03 May Clarity Feature Story: Leslie Yong – Hard work and the strategic nimbleness to adapt

Leslie Yong strongly believes in the importance of psychometric profiling tools. Be it the Holland Code (RIASEC) test, Gallup’s StrengthsFinder or the Knowdell Card Sort, he could speak at length about his appreciation for these tools. To Leslie, it is a structured and objective way to understand ourselves better. He asserts that a reality check is also crucial, that coachees need to want to change. Nonetheless, he empathizes and acknowledges the sheer difficulty of transitioning.

It has been almost 7 years since his career switch into the training industry after being in telecommunications for almost three decades. He attributes his personal success to unending persistence and hard work, to never taking the easy way out. In Leslie’s 36 years of service at a telecom company, he had consistently delivered exceptional business network partnerships as a global account and business development manager. His ability to flourish amidst the fast-paced and demanding nature of the industry is indicative of his adaptability to change.

Leslie is no stranger to the ethos of lifelong learning. As a Workplace Literacy (WPL) associate trainer, he imparts to a wide profile of trainees the basic workplace-specific language and computer skills. The relationship he has with his trainees ignited his desire to help them find clarity in their lives. This subsequently led him to take up higher responsibilities as a senior career coach and Race to Actualising Career Excellence (RACE) programme assessor at the Centre for Career Excellence (CCE).-

CCE: What led you to a career switch, and how was the transition like for you?

Leslie: Training is something that came out from my love for sharing information. So, it’s just in my nature that I like to meet new people and the interaction I get to have with my trainees and coachees that makes the work enjoyable. The transition was tough having to go for training, sitting for examinations, all of that, and especially after having already established a solid know-how and familiarity of the work I used to do in telecommunications. In order to expand the possibilities of what I can do, it’s necessary to upgrade and expand my skill set.

CCE: When you say that you want to help them to find clarity in their lives, what exactly do you mean by that?

Leslie: Clarity, by definition, is to have a clear concept or understanding of what the subject matter is. It goes both ways, for coachees to understand themselves, and for us coaches to understand what they are trying to tell us. As a coach, I don’t have a miracle cure for anything that is happening to you, but if you are willing to share with me, I can listen out for the gaps and missing links that you weren’t able to see clearly on your own. Like a soundboard, I will reflect them back to you so that we can map out the action steps that you need to take.

CCE: Tell us about your first coaching experience.

Leslie: My first coaching experience didn’t go very well. I didn’t really understand how to move my coachee forward in her sharing when I first started out.

She came to me with the expectation that I was to spoon-feed her with an answer. Well, that’s not how it works because nobody is to dictate how you should live your life. As we talk, you will increase your own awareness of your problems, to the extent where you will figure out for yourself what is it that you should do. Then we can start talking about options.

CCE: Given what you know now, what would you have done differently?

Leslie: Okay, say you are stuck at a crossroads, and you don’t know what to do. You may think that you are not confident enough, or you may be unsure about what you are going to do for your next step. But we don’t have to make that decision immediately or answer the question directly. You don’t have to commit to anything yet.

The thing is, there is always more to what your coachees are telling you and we have to unearth them first. We need to ask good questions to trigger their unconscious thoughts – WH questions*, probing or creative ones – questions that the person might not be able to come up with on their own. And if we do this questioning well, the person would actually be able to figure it
out what he or she needs to do.

Asking ‘why’ will lead you to a story. This is what the technique of good coaching is all about, to broaden the possibilities and to open up the doors for our coachees. We are trying to bring the person to where he or she wants to go, to where he or she wants to be.

*WH questions are questions that begin with Wh-words like Who, What, When, Where, Which, Why, and How.

CCE: Besides asking good questions, what else do you think is crucial for a coach to learn?

Leslie: To be patient with those who are in pain.

I once had a coachee who changed our appointment five times before finally appearing on the sixth time. That really tested my patience, you know, we have to have mutual respect for each other’s time.

My past experiences taught me how to let go and allow people to reject you. There must be a reason for it.

You can tell in the subtle changes in their replies if the person is frustrated or sad. There could be many existing stressors in their daily lives and you won’t know.

So, we need to give our coaches time and space. I have been through hard times too, and I know how tough it is.

CCE: Could you share with us some of your personal struggles, and how it helps you to relate to what your coachees are struggling with?

Leslie: My father lost his job when I was still in primary school. It was in the 1960s, a time of uncertainty with riots breaking out every now and then.

Jobs were scarce and a lot of people couldn’t find ways to survive. If you have rice on the table every day, you are considered to be lucky.

I was also hospitalized for Diphtheria at that time. It was a double whammy for the family. My father was the main breadwinner so we had a really rough time.

Later on, he had cancer. So, I know how painful it is for those who have to go through treatment and all.  Growing up with so many struggles in my family forced me to be stronger, which is also why I feel that I can relate with my coachees when they share their struggles with me.

CCE: What are some existing stressors that your coachees typically face, and what would you do to help them overcome their challenges?

Leslie: There could be a whole list of problems: losing a job, going through a divorce or dealing with a broken marriage, or just general feelings of inadequacy because suddenly, everything has changed and the current job market is so different from what it used to be.

So, the thing is, I will explain to them that life is not about the past. Whatever happened in past, you cannot salvage it anymore. All you can do is to improve in the present moment.

You cannot just sit down and do nothing because it is not going to help you with anything. You are just enduring the pain. You have to either take action and move on or stay stuck where you are and feel more pain because you are not moving forward to where you should be going.

As a coach, I can listen to you, but at the end of the day, only you can decide your own path and remember that every decision you make is going to affect you, your wellbeing, your job prospects, and of course, the people around you.

If they are still feeling sad, still crying over the past, I will tell them that they must do something to break out of their cycle. You cannot be shy as a career coach. Sometimes you need to say something to wake them up so that they will see that they have to take action because if they don’t, nothing will change.

CCE: How do you motivate them to take action then?

Leslie: I believe I am the ‘following up’ type of coach. I am good at keeping track of my coachees’ goals, and I will make sure that I follow up with them so that they will be encouraged to do what they have decided to do.

When I wake up in the morning, I will look at my calendar to review the day’s meetings and send out text reminders and motivational greetings to my coachees. We must face the world with a smile in our heart every morning.

Every day, we are bombarded with changes and technological disruptions. We have to be fast and alert in order to adapt. If they cannot motivate themselves, I will motivate them.

CCE: Who inspires you, and what do you do in order to be a better coach?

Leslie: A coach who really inspires me is Viya Chen, our mentor coach at CCE. She is very experienced in guiding us to think out of the box when it comes to the questioning techniques.

I admire the fact that she stands firm in what she believes in, and that she is generous in sharing a lot of her ideas with us. We have workshops for coaches to improve our coaching skills. Everybody needs a coach, including myself.

I want to be recognized as a coach with a passion to transform lives. I believe that everyone has the capacity to learn new things and that we must never rest on our laurels.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the official views, policies or positions of the Centre for Career Excellence.


by Carol Boey