves is very important. Then the second thing, which I found interesting where you shared with us are five inner voices.

May Tuck Wong: It’s a good use to me. It worked because it helps me to look at the five personas. Where, with captain, visionary, agilist, strategist and developer. So for me, I find that anyone will find it very useful in terms of realizing then what are your values?

May Tuck Wong: What are your strengths that are related to this persona? And the other thing that helps me realize is that how am I showing up now. In this circumstance, how am I engaging as in terms of relating to the world. Understanding who I am, my strengths, my skills. And the third thing, this is where I say, know yourselves, then identify what challenge that we have, then identify a specific area that we need to develop. Which this stage, you call it resolve paradox and reimagining ourselves. Yeah. It’s about recreating ourselves, right? Because our baseline is here. We want to be a lot better.

May Tuck Wong: And when I looked at the three paradoxes that you share, I thought, yes, of course. Working in IBM, I see this happen so often. I never knew that I looked at it as in terms of a paradox between as a leader, Task vs People. And then also to do the Executing and Inspiring.

May Tuck Wong: Of course we get paid for results of execution. Inspiring? Who even measures that? We measure execution, we measure results and everything else. But then again, this is a very important area that we also need to focus on. And as I looked over in your blueprint this is where it clicked in for me because you have this agile mindset game that invites a person to actually look at four different questions through the use of pictures. Because I’m also familiar with photo therapy and using photos for instance, points of view. That’s where I say. “Yeah, absolutely.” Because I so believe in it. Why? I know that for myself, I am very much in my head.

May Tuck Wong: And so the use of pictures actually liberated me from my head, and I started to look at things and do things differently because of that. So I say, “yep! Great use there.” 

Chuen Chuen Yeo: I like the way you structure it. Particularly in that question, how am I showing up right now? If you look at the five inner voices, which one would be the most prevalent, which voice will I use the most? You are absolutely right. Many of us are very left brain in the head. Very logical. We always think about measurements, but to me, the most important voice personally, my favorite is the captain, because I think mastering your emotions. Knowing where your emotions are coming from, and what are they telling you coming from a space of values, your strengths.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: It is highly important for all leaders to master the kind of understanding about themselves. So what I’m really interested is, given your years working with leaders in IBM and now as an executive coach, what’s that paradox in the blueprint that you see as extremely relevant for leaders these days?

May Tuck Wong: What I observe, the two paradoxes that are most prevalent is first one Task vs People. And the second thing here is Executing vs I nspiring. It’s not surprising after all. We focus on tasks because managers are paid to achieve results. They’re paid to be able to perform. And of course they don’t do everything by themselves. They depend on the team to do that.

May Tuck Wong: When push comes to shove, and I need to be able to get the job done. Then task is overriding. And as this particular manager who was actually peer to peer. It doesn’t matter -It could be manager to employee. It’s the same thing. This person just went away from holiday and had a wonderful time one week away first day back at work and was walking in the office, walking the lift and then rushing from behind her is a manager. And seeing her for the first time at work, the first thing he said to her was, “how is the hiring coming along? Do you have the ticket for it?” And she went, “I just came back from my holiday, and I feel all good, suddenly I feel, “why am I back? I feel deflated.” It was important for him to get the hiring ticket so that he can actually bring in the right person to get the business. Result, performance- driven, everything. Yeah. It’s focused right. It’s okay. The paradox here is, he failed to recognize that he needs to work through people, and people come with emotions. They come with, whatever they enter work with. And for her, unfortunately, he probably won’t have realized that he has just burst her bubble, and she’s probably not feeling so positive.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: I think it’s really the approach. We need to tell leaders that both people and task are highly important. We are not saying aim lower. We are not saying don’t meet deadlines. We still meet those deadlines. Make those sometimes unpopular, hard but correct decision. But we can soften it with our approach. The way we handle people, the way we are empathetic towards what’s coming up for them emotionally, because we only get our results through people.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: And I keep telling, this is one phrase that comes up a lot right now. Be a fellow human being. We are not working with robots. And, if employee engagement, employee satisfaction, well-being are topics that leaders out there are very interested in, and they want to elevate so called the index in all these areas. Then I think the task versus people is probably one very strong reminder for leaders to take note how do you put force and focus and make both of them important or at the same time.

