5: Gen-Z Social Innovation Advocate, Metta Ni on How Future Leaders can Prepare Themselves

How Future Leaders can Prepare Themselves

In today’s rapidly changing world, it is more important than ever for young leaders to be prepared for the future. But what are some areas young leaders need to pay attention to so that they are well-positioned to shape a better world? Gaining a global perspective, immersing in transformative experiences and learning from mentors could be the key.

In episode 5 of Agile Leaders Conversations, hear Metta Ni, social innovation advocate and Gen-Z future leader, share his views on leadership and disruptions. He also highlights the opportunities presented as a result of the pandemic and what young leaders can do today to prepare themselves for the future.

Connect with Metta Ni guest at https://www.linkedin.com/in/metta-ni/

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Metta Ni: Crisis brings out the worst and the best of our habits. It’s through crisis that we really get to see some of the habits that have amplified a lot. We have definitely seen a lot of initiatives from social sectors. Even from individuals trying to help the less fortunate or low income families. It’s a good indicator of the social capital that we have in Singapore.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Welcome to agile leaders conversations. Agile leaders conversations is all about bringing leaders from all walks of life, backgrounds and generations together, and have authentic discussions on leadership opportunity. My guest today is Mr. Metta Ni. Metta represents the younger and up and coming group joining the workforce in the future and hearing his perspectives on leadership, agility and paradoxes with shared valuable insights and foster greater generational understanding.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: I’ll hand over the time to Metta to share a little about himself.

Metta Ni: Thank you Chuen Chuen. I’m Metta. As you mentioned, I’m a Gen-Z, so (there’s) not much of life experience right now. A lot of my leadership experiences are actually confined within institutions, mainly educational institutions and military institutions. I had some experiences as assistant head prefect in primary school.

Metta Ni: Though the scope is pretty limited. I had greater opportunity and autonomy for student leadership in secondary school where I met you. (Chuen Chuen is a former educator.) You’ve guided me tremendously back then, as the chairperson of the student council. I got to organize different kinds of national events, host sessions for overseas student leaders. Subsequently, I was shortlisted to be the top 40 nominees for the national young leaders award. And after national service, I’ve moved on to be working in one of the largest social enterprises in Singapore while waiting for university admission.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Thank you, Metta. For those of you who didn’t catch it. Metta and I met in school. I was his student council teacher. And through the experiential learning approach, Metta did blossom and grow in the experience. I’m really thankful for it.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Metta was also very supportive and got a copy of my book when he found out that it was launched through Facebook. So Metta, what are your general thoughts of the book after reading it?

Task Oriented or People Oriented

Metta Ni: For a start, I think the common approach to paradoxes would be, do I be a task oriented leader? Or do I be a people’s leader? But what your book really inspired me, is really to embrace both approach.

Metta Ni: So it isn’t that one side is better than the other. There’s no right or wrong. Sometimes, we need both. We are just constantly living in this two ends. Swinging from one end to the other. We just need to be more aware of what the positive and negative aspects.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: So reading the paradoxes, you do see that both sides are correct. Both sides have their pros and cons. Was there a paradox that resonate strongly with you?

Individuals vs Teams

Metta Ni: That paradox would be, individual vs team. Being a chairperson of the student council or being a specialist and commander in national service, I think this has really been a struggle for me. Should I focus on the team’s needs, or should I focus on specific individual needs? These two experiences have actually become two extreme paradoxes, as I venture into these experiences and journey. When I was in student council, I was very focused on the team- wanting to get people moving, and then making sure that things are being done.

Metta Ni: I did neglect certain individuals. That was probably something that I felt in hindsight, there were some missed opportunities. Perhaps having fear of making that same mistake again, in national service, I actually chose to focus a lot more individuals. Trying to extend their concerns. Trying to find answers that would suit every individual. But that led me to become a leader who process matters in a much lower rate, which isn’t something really good in military.

Metta Ni: And there were definitely missed opportunities there as well. And after reading your book, you have allowed me to name the tension that I was experiencing, which is a really important insight for me. I do hope that through these experiences, and through reading about paradoxes, I can actually exercise better self leadership and team leadership.

Metta Ni: And I do think that this paradox is actually a much needed and very relevant paradox in today’s world.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: That’s great. I know leadership agility is probably not something that we have covered in schools. And as a young adult, I’m wondering how do you see leadership agility.

Metta Ni: Well, the fundamental assumption that I have for leadership agility and paradoxes is that, the goal of learning these concepts is really to change our mindsets, and it’s crucial we do that. Oftentimes, we equate our actions to results. So if I want to get this results, then I must do step 1, 2, 3, 4. And just wish that the results will come in. Doing those actions would probably get you where you want to be, but it doesn’t happen all the time. So the question is, what happens if you don’t get the results that you want?

Metta Ni: I think what’s missing from this equation is really the part of seeing. How we see the situation matter. I think what the book tries to explain about leadership agility and paradoxes. They are very important aspects of having us see the context better. Be it our own context or the context of our environment.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Good to hear that to you, changing mindset sounds like a key process in ensuring that we design the right actions, which then helps people get to the desired outcome.

Shifts in Expectations in the Pandemic

Chuen Chuen Yeo: As we now start talking about COVID 19, and COVID 19 does definitely has an impact on how young people learn. So how does it change the way you spend your time now?

Metta Ni: Well, I definitely think that COVID is really an interesting time as a young adult. I think that’s the first time I ever experienced such a crisis in such a real manner. The financial crisis in 2008, I was still pretty young, and I didn’t think I was mature enough to make sense of what was going around.

