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(Harish Manwani sharing his views on ‘Leading in Turbulent Times' at the Singapore Human Capital Summit, September 20, 2017)

What Does It Take to Lead in a Fractured World?

At the 2017 Singapore Human Capital Summit (SHCS) in September we explored what it takes to lead in a fractured world. SHCS was established in 2008 and is co-organised by the Human Capital Leadership Institute (HCLI), a subsidiary of Temasek Management Services (TMS) and the Ministry of Manpower. Attendees of this year's Summit heard from 41 speakers from nine countries, representing leaders from Business, HR, Government and Academia. Speakers included bestselling author Daniel Pink; Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister for Manpower and Home Affairs; C-suite leaders from Medtronic, Shell, MasterCard, Citi, SingTel, AirAsia, and Olam; professors from IESE, Victoria Business School, and University of Bath; and HR consulting partners from ADP, Kelly OCG, and CIPD.

Participants were challenged to grapple with complex issues including how to lead in uncertain times, how to rebuild trust in times of crisis, and how to ensure a purposeful and passionate business. Leaders discussed the need to further build their ability to influence, inspire and unify in uncertain and volatile times.

Below is a summary of some insights from the Summit.

The Fractures

In many ways, humanity has it better than ever before. For most of the world, famine and disease have been vastly reduced or even eradicated. Though there is serious unrest in parts of the world, we are living in the most peaceful time in history. Yet, we see growing income divides and stark income gaps that are leading to social unrest. A report released at WEF earlier this year estimated that the world's eight richest billionaires control the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50% of the population, which translates into an astounding 3.6 billion people. When we consider this, it is understandable that large segments of society are feeling disaffected. There is a serious lack of trust in institutions and systems.

And we are faced with severe headwinds. We see this played out in a number of significant world events over the last twelve months, including Brexit, the collapse of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and an increasing anti-globalisation sentiment. There is fear and division in our communities and organisations.

The dialogues and discussions at the 2017 SHCS suggest three ways that leaders can help to repair the fractures and ease tensions:

Prioritizing partnership

To minimize divides, we need to find ways to work together.

During renowned management thought leader Fons Trompenaars' session on the power of inclusive thinking, he touched on the importance and impact of servant leadership. What would our world look like if we paid more attention to both internal customers and external customers? What if our focus was on partnering to ensure success?

Operationally, successful organisations will increasingly build the capability and adopt an organisational model which would enable them to partner with governments and the broader communities to advance policy, economic, and social solutions in tandem with embracing disruption.

Responding to needs

It is time to move away from the singular focus on shareholder value. Going forward, we will need to listen to and respond to multiples voices: customers, employees, communities. And we will need to build solutions that respond to the complex needs of multiple stakeholders: business, government, broader society, shareholders.

Only by doing so can we begin to rebuild trust and belief in our institutions.

Unleash hope and energy

The times ahead will be challenging. In order to engage employees to work on solutions, they must be inspired and energised. A key to this will be developing leaders who can evoke trust and hope.

In his keynote session, Global Executive Advisor at Blackstone and former Chief Operating Officer at Unilever, Mr Harish Manwani, challenged leaders to unleash energy amongst the ‘troops'. When a leader walks into a room, "it is his or her job to fuel the people around them".