When we think of Executive Presence, we tend to assume that it must come from the top of the corporate ladder. But we also know that Presence cannot be built overnight. It must be nurtured over time before formal leadership positions are taken.
Edric Ho knows this well and is passionate about development and progress, not just for himself but for this team too. Throughout his experiences running a startup and now overseeing marketing strategies at Job Tech, Edric is already projecting a presence that is not just about him but also his team as he engages with them towards greater goals.
1. WHAT DOES LEADERSHIP MEAN FOR YOU?
There are so many facets of leadership that I struggle to find a starting point to talk about.
Perhaps the easiest would be the role of leadership (and leaders) within an organisation since most of us are accustomed to the workplace.
In an organisation, I believe that leaders need to spend time answering only one question, “Where are we going?”
Of course, implicit in this question is also the fundamental question, “Why are we going there?”, however, for the most part, the “where” question also answers the “why” question.
In answering that question, the role of leadership is really about providing direction, clarity, purpose and also inspiration. These are the critical ingredients needed to provide a driving force that unites and propels teams to work towards an identifiable, relatable goal. With a sense of purpose, the team will then answer the question “How will we get there?”
When Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech, he was providing direction and inspiration for his ideals of equality. He never once tried to answer “How will we get there?” The millions of people listening to the parade and generations hence, inspired by that leadership, were the ones to put those ideals to action.
Leadership to me also means having a genuine affection for people – for their strengths, weaknesses, quirks and shortcomings. Leaders play a critical role in facilitating the growth and development of the team.
I like to think of people development like flying a kite. In the beginning, there is much work. You have to get to know the kite – all its idiosyncrasies, how it behaves when you tug it one way or another. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the kite simply refuses to cooperate. You take a break, stand away and assess the situation, and then, with, renewed fervour, try a different strategy. You run with the kite, you throw it in the air, and eventually, it catches the wind in just the right way, and it begins to tug very hard at your hand. Now you have to learn to control it at the level that it's flying at, at the same time begin to envision and plan for the kite to fly higher and higher.
At some point your efforts take fruit, and the kite glides at a great height. You stand at the same place watching, feeling proud, but yet with a hand steadily on the string, ready to tug at it when needed.
In the same way, working with people requires that you spend time understanding the quirks of every single individual. You try different tactics and different approaches; some will work, some won’t. But when you connect right and you begin to witness growth and development, it’s time to let go, but also stand ready to give a little guidance when needed.
Throughout my journey so far, having moved through different roles, one additional perspective of leadership that has become clear to me is also that a leader needs to maintain an equilibrium within the organisation.
This idea is linked to my earlier point about facilitating the growth of the team members. As a leader develops people, he/she also maintains equilibrium within the team. It’s a little bit like balancing a see-saw but coupled with the idea of team development. It also means that the see-saw is being elevated continuously to greater heights.
A leader needs to have a concept of what equilibrium looks like in the team. Sometimes this “equilibrium” may mean that he/she intentionally instils a healthy amount of tension among the team members.
While developing people and maintaining equilibrium, the leader goes about amplifying strengths, developing areas ofweaknesses[DS1] , working through team dynamics to facilitate the growth of the team, and pushing the team to perform at higher heights.
I also believe that leadership can come from all levels – leadership is not a hierarchical concept, but anyone at any level can be a leader. Moreover, in carefully crafting that equilibrium, a leader is also allowing leadership to shine through every member of the team.
2. WHAT MADE YOU STRIVE FOR A LEADERSHIP ROLE?
I have grown to love the process of working with people to develop them. It gives me joy to witness the growth of people. I also do enjoy the challenges that come with every single time, although I must say there is a fair share of challenges.
The first person who comes to mind is Mr Hosea Lai, my mentor and direct reporting supervisor when I was working for a local non-profit. He taught and inspired most of the thoughts that I have on leadership. While a lot of other leaders whom I have met are egoistic, i.e. they go out of their way to seek validation for their leadership role, he was truly committed to developing people. He was a great judge of strengths and weaknesses, and he spent time crafting responsibilities that grew each individual in ways that were unique to them. And he was glad to stand away and let team members shine as leaders in their own right.
There are many other inspirations that I draw from - Simon Sinek’s framework on The Golden Circle (aka Start with Why) has been a significant influence on me. I’ve used this framework multiple times over in my discussions with clients, facilitating brand conversations because it is also my belief that branding and leadership are inextricably tied together.
Another reference is Jim Collins’ Good to Great. In his framework, leaders performing at Level 5 leadership have a “paradoxical” blend of personal humility and indomitable will. In the same vein, the leaders who have been inspirational to me have displayed a great sense of humility, casting away any pride or ego for a purpose greater than them.
Lastly, one other source of influence comes from Dr Tan Lai Yong, the famous “barefoot doctor” who ventured to Yunnan for a good number of years to work with the village folk to help develop the people’s medical capabilities.
