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Ten Principles For Leadership Business Strategy In Southeast Asia


Jedidiah ‘Jedi’ Alex Koh is the Founder of Coaching Changes Lives, Asia’s leading Coaching Firm Specializing in Team Leadership Development.

Applied leadership-in-business strategy is critical to shaping the overall business trajectory of an organization. Many organizations become stymied when they see themselves as just a machine running in perpetuity without considering that the organization exists because of a business vision. Today, organizations need to see themselves as a business across all functions to be more agile in the face of a disruptive and uncertain marketplace.

Having coached leaders and business owners in Southeast Asia, I’ve seen an interesting pattern emerge through my engagement with them. They have had training and mentoring from Western concepts and frameworks, but it just doesn’t produce the results that they want. One interesting phenomenon I noticed is that many leadership and business strategies are written from Western perspectives, and even if there are some Asian ideas, they are often secondary and there is not adequate clarity around them.

I grew up in Southeast Asia, and I’ve spent the last 15 years coaching leaders across generations who lead everything from small businesses to large multinational corporations. Using my experiences and practical and cultural learnings, I have put together ten principles for leadership in business strategy.

I call these the “Padi Principles.” Why padi? Padi represents the rice fields; rice is a staple food for Southeast Asians. The padi has traditions and stories that span generations and a great significance that shapes our values and customs. When we think about a padi field, we don’t refer to just one individual grain or stalk of rice, we look at it as a whole. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. What makes the padi so powerful is its representation of the collective strength, the coming together, the synergistic enablement, the harmony in action and the wisdom that permeates language.

1. Collective, Collaborative Symbiosis

Though individual strengths and contributions are important, a greater emphasis is placed on the collective, the team, the collaborative power of how we complement each other to produce a creative solution that is unparalleled. This is the concept of strength in numbers and the symbiotic relationship that each person has as a whole. The results and fruits are shared with all and celebrated to deepen the sense of group and camaraderie among all members of the collective.

2. Others Before Self

Too often we think that it’s all about us. Placing others before self allows us to take on a giving and value-adding mindset. This makes us have a more abundant mindset rather than a mindset that is there just to take. It’s more blessed to give than to receive.

3. Discipline And Patience

Leaders and businesses need patience to see results. Quick results or quick wins often create distractions from the final goal or product. The discipline to hold fast and to be steadfast in the vision and the product to create will lead to greater growth and outcomes. Discipline is very underrated, and many businesses just want to see year-on-year growth. Wise leaders see not the shortfalls of the year but the compounded wins of the decades.

4. Frugality In Action

This attribute of frugality is such a vital component in strategy-making. Many leaders just spend and see investment as opportunities to spend more. In a business context, frugality is spending in a timely manner to produce maximum results in the long term. It’s about the long-term impacts of spending.

5. Acceptance And Celebration Of Uniqueness And Quirks

Diversity has been celebrated for generations in Southeast Asia; it’s the acceptance and recognition of unique gifts, talents and personality that brings the richness of the culture out. In the building of business, how are we celebrating our uniqueness? Have we become conforming? Have we become a place of “yes” people? Quirks often may be great talents that just seem strange or don’t seem to conform to the expected. However, these quirks can produce an impact that generates deeper levels of innovation and creative outputs.

6. Guanxi—Bonds That Tie Us Together

The Eastern concept of guanxi is much more than trust or safety. Guanxi is that sense of trust that a person has for another without any pretense, and it goes deeper than blood ties. There’s an understanding that when an Asian person says something, they will hold themselves to what they say. Their word is their bond. This bond generates ties deeper than what any contract or written document can ever replace. Guanxi can only be fully understood when we understand the metaphor of harmony by looking at nature and its interactions. There are degrees of guanxi, and yet it can be deepened to create a tangible impact on all.

7. Fearlessness

This is the verve and that innate élan that says Never give up; face that giant head-on. Even if all else fails, I will be the stepping stone to enable the next generation to rise up. To rise up and step up and step in—that is fearlessness.

8. Lead With Values And Principles

Leadership begins with values. Without values, what we do can be incoherent. Finding alignment and congruence is key to leadership competence. Lead from the head with clarity, from the hands with dignity and from the heart with love.

9. The Story Of Family—Nurturing Generations

Leadership is about family. The leader nurtures the generations to come and develops the team as if they are a close-knit family. What is our team story today? Do we feel belonging? Teams that feel a deep sense of belonging often move from a sense of transactional behaviors to transformative actions.

10. Progress, Prosperity And The Pursuit Of Happiness

Happiness is seen in the little things, and progress brings about prosperity. The sense of moving and progress is key in developing a business strategy. And leaders must never forget why the business existed in the first place. What are we truly pursuing? What are we trying to achieve? What is our legacy?


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