If you remember not too long ago, it seemed that every bazaar you visited (in Klang Valley at least) had at least one little stall, if not more, selling their natural, handmade soap or beauty products. Malaysians suddenly developed this interest for handmade products!
These were not cheap. A bar of handmade soap averaged from RM15–RM30.
Most items were marketed to be good for the skin (as it contained less or no preservatives) and promoted general well-being for its users.
Being someone who has lived with sensitive skin (and eczema) my whole life, I gave it a try and started to purchase these soaps for personal usage.
After two weeks, I found that it did make my skin feel less irritable.
But, my oh my! My bar of soap was diminishing faster than I would have liked. So, I decided to make my own!
Going for a half-day lesson on cold press soap-making was a worthy investment as I could now make my own soap for a fraction of the price I was paying outside.
Plus they also made amazing gifts for friends and family.
Along the way, I discovered that soap-making has its parallels with leadership.
1. Have a vision and an end in mind
My inspiration for each batch of soap I make usually comes from me understanding my end users.
Does that person like a specific fragrance? Does that person have very sensitive or oily skin? Does the colour or texture of the soap play a big part?
This helps me to choose the best ingredients for the specific batch of soap. It allows me to control what I could do within my capacity.
Like many leaders, they usually have a vision and an end goal in mind before they execute them. It could be a short-term or long-term vision, but a vision nonetheless.
These visions are usually aimed to make a difference for those impacted by the change it brings.
It is also important to see the big picture of things although I cannot physically see the end outcome today.
2. Be precise and patient
For every batch of soap I envision, I always have a plan and I carefully document its recipe. I then buy the ingredients, measure it, make the soap, hope and wait.
The result doesn’t become obvious until I cut the soap into individual bars 24 hours later. Hence, my patience is usually tested.
I have also been the teacher in which I guided a friend to make her first batch of soap.
It took patience to teach someone the basics of soap-making; from the purpose of making it, to the measuring of the ingredients.
Every ingredient must be measured to the decimal point for a successful batch of soap.
As a leader, one must have a level of patience, clarity and precision when guiding and sharing their visions.
Patience comes when they need to trust and wait for their visions to be realised. It won’t happen overnight.
The important thing is to ensure you communicate clearly when guiding those helping you to execute the plans.
In this case, it can even be for you to groom your mentee to take over where necessary. It’s much like how I thought my friend to make her own soap.
3. Be flexible and open
Part of the joy in soap-making is experimenting with different types of fragrances and oils. Different combinations produce different results, from the smell to the colour and texture. Each batch of soap can differ based on the ingredients used.
With that, I tend to ask for feedback from different people on whether they like the soap or in what areas my soap could be improved.
Was it moisturising enough? Did it produce enough bubbles? Was the smell pleasant and how long did it last? With feedback, I can further improve my future batches.
Leaders need to be aware that everyone has a different ‘flavour’.
Their leadership style will not complement every type of person. Hence, it is very important to be flexible and be open to feedback.
It takes a level of self-awareness and understanding of different personalities and leadership styles to motivate and bring out the best in those around them.
Leaders who accept feedback understand the value of it. It helps them to adapt to others better and build rapport before they can influence others.
4. Learn from mistakes
Many times I have made mistakes in my soap-making. I could have put in too much olive oil and the soap ended up too soft when it comes into contact with water. I could have miscalculated my water to oil ratio and hence, my soap did not saponify.
I have even mixed the wrong colours and additives which resulted in that batch of soap looking not as aesthetically pleasant as I envisioned it to be. Many times, this comes at a cost – raw materials wasted and time spent preparing it.
Sometimes, it was mistakes made merely based on trial and error. The end outcome often leaves me a bit frustrated and a bit sad. But behind all that are the lessons learnt on things I should not be repeating in the future.
Leaders are human and they make mistakes. It is part and parcel of life, isn’t it? All leaders have made mistakes and sometimes, costly mistakes. But what differentiates good and bad leaders are those who manage to rise from these mistakes.
Fail, learn and move forward. The best leaders are those who know how to find the silver lining in any situation, reflect, and move forward.
“To learn and grow, one must take chances and be willing to make mistakes.” – John Mackey
My soap-making journey has helped me to relate better to my leadership journey. With that comes clarity and a hunger to learn and improve my skills (i.e. soap-making and leadership). Who knows, my best soap recipe has yet to come and with that, my best leadership lesson.
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