In a fast-chang­ing world, suc­cess or fail­ure for busi­nesses ev­ery­where is de­pen­dent on a wired work­force that is go­ing to dom­i­nate the fu­ture.


Suc­cess or fail­ure for busi­nesses is de­pen­dent on a wired work­force that will dom­i­nate the fu­ture.

The topic was on lead­er­ship and John Ryan’s mind drifts back to the mid­dle of 1989. Then a 44-yearold United States Naval Air Force cap­tain, he was ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant to ad­mi­ral Hunt­ing­ton Hardisty, the US com­man­der in chief of all Pa­cific Forces. They were pre­par­ing to leave the Su­bic naval base in the Philip­pines for their Honolulu head­quar­ters, when a VVIP tele­gram came. It sim­ply said: “I want you to come to Sin­ga­pore be­cause I have an idea.”

A quick change in flight plans and they were off to the is­land­na­tion, where the US am­bas­sador to Sin­ga­pore met the duo and whisked them off. It was Ryan’s first time in the South-east Asian coun­try and soon they were mak­ing their way along a drive­way flanked by metic­u­lously man­i­cured lawns, trees and a golf course. They were soon shown through a draw­ing room where they met then prime min­is­ter Lee Kuan Yew and then deputy PM Goh Chok Tong.

“They were the first two Sin­ga­pore­ans I had ever met,” says Ryan. “The US was then dis­cussing with the Philip­pines gov­ern­ment about ex­tend­ing the lease of our naval and air bases at Su­bic and Clark, and it was not go­ing well. The PM and his deputy of­fered the for­mer Bri­tish naval fa­cil­i­ties for us to use and we ac­cepted.”

To­day, Ryan is pres­i­dent and CEO of North Carolina-based Cen­ter for


Cre­ative Lead­er­ship (CCL). For the past 10 years, he has been help­ing the 47-year-old non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion on its mis­sion of de­vel­op­ing lead­er­ship around the world.

He says it is a chal­leng­ing time for busi­ness lead­ers – not only in Sin­ga­pore, but all over the world. One group is forc­ing change: the mil­len­ni­als, those who reached adult­hood in the 21st cen­tury. Tech­nol­ogy and the In­ter­net, he ex­plains, have put more data in their hands and they want more in­for­ma­tion be­fore com­mit­ting to any­thing. “I see Sin­ga­pore lead­ers evolv­ing, but they need to evolve a lit­tle quicker be­cause this group of peo­ple are go­ing to be pre­dom­i­nant in the work­place, and our re­search says it is some­thing like 75 per cent,” he points out.

The CCL, says Ryan, is help­ing Sin­ga­pore lead­ers to adapt to this group and un­der­stand who they have to work with: young peo­ple who are tech­no­log­i­cally en­abled and want to be com­mit­ted to an or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“Un­like the older gen­er­a­tion who just want to do their jobs, mil­len­ni­als re­spond not to an an­nual re­view of their per­for­mance, but on a weekly ba­sis,” the Amer­i­can ex­plains.

“We’ve writ­ten books on them and they are will­ing to work very hard, and will be more com­mit­ted as long as they feel they have op­por­tu­ni­ties to learn.”

Ryan is a reg­u­lar visi­tor to Asia, trav­el­ling seven times a year to CCL’s of­fices in In­dia, China and Sin­ga­pore. In Sin­ga­pore, he over­sees the de­vel­op­ment of lead­er­ship train­ing ma­te­rial for Sin­ga­pore Man­age­ment Univer­sity’s Asia-cen­tric MBA pro­gramme.

“At CCL, we teach the next gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers the fun­da­men­tals, but when they re­turn to the work­place, what the cur­rent lead­er­ship must do is to give them op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Ryan elab­o­rates.

“Don’t push them up the ladder be­cause this is not how you ac­cel­er­ate de­vel­op­ment, but give them chal­leng­ing tasks. All our re­search tells us that when you give peo­ple this, they will grow be­cause 70 per cent of what we learn in our pro­fes­sion is done on the job.”

Apart from help­ing peo­ple to learn, the 72-year-old CCL chief ex­ec­u­tive says Sin­ga­pore busi­nesses must also fo­cus more on de­vel­op­ing and re­tain­ing tal­ent. A good leader, he adds, cares about his peo­ple but the best are a tal­ent mag­net be­cause they prop­a­gate a cul­ture where em­ploy­ees can move up an or­gan­i­sa­tion and make use of their strengths.

“You don’t win by just hav­ing a great CEO be­cause, with­out tal­ent in your or­gan­i­sa­tion, you can’t ex­e­cute your strat­egy,” says Ryan. “I, for one, do not call my­self CEO, but chief tal­ent of­fi­cer.”

Ryan says the groom­ing of tal­ent is al­ready em­bed­ded in the Sin­ga­pore ecosys­tem that found­ing prime min­is­ter Lee helped nur­ture, but is a strat­egy that busi­ness lead­ers here should re­visit con­sis­tently if they want to con­tinue to suc­ceed.

Says Ryan: “Lead­ers are judged on the de­ci­sions they make about peo­ple, strat­egy and crises. Just like your for­mer prime min­is­ter, we are judged on how we se­lect, groom and bring up tal­ent. We need to re­mem­ber that the best lead­ers have to re-eval­u­ate their strat­egy as things evolve and this is the chal­lenge of the day.”

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