When we believe that everyone matters…

  • We welcome, serve and lead others on their own terms, not ours.
  • We are not blind to human foibles, but we possess the inner freedom to choose to embrace others as wholeheartedly as we embrace ourselves.
  • We cease striving to change others – into and that is when we truly change lives.

There is a price to pay for not realising that people matter. When we devalue the worth of others…

  • We see human beings as assets, capital and resources to be used and depreciated.
  • We pay lip service to the value of others (“people are our most valuable assets”) but we are not willing to pay the price to back up our words.
  • We try to change others – into our own image and expectations.

Every person is uniquely created by God

When we see that every person is created by God as a unique individual, we begin to respect and value the diversity in others. We stop clustering people into race, class or religion.

And because every person matters, we value the spark of dignity that shines within each of our souls. There is neither slave nor master. We are all equal.

“It is fundamental that leaders endorse a concept of persons. This begins with an understanding of the diversity of people’s gifts and talents and skills. It also enables us to begin to think about being abandoned to the strengths of others, of admitting that we cannot know or do everything,” says Max De Pree, the former CEO of Herman Miller and mentor to management guru Peter Drucker.1

Good human beings do not seek their own good

Believing that every person matters is both down-to-earth and transcendent. Once a year, Dr. Nungsari Ahmad Radhi, Executive Director of Khazanah Nasional, invites global leaders to speak at the Khazanah Global Lectures. The speakers include automobile tycoon Carlos Ghosn, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, and banking legend Sir John Bond – all giants in their fields. Each person has made a difference by contributing to the lives of global citizens. Nungsari, as host of the event, has personally met these leaders and observed them in action in the limelight as well as behind the scenes. Each time, Nungsari has come away convinced of their essential goodness and humility in serving people. “Only good human beings do extraordinary things,” Nungsari told me.

Good human beings do not seek their own good. The good they seek is the greater good of others. During my conversations with Barefoot Leaders, these are the implicit questions that they often ask themselves:

  • Did I make a difference?
  • Did I contribute something?
  • Did my presence here matter?
  • Did I leave a legacy?

These questions flow beneath the surface, guiding the Barefoot Leaders’ actions and decisions, even during the small moments when no one is watching. I experienced this firsthand during our interviews when Barefoot Leaders took a personal interest in me. They wanted to know more about my life story, what motivated me to write this book, and they inquired about my wife and son. I mattered to them. Most of all, I saw how they served me.

  • The first time I met Tan Sri Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, she immediately grabbed my bags and carried them to the hotel lobby.
  • Dr. Michael Jeyakumar drove me around town for hours.
  • Mark Chang kept on asking me, “How can I help you?” during the inverviews.
  • Albert Teo insisted on taking me out on boat rides early in the morning and late at night so I could see the orang utans, hornbills and pygmy elephants, endemic to Sukau.

Needless to say, I was deeply touched by their actions that spoke louder than leadership maxims.

How do we gain this conviction – that every person matters? For me, it is a mystery. I suppose you could say that it is a combination of family values, childhood experiences (the joys and the deprivation), the crucibles and turning points, along with the impact of religion and the depth of one’s spirituality. From my conversations with Barefoot Leaders, what is evident to me is that this conviction can be caught from young.


It takes a lifetime to confer extraordinary dignity to every person you meet. Here are some small steps you can take:

  • Acknowledge a person’s existence – say “Hello,” nod or smile to people who normally walk by
  • Create human moments – shake someone’s hand and ask “How are you?”, and then pause to listen attentively to the response
  • Celebrate the unappreciated heroes – thank support staff for help
  • Recognise ongoing effort (not just results) – praise people for them effort regardless of how things turn out
  • Name people’s brilliance – briefly tell someone,  “You’re fabulous because…”
  • Reflect on three or more key events in someone’s life, connect the dots, and draw out any praiseworthy themes.


1De Pree, Leadership is an Art, p. 9.

This article is an excerpt from Barefoot Leadership: The Art and Heart of Going That Extra Mile by Alvin Ung.