Decoding Leadership: New Capabilities for Leading in Industry 4.0

31 Dec 2018 Posted in ⟨Stories⟩

In celebration of NTUC LearningHub’s 15th Anniversary in July, we sat down for a chat with its Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mr. Kwek Kok Kwong, to find out more about the future of leadership in the workplace of tomorrow.

Mr. Kwek believes in the future. There was a sparkle in his eyes as he talked about the rapid changes that are transforming the nature of work as the world evolves into Industry 4.0. According to his latest post on LinkedIn, in order for Singapore to keep up with Industry 4.0, everyone must be equipped with Worker 4.0 capabilities — achievable through adopting a mixture of adaptive, technological, and technical skills. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to picking up these skills. However, one can begin with what he calls the “ABCDs” of adaptive and technological skills. A quick scan of his article revealed what these are. Worker 4.0 needs to be Agile and Aware, Bold, Communicative, and possess Design Thinking skills. Meanwhile, key technological skills to learn are Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Cloud Computing, and Data Analytics.

A Leader 4.0 must have a compelling vision and make things happen

Before leading NTUC LearningHub, Mr. Kwek served with distinction in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for 27 years. When asked about his career transition, he admitted that change is never easy, but that it can be mitigated with preemptive and adequate preparation. He had started preparing as early as 2002, after a one-year Master’s programme with Harvard University. He gave a piece of friendly advice for other mid-career switchers: “Be humble, learn with the curiosity of a child, and be prepared to dirty your hands. The first two years as CEO was when I tripped and fell, discovering a lot of things for myself and about myself in the process.”

It has been said that anyone in a management or supervisory role is a leader, but not everyone in those positions exhibit true leadership. When asked about his thoughts on the distinction between a manager and a leader, Mr. Kwek had this to say: “A manager situates himself in the present, managing resources and people.” A leader, on the other hand, always keeps an eye on the trends and threats on the horizon, and leads his team into the future. Building on John Maxwell’s maxim “Leadership is influence,” and his five levels of leadership, Mr. Kwek explained that creating a compelling vision and making things happen are additional, equally important, aspects of leadership. “Eventually, you want people to follow you because of who you are and what you represent.”

Important to future-proof your organisation against digital disruption

It is increasingly difficult to know what to focus on in a world that is now defined by technological flux. Disruption has become the by-word in the past three years; just look at how far ride-sharing services have come to define our way of life. Mr. Kwek agreed, recalling a study which stated that 80% of jobs in 2030 have yet to be invented. Since these jobs do not exist currently, it is then unclear what specific skills are needed for the future economy. Amidst the fog of uncertainty, he asserted that, nevertheless, future successful companies would need to be technologically and digitally oriented, and by extension, so must the future leader.

Passion is contagious. Mr Kwek’s personal enthusiasm for reading and learning — he is currently enrolled in a six-month corporate coaching programme with Singapore Management University (SMU) — has spurred him to conduct annual learning sessions with his team, walking the talk and spearheading change in his organisation. Two years ago, they picked up LEAN concepts together, then data visualisation in 2018, and for this year, the focus is on Robotics Process Automation (RPA). He cited John F. Kennedy as a personal inspiration, sharing a favourite quote: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” This is not just about personal growth, he shares. When you become a leader, you have to think about growing the organisation and growing others.

Grooming the next generation of leaders

Research suggests that leadership development and succession management remains a top organisational priority. What are some of the qualities he looks for in a potential leader? “I’m constantly on the lookout for people whose minds are open and receptive to change. They must be prepared to improve things, to roll up their sleeves and experiment, turning their visions into results. I like leaders who challenge the status quo, and who are comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Being in the world of disruptive change is akin to being on your toes all the time. As we try out new ideas, there will be times when the outcome is not what you expect. How does one cope with failure, as one must inevitably face when building a career? “Let me share a secret with you. Reprogramme the way you think of failure. When things don’t turn out as planned, take it as feedback and not failure. Feedback is a more positive vocabulary than failure. If you speak positive, the energy will be positive. If you speak negative, the energy will be negative. Positive vocabulary will motivate you and your team to persist towards your goals.”

“I’m constantly on the lookout for people whose minds are open and receptive to change. They must be prepared to improve things, to roll up their sleeves and experiment, turning their visions into results. ”

Kwek Kok Kwong

It was time to go. Is there a piece of advice he would give to his younger self?

“Think with your head, but communicate through your heart. This is how you get people to follow you.”

This year, NTUC LearningHub celebrates 15 years of transforming people through accessible and affordable education. Since 2004, we have fulfilled over 2.4 million training places and transformed over 21,000 organisations.

Regardless of collar, age or nationality, we are here to help you upgrade your skills to keep up with a rapidly changing workforce. For more information on how we can help, talk to our friendly Course Consultants at NTUC Trade Union House, Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability, LHUB@Tampines Mall or any of our roadshows islandwide.


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