I had the good fortune to have attended a presentation by him, at which he was sharing his travels and the amazing lessons that he learnt. I even had the chance to accompany him on his trip around Little India, where he went around speaking to and befriending foreign workers. He is driven by an inspirational sense of purpose and the belief that the world can be made a better place.
There is no better person than him to exemplify a particular Asian quote and also the Level 5 leadership covered by Jim Collins.
3. WHAT DOES HAVING A “PRESENCE” MEAN FOR YOU?
The most immediate word that comes to mind is “influence”. Having presence also means being able to inspire thinking, being effective at communication, and also being steadfast in one’s own beliefs.
It is also about having an opinion – in this world where many ideas are being echoed from place to place, having a unique opinion/perspective helps to create “presence”.
I think building an executive presence has two dimensions - besides being able to articulate and communicate with clarity, it also requires that one’s character has that sense of humility and purpose. This is because to inspire and influence, one needs to be able to communicate in ways that are beyond the self – this can sometimes translate to inspiration beyond even the lifetime of the leader, for example in Martin Luther King’s case.
I am always focused on my growth and development. I have always been a keen observer of the situations that I have been in. Whether it be listening to an inspirational speaker, being on different teams, I have keenly observed the effects of different styles of leadership and learned what works/what doesn’t work.
4. WHAT KNOWLEDGE/SKILL DID YOU HAVE TO LEARN ON YOUR JOURNEY TO LEADERSHIP?
For me, one essential skill (that I am still working on), is how to work through people. By this, I mean to get work done, and at the same time help to facilitate the growth and development of people. This most often means more work than simply doing the task yourself, because it requires that you craft the scope of work carefully, and also have a keen understanding of the capabilities of the team member you want to grow. The task should tap on his/her strengths and yet allow for growth at the same time.
The first Asian wisdom that comes to mind is a quote that is very often attributed to Lao Tze (though I’m not sure if it was actually said by him):
“Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. However, with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves.’ ”
The person that best exemplifies this quote is Dr Tan Lai Yong, whom I mentioned earlier. I think the essence of this quote is that leaders need to empower people. This is not to say that the role of the leader is insignificant, but a leader works with people in a way that allows them to become stewards of their own growth and development, so that when there is success, the people will come to witness the significance of their own potential and capabilities.
5. WHAT WAS YOUR GREATEST CHALLENGE?
In my leadership endeavours so far, I have sought to build people wherever I could, but my biggest challenges that I have faced is that the response from my team members to a leadership “style” isn’t always reciprocal.
There have been many examples where I have spent time (thinking that I am) building capabilities for team members, but despite the best-intentioned efforts, it has come to nought.
I’ve begun to overcome this by intentionally taking more time to understand the people around me, to build trust and rapport, rather than dealing out the same form of “leadership” to everyone. Trust is a fundamental aspect of building relationships, and without trust, any form of working relationship is difficult.
6. WHAT WAS YOUR MOMENT OF GREATEST FULFILMENT SO FAR?
The best moments have been being able to help and witness my team members overcome personal challenges and develop in their professional capacity.
I remember working with a team member on presentation skills. We practised over and over and over again. I must have been her harshest critic, but because there was a great degree of trust in our relationship, she was willing to commit herself fully to working through all of our practice sessions.
She eventually did a tremendous job, and it was a sensational experience for me to witness it because it gave me great joy to see her triumphant and confident.
7. WHAT ADVISE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE ASPIRING TO BUILD HIS/HER EXECUTIVE PRESENCE?
I think it’s really about casting aside any ego and spending the time to speak with team members and just listen to people. Listen to perspectives, listen to people’s opinions, and listen not only to what is said but also what is not said.
As I have mentioned before, I believed that leaders need to spend time answering “Where are we going?”
To answer that question well, if you could spend time listening to people, you are in a better position to understand where there are gaps between your intended direction and what is understood by the team. And you will know where your role as a leader is truly needed.
Building a presence is pretty essential to being a leader because people look up to you and draw inspiration from who you are. Some of the great leaders of our time – Mother Theresa, Gandhi – pursued beliefs and communicated visions way beyond the self, and they have continued to remain as symbols of the ideals they envisioned.
-interviewed and edited by Dean Shams -
ABOUT ASIAN EXECUTIVE PRESENCE
The Asian Executive Presence is a movement started by Dean Shams to bring an Asian perspective and voice to the topic of developing Executive Presence. The blog features Asian executives, entrepreneurs and leaders who exude presence. They are either hand picked by Dean or nominated by someone.
The interviews are meant to gain a deeper understanding of how these individuals think about leadership and build a strong presence.
You don't have to be a top executive to exude presence. Leadership can be displayed and experienced at any level of the corporate ladder. And the movement celebrates that.
Dean welcomes your connection on LinkedIn.
KNOW SOMEONE WHO EXUDES PRESENCE?
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