May Tuck Wong: And just to add on to that, it’s not this or that. It is really about both.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: So here I want to go into this definition of leadership agility. In my blueprint and my book I define it this as the ability to navigate complexities and uncertainties with a sense of ease and authenticity. I kept it simple, and I’m far more interested in knowing how do you see leadership agility?

Leadership Agility is About Knowing Yourself

May Tuck Wong: So leadership agility, when I look at that right at the core with the paradox, there is a common element. What is that? The common element here is the self- the leader. And how the leader actually works or interacts with people. And this is where I say, bring it down to where the rubber hits the road. Don’t talk about leadership agility even earlier , where I said, know yourself first. So the key is about knowing yourself and what is happening around you.

May Tuck Wong: So you mentioned this in terms of how do we navigate the complexities and uncertainties and things like that. And I believe that the terminology VUCA is very prevalent now. A lot more people know about that expression, except that I would say that everything that we have now is almost intensified, magnified and a lot louder, a lot faster, a lot quicker. It just means that as leaders, we need to be that much more nimble on our feet to be able to do that. And I go back to how do you know whether you’re nimble. Unless you know yourself. Because if things are thrown at us, and we don’t really know how nimble and how strong we are within ourselves then, don’t talk about agility. You would probably sit and hide it out and wait it out. Or if you’re nimble, you pivot the call here is the individual. It’s the leader.

May Tuck Wong: And the other one is the triggering event. Take for instance COVID. This is where I find that what we talk about is even more relevant about knowing our selves.

May Tuck Wong: Because some people can pivot, and some people just sit there and say, I can’t do anything. We see two things. When people take action because of reaction, they react to it. Or they could take action because they are responding to it. So, in taking action is important, the question is, are we reacting? Are we responding? If you are acting, what is an impact? What are the consequences? It just means that we probably hadn’t processed it enough to see how we should respond. Back to looking at ourselves, in leadership coefficient, we use this, what we call the embodied leadership strength profile that is actually framed on the whole body intelligence, which is the mind, the heart,

May Tuck Wong: and then the gut. When we look at that, we are saying that look, there’s so much intelligence in our heart and our gut, and guess what? We are not tapping enough on it. How much knowledge and skills and experience must we have in order to build that cognitive strength, when actually in our heart and in our gut, we’ve already been building those and installing those intelligence.

May Tuck Wong: And with E L S P, we look at nine dimensions, 3 in the head, 3 in the heart, and 3 in the gut. And the interesting thing is that, when we do the body assessment of the individual because we actually assess the individual through their strength, their relative strength in each one of the different body poster and power centers, because I said, has it head the heart and the gut.

May Tuck Wong: Then, we are able to help them discover what are their preferences. Emphasize that because we are strong in those area, we act out from that, and we don’t even know. So let’s say the triggering event is all businesses face the COVID challenges. Business were affected. Now, if let’s say I said nine dimensions, and I highlight that three dimensions that a leader is particularly strong in. Number one, leader is strong in taking action. That’s great! The leader is also has a high preference for immediately thinking and exploring and saying, what do I need to do? And what are the things that I need to do? And the third dimension that the leader show strength in is that very quick with ideas. But he has all these strength and is frustrating him like crazy because the team is not working as fast as him.

May Tuck Wong: The team doesn’t seem to get it. The team seems to be so holding him back. So the paradox of executing versus inspiring could kick in. Even the paradox of task, get this done versus people. So all those two paradoxes can come in and is he gonna be very agile to respond to the situation? Unlikely. With a lot of friction. With a lot of resistance. With a lot of conflict, I would suggest. But doesn’t need to be that way. The minute the person is able to recognize where the strengths are, and where the person needs to be able to tap into and dial up. Like for instance, another dimension we look at is people, so that’s when they can bring in and say, “okay, fine. I need to slow down now. To walk alongside my people. Inspire them and work.”

May Tuck Wong: So that’s how I see it. How agility works, it starts with yourself and then focus on others to be able to bring everything to bed.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: The embodied leadership strengths profile, the E L S P from leadership coefficients is also something that can work hand in hand with the 8 paradoxes. It can also work with a concept of leadership agility, and it always starts with knowing yourself. Then you will know what inner resource you have. So that’s really great to hear how you can connect all these ideas together and see the relevance to your current work.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: I know that you have a great experience with IBM. And I’m wondering this knowing of self, how can that be relevant to women leaders.

