8: Lenovo Singapore General Manager Ronnie Lee on Continuous Learning, Infinite Possibilities

Continuous Learning, Infinite Possibilities

In the fast-changing business world, keeping up with your field is vital. That’s when the power of continuous learning comes in. By seizing opportunities to stretch your perspectives and widen your horizons, you will stay ahead and constantly innovate.

In episode 8 of Agile Leaders Conversations, hear Ronnie Lee, General Country Manager of Lenovo Singapore, share his insights on leadership agility. He gives many leadership golden insights that will benefit aspiring and veteran leaders, so this episode is not to be missed.

Connect with Ronnie Lee at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ronnie-lee-13383bb

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Ronnie Lee: What is more important is to show to my younger ones at home that if your daddy can go back to school at 47, there’s nothing that’s going to stop you in your journey for learning. And as a role model in the company as well, that also gives a lot of my coworkers their confidence to say, “hey! it is a step into the unknown. It’s going to be difficult, but if you never try, you never know.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Welcome to agile leaders conversations. My name is Chuen Chuen, and I’m an executive coach from Singapore. I specialize in leadership agility. 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 lead and pivot in the new normal.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: My guest today is Mr. Ronnie Lee, general manager of Lenovo Singapore.

Getting to Know Ronnie

Getting to Know Ronnie

Ronnie Lee: Hi, everyone! Thanks Chuen for inviting me for this series. I’m currently leading the country for Lenovo Singapore. I’ve been with the IT industry for the past 25 years and in various roles in the IT fraternity.

Ronnie Lee: I have gained many experiences. Definitely the experience has been very fulfilling. And as part of the effort to continue learning, I chance upon Chuen Chuen’s book. It has been a good read for me and my team, as we progress in the journey to upgrade ourselves.

Ronnie Lee: Just to give the audience an idea, I manage to chance upon Chuen Chuen’s work in some posts. We had some discussions, and I find that the approach Chuen Chuen used is straightforward and easy to understand.

Ronnie Lee: She has a very clear methodology in her mind on how to help leaders grow. Back then, I wanted to give the team a circuit breaker- survivor kit, I call it. And I thought, what better way than to have a good book to accompany them during their two months lockdown.

Ronnie Lee: Of course, the fact that we are moving to a new normal, changes are needed. And most of the people I spoke to have given me very positive feedback. I really wanna thank Chuen Chuen.

General Thoughts on the Book

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Share with us your general thoughts of the book.

Ronnie Lee: I find that this is not a typical book based on the backdrop of leadership agility, which is very key in this new world- volatile, uncertain, and full of complexities and ambiguous.

Ronnie Lee: This is what I call a breath of fresh air because most of the enrichment books are heavy on theories. But Chuen Chuen made it something structured yet, the examples are lively. And from a personal point of view, it benefits me because I can see myself in a lot of these scenarios before, through the different phase of my 25 years career. And what is really intriguing is, if I’m going to read this in the next 25 years, I’ll probably again, gain new insights because while situation have changed, some basic principles still stay. And I think, it’s important to gain this as the essence of the book.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Your spirit of lifelong learning is very strong and self-reflection to continue to improve your practice and your effectiveness as a leader.

Ronnie Lee: I believe in this because skills are going to last you for limited time. And as the society progresses, it pushes technology disruptions, what stays is your desire to do more. Besides reading the book, I have a bucket list. At the age of 47, I jump to my executive MBA program. I did it mainly for two reasons.

Ronnie Lee: One is I always wanted to do it. But what is also more important is to show to my younger ones at home, that if your daddy can go back to school at 47, there’s nothing that’s going to stop you in your journey for learning. And as a role model in the company, that also gives a lot of my coworkers the confidence to say, “hey! It is a step into the unknown. It’s going be difficult, but if you never try, you never know.”

Chuen Chuen Yeo: This is very good to hear. We are aligned on the beliefs level that we have to keep moving forward. Keep evolving. You never know until you try. And we have the influence on people. Many leaders might not see themselves as leaders. They do not know that their behavior actually has the impact on others. Demonstrating how things should be done.

