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High Performing Teams: Lessons from The Ryder Cup

June 29th, 2015 by Simon Brown
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Ryder Cup Leadership LessonsWith all the hype surrounding the possibility of Jordan Speith pulling off a Grand Slam of major wins, my mind turns to the comparisons of individual sporting success versus competing as a team. Keen golf enthusiasts will remember the last Ryder Cup in 2014, when, for the sixth time in seven competitions, the United States lost to Europe. This is a significant turnaround for the European team, which, between 1935 and 1985, only won the Ryder Cup once. Additionally, the aftermath of the latest Ryder Cup battle has seen the European captain Paul McGinley being praised whilst the US captain Tom Watson received a lot of criticism even from his own players.

After the defeat in 2014, when asked “what had worked in 2008 (when Paul Azinger captained the USA team) and what hasn’t worked since?”, USA team member, Phil Mickelson, openly criticised Watson’s leadership skills by praising the last winning Captain, saying that “Azinger got everybody invested in the process: who they were going to play with, who the picks were going to be, who was going to be in their pod. He had a real game plan; how we were going to go about playing together; golf ball, format, what we were going to do if so-and-so is playing well, if so-and-so is not playing well: we had a real game plan. We use that same process in the Presidents Cup and we do really well. Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best.”

Golf is usually an individual affair and playing in a team sees completely different dynamics on the course – players are no longer in competition, but playing together towards a team victory. The same applies to successful business leaders who have their individual agenda, however when coming together with their peers in the boardroom they unite to deliver joint results. The characteristics of high performance team-working apply to the C-suite as well as Ryder Cup teams. As has been well documented, the parallels are endless. A good Ryder Cup team can be transformed into high performing team by adopting these following leadership characteristics:

1. Discussing and building commitment to a common vision and purpose

There is a significant difference between a close-knit team that drives towards a clear vision or purpose and a group of individuals that happen to play together. By the very nature of the tournament, the teams who play in the Ryder Cup consist of individuals who are ranked as top performers and being part of the Ryder Cup team represents a pinnacle of their individual golfing careers. It is then the Captain’s role to shift their mindset from individual to team performers with a common vision.

2. Establish clearly defined goals and review expectations

The goal is clear – to win. As with business, in order to achieve the goal it is essential to review progress throughout the process. As the Ryder Cup lasts for three days, expectations need to be reviewed based on daily results and acted up on accordingly. For example, if at the end of day one the score line is 6-2, the losing team may need to revise their strategy for the next day to recover the situation.

3. Share information in ways that directly adds value to the team effort

Team members learn about the competitive environment and conditions by experiencing them. After each match, the Captain needs to involve each individual, asking them to share their feedback on how they are feeling about their own performance. Sharing their experience and knowledge openly results in expanding views and revealing new facts which can have direct impact on other players. In 2004, exhausted after the first day and having lost in the morning of day two, Europe’s star performer, Colin Montgomerie, famously asked his Captain, Bernhard Langer, to leave him out that afternoon for the overall good of the team. In doing so he ended his own personal record of successive appearances in Ryder Cup matches. Self-sacrifice was made to benefit the team. Sharing information about how they are feeling and what support they require allows the Captain to react and adjust the game strategy accordingly.

4. Set high standards of performance for themselves and follow through

The Ryder Cup is a prestigious event and high standards of performance are essential throughout the tournament. In any given Ryder Cup, players and Captains look back at historical results and strive to take their team’s performance to the next level. With the quality of performance so high in years gone by, the competition presents a new level of challenge, providing the opportunity for players to inspire themselves as well as their team members. This is the highlight of their careers and they are naturally driven to perform at a level that will make their mark in the history books.

5. Review complimentary skills and utilise them effectively as well as understand their weaknesses and how to minimise their impact on team performance

Team performance is obviously strongly dependent on the playing form of its individual team members on that given day. Knowing how to utilise your strengths and minimise weaknesses provides a competitive advantage in the game. For the first 2 days of the Ryder Cup competition, players are paired so they complement each other’s skills in an attempt to maximise the overall effectiveness of the broader team. If a key team member’s form is poor, the Captain may need to adjust his strategy to ensure that the overall team is not impacted.

6. Hold themselves mutually accountable for the successes and failures of the team against agreed goals

When playing as an individual, one poor shot can negatively impact the performance on that hole and even the entire round. This is exacerbated during the Foursomes part of the Ryder Cup, when teammates share one ball and take alternate shots. Success or failure of one player directly impacts the other player. Therefore it is crucial to embed a culture of mutual accountability with a no-blame mindset and to adapt quickly. Being mutually accountable and able to recover quickly even under pressure helps the team to correct their thinking and return to a positive mentality. It is one for all and all for one when it comes to teamwork – sharing success and failure (instead of a culture of blame of other team members…or even the Captain, as demonstrated by Mickelson) is the attitude that creates a culture of engagement and drives performance.

7. Manage team morale and create a motivational climate

Morale and motivation is a key element in team golf – often when under pressure it is not about the technical skills but the mindset of the players that determines success. For a team it is crucial to create a connection between players and it is the Captain’s role to gel the individuals into one unit. Naturally the mindset of the individual will impact the overall team morale and it is therefore essential that players receive the support and encouragement to feel and perform their best; as it is equally important to focus on developing and driving a team climate. As an extension to this thinking, a supporting network can add to this motivational environment.

