In this one-of-a-kind feature, Jerene Ang reaches out to 10 leaders, including co-founders, global CEOs and HR heads, to reveal the secrets of their leadership journey and paint a portrait of tomorrow’s leaders.
Just over 30 years ago, leaders had a reasonably stable world, where change unfolded at a much slower pace. They may even have been able to lead comfortably from within their office.
Today, leaders are out there on the front lines, making split-second decisions, without all the information they might need for decision-making; and dealing with a new reality fuelled by digitalisation, innovation, and disruption. We are in the midst of IR 4.0 where new technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual reality have become game-changers, disrupting the workplace and workforce.
The gig economy is growing, and we are also faced with the twin issues of millions of young people entering the job market; and education systems which must pivot to produce leaders who are future-ready.
In this increasingly complex and dynamic world, leaders are required to deal with a level of complexity which has no precedent.
We are asking leaders to be comfortable in steering through an environment of ambiguity to meet today’s demands efficiently, while making the best bets for tomorrow’s growth with agility.
To add to that, there is a rising expectation for leaders to be more approachable; be confident enough to show vulnerability, but also resilience; engage with the organisation at all levels, and manage, at least partly, by walking around.
In other words, today’s leaders still have to accomplish everything their predecessors did, but in a more complex environment.
In this context, it’s time for leaders to up their game.
Hence, in this first-of-a-kind feature, we ask 10 leaders, from HR and beyond, to reveal the secrets of their leadership journey, the best practices that have stood the test of time, and more.
TL;DR? Click here for key takeaways
#LeadershipLessons: Why we should embrace uncertainty that comes with new assignments
Embracing uncertainty and creating balance – these are the biggest lessons Emily Razaqi, Vice President, Site Operations at Amgen Singapore Manufacturing, has picked up over her 15 years at the organisation, in this interview with Jerene Ang.
Q In your 15 years at Amgen, what are the biggest lessons you have learned?
I have been fortunate to work with outstanding teams across several roles in my 15 years at Amgen—including two international assignments.
One lesson I learnt is to embrace the uncertainty that comes with taking on new assignments. For example, after ten years in operations, I had the opportunity to move into R&D working in cardiovascular health.
#LeadershipLessons: Keep an open mind, stay curious, positive, and humble
David Serés, Human Resources Director, Boehringer Ingelheim (Southeast Asia and South Korea), on why leaders need to display agility as well as embrace diversity, in this interview with Jerene Ang.
Q Share with us your leadership journey to date and the biggest lessons.
The biggest lessons are related to mindset and people. In my journey, I’ve always tried to keep an open mind, stay curious, positive, and humble. There is an opportunity to learn something new every day, you only need to keep your eyes and ears open.
#LeadershipLessons: Learn to ask (and answer) the difficult questions
A good leader leads from a position of strength, hope and kindness; builds persistence in team members; and instils hope, says global HR leader, Alex Png, in this interview with Jerene Ang.
Q What are the biggest lessons you have learned on your way up and across the career ladder?
Mine is a journey filled with unexpected twists and turns. Earlier in my career, I was thrust into a people manager role. Back then, I had no inkling what to expect nor what was expected of me, as I had no prior grounding in it and no one to turn to for advice. I wished I had a playbook, a mentor, or even a course to prepare for it (which on hindsight, couldn’t have prepared me for the leadership journey anyway).
#LeadershipLessons: Hire diversely and listen to everyone in the room
Group-think is dangerous; you will want people who can bring different perspectives and ideas to the table, affirms Katherine Teo, Co-Founder and Partner, Create Collective, in this interview with Jerene Ang.
Q Talk us through your leadership journey to date. What are the biggest lessons you have learned?
About 1.5 years ago, I felt it was time to embark on something new. Long story short, M&C Saatchi Global and M&C Saatchi Singapore supported my journey to entrepreneurship and Create Collective was born. Create Collective is founded by seven partners – six members of the M&C Saatchi Singapore’s leadership team (including Nicholas) and M&C Saatchi Global Network.
#LeadershipLessons: Keep employees informed in the decision-making process
Good leaders should not only be perceptive of changes, but also ensure the company’s direction is understood across all levels, says Jeff Chang, Co-Founder & CEO, Forefront, in this interview with Jerene Ang.
Q Since starting the business in 2004, what are the biggest lessons you have learned?
