Leading by example
Calyn Yap 
From left: Futurelab co-founder and CEO Brian Tan, EasyParcel CEO Clarence Leong and Dish by Ili and Agak Agak Initiative founder Ili Sulaiman

IT may sound nonsensical to say that leadership is not about managing staff, but leading them.

Many founders and entrepreneurs, however, tend to lean towards day-to-day staff management instead of creating an environment that empowers their employees to grow the business together and achieve the company’s vision.

Leaders are willing to take risks but at the same time are able to do an honest assessment of failures, says Yeoh

Asiamet Execution Education CEO Datuk Jayles Yeoh says leaders are those who create and execute the company’s vision via the development of new norms of business models, in terms of how it creates, delivers and captures value.

“The organisation of the future revolves around people who create and communicate the vision, enables broad-based empowerment and an adaptive corporate culture. There must be a persistent sense of urgency and teamwork at the top.

“The future of work is not about full-time employment; people want freedom and flexibility,” he says.


Lifelong learning

Speaking at the Leadership Peak 2018 recently, he opines that there is a relationship between leadership, lifelong learning and the capacity to succeed in the future.

Leadership Peak 2018 was organised by Focus Malaysia, entrepreneur community builder Quest Entrepreneurs Mastery (QEM) and personal grooming education platform WeStyleAsia Academy.

Lifelong learning is the willingness to seek new challenges and reflect honestly on both successes and failures, while it is also important to have competitive capacity and drive.

“Leaders are willing to take risks but at the same time are able to do an honest assessment of failures. They solicit for opinions and have the propensity to listen carefully with an open mind,” Yeoh says.

For Dish by Ili and Agak Agak Initiative founder Ili Sulaiman, leadership is being able to run a business honestly with a good knowledge on values, which must be imparted to the team and other stakeholders.

She says leaders must be continuously open to learning and acknowledge limitations in their knowledge and adds that it is necessary to have a rigorous recruitment process that emphasises on values as well as corporate culture.

At the end of the day, she notes that those with the same values are aligned to the company’s vision despite different ways of working and delivery.

Conversely, EasyParcel CEO Clarence Leong says, “The core is to always be yourself and treat your team well. I don’t call the person who drives a team a leader.

“We [the founders] set the main goal, give the backend support they need and let the team run it. We’re not the ones with all the answers and we want to support them and find the answers together to achieve something different,” he adds.

On the other hand, Futurelab co-founder and CEO Brian Tan says the role of leaders is to enable the team to do their jobs, by ensuring the team has everything they need and providing channels for them to give feedback.

“The challenge is being able to motivate and take your team to the next level every year. As you have more and more people [on the team], leadership increasingly takes on an important role.

“A company is only as good as its people. You need to build your team up and you need to think about how to help your team grow and push them. And you need to communicate well,” he adds.


Beyond the early days

When it came to lessons learnt, D’Jungle People founder John Kam says it is key to always remain humble and remember your roots, as well as standing your ground to overcome challenges instead of running away from bad patches.

“It’s about doing things that benefit a larger whole, rather than just benefitting yourself; the sense of being grounded in your roots and the concept of humility,” he adds.

Having run a business for nearly two decades, he rubbishes the myth that passion is the driving force to business growth.

“Passion is overrated. Everyone says, ‘Do what you love and you won’t work a day in your life. It’s total and utter nonsense. No matter how much you love what you’re doing, there will be days that you want to give up,” he adds.

Setting short-term goals or milestones are important, says Koh

For Pestle & Mortar co-founder Hugh Koh, setting short-term goals or milestones are important as he believes it’s these “small wins” that keep the founders and team happy.

In times where founders or leaders feel tired mentally and physically, he says that it is necessary to remember that there are others helping build the business together with you. By continually cultivating talents and providing them with opportunities to grow, you would be able to take that load off your shoulders.

Ang says doing good and giving back to the community is something that spurs his motivation to work harder in business

Meanwhile, Janson Group founder Janson Ang says that doing good and giving back to the community is something that spurs the motivation to work harder.

“I wanted to start my own charity foundation, to be on the ground serving the less fortunate and finding solutions to help them. This drives me to work harder and motivates me to grow my business so that I can have more to give.

“You need to remember the principles of love, respect and motivate. We cannot do this [run a business] on our own; it’s not possible. Setting up procedures and enabling your talent to execute it for you means you’ll have space to breathe and your burnout rate is not so tremendous,” he shares.

Spouses as partners

IT is a common occurrence in businesses to have your spouse as a business partner, but this can also bring about conflict and discord.

One session in Leadership Peak 2018 addresses this topic, with Precession Capital co-founder Nazril Idrus (Nash), BloomThis co-founder Giden Lim and WanderClass co-founder Angel Tashveer weighing in.

From left: Nash, Lim and Angel sharing their experiences in the session on 'unsung heroes' focused on spouses that are business partners

“When you’re really passionate about something, it’s not a business anymore but a mission. Whether in business or in life, it’s a mission driven by passion and values. These values guide you and it’s important to be able to work with someone you love in a business,” says Angel.

She further says having conflicts at times may not be completely negative, as it enables each spouse to learn more about one another and learn from the mistakes.

Taking a step back is important, but she believes bringing in a moderator into the environment when discussing intense business topics would also help temper the discussion in a more pragmatic manner.

Lim echoes her opinion, but adds, “My wife is my inspiration to never give up and we’re in this together. It’s more about work/life integration. To do this well, you must sync your values and mission and that’s very inspiring and purposeful for me.”

That said, he notes it is important to find a balance in terms of segregating time to do things as a couple and time to do work, by strategically and purposefully separating relationship from work.

For Nash, it is important to involve his spouse in business endeavours. “We have the same vision of what life is going to be. Every time I have some failures, she’s there for me and I do the same for her. Every time I start something, I’ll make sure she’s part of it. In leadership, it’s the same as well, although we lead our own teams,” notes Nash.

He adds that always asking for opinions and keeping your spouse in the know is one way to reduce potential conflict.

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 270.