Standing Among Giants At The ZICO ASEAN 40 Under 40 Program

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It has been said that “if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

Well, recently, I was definitely in the right room – where I was left awestruck being amidst some truly incredible, talented and smart individuals doing amazing things all over Southeast Asia!

We were part of the inaugural cohort of the ZICO ASEAN 40 Under 40 – a flagship program by ASEAN Advisory, the consulting arm of ZICO. The program paid tribute to 40 trailblazers under the age of 40 in, or from, Southeast Asia who are driving positive change and creating impact in this region. Each honoree is addressing a trend or challenge in the ASEAN countries through our work.

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L-R: Richard Yim, Winston Toh, Ada Chirapaisarnkul, Danial Hakim, and I. Photo credit: ZICO

You know that feeling you get where you meet someone and start asking yourself, “What am I doing with my life?” Yeah, that’s how I felt when I met some of these truly exemplary people (picture above, L-R):

  • Richard Yim – who co-founded Demine Robotics to develop better robots that more effectively remove land mines; starting in Cambodia where he was born, which unfortunately also holds the distinction of being one of the most heavily land-mined countries in the world with an estimated 4 to 6 million land mines in the country.
  • Winston Toh – a bright young man who helped bring to life the ASEAN Advisory 40 Under 40 Program; with whom I’ve also enjoyed scintillating conversations on economies of the future and its impact to modern society.
  • Ada Chirapaisarnkul – who, among many other achievements, is the founder of the Thai Young Philanthropist Network (TYPN), which today sees 2,700 young leaders working to strengthen civil society in Thailand through youth entrepreneurship training for students and teachers as well as business consultation and capacity building support for to over 100 social-purpose organisations.
  • Danial Hakim – a young grassroots leader who balances his time between his full-time job and championing the issues and concerns of his community.

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Pictured in the middle here and highly deserving of a shout out is Van Ngoc Ta, chief lawyer of the Hanoi-based Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, which is involved in anti-trafficking work. Van has personally helped hundreds of victims of forced labor and sex trafficking, working closely with authorities. He’s a real-life superhero: when I met him for dinner the evening before the awards event, he was on the phone in the midst of coordinating a case. I can’t speak highly enough of the great work that he is doing.

I also met many other amazing fellow honorees – including a dear colleague Warren Tseng, formerly the General Manager for Uber in Singapore.

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Making a point to a compatriot about the new government in Malaysia. Photo credit: ZICO

It was inspiring to meet them all to hear their stories as well as perspectives. It truly augurs well for ASEAN’s future potential as a political, economic, and sociocultural bloc. I am truly humbled and very grateful to have been included as one of these great luminaries.

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Looking at the other names and their achievements – I am truly humbled to be included.

McKinsey: Four kinds of behavior account for 89 percent of leadership effectiveness

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I thought this was interesting: according this McKinsey analysis, 89% of leadership effectiveness rests ultimately on four kinds of behaviour:

1) Effective problem solving.

This is about decision making – but about being able to effectively gather, analyze and consider information before making that decision. According to the study authors, “This is deceptively difficult to get right, yet it is a key input into decision making for major issues (such as M&A) as well as daily ones (such as how to handle a team dispute).”

2) Operating with a strong results orientation.

Execution is as important as strategy! As the study authors say, “Leadership is about not only developing and communicating a vision and setting objectives but also following through to achieve results. Leaders with a strong results orientation tend to emphasize the importance of efficiency and productivity and to prioritize the highest-value work.”

3) Seeking different perspectives.

I like how the Netflix culture memo spells this out as “farming for dissent.” According to McKinsey, “This trait is conspicuous in managers who monitor trends affecting organizations, grasp changes in the environment, encourage employees to contribute ideas that could improve performance, accurately differentiate between important and unimportant issues, and give the appropriate weight to stakeholder concerns. Leaders who do well on this dimension typically base their decisions on sound analysis and avoid the many biases to which decisions are prone.”

4) Supporting others.

This is something I truly feel strongly about and feel blessed to have had great leaders who supported me. I find this especially necessary in creating what Simon Sinek calls “the circle of safety.” As the McKinsey study shows: “Leaders who are supportive understand and sense how other people feel. By showing authenticity and a sincere interest in those around them, they build trust and inspire and help colleagues to overcome challenges. They intervene in group work to promote organizational efficiency, allaying unwarranted fears about external threats and preventing the energy of employees from dissipating into internal conflict.”

Jack Welch On The Role Of Leaders

Jack Welch, in this short video from 2015, expounds on what is the role of a leader.

This was the advice given by the legendary Jack Welch to 4,300 aspiring startup founders and CEO’s last week at TiECON, the largest entrepreneurship conference in Silicon Valley. Welch was speaking with his co-author and wife, Suzy Welch, to promote their new book, “The Real Life MBA,” the proceeds of which will go towards inner city scholarships.

While Welch is best known as former CEO of General Electric GE -0.99%, one of the largest and most innovative companies in the world, his advice about leadership resonated with the startup crowd. Welch himself never went down the startup path, but he was a great intrapreneur, having built GE’s Plastics and Chemical Divisions into $1 billion units. He is a cultivator of talent like no other in American history. According to Vivek Paul, a former CEO of Wipro and protégé of Welch, there are 50 CEO’s of large American companies who worked directly for Jack Welch at some point.

  • Chief Meaning Officer – “To let everyone in the place know: where you are going, why you are going there, and – most importantly – what’s in it for them to get there with you?”
  • Chief Declutterer – Get rid of the hurdles or bottlenecks so that your people can act and get what needs to be done, done.
  • Chief Celebrator Of Others – “You’ve got to have a generosity gene. It’s got to be in your body… You’ve got to enjoy people’s success.  You got to love people’s success. You’ve got to get in their skin and really be excited as hell for them! You’ve got a love to give raises, you’ve got to be turned on giving bonuses… it’s got to make you feel great!”
  • Chief Fun Officer – “Find all kinds of ways to win. There are small victories all the time and celebrate every one of them… find a way to make little victories big
    victories. And if you get a lot of little victories, you’ll get a big victory when you add them all together. But think of the job that way: work is fun, and your job is to make it fun, if you’re a leader. Don’t be some grinding horse’s ass!”

I especially like what he said at the end of the video – which, to me, sums up the privilege, honour and responsibility of what it means to be a leader:

So, in my view you’ve got a huge responsibility. Most of you – God gave you a job where you are responsible for people’s lives. It’s a big deal! You got families you’re responsible for. Make it a big success for them! You’ve got one of the luxuries of life: to impact people’s lives. Grab it, squeeze it, and take advantage of it.