Breakthrough to the Future: Insights from The Malaysia Leadership Summit 2023 (Part 1)

Jun 28, 2023 13 Min Read
Navigating Paradoxes and Embracing Change: Insights from Malaysia Leadership Summit 2023

The lobby of Setia City Convention Centre was a vibrant hub of activity on the morning of 20th of June 2023. Throughout the lobby, small groups of delegates were seen huddled together, engaged in passionate discussions and exchanging business cards. This year’s Malaysia Leadership Summit 2023 (“Summit”) once again brought together distinguished speakers and thought leaders who shared valuable insights on navigating through these transitionary times and achieving breakthrough success. Leaders from institutions, businesses and non-governmental organisations gathered at the Summit to discuss how we can ‘Breakthrough to the Future’.

The Malaysian Leadership Summit 2023 was sponsored by Malayan Banking Berhad and SP Setia Berhad and organised by Leaderonomics and Global Leadership Network Malaysia in partnership with Together We Can Change The World. 

In the midst of rapid technological advancements and societal transitions, individuals and organisations find themselves grappling with the absence of standards and leadership across various domains. In this article, we will explore the key highlights from the Summit.

Read: Key Takeaways from the Malaysia Leadership Summit 2022

The Absence of Standards and Managing Paradoxes

Transitionary periods call for leaders who can guide and influence change. Instead of passively waiting for progress, individuals must find their voices and articulate their visions. Despite the absence of standards, breakthroughs are essential. This applies not only to careers but also to personal growth and organisational advancement.

Transitionary times are characterised by paradoxes that leaders must navigate skillfully. Roshan Thiran, explored the concept of paradox by highlighting how seemingly 2 incongruous actions can be congruous. Leaders are expected to be both humble and assertive, know when to love yet be assertive, or know when to carry out a task himself/ herself or delegate it and also know when to break rules while understanding the potential consequences. Citing the example of Ken Matsumoto, who defied policies to create the PlayStation and save Sony, Roshan’s speech prompted reflection during this complex time we live in.

Roshan Thiran speaking on balancing different ideas during transitionary periods

Roshan drew parallels between parental dilemmas and leadership paradoxes. He is of the view that parents also face challenges during these transitory and complex times. The parenting journey evolves as children grow older, demanding a delicate balance between visibility and invisibility. While younger children require direct intervention and guidance, older children benefit from empowerment and mentorship. The paradox lies in knowing when to be visible, inspiring confidence, and when to be invisible, allowing children to develop and gain experience.

Another critical paradox explored by Roshan is the delicate balance between control and freedom. Determining the right time to grant children independence while simultaneously providing guidance and support is a complex task. Parents must also strike a balance between being a parent vs being a friend, being present and focused vs preparing them for the future, realism and encouragement, allowing children to make mistakes and learn from them. Similarly, leaders and managers face the challenge of fostering a culture that embraces innovation while staying true to organisational values.

Navigating Complex Times

In an era characterised by technological advancements and societal shifts, the absence of standards across various domains presents significant challenges. Whether in the realm of cryptocurrencies or generative AI, the need for standards becomes apparent. By embracing paradoxes, and fostering a culture of innovation while maintaining values, individuals can navigate these complex times and achieve meaningful breakthroughs

Breakthrough to Success: Time to Update Our Internal Software

At the Summit, Justin Cohen, the programme manager and emcee, shed light on the keys to achieving breakthrough in our lives. Cohen emphasised the importance of understanding the context within which laws operate, highlighting that leadership entails embracing paradoxes. To effectively navigate these complexities, he suggested leveraging the power of stories, case studies, and the nuanced layers they offer, which can provide invaluable wisdom.

Cohen asserted that we are currently experiencing the most significant acceleration of change in human history, resulting in a revolutionary shift in our work and lifestyle. The accessibility of information through mobile devices and the advent of advanced AI technologies, such as ChatGPT, further accentuate the extent of this change. With the immense changes unfolding around us, how can we ensure we not only succeed but also thrive? The answer lies within the most remarkable computer known to the universe: our brains.

Cohen emphasised the significance of the software driving our brains which is learning. It is through continuous learning that humans have progressed throughout history. He challenged the crowd to update their ‘internal software’ to activate excitement, curiosity, and wonder. He is of the view that by downloading a new software of leadership and skills, we can equip ourselves to thrive amidst these unprecedented times. Cohen encouraged a conscious effort to cultivate a mindset that embraces growth and adaptation. Just as technology undergoes updates, so too must our own capabilities evolve.

