Leadership in a Changing World

Joyce Cheryl Lim


When one is asked to respond to a “…Eh… you didn’t know…?”, the answer should always be “Now I know.”

How do you know what you don’t know if you don’t know what you don’t know?

People who always end a comment with “… you mean… you didn’t know this…? “ are engaging in behavior that is intended to suppress the other person, in an attempt to make oneself seem just a bit smarter. The key word here being “seem”.  In reality this is not a smart move as an attempt to pump up one’s own ego is quite pathetic.

If you’re one of these people who completes a conversation with “… you didn’t know?”, perhaps it is time to change the habit as this is not an enrolling question to ask of others.

Ironically in Singapore, there is a collocal way of saying “… you dunno meh…?” which is intended as a light hearted point of feigned ignorance on the part of the person who didn’t know or is unaware of a situation. Fortunately, the tone of this is casual so there is almost none of the suppressive connotations as far as local Singaporeans are concerned.

Singlish – you dunno meh?

But we digress. Let’s get back to the point of not knowing what we don’t know. The irony of not knowing is always ignorance, which brings about 2 thoughts. Firstly, sometimes we learn of things that we would rather not know. In this regard, ignorance is bliss. But is it really? Secondly, not knowing means we can adopt an eager beaver attitude to learn and discover more.

I come from the perspective of being an inquisitive bee. The more I read words and quips that I don’t understand, the more I look it up on Google. Google is great for information. The more we know, the better we get at being “all knowing”. So here are 5 tips to focus on, so that you don’t get your pants in a knot every time someone insinuates an inquiring “… you didn’t know this…?”.

Establish a Dream Mindset

If you don’t dream at least once a day, please start. Start dreaming about your dream life, your dream home, your dream partner, dream, dream dream. At the core of it all, establish what you would be doing every single day if you never had to think about earning a living – what are you interested in, what skills do you have that you can pass on. Stretch your imagination and establish a dream mindset . Everything is possible in your dreams, so design your dream life instead of worrying about any situation you may be in.

Be Assumption-less

Do your best to not assume things, or be too quick to take on other people’s opinions on matters, or have other people’s emotions projected onto you. All this takes practice simply because we are so used to being in some sort of group consensus, losing our own identity in the process. As you stand as a leader, firm in your own truth and reality, you also want to be respectful and not project your own reality onto others. Ignorance is brought about by assumptions with the most misleading assumptions being the ones we don’t even know we are making.  So, communicate more, ask more, seek clarity and truth. And watch out for those cynical memes and naysayers looking for negative attention.

Ballet and Dance

Model the ballerina and danseur with moves that are gentle, swift and powerful. We talk about being able to pivot at times of change, and there is no better way to pivot than on tippy toes – that’s how light you want to get so that any movement and change is effortless. Regardless of your actual physical weight, it’s the attitude of a dance and ballet that you want to adopt. The thought of pirouetting multiple times will have you feel lighter and more flexible, which is the start to adopting a lighter frame of mind.

Get Gutted

Develop a strong gut. Life is going to throw you a couple of curve balls and if you react to them all the time, you’ll get pretty tired. If you’re constantly in reaction – usually fueled as a short bad temper tantrum – then you know that there is some trigger there you should clear or it will get in the way of your dreams. Talk to yourself and ask yourself some questions. Does this curveball excite me? Who will I be working with? Does the new team interest me? What can I learn? Never ever ask yourself WHY cos the self-depraving answer will always be “because I’m xxx”. Asking yourself why will lead to blame of self or others and there is no value to that at all!


In every crisis there is an opportunity, just like the saying – behind every cloud there’s a silver lining. Train yourself to look at the cup as being half full, not half empty. In a VUCA world, disruption and change is second nature so you might as well ride the wave and have some fun while you’re at it. Look for the opportunity every minute, every day. Opportunities are everywhere, waiting to be discovered. Learn how to see them and create them. Once you start doing this, you’ll find opportunities showing up just about everywhere.

Finally, always remember that ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is poverty, devastation, tragic and the ultimate kiss of death on a team.

The Training Dilemma

As organisations adapt to change, the role of learning and development   in supporting leaders to navigate new initiatives is fast becoming a priority. With the recent impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and festering of social unrest and racial disharmony across countries, leaders have had to rethink how they operate projects and teams, finding new avenues to reach goals in compressed time spans. (UN 2021).

Training has been integral to organisations who have had to transit to a hybrid workforce, replacing in-person events with virtual rooms and taking operational safety and compliance training to heightened levels. This ingress of change has forced organisations to take a strong look at their purpose, processes and  people. Having a clear purpose has become a retention strategy for many organisations as more individuals gravitate to find meaning in their jobs, searching for choices as they associate themselves with creating positive impacts in building a better world.  (Chavez & Palsule 2020).

Learning & Development today must establish that all aspects of training activities; from processes and programs to identifying and leveraging resources, are strategically aligned to  business objectives and the company’s long term growth. This requires team leads and trainers to have clear sightlines of changing goals and priorities, communicating clearly and with accuracy and honesty to ensure that  everyone works towards the same objectives.

While most leaders know this intentionally, the results are far from reality. (Groysberg, Lee et all, 2018).

Today’s Challenges

A 2016 study by McKinsey reports that organization spent a total of $360B globally on training. The results of the study showed that only 25% of employees trained believe that training partially improved performance. In fact, 75% of managers surveyed from 50 organizations were disappointed with their company’s L&D function with only  12 % of employees applying any new skills learnt. Ironically 70% reported that they did not have mastery of the skills needed to do their jobs. (Armer, Gast & Dam, 2016).

While this is in 2016, the situation has not improved much.

“is it over yet?”

According to a recent study by  Gartner in 2020, the larger part of training in today’s companies is deemed ineffective. The training purpose, timing, and content is flawed. Familiar ways of envisioning skills needs is not working. HR leaders require a vigorous compelling skills strategy that empowers employees to master and administer enticing new skills with speed and alacrity. This need has been further amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Leaders,   while adapting to new ways of working and living,  find themselves trying to catch up only to be left even further behind. (Baker, 2020).

