Life’s a journey – so is being a good leader

By Pratap Nambiar For The Straits Times

Lack of self-awareness, especially of how others see you, is a blind spot that can ruin careers.

In my past 10 years of leadership coaching, it has become clear that leaders who are self-aware have the ability to see themselves clearly, to understand who they are, how others see them and how they fit into their organisation or the world in general. This has a direct bearing on increasing their leadership effectiveness, which results in greater organisational effectiveness.

There is a strong positive correlation between self-awareness of leaders, their authentic behaviours and, consequently, their leadership effectiveness….Read more

This article was originally published in The Straits Times, Singapore on October 14, 2018.

Leadership Due Diligence

Investments are supposed to deliver on the deal promise and create shareholder value. Yet very few of the promised synergies get translated into the story of the future that you bought into.

Whilst there could be many reasons for this unfortunate disappointment with results, we cannot ignore the fact that all deals naturally accelerate and amplify leadership risk.

Hence the mitigation of leadership risk should be on top of the agenda on any investment deal. It is not enough to just run the numbers and do the usual financial and commercial due diligence.

Bought-story-deliver-promised-resultsLeadership due diligence with a strong bias towards strategy implementation and the assessment of critical competencies needed not only for today but to drive tomorrow’s business success is what will help deliver the promised results.

Who are the effective leaders and who are the ones utilizing their full potential? Leadership effectiveness equates to organizational effectiveness.

Assessing and coaching leaders along with a coherent and well-articulated communication process to achieve maximum engagement at all levels will help deliver the promised results.

Competencies alone will not help. The consciousness of leaders associated with inner beliefs and assumptions which shape behaviours is the operating system of performance. Overcoming complex challenges requires the transformation of leaders that starts with a shift in their consciousness.

To get the most out of the story, talk to the The Leadership Circle. We partner with the world’s leading organizations to build winning leadership cultures and teams to help them deliver on their promise.

The bane of CEO effectiveness – a big ego

By Pratap Nambiar for The Sunday Times

Singapore business leaders rank among the top in global database… for arrogance

I was chatting about my recent leadership coaching experiences with Mr Bob Anderson, the founder of United States-based The Leadership Circle and co-author of the book, Mastering Leadership. He wanted to know what I had observed regarding the coping strategies of leaders. My response was that I had consistently seen strong levels of arrogance and critical behaviour among leaders.

He then agreed to investigate this, looking at his client database of almost 100,000 leaders around the world developed over 15 years. The database comprises chief executive officers, business unit heads and those who report directly to them, with 60 per cent being men in the age group of 30 to 50 across manufacturing, education, government, healthcare, consulting, financial services and energy.

What he found was that within the entire database, 33 per cent can be considered highly arrogant. And when broken down by regions and countries, Singapore – at 55 per cent – had the second-highest frequency of highly arrogant leaders out of 20 countries, behind only Mexico at 75 per cent.

The database had about 500 Singapore leaders, representing predominantly men from the manufacturing, healthcare, financial services and energy sectors. The discovery of a leader’s tendency to be arrogant- and also, critical – was done through a psychometric assessment with specific questions asked about individual behaviour- answered by the leader and also by
stakeholders such as bosses, peers, those who report directly to them, and others.

Essentially, “arrogance” measures the tendency to project a large ego. It measures behaviour that is experienced as superior, egotistical and self-centred. Arrogant people act in ways that attract a lot of attention to the self, take up too much airtime, listen poorly, demonstrate a big ego, project an air of superiority or of being unapproachable, get upset easily
when ideas are challenged, and are self-righteous.

When you combine this kind of arrogance with strong critical behaviour, you get a situation where the leader is disconnected from the rest of the organisation. Usually, this is not good for an organisation as it leads to a significant gap between strategy and execution.

Here is how highly arrogant leaders are distributed across countries and regions: 29 per cent – North America (the United States and Canada); 31 per cent – the United Kingdom; 39 per cent – Africa; 44 percent – Western Europe; 48 per cent – Asia, including China, India, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand; 51 per cent-the Middle East; 52 per cent – Eastern Europe; and 60 per cent -South/Latin America.

The biggest variance within regions occurred in Western Europe and Asia – and suggests some countries may have a relatively low number of arrogant leaders, while others have a high count, and that these extremes offset each other, with the aggregate falling somewhere in the middle.

Mr Anderson also analysed specific country frequencies for those countries with sufficient numbers of leaders whose profiles have been generated by The Leadership Circle, so that statistically meaningful results could be obtained. The resulting picture is quite provocative. Apart from Singapore and Mexico, the other countries with higher proportions of leaders considered arrogant are: New Zealand and Canada, each with 28 per cent; the United States and Norway – 29 per cent; Australia- 31 per cent; the Philippines – 33 per cent; South Africa – 39 per cent; China and Switzerland, both with 41 per cent; France and Japan, both with 42 per cent; Spain – 45 per cent; Colombia, the Netherlands and Germany, each with 49 per cent; and India – 52 per cent.