Creating Brand Cultures: Growing Your Brand from Within

To truly establish a brand that resonates with customers and sets a company apart, organisations must focus on cultivating a brand culture from within. In a captivating presentation, Dr. Jerome Joseph offered valuable insights into how businesses can align their employees with their brand values, transforming them into brand advocates.

Dr. Joseph emphasised the significance of aligning the brand with the actions and behaviours of the employees. He shared an anecdote about how a senior executive at Disney who went above and beyond to create a memorable experience for a young boy. The executive returned the boy's lost teddy bear and included a heartfelt letter with it. This story exemplified how employees have the power to shape a brand's perception, either positively or negatively. It highlighted the importance of investing in building a strong brand culture within the organisation.

In an ideal scenario, employees would effortlessly align themselves with the organisation's vision, mission, and purpose. However, Dr. Joseph acknowledged that in the real world, challenges arise. Often, employees lack awareness of the brand's values, and the organisation fails to understand its employees. This lack of connection can hinder the establishment of a cohesive brand culture.

Three Tips for Building a Brand Culture

Dr. Joseph provided three key insights into building a brand culture that fosters employee alignment and engagement:

1.  Clarity: Understanding the brand is crucial for employees to represent it authentically. Dr. Joseph shared an experience during his travels where he encountered a brand campaign promoting ‘service with a smile’. However, he noticed that none of the employees were actually smiling. This observation underscored the importance of organisations researching their stakeholders and ensuring that their employees fully embrace the brand message. Clarity about the brand's values and expectations is vital for consistent brand representation.

2.  Connection: Establishing connections within the organisation plays a pivotal role in building a brand culture. Dr. Joseph suggested several strategies for fostering these connections, such as recognising and rewarding employees, conducting performance reviews that assess how employees embody the brand, engaging in internal marketing activities, and sharing success stories. He cited the example of Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, who displayed a ‘wall of champions’ in his office at AirAsia, showcasing employees who had exemplified the brand values. Additionally, Dr. Joseph emphasised the power of rituals. An example of a ritual carried out by one of his clients, is where employees regularly share stories of how they have delivered, lived, and uplifted the brand to their customers. Finally, training programs also contribute to fostering connections and empowering employees to become brand champions.

3.  Champion: To create a robust brand culture, organisations must cultivate a sense of ownership and advocacy among their employees. Dr. Joseph highlighted the importance of training and empowering employees to become brand champions, enabling them to influence both internal and external stakeholders. When employees are passionate advocates for the brand, they contribute to its growth and success.

Every action or gesture can have a profound influence on colleagues and customers. The stronger the brand, the greater the chances of thriving in the current business landscape.

Insights on Humanising Change Management

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a whirlwind of changes, creating a VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) environment like never before. These changes encompassed various aspects of life, including the way we work, such as the emergence of hybrid working models. Amidst this crisis, a noticeable shift towards inclusivity has taken place, particularly driven by the younger generation's desire to be actively involved in discussions and decisions.

Nadiah Tan Abdullah shared insights on humanising change management, while incorporating the renowned change management framework developed by John Kotter. Kotter's framework comprises eight stages that provide a systematic approach to change management:

1.Create a Sense of Urgency: Leaders must communicate the need for change and build awareness of the challenges and opportunities it presents.

2.Build a Coalition: Leaders should assemble a team of influential individuals who support the change and can drive it forward.

3.Create a Vision for Change: Leaders need to develop a clear and compelling vision that inspires and guides the change effort.

4.Communicate the Vision: Leaders must effectively communicate the vision to employees, ensuring understanding and buy-in from all levels of the organisation.

5.Empower Others: Leaders should empower employees to contribute to the change by removing obstacles and providing the necessary resources and support.

6.Create Quick Wins: Celebrating and recognising early successes helps maintain momentum and build confidence in the change process.

7.Build on the Change: Leaders must avoid complacency and continuously drive progress by reinforcing the change and addressing resistance.

8.Embed the Change: Leaders should embed the change into the organisation's culture and practices to ensure long-term sustainability.