Two key lessons stood out throughout my journey with Forefront:
#1 Be prepared to evolve
A leader who is ready for IR 4.0, or any emerging technology, is one who is ready to adapt and evolve in ways that can better sustain and grow the business.
#LeadershipLessons: Move away from administrating and towards mentoring
Today’s leaders face a whole new set of expectations in the way they motivate people. New-age employees want to be led and not managed; building trust and relationship with them is key, affirms Laura Quigley, Managing Director, Southeast Asia, Integral Ad Science.
Q Share with us your top lessons on your way up and across the career ladder.
I’m the Managing Director, Southeast Asia (SEA) at Integral Ad Science (IAS) and I’ve been in this role close to a year now. Currently, I look after eight markets in SEA and manage a team of over 30 people in the region.
As a leader, I’ve enjoyed mentoring, building people and knowledge sharing the most. Building teams for success and challenging norms fuels my day.
#LeadershipLessons: Don’t let your ego go crazy
As a leader, the first step to failure is to let our egos go crazy because we are afraid of being usurped, affirms Jackson Aw, Founder and CEO of Mighty Jaxx, in this interview with Jerene Ang.
Q As the Mighty Jaxx team grows, what are your biggest leadership lessons?
I came from a creative background prior to founding the company, so managing work relationships was totally alien to me. Relationship dynamics are vastly different from where we are now as a team of 45, as compared to when we were much smaller with about 5 people – it is just not possible to be close to or understand every individual, even though you may want to.
As a leader, I instead try to be patient and show genuine care towards everyone and so far, it has worked out great.
#LeadershipLessons: Celebrate your teams’ successes
Raman Singh, CEO, Mundipharma, tells Jerene Ang that to create a winning culture, aspiring leaders should make celebrating their teams’ successes part of their professional DNA.
Q What are the lessons on leadership that you’d love to share with us?
Leadership can be measured by the trust and credibility you build among your industry peers. My journey as CEO of Mundipharma is similarly based on the relationships we’ve developed with people and organisations who share the same vision and purpose. Since joining the company in 2011, our company goal has been to align our products and services with consumer needs in a way that builds their trust. This has been our north star.
Leadership is also about the courage to make bold decisions.
#LeadershipLessons: Take time to find out who employees are outside of work
Being able to engage with employees at work and taking time to find out who they are outside of work will go a long way to show them that a leader cares and appreciates them for who they are, affirms Enver Erkan, Managing Director and Country Manager, Pfizer Singapore.
Q What are the top lessons you have learned during your Pfizer tenure?
Prior to my appointment as Managing Director and Country Manager of Pfizer Singapore in 2017, I’ve worked across Pfizer’s offices in Turkey, UK and Europe. My approach to leadership has largely been shaped by my mentors and colleagues around me. I strongly believe in the importance of learning continually by listening actively to my colleagues and patients.
#LeadershipLessons: Never rest on your laurels
Ann Marr, VP, Global Human Resources, World Wide Technology, shares a checklist for HR leaders, including being proactive to employees’ expectations, and having the habit of always improving.
Q What are the biggest lessons you have learned on your way up and across the career ladder?
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt in my career is to never be afraid to take risks. Upon meeting the founders of WWT (Dave Steward and Jim Kavanaugh) and hearing their vision for the company, I knew I wanted to be part of such a team, despite it being a start-up then.
Rather than being fearful that I was inheriting a single part-time HR employee and a non-existent HR policy, I saw it as an opportunity to create a culture of inclusion and collaboration from ground up.
TL;DR: Key takeaways
While today’s leaders may come from different backgrounds, and are younger than ever before, one thing that’s clear is that a good leader understands the responsibilities that come with such a position; leads by example from a position of strength, hope and kindness; while also acknowledging and celebrating their teams’ successes.
Great leaders are also able to work across generations, cultures and disciplines; inspire and instil calm in challenging times; as well as champion inclusiveness, and set the example for employees to follow.
Above all, the most successful leaders are those who can embrace change, approach every challenge with a growth mindset, and be comfortable steering through ambiguity in today’s highly dynamic environment. Let’s all aspire to be such leaders in 2020!
This interview was published in Human Resources Online’s January-February 2020 edition of the Singapore magazine and will soon be published in the Q1 edition of the Malaysia magazine.
Photo / iStock