How To Be a Leader at Work – 4 Leadership Skills to Have
2020-11-24

How to Be a Leader at Work: The Need For Better Leaders

 

Inflated job titles have long been a problem in the workforce and it has produced a generation of leaders who simply don’t know how to lead. 

 

In business, we’re always talking about leaders and leadership. If you do a quick search online, you’ll find no shortage of articles on “How to be a good leader”

 

As a society. we’re affected, and we want answers. There are many articles online that attempt to look at the matter theoretically. But instead of approaching leadership in a lab fashion where there are no unknown variables, we took the time to sit down with leaders in the real world to learn from their experiences in managing people successfully. 

 

Learning from their experience (tested by the pressures of everyday life including people, market, and targets), we’ll be examining the different qualities of what makes a great leader at work from a practical standpoint.

 

 

Patrick Kuemmerli_ Interview Photo
Ning Ling_ Interview Photo V2

 

Before we dive in, here’s a big thank you to the guests of this article,  Patrick Kuemmerli, CFO of M R Spedag Group, and Ning Lin, Managing Director and  Head of CICC Hong Kong Asset Management for sharing their insights and for making this piece possible. 

 

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4 Leadership Qualities to Driving Innovation 

 

Leaders are innovators.

 

This isn’t always obvious as some functions are more traditional and mundane by nature. However, without innovation, the introduction of new methods and ideas, leaders are unable to lead and will only be tracing the path of the past. Especially with the rapidly evolving workforce of this era, no business or leader can remain the same as before without looking at the bigger picture.

 

For this edition of the transformational leadership series, we’re looking at the tensions that arise when driving innovation and the need for leaders to manage traditional commitments and expectations while innovating. 

 

“I believe people live in tradition, they don’t like change but without innovation, we die.”

Patrick Kuemmerli
CFO of M R Spedag Group

 

Leaders have to balance the need for both tradition and innovation in order to secure the future success of their business. As such, we’ve sculpted our interview around 3 key questions:

 

  • How do you determine the overall importance of tradition vs. innovation?
  • How have you and your company established its unique identity while meeting conventional expectations?
  • When implementing decisions with high risk (e.g. rebrand, restructure), what practices do you use to get employees, shareholders, and consumers onboard?
  •  

In our discussion with Lin and Kuemmerli about innovation and leadership within their respective circles, they demonstrated 4 leadership qualities fundamental to their success. Here are the 4 key qualities you can look into cultivating to become a better leader yourself.

 

1. Think Strategically and Practice Self- Awareness

 

Leaders need to know their positioning in the company in order to be effective. Having a clear understanding of the role you’re in can help carve out most of your strategy as it informs your priorities.

 

In Lin’s case, his key objective is to grow CICC Hong Kong Asset Management into one of the key players in the market. In a competitive space with over 1,500 competing businesses, having a clearly defined goal helps him strategically align himself and the team, setting appropriate expectations for the level of work and effort required for each task. 

 

Knowing your goal and the part you play also helps drive core decisions and act as a practical measure of the weight you should put in for each considering factor.

 

“Innovative change has insecurities and there comes the role of leadership to go find the best way to proceed.”

Patrick Kuemmerli
CFO of M R Spedag Group

 

In Kuemmerli’s case as the Chief Financial Officer, his role is to act as the financial gatekeeper. This means his allegiance is in the numbers when it comes to innovation. When determining if something is viable and worth pursuing means looking at:

 

  • Its ability to be audited and prove to be secure;
  • Whether it is able to drive out unknown cost;
  • And determine if the promised returns outweigh the costs.

 

In a similar fashion to both Lin and Kuemmerli, leaders need to think about the big picture. Having a clear understanding of your purpose and the role you play in the company helps prevent bad decisions and poorly planned strategies that can otherwise turn into success.

 

2. Know Your Business

 

More important than knowing your competitor’s hand is having a clear understanding of yours. Leaders need to be familiar with their own business, as it’s the vehicle that’ll carry you through the race. Where are its strengths? What’s its competitive edge? Where are the opportunities? And which areas need extra to work to secure?

 

In Lin’s case, he clearly understood the game and what it took to take the business further. In asset management, there’s much flexibility in how you grow your funds but the bottom line indicator of success is the business’ asset under management (AUM).

 

“One thing we needed to define very clearly was what differentiates us and what drives our success.”

Ning Lin,
Managing Director and Head of CICC Hong Kong Asset Management

 

As the Managing Director, Lin is able to grow the company successfully because he clearly understands the strengths of the company (tied to a reputable investment bank). Their positioning (situated in Hong Kong with connections with Mainland China). Their target audience (businesses interested in the Mainland market). And the fundamental measure of their success (their AUM).

 

Leaders are able to grow more effectively by having a transparent understanding of what they’re working with, allowing them to strategise and identify the steps required to move them towards their ultimate goal.

 

3. Carve Out a Strategic Process of Exploration

 

Innovation is a process of exploring and refining ideas. For innovation to survive and be useful in the real world, they need to have a rigorous process to properly test and improve ideas. 

 

“Before ideas are presented to management, they are developed and ironed out with my core team. This way, most of the questions raised are usually already answered in the initial phase.”

Patrick Kuemmerli
CFO of M R Spedag Group

 

Different leaders have different methods and practices, but one thing they all share is the willingness to examine and familiarise themselves with new ideas.

 

Good leaders rely on solid processes. Processes that allow them to objectively examine their ideas, considering both the potential benefits and risks present. Ultimately, the process should help you identify and present the best way forward, taking into consideration what’s currently available and giving you the opportunity to revisit areas that need more thought.

 

4. Engage in Open, Honest Communication and Two-Way Feedback

 

Simon Sinek Leadership Quote

 

One area where both Lin and Kuemmerli stood out the most as a leader was in their approach to people. We have long clouded our definition of a leader but a true leader demonstrates trust. Leaders take responsibility for the people under their care.

 

Good leaders value their people because they’re the ones to hold everything together. For this reason, leaders need to put extra care into organising the team in a way that is beneficial for each individual. 

 

“(When hiring) you have to architect the team together. Consider their character and career path. How well they each work together and if they’d still be a good fit in 3 years.

Good people share certain characteristics, they show trust and integrity which you can actually see in the interview process.”

Ning Lin,
Managing Director and Head of CICC Hong Kong Asset Management

 

It’s not enough to consider the current state of affairs. You need to have a vision and be future-focused as well. When it comes to leadership, it pays off to know your team. What ambitions do they have? What’s their temperament? What’s their performance record? By truly knowing and caring for your people, you’re able to build a team, willing to back you up.

 

Leaders Act As the Catalyst

 

Unlike previous generations, people no longer stay in the same position or company for all their working lives. Now, people change multiple roles and industries over the span of their careers. As leaders, the challenge is in motivating people to stay. Treating them fairly, giving them opportunities to grow, and in guiding them to build up their careers.

 

“It’s no longer a time of hierarchy. We have to manage the dual role of being a team player and leader. To be the catalyst and coach for others.”

Patrick Kuemmerli
CFO of M R Spedag Group

 

The best leaders do more than give clear commands. The best leaders lead by example, inspiring others to follow. The best leaders are attentive to both the business and the people within it. 

 

In the words of Kuemmerli, to be a true leader you need to:

 

  • Like the job you’re doing;
  • Put effort into interacting with people;
  • Be a little restless in accepting the status quo.

 

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