The Key to Collaboration: Insights from the Malaysia Leadership Summit 2019

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28th Jul 2019

11 min read

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It’s 8.30 on a Thursday morning and there is already a crowd at the foyer of the Setia City Convention Centre in Shah Alam, which is about 40km from the Kuala Lumpur city centre. The area was filled with the chatter of people in business attire mingling with each other while they waited for the doors to the ballroom to open.

It was the third Malaysia Leadership Summit, and the crowd was made up of people from various business and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who came together to support community initiatives in Malaysia. 

Jointly organised by Leaderonomics and Together We Can Change the World – with Maybank as the title sponsor, S P Setia Bhd as the venue sponsor, and Tenaga Nasional Bhd as the gold sponsor – this year’s summit saw the largest turnout yet, with nearly 500 participants.

In a heartfelt sharing session that kicked off the summit – which was themed ‘Connect. Collaborate. Contribute.’ – Maybank group chief human capital officer Nora Abd Manaf opened up about her experiences during her formative years and how that has contributed to her personal leadership journey. 

“I was this focused, tenacious person who just wanted to win. I wasn’t very conscious of the people around me, other than what I had to do,” she said.

Nora’s tenacity and go-getter personality might have helped her move up the career ladder when she first started out, but it was only when she realised the value of collaboration and generosity that she truly became a leader.

“When I cared for my peers and others, the winning felt so much better. And so that has shaped me,” she said.

“When you have a generous mindset you will then truly collaborate, because collaboration is what synergy is all about. I urge, I plead, I implore: that all of us – if nothing else – should have a generous mindset.”

Nora (left) recounting her experiences during her formative years to Leaderonomics CEO Roshan Thiran (right) during the opening dialogue.

Synergy was indeed on full display on July 11, with collaboration happening on our shores in Malaysia with help from 10 international speakers from the United States, the Philippines and Singapore.

Here are some key takeaways from the MLS 2019 speakers:

Communication and influence

George Walther, author of the book Power Talking, explained how the words we choose shape the image we project, both for our organisation and ourselves. They also determine how much cooperation we will gain from others, as well as influence our self-image, confidence and determination. 

“Think about your interactions with other people,” urged Walther. “When you say, ‘I have to check on that’ or ‘I have to call you back’, you’re really saying, ‘It’s not something I want to do. It’s kind of a burden.’ But if you were to say, ‘I’ll be happy to call you back’ or ‘I’d like to check with the person in charge’ – it gives you a little boost.”

Walther also suggested that we shouldn’t colour facts by speaking about it in a negative way, as the words we use to convey a neutral fact determines how people will react to us.

For example, if there is a long queue, a waiter could say “I can seat you at 7.30pm” instead of saying, “I can’t seat you till 7.30pm” – the potential customer would probably be more willing to wait if he/she heard the former.

Business leader and consultant Raju Mandhyan shared that to successfully influence others, an individual first needs to become part the person’s life – and this can only be achieved by giving the other party space, trust and respect first. 

“If you want to connect with people at any level or diversity, you need to not just listen to them well – be it with your heart or with everything you’ve got. You don’t need to observe them and study them as objects – you need to become part and parcel of their ecosystem,” said Raju.

“They need to begin to trust you at the level that they will not trust others. They need to see that you are theirs and that they are yours. When they feel that they are one people with you, they will begin to talk.”

Mindsets and perceptions

We all have our own perceptions and limiting beliefs that stop us from attempting to reach our goals and make a difference in society – and when we continually tell ourselves these stories and listen to them repeatedly, we soon begin to believe them. 

Step Up Step Out founder Carolyn Rose Hart shared one tip to put a stop to this:

“As you go through life, notice that your conversations are stopping you and use these four words, ‘Nevertheless, I am willing’ – willing to be caring, to be astute, to uphold standards of integrity.”

She urged us to notice our own qualities the same way we see the good in others – these are our standards of integrity, our values and beliefs – and say: “I know they are mine because I see them in others”. “Own who you really are, and when people look at you, that’s what they’re going to experience, because we’re all mirrors of each other,” said Hart.