This creates stress levels which can lead to first signs of mental disintegration , describing a state in which various parts of the mind are not connecting to operate as one single integrated unit. Each part of the mind – memory, current thoughts feelings, sensing capacities like sight and hearing, truth registers like conscious thinking and feeling to make the right choices – are working independent of each other rather than as one integrated whole. (Marchetti, G. 2018).

The immediate outcome of this mental fragmentation is that the individual lacks empathy, courage and strategy, resulting in compulsive action that is driven predominately by fear. Physical results can include somewhat outrageous behaviors which can be seen as dysfunctional, yet functional in its own reality. (Burrowes, 2019).

How often do we see this in organizations? When a leader blows up at something seemingly insignificant yet made so very very important? Don’t sweat the small stuff they say, yet the small stuff keeps popping up like a zit you can’t get rid of.

Unfortunately, this type of behavior is widespread in the workplace. Even when seen as some kind of inconsistent behavior, most just act on the basis of their own predominant emotion which is usually fear – and rationalize the behavior. (Ashford & Humphrey 1993).

This psychological state is so widespread that it affects virtually everyone. In fact, the disfunction of minds has been described as posing the greatest threat to human survival on earth today. (World Health Organization 2012).

Unsustainable Training?

Corporate training is typically presented as uniform topics, based on an organisation’s  L&D schedule, and delivered at a time that has little relevance to the employee’s results. The learning is not always sustainable, nor is it relevant and almost everything just goes to waste. HR is often “wasting time” and effort churning out training programs that do little to further business objectives or advance the careers of employees. (Sneader, Singhal & Sternfels 2021).

In many cases, the education isn’t much about learning but about people boasting or “signalling”. (Caplan, 2018).

People signal through continuous professional education (CPE) credits in preparation of a portfolio for a promotion. L&D executives also signal their worth by fulfilling their own KPIs – such as employee’s earned CPE credits – instead of directing attention to  establish real business impact. What real value does meeting a KPI contribute to if the end result is having employees overworked, stressed about processes and systems that causes overthinking and mental fragmentation? Coupled with a VUCA environment and the impelling pace of change and interruptions, overwhelm grows to be synonymous with the human experience and no one is immune to it.   (Silverman 2020).

Another challenge in the L&D industry is what German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus pioneered in the late 19th Century known as “The Forgetting Curve.”  Ebbinghaus said that if new information isn’t applied, we forget about 75% of it after just six days. (Ebbinghaus 2011).

Employees attend trainings to possibly clock training hours as mandated by the organisation. Many L&D programs fail to link the learning to the job, treating both as separate entities and forgetting that the entire purpose of training is to create knowledge for the learner and develop the learners skills and proficiencies. (Glaveski 2019).

In fact, ineffective training causes more harm than good as there are time and opportunity costs,  with programs actually creating a negative return on investment for the organisation. Clarity on why the program is conducted and sharing this context with learners is almost always missing and participants fail to understand that the program’s success rests largely on them.  (Phillips & Phillips,  2017).

The Rise of the Corporate University

The rapidly changing Learning & Development environment has resulted in the birth of the corporate university which is strategic tool adopted by organizations as they adapt to a high speed ever changing business environment. (Dyer et all, 2020).

Some of the biggest corporate universities started in  America, with notable companies like GE, Deloitte, Apple, General Motors, Boeing, McDonalds. In fact, the Deloitte University, launched in Texas 2010, is dedicated to L&D having delivered more than 6 million learning hours to over 500,000 participants. (Deloitte 2011).

Siemens was one of the first to develop a corporate University in 1890, followed by Northrup in the 1940 and Disney in the 1950s. By the late 20th century, almost 80% of Fortune 500 companies had their own corporate Universities. (Nixon & Helms 2002). 

Besides achieving the mission of the organisation and cultivating a culture of learning,  knowledge and wisdom, the future of corporate universities really lies in blended learning –  a combination of lectures, forums, in-field applications, personal and results-oriented feedback and online engagement. Key is developing a sustainable learning system for employees without disrupting daily operations while ensuring that content is delivered consistently, preferably in bite sized modules. (Armer, Gast & Dam 2016).

Corporate academies are transforming. Trending is the movement from physical premises to online learning on demand, with some face to face interactions. While permanent faculties are costly, they do provide an environment that boosts innovation and the fresh thinking that tends to come along with peer interactions.  As such, organisations are embracing technology as a disruptor to transform their learning ecosystems, with corporate universities now becoming a vehicle for ASEAN leadership.  (Aubrey 2017).  

So does this mean organisations should gear towards developing an inhouse curriculum to start? Well, possibly. Let’s first start with an audit of who’s teaching who. After all it’s the people that realty matter.

Like Dr. Buckminster Fuller says – the best way to predict the future is to design it.  (Fuller 2002). So maybe its time to take a step back and get a broad overview of what’s happening on the ground.


Armer, R., Gast, A., Dam, N (2016) Learning at the speed of business. McKinsey Quarter. May 2016.

Ashforth, B. E., & Humphrey, R. H. (1993). Emotional Labour in Service Roles: The Influence of Identity. The Academy of Management Review18(1), 88–115.

Aubrey, B. (2017). Why ASEAN Corporate Universities are on the rise. Sept 25. Asean Human Development Organization (AHDO). [online] available at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-asean-corporate-universities-rise-bob-aubrey  

Baker, M (2020). Stop Training Employees in Skills They’ll Never Use. Aug 28. Gartner Resource Center.  Stamford USA.

Burrowes, R. (2019). The Disintegrated Mind: The Greatest Threat to Human Life. 14 May. Scoop Health [online] available at https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/GE1905/S00059/the-disintegrated-mind-the-greatest-threat-to-human-life.htm  

Caplan, B. (2018) The Case against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money. New York. Princeton University Press.