You may like this: How Do You Change Inside Out?

Nadiah Tan Abdullah opines that to successfully humanise and drive change, these crucial factors must be considered : Leadership, Empathy, Agility, and Prioritisation and Planning (L.E.A.P).

Leadership: When it comes to driving change, effective leadership plays a paramount role. Leaders must genuinely believe in and be passionate about the mission behind the change. It is vital for leaders to exhibit unwavering energy and pride that resonates with the employees. Despite facing exhaustion and vulnerability, leaders must not succumb to spiralling down. Instead, they need to show up and be the cheerleaders for their teams. By being present and actively engaged, leaders can inspire and motivate employees to embrace change wholeheartedly.

Empathy: Understanding the dynamics and intricacies of a new environment is crucial for successful change management. This requires leaders to be empathetic and truly grasp the perspectives of their employees. It is important to recognise that equity is not synonymous with equality.

Each individual walks a unique path, and their experiences shape their views and responses to change. By taking the time to connect with employees on a personal level, leaders can gain valuable insights into what they are going through. This empathy enables leaders to tailor their approach and communication to address individual concerns effectively.

Agility: Being adaptable and flexible is another essential quality for driving change. Leaders must be chameleons, capable of adjusting their approach and communication style to match the needs and understanding of their employees. By speaking in a language that resonates with the workforce, leaders can foster better comprehension and engagement. This agility allows leaders to bridge the gap between themselves and their teams, facilitating smoother change management processes.

Prioritisation and Planning: To effectively manage change, a well-defined roadmap or framework is indispensable. Leaders need to prioritise and plan their change management initiatives carefully. This includes setting clear objectives, milestones, and metrics to measure progress and success. Having a commitment to follow through with the planned changes is crucial, as it instills confidence in the employees and demonstrates the organisation's dedication to the transformation process. With a comprehensive plan in place, leaders can navigate the complexities of change more efficiently and address potential obstacles along the way.

By embodying these qualities, leaders can foster a positive and inclusive work environment that embraces change and empowers employees to contribute to the organisation's success.

Nadiah Tan Abdullah sharing insights on navigating and driving change

Leadership in a Digital Age: Embracing New Possibilities and Thinking Differently

In life, we often come across moments that challenge our preconceived notions and push us to explore new paths. It is during these times that we must remember the power of thinking differently and embracing the opportunities that lie before us. This collection of insights aims to shed light on the importance of pursuing our passions, working hard, loving our customers, and, above all, thinking outside the box.

Frank Furness shared his personal journey at the Summit. At the age of 17, while his friends pursued traditional careers in medicine and law, he followed his passion for drumming and became a drummer. Although it didn't bring much financial success, the speaker emphasises the immense joy he experienced. However, circumstances eventually led him to seek a more stable career, and he decided to sell financial services. Despite facing rejections, his persistence and passion for selling eventually paid off.

Frank Furness speaking at the Summit

Frank spoke about the ability to think differently. He share an anecdote about a friend who challenged him to learn about social media, which led to a successful business collaboration. The friend's story exemplifies how success often comes not from sheer intelligence but from a willingness to embrace new ideas and perspectives.

Frank also spoke about ChatGPT and artificial intelligence (AI), expressing his fascination with the possibilities these technologies offer. He encouraged the participants to embrace these advancements, as they have the potential to enhance productivity and efficiency in various aspects of life. Throughout his sharing, he introduced various software and tools he has found useful in his business endeavours.

You will never be replace by AI, but you might be replaced by somebody using AI  - Frank Furness

Frank stressed the importance of thinking differently and approaching challenges with an open mind, as it is through this mindset that we can unlock our true potential and thrive in a rapidly evolving world. In summary, this collection of insights serves as a reminder to embrace our passions, work diligently, and foster strong connections with customers. It emphasises the significance of having fun, thinking differently, and being open to new possibilities.

Embracing Renaissance Leadership: Unleashing Creativity, Curiosity, and Connection in the Workplace

In today's rapidly evolving marketplace, a new kind of leader is emerging, one who embodies the qualities of creativity, curiosity, and care. These insights were shared by Jean Marie at the Summit.

Employees no longer seek mere employment; they yearn for meaningful work and purpose. They desire to be valued for their holistic contributions, not just the specific tasks assigned to them. They long to be recognised for their individuality and diverse perspectives. This new era, what Jean Marie DiGiovanna calls the "next renaissance," parallels the historical Renaissance, a time of profound rebirth for humanity.

