A SASSY PERSONNA

A study by sociologists Elizabeth Gorman of the University of Virginia and Julie Kmec of Washington State University concluded that women say they have to work harder than men in order to succeed.

So, is it true that the successful women need to put in extra effort to prove their worth at the workplace? So how do women, who have to juggle multiple roles as mothers, daughters, wives and sisters manage to rise to the pinnacle of their careers?

In part one of two interviews to commemorate International Women’s Day, SG Lifestyle’s Features Editor, Angela May Tan, spoke with 44 year old Sophia Chin, Co-Founder & Head of Leadership at PERSONNA, to find out how she has managed to thrive not only in her career and business, but also as a happily married mother of three boys.

SGLS: You are a leadership expert and professional coach. Tell us more about the work you do.

Sophia: At PERSONNA, we’re on a mission to support leaders and teams to elevate their performance without burning out. We pivoted the business from executive recruitment to leadership development in 2014. There were many leadership development companies out there. But we didn’t want another leadership development programme. We wanted to create a better one, one that truly works. Traditional leadership development programmes are mostly just rhetoric so they don’t move the needle. That’s like trying to learn to ride a bike by reading a book. For real change to happen, we need to look at shifting our behaviours, and that requires an individualised approach.

SGLS: You strike me as a woman who “has it all”. How do you balance marriage, family, career and business? 

Sophia: Thank you. I feel really blessed. My life is deeply meaningful, and I love it.

When we think about work-life balance, we typically think in linear, mathematical terms. We think there should be some secret formula to achieving the perfect balance: “It should be 50:50.” But life is not a straight line. It’s non-linear. It’s incredibly complex and full of inter-dependencies.

When I was working in Frost & Sullivan in 2005/2006, Ben, my eldest son was just over a year old, and we were planning to have our second kid. The work was stressful, Frost was on a rocket ship growth trajectory. The work was so all-consuming that I’d regularly end up picking Ben up late from the daycare centre. There was even once where I completely forgot to pick him up! I loved the challenge of the work, but I suffered from mum guilt. I constantly felt over-stretched, trying my best, but still not doing a good enough job.

When Alex, our second son, arrived, I decided to quit my job and focus on being a good mum. Life was sweet. The work stress was gone, I could spend quality time with the little cuties, I even had time to hop into Orchard Road three times a week for dance fitness classes. But I hated it. There was once when Roger (my husband) and my sister Ching were talking about their work at the dinner table. I remember feeling this ridiculous and unwarrantable jealousy – I missed the intellectual sparring that work provided! On the surface, my life looked great, but underneath, I was simmering with resentment. I eventually went back to work. I learned that working made me a better mum, and having a family made me a better employee. Balancing both was better than just focusing on one or the other. Both were equally hard work, but the juggling was a lot more enjoyable. It’s crazy, but this feels true for me.

Roger is the man of my dreams. Earlier in our relationship, he lifted a car out of a ditch in Cameron Highlands. It was surreal; like in a movie. He was Superman and I was Lois Lane: “My hero!” He constantly amazes me with his uninterruptedly progressive transformations, maturing from a quietly confident, debonair. Our relationship was constantly challenged – there was something momentous going on every year. First year, we had a baby. The next year, Roger changed jobs. The year after that, another baby arrived. Then I changed jobs. It was like that… year after year.

Then we started a company, pivoted the company, the kids tackled PSLE – one after the other. Nothing ever stays in perfect harmony. We had to be patient, flexible and adaptable as we juggled our responsibilities with family, friends, work, finances, health and new challenges.

That’s how you grow; literally, living life fully!

Sophia with her husband and business partner, Roger Grant

SGLS: You work with your husband and sisters. How is working with your spouse and siblings panning out? How do you iron out your differences (if any)?

Sophia: Working with family is interesting. It can’t be: It’s just business. It’s not personal. You still have to go home with this person.

The best thing about working with family is the access to exceptional, top-class talent. As a small startup, it’s extremely difficult to attract talent. Nobody knows you; much less trust their careers with you. So it’s amazing to have this heady cocktail of incredible intellectual horsepower and thick-as-blood trust; we created miracles! We produced work equivalent to a team that is twice our size. We punched above our weights.

Working with family is also very interesting because of the power dynamics. Even though we are family, we still had our differences. However, as leadership coaches, we understand that the biggest leadership mistakes is avoiding difficult conversations. Roger was leading Sales, I was leading Service Delivery, and Samantha (my other sister) was leading Marketing. These functions naturally have conflicting priorities. We had frequent blow-ups, and cold silent wars. I think this is where the “thick-as-blood” invisible bond kept us from imploding. I might even go out on a limb and say that the implicit trust forced us to confront the elephant in the room. You can’t stay angry with loved ones for too long – they are family! To conclude, I’d say that working with family is a huge advantage.

SGLS: You are a mother of three growing boys. How do you cope with building a career and raising three boys?

Sophia: Monthly facials and as many massages as time permits. I also meditate every morning and do the Tracy Anderson workouts five times a week. I can’t afford designer clothes – the kids need their iPhones. Instead, I have a designer body. [laughs] Me-time is sacred for me; it helps me stay centred and connected. I blossom under all that self-care and have so much more to give to work and the family.

SGLS: You have recently published a book. Tell us more about it. 

Sophia: My book, “Dancing on the Edge of Greatness: Making Leadership Personal”, is for anyone who wants to reach their next level of performance. We’re living in an era of limitless possibilities – but why do we feel so powerless? Every day, we are under immense pressure to perform at the top of our game. We can come very close to perfection, but never get there. Instead, we end up stressed and burnt out. Somehow, somewhere, we got derailed. The book is inspired by the exceedingly glorious and wonderful leaders we’ve worked with over the years. It shares personal stories of how these leaders lost their edge, and more importantly, how they got it back. I hope that these incredible stories will not only engage people’s minds but inspire their corner-office lust when they realise that they – in fact, every one of us – are born for greatness.

SGLS (Bonus Q): In the course of your work, what are some trends you’d noticed? What are some tips for women who want to, like you, “have it all”?

Sophia: The workplace is changing. It’s becoming more human, and less machine-like. We’re seeing trends like mindfulness, empathy, compassion, inclusiveness. We used to think that these are “soft skills”. It’s touchy feely, fluffy – some might even say spiritual. But we’re now realising that these are absolutely foundational for driving results in the knowledge economy. There’s nothing “soft” about them. I know it’s a little late; but better late than never!

I personally believe that women have a huge advantage in this area over men. Of course, I’m biased. But it’s also biological. Women have more brain circuits for communication, reading emotions, social nuances and nurturing skills. We also have a greater ability to use both sides of the brain. Women are multi-dimensional. We have all that natural emotional intelligence, and men are given only blunt instruments. In my eyes, women possess the superior tools. We should use them kindly.

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Find out more about PERSONNA at www.personna.me

Interview by Angela May Tan, Features Editor & Writer

Email angelaTHEwordsmith@gmail.com to explore content partnership

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