Chavez, A., & Palsule, S (2020) Rehumanizing Leadership: Putting purpose and meaning back into business. New York. Duke CE

Dyer, A., Dyrchs, S., Bailey, A., Burkner, H.P., & Puckett, J. (2020). Why it’s Time to Bring Learning to the C-Suite. July 14th. Boston Consulting Group. [online] available at https://www.bcg.com/publications/2020/why-it-is-time-to-bring-learning-to-the-c-suite.

Deloitte. (2011). Growing the world’s best leaders. Deloitte.com [online] available at https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/deloitteuniversity-leadership-center.html

Ebbinghaus, H. (2011) Memory; A Contribution to Experimental Psychology. New York. Columbia University.

Fuller, Buckminster. (2002). Critical Path. St Martins USA. Griffin Publishing.

Glaveski S. (2019) Where Companies go wrong with Learning and Development. Harvard Business Review. Oct 2. [online] available at https://hbr.org/2019/10/where-companies-go-wrong-with-learning-and-development.

Groysberg, B., Lee, J., Price, J., Cheng, J.Y. (2018) The Leaders Guide to Corporate Culture. Jan-Feb. Harvard Business Review. [online] available at https://hbr.org/2018/01/the-leaders-guide-to-corporate-culture

Marchetti, G. (2018). Consciousness: a unique way of processing information. Cogn Process 19, 435–464 (2018).

Nixon, J.C., & Helms, M.M. (2002) Corporate Universities vs education institutions. Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol 34 No 4. UK. MCB UP Ltd : 144-150

Phillips, P & Phillips, J. (2017) The Business Case for Learning.  New York. ATD Press.

Sneader, K., Singhal, S., & Sternfels B. (2021). What Now? Decisive Actions to emerge stronger in the next normal. September. McKinsey Business: 43-51

UN (2021). World Leaders Adopt Declaration Promising Safer, More Resilient world for Future Generations. 25 Sept. UN General Assembly Meeting, Plenary 75th Session, 3rd Meeting. [online] available at  https://www.un.org/press/en/2020/ga12267.doc.htm.

World Health Organization (WHO) (2012). Depression: A Global Crisis. World Federation of Mental Health.  October 10th. [online] available at https://www.who.int/mental_health/management/depression/wfmh_paper_depression_wmhd_2012.pdf. (viewed 15th Sept 2021).

Leading the Learning Organization

Leadership makes great demands on the leader. The challenges of leadership stem from external people and situations; internal within the leader and those impacted and associated with the leadership role itself.

Recent shifts to knowledged-based digital economies requires organizations to have skilled, diverse workforces led by exceptional knowledge-driven leaders.

Senge outlines 5 disciplines required to create a learning organisation.  Leaders whose visionary aspirations continue to inspire while they continue to learn, develop personal mastery, improve and share learnings with their teams , allows for systems thinking which is the essence to change management. (Senge 1990).

The growing importance of learning and development (L&D)  activities within organizations are fast becoming a priority.  

L&D strategies are adopted to meet the changing needs of the organization with programs formulated in alignment with the organization’s vision for the future, implemented across all levels of the company as outlined below. (McKinsey 2019, Dam 2008).

Learning today encompasses both professional and personal development. Developing people capabilities means that companies must consistently invest in developing the next generation of leaders to ensure that knowledge capital remains an intangible asset of the company.

Creating a values-based culture that includes L&D is also important as millennials are increasingly interested to work for value-based sustainable enterprises who have missions that include contributing to society.

Motivating employees through learning opportunities and developing new skills and competencies is an engagement strategy which allows employers to develop themselves as a choice employer, especially in markets where talent pools are challenging and scarce. (PWC 2018).

Leveraging workforce learning ensures that employees adapt to new methodologies and systems which facilitates a dynamic workforce to pivot, change and support organizational performance.

Productivity at work is now an outdated concept; thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic which has resulted in distributed and hybrid workforces. (Koss, 2020).

As talent is an organization’s competitive advantage, companies must excel at attracting, developing and retaining the talent they require, especially in highly competitive market segments like hospitality and tech. As such, corporate universities are fast emerging as a vehicle to confront shrinking talent pools. (Kolo et all 2013).

Besides the map of corporate universities outlined by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) there are some newer additions.

PIXAR University offers ongoing training and optional classes for all employees as part of a strategy to develop a learning mindset amongst all employees. (Catmull, 2008).

To grow their leadership  pool, AT&T University collaborates with Georgia Tech and Udacity to offer masters programs and nanodegrees for web and mobile development, data analytics and curriculum focused on leadership and management development.(Donovan & Benko, 2016).

Banyan Tree Holdings in collaboration with Cornell University has their own management academy in Phuket that offers hospitality skills based certification courses as part of a strategy to develop and retain managers and leaders for  Banyan Tree’s group of properties around the world. (Banyan 2021).

So what does it take to establish yourself as a learning organisation, growing an effective team of leaders for the future?  

1. Ensure that L&D is designed for growth

Improve employee performance by providing “in the moment learning” and long-term development paths. Today’s learners are impatient, distracted and overwhelmed. Traditional methods of learning and training are not effective anymore. Learners want to learn on their own time, in their own way. Being in control and having access to L&D at any time is key. Learning integrated into the business means that new methods and techniques are needed, with a broader context for each learning platform provided to learners. (D’Aquin, 2017).

Organizations designed for growth also reward individuals who actively engage in their own growth. L&D professionals view learning from the employee’s perspective and focus on simplifying the employee’s work life, anticipating their needs, eliminating the barriers to learning and offering learning experiences that are relevant and specific. (HROnline 2019).

2. Engineer explored learning experiences

Create conditions that allow employees to plan their future with the organisation. Allow learners to explore by establishing processes that allow for clear decision-making, encouraging greater risk-taking and exploration among employees. This is strategic for companies who want to be future ready. (McKinsey 2019).

