Redefining Asian leadership in the workspace of the future

SINGAPORE: Singtel Group CEO Yuen Kuan Moon has warned that the newest generation in the workforce will find integrating with pre-pandemic workers extremely tough.

This has made building a corporate culture all the more difficult over the last two years, he told a panel discussion at the recent Singapore Management Festival.

Moon, who took over the reins at Singapore's largest telecommunications told the online gathering he had been stunned when some former new hires had begun returning their laptops at the end of their internships recently. He realised these hires had both started and finished their terms during the pandemic.

"That is six months to one year of no physical interaction - no water cooler chats," he said. "It is a challenge when you are trying to build a culture. A leader always asks, how should I think, how do I behave? How can I make my presence felt? Any relationship we maintained was built on ‘borrowed time’, all before 2019.”

The Singtel CEO added that their employees had also begun asking self-reflective questions much more often, and this would help to bring mature ideals into the workforce.

Managing director for HP in Greater Asia, Ng Tian-Chong, agreed with Moon's sentiments. “We have observed that Singaporeans, especially the younger generation, no longer want to work just for the money (and) this is the reason behind the surge in attrition in Singapore," he told the panel discussion. "Whereas more mature workers were raised to believe in job loyalty and the security of tenure while working for blue chip companies, young talents go where they are involved in the bigger picture.”

Ng said this new wave of thought brought on the concept of authenticity as a requirement for leaders in the Next Normal. “Leaders are now encouraged to show vulnerability and it is accepted -- even expected -- when they do not have all the answers, This transparency is very important especially to the younger employees."

Moon said that leaders need to transform because they cast a long shadow. He also realised the post-pandemic leader finds it better to hire people who are smarter than him to help make better decisions. This in turn encourages diversity and generate the collective wisdom of the group. However, Yuen stressed that leaders are still expected to have accountability on the decision of the group.

Ng observed that Asian leaders also need to adapt to a different perspective. “The general stereotype of an Asian leader is he has quiet confidence and tends to speak less when compared to his Western counterparts. However, in a global level, aggressive assertiveness creates an impression of a great leader and the quiet Asian lead tends to get lost when the entire global theatre is fighting for the same resources."

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