Back to Leadership Basics - 16 September 2014 The Straits Times

A couple of years ago, I invested in a painting for about $30. I was enjoying the sun at a Bali beach when I was approached by a painting peddler.   I flipped through the many canvases he showed me and one of them “jumped out” at me. photo 6 800x598

Since then, I have been the proud owner of an oil painting that shows a kampong scene in Bali – complete with coconut trees and sarong-clad folks.  I hung the painting in my living room – where I tend to spend most of my time at – as a reminder to “go-back-to-basics” once in a while. This approach can equally be applied to leaders, whether you are a newly appointed supervisor or a CEO.


Treat employees with respect
If you want others to respect you, you have to first respect them as individuals with feelings. Remembering their names is so fundamental but leaders sometimes overlook this and excuse themselves by saying ”Oh, I have too many things to remember”.  This is not helpful to anyone.  The next time you bump into the tea lady, greet her by name – and watch out for that smile that will naturally follow.

Acknowledge and celebrate
We don’t do this enough – I always say.  When one of your colleagues does something well say something simple and complimentary: “Awesome!  Good job Linda!”  That took what? 5 seconds tops and does not cost you or the company anything.  But you can be sure it will go a long way. When a milestone is achieved, or maybe even something more basic like the completion of a project, take the entire team out for a dinner. It does not need to be in a fancy restaurant with $300 dollar bottles of wine, although it would be nice once in a while. A simple meal at a seafood or Indian food restaurant would be fine. Feedback is helpful. When you give feedback be as specific and as immediate as you can.  As an example: ”Ai Ling, when you raised your voice with Venka during the meeting just now – how do you think he might have felt?  And how do you think the rest of the team would have thought of your behaviour? How would you do it differently the next time someone says something that you do not agree with?” Focus on behaviours and their impact on others around you. Do not get personal.  And always get to know the full facts. If you wish to provide disciplinary-type feedback e.g. when a colleague complains about another’s actions, always speak to both parties before you institute any action. Never make decisions based on just one set of inputs.

Communicate/Sense of belonging
Communication is perhaps the most fundamental leadership skill.  But it is also the most challenging. They key to effective communication is in deciding which communication tool you should ideally use. As an example, if we have to communicate ‘bad or difficult’ news, it is best to do this in person and in private.  Send e-mails only if the message needs to go on record or if the recipient is not located in the same building/country. For such situations, a preferred alternative would be the telephone. Leaders should communicate to share updates, news, etc. with their employees as and when it is necessary – the more frequent the better.  Employees like to feel they are part of a bigger story and it also gives them a sense of belonging – essential for them to do a good job.

Focus on strengths
Most, if not all of us like to know what we are good at, rather than what we have not done so well.  Everyone has their unique strengths – leaders would do well to acknowledge that no one is perfect.  Focus on the strengths of each member of your team, and harness their collective strength.  Of course, you should also highlight the key developmental areas so that your employees can learn and grow and to be even more effective in their jobs. But only after you have focussed on their strengths.

Paul Heng


NeXT Career Consulting Group, Asia

(The Group celebrated its 15th anniversary in Sept 2014 by hosting an event where 55 clients, friends and supporters were present.  We had two prominent speakers to share with the group – Mr Sim Lim, Head of DBS Singapore and Ms Aw Kah Peng, General Manager, Global Commercial Strategy Development.)

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