3. Provide learners with guided adaptation

Invest time to  provide learners with coaches or supervisory guides who can ensure that learners are implementing their learning fast and accelerating performance by adapting quickly and moving faster. (Heifetz & Linsky 2002).

4. Engage in accelerated evolution

Organisations mature and evolve as a result of their learning which improves mental frameworks and mindsets. Encourage quality conversations between supervisors and employees and position risk as impactful and supportive. (KPMG 2018).

My Reflections

Perhaps if organisations use the 4 indicators as a guide to create learning opportunities that are useful, valuable, and delivered as part of the flow of work, they will experience better business outcomes. This is simply because employees are encouraged to learn, share and experiment, which allows for the stewardship of ideas for the future.

As for me, the leader – managing leadership challenges is a daily activity, one that I can best navigate by being a lifelong learner myself.  (Dam 2018).

” Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”

– John f kennedy


Banyan (2021). Banyan Tree Management Academy. [online] available at https://www.banyantreeglobalfoundation.com/btma. (viewed 25 April 2021).

Catmull, E. (2008) How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity. Harvard Business Review. September. [online] available at https://hbr.org/2008/09/how-pixar-fosters-collective-creativity. (viewed 25 April 2021).

Dam, N. (2018). Elevating Learning & Development. Insights and Practical Guidance from the field. November. evelvatinglearningbook.com, McKinsey & Co: 2-5.  

D’Aquin, M. (2017). 5 Ways to Meet the Needs of the Modern Learner. Sept 13. Learning Solutions Magazine. [online] available at https://learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/2444/5-ways-to-meet-the-needs-of-the-modern-learner. (viewed 25 April 2021).

Donovan, J., & Benko, C (2016). AT&T’s Talent Overhaul. Harvard Business Review October. [online] available at https://hbr.org/2016/10/atts-talent-overhaul, (viewed 25 April 2021).

Heifetz, R., & Linsky, M (2002) A Survival Guide for Leaders. Harvard Business Review, June. [online] available at https://hbr.org/2002/06/a-survival-guide-for-leaders. (viewed 25 April 2021)

HROnline (2019). Goodbye work-life balance, Hello work-life harmony. 9 September. [online] available at https://www.humanresourcesonline.net/goodbye-work-life-balance-hello-work-life-harmony. (viewed 25 April 2021).

Kolo, P., Strack, R., Cavat, P., Torres, R., Bhalla, V., (2013) Corporate Universities – An engine for Human Capital. Boston Consulting Group.

Koss, S (2020) How Organizations can evolve outdated ideas of human productivity. 22. Sept. EY [online] available at https://www.ey.com/en_sg/workforce/why-covid-19-will-move-us-on-from-the-outdated-idea-of-human-productivity (viewed 21 April 2020).

KPMG (2018). Accelerated Evolution : M&A, Transformation and Innovation in the Insurance Industry. [only ne] available at https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2018/06/accelerated-evolution-v8.pdf. (viewed 25 April 2021).

McKinsey (2019). The essential components of a successful L&D strategy. Feb 13. [online] available at https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/the-essential-components-of-a-successful-l-and-d-strategy (viewed 14 April 2021).

PWC 2018. Workforce of the Future : The competing forces shaping 2030. [online] available at https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/services/people-organisation/workforce-of-the-future/workforce-of-the-future-the-competing-forces-shaping-2030-pwc.pdf. (viewed 25 April 2021).

Senge, P.M. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization. New York. Doubleday.

The Power of Transformational and Transactional Leadership

Effective leadership is often talked about as the single most important ingredient required for an organization to operate successfully.

As most leadership styles tend to be either transactional or transformational, an amalgamation of the 2 styles is a powerful combination, one that most compelling leaders practice in the workplace today. (Deloitte 2011).

Transactional leadership,  as the term implies,  is mostly centered around process and control. It requires a structure, with the leader directing to ensure that things are done according to the plan.

The transactional leader sets exact expectations that are clearly understood, ensuring that rules are followed according to hierarchy.

In most cases, transactional leadership is adopted by the  military, manufacturing or professional sports teams, a leadership style most effective in times of crisis or within projects requiring process protocols.

Transactional leaders usually manage by exception, which means that they get involved when a plan gets out of order – for example, when sales or production quality standards are falling behind or not met.  (Bass, 1990 : 4-12).

Transformational leadership on the other hand focuses on motivating and inspiring others to follow the plan. Here, leaders inspire and motivate teams by channeling confidence with a sense of purpose while seeding opportunities for creativity and innovation, encouraging team members to learn, grow and experiment new ideas and possibilities. 

Transformational leaders hold positive expectations of their fellow colleagues, believing and encouraged that followers will always perform their best.

In so doing, transformational leaders inspire, invigorate and stimulate followers to exceed normal levels of performance. (Dartey-Baah, K. 2015).

Good examples of transformational leaders include Martin Luther King Jr who built a large following because of the hope and confidence he instilled in others as he challenged assumptions while upholding high moral values and a vision for the civil rights movement in America in the 60’s.

Oprah Winfrey – ranked as the greatest black philanthropist in American history, is also regarded as a transformational leader, well known for her vision and ability to transform any project she gets involved with.

Both leadership styles work in a continuum rather than at opposites. It is important to note that the transformational style of leadership – while it can seem sexier and mostly admired, does not work well in a bureaucratic environment.

If there is no management structure in place, transformational leadership is not the style to use to create one. (Hartog, Muijen & Koopman, 1997 : 20).

Both leadership styles are not mutually exclusive, and one is not better than the other.

In many cases, both styles are needed as counterbalance to achieve an organization’s goals. 

Transactional leaders ensure that the team is running smoothly while transformational leaders spur innovations for tomorrow.

To improve is to change.

To be perfect is to change often.

– Winston Churchill –

In today’s world, change is constant. Managing change in an organization requires an overview of both internal and external environments, and a team that can work with alacrity and speed to adapt to market shifts.

