What makes a great leader? Leadership is interwoven closely in what we do and how we learn at SMU, whether it’s a class project or community service initiative. We speak to Goh Theng Kiat, one of the plenary speakers at the SMU Leadership Symposium, held on 7 and 8 December 2015. Theng Kiat is the Chief Marketing Officer for Global Consumer Financial Services at OCBC, the team behind FRANK by OCBC.

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My philosophy to leading people can be distilled to three E’s: Envision, Enable and Energise. I learned these during my early days with Procter & Gamble. I’ll always remember these simple three E’s when I take up a new leadership position. Down to the very last person on the team, you need to align the destination, where we’re heading towards together as one team.

My most memorable moment when it came to “Envision” was during my last role with ICI, the paint manufacturer. When I first came onboard, we called the whole company together for a town hall. It was such a surprise for all our factory workers because they’d never been invited to such a town hall before — even though many of them have been working there for more than twenty years! We had a really fruitful and meaningful session together, sharing our goals and vision together as a team, and listening to what they had to share.

After the town hall, one employee came to me with tears in her eyes and said, “this is the first time a GM has talked to us like that.”

To me, that’s great. For many of them, everyday means turning up at work, changing into their safety boots and gear, and filling paints. It touches them that someone is willing to share and talk to them, about where we want to head towards, what we want to achieve together. That’s the very same spirit I’m bringing to OCBC for the marketing team.

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To “Enable” means to help and empower our people to do their very best. This comes in as training, healthy habits and processes. We need to understand what we’re lacking and make the right changes to the way we work together. The “Energise” part is more emotional and motivational. How do you build a team culture and environment where we feel more energised, when we come in everyday?

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Theng Kiat and team performed Singing in the Rain, a mashup of the original Gene Kelly and the modern Glee versions, which won them the top prize at OCBC’s annual dinner and dance. (Photo credit: Goh Theng Kiat)

When the team achieves success, a major milestone, it’s not just one person’s victory —it’s everyone’s victory. Going back to serving your people, It’s important to recognise and celebrate the victories, big or small. They will be very, very happy that they are being recognised.

Besides the three “E”s, one healthy habit when it comes to leading people and doing well is simple — exercise. Exercise doesn’t just help build you up physically; it does so much for you mentally as well. You’re more energetic and all this helps you in your daily work. Every week, I’ll run and swim over the weekends, without fail. It’s a great way for everyone at the office to bond as well, so I encourage my team to go out and exercise.

There are three important traits I look out for in all aspiring leaders. These are qualities that everyone should and can live by.

The first is to be mindful. A good leader needs to be mindful of him or herself. It’s the ability of being aware of what you’re doing and your current state of mind. These days, we’re all so caught up with our everyday lives that we lose sight of this. Once you’re aware of yourself and the state of mind you’re in, you’re much more attuned to the environment, the people around you, and most importantly, what you need to do and where you’re headed towards.

The second quality is to be sharp and succinct, in your thinking and your speech. I appreciate when young leaders are able to pick the right time to bring out the biggest point with the least words. Immediately, these are the ones I will notice. It takes a lot of thinking to do, which many people may not realise. It’s something we should all strive to be.

The third one is to be humble. This is sadly lacking in a lot of people, especially in leaders these days. As the leader, it’s always important to be humble as you lead, motivate and encourage your team. If you’re able to embody humility in all you do, I think you’ll stand out as a great leader.

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My advice for all leaders is to remember that your role is to serve your team, your people. Some leaders lose sight of what’s truly important and focus only on their position and growth. Personally, I take a very strong view that I will only be successful if my team is successful. I’m not too concerned with how people perceive me; what’s more important is for people to have good regard and respect for my team and my people.


Learn from some of Singapore’s top leaders and meet like-minded students at the SMU Leadership Symposium. Held annually, the SMU Leadership Symposium brings together student leaders from universities, polytechnics and junior colleges all over Singapore to meet, connect and learn more about leadership.

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