An engineer and the balloonist

An engineer and the balloonist


A man is flying in a hot air balloon and realises he is lost. He reduces height and spots a man down below. He lowers the balloon further and shouts, “Excuse me. Can you help me? I promised my friend I would meet him half an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.” 

The man below says, “Yes, you are in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 40 meters above this field. You are between 46 & 48 degrees N latitude and between 52 & 56 degrees W. longitude.”

“You must be an engineer,” says the balloonist.

“I am,” replies the man. “How did you know?”

“Well,” says the balloonist, “everything you have told me is technically correct but I have no idea what to make of your information and the fact is I am still lost.”

The man below says, “You must be a Manager”

“I am,” replies the balloonist, “but how did you know?”

“Well,” says the man below, “you don’t know where you are or where you are going. You have made a promise which you have no idea how to keep and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met but now it is somehow my fault.”

An incidental leader

I don’t know about you but I can’t stop laughing every time I read this. There is some truth behind the humour though. I was once an engineer who became a manager, so both scenarios resonated with me. I started my career in system engineering designing cable TV networks, before moving into software engineering working with digital switches working for 3 of the largest telcos in Australia. 

Then it happened. I made a move into “management“; well I really can’t remember why I did that at the time, I guess someone must have thought I’m good with people, or simply have a knack for telling people what to do. Don’t you ever get that feeling that someone’s dob you in for something you’re not sure why or if they had any good intentions at all. Anyway, it was the proudest moment in my life, but the novelty wore off pretty soon when all the red tape and politics kicked in. Then it got worse, must worse, but thank God I was a quick learner. I learnt a lot about people, organisations, processes, systems, innovations, managing change but most importantly, I learned about leadership. I became an aficionado on leadership, a junkie so to speak, but guess what? Leadership is a lifelong learning, and the more you know, the more you realised there’s so much more than you don’t know. It’s all in the experience. Over the years, I had the privilege of leading large teams of people in various disciplines including very strong leaders and did so in some of the most trying circumstances in organisation change.

Here are some things I want to share with you about leadership from personal experience, not because I know it all but on the contrary, there is so much more to learn from each other.

Be the leader

If you have staff in your business, good leadership is just as important as management. I don’t think managers can ever really be effective without good leadership skills, the same way managers can never be really effective without knowing enough about what their engineers or their people do. Too often managers fail to lead when the opportunity arises. Sure, it’s a heavy burden to carry. It can be bitter, but rewarding and satisfying all at the same time. Leadership can’t be forced upon either. It can only begin with the right mindset. So first ask yourself this; are you ready to lead?

Choose to inspire

Call me old fashion, but I believe good leaders always start with a vision. They have a vision for the future, a vision for his or her people, and countless number of ways to inspire them to follow that journey. A good leader takes everyone on that journey even before the trip begins, and doesn’t leave anyone behind. A good leader inspires others to follow. There is no shortcut in leadership, you must take the time to understand, reflect and inspire. So remember when in doubt, choose to inspire.

Make the (tough) call

For most of us, it’s easy to be the nice guy or gal, but when you start out as a leader, you will soon realise that it’s not about a popularity contest. Making tough decisions comes with the territory. Different situations call for different leadership style, however unpopular or lonely you could become. Once you’ve assessed the situation and made a decision, you must trust your instinct and follow through. It may not be apparent at first but over time, your team will come to respect you for it.

Love your people

This is a verb. Good leaders build trust and loyalty in their people. Trust and loyalty comes from respect. Respect comes from knowing your people. Knowing what they like, their dislikes, how they think, what grabs them most, how they like to be treated, and so on. Everyone’s different and special in his or her own interesting ways. To lead well, you must love well, and place their needs above yours. Good leaders always care for their people; not as subjects but those they have the privilege to serve.

These are some of my take on leadership. What’s your take? What’s been your experience or observations about leadership that you’d like to share?

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Phil Khor

Founder at

G’day, I am the founder of SavvySME. Running a business alone is hard, which is why my team and I are keen to do our part to help. We are proud to create this platform for you to connect, share and engage with service providers who can help grow your business. Our goal is to become a trusted destination for you to find experts and resources for your business easily. We invite you to share our vision for a vibrant community of folks looking out for each other :)