For successful change to take place, new plans communicated to those effected is followed by implementation that is adjusted along the way.  As an ongoing process, understanding change and having the foresight to preempt the need for change takes vision and perception. (Rhisiart & Miller, 2014: 7-10, 23-25).

Sometimes, change is forced upon us by circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on business and operations has forced teams to pivot and change directions, using creativity and resourcefulness to evolve new ideas and plans at a time of grave uncertainty. (McKinsey 2020: 150 – 158).

While Singapore has been acknowledged for having a COVID-19 contact tracing system billed as “ the gold standard of  near-perfect detection” (Niehus, Salazar, Taylor & Lipsitch, 2020),  there was an emergence of large COVID-19 infections from the cluster of Singapore’s foreign worker community who lived in dormitories.

Policy makers organized the movement of all workers from their dormitories to other isolated housing facilities and medical testing of all workers took place.

While Singapore’s healthcare system has been ranked among the top in the world, described as “high quality, low cost”, (Haseltine 2013), it was because of the systems established during the SARS outbreak in 2003 that the Singapore Government could quickly manage the COVID-19 outbreak. (Lin, Lee & Lye 2020).

Managing COVID-19 takes a team of leaders and policy makers that have both transactional and transformational leadership styles. Transactional leaders ensured that systems and plans were implemented on target and on time, while transformational leaders communicate plans and solutions that support communities and businesses affected by the outbreak.

As leaders, I think it is important to participate in projects where both leadership styles can be exercised. Each style is very different, and whichever style makes us uncomfortable is probably our biggest opportunity to develop as an effective leader.


Bass, B. M. (1990).  From Transactional to Transformational leadership : Learning to Share the Vision. Organizational Dynamics, Volume 18, Issue 3. Winter 1999 : 4-12.

Dartey-Baah, K. (2015). Resilient leadership: a transformational-transactional leadership mix”.  Journal of Global Responsibility, Vol. 6 Iss 1 pp. 99 – 112 [online] available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/JGR-07-2014-0026 (viewed 2 April 2021).

Deloitte (2011). Global Business Driven HR Transformation. Deloitte Consulting LLP. [online] available at https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/de/Documents/human-capital/global-business-driven-hr-transformation.pdf. (viewed 3 April 2021).

Hartog, D, Muijen, J., Koopman, P. (1997). Transactional versus transformational leadership: An analysis of the MLQ. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology (1997), 7-, 19-34. Great Britain. The British Psychological Society.

Haseltine, W.A. (2013). Affordable Excellence : The Singapore Health System. Bookings Institution Press.  [online] available at ttps://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7864/j.ctt6wpcs5 (viewed 3 April 2021).

Lin, R.J., Lee, T.H., Lye, D. (2020) From SARS to COVID-19: the Singapore journey. May 31. Wiley Public Health. [online] available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7300591. (viewed 3 April 2021).

McKinsey & Co (2020). The path to the next normal. May 2020. McKinsey Publishing : 150 – 158.

Niehus, R., Salazar, P., Taylor, P., Lipstich, M./ (2020). Quantifying bias of COVID-19 prevalence and severity estimates in Wuhan, China that depend on reported cases in international travellers. MedRxiv. [online] available at https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.02.13.20022707v2.full-text/ (viewed 3 April 2021). Rhisiart, M. & Miller, R. (2014). Learning to use the future: Developing foresight capabilities through scenario processes. Nov 2014. Technological Forecasting and Social Change.

Motivation, Charisma, Transformative : Which Leadership Trait Does One Affirm?

Since Maslow developed the Theory of Motivation and the Hierarchy of Human Needs in 1943, the practice and teaching of motivation has spiralled into a billion dollar industry growing at an average of 4.1% annually in just the US alone.  (LaRosa 2020).

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Psychologist Frederick Herzberg extended the work of Maslow and published a new motivation theory known as Herzberg’s Motivator – Hygiene (Two-Factor) Theory in 1959. In this study, Herzberg concludes that an individual has 2 sets of needs – lower needs to avoid pain and deprivation; higher needs to grow psychologically. Herzberg also describes motivating factors as intrinsic elements which include achievement, recognition, responsibility,  advancement and growth. (Richard, 2013).

Herzberg Two-Factor Theory

The simplest definition of motivation boils down to wanting. While not all motivations are similar, motivations do respond to the local environments and may adapt to it. Desires increase after satiation or diminish when satisfaction is chronically unavailable. (Baumeister 2016).

Good leaders motivate by constantly sharing the power of their vision, being engaging and passionate in the delivery of the message that is framed with logical reasoning, peppered with just the right incentives along the way. (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 2011).

Having the ability to be a positive influence on others, motivating them to success, is the key in being an inspirational leader.

So what does it take to be that inspiration for others?

One of the key traits of an inspirational leader is authenticity – the foundation of respect for self and others. Leaders who fail to inspire or garner respect are those who are continually changing their message to suit the whims of others in positions of power. (Kurter, 2020).

Inspiring leaders are engaging on a personal level, passionate about their cause , are knowledged and resilient. Consciously self-aware, they are dedicated to their own personal development. (Esimai, 2018).

The ability to inspire creates the highest levels of engagement and commitment. A research by Bain found that inspired employees are twice as productive as those who are satisfied, resulting in a 21% higher profitability for the company, a 41% reduction in absenteeism and 59% less turnover. (Horwitch & Callahan 2016).

Transformational leadership – one of the most prominent leadership styles practiced by leaders today, stems from the premise that the leader works with his or her followers and subordinates to achieve common goals. It is a leadership style that has the individual performing better, maximising potential. Steve Jobs had always been regarded as the transformational leader, returning to Apple in 1996 and increasing Apple’s stock by 9000%. (Vozza 2013).

People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.

Zig Ziglar

Now let’s look at charismatic leadership styles which are primarily centered around the leader’s charm and ability to persuade.  