“Instead of being a weakness, kindness is in fact a strength,” stated Anden co-founder Mark Bayoud. He said that in a world that is caught up with being busy and with all the pressure exerted on us at work, it takes a strong person to be kind; to be willing to say, “Hey, I’m going to do it differently.”

He added: “I would argue that kindness is the key to success. ‘Nice’ is sometimes used in a negative light, but being nice shows a big, big pillar of strength because it’s so easy to be mean and to frown.”

Bayoud believes that it’s not the fittest and strongest who will survive in today’s world – it’s the kindest. “We all know that successful professionals use kindness as an interpersonal skill for success,” he said.

“The ripple effect is comprehensive. It changes your whole philosophy of your business; changes the vibe, the feel, your staff morale… and the benefits far outweigh any time delay that’s possibly lost.”

Contribution

“At some point there’s a change in our lives when we start noticing that it’s way more important to us now to give,” said platinum album singer-songwriter Jana Stanfield.

She encouraged us to ask ourselves this: “How can we give? How can we make a contribution through the skills that we have, our own individual abilities and aptitudes?”

Leaderonomics Youth programmes lead Rahilah Najumudeen explaining the team’s various community initiatives to a delegate.

Leadership

As someone who grew up in the Silicon Valley and still lives and works there, leadership expert Rebecca Morgan has spent a lot of time studying not just her own clients, but also the other companies in the area.

She pointed out a couple of indicators of a thriving workplace – your staff are excited to come to work and they solve problems without your involvement.

Morgan also referenced the findings from Google’s Project Aristotle, which lists five key areas as the basis for team success. In the order of which mattered most to employees, they are: psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity, meaning of work and impact of work.

Who is on the team matters much less than how team members interact (that’s the psychological safety part, how they interact), structure their work (that’s dependability, structure, clarity), and view their contributions (that’s the meaning and impact of their contribution),” said Morgan.

“It doesn’t really matter if you’ve got a lot of geniuses on your team. Yet it matters, these other ways that the team comes together.”

“People are an organisation’s greatest asset, but also the greatest pain. And the higher you climb [the corporate ladder], the more people you have to deal with,” said business and career coach Kim Underhill. 

Some people are reluctant leaders, and Underhill said that this is because of their fear of the unknown. “If you know what you’re doing and if you would simply take what you’re doing and keep practising it, you will be fine,” she said. 

She shared that many of the people she has coached tell her they lack confidence and want to build it, to which she asks them, “Which aspect would you like confidence in?”

She said that when we have that figured out, we then need to conduct thorough research to really understand the subject matter – and with our newfound knowledge comes a new confidence, because knowledge is power.

Personal transformation coach and speaker Paul N. Larsen illustrated the differences between a leader of scarcity vs a leader of abundance – a leader of scarcity hoards information and leads with fear and a fixed mindset, never seeking feedback and always pointing blame; a leader of abundance loves to collaborate, wants to connect and contribute, and shows their vulnerabilities and admits mistakes.

“Stepping out of your comfort zone is something you want to do if you want to grow; to get uncomfortable a little bit, to show your vulnerability. Don‘t be afraid to make mistakes,” said Larsen.

Larsen pointed out that we will all make mistakes as humans, but it is how we respond to the mistakes that makes the difference. “You can react without even thinking, or you can take a nanosecond to take a step back and respond appropriately – so think about this: The next time someone in your organisation makes a mistake, how do you respond?” 

The future

Motivational humourist Scott Friedman posed these questions: “Do you see what you sell through your customers’ eyes? And what do the eyes of the future really look like?” 

“You either get busy living, or you get busy dying,” said Friedman, sharing a quote from The Shawshank Redemption. He said that there are so many ways in which we could approach the future – we could fear, ignore or accept it; we can anticipate, imagine and create it. 

“The best way to predict the future is to create it – by making the best choices that we know of at the time and learning from the outcomes of those choices, and then making new choices. And it’s all about the connection with people, collaboration, and making a contribution to society,” he stated.

