6: Synergy Financial Advisers, Neo Ley Lee on Leading and Supporting Teams in Times of Uncertainty

Supporting Teams in Times of Uncertainty

When you’re leading, managing, or supporting a team, it can be difficult to be agile when you have limited information and must make decisions quickly. You may also have limited time to act, which can lead to poor decisions or none at all. However, with careful planning, an agile mindset, and effective leadership skills, you can minimize these problems and increase your leadership agility. In episode 6 of Agile Leaders Conversations, hear Neo Ley Lee, Director of Financial Advisory, share her views on leading teams and clients through disruption with empathy and inspiring action by showing the way.

Connect with Neo Ley Lee at LeyLee@synergy.com.sg

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Ley Lee Neo: I think it takes work to unlearn and to learn something new. So it’s important for a leader to realize that the environment is so complex nowadays, that he/she needs to be agile. Gone are the days that the leaders are just happy with one style, and hold a view that we are the boss, then people have to take our nonsense.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Welcome to agile leaders conversations. Agile leaders conversations is a series of dialogues, where we engage industry leaders in discussions of how they see and apply agility and navigate paradoxes as they leap and pivot in the new normal. My guest today is Ms. Neo Ley Lee, Director of Synergy Financial Advisers Pte Ltd.

Get to Know Neo Ley Lee

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Ley Lee has a former financial training and has been in the industry for more than 20 years. And she’s currently leading her own team of financial advisers. Ley Lee, would you like to share a few words about what you do?

Ley Lee Neo: I’m happy as I’m providing an important service to people, so this subject is important to me as a leader. Leaders need to be a agile because our world is becoming more complex day by day.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: I’ve known Ley Lee for many years. I think I met her since I was in my early twenties, when I wasn’t making very sound decisions in my finances. I learned a lot from her. I have a lot of respect for her. And, Ley Lee is one person who has really seen me grow and evolve over the years. When my book was published, I asked Ley Lee, could you take a look at it and let me know your honest feedback, because I know I can always count on her for very honest and sincere feedback. I was very happy that she thought that it was applicable and relevant. So Ley Lee, would you share with us what your general thoughts of the book after reading it?

Ley Lee Neo: Your book is useful. I think it takes work to unlearn and to learn something new, so it’s important for a leader to realize that the environment is so complex nowadays, that she needs to be agile. Gone are the days that the leaders are just happy with one style, and hold a view that we are the boss, then people have to take our nonsense.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: You can really see Ley Lee is a person who is very direct, which is why I like working with her. It is true, because all these viewpoints about, “oh! We are the boss, you gotta do whatever we say.” It may be a bit more outdated, and I guess leaders leading in the multi-generational workplace really need to update it.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Not so much to ask to lower themselves down, but more of to lead effectively. And then, what change that we need to have. We cannot just have one style.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Right now, after you read the book, was there a paradox that particularly resonated with you?

Empowering vs Enforcing

Ley Lee Neo: Yeah, empowering and enforcing. Because in our environment today, enforcing is definitely not the way. That’s my opinion. Yeah, so empowering is the way to go. When we empower people, they can learn a lot more, and then their commitment level is higher.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Sure, and you have seen it in your team. When you empower them, they are committed.

Ley Lee Neo: Yes!

Chuen Chuen Yeo: They do their best. But not telling them you’re got to do this. You got to do that.

Ley Lee Neo: Yeah, of course they won’t listen. You have to tell them why you should do this. From there, just get them along, they will learn and keep the skill for themselves. Then they can actually handle a lot of things on their own.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: That’s great. It sounds like empowering our people help them gain the competency. Be independent. We show them the process, or we explain to them the rationale. Ultimately, it’s about them making sense of it and choosing which way to follow, instead of holding a stick and forcing people down a particular path as if they have no choice. It’s a lot more effective in terms of moral e and other areas.

Ley Lee Neo: Yeah. In fact, it’s more interesting for them to come up with a lot of suggestions, a lot more initiative, and then they can come up with more innovative ways of looking at things.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Yes! The problem solving ability increases as well. So, there was a definition of leadership agility in the book, and I intentionally make it very simple. That agility is about the ability to be flexible and to adapt with that sense of authenticity and ease. How do you see leadership agility through the lens of a financial adviser?

Leadership Agility Through the Lens of Financial Adviser

Ley Lee Neo: For me self mastery and inner work would be an advantage. In order to be a agile, you really have to have a good grasp of it. So, self-awareness of how you are as a leader must be very clear. Because if you’re not self aware, you wouldn’t know what kind of style you’re using to lead?

Ley Lee Neo: Like I said, business environments are so complex. It’s so complex right now, no one can actually stay still.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Yes, it’s true. I know some people would think, everybody can be self aware, but I think we have both seen many people who claim that they are self aware, but they’re actually not.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: So, holding a complacent attitude actually makes us less self aware. And I like that principle that you said, if we stay still, we are actually moving backwards. Being a leader is very much about the inner being.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Who are you as a person? How are you as a person? What kind of leader do you want to be?

Ley Lee Neo: Yes. And because of the different personalities in the people that you lead, it cannot be one size fits all.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: There is also managing multiple expectations. If we are trying to get a one size fits all, we cannot please anybody.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: It’s like focus on everything, you focus on nothing. So, how do you make a choice that is best for your business and for yourself?

How to Make a Choice That is Best for the Business and Oneself

Ley Lee Neo: I will look at everybody individually as a unique being. From there, I will see what style I should use to communicate with them. To connect with data.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: You are always sensing what is happening in the environment. You are sensing and reading the team that you lead. What motivates them? What’s unique about them? And then you tailor your style to connect and communicate with them in a different way.