To be sure, the figures are taken from a selective database developed by one particular leadership institute’s experience of assessing leadership effectiveness. It was not created to specifically research country performance. Still, its findings provide food for thought.

Mr.Anderson also conducted an analysis that correlates critical behaviour with arrogance. The result suggests that leaders who are more critical are also much more likely to be arrogant. Indeed, critical behaviour accounts for 70 per cent of the variance in arrogance scores. “Critical” is a measure of the tendency to take a critical, questioning and cynical attitude. Such behaviour can involve establishing a sense of worth by finding fault, putting others down, or being intellectually or morally superior.

Such people are usually dogmatic and rigid, mistrustful of others, have a predominantly negative attitude, blame others when things go wrong, appear to enjoy arguments and debates, and focus more on problems rather than solutions.

Why, according to the results, does Singapore appear to have a large number of arrogant leaders? I think that it is the culture and the environment in which we operate. Having had so much success over such a long period, particularly with the consistent performance of the Government and the companies linked to it, brings a sense of arrogance with it.

There is a significant tendency for people to build themselves up and keep safe at all times. Being open and vulnerable is not an option as there is a low tolerance for failure. Western countries are ahead in terms of transitioning from a patriarchal style of leadership to one of partnership, whilst Asian countries are catching up.

Coaching CEOs, particularly those with highly inflated egos, can be quite a challenge. They want to succeed, but on their terms. They are aware that they have done well enough and established an image that has helped them get to the CEO role in the first instance. So they are doing something right and, yes, they want to do better – but not at the cost of bringing down their ego a few notches.

Recently, a couple of those who report directly to a CEO told me their boss had a peculiar habit. Whenever they face a particularly challenging situation and go to him for resolution, he would respond along these lines: “If I have to give you a solution, I do not need to hire you. Don’t waste my time, and figure it out by yourself. I just want to see the final numbers”.

In one situation, the CEO, when asked to explain a rather unfriendly decision to do with a customer, reacted in annoyance: “Just tell them it is policy. They don’t need to know anything more.” The ultimate win-lose tactic of an arrogant leader is to pull rank on a subordinate to ensure full compliance without disagreement.

Quite often, I see that anger accompanies arrogance, as the leader is seeking full control and “my way or the highway” is usually a posture that ensures his will is imposed on those who report to him. If everything goes well, it is all his doing, his direction, but if something goes wrong, then everyone else is to blame.

Listening poorly because “nobody knows better than me” is an underlying belief which allows the leader to interrupt others and start telling them what they need to do. We see this a lot in meetings where the leader sucks so much airtime that many of the team members with genuinely good ideas never get a chance to present their views, and the organisation suffers.


Quite often, the facade of superiority and arrogance is covering up for a deep-rooted feeling of self-doubt and lack of self-worth. The leader feels vulnerable and does not trust his subordinates to respect him if they see his true colours.

So he has to play big, and that really means everybody around him has to be made to feel small. This is clearly a case of “I win, you lose” thinking that is definitely not in the best interest of the organisation. Teamwork and contribution through caring are sacrificed in the constant desire to project the leader’s ego, thereby losing the opportunity to tap the potential of the team. Hence, most team members underperform.

Usually the self-righteous attitude of the leader with an exaggerated sense of self is so off-putting that the team stops trying and the members either become “yes men” or totally indifferent to the situation.

I have seen CEOs who are so preoccupied with their self-image that they spend a large amount of their time engaged in PR activities, presenting themselves as the spokesmen of their industry. In reality, they are catering to their own need for self-promotion, and simply attracting attention to themselves.

You may have seen the intellectual arrogance of a leader get in the way of connecting with the hearts and minds of people. There is no understanding of the emotional needs of the team and connecting to the objectives of the business.

The selfless leader is, on the other hand, able to share credit, and focused on helping team members to fulfil their potential by listening to their needs and aligning them to the organisation’s purpose. The humility of approach, with a clear understanding that “I am here to serve”, that leadership is not “my right” but has to be earned, is the way to organisational success.

So, how do you deal with arrogance and critical behaviour? The most important step is to become selfaware – and that can only be possible through feedback. The best way to grow is to be coached to understand the internal beliefs and assumptions that drive the arrogant and critical behaviour.

A coach will help to increase authenticity by bringing up the “undiscussables”, and openly dealing with issues and problems that interfere with relationship building and achievement.

Finally, it is critical to appreciate the meaning of becoming a selfless leader- one not fuelled by personal ambition, but the strong desire to create results that serve a common good.

Pratap Nambiar is the founder of Thought Perfect, a Singapore-based organisation that provides business performance coaching to chief executive officers.

This article was originally published in The Sunday Times, Singapore on March 04, 2018.

