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

Read More…

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.

Read More…

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.

Read More…

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.

Read More…

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”.

Read More…

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.

Read More…

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.

Read More…

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.

Read More

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.

Read More…

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.

Read More…

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).

Read More…

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.

Read More…

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.

Read More…

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.

Read More…

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.

Read More…

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.

Read More…

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.

Read More…

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.

Read More…


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.

Read More…


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.

Read More…

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”.

Read More…

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.

Read More…

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.

Read More…

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.

Read More…

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.

Read More…

Leadership in an economic downturn

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

Read More…

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

Read More…

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.

Read More…

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.

Read More…