Charismatic leaders tend to use 3 traits – envision, empathy and empowerment. Their envisioning behaviour influences the followers’ need for achievement while empathy stimulates the need for affliction. The follower’s need for power is subsequently met by the charismatic leader’s empowerment practices. It is suggested that the connection between the charismatic leader and the follower results in greater job satisfaction fulled by a stronger collective identity, closer group cohesiveness, organised citizenship behaviours and stronger self-leadership amongst team members. (Choi 2006).

Elon Musk, whose optimism for a better future has branded him as a highly charismatic leader,  is well known for his persistence through his ventures in SpaceX and the Boring Company. (Biography 2021).

Charismatic leaders are often remarkable change agents, able to reinvent entire organisations or societies. They are superb communicators and motivators and paradoxically, can also be masters of manipulation and purveyors of evil.  Adolf Hitler was a charismatic leader who was able to paint a vision for the future which his people took at face value and resulted in the death of millions (Stone 2019).

Given the 2 faces of the charismatic leader, this is an important area of leadership learning, especially since the dividing factor between doing good or evil boils down to one’s integrity. (Conger & Kanungo, 1998).

So the leadership style we adopt really depends on the situation at hand.

Motivating a team requires positive energy imparted on a daily basis. If you’re charming and persuasive, using charisma may be the way to go . And if you have a passion for change , then perhaps its best to get into transformational mode.


As for me, I think I’ll stay just authentic and consciously self-aware.

My passion for life and leadership is self-motivating and as I participate in various projects around the world, I’ll do my best to positively impact and support those who show up along the way.  


Baumeister, R. F. (2016). Toward a general theory of motivation: Problems, challenges, opportunities, and the big picture. Motivation and Emotion, 40(1), 1–10. [online] available at https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-015-9521-y. (Viewed 2 April 2021).

Biography.com (2021). Elon Musk. [online] available at https://www.biography.com/business-figure/elon-musk. (viewed 15 April 2021).

Choi, J. (2006). A Motivational Theory of Charismatic Leadership. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies. Sage Journals.

Conger, J.A., & Kanungo, R. N. (1998). Charismatic Leadership in Organizations. London. Sage Publications : 35 –  42, 211

Esimai, C (2018). Great Leadership Starts with Self-Awareness. Feb 15th. Forbes. [online] available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/ellevate/2018/02/15/self-awareness-being-more-of-what-makes-you-great/?sh=51d88ebb40dd. (viewed 2 April 2021).

Horwitch, M., & Callahan, M. W. (2016) How leaders inspire : Cracking the Code. 9 June. Bain & Company. [online] available at https://www.bain.com/insights/how-leaders-inspire-cracking-the-code (viewed 2 April 2021).

Kurter, H.L. (2020) 7 Powerful Characteristics of a Truly Inspirational Leader. Feb 29. Forbes. [online] available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/heidilynnekurter/2020/02/29/7-powerful-characteristics-of-a-truly-inspirational-leader/?sh=45a40426a05d (viewed 2 April 2021).

LaRosa, J. (2020) US Motivational Speaking Industry Worth $1.9 Billion. March 2. Market Research. [online] available at https://blog.marketresearch.com/u.s.-motivational-speaking-market-worth-1.9-billion#:~:text=Market%20value%20and%20forecast%3A%20Marketdata,reaching%20%242.30%20billion%20by%202025. (viewed 2 April 2021).

Nonaka, I., & Takeuchi, H. (2011) The Big Idea : The Wise Leader. May 11. Harvard Business Review. [online] available at https://hbr.org/2011/05/the-big-idea-the-wise-leader. (viewed 2 April 2021).

Richard, A. (2013). Job Satisfaction from Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory Perspective. Germany. Grin Verlag GmbH.

Shamir, B., House, R.J., & Arthur, M.B. (1993). The Motivational Effects of Charismatic Leadership : A Self-Concept Based Theory. Organizational Science, November 1993 4 (4) : 557-594. ReaearchGate.

Stone, L. (2019) Quantifying the Holocaust. 2 Jan. Science Advances.Volume 5, No 1. Eaau 7292.

Vozza, S (2013) 10 Inspirational Leaders who Turned Around Their Companies. Feb 22. The Entrepreneur. [online] available at https://www.entrepreneur.com/slideshow/225890.

The Power of Leadership Culture: Managing Diverse Teams

Are leaders born or made? I feel that leadership is a mindset and a choice – a process of responsibility, where one chooses to lead an area while collaborating with others who choose the same.

Culture is defined as the characteristics of learned and shared behaviours associated to a specifically social, ethnic or age group of people. Culture has also been described as a collective of human beliefs within a stage of civilization that is specific to a nation or time period.

Geert Hofstede’s culture dimensions theory developed in the 1980s is still used today to understand varying dimensions in differing cultures across countries, impacting how business is done. (Hofstede 1980).

Culture and leadership are intertwined. Founders and leaders of companies create the culture of their companies through their actions, reflecting the ethics of the leaders who run them. (Rosenberg 2021).

In today’s globalised world, companies rely on diverse, multidisciplinary teams with people from different cultures, across age groups and experiences to bring about new ideas and perspectives, serving a global audience.

But increasing diversity within an organisation isn’t enough. Leaders must also embrace new ideas and viewpoints that this diversity brings while ensuring that all employees have a sense of belonging. (Bourke & Titus, 2019).

People who are different from each other often perceive and understand their work differently. This means that diverse teams often have trouble agreeing on simple things like how to interpret data. (Florentine 2019).

Diversity: The art of thinking independently together - Malcolm Forbes
Diversity: The art of thinking independently togetherMalcolm Forbes

In working with diverse teams, leaders are required to practice inclusive leadership which has all team members feel that they are treated respectfully and fairly, are valued with a sense of belonging. (Shaban, 2016).