The challenges of leading a team when the chips are down

By Pratap Nambiar for The Straits Times

It’s all about people, beliefs and values. To shift from a poor to performance culture, an organisation’s leaders must work with people to give them a sense of purpose.

In a coaching conversation with a CEO, the recent SMRT challenges surfaced. How, over the last several months, there have been so many negative customer experiences, with a new problem surfacing every time an old one was fixed. What, asked my client, is the CEO missing? Is it all really only technical challenges or is there a bigger issue at play?

I threw it right back at her, and she said there was certainly something missing.

Sensing change within an organisation is the leader’s job but more often than not, a leader’s attention is absorbed by external circumstances and competitive changes.

What is happening internally – in terms of the cognitive, psychological and spiritual development of people, and how subtle changes in their behaviours based on shifting values, beliefs and assumptions are derailing the culture of the organisation – is often missed out.

American writer Ken Wilber, whose “integral theory of spirituality” tries to map human understanding and consciousness, refers to four quadrants of change – two internal and two external. Organisations usually spend much time and money on design, workflow, processes, policies and procedures. Investment is also made to develop individual skills and competencies to improve performance. Both of these have a clear external orientation.

Technical problems can always be addressed with an external focus. However, adaptive challenges – problems or dilemmas that have no apparent solution – need a whole new mind to deal with them. It is the structure of mind, the degree of complexity of thinking, the evolved mind that needs to find a new approach, a new way of resolving a problem.

Adaptive challenges are difficult to deal with because often, we do not realise that we are facing one; it has a way of sneaking up on the organisation over time without the chief executive officer’s knowledge, and then when things begin to fall apart, all kinds of technical solutions are thrown at it in the hope that it will go away.

Solutions to adaptive challenges cannot be found with the same level of thinking at which the problem was perceived in the first instance. It needs a whole new mind, a more complex thought process that can keep pace with the ever increasing complexity of doing business.

In the words of my client, Mr Amit Banati, the president of Kellogg Asia Pacific: “It is not enough to mechanically run an engagement survey at the end of a year. The CEO needs to have his finger on the pulse of his leadership team and through them, the rest of the organisation. People, performance and culture are strongly interlinked.”

Kellogg Australia is a case in point. Performance began to slide and all the usual marketing efforts directed at external challenges did not produce results. Something had changed internally and clearly, there was a need to address people’s beliefs, values and behaviours. A cultural transformation, personally led by the CEO, sat at the heart of an effort to turn around the business. This involved a reset of the leadership team, one on one coaching, many motivational and difficult conversations, including weeding out those who were not willing to change.

The cultural transformation produced a turn around in the business performance.

More often than not, leaders cannot sense the slow change that has been taking place in their organisations over time. These changes are happening at the internal level, inside each individual first and then collectively, where they share the same beliefs and assumptions which shape their collective behaviour.

A leading manufacturer of pharmaceutical products recently told me that when they contract manufacture for large Global MNCs, their people make no mistakes, but when they make the products for themselves to be sold in their own markets, there are so many quality defects and product returns that profitability is affected.

An organisation is nothing but a collection of people. Strategies don’t mean anything if the people do not implement them. That is why Mr Herb Kelleher, former CEO of South West Airlines, always used to say “the business of business is people”. If people are not committed, not motivated and do not take ownership of their roles and so their business, the organisation is doomed to fail. This is not news, yet when you treat your people as if they were secondary to processes and do not matter in the larger scheme of things, you get a dysfunctional workforce that are victims of their own negative narratives which kill their self-belief and self-esteem.

What they need is the trust of the leadership, the autonomy to do the things they need which will give them a sense of pride and achievement to see how they play a role in the success of the organisation.

This can only be done if the leaders have instilled a strong sense of purpose in the organisation. People come to work to express themselves, not to impress others. They need to feel a strong emotional connection with what they are doing and how it contributes to the well-being of others.

It is never just about the money. They need to be inspired to perform. Telling them that they will be forgiven and will not be punished if they admit their mistakes is hardly the way to inspire and motivate.

There are leaders and there are those who lead. Most leaders do it with power and through exercising their authority. We follow those who lead not because we have to but because we want to, because the leader inspires us. We don’t do it for the leader, but we do it for ourselves.

So leaders need to give their people a very strong reason as to why their organisation exists. The key question to ask is: Are we living our purpose, are we feeling good about why we are doing what we are doing?

If a leader has sensed the change and is ready to deal with the adaptive challenge, the first thing she or he needs to do is to change the language in the organisation. If she wants to create a new way of being for the organisation, she needs to create a new way of being for the people so they develop a new way of doing things.

The culture will only change with new beliefs, new values, new behaviours which need to be fuelled by new conversations. Conversations perhaps not had before. This requires a new way of thinking, a new way of engaging, opening minds to new perspectives, and listening to learn.