The 2004 European Ryder Cup team, and its captain, Bernhard Langer, took unprecedented action to build morale and create a motivational climate. Assisted by US sensitivity to excessively patriotic behaviour, Langer instructed his players to be as friendly to the US spectators as they could. From the practice days onwards, the team talked, joked, and laughed with the fans; they presented balls, gloves and hats. In contrast, Team USA remained distant, aloof and disengaged. As a result, the gallery provided only muted support for the home team and gave unexpected support to the visitors. Through its efforts, Team Europe achieved a public relations triumph and Team USA lost the battle for popular support. This proved decisive. Instead of being put under the immense psychological pressure that results from competing on enemy territory with a partisan home crowd, the Europeans gained psychological space and emotional stability.

8. Regularly identify and discuss ways of improving the way they do things

A team’s ability to improve is determined by reflecting on past performance via a collaborative process between the players, captain and others. Coaching throughout the build-up and the tournament itself has significant impact on the entire team dynamic. Just as in the boardroom, it is essential for the captain to respond quickly to poor performance and a constantly changing competitive environment during the event. Each captain will want to out-perform his predecessors, to leave a legacy; therefore a spirit of continuous improvement is at the heart of the team effort.

9. Use opportunities to build collaborative and cooperative relationships

The team climate is determined by its leader. It is the captain’s role to build a collaborative environment between players and build cooperative relationships that drives team performance. The captain also has his own small army of non-playing advisors, comprising of vice-captains, sports psychologists and other support staff to help to build this culture whilst the individual players act as technical experts to execute the strategy – and it is the combination of the two that creates a winning team.

10. Manage inter-personal interactions within the team in appropriate ways

It only takes one bad egg to negatively impact the entire team – Tiger Woods’ brilliance over the past two decades as an individual performer has arguably not translated into positive team performance. His performances over the years in the Ryder Cup have been ‘patchy’ at best. His behaviour on the golf course has on occasion not reflected the traditional spirit of the game’s history, where etiquette is paramount. This behaviour is detected by his team-mates, creating tension. Similarly, Mickelson has been reported to have practiced on his own in preparation for a Foursomes match, rather than in a pairing. Players who are not being team players and take an individual approach will have negative impact on team performance and that’s why it’s so important to make sure that the team members get along with each other, are motivated and driven to win – not as individuals but as a team.

Business leaders should remember that a high performing team is greater than the sum of its individual players. Teams with the best individual players don’t always win. More important is to create a climate where individuals work together towards joint success, thereby having a positive impact on performance. I wish Jordan Speith all the very best for the rest of 2015, but the bigger challenge will come when the European and USA teams next meet to compete for the coveted Ryder Cup at the Hazeltine National Golf Club, Chaska, Minnesota in 2016.

Leadership lessons I learnt from being a dad

June 25th, 2015 by Martin Slattery
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Leadership Lessons I learnt from being a DadLast weekend was Father’s Day, a day to be thankful for the men who guided us through childhood and adulthood. A day for us fortunate to have children to be spoilt and have praise heaped upon us…for a day at least!

I love being a dad. I’m sure that fellow parents would agree that having kids is wonderful, most of the time! At its best it can be the most rewarding thing, yet it also proves an extremely tiring experience and can often be stressful. The house is never quiet, the chores are a constant and  the “mum and dad” taxi service is a job in itself. But the rewards are far greater.

In my moment of reflection, I thought how much I have learnt from my own dad about being a father and the “leadership skills” that are needed to manage your own children. And it raise a question- what is it like to be a good dad/ leader? In this moment I become increasingly aware of similarities between parenting and the essential leadership skills needed in business – engaging, supportive, motivating and providing guidance to learn and succeed.
In business as in parenting, looking at the bigger picture and takings a more strategic approach can make a significant difference and eliminate the chaos. My two kids are now at that age when they can become more actively involved and take ownership of their chores etc. Is life getting easier? A little maybe but they still need a prod and a push to get things done. As such, I find that the following leadership practices can work very effectively:

1. Investing your effort in high-value activities

Value in business terms is defined as the degree to which an activity contributes to the individual’s own goals and objectives, the business unit’s or organisation’s strategy or the team’s ability to deliver results.

Within a family context, this means reviewing what is actually worth your time and energy as a parent by simply asking yourself: “Can I stop doing this?” There are two scenarios following this question, if the answer is:

• Yes – you should look at how you can you spend less effort or whether you could delegate the specific task.
• No – you should ask yourself what must happen for you to stop engaging in the activity.

Delegating tasks to your kids at first will be met with huffs and puffs but it will have a positive impact that goes just beyond taking the task off your hands. It creates a great sense of ownership and pride and if positioned correctly, they will feel they are being trusted with the task and will be motivated to do a great job. With kids, as with many colleagues, they feed off positive interaction and praise for work well done. By delegating and providing a purpose to do well, individuals are more likely to achieve. If not, you can always threaten to take away the TV.

