4: VP of Qatar Airways Southeast Asia, Jared Lee on Staying Ahead in the Pandemic

Staying Ahead in the Pandemic

The aviation industry has been majorly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic with flying schedules and routes being disrupted, and airports being forced to close. However, the industry is fighting back against the virus with a number of different initiatives.

In Episode 4 of Agile Leaders Conversations, hear Jared Lee, VP of Qatar Airways South East Asia shares his insights on how Qatar Airways is responding to the global pandemic and emerging as the market leader.

Connect with guest Jared Lee at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jared-lee-7230459/

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Jared Lee: As we see more and more millennials now moving up the ranks, and becoming higher up in organizations. Some of them are even CEOs of startups. As leaders who have to manage this generation of workers, I think we have to understand their value systems. And as we move towards more complexity and higher responsibility, we have to move our mindset by being agile. And move from being a management by objective towards management by values.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Welcome to agile leaders conversations. Agile leaders conversations is a series where industry leaders come together to share the experience and viewpoints of leadership agility, and how they are leading the businesses to this period of changing uncertainty. My guest today is Mr. Jared Lee, vice president of Qatar Airways Southeast Asia. Jared has over 25 years of experience in the aviation industry. He’s responsible for Qatar airways overall commercial leadership strategy and business operations in eight countries within Southeast Asia. Jared began his career in the airline industry in 1992. His aviation career began with Singapore Airlines. Over a period of 13 years, he rapidly moved up the ranks, and assumed several senior management roles within the airline across both commercial and cargo operations.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Jared joined Qatar airways in 2006 and is instrumental in the commercial success of Qatar airways operation in the Pacific, greater China, and Africa market. He joins the cruise sector as vice president, product management, and gas services in 2016.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: He is currently pursuing an executive masters in leadership strategy and innovation. I’m so happy to have Jared with us today. Thank you for making time for this.

Jared Lee: Thank you, Chuen Chuen. It’s a pleasure to be here today.

Thoughts on 8 Paradoxes of Leadership Agility

Jared Lee: Jared and I connected, exchanging some views on leadership development and very supportive in getting a copy of my book. So I’m wondering, what are your general thoughts of the book after reading it?

Jared Lee: Thank you Chuen. Your book gives a very interesting real world perspective on issues faced by leaders and in very diversed and different situations. I think the stories, I found them to be very relatable. And the solutions through your coaching model were very pragmatic.

Leading vs Following: A Paradox That Resonated the Most

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Thanks for that. That’s exactly the design behind this book. Very realistic, relatable, and pragmatic solutions. Was there a paradox in the book that resonated strongly with you?

Jared Lee: Yes, certainly. As a leader who is in my early fifties, I think the Christopher’s case was very interesting to me. Christopher was one of the leaders who felt that leaders need to be the best member of the team in terms of skill sets. In terms of knowledge, but that’s not necessarily the case. In the end, I think you advise Christopher, he can be the most valuable member of the team as a leader, by exercising more empathy and being a better listener to his team. Not necessarily having the most up to date or newer skills that is needed. That can be contributed by other members of his team.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Good point. This paradox involving Christopher is leading versus following. So I’m wondering Jared, from your point of view. Right now we have five generations, possibly six in the future. How do you see this a paradox that many leaders would experience in the future?

Management by Objective to Management by Values

Jared Lee: As we see more and more millennials now moving up the ranks, and becoming higher up in organizations. Some of them are even CEOs of startups. As leaders who have to manage this generation of workers, I think we have to understand the value systems and as we move towards more complexity and higher responsibility, we have to move our mindset by being agile. And move from being a management by objective towards management by values.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: I like this very much the way you say management by objectives to management by values. There are many international studies that have also shown that the younger generation increasingly are drawn towards purpose driven organizations and self actualization of a certain personal mission in their lives. And that’s where leaders can come together to help them create a different kind of work culture.

Jared Lee: Yeah, that’s correct. And I’m sure you have seen many real life examples of millennials nowadays. They would leave if they find that their value system is not congruent with the organizational values.

Jared Lee: It is no longer the case that they will stay with the highest paying job. And I’m aware that many of them actually take a pay cut, so that they can be with an organization they feel that the values they are congruent with theirs.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Yes. I guess salary nowadays is no longer the only factor that allow organizations to retain talent.

How Qatar Airways Responded to COVID-19 Crisis

Chuen Chuen Yeo: So, bringing our lens to recent events. (2020) Airline industry, probably in the global pandemic, was one of the first sectors to be affected. And some experts have said, it might be the last to recover. Given that international travel might not resume as quickly as we want. So I’m curious, how do you see leadership agility play out in your business right now?