Pratap Nambiar is the Executive Chairman of Thought Perfect, a Singapore-based organisation that provides business performance coaching and leadership transformation for CEOs.

This article was originally published in The Straits Times, Singapore.

The inner game of leadership is what determines success

By Pratap Nambiar for The Straits Times

When a company loses money, you can blame the external environment – which might be perfectly valid. Or you can look at leadership quotient – that is, how the leader’s own worldview and ability to respond to change might be holding back the company’s ability to rise to the challenge. When your industry gets disrupted, you can blame it on external factors. Or you can look deep into your own leadership mindset to see if you can manage the change better.

The recent news that Singapore Airlines (SIA) has for the first time in five years suffered an unprecedented loss of $138 million in the last quarter got me thinking about my days at Kodak, the photographic film company that gave its name to the “Kodak moment” to refer to meaningful events that should be captured forever on Kodak camera film.

Those were the days when years of sustained performance and iconic global brand leadership had contributed to a mindset of arrogance and defiance, almost as if the success that we owned would never leave us and we would ride its waves forever.

The benefit of perfect hindsight tells us that Kodak failed to understand the threat to its business from digital film. Looking back as a former Kodak employee, I think the company’s long litany of mistakes that resulted in bankruptcy sprang from a crisis of leadership.

What else but a low leadership quotient can explain why the company chose to acquire the pharma company Sterling as opposed to the electronics division of Philips which was also available for about the same value? The connection between silver halide chemistry and pharma was seen as more strategic than the digital business that had the potential to redefine the business model for the future. We all know how that story unfolded.

Back to SIA. The airline built its reputation on a well-differentiated offering to the premium long-haul segment. But its competitors have caught up and moved forward. SIA is losing market share in particular to the Middle East carriers which have fashioned themselves on the same business model. Its full-year profits fell by 55.2 per cent to $360 million. It needs to reinvent itself. What got it here will not take it to where it wants to be.

So here is the question: Can you offer more benefits at the same or less cost? Can you increase market share when your prices are higher than competitors’? These are challenging questions that require the SIA leadership to address apparent contradictions, which often elicit either-or answers.

The general feeling in most organisational leadership theories is that you can do one or the either, as doing both is not seen as feasible. That is, however, a constrained mindset, a structure of the leadership mind that will never be able to accept that it is indeed possible to do both.



What leaders need is a different worldview – a self-transforming structure of mind that is able to re- concile polarities to be able to accomplish both – to succeed in the short term and the long term.


Bob Anderson and Bill Adams in the book Mastering Leadership refers to it as “conscious competence”.

We are always playing two games – an outer and inner game. The outer game of leadership consists of leadership competencies, such as developing technical or managerial skills, needed to accomplish results. Most efforts to develop mastery in leadership focus on the outer game of competence.

The inner game comprises the leader’s meanings making system, the underlying beliefs and assumptions developed over time, the way the individual makes sense of the world. All competencies are built on the inner game, on the platform of consciousness. The better the outer game and the more mature the inner game, the more effective is the person’s leadership.

It is possible to measure and quantify a leader’s inner game or structure of mind. This is done using a psychometric assessment designed by the Leadership Circle, that gives a score, or ratio, of creative competencies over reactive tendencies. This ratio can then be tracked against a company’s performance as defined by the leadership, whether it be earnings per share, return on investment and so on. Ample research, cited in the Anderson and Adams work, shows that the more evolved the structure of mind, the better the performance of the company.

Making decisions based on the past is a bit like driving into the future using only our rear-view mirror. This view of the world has a significant impact on the leader’s ability to understand the difference between what is possible and what is probable. Our patterns of actions and habits of thought ensure that we continue to see things in a linear and sequential manner, driven always by a cause- and-effect mode of thinking.

In SIA, its leaders have acknow- ledged the complexity of the external environment and cited the intensity of competition and political and economic uncertainty as continuing to put pressure on yields.

The locus of control from which they are operating is largely external. It is clear from SIA’s own messaging that they view the external environment as controlling them. The company is thus subject to all the external challenges that interfered and managed to derail all their best efforts at achieving their business performance goals.

The tendency among many leaders is to look outside, to see how things happened to them in ways that they found hard to respond.


For leaders, the most critical part of closing your performance gap is to actually see it, not in terms of the outcomes, but in terms of self-awareness.

What has been your role in the results you are getting?

This is the inner game which takes place in the mind of leaders and those who work for them. It is the inner state of being, the lens with which you see the world, the frozen beliefs and assumptions which drive choices and actions, that can inhibit excellence in performance.

Are you or your team playing to win or are you playing not to lose?

Erica Ariel Fox in her book Winning From Within talks about what you should be doing and what you really end up doing which creates the performance gap.

This is a result of the state of mind that makes you stumble because of what is going on inside you. You are getting in your own way without even realising it.

