Coming back to school means many things to Siobhan Tam. Five years ago, as an undergraduate, she sailed for Team Singapore and the university. Today, as an alumna, she works as a senior assistant manager at the Office of Advancement. One of the projects she was busy with in her first months back in SMU was leading a team of volunteers at the ASEAN University Games 2016.

Bringing together young athletes from 10 ASEAN countries and Timor Leste, the recent 18th ASEAN University Games was an exciting time for the students to learn about new cultures, forge new friendships and compete with the very best amongst their peers. It’s a love for sports that have drawn these athletes to Singapore to compete. It’s this same passion for sports that led Siobhan to volunteer for the Games. She tells us more about what her experience was like.

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Not many people can say that they’ve enjoyed six years as a student at SMU. During my university days, I was very active and involved in sailing. I took a year off to train and sail. Even though I wasn’t in school all that often, my friends, professors and sports manager at OSL were all very supportive of my sport. I really enjoyed my time at SMU and it made me wonder what it would be like working here. I’m learning a lot during my first few months with the Office of Advancement, and I’m very thankful to be back here.

One of my most memorable experiences sailing at SMU was at the Top of the Gulf regatta, in Pattaya, Thailand. We’re sailing larger keelboats, with five to six sailors on board. There were so many things to take care of on the boat. Everyone’s in charge of their own little part, and it’s very nice to see the whole team coming together and giving their hundred percent for the race. We have a lot of fun after the regatta as well, heading into town and just relaxing and unwinding!

It was challenging for me when I first started helming a keelboat. When I sailed competitively, I was on a two-man boat. Up in Pattaya, we’re talking about a crew of at least five, once going up to seven with an all-girls team. You’ve got to learn to communicate and trust your teammates very well. It was great that everyone was very eager to learn, humble and open-minded. We had a great time sailing in Pattaya.

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Siobhan is equally at home with sports and the arts. You’ll find her out on the water, or jamming away on the drums.

Sports is close to my heart. When I was asked if I’d like to volunteer for the 18th ASEAN University Games, I thought, “Yes. I’ll give it a go.” At the Games, my (Protocol) team was in charge of hosting the VIPs at two venues. I managed the volunteers to make sure that our guests, many who had flown in from all around the region, enjoyed their time at the AUG.

One of my biggest challenges at the AUG was managing a group of people who were very diverse in ages, life stages, and purposes in volunteering for the Games. In my team of fifteen volunteers, we had retirees working alongside young students. Many of our volunteers were experienced as they had volunteered at the SEA Games, Youth Olympics and other sporting events.

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Over that one week I was at the Games, I realised that every volunteer had different strengths. Everyone wants to be useful and be able to contribute. I do my best to learn their strengths and match them with roles where they are empowered to use their strengths in the best way possible.

I remember we had this lady who was very strict, who followed the rules all the way. Sometimes, she could come across as a little abrasive, but I knew I could trust her to complete the task she was assigned to. I had to shuttle between two venues quite often, so it was great that I could trust her to take care of things at one location, if I had to head over to the other one.

I definitely learnt to communicate better, from my experience at the AUG. You can’t expect to just use one way — your own style — to lead and manage a large and diverse team. It’s about finding the best way to connect with a person, to communicate the message in a way that works best for him or her, to make them feel empowered to carry out their responsibilities.

When it comes to leading a project, whether it’s a major CSP (Community Service Project) or a class presentation, know and respect that you’re empowered as the leader, by the very people you are managing. Don’t take advantage of your position. Put your team first and begin by learning from them, and understanding them. To empower someone to do their very best, you both need to trust one another. They have to trust you. And to empower them, you need to trust them first.

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The ASEAN University Games (AUG) is a biennial sports event that involves student athletes from the universities of all ten ASEAN member countries and candidate-nation Timor-Leste. The Games are organised by the members of the ASEAN University Sports Council (AUSC) on a rotational basis. For the 18th AUG, which was held from 9th to 19th July 2016, six local universities — namely Nanyang Technological University (NTU), National University of Singapore (NUS), SIM University (UniSIM), Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), Singapore Management University (SMU) and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) — organised the Games under the umbrella of the Singapore University Sports Council (SUSC). The next AUG will be held in 2018 in Myanmar.


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