Circuit Breaker or Circuit Breakthrough? 3.5 Principles of Leadership in the New World

| 17 Aug 2020

The essential leadership principles needed to lead your team from "Circuit Breaker" to "Circuit Breakthrough". Matthew Chew, Top 5 Inspirational Agency Leader of the Year at the 4th Asia Trusted Life Agents & Advisers Awards 2019, shares his insights on the 3.5 principles of leadership in the new world.

It feels like it was just yesterday that everyone was ecstatic about the dawn of a new decade. But in the past four months have crawled by, the reality cannot have been gloomier.

We are battling not only a deadly virus but a recession forecasted to be the worst since Singapore's independence.

When it comes to a crisis of this magnitude, how should leaders from every nook and cranny respond? 


1. Survival of the Fittest  

"Life is a relentless process of attrition." – Lee Kuan Yew

First and foremost, as a leader, it is our responsibility to adapt and survive. If you don't adapt and survive, you cannot expect your team to do the same.

In every crisis, the general populace will almost always search for reasons for their demise. People will always blame the greater climate for failures and shortcomings.

Things like ...

The company sacked me.
The government didn't do enough to protect us.
I'm in this industry because I had no other choice.

But the indubitable law of nature is this - Nature is about the survival of the fittest.

We keep up, or we are kept out.

The world is changing. We have to find means and ways to change and adapt!

Change, only when needed, is change that is a little too late.

If we do not retrain ourselves, our experience will be rendered useless easily. It is simply because our experience is accumulated from the past. It is only useful when you adapt yourself to the present. The way to stay ahead is to ensure that your past experience, is put together with knowledge of what is needed currently, and for the future!

If we are not up to the task, then we must understand that we will be replaced.


Action to take: 

Ask yourself a tough question - Why should I be kept in the running?

Why should you have more clients? Why should your clients stick with you? Why should you have more recruits? Why should any recruit join you over others?

For each question, give yourself six to seven reasons as to why you should be kept in the running.

Find out what is missing in your arsenal. If you already know what is missing in your skillset, get that skill. If you already know what your weak spots in your work is, find out what to do about it, and DO something about it!

For as long as you strive to keep yourself in the know – knowledge and skills-wise – you will be able to retain your value anywhere.

If you cannot keep up with time, you must accept that you will be phased out.

Credit: @m_bassador


2. All Roads Lead to Rome

One of the greatest contributors to the success of the Roman Empire in the past was its ability to communicate. 

The Roman Empire developed roads across its vast empire as a means to transport materials and supplies. In doing so, it improved the empire's ability to communicate across large physical areas.

Other than language, roads are one of the most elementary forms of communications. In the past, other than how fast you could speak and relay your thoughts, the only other way was how quick you could get around the town to share good or bad news. 

If we really thought about it, the better our roads are designed and built, the faster we could communicate with others, and this rate of communication determines how fast we respond to events or news.

In this crisis, we should look to establish powerful forms of communication with our teams.

Singapore would be a good example of this. In response to Covid-19, a multi-ministry taskforce was set up to ensure the quickest flow of information to and from the taskforce.

Read that again! Not only does a multi-ministry taskforce ensure quick information from all the ministries, it also ensures quick communication to all the ministries.

With or without a pandemic or crisis:

 "The day you can't adjust and change, you'll begin to shrivel and die. That's all." – Lee Kuan Yew


Action to take: 

Set up new ways of communicating with your team. Video conferencing is the new norm. Do not reject it. Understand how it works and use it to your advantage. It is efficient, but it does not provide a physical experience. But we are able to squeeze in an increased number of interactions with our teams.

You need to understand what is the best form of communication, for the stage in your relationship with the people of person. 

For example, if I am getting married, it cannot be done over a video call. But! The registration of a marriage can. You need to discern what is the best form of communication that is appropriate and adequate.

I, too, faced difficulties in keeping in touch with my team. I have nearly 100 advisors under my care, with six leaders by my side. It was paramount for us to have made changes quickly. We expedited all efforts that will take us forward in this storm.

For myself, I set up a system of writing digital letters addressed directly to my team. These letters are sent out every Monday. I simply call it the ED Address, short for Executive Director Address. 

These letters seek to educate and highlight learning points from current affairs. It also reminds them of the bloom amidst the gloom, and actions that they should be taking to make the best of their time.


3. Leaders are Not Wizards 

Since time immemorial, wizards have always been associated with magic. And, the fascinating thing about magic is that it gives people the hope that there are actually shortcuts to life by simply chanting a phrase.

In the modern world, people tend to look at leaders as wizards who are able to magically chant a phrase and manoeuvre everyone to safety or to the Promiseland. Well, nothing can be further from the truth!

While it is the responsibility of leaders to look out for their people as best as they can, leaders need their team to respond to their rallies.

The team needs to respond to the rallies of the leaders.

The team needs to work. Leaders cannot do everything.

The team needs to come together and unite. While it is the job of the leader to rally the unity, the team needs to heed the call and band together.

It is important for team members to understand that, and for leaders to remember that.

Let me paint you a picture to illustrate my point.

Can you imagine what it would be like if Singaporeans refused to adopt the parameters for Covid-19 set by the government?

Even if the government led with near perfection, but its people refused to respond and adapt to the necessary changes, all efforts will be in vain.

It is the same in financial advisory.

Your leaders have gone through many different tough times. Trust that they are doing their best based on experience.

It is impossible to please everyone. 

What matters at the end of the day, is the passion for a common goal.

So contrary to popular belief, leaders are not responsible for inaction. You are!

Read also: 14 winners from seven markets crowned at the 5th Asia Trusted Life Agents & Advisers Awards

Action to take: 

The fact is that everyone is a leader in their own rights. You either lead in an organisation, in a group, in a family, or in a relationship.

So, do not lament, lead the pack (however large the pack may be).
Do not complain, correct (however wrong the situation is).
Do not deplore, simply just do (however hard the action is).

Take it upon yourself to be a leader in your own right. 


3.5 Crises, Like History, Repeats Itself

We all know the adage - History repeats itself. The same goes for crises.

In 2020, crisis presented itself in the form of COVID-19. How we respond now will train us on how to respond in the future. Let us embrace this crisis and take this as a learning journey for the next challenge that will come our way.

Whether we are leaders or team members, it is only when we are challenged and push to our limits, then will we know how we will fare in the next round.


Matthew Chew is an Executive Director of Advisors Alliance Group, AIA FA. He was recognised as Top 5 Inspirational Agency Leader of the Year at the 4th Asia Trusted Life Agents & Advisers Awards 2019.

Starting with just two people in his team in 2013, Matthew now has nearly 100 people under his care – and he is only 34 years old this year. 

Since 2017, the team has generated over $5million in revenue. The team has groomed its members to achieve 36 International Dragon Awards (IDA) and 19 qualified Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) Associates.

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