Self-awareness is the foundation on which the leader builds his or her attitude and mindset which connects to his or her values and beliefs. Together it constitutes a person’s inner operating system, the consciousness, the state of being.

Coping with ever-increasing complexity and planning for the future require a completely new way of making sense of the world and doing what needs to be done to generate or maintain competitive advantage.

Thinking anew and acting anew require a new level of consciousness, a new set of beliefs and assumptions about the business, leaders’ inner state of being, and the state of the world they live in.

Making decisions based on the past is a bit like driving into the future using only our rear-view mirror. This view of the world has a significant impact on the leader’s ability to understand the difference between what is possible and what is probable. Our patterns of actions and habits of thought ensure that we continue to see things in a linear and sequential manner, driven always by a cause-and-effect mode of thinking.

Dealing with complexity requires not the understanding of what is probable, but what is possible, a sense of what could happen, not because the past tells us that, but because we are willing to look at things from completely new and unexpected perspectives.

This requires a significant shift in the way leaders think, the conversations they have, the questions they ask or do not ask, and the very language of the organisation. This is not easy, as conventional thinking is safe thinking and does not, on the face of it, lead to greater levels of risk.

Authors Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston, in a book Simple Habits For Complex Times, suggest that in complex situations, leaders concentrate on the present more than the future, look at the possible more than the probable, and conduct small-scale experiments to learn what might work.

Professor Robert Kegan at Harvard University, who has done a lot of work on adult development, refers to the structure of mind that drives performance.

Just as a Honda, which is otherwise a well-designed car with a good engine, cannot perform like a Ferrari, the leader’s state of mind has to evolve to be able to deal with uncertainty and complexity in order for the business to perform at the levels the organisation needs.

A more complex mind is a more developed mind and will be able to distinguish between the complicated and the complex problems to find a simple solution.

When you engage a complex situation, you can simplify it, but that does not mean that the world is simple. It means that there is more to a given situation than just a cause-and-effect relationship, and you have a complex mind that is capable of finding answers from a much broader perspective.

This requires the ability to distinguish between issues that are technical problems and those that are adaptive challenges, in the words of Harvard Professor Ronald Heifetz. An adaptive challenge is something that requires a new way of thinking and cannot be resolved by throwing technical solutions at it or using skills that have worked before.

For example, if a train system breaks down frequently, the technical solution is to increase the maintenance schedules. The adaptive challenge, however, might be that the train system’s ownership structure and mandate means employees view maintenance as not their problem.

Unlike technical challenges that can get fixed quickly with appropriate skills, with adaptive challenges you have to dig harder to identify underlying issues and discover a solution that does not exist. You need a whole new mind.

As Einstein said, “you cannot resolve a problem with the same state of mind at which the problem was experienced”.

Leaders need to be coached so that they can evolve the structure of their mind, and unleash their creative state of being to be able to overcome the adaptive challenges they face.

They have to think differently. Certainty is a cruel mindset. It hardens our minds against possibility. In this age of the Great Disruption, as robotics, artificial intelligence and technology transform entire industries, we desperately need leaders who delight in the unknown. Those who have learnt that the past is not a good guide for the future. Those who are not afraid to fail, and have the conviction to make the leap of faith. Those that understand the words of Goethe: “The dangers of life are infinite. Safety is one amongst them.”

The bend in the road need not be the end of the road, if leaders find a way to transform themselves.

Pratap Nambiar is the founder and executive chairman of Thought Perfect, a Singapore-based organisation that provides business performance coaching to chief executive officers.

This article was originally published in The Straits Times, Singapore. Image used here is reproduced from the same source.

The ever-evolving leadership journey

By Pratap Nambiar for The Straits Times

My two year old granddaughter just learnt how to put on her jacket and shoes, all by herself.

She also knows she has to ask for Facetime when she wants to talk to me. This is clearly a triumph of development as her mind continues to evolve and grow, transitioning from one growth edge to another.

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, a pioneer on cognitive development and conservation theory, refers to logical thinking ability which is not present in children during the pre-operational stage of their development at ages two to seven, but develops in the concrete operational stage at ages seven to 11. Conservation refers to the ability to determine that a certain quantity will remain the same despite adjustment of the container, shape, or apparent size.

As we grow into adulthood, our thinking ability is constantly evolving and becoming more and more complex as we assimilate more information and insights from the external environment. How we process this and how the structure of our minds develops is also something that Professor Robert Kegan has researched to create different stages of adult development.

A socialised mind is subject to the pressures of external expectations and will not be able to think on it own. The locus of control is purely external and if you ask them who they are, they will usually respond by telling you what their business card says.

A more evolved self-authoring mind has an internal locus of control and has a clear destination and ability to make decisions independent of external pressures.

A self-transforming mind can reconcile polarities and is able to face dilemmas not based on the “either/or” thinking of the previous stage but with a more evolved “and and” process –  like managing the short term and the long term, achieving higher gross margins and market shares.

