What I’ve Learnt Leading A Social Enterprise For A Decade

By

Roshan Thiran

26th Oct 2018

5 min read

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By ROSHAN THIRAN

Why are some communities more successful than others? Why do some succeed whilst others fail? That was the fundamental question we asked and we set about finding the answer.  After countless years of searching, the answer became apparent – leadership.

Everything rises and falls on leadership.

This idea of growing people into leaders could transform communities. It drove us to set up Leaderonomics and I set out to lead a small team of visionaries and passionate leaders who strove to transform lives throughout Malaysia by democratising access to leadership development.

We had all witnessed the effects of how leadership programmes, when deployed in rural areas, could help to lift up and transform whole communities, impacting lives beyond expectations.

As anyone who knows me well will tell you, I tend to get impatient when an idea pops into my head. Seeing how one or two young people could be so transformed as to affect their whole community, I thought, “Why stop at one or two? Why isn’t there a social enterprise doing this for many youngsters throughout our country?”

Of course, I then thought that I needed to start such an enterprise – why wait for someone else to do it, right? So, I teamed up with some hardworking, driven colleagues of mine and we decided to put our collective skill sets to even better use than we’d previously been doing for various global MNCs. After all, what would be better than transforming our own nation!

The idea was really to serve a cause much greater than ourselves. We wanted to develop leaders, build communities of love, and transform the nation, one leader at a time. A lot of people still say it’s an impossible vision.

Then again, everything now achieved was once thought impossible. Just look at the stories of Neil Armstrong, Stephen Hawking, Rosa Parks, and Roger Bannister, to name just a few who achieved the ‘impossible’.

Over the past ten years, Leaderonomics has enjoyed countless highs and navigated several lows, and we’ve had to adapt to the winds of change along the way. It hasn’t always been an easy journey, but it has always been a rewarding one, and I personally feel so blessed to have met countless inspirational people who have been – and continue to be – part of the Leaderonomics story.

When I started this social enterprise, I had little knowledge of how to run one. Sure, I had decades of experience working across Asia, Europe and the US in leadership roles for companies such as General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, and NBC Universal…but this was an entirely new ball game.

As always, I went ahead with building the social enterprise anyway – I’ve always preferred to learn by doing. As a friend once told me, “You’re the kind of guy who would jump out of an airplane and figure out how to build a parachute on the way down!” I’m 90 per cent sure he meant that as a compliment!

As we began our journey in mid-2008, the leadership team was initially driven solely by our vision to develop leadership here in Malaysia.

Wherever you go, there’s just so much talent, and I felt that so many young people were missing out on the kind of development that would truly make them flourish.

I wanted to change that and so, for the past ten years, I’ve led a social enterprise whose members, both past and present, proudly made the vision their own and helped us to develop leaders across all levels, through many programmes and initiatives, whether they be in schools, universities, or through our popular leadership camps.

We also transitioned to help other companies and institutions to nurture their own leadership pipelines and enhance their current leadership approaches.

Everything we’ve done has been geared towards one shared goal: helping to make Malaysia the best that it can be, by developing the leadership talent of tomorrow and extending a helping hand to those who need to be lifted up to see the limitless talent they possess.

Circumstances should never limit a person’s growth, especially when they have the potential to pay so much forward to their communities and wider society.

So, what have I learned over this past decade of being at the helm of Leaderonomics? Here are three key lessons that have really opened my eyes up to what it means to follow your passion and bring your vision to life:

1. You have to be patient…but also impatient

Whether it was setting up our media arm or our digital learning platform later on, I had people tell me the same thing, “You need to slow down and wait a while”.

No doubt their advice was well-intended, but I don’t have the patience to wait. Why can’t something be done in three months instead of six? Why does there need to be so much deliberation when there’s a wonderful opportunity staring at us?

While I’m impatient to get things going, I also have the patience to realise transformations don’t happen overnight. Even when we get ideas off the ground, we have to make what we deploy effective, and then we can start to see the results coming in.

If you expect major changes immediately, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Be impatient on the micro-level, but patient on the macro-level.

2. Never fear failure – it’s the surest way to lose your faith

In Dan Brown’s book, Origin, an AI programme explains to his human companion that computers have one distinct advantage over humans: they never lose heart.

It describes how it could fail at a problem a billion times and still maintain the same enthusiasm looking for a solution. Conversely, we humans tend to lose heart very quickly, and that can be so demotivating.

As Thomas Edison said, many of us quit just when success is starting to appear around the corner. Life is full of challenges, obstacles and setbacks – struggles are what make success taste so sweet when it comes.

Never fear failure – learn from it, make it your teacher.

3. Never forget your ‘Why’

It can be so easy to get caught up in the daily tasks, meetings and other commitments when you lead an organisation, to the point where you lose perspective of why you signed up to this venture in the first place.

Whenever I feel myself getting critical or dismayed, a voice appears and reminds me, “Remember your reason for starting this journey…keep going”.

Being reminded of the ‘Why of Leaderonomics’ helps me to refocus and renew my energies, ready to take on the next challenge, knowing that overcoming it will help to take the team closer to seeing our vision manifest.

Thank you to everyone who has been part of this amazing journey with us. As the African Proverb says, if we want to go quick, go alone; but if we want to go far, go together. I appreciate everyone that I’ve met over this past decade who have shared their insights, given their support, and been so generous with their time and resources.

We really couldn’t have achieved what we have so far without your kindness, love and generosity. Your journeying with us has helped to transform more lives than you can imagine, and on that note, I’m left with only one more thing to say… 

Looking forward to your partnership with us as we journey through the next 10 years and beyond!

Prefer an e-mag reading experience? This article is also available in our 27th October, 2018 digital issue. Access our digital issues here.

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