2. Coaching

There is a fine line between coaching and criticism. Avoid this trap, as children are very sensitive to feedback that will simply criticise their actions without being able to learn any lessons and see the “so what”. Coaching is a daily parental activity and doing it right will have long term positive impact. When coaching children as well as coaching your team, first of all assess the situation and identify hidden influences such as: do they know “why is it important”, “what to do” or “how to do it”? Then identify your own assumptions and test them before identifying what must change. Express your expectations in terms of outcomes or results, linking the change to the reason why it must take place and be prepared to make adjustments during your discussion. As well as using coaching to encourage we need to use the skill to provide constructive feedback. By reflecting together on how a job was completed and areas that could be done better will prove more impactful than simply “telling” or shouting.

3. Handling disagreement

At work and at home there are always going to be disagreements. Being able to know when to walk away and when to resolve the issue is important.

My kids will often disagree with me, my wife or each other. I am sure I am not unique here but it’s important to make your positive intentions explicit – clarify your intentions without dismissing your kids’ perceptions and ask for their views. Sometimes expressing it will help them to see your argument from a different perspective and hearing their point of view also gives you information that may change your own perspective. Limit the number of questions you ask, so you do not cross-examine them and ask questions to gain information rather than to convince them that you are right. Listen carefully to what they have to say and check back with them to ensure they are clear on what is happening and if they are, agree with the outcomes. Allow your kids to be defensive, but don’t take their anger or resistance personally and allow time to play a factor. Set the tone and set the pace to get this resolved, however resist the temptation to solve the problem yourself – instead involve your children in solving it with you – if all else fails you have naughty step. You may want to try that in the office too.

4. Getting results through others

Before you start delegating tasks, make it clear to yourself what exactly is it that you are about to pass on to your kids and determine their readiness for it.

This should be teamwork.

Therefore be clear when describing the purpose and how it affects them individually as well as the family and discuss what success should look like. Don’t underestimate the power of incentives and appreciation. Make sure you acknowledge the good work they are doing and always be there to help them to improve if needed. Use every opportunity to build their confidence and competence – it will naturally increase their sense of ownership and commitment for the task. Tell them when they did a great job. And more importantly tell everyone else!

Being a Dad has a number of challenges and we are operating on a forever changing landscape, but the rewards are far greater. Enjoy the ride as the journey can take any number of diversions, by ensuring you have instilled a high level of trust and unity within the family unit it will see you through the good and bad times.

Like in business the family is the team. Team members are the kids. Leaders are the parent. Be the Daddy!

Engagement and Accountability: What Great Leaders Do [Infographic]

June 16th, 2015 by Brian Hawthorne
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While everyone is accountable for their own performance, management plays a significant role in modeling positive behaviors in the workforce, and therefore must improve their own accountability before it can increase amongst their teams. How do great leaders improve engagement and accountability within the workplace? Forum’s latest infographic based on our recent survey outlines the steps leaders can take to implement the combination in order to drive performance.

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Trust and Integrity Fumbles in Deflate-Gate

June 11th, 2015 by Claudette Chagnon
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“Running a football team is no different than running any other kind of organization…

some of us will do our jobs well and some will not, but we will all be judged on one thing: the result.” –Vince Lombardi

I wonder if Vince was thinking only of the score when he uttered these words of wisdom.  Like most sports fans who are listening to the deflate-gate debate, I am focused instead on the other results, the “lessons” on trust and integrity—or lack thereof—from three leaders in the football business, Roger Goodell the NFL commissioner, Bill Belichick, New England Patriots Coach and the Patriots team captain, Tom Brady.


Deflate-Gate. NFL football deflated on the field

Trust is like a forest. It takes a long time to grow and can burn down with a just touch of carelessness.  (David Horsager, author of The Trust Edge: How Top Leaders Gain Faster Results, Deeper Relationships, and a Stronger Bottom Line.)

Let’s note that, prior to deflate-gate, the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had already fumbled his leadership on major issues of domestic violence and player brain injuries.  So it was already hard to trust Goodell, in the wake of deflate-gate, when he said “We take seriously anything that potentially impacts integrity of the game.”

Yet, he failed to set any kind of leadership example-any fair and proper course of action– immediately following deflate-gate and before the Super Bowl started.  Was he intentionally deflating the alleged cheating scandal or intentionally ignoring the rules of the game? And then, the NFL was excruciatingly slow in reaching an investigative conclusion about whether the Patriots and their superstar, Tom Brady, cheated before they became Super Bowl champions.

Whether or not the Patriots cheated, the conspicuous failure to act and lack of leadership sent a message to the world—and importantly–to our youth, that cheating is not that important.  The “result” of the commissioner “doing his job” poorly is not only that he received widespread harsh criticism, but he lost the respect and trust of his employees and players, (not to mention the rest of us).

Lesson:  You cannot be an effective leader without trust. You can have a solid strategy, excellent interpersonal skills, and even make money for your organization, but if people don’t trust you, you will not get the results you want.


The NFL rendered a very harsh judgment against Tom Brady for using under-inflated footballs, saying the “integrity of the NFL” is at stake. Seriously?  Is this a case of the football calling the pigskin deflated?  Let’s talk about integrity.

  • For years, the NFL repeatedly denied football causes brain injuries while fully aware of the devastating effects that playing in league could have.
  • Although Coach Belichick may not have been involved in deflating footballs, the NFL, media and public became immediately suspicious of him due to his reputation as a cheater.  In 2007, he cheated and stole the New York Jets’ signals, paid the half-million-dollar fine and moved on. Former football coach, Don Shula, has called him “Beli-cheat.”
  • The New York Post called Brady the “Pretty Little Liar” among more racy headlines and more than one person has compared him to Lance Armstrong.