Jared Lee: As we talked about leadership agility. Qatar airways, my company has demonstrated to the world that there is no other airline that’s more worthy of passenger’s trust. It has acted at all times in the best interest of the customers. And Qatar airways has taken a proactive and leading role within the industry in terms of how it responded to the crisis as can be seen from the challenges that it has faced and how it has handled it.

Jared Lee: Now, the company has maintained its role as a global corporate citizen throughout the crisis through its cargo operations and donations to countries.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: When I hear and read some of the news in the papers, it does feel very inspiring that this is a time of tremendous hardship for a lot of people and definitely consumer behaviors have changed. It seems like the company is making a worthy investment for better times. What do you think?

Jared Lee: Yeah, and I agree. There are so many examples of how we’ve taken the lead in this area because we see it as an investment for the future. And one of them is our huge effort to take people home. We have flown more flights than any other airline and taken more people home in the last few months than any other airline in the world. Also, you can look at our generous commercial policies.

Jared Lee: We were the first airline to fully refund passengers. If they’re flights were being cancelled, and we continue currently to have the most generous commercial policy. You can change your itinerary if it is within a 5,000 mile radius of your original intended booking was made for. And another example is the safety practices that we have adopted.

Jared Lee: So this crisis has seen our airline proactively and innovatively market itself and continue to connect with customers while people are flying less. So you can see that from our offer to give away a hundred thousand free tickets to frontline medical workers worldwide. And that offer was taken up very quickly in every country that we offered it to.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: So Qatar Airways has taken a lot initiatives that are different from other airlines. So what was the rationale behind all that? What’s the underlying belief.

Commitment to Business and Customers

Jared Lee: The underlying principle behind, is that we are committed to the business and to our customers. Our focus has always been on the customer. And taking the lead in situations like this demonstrates your commitment to the customers. And I think this is very important for any business to convince its customers, that we are here with you through good and through bad times.  

Chuen Chuen Yeo: It definitely means a lot to foster goodwill and that probably would be the investment in continuing to build trust, being credible, being a partner to consumers in both good and bad.

Jared Lee: Exactly the point Chuen. As a leader, these are the qualities that you need to demonstrate in order to be successful.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: As we now talk about leadership agility, I think it’s also natural to expand the idea to business agility. I see many other small businesses pivot and find new revenue streams. Initiatives that you shared with me earlier. I’m sure they are massive. And how do you effect all those large changes within this short period of time?

It is all About Communication

Jared Lee: It’s all about communication. And communication means giving a clear direction to your teams. And we are getting very clear directions from our top management, including our CEO. And this message is transmitted very clearly to every one of us, so that we work as a team in order to deliver the objectives. As a company, what we are going through is not very different from what other airlines are going through. The markets are shrinking, and we have to also keep our people motivated. So, as a leader to my team, I have a daily communication with them every morning.  This is to make sure that their voices are heard. As a leader, we are paying attention to their concerns because there are many psychological factors. The people are worried about their jobs. People are worried about the future. As a leader, we need to address these issues.

Jared Lee: We need to be empathetic. And we cannot ignore these concerns. So we have to address it quickly and empathetically.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: This also ties back nicely when you mentioned about Christopher. About him having this need to be empathetic. To open those channels of communication. So that between him and the team, there can be a true understanding. And everyone being aligned to the strategic direction. We can really see Qatar Airways is emerging and pivoting in the phase of COVID 19.

An Advice to Veterans and Aspiring Leaders

Chuen Chuen Yeo: What is your advice to veteran and aspiring leaders out there? In view of disruption and the continuous challenges, I think will persist for quite some time.

Jared Lee: This current situation can be considered a crisis management situation for many companies that are affected. In such situations, leaders have to be nimble or agile, and not lose sight of your overall strategic objectives. And leaders also need to be the source of direction, motivation for any business organization to try during this type of conditions.

Jared Lee: This includes being pragmatic. That means making the necessary changes if something does not turn up as you expected. So in order to recognize instances such as this, I think we need to constantly learn and update ourselves. For example, what’s going on with consumer behavior. How is the market changing right before our eyes?

Jared Lee: And also to have a good sense of self-awareness when we face ambiguous situations. If we are not sure what to do, we need to recognize that we are in that situation. So that we’ll be able to seek the necessary help, which could include learning from other team members, other leaders, or through leadership advice or coaching.

Jared Lee: I think I just want to advise fellow leaders who are watching or listening that, in times like this, it is where leaders need to shine. The expectation from the teams would definitely be much higher. People would be looking for more direction, more advice, and more guidance during difficult periods. So please don’t be shy to step up if you are a leader.

Jared Lee: Everyone of us is a leader and a follower.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Thank you so much for being part of agile leaders conversations. I really thank you for your time despite your busy schedule. Thank you Jared.

Jared Lee: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity Chuen.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Thank you. Let’s stay in touch.

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