Every Footstep of a Learning Journey, A Hike Worth Trekking
Nurturing Global Competencies
Are our leaders and businesses truly competitive on the global stage? This was the first question Dr David Ong posed to me on my first hike. We boast the top rankings in OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and we take pride in our robust education system. We have start-up grants and great talent pools. Nevertheless, as Dr Ong pointed out – how many of our local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have truly reached a unicorn status (i.e. a private company valued over $1 billion)? We face strong competition from emerging start-ups in ASEAN and a changing global order that is creating new opportunities and challenges in a transient manner. Can we nimbly keep up with this pace?
As we welcome the third wave of our economic engine, perhaps it is time we ask ourselves – what exactly are we lacking? I believe the key lies in global networking, having a keen understanding that the world is your oyster beyond Singapore, as well as nurturing innovative problem-definers.
Creating Innovative and Forward-Looking Problem-Identifiers
Given that we have 24 hours a day, limited resources and numerous problems in the world to solve, how exactly do we choose which problem to focus on? Dr David Ong emphasized the importance of seeking your “why”. We need to nurture a new generation of leaders who are proactive and innovative problem definers. We need youth who see problems and challenges as newfound opportunities in the global market that can fuel the third wave of Singapore’s economic engine. Most importantly, we require forward-thinking leaders who can identify problems, and thus opportunities within ASEAN and China 10 years down the road, and then work backwards to build preventive, and not corrective business models that can withstand the wave of volatility and competition.
Why the emphasis on problem-definers rather than problem-solvers? Problems can be solved when resources are channeled in the appropriate arena. This comes with the right networking on the international stage, time and partnerships. But once a problem is identified incorrectly, regardless of how much resources are poured in, we know that we will achieve less with more effort(事倍功半). In other words, the right approach saves effort and yields better results. That’s why Albert Einstein once said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” It is about recognising the many possibilities beyond conventional norms of success and seeking new ways to solve old problems.
Leadership in the Workforce: Power of Diversity VS Power In Diversity
The new workplace no longer revolves around Singapore, and solely Singapore. Cross-cultural partnerships across national borders have been expedited by communications technology. To add a new dimension to the revolving workplace, work-from-home norms mean that team dynamics have to be built in a different manner.
Dr Ong then posed this question – do you know the difference between “power of diversity” and “power in diversity”? I paused for a moment before articulating a reasonable answer which I still remember to this day. There is always power in diversity, as much as there are bound to be differences and conflict in diversity. Nonetheless, true leaders are the ones who can seek out the power of diversity by learning to work with people who are different from them and tapping on their strengths.
Speaking to the Chief Executive of SICC, Mr Victor Mills, he mentioned that the very weakness of Singaporean youth which happens to be the very key to building a resilient team is about finding people who are different from you to join your team. It is easy to fall into this comfort trap of working with people similar to you.
He adds on that good leadership is not simply determined by the leadership styles in the Hersey-Blanchard model. It is about consistency in what you say and what you do. It is not about making the right decisions, but making decisions decisively at the right time. It is about having a strong mission and vision in you. It is also about servant leadership – being humble and consultative to learn from your team members. The best way you can approach your member for help is when you emphasise how they can value-add – “I have a project here, and I think you are able to contribute greatly”, rather than “Here is the next task you need to complete”. Sometimes, a change in our words can set the tone right.
Dream it. Build it. Make it sustainable. Easier said than done.
We often hear this colloquial phrase in Singapore, “don’t just talk lah, got act or not.” As colloquial as it might sound, there is value in these words. Having the audacity to dream is the first big step, but acting on our goals is a whole new milestone to overcome. Of all the topics Mr KC Wee could share about with his impressive list of accolades, he chose what seemed to be the simplest, yet most pertinent topic to introduce – how to get from Point A (where we are now) to Point B (our goal). In other words, how do we achieve as many goals in the shortest period of time?
It is about planning your route in a strategic manner and making informed and intentional decisions rather than leaving decisions to fate. He encouraged us to make preparations before delving into anything so that we can maximise our output. For instance, as the Chief Sales Officer, he maps out the businesses he wants to target within the ASEAN region for the next 5 years, and works backwards to network and position his business in an intentional and strategic manner.
Humility, Not Complacency
The SMC Hike is an emblem of paving the new way – each mentor, an arrow that leads us to our next milestone. Long-distance hiking is never easy, but if every intentional step of the way is part of an invaluable learning journey, it is indubitably a hike worth trekking.