Is deflate-gate an example of football arrogance justified by football brilliance?   Yes. Does a certain level of success exempt certain people from integrity?  No. Although Bellichick will retire from football as a great and winning coach and Brady as one of the all-time great quarterbacks, there will be a permanent injury to each of their legacies.

Lesson:  The size of the lie does not matter.  The deflate-gate scandal started out as a little puff of illegally escaped air.

Although it might not make a difference to the outcome, or the excuse that “everyone does it”, Rule 2, Section 1 of the NFL Rule Book states that the balls must be a certain weight, length, width and even color.  In any game with authorized equipment and rules, nobody should get away with purposely changing the elements that make the game fair and square.

Leaders with integrity are authentic, transparent, and honest, and trustworthy; they speak the truth, present themselves sincerely, and take responsibility for their actions.  Whether you are a star athlete or leading a team or business, you must commit to a set of core values, standards, and even rules that you will never compromise.

Full transparency:

Claudette Chagnon lives in Massachusetts, is an occasional New England Patriots fan, and her son wears a t-shirt that says “They hate us because they ain’t us.”


Accelerating Talent in a VUCA World: Leadership in Asia Pacific

May 6th, 2015 by Grant Bosnick
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“Changes aren’t permanent, but change is.” (Neil Peart)

At 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011, an earthquake and tsunami hit the coast of Japan. I was there when it happened. Now, as we’ve passed the 4th anniversary, the conditions and circumstances in the recovery became known as “The New Normal.”

And elsewhere across Asia Pacific there are not only changes, but rather there is change. And this constant change is the new normal.

With 3 of the top 5 world’s largest economies (China, India, Japan), surpassed only by US and EU; 5 of the top 10 world’s fastest growing economies; and age distribution differing radically across countries – a new generation in China, an aging population in Japan, a young one in Indonesia, and a mature one in Korea and Hong Kong, this is the landscape of Asia Pacific.

Moreover, it’s an interconnected region; what happens in one place affects the others, whether it’s a natural disaster, political event or product innovation.

This creates then a VUCA World, that is, Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. A term first used by the United States military to discuss preparedness, the term was then popularised by Bob Johansen of the Institute for the Future. It is, essentially, a world of constant change. And as Bob Johansen wrote, “The capacity for VUCA leadership in strategic and operating terms depends on a well-developed mindset for gauging the technical, social, political, market and economic realities of the environment in which people work.”

So, as leaders in Asia Pacific, what does this mean and what do we need to do to be able to do this?

To thrive and succeed in a VUCA World, we need to put into practice and develop ourselves on 3 levels of leadership simultaneously:

  1. Self
  2. People
  3. Thought

Self Leadership includes having a vision, integrity, consistency, and principled values. People Leadership is about managing change, leveraging diversity, delegating, engaging, coaching, building consensus and commitment, and inspiring others. And Thought Leadership focuses on analysis, strategy, decision making, and innovation.

Together the sum (and synergy) of these 3 levels will enable leaders to thrive in a VUCA World. As Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, the CEO of The Lego Group once said, “Leadership is what happens when you’re not there.” And in Asia Pacific, a constant VUCA world of change, developing all 3 levels will accelerate talent and enable this kind of leadership to flourish.

Understanding the Five Most Important Employee Engagement Factors

April 29th, 2015 by Russ Becker
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In the past 22 years, my career has centered around overseeing employees in various managerial roles, across different industries, and with diverse groups of people coming together as part of the workflow. Through these years, and differing environments, I’ve become aware of the one obstacle no manager likes to face: having a disengaged, unmotivated team. Unfortunately, current statistics on global employee engagement confirm that many executives are living with this challenge.

According to Gallup’s most recent 142-country State of the Global Workplace report, only 13 percent of employees are engaged at work worldwide. That translates to roughly one in eight employees in the countries studied being actually committed to their jobs. Most employees, the other 87 percent, are simply not engaged, feeling unhappy and unproductive according to Gallup.

Despite these seemingly bleak statistics, leaders grappling with a disengaged team are hardly helpless. I’ve come to learn certain strategies and tactics over the years which help executives focus on key predictors of how engaged their employees will be. I’ve learned most importantly that people are social animals and their surrounding colleagues, especially their managers, usually have the most significant impact on whether an employee makes an effort at work – or simply does the bare minimum required.

Through my experience, these five important employee factors have helped improve workplace engagement that other fretful executives can, too, implement.

1. Belonging

Leaders can distinguish an engaged employee if they feel integrated with their colleagues and feel confident their job is an important part of the whole. An employee who feels significant in their workplace’s community and has an emotional connection to their organization will be more engaged at work.

2. Enjoyment

Creating a positive work environment, including stimulating and fun ways for employees to interact, will greatly impact employee engagement. Employees spend most of their time in the workplace with their colleagues, in comparison to the time they spend outside with the people and things they love. The workplace culture needs to reflect a place where people can work successfully and happily through the end of the work day, rather than counting the minutes until it ends.