To achieve this, leaders identify the distinctiveness of each individual – not just in terms of gender or race, but experience and knowledge.   Leading teams in a productive common direction while aligning team members efforts is key. Consciously focusing and encouraging differing opinions, allowing team members to share their perspectives safely is important.  (Wee and Morse, 2007).

Leaders who practice inclusive leadership must have a visible awareness of bias which requires both humility and empathy. (Bourke & Titus, 2020).

In a research involving 3,500 employees and 450 leaders it was found that inclusive leaders share six behaviours – visible commitment, humility, awareness of bias, curiosity about others, cultural intelligence, and effective collaboration. (Deloitte 2015).  

Practicing inclusiveness is a unique and critical component of  leadership. It allows organisations to provoke ideas while adapting to diverse markets and customers. Visionaries and strategic thinking leaders can create a culture of engagement by inspiring others to buy into their vision and values which then drives actions. Leaders who exhibit these traits build ethical cultures within their organisations. (Craig 2018).

In today’s business environment, there is a distinct difference between diversity for the sake of equality and diversity for the sake of performance. If not managed well, diversity can cause problems within an organisation and actually lead to reduced performance. (Turban, Wu & Zhang 2019).

While diverse teams should outperform a non-diverse team due to the range of views, experiences and opinion, a lack of cohesion can result in less information sharing, which culminates to team sabotage. (Shemla, 2019).

In the 1970’s, the Iceberg model of Culture was developed by Edward Hall to explain the depth of cultural values , highlighting that these values are mostly deep seeded below the surface. (Hall, 1976). Hall’s model was inspired by Sigmund Freud’s Theory of the Mind where Freud compared the mind to that of an iceberg; with hidden thoughts and feelings buried in the unconscious mind, akin to a frozen iceberg that lays beneath the ocean’s surface, hidden.

Leaders must be aware that what is visible and conscious may only be 10%, leaving 90% as unspoken values and traits that drive behaviours.

Having understanding and compassion that the depth of one’s cultural identity is deeply rooted in the unconscious mind requires time and patience to bridge. (Cohen 2000).

Nonetheless, research has shown that greater diversity in the workforce results in greater profitability and value creation. Companies with ethnic diversity at the executive level are 33% more likely to have above-average profitability. (McKinsey 2018).

In closing this discussion, I would say that leadership culture is important when building organizational culture. Leadership culture is refined by how leaders interact with others –  how they operate, communicate, and make decisions in the everyday working environment.

As a leader, always remember that your behaviours, interactions, beliefs, and values play a part in moulding your organisation’s culture. So create a legacy that serves the greater good, and be a force that bridges divide.


Bourke, J & Titus, A (2020) The Key to Inclusive Leadership. March 6. Harvard Business Review. [online] available at https://hbr.org/2020/03/the-key-to-inclusive-leadership. (viewed 1 April 2021).

Bourke, J., & Titus, A. (2019)  Why Inclusive Leaders are Good for Organizations and How to Become One. March 29. Harvard Business Review. [online] available at https://hbr.org/2019/03/why-inclusive-leaders-are-good-for-organizations-and-how-to-become-one. (viewed 1 April 2021).

Cohen, E. (2000). World Culture Report : Cultural Diversity Conflict and Pluralism. UNESCO, France. UNESCO Publishing.

Craig, W. (2018). Strategic Thinkers Are Found to be the Most Highly Effective Leaders. Forbes Feb 27. [online] available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamcraig/2018/02/27/strategic-thinkers-are-found-to-be-the-most-highly-effective-leaders/?sh=4cc911e5524f. (Viewed 1 April 2021).

Deloitte (2015). Fast Forward: Leading in a Brave New World of Diversity. May 2015.

Florentine, S. (2019). Diversity and inclusion. 15 February. CIO Magazine. [online] available at https://www.cio.com/article/3262704/diversity-and-inclusion-8-best-practices-for-changing-your-culture.html. (viewed 1 April 2021).

Hall, E. (1976) Beyond Culture. New York. Anchor Books.

Hofstede, G. (1980) Cultural Consequences. London. Sage Publications.

McKinsey & Co. (2018). Delivering Through Diversity Report. Jan 18, 2018. [online] available at https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/delivering-through-diversity. (viewed 1 April 2021).

Rosenberg, M. (2021). Ways Leadership Affects Culture and Culture Affects Leadership. HR Exchange Network [online] available at https://www.hrexchangenetwork.com/hr-talent-management/articles/ways-leadership-affects-culture-and-culture-affect (viewed 1 April 2021).

Shaban, A (2016). Managing and Leading a Diverse Workforce: Once of the Main Challenges in Management. Perocedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 230 (2016) 76-84. Elsevier.

Shemla, M (2019). How to Effectively Manage Your Diverse Team. 4 Oct. Forbes. [online] available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/rsmdiscovery/2019/10/04/how-to-effectively-manage-your-diverse-team/?sh=1f5567d12f11. (viewed 30 March 2021). 

Turban, S., Wu, D., Zhang, L. (2019). Research : When Gender Diversity Makes Firms More Productive. Feb 11 Harvard Business Review.

Wee, J., & Morse, O. (2007). Juggling People–Secrets for Successful Teams. Cost Engineering, 49(8), 38.

Ethical Leadership

Management is doing things right;

Leadership is doing the right things.

– Peter Drucker-

Ethical Leadership : An Open Discussion

Ethical Leadership has been defined as “doing the right thing even when it feels hard or unpopular”. One of the key aspects of ethical leadership is complete transparency – keeping employees informed about what the company is doing , how they are getting from one point to another. Transparency fosters trust requires active communication through the ranks of the organisation.  (Farmiloe, 2020).

In a world where technology and big data rules, debates about right actions in ethical dilemmas is fast becoming a philosophical discussion. (Bazerman 2020).

Organizations can construct ethical environments by transferring ethical designed decision processes that free employees from being caught in ethical quandaries.

Employees can engage in ethical thinking with actions that liberate them and their organizations from costs related to unethical conduct.

