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  • Writer's pictureSophia Chin

Becoming a Personal Leader

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

Photo credit: Cabanel, Alexandre. Cléopatre essayant des poisons sur des condamnés à mort. 1887. Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp. Web.

In my previous post, I shared the three stages towards doing great work. The journey begins by becoming an effective personal leader, to lead yourself through positive change.

I grew up standing on the shoulders of giants. I had the best mentors, and I was a model student. I would heed their advice, and give it my best. I was very competitive against myself, always pushing myself to be better. From my mum, I learnt how to be the high-flying career woman, juggling work and family. From my dad, I learnt critical thinking and wisdom. My first boss, Thurai Thavasikkannu, taught me to do work that matters. While other bosses may be content with mechanically generated mundane accounting reports every month that nobody reads, I was Dr. Watson, helping Sherlock Holmes chase down clues to provide insights that helped senior management make better decisions.

My mentors helped me chart a stellar path of success in the first 25 years of my life. ASEAN scholarship, private pilot license, fastest promotion in the history of JTC Corporation, and I got engaged, I could do no wrong. I was on fire. My life was perfect.

And then all hell broke loose.

I got divorced.

I was called a stupid scholar by the CFO.

I was put on a PIP.

Ashamed, I felt like running away. I hated failing.

When I was younger, my mentors showed me a structured path to success. It was not difficult to be “perfect”. However, as I progressed further in life, I wanted more than a stable, albeit comfortable life. I was drawn towards excitement, and had the audacity to believe that I can create my own destiny and stand my ground with bullies at work. I changed jobs every two years. I went from Accounting, to Marketing, to Sales and then to Executive Recruitment. I even tried being a stay-at-home-mum at one point. That lasted four months.

Career path: Ideal vs Reality

I had to experiment on my own, learn by trial and error. The first year in a new role is never easy, confronting the conscious incompetence. The inner brat just wants to stay in the bliss of ignorance. But you can't hide from brutal reality in Sales. I failed many times, missing my quarterly sales targets, but I learnt to get back up and fight harder, growing my competence.

I also learnt how to move on. Jurong Island and growth consulting were extremely fascinating, the people I worked with were super awesome, but it wasn’t enough to keep my wandering passion. I chose to follow my heart rather than reason, giving up my hard-earned competence for the unknown.

However, with Recruitment, something stuck. Even when my boss served me an ultimatum making my role redundant, I knew I didn’t want to do anything else. Instead, I started my own company.

With Personna, I continued to deepen my knowledge, experience and focus. I achieved a level of unconscious competence, performing advanced skills with minimal effort. I started seeing the bigger picture, gaining clarity on connections that were invisible to me before. Slowly I began to realise that what I was doing, Executive Recruitment, was barely scratching the surface of a much deeper problem.

Today, ten years since I started in Recruitment, I’m co-leading Personna, a leadership development company, to help people facilitate innovation within their organisations by doing great work. I believe that the only way to do truly great work is to make work personal.

If someone had told the 20-year-old accounting undergraduate me that I would end up as a leadership coach and an entrepreneur, I would have rolled my eyes at them, “Seriously?!”

I created my own path to success. It was not a straight line, but filled with many twists and turns. I proudly wear my scars, they were hard-earned.

“You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” – Steve Jobs

We can create our own destiny. Have the courage to follow your heart and chart your own path to success.

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PERSONNA is a leadership development company focused on the people side of transformation. We hold a simple belief that everyone is an extraordinary and powerful force for positive change. When you make work personal, naturally you become a better leader.

We’re here to help people become better leaders, build highly-effective teams, and create a culture of trust & collaboration in their organisations. We provide leadership branding, leadership coaching and group experiences. If you are curious to learn more drop us an email to

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