Leadership advice from great Asian leaders

At Naisa we believe in the power of the mentor-protégé dynamic. In fact, we have a full program dedicated to it. Some of the most talented people in their field admit that good advice, at the right time, has been one of the most important secrets to their success. Here we bring you a selection of advice from top Asian leaders, that they found most helpful at crucial early moments in their careers.

Jim Kim remembers great advice he received from Marshall Goldsmith: “If you want to be an effective leader, listen to and accept with humility the feedback that comes from your team.” As president of the World Bank Group, Kim certainly acknowledges the importance of effective leadership. But he admits that few put in the time and effort it takes to become a more effective leader. He says that “creating a sense of shared purpose within often very diverse groups can be extraordinarily difficult, but when it happens, even large, unruly groups can tackle just about anything.”

How do we become better leaders?

An important starting point, Kim says, is to understand how people respond to you. The classic 360-degree review (honest and anonymous from those who work directly with a leader) is an essential tool. “The most fundamental commitment you have to make as a leader is to humbly listen to the input of others, take it seriously, and work to improve.” and in that way, he maintains—remembering another quote from Marshall—“leadership is a contact sport.” Echoing that, Kim also recalls advice from Ford’s legendary CEO, Alan Mulally, that on the most fundamental level, leadership is about service to others.

Expanding on this importance of courage and humility in service of others, Kim maintains as a golden rule: “if someone has a better idea, say, thank you, that’s a better idea. For CEOs, that’s the kind of culture you need to create in your organization. For junior staff, you must insist on speaking up when you have a thoughtful idea. You never know—lives may depend on it.”

Deepak Chopra credits his parents for “impressing upon me through their words and actions that ‘True success comes from self-power’”. He defines true success as: Progressive realization of worthy goals; the ability to love and have compassion; to be in touch with the creative power in your inner being at all times. And self-power as coming from the level of the soul beyond the ego mask, characterized through: Independence from the good and bad opinions of others but being responsive to feedback; fearlessness; And being beneath no one nor superior to no one.

For Jose Li, founder and CEO of 7lbs, learning to give up control was a big learning curve. He believes leadership is about influence and listening to those around you – often attributes that are not taught in school or training, but can define how successful a leader you become.

Raji Arasu, CTO of Stubhub urges young potential leaders to prepare themselves to embrace change as it “allows you to grow the business and help the company stay competitive.” And an important piece of advice Arasu received was never be afraid to learn from others and try new ways to solve problems. She says she owes much of her success to “the many mentors who took time to give me genuine hard feedback. They helped build a stronger, wiser, and more mature me.” And always, she says, “be the best at what you do. Striving to be the best technology leader and CTO gives me the courage to be strategic and bold.”

naisA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational organization dedicated to helping talented young Asian professionals unlock their potential and become great leaders.