Ethical leadership demonstrates a high regard for values such as honesty, respect for others and the community, justice and integrity. While these values are critical to the success of any business, it is ironical that some leaders just don’t subscribe to them. (Gilman 2005).  

Ethical issues have become important leadership and management practices due to the growing number of cases sighting failure by organizations and individuals to observe and maintain ethical standards. Unethical activities of these organizations have resulted in the defrauding of stakeholders, associates and employees, customers, creditors, suppliers and governments.  

Unethical practices have spurred more than 50% of the largest global bankruptcies. Enron, Lehman Brothers and WorldCom have estimated to have cost the world a whopping $1.228T. (Olson 2013: 10, 21). In 2016, Wells Fargo was fined US$185M for years of unethical sales practices, creating over 2 million new unauthorized customer accounts. (Business times 2016).

In April 2018, 2 black men were escorted out of a Starbucks in Philadelphia by local police because they didn’t purchase anything  while waiting for a business meeting to start. A video taken by a white female patron who was present at the time – and who also didn’t purchase anything while waiting for a friend – went viral and labelled Starbucks as discriminatory and racist, triggering protests with millions on social media hash tagging #boycottstarbucks.

Following this incident, Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks openly apologised on national TV for the situation in Philadelphia and collaborated with teams across the country to develop the “use of third place policy”. A month later, Starbucks temporarily closed 8000 stores to conduct unconscious bias training for half a day.  The “use of third place policy” which is a policy that allows anyone to use a Starbucks and its facilities without making a purchase, sits in alignment with Starbucks’ mission to “inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.” (Starbucks 2018).

This episode cost Starbucks over US$12M with a trail of ongoing discussions around racial disharmony. (Calfas, 2018).

” Laundry is the only thing that should be separated by colour.”

Photo by Oliver Sju00f6stru00f6m on Pexels.com

Be aware that ethical leadership should not just be demonstrated in the workplace. Appropriate ethical behaviour should be centered in every aspect of a leader’s life, impacting and inspiring others on a daily basis.

This can seem unpleasant at times, especially when it involves discharging an employee. Nonetheless, staying honest and in integrity is of paramount importance in leadership. (Schindler 2019).

Dishonest behaviour is a pattern of lying or misrepresentation which creates an atmosphere of mistrust. Credibility is diminished in dishonest leadership.

An ethical leader sets an example by being honest and authentic, publicly championing the importance of ethical behaviour and communicating as such.

Specifically at this time when Covid-19 presents unspoken challenges around fear of job cuts and financial losses, leaders need to be even more open and transparent with their teams, practice empathy and being available within reason .  (Hill, 2020).

Practicing values associated with ethical leadership and having a zero tolerance for ethical violations is perhaps the first step in practicing good ethical leadership.

Accenture – on the list of the World’s Most Ethical Companies 2021 (Ethisphere 2021) is predicated on authentic leadership, suggesting that leaders must know themselves, their stories and teachable points of view, have the courage to find a voice in them and share from the heart. (Rodgers, 2020).

While ethical conduct can be difficult to measure, there are proven long term benefits to demonstrating ethics. Ethical action builds trust and respect which is core for successful long term business and personal success.

While solutions to ethical and unethical challenges lies within organizations and individuals, leaders have a responsibility to be role models in creating ethical environments.  

Psychological and situational factors, organizational and societal pressures can temper a challenging environment for individuals to realize their own ethical ambitions. However as leaders, we should choose honour and truth, be principled in our undertakings as individuals because there is evidence of long term personal and corporate gains from taking the ethical route. (Pilner 2020).


Bazerman, M. H., (2020). A New Model for Ethical Leadership. Harvard Business Review. Sept – Oct 2020 [online] available at https://hbr.org/2020/09/a-new-model-for-ethical-leadership. (viewed 27th March 2021).

Business times (2016) Wells Fargo to pay US$185M over bogus accounts. 9 Sept [online] available at https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/banking-finance/wells-fargo-to-pay-us185m-over-bogus-accounts (viewed 27 March 2021).

Calfas, J (2018). Was Starbucks’ Racial Bias Training Effective? Here’s What These Employees Thought. Time Magazine. [online] available at https://time.com/5294343/starbucks-employees-racial-bias-training (viewed 27 March 2021).

Ethisphere, 2021. Ethisphere Announces the 2021 World’s Most Ethical Companies. Feb 23. [online] available at https://ethisphere.com/2021-wme-announcement (viewed 27 March 2021).

Farmiloe, B. (2020). 9 Examples of Ethical Leadership in the Workplace. 23 July. SCORE. [online] available at https://www.score.org/blog/9-examples-ethical-leadership-workplace (viewed 27 March 2021).

Gilman, S.C. PhD. (2005) Ethics Codes and Codes of Conduct as Tools for Promoting an Ethical and Professional Public Service : Comparative Successes and Lessons. PREM World Bank : 71.

Hill, B.C. (2020). Ethical leadership at a time of crisis. 26 March. Financial Management [online] available at https://www.fm-magazine.com/news/2020/mar/ethical-leadership-during-coronavirus-crisis.html. (viewed 27 March 2021).

Olson, S.D. (2013). Shaping an Ethical Workplace Culture. SHRM Foundation: 10, 21.

Pliner, E. (2020). A Framework for Leaders Facing Difficult Decisions. Oct 13. Harvard Business Review.

Rodgers, M (2020). 5 Qualities of Great Leadership. March 8.  Accenture [online] available at https://www.accenture.com/us-en/blogs/blogs-careers/5-qualities-of-great-leadership ( viewed 27 March 2021).

Schindler, J. (2019). Leading with Ethics. Forbes. Jan 7. [online] available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2019/01/07/leading-with-ethics/?sh=513aba1e568a (viewed 27 March 2021).

Starbucks 2018.The Third Place Policy. [online] available at https://www.starbucks.com/responsibility/learn-more/policies/third-place (viewed 27 March 2021).

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