Leading The Young


Sarah Tan


5 min read

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The Asia Leadership Conference and Lessons I Learnt On Youth Leadership

LDR-PDF-downloadPhoto credit (above): Michigan Municipal League | Flickr

The 21st century and beyond

With the objective to challenge young minds, stretch their thinking, and invoke deeper thoughts, The Jeffrey Cheah Foundation and the Sunway Education Group, along with the Center for Asia Leadership Initiatives and the Asia Leadership Trek, hosted the Asia Leadership Conference and Camp from Aug 17 to Aug 22.

The whole conference and camp was also co-hosted by the Harvard Club of Malaysia.

Tan Sri Dr Lin See Yan gave a speech at the closing ceremony and presented certificates to the camp delegates.

Participants and guests were not only given delicious refreshment throughout the gala night, but also good food by Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah during his keynote address.

Sharing his background and philanthropic activities, Cheah’s speech can be summarised with an amusing yet meaningful quote by him, “I aspire to inspire before I expire”.

Bringing in Harvard-trained facilitators for various workshops, lectures, and talks, the Sunway Education Group aims to bring only the best to their employees and students.

What some of the delegates say

In a recent interview with delegate Rufus Ng, the 24-year-old management associate for a telecommunications company, said the workshop that impacted him the most was on “Overcoming immunity to change” by Shazia Khan.

“We are often taught to be empathetic to the plight of those who are in trouble. Shazia expanded the scope and shared how this is important even in a corporate environment.

“In one of her sessions, she provided us with a famous Harvard case study where we were asked to decide whether to allow for this race car team to race despite strong possibilities that the engine may fail,” shared Rufus.

“Being hungry for success and attracted by the potential of large profits, a clear majority of us chose to proceed with the race.

“The interesting twist to this study was that the information provided was identical to that provided to the management team tasked to decide whether to allow the Challenger rocket to launch despite there being a risk that the launch may fail due to cold temperatures.

“The management team allowed the launch, and it resulted unfortunately with the 25th Challenger exploding shortly after take-off, killing the entire space crew.

“This simple exercise made me think a little more about the way I make my decisions, especially about how I perceive risks and rewards,” he said.

Another delegate, David Ng, a 26-year-old reservation executive of g Hotel Penang, credited “The Art of Communication” workshop to be the one that impacted him the most, as it taught him skills that were applicable to his job.

“The story and examples provided in the workshop really inspired me. The workshop shaped me into a better speaker by building up my confidence.

“It also sharpened my public speaking skills. All the skills that I had learnt during the workshop will really benefit me in my workplace,” he said.

Impact on self

Furthermore, David also gained a changed perception of leadership throughout the camp.

“I learnt that a leader is not always just leading people in a company or organisation. I learnt that leadership is all about a person’s initiative, ownership and passion in pursuing something. Everyone can be a leader by taking ownership and initiative to handle issues,” he said.

One of the few clear takeaways for Rufus was a new view on what strength in leadership was.

“Humility and honest introspection of one’s struggles is not necessarily a sign of a weak leader but can actually be a demonstration of strength.

“As Asians, we often try to hide our failures by sweeping them under the carpet. It takes courage to own up to these failures. This is especially true when we are leaders of our respective communities,” he said.

From a younger age group, Lydia Cheah, a 17-year-old student, felt that leadership “is not so much about waiting for someone to appoint you as a leader, it is about taking the initiative.”

Student Amanda Darshini, 18, says: “One of the most important aspects of being a leader is that you are confident in your own abilities. The best leaders are those who believe in themselves.”

New form of leadership

On the importance of becoming a 21st century leader and how we can go about assimilating to such a role, Rufus said new employees are those from Gen-Y and Gen-Z.

He said, “Individuals from these generations generally don’t take too kindly to following orders blindly. They will question and sometimes even challenge decisions which they do not agree with or do not understand. Individuals from these generations also often want to be empowered.

“If we were to really ‘know our audience’, we as leaders need to adapt and be prepared to empower these new employees as well as ensure that they understand why certain things are done.”

Darshini, concurred on the importance of adaptability, “It’s important to embrace change. When you become fixed on something, you run the risk of having your ideas and products lose relevance.”

Similarly, Cheah says, “being flexible and willing to learn along with your peers is one of the key factors in being a successful leader in the 21st century.”

Impact on nation

Why was this short conference and camp held, and what use would it be to us? Is it something that is able to impact our nation?

According to Rufus, yes.

“We have a group of brilliant young aspiring leaders, all eager to learn and also influential in their own spheres, being trained and taught concepts that were previously within the exclusive domain of the American elite to lead better.

“It would not be surprising if they in turn shared these concepts and notions with their friends and families,” he said.

He also reflected, “While arguably this change would not necessarily occur overnight, I am confident that it would not take long for it to have a strong positive effect onto young Malaysian leadership.”

On a related note, David said, “We may change our nation by building up our own family members, our own community, our workplace, and even our schools.

Gaurav Choudhury, a writer for Hindustan Times, once said, ‘a leader should lead by example.’”


Overall, it can be easily seen how impactful the Asia Leadership Conference and Camp was. Sunway’s ability and dedication to bring in great leaders to impart their various thought processes, as well as inspire others, is impressive.

Hopefully, through such education, this will play a part in building up great young leaders in Malaysia who can in turn bring positive impact to our nation.

Cheah and Darshini summed up the whole event quite accurately: “Asia Leadership Conference and Camp forces you out of your comfort zone and to learn from individuals who inspire through their own experiences.”


(Above: Participants at the Asia Leadership Camp 2014)

More feedback

“Exhilarating and packed with adrenaline-pounding workshops to increase your capacity for introspection and self-mastery. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” – Dr Jason Tee, 29

“To begin with, five days are never enough as we were very eager to attend every session of Asia Leadership Camp 2014. The Harvard Fellows are the best mentors you could ever find around for almost every field you are interested in. Given the chance to participate in the next winter trek, I would recommend everybody to go for it!” – Leonardy Kristianto, 20

“I am very impressed with the credentials of the Harvard instructors. The learning was thought-provoking and the whole experience exceeded my expectation. I would highly recommend the programme to young executives/professionals. I am now inspired to take on more challenging leadership roles.” – Phoon Kar Liang, 28

Originally published in The Star’s MyStarJob pullout on 4 October, 2014.

Sarah hopes to become a successful young leader who can one day impact her nation as well. You can contact her at editor@leaderonomics.com.

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