Ley Lee Neo: Yeah, and how I can help them grow. Because when they follow leaders, they want leaders who can help them grow. In the way they live, in the way they communicate with people, and the style they use to do a sales presentation.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: This is very encouraging to hear. If I think back of my interactions we had, I learned and grow as a person. Even though I’m not working in your team, there is that effect that I get from interacting with you as well. You are really helping people grow, seeing the potential in others, and thinking of how can I now support this person. So that, you can help this person grow and be more successful. It’s really consistent that you walk the talk. You believe in this system, hence you treat everyone equally in that way. But your style is tailored according to what others need.

Ley Lee Neo: Yes.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: That’s a great demonstration of leadership agility, I would say.

Ley Lee Neo: Thank you.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Right now, in Singapore, we are moving into phase two of the circuit breaker (2020) where we are resuming some of the face to face interactions. Businesses can now resume as well. Of course, within a reasonable limit and observing safety practices. So, how does the COVID 19 situation change the way you conduct your business?

How the Pandemic Change the Business

Ley Lee Neo: I felt that this is the time for leaders to be empathetic. Of course we want business. Everybody want more sales, however, in the current context, we need to tell them, (workforce) that actually it’s alright. We will pull through this together and not keep on asking them,” where your sales?” They also want more connection with the leader. So, I will talk to them individually, every day. It has been a busy day for me also. Sometimes, where I want to talk to everyone of them, let’s say in a month. How many times should I connect with them?

Ley Lee Neo: They will feel that the leaders want results, because we also receive pressure from the management ourselves, but I couldn’t pass this stress to them. We got to be more understanding towards them during this period. Actually, as a human being, I also wanted people to support me.

Ley Lee Neo: Although sometimes I can’t get. The top management will think that, you should be self motivated. You should be taking initiative on how to improve yourselves in such situation. But for me, this is the time to really go slow. To really connect with them. So that, they can also do likewise to their clients. They cannot go to their client and ask, “Hey! How are you? You got any needs in financial planning?” You can’t right? Client will be put off. For me, I will do it in a softer approach.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Sure. So you are talking about using the soft influence. That despite us, as leaders experiencing a lot of stress, we understand the stress or the pressure probably coming from inside. It’s an internal kind of pressure. So a productive way to deal with it is to not give your team additional external pressure. Because they are already experiencing a lot inside.

Ley Lee Neo: Yes.

Everyone Needs Connection, Support, and Assurance

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Be that person to support them. Because if we were to put ourselves in their shoes, we would want to be supported, so that we can be successful. It’s not that we are not anxious. We are.

Ley Lee Neo: Yeah, we are.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: What is the best way to help them? You then linked one important thing. The way you are engaging and connecting with your team, is the same way as you engaging your customers.

Ley Lee Neo: Yes.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Not to let that kind of pressure about trying to get the results trickle down and affect your relationship with your customers as well.

Ley Lee Neo: Yes, correct. Our customer at this moment also need a lot of support. A lot of connection. Probably a lot of assurance that it’s going to be okay.

Ley Lee Neo: You really have to connect with your clients. Be it for sales or not. In bad times or in good times. Actually clients become your good friends. In fact, a lot of my clients become friends. And I think that’s interesting, because we are living. So, it’s always very fulfilling when a client come and tell you, “Hey! You have taught me, or you have suggested to me actually works.” Then, I feel very happy. So, I will share in my team, this is how I interacted with my clients, and their feedback to me. Do you want to try? For this situation, I felt that you have to continue the way you live, except probably because recession creeps in. Probably a lot of people will have some financial difficulties. But, I think that would be short term.

Ley Lee Neo: I think going forward we as a nation can be much stronger. Like my team, I also told them, “we can emerge stronger.” It’s how you treat people. If you say very authentic and real. They will appreciate you as a human being.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Yes.

Ley Lee Neo: People will trust you. Even in times like this, sometimes my clients ask me, how am I. I said, “I got zero sales for this month.” “You got zero sales.” They said they can’t believe it. I said, yeah, because I still haven’t get used to this way of doing things. So I said, gradually I am picking up, and people are more receptive to me explaining to them. Probably we can do sales in this way. At first they said no, I don’t want to do digital side. It’s so funny. I said, maybe we can do it together.

Ley Lee Neo: So slowly I showed them, and then now they’re very receptive, and we managed to get sales coming in.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: So you share the success stories.

Lead by Example to Achieve Transformation Success in the Organization

Ley Lee Neo: Yes. I lead by example. I do first. I connect with some clients. Then the clients will say. Okay, I can slowly do this. Some of them even help me get referrals. “Hey, I bought this during COVID 19. I think it’s a good plan. Do you want to look at it?” So, she will get me to call them to explain over the phone. It’s a good opportunity to connect with people you never think you will want to connect with.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Lots of learning. Lots of opportunities if you are open enough to keep a look out for it?

Ley Lee Neo: Yes.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Good. I feel confident and assured. I feel assured given that the recession is coming, because even my own business is also sales-driven. And sometimes, the numbers can be very disarming.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: It can be quite scary. How do you convert that fear into a motivating force to pick up new skills and stretch yourself. And sometimes, just try and you’ll be surprised by what you can actually do.

Ley Lee Neo: Yes.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: I’m sure by now, many of you would be very interested to know more about working with Ley Lee. Synergy Financial Advisers Pte Ltd offers a comprehensive range of financial advice for both individuals and businesses. No matter which season in your life you are at as an individual or the size of your business. Ley Lee and her team are well positioned to offer the best professional advice to you that will meet your needs. I will leave Ley Lee’s contact details, so feel free to reach out to her.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Thank you so much for your time Ley Lee and for coming on this show to share your views on leadership. I wish all the best, and let’s stay in touch.

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