Posts by Derek Toh

Founder of We partner with Linkedin to help employers hire the best talent. Recruiter. Family man.

Leaders shouldn’t sit in their office room

I’ve observed for a while now that some leaders just sit in the office with an empty schedule, stare at their computers and think they are being a good leader? Often just busy being an overpaid administrator looking at reports.

They would argue that it’s because they are delegating and empowering their teams. I think they are just making excuses to be lazy.

And there’s a difference between empowering teams and ignoring them. Especially in core activities that are important to the business.

Leaders should be out there where the action is, where value is being created for the business.

In a manufacturing business, the place to be is the factory floor where the products are being built. In a professional services or sales orientated firm, leaders should be out there on the field meeting their clients. In retail, it’s the shop floor where customers experience the company’s products.

Be around all the real action that is creating value for the business. Support the team. Observe what issues they face, see what they cannot see. Give input that will improve the value creation process of the company.

Leading means being at the front, not at the back.

The mother and her child

Once, while at a cafe, I accidentally overheard a conversation between a mother and her son. (The tables were so close!)

The son was complaining about how his job sucks and how routine and boring it was. There was a lot of negativity.

He was young man, I imagined it was his first job.

She was patient and I could hear her trying to correct her son’s mindset. But he wasn’t listening, insisting that the reason he was not successful was due to the job and company.

In the end, with a sad voice, she said:

“I know this sounds hard, but jobs are hard. You wanted this job from the beginning and you knew there were going to be parts that were boring. You knew this, and you wanted the job.
You are the captain of your own ship. You can decide to change jobs, but if the next job is not routine, then you might start saying that it’s stressful and there is no guidance.
“But whether you stay or leave, you can’t keep complaining. You have to make a decision and work hard. No job is perfect.”
I’m not sure if her son understood her, but I could feel her sadness because she’s trying to help her son be happy and have the right mindset.

Parenting never stops and parents carry the immense (often emotional) responsibility of guiding their children through life.

The best leadership advice

Many years ago when I was in Silicon Valley, someone asked one of our mentors what was his one most important advice for business leaders to succeed? He replied:

“Too many people want to be Steve Jobs and believe behaving like an a**hole will help them build a billion dollar business. So here’s my advice…. You’re not Steve Jobs, and nobody wants to work for an asshole. So don’t act like one.”

I sometimes meet “leaders” who are rude for no obvious reason at all, to show dominance over other people, as though they are afraid that their position as the boss will be threatened.

That is not a sign of strength, it’s a sign of weakness and insecurity.

Leaders with true strength feel secure knowing that others count on them to lead. That’s the only path to a loyal and motivated team.

Don’t wait 10 years

When I was in college, I was asked to present our team’s project to the class. It wasn’t a big class, only about 40 people. But when I got up on stage, I completely froze. No words would come out of my mouth.

After several minutes of silence (an eternity), my lecturer couldn’t bear to watch the humiliation any further and asked me to sit down and be replaced on stage.

I have always been a shy person. And the shock from this memory haunted me for the next 10 years as I never got on stage again.

But I refused to believe in the story that I’ve been telling myself for 10 years. The story that I suck at public speaking.

So instead, I said yes to every opportunity to speak publicly. Challenging myself in every uncomfortable situation possible.

The first time after 10 years was nerve wrecking. And slowly, it got easier and easier.

Today I’m speaking publicly all the time, sharing ideas on stage with really smart people, who will examine every word.

And I’m comfortable.

All of us are more capable than we realise. We need to let go of the bad stories of our past. Don’t let it define us.

Failure is an advantage, because you got started.

It took me 10 years to take a second step. You don’t have to wait 10 years. Take a risk and live to your full potential.

You are already happy

If you’re having a tough time at work, remember to not get overwhelmed to the point where you no longer notice all the good you have in your life.

Notice the family you have. Your spouse, your children, your parents.

The supportive friends you have, at work and after work.

Notice the privileges you’ve had, such as being able to have an education, have enough to eat, and having a roof over your head.

Notice them and be grateful.

Realise that you are actually already happy if you paid attention to the right things.

Don’t promote someone based on how well they speak

Don’t promote someone based on how well they speak or how they carry themselves. Promote people based on their efforts and the results they produce for your company.

When we promote someone based on our “gut feeling” rather than actual results, we create situations where office politicians who don’t achieve much for the company (and just have good relationships with the boss) can get ahead, and your real contributors get side lined.

Before promoting someone, ask ourselves “What did this person actually achieve for us? Is my decision based on my emotions or facts?”.

Don’t get distracted or blindsided by people that speak eloquently. And remind yourself that just because someone speaks well, doesn’t mean they are a good leader. Because leadership is more than just being able to “sound capable”. You actually have to BE capable.

Learn to say “no”

Perhaps to most empowering thing we can all learn today, is how to say “no”.

Too often we agree to things because we don’t want to offend, or come across as uncooperative.

But even though in the short term you risk offending the other person, in time they will see that you are strong and have your own principles and priorities. And they will learn to respect you.

Say no to friends that are a bad influence.

Say no to partners that want to win while you lose.

Say no to colleagues that take advantage of you by asking you to prioritize their work over your own.

Speak up and tell people what you want. Take back control of your life. Guard your time like it’s the most precious resource you have. Because it is.

How often do we see nice people get taken advantage of because they can’t say no?

Don’t worry about the people who will abuse your company culture

Perhaps one of the biggest concerns businesses have when I talk to them about building a good company culture, is that they think SOME of their employees are going to abuse it.

I get that.

The business world is tough and unforgiving. If your employees start abusing your culture and become less productive, your clients don’t care, your investors don’t care and ultimately if your company can’t deliver, the market will punish you for it.

But stopping yourself from creating the best culture that MOST of your people are going to love and thrive in, just because you’re worried that a small handful of people may abuse it, is not a good strategy.

Your good people are not going to abuse it, in fact, it will energise them and make them more productive. And the bad ones only make up a small percentage (maybe 10%) and are going to find a way to do bad things, whether or not you try to have a good culture.

I’ve made the mistake of introducing rules (that “damaged” our trust-based culture) just to control bad behavior but in the end, only the good people get punished, and the abusers still found different ways to bypass those rules.

Create and defend your company’s culture for your good people, do what you can to help them succeed, and those who abuse your culture will soon find that they don’t fit in.

It all starts with your people

As an entrepreneur, starting a business with just one person (me!) and growing it to almost 50 people now, I can confirm one thing that’s always been talked about, and so true, is that people build businesses.

Not strategy, not product, not marketing. All these things are created as a result of your people.

Good people = good strategy

Good people = good product

Good people = good marketing

And the list goes on.

As the company grows, it becomes less about how good I am, and more about how good our people are. Because I can’t do and decide everything.

So if you can invest millions in product and marketing, you should and can invest in attracting the best people.