3. Accomplishment

A productive employee is an engaged employee. As simple as it sounds, it is important for leaders to acknowledge their teams and their efforts which benefit a greater mission or purpose at work. Employees that feel successful will continue to seek out more ways to accomplish tasks within their job roles and the ones they aim for in the future.

4. RecognitionBusiness Finish Line

Another key component to employee engagement is employee recognition. Employees want managers to take notice of their accomplishments that provide value to the organization and its community, and ultimately want to be incentivized to keep striving for better. Leaders who fail to layer in systems for acknowledging growth and success do both their companies and employees a disservice, with sinking morale on their horizons.

5. Advancement

Offering multiple opportunities for employees to build their portfolio of skills should be a priority for leaders looking to increase engagement. Talented employees don’t want to stagnate professionally – they want to develop their skills, advance, and thrive throughout their careers.

While these five employee factors may not seem new, they can definitely become overlooked in the hustle and bustle of the everyday working environment. Maintaining high engagement in today’s workplace is essential for leaders now more than ever, as demonstrated by the numbers. Even though the job market continues to improve, restless employees usually decide to move on rather than remain at a job that doesn’t stimulate them. Making employee engagement a priority within your workplace not only advances the health of your professional teams, but also the health of your bottom line and future business.

Leadership Lessons to Draw from Lee Kuan Yew in an Era of Change

April 22nd, 2015 by Cynthia Stuckey
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“We have created this out of nothingness, from 150 souls in a minor fishing village into the biggest metropolis two degrees north of the equator.” – Singapore founding father, Lee Kuan Yew. 

Overcoming numerous challenges post-independence and moving the country forward amidst tumultuous times, the late founding father of Singapore, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, devoted his entire lifetime to building what is now regarded as one of the world’s most economically strong and resilient nations.

In the weeks since Mr. Lee died, I’ve seen countless articles and reflections extolling his leadership attributes. He was respected by leaders from around the world and in business. He was loved as much as he was feared. From waking up in a cosy HDB, drinking water that runs straight from the tap, taking transportation that runs efficiently across the vibrant city state that house some of world’s most renowned brands, to walking in the streets in the dead of night without fear, Mr. Lee has indeed left a powerful legacy for generations to come.

It never ceases to amaze me at how an impactful leader can transform the city out my window from a mere developing nation that was wrecked by social divisions and poor living conditions just some decades back to one with shiny skyscrapers. What struck me as particularly significant for leaders to recognise and learn from was Mr. Lee’s extraordinary ability to lead through an era of change. After working with so many leaders in my 20+ year career, I discovered that the successful ones take the following winning approaches:

1.  Have a clear vision04.21.15 - Lee-Kuan-Yew_public.jpg

“Here we make the model multiracial society. This is not a country that belongs to any single community – it belongs to all of us. This was a mudflat, a swamp. Today, it is a modern city. And 10 years from now, it will be a metropolis – never fear!”

As a managing director of a company, I see the importance of how setting a clear vision can warrant for a great start, especially when facing unexpected changes or bracing my company for a planned change. Mr. Lee has definitely done a good job in this area. He saw the needs of fighting for self-rule from the British in 1959 and independence from Malaysia in 1965. He also saw the potential of Singapore being a business hub for worldwide investors by developing first-class infrastructure standards and recruiting worldwide talents. As a business leader, bringing the company to the next level is our key responsibility and also one of our key challenges. I always think about where I want to bring my business to a year or even a few years later. The vision of the future blueprint is what drives my action. During the transformational period, many challenges are there but we must be fearless and determined. Give confidence to employees that we are able to survive after going through all the changes.

2.  Communicate the vision

“I have been accused of many things in my life, but not even my worst enemy has ever accused me of being afraid to speak my mind.”

Weeping before the national TV to deliver the news of the separation between Malaysia and Singapore represents the toughest time of Mr. Lee in his life. He knew that Singapore had a slim chance of survival. But soon he got rid of his despair and saw it as a moment to establish a deep connection with the people by communicating the connection between his party’s goal and their circumstance. Thinking back of those hard times in my leadership journey, c-suites often struggle a while before communicating the truth to the employees. We definitely don’t want to threaten the stability of the organisation. However, that’s how to get employees to be on the same page with us, by showing up honestly and conveying our plans during this difficult period. Employees may feel insecure of their jobs at that moment. Therefore, it’s also our job to motivate them to engage with us and go through the transitional period together.

3.  Walk the talk

“I want to make sure every button works, and if it doesn’t when I happen to be around, then somebody is going to be in for a rough time, because I do not want sloppiness.”

As a resident here for over 4 years, I share the same resonance with my friends from around the world that Singapore has much to be envied for. Chief among which are a corrupt-free government, affordable healthcare, quality homes, efficient transportation and holistic education, for all. These might not have been possible if not for one who constantly kept his ears to the ground and implemented an uncompromising change mechanism that is scalable and adaptive to suit circumstantial needs.

To maintain its competitiveness and success, Singapore does not rest on its laurels. The government makes sure to constantly introduce and revise policies to seek new talents while retaining its local talents, as well as policies that can improve and change in line with current environments. They are unabashed when communicating their plans, and they stand ready to defend their plans when necessary. This should be the same for business. In order to sustain long-term business growth, businesses must be able to communicate and execute their goals with strong conviction.