When we invest in the development of leaders, what we are doing is to help them achieve their growth edge and transition into the next structure of mind. It is the structure of mind that drives performance.

The more developed mind makes far better choices, manages time better and has much better quality of interactions. Critically, evolved and enlightened leaders have developed more complex thinking, keeping pace with the ever increasing complexity of doing business.

The former head of civil service Peter Ho, in his recent speech, refers to Stephen Hawking’s quote of the 21st century being the century of complexity. He distinguishes the difference between complexity and complication.

A system may be complicated in that they perform pre-determined functions that are predictable and repeatable, in which input leads to a predictable outcome.

In contrast, a complex system will not behave in a repeatable and predetermined manner. They have many autonomous parts interconnected which behave in many different ways. You need a whole new mind to be able to deal with complexity.

Navigating the murky waters of today’s business world, many leaders find themselves ungrounded, overwhelmed by circumstance. Their minds have not quite evolved to deal with the complexity. The tools from the complicated space do not work in the complex space.

Working harder and longer hours does not help. What got you here, the old tried-and-tested methods will not quite work anymore. The overwhelming variables, the ambiguities, the volatilities, require a whole new way of thinking.

Facing adaptive challenges requires the enlarging of the capacity of the mind to accept uncertainty, experiment and take greater risks, let the solutions emerge without trying to predict the future.

To be comfortable with not knowing all the details, not even knowing the possible outcomes, yet moving forward with conviction and leading from inside out requires a much more complex thought process that comes from a different state of being. Like the next generation of computers, leaders too need a new operating system.

I have recently been having many conversations with my 29-year-old son and his colleagues who, after five years of work and completing their MBA, are joining the workforce again.

They were very clear that they wanted to work for a company that pursues a higher purpose in addition to profits. My son has given up on the world of finance and potentially larger bonuses, to work for a medical services company that is one of the world’s largest manufacturer of dialysis equipment. He finds that fulfilling.

The management consulting firm Bain in their white paper on the firm of the future, has written that CEOs are becoming acutely sensitive to what today’s talent is looking for. Enlightened CEOs they say are looking to engage and inspire team members with a vision of making a difference in the world.

Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, in recognition of a changed business environment, recently said: “Customers are No. 1, employees are No. 2, and shareholders are No. 3.”

Even Jack Welch, the shareholder primacy era’s greatest maestro as CEO of General Electric, has more recently reflected, “Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy…. Your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products.”

A growing number of CEOs see a higher purpose not as a side issue or fluffy topic but rather as a central element of their culture, people and customer strategies.

Leaders have to think differently. Certainty is a cruel mind-set. It hardens our minds against possibility. We need leaders who delight in the unknown. Those who have learnt that the past is not a good guide for the future. Those who are not afraid to fail, and have the conviction to make the leap of faith. Those that understand the words of Goethe: The dangers of life are infinite. Safety is one amongst them.

Pratap Nambiar is a Clinical Hypnotherapist and the founder of Thought Perfect Pte Ltd, a Singapore-based firm that delivers business performance coaching to CEOs.

This article was originally published in The Straits Times, Singapore. Image used here is reproduced from the same source. Download a PDF version of this article here.

Hypnotherapy for business performance

By Pratap Nambiar for Mint

Hypnotherapy is not to find out why a person behaves the way he/she does, but rather what keeps them stuck in that situation

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Dealing with anxiety at work

By Pratap Nambiar for Mint

In a corporate setting where execution of strategy is the most critical contributor to success, it’s the passion and desire to overcome challenges and achieve one’s goals that makes the difference. Overcoming anxiety and fear is a large part of the mindset that makes this possible.

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Winning from the inside

By Pratap Nambiar for Straits Times

Insights from coaching CEOs

As 2015 comes to an end, I did some reflection based on all the CEOs I coached this year.What was obvious was that there was a common thread running through all those interactions. In almost every single case, there was an acknowledgement that the external environment was getting way too complex to manage and that, to a large extent, their own inability to perform to their fullest potential was a consequence of the uncertainty, the enhanced competition, the extreme volatilities, and, of course, the increased complexity of doing business.

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Rebooting the leadership operating system

By Pratap Nambiar for Straits Times

Singapore has constantly adapted to keep growing, but what mindset is needed now?

Using Silicon Valley terminology, a recent Straits Times article (“Singapore: An exceptional start-up turns 50″; Aug 7) referred to Singapore leaders “rebooting” the country’s system whenever needed. It was a reflection of their ability and willingness to constantly adapt and change for the continuous evolution of their country.

The focus has always been on the vision for the future, with a creative tension that continues to establish competitiveness as a way of achieving continuous growth.

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Leadership should be inside-out, not outside-in

By Pratap Nambiar for Straits Times

I was recently having lunch with two senior corporate leaders and I asked them both what they considered to be their biggest challenge in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world. They thought about it seriously and the common response I summed up from different choice of words was “the challenge of continuously and effectively developing leaders”.

