Helping next generation find their leadership identities

May 28, 2021 | 08:00
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On account of the upcoming Vietnam Institute for Southeast Asian Directors’ mini MBA programme for young leaders in Vietnam, organisational psychology consultant My Holland, CEO of EQuest Asia, had a discussion with Tamas Nguyen about what Vietnam’s next generation of leaders will need to succeed in the future.

EQuest Asia and partners are holding the Vietnam Institute for Southeast Asian Directors’ (VINSEAD) mini-MBA programme for young leaders in Vietnam in July. What will the programme involve?

1545 p23 helping next generation find their leadership identities
Organisational psychology consultant My Holland, CEO of EQuest Asia.

“MBA” or “the other MBA” stands for “Mind and Behaviour in Action” and aims to fill the soft skills gap Vietnam is experiencing. The need for reskilling and upskilling to adopt new priorities and mindsets is growing each day, with the economy growing faster than people’s skills.

Our MBA programme is inviting potential future CEOs and top-level management candidates to help them find their leadership identity before they assert their future position. It is crucial for Vietnam’s future business leaders to understand themselves and be able to question themselves and the world around to empower teams and create an impact.

We will challenge them to look at their organisation from a completely different perspective, to use it as a case study for positive changes – building and growing it will be their life’s work, after all.

We have received very positive responses from corporations so far and it seems many of them realise there are gaps in soft skills and are willing to address these shortcomings. Some of these companies are very good at what they do, they have top-notch technical skills and are adept at project management – areas where there is a good answer.

However, when dealing with people, one plus one doesn’t always equal two, and relationships are a common root of a many organisational problems such as low emotional intelligence, cultural bias, reluctance to provide feedback and learn from failure, and providing a safe environment for innovation.

What key changes in mindset would you like to see in Vietnamese leaders?

The aim of VINSEAD and EQuest Asia at large is to raise awareness among participants and Vietnamese people that they can all contribute to sustainability and a healthier, more efficient working environment. They do not have to be the head of a big corporation to make meaningful contributions – change does not have to always come from the top.

Throughout the seven weekends of the programme, we will work on opening up the minds of participants. We will challenge them to turn a more critical eye to the world surrounding them, to really question the “why” behind the “what”. We will encourage them to unlearn issues that are blockages to growth so that they can pick up new perspectives.

Our approach closely resembles the one underlying United Nations’ sustainable development initiatives in that they revolve around empowering local people to find their own way, to develop an organic, home-grown pipeline of future leaders with a genuine stake in the future of Vietnam.

What we would like to see more at Vietnamese work environments is authenticity, in the way leadership relates to employees and profit. When a responsible business owner sees the company operations as a means of putting food on the table for so many families, and even as the primary purpose in many of their employees’ lives, they will be just as driven for success as if they were counting profit. This way sustainability and responsible practices should become a more organic and engaging element of the company’s operations.

We want to help participants and other Vietnamese leaders find their leadership identity so that they don’t need to look outside for wisdom. There are excellent skilled people in Vietnam and we have a lot of nationals returning from abroad with highly sought-after skills. We just need to prepare a fertile ground for these seeds to take root. Our goal is to help Vietnamese leaders formulate their own leadership compass so they never deviate from the course they chart for themselves, based on non-negotiable values of their own.

As an organisational psychology consultant, what do you think are the greatest issues holding back Vietnamese workplaces?

There is a genuine problem of trust being artificial at Vietnamese workplaces, with things like “unquestioned loyalty” typically being top of mind in any discussion. Employees often feel emotionally unsafe and are afraid that raising questions or making suggestions to improve business practices will be seen as a challenge to authority by leaders and instead keep ideas to themselves and remain unheard and effectively invisible. This is the opposite of empowerment.

This problem is what we call “artificial harmony”. Everything looks fine from the top, but when you start digging, you find people are not genuinely engaged and are not reliable because they mistrust each other or do not feel emotionally safe. Vietnamese companies are often at a loss when dealing with this because people relations rarely have a clear-cut solution and often remain unaddressed. Much of this is a generational issue which the younger generation seems to recognise instinctively. Change is happening with many of Vietnam’s corporations undergoing the shift between first and second-generation leadership, and in many cases more experienced leaders are also recognising the need for change, that people need to take more ownership of their own role in their personal growth. In other words, we need to be self-empowered.

The young generation wants to build something. They want to do good, and we need to give them the space to do it – and this is the right time to articulate what this shift is all about.

By Tamas Nguyen

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