Ong Chih Ching has the wind at her heels. In less than ten years, this speed junkie with a passion for race cars, became one of the most influential property developers in Singapore by co-founding KOP Limited, with $95 million Euros in assets under management. Nominated by Forbes among the 50 most powerful women in Asia in 2015, this unconventional entrepreneur told Leaders League what collective leadership means to her.
Leaders League. Corporate social networks, collaborative spaces, participation tools...the list goes on. Is collective leadership overriding individual leadership?
Ong Chih Ching. Rapidly growing companies at expansion stages in their development would require more individual leadership at a strategic level, while companies mature in their markets would require more collective leadership to maintain competitiveness. When a company is still rapidly growing in size, the effectiveness of individual leadership is high and top-down decisions can make a timely impact on customer markets. For mature companies who already have a sizeable share of their respective markets, collaboration via the sharing of insights across different customer segments and geographies can lead to the creation of new insights, products, and services to better serve customers.
Does the great success of KOP Group come from individual leadership, collective leadership or both?
The success of KOP is due to a combination of both individual leadership and collective leadership. Being such a diverse company, involved in property development, hospitality, and entertainment, setting the vision and strategy of the company is important in aligning the business objectives of individual divisions with the ultimate end goals of the company. At the same time, the best people to make decisions and deliver results are also the same people closest to their respective disciplines and markets. By allowing them to take ownership of their work, they not only fulfil their own individual leadership and business goals but are trusted to make decisions for the ultimate good of the company.
Leaders League. To what extent do collective leadership and individual leadership complement one another?
As companies in Asia, including Singapore, internationalize, there are invariably unknowns encountered such as different cultures and different customer requirements. Having a strict control system based on individual leadership will encumber a company at a time when it needs to be agile and responsive to changing customer needs in new markets. Having a collective leadership structure will create an environment to encourage autonomy and collaboration - effectively allowing individuals to make their own decisions and take responsibility for the overall success of the company. Yet at the same time, there is a growing need for individual leadership not only for individuals within the collective leadership structure but also for the company overall. With more collaboration and sharing of insights, there is more “creative chaos” – a strong leader with a clear vision is needed to nurture and guide this process of collective leadership to achieve business end goals.
Leaders League. While individual leadership is rooted in the ability to be a visionary and decision maker, what are the qualities needed for collective leadership?
Gumption, humility and creativity. It is important to take the initiative in managing and leading new initiatives; this also means standing firm on individual decisions and being the contrarian voice when the collective leadership process is at risk of falling into groupthink mentality. The humility to accept criticisms is also critical for collaboration as there will invariably be opposing views and decisions. Lastly, creativity is key to synthesizing insights from various parties to create new solutions and also approaches to problem solving.
Leaders League. What role does play the manager, the director or the CEO in an environment of collective leadership?
In a collective leadership space, one needs to play more of the role of a coach, constantly nurturing and encouraging to get the best ideas and insights from everyone, instead of leading from the front.
By Emilie Vidaud