4.  Build commitment

“If you can select a population and they’re educated and they’re properly brought up, then you don’t have to use too much of the stick because they would already have been trained.”

In order to create a prosperous Singapore, a pragmatic Mr. Lee saw the importance of looking out of the country for talent to help develop the capability of this country, while educating the locals to be globally competitive. To keep his people happy, he also put focus on addressing people’s needs by providing well-developed education, welfare and healthcare standards for examples. I have always seen the importance of getting a pool of talented employees to help business growth, as business success can’t happen just by one person’s effort. Therefore, aside from cultivating talent to make sure our employees are well-equipped with the necessary skills to cope with challenges during a transformational period, addressing employees’ needs also can’t be overlooked. A happy workforce will be more willing to work for the company.

5.  Pick the next better player

“If I were not the Prime Minister, he [Lee Hsien Loong] could have become Prime Minister several years earlier. It is against my interest to allow any family member, who’s incapable, to be holding an important job because that would be a disaster for Singapore and my legacy. That cannot be allowed.”

Mr. Lee recognised that he could not stay in the role forever. He sees the importance of raising up the next generation of leaders to lead the future of Singapore before he stepped down from the political stage. In an organisation, no one can sit on the business leader chair forever, including myself. And a new business leader will likely lead a transformation of the whole company. Therefore, while focusing on growing the business, we should also constantly seeking for potential candidates to be the “next top leader” who can help transform the current business success to the next legacy.

Leadership Lessons from the Rugby Pitch

April 9th, 2015 by Martin Slattery
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The recent Six Nations Rugby Championship was a demonstration of high team performance and great leadership across the board….well at least from Wales, Ireland and England!

This was best demonstrated on the last day of the championship or “Super Saturday” as it was called, with one game after another. It saw extraordinary pace maintained from beginning to end with the three teams (Wales, Ireland and England) all in the frame to be crowned 6 Nations Champions. Each result had a direct impact on how the next game had to be played out and the pressure built with each point scored.

The need for the respective coaches and captains to demonstrate calmness and a sense of clarity, unity and agility in the lead up to their games would prove paramount to their success. And they did just that! However, their ability to lead effectively and bring out their “A” game when it mattered didn’t just happen in those moments on that incredible Saturday. These skills were forged from many hours and years honing their skills on the pitch from a young age. But what can we learn from this? The challenges and drivers demonstrated during these games are indifferent to those faced in the business environment and can serve as a learning exercise when put into perspective.


No one will master any trade or sport until they excel at the basics. Rugby players can’t move ahead without conquering the basic; passing, catching, tackling and supporting the ball carrier. No training, irrespective of the age or experience of the players, will start without practising and incorporating those basic concepts to eliminate mistakes during a game. From mini rugby to international rugby it’s the same…do the basics and do them well.

In business, getting your basic skills right, putting them into practice and building on them are the essential steps to drive success through people. The ongoing learning and putting the lessons into practice on daily basis also gives you the right mindset and confidence needed to achieve your goals and progress. So what’s the excuse? There isn’t one….do the basics and do them well.   


Even the best players in the world don’t stop training because they’ve already achieved success. Quite the opposite. They strive for excellence by practicing harder, playing harder and doing everything they can to be even better. Similarly, successful leaders make learning an integral part of their everyday work – through sharing knowledge with peers and colleagues, enhancing skills and talents through assignments and taking initiative in their own developments.

Companies that encourage continuous learning through coaching, developmental assignments and sharing the lessons of experience enjoy competitive advantage as these learning approaches support employee retention and help to expand both individual and organisational capacity.


This is the key element to any success, on the pitch or in the work environment. For instance, do you think the Rugby Football Union would have turned to Stuart Lancaster (England Head Coach) and his coaching staff prior to Super Saturday and tell them not to coach the team? They don’t need to be helped; the players know what they need to do as they are professionals at the top of their game! Coaching is purely a distraction….especially with a championship on the line and the World Cup just around the corner. Let the players get on with it themselves. Right??

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Yet it is surprising that for many organisations this is the resounding view, and they wonder why performance is never quite as strong as it should be. Delivering a strong performance in that type of environment is un-sustainable and un-scalable. That’s the point.  Coaching is the essential element behind any team success – be it sport or business – focusing on individual and team improvements as well as providing opportunities for those to re-inforce the right behaviours, to better themselves and motivate others to achieve their highest potential. Increasingly, organisations see coaching as a means of building organisational capacity, helping them achieve critical business results, enabling competitive advantage and increasing the likelihood of winning. These are the businesses that are seeing the real impact. I therefore ask, why wouldn’t you coach?


Strategies are created and actions are planned based on assumptions made prior to the game. Naturally, these strategies are impacted by the other team’s behaviours and overall chemistry on the pitch. You have to play what is in front of you and adapt accordingly.

Being able to adapt to changing circumstances is a critically important leadership capability in both sport and business environments. In business, around 70% of change initiatives fail – the top 30% of success is linked to leaders being adaptable, knowing how to drive change to accelerate the impact of new strategies and understanding the human side of change.


Purpose-driven motivation creates focus that results in higher levels of sustained energy, increased interest and confidence. An inevitable part of this is physical well-being – it is impossible to sustain high performance without it.