Metta Ni: Fast forward to today. Being slightly older and being curious about the world, I’m seeing dramatic shifts everywhere. And this COVID 19 situation has affected from nations to even every single individuals. And one thing I do notice as I’m working from home is that, there’s shift in expectations at home, and that definitely affects the way I spend my time.

Metta Ni: The lockdown (2020) has really brought everyone from the offices to small confined space called home, so we definitely have to navigate new boundaries. There’s really that shift in time management due to these shifting expectations.

Metta Ni: We have really pivoted. And I think everyone has become more understanding and empathetic where everyone is living in a shared context. We are all experiencing similar challenges, that’s why we are able to allow ourselves to be more empathetic and more understanding.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: What about education? How do you see education changing- for you going into the university soon?

Widening Gaps Due to Covid-19

Metta Ni: Well, it’s definitely missed opportunity in terms of social context. Pre-COVID learning is really about going to school with your friends, enjoying classes together, and even having lunch or dinner together afterwards. But now, with safe distancing, we are also entering something called a low touch economy.

Metta Ni: With regards to education, it’s virtual learning. Definitely social interaction is maybe missed, but there’s a lot of opportunities to collaborate. It also means that we do get opportunities to speak to people and collaborate with people from other parts of the world as well.

Metta Ni: And that kind of context is really important in times of COVID. A really quick example I’ve noticed during this period, there’s a lot of virtual lectures and webinars. That someone from the UK can actually just create this whole webinar, and me being in Singapore can actually just watch it. In a sense, that’s really valuable and very efficient as well.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: So instead of seeing COVID 19 as taking away or lessening your education experience, it actually opens the entire world and all the learning opportunities to you.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Of course my heart will then go up to those who don’t have access to the technology, because I think it is through crisis like this, that we see the gap between those that have more resources vs those who don’t even have the basic internet infrastructure for education to continue.

Metta Ni: Yeah, I definitely think that crisis brings out the worst and the best of our habits. It’s through crisis that we really get to see some of the habits that have amplified a lot. We have definitely seen a lot of initiatives from social sectors. Even from individuals trying to help the less fortunate or low income families. It’s a good indicator of the social capital that we have in Singapore. But there are definitely room for improvement as well.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: It’s quite apparent that you have a very wide view of what’s really happening in the world, and all the issues that you are concerned with. So Metta, as a young person who will be joining the workforce in a couple more years, I’m interested to know from your perspective, what kind of organizations or leaders would attract you to work with them and stay with them longer.

What Kind of Organization Would Attract Me

Metta Ni: When I think of leaders I want to work with, I want someone who’s probably empathetic. Someone who’s really adaptable. Someone who really cares, yet firm enough to make good decisions.

Metta Ni: Definitely a part of leadership agility comes in, in knowing when to be firm and when to be caring. For example, I want to find someone who can help me make sense of the meaning of my job. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs towards aspiring to self actualization, we definitely need certain monitoring incentives. But beyond that, it’s a lot about meaning of work. I don’t think a lot of it has to come from the leaders that I’m looking for, or the management I’m looking for. A part of it also come from ourselves. Because the leaders can give you opportunities to make meaning of the job, but whether you find the job meaningful or not, it’s ultimately our own responsibility and our own take on it.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: I think you really hit the nail on that. Perhaps employers can relook how they’re engaging and giving employees opportunities to explore what is the meaning behind that work. But at the same time, it is also the employees’ responsibility to go on that search.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: What would you like to say to fellow Gen-Z leaders out there?

An Advice to Fellow Gen-Z Leaders

Metta Ni: I’ll just share what I’ve learned through my working experience in a social enterprise, which I think will be useful to Gen-Z leaders who are watching. Part of my job scope is to provide logistical and coordination support for the programs. There was this time, one of my directors was invited to a local university to share her insights as a social entrepreneur and a cultural change strategist. During the Q&A, one of the undergraduate s asked, how can we gain more self clarity and emotional maturity quickly?

Metta Ni: What she advised was surprising for me. She asked him not to give himself too much pressure, to mature, or to find his whole identity. Some people called true calling. And she cautioned him not to determine the endpoint.

Metta Ni: She did also mention casually, that most individuals usually take at least until 30 years old to find an inkling of clarity of who they are. She also mentioned that, you really have to take every opportunity to learn whether it’s a failure or setback. So, if you are a Gen-Z watching this. It’s really relevant to you.

Metta Ni: There must be certain motivations for personal growth or development that made you watch this video. And you can probably see another paradox of this undergraduate facing. Should I mature quickly in a very fast fashion, or should I slow down and just let life takes its course?

Metta Ni: Life is full of paradoxes, and I’m pretty sure that there’ll be many more paradoxes and much more complex challenges. And definitely, every decision making is important.

Metta Ni:  I do hope that in every paradox that we find ourselves in, we do find a better versions of ourselves in exercising leadership. I think it’s even more important for Gen-Z leaders during this period of COVID 19 to really take notice of what’s around us.

Metta Ni: In 15 years time, many of us will be taking leadership roles or be middle managers. The lessons and the impacts today. It’s gonna be far reaching. I do hope that the lessons and the responses that we learn today, would definitely be something that we take and see as an important aspect.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Very well said. Life is full of learning opportunities and paradoxes if you keep a lookout for it. Another point which I reflect, oh! 15 years time, I think I’ll be quite old. But I think the COVID crisis does shape the young people in a different way and change their leadership style. If we can all emerge from this crisis stronger, better, then I think as a elderly person 15 years later, I will feel very secure. That I’ll be well taken care of by capable leaders like yourself.

Metta Ni: Definitely.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Wow. Very good to connect with you again and to have this conversation after so many years. Thanks for your support and making time to be part of this interview.

Metta Ni: Thank you for having me.

Metta Ni: Thank you.

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