SMU Leadership Symposium 2017 - Crossroads

27 Dec 2017

[Featured Photo: Mr Tong Yee, giving his keynote address on The challenging work of balancing personal and societal identity” at the SMU Leadership Symposium 2017]

Singapore Management University (SMU) held its fourth annual two-day Leadership Symposium on 11 and 12 December 2017 at the Mochtar Riady Auditorium. Attended by 300 student leaders from Junior Colleges, Polytechnics and SMU, the goals of the symposium were to enhance participants’ understanding of the various theories and aspects of leadership; inspire through sharing of speakers’ authentic personal leadership experiences; and encourage participants to reflect and apply the leadership lessons acquired back in their own lives.

Each year, the symposium is centered on a core aspect of leadership. The theme for this year - “Crossroads” - reflects the intersection of possibilities and challenges as one navigates his or her journey as a leader. It is about decision making, turning points and leadership moments.

Mr Tong Yee, Director and Co-Founder of The Thought Collective, opened the session on the first day with his keynote address entitled, “The challenging work of balancing personal and societal identity”. He cited several examples of being at crossroads and that a ‘crossroad’ was an essential and formative conversation with oneself, which marks the beginning of one’s leadership journey. Early decisions made would shape our future ones, especially when facing bigger crossroads in life that were beyond the self.

He also spoke on the four domains of trust – Competence (skills), Sincerity (intention), Care (identity) and Reliability (consistency) and shared how we trust people because they are competent. However, a deeper level of trust goes beyond just having the right skills and it is also about the intangibles like sincerity or intent of who they are really serving and whether one is able to identify with and connect with the other.

The panel discussion with Colonel Gaurav Keerthi, Founder of; Ms Tan Kheng Hua, Actor and Producer and moderator Dr Bervyn Lee, SMU Associate Dean of Students was very lively and centered around the topic, “Life goals, decisions and the road not taken”. Gaurav shared how he didn’t jump into the and computer science industry (although it was big then) upon graduation at 24 years old as he felt he was not ready to take on the power and wealth that came with the booming industries. Instead, he chose to serve with the government sector.

When asked by an SMU student how he overcame the fear of failing, he replied that “it is good to have a certain amount of fear as that would keep you going without feeling too comfortable with decisions made in life. All decisions have risks involved. It is part of life.”

Kheng on the other hand, shared several parenting tips and also spoke about how values were more important than material wants and societal pressures in leading one’s life. She also said that she has always been self-motivated from young, clear about who she is and what she wants to do with her life.

On the second day, Mr Stefen Chow, a photographer and artist, gave the keynote speech on “You will be disappointed”. Drawing from his photography and mountaineering experiences, he shared how handling disappointments were part and parcel of growth, and learning to embrace them was as important as finding ways to overcome them.

When asked why he decided to give up what he studied (mechanical engineering) and chose to be a photographer, Stefen replied to say that it was his background in mechanical engineering that helped shape his lenses for photography.

The second day’s panel discussion saw Mr Stefen Chow; Ms Sarah Pang, Pro Tennis player; Mr Mark Ting, Board Member, CEO Global and moderator Mr Kenneth Tan, Director, Office of Student Life, SMU addressing the topic on ‘Making decisions in a VUCA Environment’. Sarah shared her story on how she was born into a humble family and only started playing competitive tennis at the age of 19. There were many naysayers but she was mindful of who and what she wanted to spend your energy on. To achieve her dreams, she trained full-time and did all sorts of chores for the owner to pay for her one and half years stint at a tennis academy in Barcelona.

Mark then shared how he helped revamp and turn around a business in Hong Kong where his strategy was focusing on people and using a hands-on approach towards problem solving. He said “people can be your greatest enemy, but they can also be your greatest asset. It is important to care for people and motivate and believe that they have potential to achieve more”. Together with his team, he met two customers every day to understand their concerns and even apologised where necessary.

After the keynote addresses and plenary sessions on both days, participants attended interactive break-out workshops in the afternoon which included topics on emotional intelligence, overcoming and navigating crossroads, and leading purposefully.

The symposium ended with a speech by Dr Bervyn Lee, SMU Associate Dean of Students, titled ‘Beyond Crossroads’. He challenged participants to be able to look back on the paths they have taken thus far, acknowledge the value and lessons learnt, and how these would help shape their subsequent journey forward.

Quotes from participants:

a) “Through the symposium, I learnt that leadership is not always about the outcome but it’s about a personal journey of development and growth” – Jeannette Cheong, SMU student

b) “Through the symposium, my main takeaway is: To be ambitious and don’t shy away from risks and challenges even if it means taking the road less taken” – Chin Sue-Kay, Dunman High School

c) “This symposium gave me a boost in self-confidence because I was initially worried about my ability to lead others, but the symposium taught me that wanting to lead is an internal challenge and not about making the best decisions.” - Jonathan Koh, SMU

d) “One thing that really surprised me was [your] unconventional definition of a leader. Besides those who owned the title "CEO" or "Head of (Department)", there were 'everyday' heroes like the youths who came together completely out of their own initiative to aid in the move from Dakota Cresent to Casia Cresent. Indeed, these were leaders who catalysed tangible changes among the lives of the residents. Such value-action based leadership that was lauded through the symposium would surely inspire much more leaders in the future with the heart to serve.” – Esther Chua, Hwa Chong Junior College

Here's a graphical representation of the Leadership Symposium:

Last updated on 27 Dec 2017.

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