Physical fitness reduces absence rates, mistakes, accidents and improves complex decision making, alertness, team interactions, concentration, and productivity. To maintain a healthy energy balance it is essential to be purposeful about time and ways to recover….ice baths optional!

To conclude – in rugby (like in business) to win, you must review each performance, identify and work on areas of the game that need improving and strive for excellence. The journey to excellence starts with the basics. Do them and do them well, every time.

Celebrating Women in Business – Part 2

April 2nd, 2015 by Janine Carlson
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Launched last month to mark the International Women’s Day, we continue our series to inspire aspiring female leaders – this month with Janine Carlson, our APAC Marketing Director, who looks at her own aspirations, challenges and experiences that lead her to where she is today.

Janine Carlson, Marketing Director, Forum APAC

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

When I was a child I was intrigued by a pretty broad range of things I could be when I grew up. Tops on the list were pilot, electrician, archaeologist, actress and Olympic gymnast. So naturally I became a marketing director.

What, if any personal challenges did you face to get into business and a leadership role and how did you overcome these?

I feel fortunate to have started in a very humble place, as overcoming challenges did shape who I am—and how I lead—today. I lived at times in fairly rough neighbourhoods, started working when I was 15 and paid my own way through university–in fact, was the first person on my Dad’s side of the family to ever graduate from university. While having role models of professional careers early on could have made things easier, my early experiences instead allowed me to use hard work, curiosity, tenacity and resilience to find my own path.

What, if anything, would you have done differently in your career to date?04.02.15_Women in Business_Part 2.jpg

Early on I would have found a mentor outside of my company to help me look at my career and options more broadly.

Have you had a bad boss along the way and why was this person a poor leader?

I like to think I learned more about what NOT to do as a leader from my first boss in advertising, than what to do. While we worked hard, she took long lunches or left early to go shopping. She defaulted to what was easy versus pushing for the best ideas to serve our clients. When the work I had done earned an incentive trip from a media partner she immediately told me she and her husband would be taking it instead of me…then asked me to take care of her house and cats while she was traveling! Seeing this first hand inspired me to put the best interests of my teams, clients and organisations at the centre of my thinking AND actions.

What’s the hardest business conversation you have ever had and what did you learn from it?

I was a partner in a design agency and we had to release several of the staff because the business was struggling. While I had previously had tough developmental discussions and even fired people, this gutted me. The most important takeaways were that as a leader I needed to set aside how I was feeling and totally focus on the other person; also it reinforced the massive responsibility that comes with leadership—our decisions impact people’s lives, not just their work.

What lessons have you learnt in your personal life which have helped in business?

  • When something goes wrong, own it—apologise, fix it, learn from it and move forward.
  • It is better to over communicate than under communicate.
  • Trust your instincts—about people, ideas, opportunities, etc.
  • A positive attitude sets you on the path to success and makes it a more enjoyable journey—for you and those around you.

Who is your most admired female leader and why?

I’ve always found Grace Murray Hopper very interesting – as a scientific innovator and US Navy rear admiral she succeeded in male dominated fields, worked incredibly hard for her accomplishments and was keenly focused on the training and development of younger talent. She was quoted as saying “it is easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission” and also “You manage things, you lead people. We went overboard on management and forgot about leadership.”– so true!

Do you think women make better leaders than men and what’s the reason for your answer?

I have had the pleasure of working with wonderful male and female leaders, and both can create a compelling vision and drive its achievement—so neither is inherently better or worse at leadership. Although there might be some things that come more naturally to some than others. My direct experience is that developing employees, creating cohesive teams, building engagement and addressing the emotional side of leadership can at times be easier for female leaders, who may be more perceptive to emotional cues.

What are the strengths of women in business and how can women maximise these and build on them to get ahead?

The most successful women I know are confident in voicing their opinions, are truly concerned with the development and success of the people on their team, give praise generously and criticism thoughtfully, advocate for what is right for themselves/their teams/their businesses, stay curious and look for ways to improve things, and are amazing storytellers able to paint a vision and inspire people to follow them. At any career stage, building these strengths with training, coaching, self-reflection, practice, etc. will help women progress in leadership.

What are the weaknesses and how can they overcome them?

One of the traps into which women in leadership can fall is too much focus on consensus. Giving people opportunities to contribute, encouraging alternative ideas and ensuring people are heard are all important in making the best decisions…just remember the goal is to make the “best” decision, not the “least objectionable” one, as great ideas nearly always will have some detractors.

What is the one piece of advice you would give other women in business who are aiming to be senior leaders?

Don’t be afraid to fail, just make sure you fail forward. To have “big wins” you need to take risks, try new strategies, voice your ideas, trust your instincts and look for uncharted territory. Of course, when you do this you won’t always succeed…which is why failing forward is so important. Embrace these lessons and apply them: understand the root cause or systemic components so they are not repeated, help others to not make the same mistakes, don’t get mired in doubt or negativity, and finally, just get up try again.

How do you think leadership in the workplace will look different in 5 to 10 years’ time and how will this affect women? How is globalisation affecting this change?

Women’s role in leadership will continue to grow and this will open doors at all levels within organisations, but there is a long way to go before there is true equality in the workplace. According to a recent International Labour Organisation study, there are currently only 3 countries where women make up the majority of managers/leaders: Jamaica, Colombia, and Saint Lucia. For those of us living in other countries, female leaders continue to be the exception versus the norm, despite statistics that companies with women on boards and in leadership have higher performance. In Asia, there is a strong bias in some countries towards male leaders—but as women’s education levels continue to increase, global mobility provides more opportunities for female leaders coming into and out of these markets, and the demands for well qualified leaders continues to increase, changes will have to happen.

