I am leading my company, Meta, in terms of running the business aspect of it and also providing consulting and training. Meta offers three types of services for companies: leadership development, organizational cultural change, and customer centric cultural change.
There’re two areas of work that I do as a volunteer. One is as Chair of Eagles Communications Governance Board. I provide the strategic direction, together with my fellow Directors Peter Chao and Michael Tan. We discuss policy matters as well as human capital, staff issues – the kind of people we want to hire and how we develop them. In Eagles, I also lead the Eagles Leadership Institute (ELI) as my passion is to develop emerging as well as experienced leaders in the marketplace and in church. I am also Chair of the Eagles Mediation and Counselling Centre (EMCC) Board and its Management Committee. Again, I provide strategic direction for the Board and guidance in terms of personnel as well as policies.
Would you say the style of leadership you employ is the same for all the three different areas where you lead?
Yes, I would say so. I believe we should aspire to be strong, biblical-based leaders and I want to develop God-centered leaders, whether it is in Eagles, EMCC or Meta.
I want to encourage humility and I want to encourage people to develop competence in whatever they do. This is so that the competence that they have can fit well into the role that they play. Finding the right people, doing the right job, making sure they enjoy what they do; I think these are very important for me. So I won’t call it a style, it’s more like a certain perspective I have about leadership. Also, I would like to empower them to make decisions and to give them very clear specific roles and responsibilities that they can play and then encourage them to lead.
In terms of style, I’m more consultative rather than autocratic. I believe that people are able to do the job. If you find the right person, you don’t have to keep telling them what to do. You find their passion, you find their competence, and you just let them run with the ball.
So based on that, what do you feel is the ideal leadership approach for today’s world?
I don’t think there is an ideal leadership style. Because different people, different personalities have to lead in their own way. But more important than style is the values they carry, the perspectives they have for leadership. The first goal of a leader is to define reality. And I think that is important.
Styles are tailor made to different situations. Different leaders must have their own styles and these styles must be able to adapt to different people and situations. For example: If you’re leading a new team member, you may need a more directive approach, i.e., you have to take charge more, you have to give directions more. But if you have a team of very competent people that you have worked with for a long time, and there’s a lot of trust, you can take on a more empowering approach, and you empower them to do different work. With a group of newer people who are already very competent, you need just to provide more coaching, mentoring. So a great leader is someone who knows his people very well and know what is best suited for the team, or even the individual.
There’s a lot of talk about value-based leadership as well.
Can you describe it for us?
I really believe in value-based leadership. We need it because I believe this is the only way to sustain an organization and to build the people for the long haul.
The primary value in value-based leadership is other-centeredness – to be more concerned about other people and the organization than oneself. So in other words, the leader’s job is to fulfil the agenda, the role, and the vision of the organization, not his personal agenda. All the great leaders in the world are other-centered. The self-centered leader will derail in due course. But still, to be other-centered is not enough.
For me, the other part of value-based leadership is to have a sense of calling. This is my Great Leader model. To have a sense of passion in what you do, to really enjoy what you do.
The third part is to be competent. To be a value-based leader is also to be competent in your industry. If you are an accountant or work in finance, you must be very competent in managing finances. It is no use if you are other-centered, and have a deep sense of calling but lack competence. Competency is very important.
When I talk about competency, I talk about two types of competencies: professional/functional competency and leadership competency. At different levels of leadership, there’s a different capacity to lead. The way you lead 5 people is different from the way you lead 50, 500 or 5000. So, capacity is very important. Some people can be a very good leader to 5 people but cannot lead 50 and the one who can lead 50 may not be able to lead 500. So one must develop Capacity.
Hence, the characteristics of a value-based leader are: Other-centeredness, Calling, Competence, and finally Character. How do I define character? Two aspects: Integrity (you must keep your promises, you must live out your life, you must be genuine) and Morality.
If you don’t have integrity, you’re not genuine and people can see through you – you’re labeled a fake. Then you’re going to lose your ability to lead for the long haul. Yes, people will follow you for a short term because maybe you are paying them a lot to do what you want them to do. But for the long haul, it will not be sustainable. You must have good morals – there areS too many sexual scandals in the corporate world today. If you don’t have good morals, you cannot be a value-based leader.
How will you develop these values in the people you lead?
I think the way I nurture is to make impact in the leadership and the relationship between two people. So I try to spend as much time nurturing people. Sometimes you just do it in a very informal way. I like to go down to my office and say hello and greet the staff and just let them enjoy that relationship. That’s nurturing their passion and the relationship – letting them know that their leader cares for them. You have to spend time with them. Great leaders spend about 60% of their daily work with people.
There are formal ways of developing them – sending them for courses, very specific courses. I think the best way is to expose them to their work and other aspects outside of their work – for example, being involved in missions; because that’s one way to nurture their vision, passion, and their character. How you do that is through exposure to experiences. And the other way is learning through failures. Don’t take their failures too seriously. In fact, we want to cultivate this learning so that whether they were successful or unsuccessful in their projects, we will always have debriefing sessions to keep this learning culture going.
Because you’re also in the consultancy business, how would you share about the importance of value-based leadership to a corporation whose bottom line is the goal?
The first thing I do is to tell them about my Great Leader model and help them understand that this model is critical for sustainable business. This model has been developed over time, through years of my consulting experiences and by talking to many leaders all over the world.
The second thing is to find out what are some areas that they are weak in and then spend time helping them deal with these weaknesses. And thirdly, I will share with them via a relationship which assures them I am here to really help them and I believe that if they have a better leadership model, they will have better organizations that will last.
What is the toughest challenge you have faced as a leader up to this point of time?
I think it has to be people; they come in all shapes and sizes, with different values and perspectives. First, I let them see my model of leadership – that helps to reshape their leadership styles.
Another challenge is to encourage them be open when there are conflicting situations. I want to create a climate that people can talk about conflicts openly. Getting the team to work together is not an easy task either. It’s not good enough for you to work with me, but for you to work with other people. So governing the team is very important and I face this issue all the time whether it is in Meta, Eagles or EMCC.
And lastly is to keep sustaining the people’s passion, and keep developing them so they can become as good as they can be. I think this is very critical. To me I would say this is the on-going challenge: about individual people, as a team, and making sure they work well together.
Looking back on your journey as a leader, is there anything you wished that you have done differently?
I wished I have started my succession planning earlier. I think in Eagles, we started succession planning too late. Right now we are losing a whole generation, those in their 40s. But I am thankful that staff in their 20s and 30s are doing so well in the organization now. In one sense, God compensates for what we did not do. I would say to any leader, “Start looking for people who can take over you and develop them as best as you can so that they can be even better than you.”
So if you can have any three additional competencies to help you lead better, what will they be?
I think the first skill I’d want to have is to be more focused. Because I’m not that focused. I’m all over the place. I’d like to be more focused in what I do.
The next skill would be execution. I’m more a big picture, strategic person. Sometimes I fail in execution and I hope I can complement my deficiency by attracting people who can help me execute plans that I have.
The third would be to follow through. Because when you do a program, it will lead to a second and so on and so forth.So how do you maximize what you’re already successful in doing and leveraging on that for future services, products and programs?
What makes you fulfilled as a leader?
I have a great family. In spite of my lack of time with them, my wife has come in and help build up a good strong family. I cannot imagine how ineffective I’d be if my children and family are dysfunctional and not holding on to values I have. So I thank God for a good family. I have children who have found their passion, who are competent in what they do, who love people and God. The second one is to seeing people growing in Eagles.
This interview was first published in the May-June 2012 issue of Eagles VantagePoint magazine (www.vantagepoint.com.sg). Used with permission.