Women and the Inner Barrier in Taking Leadership Role

May Tuck Wong: For women leaders? We can’t really say that there is any barriers to a person taking on the leadership. What I find that is the barrier that is placed by the women themselves.

May Tuck Wong: We actually have programs then to look at helping women to be able to speak up and be able to look at how they can take on more active role. Because the other mindset here is that they say, as a woman that I got to take care of family. Yes, for sure. Having said that, if you look at it, be it in Singapore or Malaysia. I’m not talking about Western countries because Western countries, we do not have the good fortune of being able to hire helpers.

May Tuck Wong: And so this is where even in spite of that, if people choose not to do something else, then it is really about mindset. It’s really about how they are willing to push. It’s also what they’re telling themselves is to perhaps, it’s also a good excuse where they say, “oh! I don’t need to do this because I have all these things that I need to be responsible for.”

Chuen Chuen Yeo: I think what you say is valid, and it is similar to what you said about paradoxes earlier. It’s not this or that. What if we can help women shift the mindset and say, ‘yes! I have all these responsibilities at home and all these aspirations in the workforce as well.” And I think that will change the world of women leadership.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Of course we have good trend data. More women are stepping up. But we think we are quite far from equal and like what you said, and what you pointed out is we can enable the systems and processes in the organization. We can put programs together, but it requires women to first make the first move to step up and shatter that internal barrier to be able to rise up.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Good! So may, I’m really enjoying our conversation. So I’m wondering, what’s your advice to leaders, both men and women out there?

An Advice for both Men and Women in Leadership

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Know yourself. And I want to add to that. Know the others as well. It’s just not knowing ourselves without knowing the other people.

May Tuck Wong: It’s like having one half of the equation, and we cannot complete to have the whole desired outcome. I also want to be able to say, it’s not just head knowledge and say, I know myself. I would also like to share a tip how we can help ourselves to be. A lot more alert to what’s going on for ourselves. Because knowing ourselves is being about self-aware and alert to it. Most people tend to be alert more.

May Tuck Wong: I know I am because I’m actually paying more attention. I’m more internal focus. Not enough in terms of external focus. Now, let me give you an example to actually make sure that we are on the same page. When we talk about what I mean by internal focus. This morning, when I was walking up the hill for my morning jog, I noticed that I got a little bit irritated because people were in front of me. They were hogging the road. And here I am jogging. And I want to be able to move at a pace. I don’t appreciate being stopped. And on top of that, this is COVID. Practice your one meter distancing and here they are, hogging the road and preventing me from moving around.

May Tuck Wong: And so you notice a conversation I’m having. They were all largely internal focus. Nothing wrong with that. And this is where I realize, if I’m practiced and so natural in thinking my expectations are not met. This is where things can really be extremely challenging when we work with people.

May Tuck Wong: Because the first thing we will notice for instance, the manager say, “Hey, you didn’t give me your work.” The first thing is me. You have not deliver what I am going to be affected. So the thinking then is task, not people. So, then I realize, okay, fine. Notice the irritation. Put it away and be curious.

May Tuck Wong: I wonder, this is like getting the executive brain at work not the limbic brain that reacts to certain things and I say, “huh, I wonder what is going on with these people? What makes them this way?” Widely, whatever it is, I’m just using the example. Because then I noticed, when I shifted back, I was a lot more forgiving. And I just went into, okay, how do I navigate this? Fine, just do it. And that one actually removed the stress from me, and I was a lot more agile and nimble in terms of finding my way around minus the negative emotions.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Yes. A conscious choice to respond instead of react instinctively. You are absolutely right. I think we are wired to be self center. The universe revolves around us where we are the center of it. And for leaders, the challenge is how do you maintain a nice balance of being self-centered and other centered as well? Wow. That’s another paradox of the self versus system know yourself. Know, what is in the system and know how you interact with each other because no man is an island. I really wanna echo that leaders, we are only successful where we work through our people, and that requires everyone to know yourself and know the people who you work with.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: All right. Great. So I’m sure listeners viewers right now will be interested to learn more about may perhaps the model, the E L S P the mine, the hate heart and gut. And definitely I’m going to check that out, and I’ll include May’s social links in a show notes. So please feel free to reach out to me. I also encourage all of you to grab a copy of eight paradoxes of leadership, agility, or the blueprint from my website.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: It’s been a pleasure to speak with you today May. Thank you so much for being part of Agile Leaders Conversations.

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