Citi Malaysia CEO Lee Lung Nien talks about leadership and best talent
Leaderonomics caught up with Citi Malaysia chief executive officer Lee Lung Nien after his leadership knowledge sharing session with S P Setia leadership and their high potential talents at the S P Setia corporate office in Setia Alam.
Lee, who has been with Citi for over 25 years, is a leader whose range of talents go beyond banking. For those who know him, Lee plays the drums and has even performed with Gurmit Singh (more famously known as Phua Chu Kang) in Singapore and Malaysia. He also races go-karts and is the current Asia Rotax Max Challenge Champion as well as the Singapore X30 Challenge Champion.
During his leadership talk, Lee made four key points that will help us live life to the fullest and learn to be the best versions of ourselves at work and at play.
1. Keep your feet grounded
Lee comes from a family that had its early roots in Malaysia. His paternal grandfather was a Methodist pastor in Sitiawan, Perak, before the family moved down to Singapore. His father, an engineer, was a respected senior civil servant in Singapore.
“Their beliefs were ingrained in me from a young age. I was taught good values such as honesty, truthfulness and humility, as well as the conscience to always do what is right. These early lessons have proved valuable through the years.
“No matter how high you climb a corporate ladder or how many awards you win, you don’t let the pride of life and materialism consume you,” Lee, a dedicated husband and father of two teenagers, says.
According to him, to keep one’s feet grounded and not lose oneself in the journey to success, one needs to keep the right company. When we surround ourselves with good, honest and hardworking people, we will naturally gravitate towards similar values and good work ethics.
2. Never compromise on integrity
As a leader, people look up to you for clear direction and purpose and need you to project a strong sense of public duty. Being in the position of authority like Lee’s, means he is highly responsible in setting the right cultural tone for organisational integrity. And compromising on integrity is non-negotiable.
“In all that I do or decide, I’m always guided by what is right and wrong. I firmly believe it’s through integrity that you and the people under your care will enjoy the fruits of their labour meaningfully.
“Great successes that are built on integrity are the ones that will last for many generations to come, and that’s the legacy you want to leave behind. So, live your life with no regrets,” Lee says.
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3. Always learning
Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, once quoted:
“The moment you stop learning, you stop leading. I learn as much as I can, from as many as I can, as often as I can.”
The aspect of learning is emphasised by Lee several times throughout the interview. You know he lives and breathes by it, looking at his impressive repertoire of achievements at his professional and personal capacity.
In all his years as a banker, Lee still finds himself learning and growing with the company. He has served across different businesses around the world, taking up new challenges and new roles, equipping himself with knowledge and skills he did not have before, and doing his best to deliver on what is expected of him. Commitment to a job and good execution go hand in hand.
Lee has learnt from the best in their respective disciplines to enable him to produce the best results. In karting, for example, Lee is coached by two leading experts in the technical aspects of karting and race craft, namely Rodney Magnus who worked at the OTK kart factory in Italy and Matsuura Masanori who was a mechanic to Formula One greats such as Michael Schumacher, Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso.
4. Go the extra mile
During Lee’s leadership sharing, someone from the audience asked if luck played a part in contributing to his admirable success.
Lee responded by giving the lucky draw analogy, “Your lucky number may have been announced, but if you’re away in the restroom, you missed being in the position to collect your prize. Hence, luck is what you make out of it, ensuring you are willing to get your hands dirty to make things happen.
“Similarly, when a window of opportunity opens up, you need to be ready to step up to seize the chance. Challenge yourself to do something out of your comfort zone and always aim to do it exceedingly well.”
I asked his advice to young millennials in the workforce, to which Lee replies:
“Always go the extra mile at any given task, not just to get yourself noticed by your bosses and peers, but to demonstrate great work ethics. Work hard to improve yourself by dedicating time and effort into anything you set your heart and mind to do.”
Bringing it all together
I once quoted this, “Being number one doesn’t need to be a lonely experience; share it with someone and we become exponential!”
Lee took it further by saying that we should win as a team—like how we play team sports like football. Winning together as one team is more satisfying and meaningful because of our shared pains and joys in the pursuit of glory (think of some moving scenes from the movie Ola Bola).
Indeed, Lee is a rare gem of a man who walks the talk as a son, husband, father, brother, friend, colleague and corporate leader.
Talking to Lee, one can only conclude that he envisions what effective and wholesome leadership is all about. One cannot fail to notice the passion for excellence that drives him and the heart he has for the people around him.