Verve & Versatility
ANNA TAN shows SHANTINI SUNTHARAJAH that self-improvement isn’t too much of a stretch
CATHOLIC SCHOOL, with all its rules and regulations and the nuns who enforce them, might not sound like a great way to spend most of your growing-up years. Anna Tan, however, has nothing but warm memories to share and credits those schooldays for inspiring her reading habit.
“My reading habit was inculcated by the nuns in the Catholic school I attended, called St Teresa, in her hometown, Kuching, Sarawak. The head nun—Mother Monica—started a library and stocked it with many Enid Blyton books as well as magazines from the Vatican City,” she explains. “So I read whatever Mother Monica brought to the library. My brother and I would compete to see who finished a book first!”
Mother Monica must have done a fine job because the consultant trainer, human resource practitioner and change leader is now a full-fledged author. Stretched: Unleash Your Team’s Potential by Coaching the “Rubber Band” Way! captures Tan’s proven coaching ideas and techniques and aims to guide readers to extraordinary growth and breakthroughs.
Tan says that the advice in her book, which is geared towards leaders, employers and managers who are keen to create passionate, productive, action-oriented teams, is based on long experience in the trenches. “In a career spanning over fifteen years, I worked in various multinational companies as a senior corporate leader helming the human capital and talent functions.” Her work exposed her to a vast range of people and corporate cultures. “I had the opportunity to interact and socialise with people at all levels, experiencing both Western and Asian leadership and cultures.”
Tan confides that she has always wanted to write a book and didn’t hesitate to grab the chance to do so when she took a six-month break from corporate work at the end of 2010. Any other hard-working denizen of the corporate world might have used the time to kick back and relax but she is nothing if not focused. “It was six months of ideas, writing fluidly, freestyle.”
Even after going back to work, Tan did not waver from her writing routine and completed the book at an admirably quick pace. “I went back to corporate HR and it was another six months of fine-tuning the typescript. Getting feedback from corporate folks, HR practitioners, college students and incorporating their input, editing by my publisher and publishing took another four months.”
Tan’s speed is also attributed, in no small part, to the fact that she is able to write “wherever I have my Mac” as well as to the way she thinks. Part of the writing process, such as creating the chapters—something that makes many other writers falter—turned out to be a breeze. “I am lucky that I think in ‘categories’ or have my ideas in buckets. Hence, dividing the chapters was quite easy.” However, she is also quick to admit that creating Stretched from scratch did have its challenges. The biggest among these was “simplifying the concepts without sacrificing the essence of the book,” she says, referring to the complex concepts related to coaching teams to do their best at work.
Tan admits that she loves her work but takes care to spend as much quality time as possible with her loved ones on weekends. In her case, her loved ones happen to include three felines. A huge cat lover, she describes her furry family members with some detail. “They each have very different personalities. Girlie, the eldest at twelve years, is the most introverted. Furrygamo is three and is your typical “scatty” cat. Cotton is two years old and is the most extroverted and social one.”
Weekends are also a time for pastimes most people would consider typical—save one. “During the weekends, we do normal things like house chores, cook [her husband Allen Yap does the cooking], catch up on reading, watch TV, entertain friends and trim the cat’s nails.” Tan confides that the last is more than a one-weekend job. “The cats hate having their nails trimmed so it has to be stretched over a number of weeks,” she laughs.
Another thing that she enjoys during her downtime is baking. As a coach who trains leaders and managers to find opportunities to bring out the best in themselves and their people, it appears that she walks her talk. Others would never view domestic work as anything more than what it is but she has managed to find a way to turn time in the kitchen into something of a self-improvement exercise. “I love to bake and I teach others to bake. I have learnt to master the challenging French macarons! Baking has taught me to be precise and to persevere.”
Tan hopes that her book will help shine a light on new and better ways to work and shift her readers’ perspectives. “The coaching way—as opposed to the autocratic where you just tell and issue instructions—is one that resonates with younger generations like the millennials. It is high time leaders replace some of their ‘die-hard’ ways to a coaching style that engages the hearts and minds of their team members—yes, be like the rubber band, stretch, be flexible and adapt.”
Coach, trainer and author Anna Tan shares three life-improvement tips that will help people create great teams at work (and maybe in their personal lives, too!):
• Talk less, listen more.
• Give permission for others to be brave, and challenge the status quo. By doing that, you renew their hope of the possibilities of what they can be and more.
• Don’t tell people what to do. Facilitate the conversation to enable them to come up with their own solutions. People are spurred to take action based on the solutions they come up with.
Reproduced from the July-September 2014 issue of Quill magazine