Leadership styles of the future

How Covid-19 is shaping the management approach beyond the crisis

By Joseph Wong josephwong@thestar.com.my

Turbulent times require strong leadership.

Turbulent times require strong leadership.

The social and economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is an extreme but relevant example of the types of challenges leaders face today. The property industry, like many other economic sectors, was greatly disrupted by the major existence-threatening impacts that ensued.

Conversely, these turbulent times require a leadership style that would be perceived as an overly directive, actionist one-leader show during business as usual. However, quick decisions are essential in such times of uncertainty, and these exceptional circumstances call for a more human-centric and radically driven leadership style. But is this the only way? StarProperty takes a look at three 2nd generation management styles and how they cope with the disruption.

Eupe Corporation Bhd (Eupe) managing director Datuk Beh Huck Lee said the key role of leaders is always about giving people a clear vision and finding the best possible solutions, so the implementation of plans remains as smooth and effective as possible.

“While the strategies employed may change from time to time depending on the external environment, the principals, beliefs and the conduct of a leader should seldom deviate based just on external factors.

“If there is a leadership evolution, it is most likely sparked by the leader himself over a relatively long period, based on a considered judgement of how to best lead as both internal company conditions as well as external conditions and circumstances evolve, and most likely not due to one single event such as the current pandemic,” Beh said. Ken Holdings Bhd group managing director Sam Tan added that the pandemic has brought about a tumultuous change in the daily lives of most people across the planet.

“Many have regrettably suffered physically, emotionally, financially and also with the loss of their lives. Perhaps the one thing we can try to learn from the virus is how to evolve to survive. The virus had the world confronting it from all angles and corners, yet it has managed to keep itself alive by evolving. The greatest asset mankind has isn’t anything monetary, physical, nor economical. It is the human mind.

Beh said the key role of leaders is always about giving people a clear vision.

Beh said the key role of leaders is always about giving people a clear vision.

“When we learn to apply the wisdom of millennia of human experiences, we can evolve our mind to adapt with the challenges we are facing, and this is something that is being practised on our end,” said Tan. Titijaya Land Bhd group managing director Lim Poh Yit pointed out that with working from home (WFH) and virtual meetings being the new normal, new methodologies have to be adopted.

“Generally, it (Covid-19) has affected and disrupted the global economy. Malaysia is not exempted. The market has changed rapidly and the challenge is on the new norm and economic recovery,” he said. Beh concurred with the opinion, explaining that the pandemic has disrupted the production cycles of many industries.

“Without a doubt, this will create a lot of bottlenecks in the system when things start to go back to normal and demand increases.

“So far, the Malaysian job market has been relatively stable. However, certain sectors of the economy have faced tremendous pressure and some employment sectors may need to undergo some major changes as demand in these sectors takes time to recover,” said Beh. He pointed out that consumer habits had changed and this would lead to structural changes.

“For instance, the demand for offices, shopping malls and hotels may not be the same in the future. Usually, a market disruption that lasts less than two years is not likely to lead to a structural change in the demand-supply pattern, but given the fact that this is a worldwide issue with major economic and social impacts, changes are likely to create long-term change and uncertainty,” he said.

Making lemonade when given lemons

One has to learn to make lemonade from the lemons, said Tan.

One has to learn to make lemonade from the lemons, said Tan.

Tan quipped that one has to learn to make lemonade from the lemons that are available right now.

“Since we discerned that the current climate is not the most conducive to launch our property projects, we pivoted and reorganised our workforce into learning to create a biodynamic, organic durian plantation.

“So now we are sipping a different tea from a different industry and are working to infuse the wisdom from the engineering and sustainable fields we have experienced into a whole new sector,” he said. 

Difference between the old and new 

What is interesting is that this generation of leaders is facing something that has never before encountered in the whole history of the property industry. The question is whether the older generation of leaders would have a more difficult time adapting to the new norm than the newer generation of leaders. The scenarios are different as both leadership styles suited the respective periods.

“In my case (and I think many of the 2nd and 3rd generation leaders are facing the same situation), my father, who started Eupe, was a lot more hands-on as he grew the business.

“This was largely because starting the company from scratch meant he had very limited resources. He had to work through problems and challenges himself and needed to be hands-on and make decisions quickly to take advantage of opportunities,” said Beh. He said the business and economic environment these days is evolving much faster compared to the times when his father started Eupe.

“As Eupe becomes bigger and more complex, our operations require more delegation and interaction,” said Beh. Resources at the same time are a lot easier to tap into, but finding the right team members and alliances to maximise advantages while minimising risk becomes more important, he said.

The market has changed rapidly and the challenge is on the new norm and economic recovery, said Lim.

The market has changed rapidly and the challenge is on the new norm and economic recovery, said Lim.

“I believe leaders of today need to be less operational and more inspirational. The role of leadership is more about managing people than managing problems,” he added. The first generation of leaders have decades of experience, which is highly valued, said Lim, explaining that strong values and entrepreneurship remain the core for any given company.

“There are no material changes except the adoption of digitalisation and technology to complement the business,” he said, especially when considering that social distancing is the new norm. Beh noted that while his father no longer actively involved himself in Eupe’s operations, he still finds the opinions and advice provided from time to time by his father very valuable. Tan said he is fortunate that his father is still very actively involved.

“When I learned to understand the value of the plethora of wisdom he had, what more valuable resource could one ask for in a mentor who has been there and done that?

“It’s true that I had brought back a lot of different knowledge from my experiences from the UK, but I had come to realise that wisdom equals knowledge plus experience,” he said.

Paving the way for the next generation

Implementing effective leadership development to build stronger capabilities for the future remains vital.

Implementing effective leadership development to build stronger capabilities for the future remains vital.

Leadership development is on the priority list for many companies that are seeking long-term goals and sustainability, especially in a fastchanging environment or one that is stressed by a crisis. The Covid-19 pandemic may have posed a real challenge for organisations today but implementing effective leadership development to build stronger capabilities for the future remains vital. Many organisations are realising that if they don’t start preparing the next-generation leaders for future roles now, they will face an uphill battle filling them in the future.

“If we study the success stories of companies through the ages, we quickly start to realise that it is rarely due to a single person, nor a handful of people,” said Ken Holdings Bhd group managing director Sam Tan.

“Sure, leaders will set the way, vision, but the sustainability of the company is very much dependent on the people within the company. A great leader without a good team or a good team without a good visionary may not have the chances to be successful nor sustain the level of accomplishment for a long period.

“We have been very fortunate in having loyal members of the Ken Family, and within them, the process of grooming different leaders could provide a better chance for the longer-term sustainability of the group. “We constantly remind ourselves and the members of the Ken Family of our core values and the practice of these values which becomes the DNA of the company,” he said. For Eupe Corporation Bhd managing director Datuk Beh Huck Lee, it is similar to Tan’s philosophy.

“Eupe is a listed company, so we must respect and uphold our shareholders’ interests and rights. As management, we must also always do our very best to support our employees, as well as the interests of our various business partners and the community that we operate in.

“It is not fair to pass the major responsibility of running the company to family members if they do not have the interest in it. I was once unsure what career I wanted to pursue or what profession I wanted to partake in. I took time to find out the answers. Likewise, I will give the chance to my children to learn what they truly want to do with their lives.

“If they are interested in joining the company, I will help them prepare and learn as much as they can. Most importantly, the job must give them pride and aspiration, not be seen as a burden they are not willing to bear,” he said. At the end of the day, it is with persistent endurance of the practice of core values that should provide the best training for tomorrow’s leaders.

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