22 Aug Addressing My Career Blindspots with Career Coaching

I started out with an engineering degree in the semi-conductor industry and later moved on to work in the aerospace industry where I am currently stationed. With my past supervisory experience, I am now the production leader of the fan blade-manufacturing department where I oversee the repair and manufacturing line at Rolls Royce Singapore.

While I had risen through the ranks over the last 17 years, I felt that I was reaching a point of stagnation in my career. Fellow peers who had joined at the same time as me five years ago, were receiving promotions at work while I remained in the same position despite putting hours of hard work at my job. In short, I felt like I was experiencing a mid-career crisis. I wasn’t sure what was affecting my advancement in my career.

At the time, I was contemplating whether or not to enroll in a Master’s program at the National University of Singapore. At 41 years old, I wasn’t sure if the cost of a Master’s program and the hours dedicated to it would potentially give me an edge in my career at my current company.

While researching about what I should do online, I came across the R.A.C.E program via a Facebook advertisement. I decided to explore the Centre for Career Excellence further and attended one of their events so that I could try out their complimentary coaching sessions. It was there that I met my career coach, Irene Lee who was assigned to me.

“At 41 years old, I wasn’t sure if the cost of a Master’s program and the hours dedicated to it would potentially give me an edge in my career at my current company”

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Little Did I Know that my Communication Style Was Hurting my Career

From the first four sessions, Irene was able to identify my blind spots by asking pointed questions that got me to think more broadly about the issues that I was facing at work that was potentially affecting my work performance at the company.

It was through her powerful questioning that I realized that my communication style at work was potentially the factor that was hindering my promotion. I am proud to say that I am someone who takes pride in my work and often have very high expectations of the quality of work produced. What I didn’t realize at that point was the pressure that I was putting on my team in order to get the end result that I desired and how this was affecting the morale within my team.

Through the coaching sessions, I recalled a recent conversation with my boss during our usual mid-year appraisal earlier this year. One of the problems he identified was my communication style which I had not realized was a major factor affecting my performance. But with Irene’s questioning I became more self-aware and even recalled that in the past, when there were certain KPIs to be met and my team of engineers and technicians could not meet it, I would often turn very aggressive and challenge my team’s inability to produce rather than attempting to understand the difficulties they faced in their capacity to produce the results I wanted. In these team meetings, the atmosphere was often very tense and there would often be some friction between one of my engineers and I at the end of each session.

Even after my years of experience in supervisory and leadership roles, I didn’t realize that I hadn’t quite figured out what was the right way to communicate with people in order to get the results that I desired at the end.

“Even after my years of experience in supervisory and leadership roles, I didn’t realize that I hadn’t quite figured out what was the right way to communicate with people in order to get the results that I desired at the end”

Leon and Irene

Leading by Listening: Understanding the System Issues that My Team Faced

Through the course of the RACE program which touched on the skill of influencing and networking and together with Irene’s own demonstrative style of coaching, I was able to think more broadly about the issues at hand. I realized that there wasn’t a need to be aggressive in my style of communication in order to get things done. I learned largely from Irene through her own method of powerful questioning in our sessions that it was more effective to ask questions that would trigger people to think than simply telling them what to do. After all, I realized that in my line of work, my engineers are the experts on the ground and so they would be in a better position to understand the issues on hand better than I do.

“These confrontations now turned into discussions and we were able to understand each other better”

I applied what I learned from the RACE program to my work. I tried setting aside time after each meeting to listen to what my engineer (who I was often in a very tensed position with in the past) had to say and allowed him to explain himself on why he objected to certain proposals I shared in the meeting earlier. I also shared with him my concerns while asking pointed questions that got him to understand where I was coming from. These confrontations now turned into discussions and we were able to understand each other better. I found that my working relationship not only with him but with my other subordinates had also improved significantly over the few months and my boss had also noticed a change.

Relinquishing Control over a New Project to My Technician

In manufacturing, we often face this bottleneck in production output that would often result in manufacturing delays. With the progress that I was making, my boss assigned me a new project to handle that would deal with the task of reducing delay in manufacturing production. I decided to take a leap of faith and entrusted the project with my technician, whom I believed was the real expert in the manufacturing process. Instead of being the one to present what we had accomplished in this project, I invited him to conduct the presentation. With the improved communication and better team cohesion, we were able to deal with the bottleneck and eventually reduced the normal processing time of seven days to five and a half days which is a major achievement in production.

“With the improved communication and better team cohesion, we were able to deal with the bottleneck and eventually reduced the normal processing time of seven days to five and a half days which is a major achievement in production”

Within these few months, even before I completed the RACE program, my boss complimented me on the good team effort on a recent project and even gave me more responsibility not just within the department but also at the plant levels.

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A Nice Surprise: Course Mates Turned Support Group

While the training modules provided in the RACE program was useful to my work, what I never expected to gain from the program was having the opportunity to meet a new group of people from different industrial backgrounds. Through our conversations, I got to see things from a different and wider perspective. I now regard them as my course mate, friend and even mentor. It was through my interactions with them that I got to appreciate and treasure the position that I was in in my career and it got me thinking about what I should do differently with my life.

It was comforting to know that even though our experiences were different, we were all on the same journey to achieve more in our career and in our lives. I am lucky to have a very supportive group of peers.

I recently suffered some chest pains and had to be hospitalized. I was really surprised that the friends I made from the program showed their concern by making the effort to see how I was doing even though I did not inform them about it. That experience really touched my heart.

When I initially decided to take up this course five months ago, a friend of mine expressed his skepticism about the program, as it was only four months long for a diploma certificate. But I think I accomplished what I sought to achieve. I reached a breakthrough in the program and received renewed clarity about my position and my role as a manager. The major takeaway for me was that it helped to improve my soft skills and the experience of group sharing and self-reflection all worked in allowing me to be more self-aware of my current weaknesses and what I needed to do to improve. This experience has also taught me that writing a good resume is not good enough and that sometimes it is better to build your relationships, have good communication and interpersonal skills that would put you in a better position when looking for employment or when seeking career advancement.

I also like what Irene mentioned in her #askacoach video on Facebook Live and I think that it applies to many Singaporeans as well. She said that right now in the 21st century, we are faced with a challenging market. There are young people, many fresh graduates in the workplace and so there isn’t a shortage of skilled labour in Singapore. Quoting from Irene, “There is no such thing as an iron rice bowl anymore. You can’t change the world but you can adapt and improve yourself to prepare for such changes.”

~ CCE

If you would like to start your path to career success now, visit here to learn more about the RACE program.

“Addressing my Career Blindspots with Career Coaching”
as narrated by Leon Leong Kok Meng, written by Valerie Chia.