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What is your state of being at work?

By Pratap Nambiar

What is your state of being? That was the question I was asked by my coach many years ago. It changed my life because I realized very quickly that what I do is driven by who I am, my state of being. And clearly, what I do is what produces my desired or undesired outcomes.

This is a philosophical question that has been answered by the likes of Socrates and Aristotle, but it is not exactly what will help us when we are trying to cope with all the pressures of the everyday workplace.

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Self-transformation through coaching clients

By Pratap Nambiar

As the year winds down, I did some serious reflection on my coaching business. I was on my way to completing five years and 5000 hours of coaching. It was like taking fresh guard, after a reasonably successful run and understanding what more I needed to do to make myself more effective as a coach. At the start of my journey I was very clear that I wanted to help my CEO clients become more successful, and achieve their business performance goals. I also knew that my success as a coach depended to quite some extent on the coach-ability of potential clients. So I took lots of care to assess them to ensure that they would be able to work with me and vice versa in a trusting way that was free of judgment and focused on actions to shape the future.

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On Leadership and Leaders

There is so much that the world needs to do better. And it begs for a better quality of leadership. Leaders who know how to truly lead by serving. Leaders who know that it is possible to do good and do well. Leaders who know how to build for the long term.

Leaders who can rise above the petty politics and follow a simple truth – it is not about me, it is about the organization which is quite simply the people who have the potential to build. Leaders who know how to give more than take. Leaders who have courageous authenticity and are not afraid of speaking or facing the truth. Leaders who drive well-being through positive emotions, positive relationships, and intrinsic motivation. Leaders who ensure that what they and their people think, say, and do are always in harmony.

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Motivating and Engaging your team

Most leaders know that at the heart of every productive and successful business lies a thriving organizational culture – an environment where hard working people collaborate intensely and passionately to produce great results. Because this culture is difficult to achieve and replicate, it’s also seen as a critical lever of sustainable competitive advantage. Leaders recognize
that “keeping people engaged, motivated and committed” as a critical part of their function.

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Overcoming an adaptive challenge: an article in The Business Times, Singapore

An adaptive challenge represents a set of problems – dilemmas that seemingly cannot be resolved, yet which must be resolved if one is to move up to the next level of performance. It is necessary to adapt to the changing circumstances, to the increasing level of complexity, and dig deep to find the inner strength to overcome new challenges that have not been faced before.

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Leadership Beliefs and the Dao Factor

In the words of Sun Tzu, “To assess the outcome of a war, we need to examine the involved parties and compare them in terms of five fundamentals.” The very first of them he lists is Dao – (The Way).

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The business of people is people: an article in The Business Times, Singapore

The key challenge for CEOs is to understand that great strategy does not lead to great performance. It is the implementation of strategy that leads to great performance. And implementation depends on the values and behaviours of the people in the organisation, which is what creates its culture. It is not a case of either-or, people or business. The business of business is people. The intangibles of spirit are more important than the tangibles of things.

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Leading with Emotional Intelligence

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has made a pledge to create an inclusive society in Singapore, where “no one is left behind”. Singapore politics, he said, is evolving in response to new economic and social realities. Information Communication and the Arts Minister Dr Yaacob Ibrahim and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean have promised to find more ways to connect with citizens to ensure that their concerns and aspirations are heard, understood, and considered in the process of policy formulation.

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Leadership risk assessment: a broad responsibility

Two seemingly unrelated events towards the end of last year has helped me crystallize a concept that I have been mulling over for some time now.

The first was the Singapore Institute of Directors conference 2010 aptly titled “Getting it right, the challenges and opportunities ahead.” There were several speakers and one of the key questions raised by Baronness Sarah Hogg Chairman of the Financial Reporting Council UK, related to the sustainability of corporate performance without sacrificing good corporate governance. Her message was clearly that one should not transfer shareholder’s rights to regulators. The regulators job is to protect the rights of the shareholders and not to usurp them.

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4 common leadership mistakes to avoid

One of the most satisfying elements of our work is being able to watch at very close quarters how different leaders work with their teams. And, we have been fortunate to see many remarkable leaders and their different styles in handling their teams. At the same time, in the course of our interaction with various teams, we do come across leaders who are perhaps still growing into their roles.

From our experience in handling several diverse teams, I would like to point out a few things that you as a leader must watch out for. Avoiding these common leadership mistakes will certainly go to great lengths in firmly establishing yourself as a leader.

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Certificate program on leadership assessment system

The Leadership Circle has organized a certificate program for the most integrated and comprehensive leadership assessment system available today. It is a three-day certification program that explores the intersection between leadership mastery and personal mastery, between competence and consciousness. A participant would learn about The Leadership Circle Profile (LCP), The LCP-Manager Edition (LCP-ME) and The Leadership Circle Culture Survey (LCS), a fully integrated, innovative and comprehensive leadership assessment system.

