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Emerging Leadership During Times of Crisis and Change


“Knowing about leadership and actually leading are two different things,” says Muhammad Sabri Rawi, whose battle-tested experience in the corporate world with a global energy company eventually led him to hone in on his passion for developing people. Today, he teaches a range of leadership courses with the Iclif Executive Education Center at Asia School of Business (ASB-Iclif).

“I’ve seen that the most damaging thing that a company can do is to take a person who is severely lacking in leadership skills, and give him or her a senior position in the company, adds Sabri. Even under normal circumstances, leadership is already a complex and challenging undertaking. Over the years, best practices and toolkits forming conventional leadership wisdom have been developed to suit the contexts of their time.

However, as our world has become more interconnected than ever and we grapple with the unprecedented crisis of Covid-19, leaders need to come to terms with the fact that there is no playbook for the future. Digital transformation, agility, and resilience are the new buzzwords of the day.

And in an era that demands quick and decisive movement to address situations that rapidly evolve, the most effective leadership skills are what ASB calls SMART Skills, such as emotional maturity, adaptability, cultural and ethical literacy, strategic and critical thinking, and more.

Click here to learn about the Smart and Sharp skills of the future

These SMART skills are all criteria that are also used by investing experts to rate stocks that have been outperforming the S&P 500 – some growing by up to 20% – during the crisis. But in addition to the new skills leaders have to develop to face these massive disruptions, it is a leader’s integrity and deeply held principles that serve as an anchor for decision-making in unpredictable times.

“Leaders need to be proactive about shifting the world, or at least their environment,” says Dr Thun Thamrongnawasawat, Professor of Practice at ASB-Iclif and International Faculty Fellow at MIT. This drive is drawn from the core of an individual; their values and purpose.

Time and again, it has been proven that leaders and organizations are only as strong as their clarity of purpose. To help leaders equip themselves for the future, Sabri and Dr Thun will be running the flagship Emerging Leaders course from 9th to 12th May 2023 for leaders throughout all levels of the organization.

Helping Leaders Emerge and Harness Their Leadership Energy

“What the name of this course, Emerging Leaders, really suggests is that we have created an environment that allows the leader in you to emerge. We help people discover what is really meaningful to them, and by doing that, discover their unique leadership path,” Sabri says. “Leadership is the art of harnessing human energy to create a better future,” says Dr. Thun.

“Everything in the universe is energy – it is the smallest common denominator that ties all things together.” So it follows that a leader’s job is to “use this energy to bring their vision of a better tomorrow to life.” In the same vein, great leaders are also adept at empowering others to do this, by allowing them the freedom to do so, using a concept that Dr. Thun also teaches at ASB-Iclif: Freedom within the Framework.

When Freedom Gives Rise to New Opportunities

Working from home is one of the more significant changes to have occurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Conventionally, this newfound sense of freedom is in complete opposition to the comfortable structure that many leaders are used to. Dr. Thun, however, feels that this is an opportunity for leaders to experiment with levels of autonomy, and how this can contribute to long-term benefits.

Using Freedom within the Framework, Dr. Thun believes that a balance between providing employees with the flexibility to take control of how, where and when they work, and maintaining a high level of productivity, is possible. The key? It all ties back to the alignment of values and purpose, more specifically, finding the “sweet spot” between what drives individuals and what leaders are looking to achieve.

This requires mapping out said values and purpose and identifying those that overlap, while also avoiding stepping on “landmines”, “something another person values, but not something that you value”. When there is alignment, leaders can let go of micromanaging their teams, and trust that their teams understand the purpose and values of the team and organization. This frees up precious time and bandwidth for leaders, while also giving their teams the autonomy they crave.

Important Shifts for Leading in a Changed World

The change of mindset when it comes to autonomy and control is just one of the many shifts that leaders need to embrace today. The disruptions the pandemic has brought about are forcing many to rethink conventional leadership wisdom. For instance, the current climate favors speed over structure; agility and the ability to quickly pivot are more crucial to companies than strong hierarchy, protocol and multiple levels of deliberation.

Overcentralizing decision-making could slow down an organization’s ability to respond to a rapidly shifting environment, whereas empowering individuals to make the best decisions they can within given parameters would allow for more timely decision making. Effective leadership built on authenticity rather than authority, as well, is a shift that has become increasingly necessary.

In uncertain times, people crave connections to real human beings, not a commanding figure. Leaders who show up as themselves, a fellow human being facing the same uncertainties as they are, are more likely to earn the trust and loyalty of their people. Switching competition with collaboration, favoring clear and simple communications over complex directives, and the simple act of listening more, and talking less, are all essential shifts that can help leaders navigate the challenges of our current global crisis.

Gain the Skills You Need to Lead Effectively in Times of Change

There are no hard and fast rules in these times of hard and fast changes. Sustainable, inspiring and powerful leadership really boils down to solid, unwavering fundamentals anchored in: a purpose that continuously energizes you, a belief in the power of people, and personal values that act as both a beacon for others, and a source of strength for oneself.

A great way to discover, define and develop these elements is through ASB’s signature Emerging Leaders program. Running from 9th until 12th May 2023, this highly-experiential workshop equips leaders with actionable tools, strategies and insights to lead in the here and now – and beyond.