Jean Marie DiGiovanna speaking on being Renaissance leaders

Reflecting on the Renaissance, one name stands out: Leonardo da Vinci, the quintessential Renaissance leader. Though renowned for his artistic prowess, da Vinci's talents extended far beyond painting. He was an architect, an engineer, a scientist, and a philosopher.

Jean Marie poses a thought-provoking question: If Leonardo da Vinci were present today, seeking employment, how would he be received in a job interview? She emphasises that in our pursuit of finding the perfect candidate with a specific skill set, we often overlook the hidden talents of individuals like da Vinci. Jean Marie envisions an alternative approach, one that embodies the spirit of a Renaissance leader - shift from fitting candidates into predetermined boxes to recognising and harnessing their unique talents.

Stop telling, start asking

The essence of Renaissance leadership lies in asking great questions. Jean Marie asserts that questions have the power to unlock hidden talent, spark innovative ideas, and encourage individuals to think deeply. By fostering a culture of curiosity and acknowledgement, leaders can create an environment where employees feel seen, heard, and understood.

The quality of answers depends on the quality of questions - Jean Marie DiGiovanna

Jean Marie challenges her audience to consider how many undiscovered talents might be present within their teams and organisations. How many "Leonardos" are waiting to be given a seat at the table? She emphasises that asking questions is essential for unleashing this untapped potential and developing future leaders.


Curiosity is a key element in cultivating Renaissance leadership. Jean Marie explains that children naturally possess this trait, asking an average of 300 questions per day. However, as individuals grow older, they tend to lose their sense of wonder and become fixated on acquiring knowledge. Once an individual is an expert, they cease to question, hindering their ability to adapt, innovate, and lead effectively.  

Leonardo da Vinci serves as a prime example of the power of curiosity. Despite being commissioned for art pieces, he consistently delivered late because he believed there was always more to learn. Curiosity, Jean Marie asserts, is the deep desire to continually learn and expand one's horizons.

She acknowledges that it is impossible to be both judgemental and curious at the same time. To embrace curiosity fully, we must open our minds and let go of judgments. Switch words from “Why” to “I wonder”. Jean Marie urges leaders to practise being fully present when interacting with others, setting aside preconceived notions and actively engaging in curiosity.

Finally, Jean Marie introduces the concept of connecting to innovate, drawing inspiration from the practices of Lorenzo de Medici during the Renaissance. By bringing together individuals from various domains, industries, and backgrounds, Medici fostered collaboration and harnessed the power of diverse perspectives. Jean Marie encourages leaders to seek connections with those who possess different skills, experiences, and perspectives, recognising that these interactions can spark innovation.


1.  Ask new questions;

2.  Respect diversity of thoughts and skills; and

3.  Connect to innovate.


Scott Friedman, co founder of Together We Can Change The World, interviewing the refugees on MSRI and their growth

In case you missed this: The Key to Collaboration: Insights from the Malaysia Leadership Summit 2019

Leadership is not a title or designation. It’s about impact, influence and inspiration - Robin Sharma is an advertisement free website. Your continuous support and trust in us allows us to curate, deliver and upkeep the maintenance of our website. When you support us, you allow millions to continue reading for free on our website. Will you give today? Click here to support us. 

Edited by: Kiran Tuljaram

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Lead Editor

Kiran Tuljaram, the Lead Editor at Leaderonomics, brings a wealth of experience to her role. With a background as a trained lawyer, she dedicated nearly a decade to the banking industry before embarking on her entrepreneurial journey. Following her tenure as a Legal Manager at a bank, Kiran founded and successfully ran multiple businesses, including the establishment of her own fashion accessories label. Balancing her entrepreneurial endeavours, Kiran is also a devoted mother to three girls. Her varied background in banking, motherhood, employment, occasional social work, and managing director in her business has provided her with invaluable insights and a unique perspective on the critical importance of leadership within organisations.


Irfan is a creative individual, who believes that there is something new to learn everyday. His curiosity is piqued at various fields, and his value of continual learning leads him to make connections with those different fields and with different people too. He is interning with the editorial team at Leaderonomics while pursuing a degree in Psychology.


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