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Certificate Program on Leadership Assessment, India

The Leadership Circle has organized a certificate program for the most integrated and comprehensive leadership assessment system available today. It is a three-day certification program that explores the intersection between leadership mastery and personal mastery, between competence and consciousness. A participant would learn about The Leadership Circle Profile (LCP), The LCP-Manager Edition (LCP-ME) and The Leadership Circle Culture Survey (LCS), a fully integrated, innovative and comprehensive leadership assessment system.

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When the going’s good, good leaders get going : Straits Times, July 27th 2011

Many CEOs adopt an attitude that makes them wait till their performance has peaked, before they begin to think about renewing the competencies of their leadership team.

It is very difficult for a CEO to start thinking about the future competencies of senior leadership when revenues are galloping with healthy profits and the Board is expressing satisfaction and rewarding management for a job well done. Such behaviour is counter-intuitive. But that is precisely when a change in leadership or leadership competencies may make the most sense.

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Leaders are a lonely bunch, yet they can’t do it alone : The Business Times, Editorial section,June 17th, 2010

Tony Hayward the CEO of BP, got chastised for his remark “There is no one who wants this thing over more than me. I want my life back”. He apologized of course, but might still lose his job.

Clearly the oil spill caused by the explosion of BP’s rig in the Gulf of Mexico and the subsequent struggles of the technical team that could not cap the leak, was not Tony’s doing. But his comment which came as a result of his frustration and sincere desire to end the suffering for all (including his own) was seen as a poor example of leadership.

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Difficult Conversations.. ‘We need to talk’: The Straits Times, March 13

The ability to handle difficult conversations well is an essential leadership competence

A leader’s ability to successfully conduct difficult conversations with subordinates, peers or superiors can make the difference between success and failure – both for the leader and the organization.

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Heeding the moral compass in leadership: The Straits Times, March 10, 2010

England’s football Manager Fabio Capello has made it clear to John Terry that his extra-marital affair with the former fiancée of Wayne Bridge his England teammate made him unfit to be a leader.

In taking away the captaincy he said “I always ask the captain to be a role model for the children and the fans. But I will keep him in the team because I don’t think the team has lost respect for him”.

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Handling Difficult Conversations: An essential leadership competence

A leader’s ability to successfully conduct difficult conversations in the work place can make the difference between success and failure – both for the leader and the organization. Not being fully equipped to deal with difficult situations related to your subordinates, peers, or superiors can be seriously career limiting.

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The Accidental Being

As human beings the most fundamental work that we need to focus on is the development of self. The complex, competitive, and fast changing world of today, has ensured that we live a life of accident rather than intent. It is when our way of being is accidental that we face the danger of calamities that befall us. In fact the constant threat of a calamity waiting to happen is more taxing than the calamity itself. Often we find that when the calamity occurs we do respond, dig deep, and manage to face the worst and even overcome it. But the unknowns are what lead to stress- the more success you have the more stressed you get. That is the price you pay for success. We talk about stress management as if that is given, as if it is an integral part of our lives. In reality you need to manage your internal systems, your thoughts, the basis of your joys, sorrows, ecstasies.

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Helping Leaders perform better

A commitment to make things happen, along with the willingness to learn can help leaders overcome today’s complex challenges

As a performance coach I spend a lot of time with CEOs and senior executives who are profit center heads. Their decisions have a large impact on the success or failures of their organizations. In my role as the Executive in Residence at the NUS Business School I facilitate the building of bridges between academia and industry – I speak to a lot of Business Leaders, HR practitioners, and heads of Learning & Development looking at their evolving needs particularly in this economic downturn.

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Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

Many leaders have forgotten that leadership is a process, not a position. Coaching them at the right time will help re-establish their sense of balance.

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Leadership in an economic downturn

CEOs & entrepreneurs have little recession-related experience and this clearly shows up the difference between leaders and managers.

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Coaching: Helping Leaders Implement Change

Coaching more than training can help deliver a much higher ROI that leaders can rely on to master the art of achieving deep, serious, long lasting change

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Journey to trusted advisor: Principles that shrink the time to relationships

Every social interaction involves choice. One of the parties chooses to continue to strengthen the interaction thereby starting the journey towards a relationship, or chooses to limit the intensity of the interaction so there will be no chance of a relationship. More often that not, it is a subconscious choice.

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Rewards versus Risks

Powerful tools in coaching for results


Power tools by their very description enable coaches to achieve significant breakthroughs in their journey to help clients achieve positive results. The concepts of risks and rewards are effectively two sides of the same coin – viz the motivation for action. They do represent positive and negative connotations – but both are critical levers of the coaching process. By themselves they are neither right nor wrong, but their astute application given the context of a client situation can make the difference between success and failure.

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