Technology analyst Manoj Menon said that small companies – which have the competitive advantage of agility, speed, and the ability to disrupt – are now attacking the big companies, creating a phenomenon he calls ‘death by a thousand cuts’. He elaborated, saying that companies “don’t die of a heart attack anymore – they’re slowly, slowly dying”.

Acknowledging that it is extremely challenging for companies to reinvent themselves in this environment, Manoj encouraged everyone to first determine the value they are creating and the impact that they have on the business, and look at the company’s growth – is it linear or exponential? 

“The strategy of linear growth is a strategy of the previous era. The strategy of today’s era is to create exponential growth. If you are really just delivering incremental growth, then you are dead,” states Manoj.

“This is what it means to be in the fourth industrial revolution – it is about the ability to use tools that give us the ability to create exponential growth.”

Ending on a high note: The delegates, speakers and organising committee are all smiles at the end of the summit.

The Bigger Picture

The summit also saw a panel discussion on business and social impact between Maybank Foundation CEO Shahril Azuar Jimin, ECM Libra Foundation board of trustees member Lim Beng Choon and Mercy Malaysia vice president II Datin Raja Riza Shazmin Raja Badrul Shah, which was moderated by Leaderonomics country general manager, Malaysia, Caroline Ong. 

“In many markets, social impact is no longer a peculiarity. For many companies, social impact is how they define themselves, how they differentiate themselves from the competition, and how they excel in the marketplace,” said Shahril. 

He added: “In Malaysia, many businesses are doing a lot for the community, but a lot are still at the lower levels of philanthropy. Many are heading towards sustainability, or core components such as environmental and social governance of how they do business and trying to merge those elements into the business.”

Lim disagreed, saying that the trend towards social enterprises is skewed towards privileged millennials. He said: “As a foundation, we encounter a lot of poor kids, and all of them are just trying to survive. And so the [typical] millennial behaviours don’t actually show when you talk to them. 

“Therefore, I think it is the same here, in that employees will be proud that their company is doing some social work and making an impact on society, but they don’t necessarily think that every company must be a social enterprise. So, I think there’s a differentiation there,” said Lim.

In terms of how challenging it is for an NGO such as Mercy Malaysia to garner support from businesses and organisations, Raja Riza said: “How we approach our partners is very easy. We will tell them, ‘Look, this is what we do, this is our objective, would you want to be a part of our journey?’”

“And really, we’ve got very good support, and our track records show that. But the thing is, people always see what is in front – they don’t see what’s behind, and it’s a struggle as well. When you reach a certain stage, people expect from you. People expect you to be the way they want you to,” Raja Riza shared. 

From left: Ong, Raja Riza, Lim and Shahril discussing business and social impact during the panel session.

We also spoke to S P Setia Bhd chief human resources officer Nadiah Tan Abdullah and TNB Engineering Corporation Sdn Bhd managing director Ir. Mahathir Nor Ismail to get their thoughts on how leaders can connect and collaborate with their stakeholders and contribute to the community.

Here’s what they had to say:

Nadiah: “Leaders need to be open and exposed to new learning, because if you’re not open to new learning, you tend to be confined to your own knowledge and therefore you won’t be able to collaborate with others on new ideas.

“And I think it’s also all about having that care for other people – I think that’s so important. Because if you don’t care for other people, then you won’t even bother about collaboration – it won’t be part of your vocabulary.”

Mahathir: “One of the most important characteristics of a leader is to be engaged – not only with employees, customers and other stakeholders, but more importantly, with the society where they are based. 

“In this age of the 4th industrial revolution, this can make or break an organisation. If society sees that an organisation is relatable and interconnected and engaged with them, then they will appreciate the organisation more and this will contribute to the sustainability of the organisation and its future progression.”

   

The Malaysia Leadership Summit 2019: Connect, Collaborate, Contribute was organised by Leaderonomics in partnership with Together We Can Change the World. Maybank was the title sponsor, S P Setia Bhd the venue sponsor, and Tenaga Nasional Bhd the gold sponsor. Head to bit.ly/MLS2019photos to check out some of the photos from the summit.

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