Old Goat Singapore – 3 Ways Business can Lead the Flock in the Year of ‘Yang’

March 22nd, 2015 by Cynthia Stuckey
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February 19 was the start of a new year in the Chinese zodiac. The year of the horse galloped on by, making way for the year of ‘Yang’ the sheep, goat or gazelle depending on which prophet you follow.

For some, Singapore may be seen as an old goat in Southeast Asia; an established economy fighting to remain relevant against a number of competitive newcomers in the region, with the year of ‘Yang’ possibly offering more head-butts and side-kicks to productivity rather than a lucrative golden fleece.

But if anything, Singapore is persistent and is no stranger to tribulation. The ways in which organisations and their leaders handle key challenges in learning and development will be key to their success and determine how they maximise value from their investments in the year of ‘Yang’.

Employee engagement and the role of middle-managers
Business leaders and HR managers in Singapore are becoming increasingly aware of the positive impact employee engagement has on staff retention, performance and profitability. Thus, greater emphasis is being placed on employee engagement as a key strategy to improve staff retention and increase productivity across business levels.

To truly embrace employee engagement and ensure it functions most effectively, it first has to become a business imperative driven by leaders throughout all levels of the organisation. For this to occur, HR must secure its seat at the 2015 board table to enable the successful integration of employee engagement, and other core HR strategies, into all business plans.

In Asia, engagement is a significant challenge as people leadership skills are weaker compared to strong technical capabilities and requires conscious development. To effectively engage employees, middle-managers are key and must also be engaged and accountable for their actions and responsibilities.

Successful implementation of strategic initiatives requires an engaged and accountable cadre of mid-level leaders who do the indispensible work of making the CEO’s vision a reality. To cope with the great recession, many organisations curtailed their investments in middle management development, leaving many with skill gaps in mid-level leadership. In the year of ‘Yang’, with emerging markets increasing competition in Southeast Asia and the focus on keeping pace intensifying, it’s the companies that focus on equipping their middle-managers that will lead the flock.

To successfully manage these challenges focused training of mid-level leaders is required so that they are able to become more involved in engaging employees on an individual level, while also working together with upper management to transform employee engagement into a company-wide commitment instead of a task purely delegated to HR.
Demand for leaders who inspire trust
Forum has produced global research to show a direct link between trust and engagement, which indicated that the more leaders inspire trust in their team the more energised and motivated they will be.  Based on our research, the way leaders build trust is through the way they communicate and behave. To remain competitive and high performing, businesses in Southeast Asia will need leaders that know how to build and maintain a climate of trust within their teams, something that is traditionally and culturally foreign to the region.

The four most effective tactics for inspiring trust are:

  1. Listening to employees and understanding their concerns
  2. Walking the talk – managers doing as they say and modelling positive behaviour
  3. Following through on commitments
  4. Encouraging employees to offer ideas and suggestions.

When trust is low, clarity is reduced and less focus put on accelerating strategic initiatives and promoting success. At the same time, navigating the complex inter-connectedness of today’s global business environment requires that we also work with ambiguity.  Organisations that figure out how to balance clarity and ambiguity will have a winning formula that leaders can use to drive results.

Skill gaps are widening
While the Southeast Asian market is experiencing high growth, Singapore is struggling to keep up with productivity. In the year of ‘Yang’, businesses will require a diverse set of skills to respond to fast changing market conditions and remain competitive. Companies will need to constantly modify and develop their leaders at all levels to ensure they close skill gaps to enable the workforce to increase productivity, while also balancing the needs of new talent entering the workforce.

Many companies have limited resources to work with due to a shortage of talent in Asia. To safeguard against this issue, businesses must establish clear career paths for all staff to retain and develop skills in line with the needs of the local market and business. This also means focusing on the careers of existing and older employees to ensure they are continually learning, growing and adding value, as well as mapping out attractive career pathways for newcomers.

Focus on talent development
Most learning and development occur at work, which highlights the need to sustain and embed learning into everyday work life. Not only training, but ongoing coaching will be essential in maintaining a highly engaged, intellectually stimulated and productive workforce.

Toward the end of 2014, the Singapore Government released the Continuing Education and Training (CET) 2020 Masterplan that supports efforts to restructure the economy, develop a career-resilient workforce and build deeper expertise in Singapore’s personnel, with increased involvement by employers in enhancing and valuing skills.

While initiatives like this offer positive support, the bottom line is that organisations have to be more proactive and structured in how they develop their people. Successful businesses devote time, energy and resources to advancing people and the organisations in which they perform. It is companies that implement leadership development that tightly aligns with the organisation’s growth that will not only endure but also get the greatest value from their investment in the year of ‘Yang’.

About the author:
Cynthia Stuckey is the Asia Pacific Managing Director of The Forum Corporation. Forum is a recognised global leader in linking leadership development and sales effectiveness training to strategic business objectives. For more information, visit:

This article was originally published in HRD Singapore on 17 March 2015 and is reprinted with permission from the publication.