Enforing vs Empowering

Chuen Chuen Yeo: So let’s talk a little bit about the book. Was there a paradox that resonated strongly with you?

Ronnie Lee: That’s actually a difficult one because I was pondering it for the past week because there are so many of them. But again, one thing that hits me the most is really enforcing versus empowering. That part is really relevant because at the earlier part of my career, leaders I follow adopted the enforcement style. It’s always about leader being the subject matter expert- Telling you that’s the right thing to do, and you just follow. But 8 or 10 years back, I’m starting to realize, this is not going to work because if you had only one brain in the group of 50 to 200 (people) as the only source of information, I think it’s quite sad. Then I become the bottleneck because I’m not empowering people to come with their ideas.

Ronnie Lee: I’m not enabling people to the max of their potential. It’s quite sad in the sense that, we have 50 to 200 talents we are not able to tap on. Which is why this paradox really hit me hard.

Ronnie Lee: With that as a journey, now what I set upon is to encourage leaders to take that bold move. To take a step back and allow the talents surrounding you to go and try. And the other aspect I always tell my talent, we work for a very big corporations. The things we do will comprise of areas that we will succeed and areas which we will fail.

Ronnie Lee: But you need to fail fast. You need to learn fast. I always remind them, if you have not learned to fail, you have failed to learn. That’s why I put a mountain behind me. There’s many way to scale the mountain that it can be left, right, center, behind. But essentially what we want do is to reach the peak.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Yes, the multiple pathways to success. You brought up many good points and reminders for leaders. While we always know that leaders have to provide the direction in conventional times. Right now, leaders also have to guard against becoming the bottleneck.

Leadeship Agility From the Lens of Technology World

Chuen Chuen Yeo: So, if you now shift the lens to leadership agility, I’m wondering how do you see it?

Ronnie Lee: The way I look at it, it’s very apt in the tech world, because tech is always leading the charge for changes. When I started in my field, it is good enough to have three types of products. One to be your market share chaser which is low end. Then you have the mainstream box where you recover some of your margin. And of course, you have high end to have thought leaders carrying your product. Now, if you adopt the same kind of principle, you’ll be in trouble because the needs and wants have become a lot more complicated.

Ronnie Lee: Users are expecting you to do a lot more to understand them. To actually work out solutions. And sometimes, we face situations where we don’t know what we do know, and it’s always this exploratory journey, whereby you have to sit down with your customer. You go on POCs together, and that’s where you find certain guidance.

Ronnie Lee: Do they think agile means you need the right framework to guide you in your actions? But what I would say for leaders is, you do need to have a set of framework that will drive action with your customer to venture into the unknown.

Ronnie Lee: And I think that creates a lot more stickiness. Gone are the days whereby it’s a one size fit all theory. Everybody wants to feel special because they are giving you not just a business, but they’re also entrusting their trust to you as an organization to help them make it better.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: What you are saying is have inner compass and the framework. Know what’s important.

Ronnie Lee: If I would use it, know your true north not just for yourself but for your customers as well. Beyond that dollar and cents. Beyond that budget. Look towards partnership whereby you are really wholeheartedly driving the resources to help.

Ronnie Lee:  And I think very often we tend to divert back to our whole self to say,” I’m here to sell you something. Quickly buy something from me.” But if you think of it from another angle, you may be taking a slightly longer selling cycle, but this customer is good to you for life. Because if he likes what he’s doing and get you to the next project. What you’re doing, that’s a continual effort. And I think in our world, we call it sell value rather than sell specs and price. So, essentially even a simple act of saying, ” what kind of solutions for the customer?” Also involves deeper dive where groups are getting together.

Ronnie Lee: So the connection with the consumer is really key. Guided by the true north, then with agility. It is about keeping a true north as it is, but the approach is never fixed, right?

How the Pandemic Change the way you Conduct Business

Chuen Chuen Yeo: In this current situation, how are you changing the way you conduct your business?

Ronnie Lee: The most important thing we need to acknowledge is, within the organization itself, our team members is the most important priority.

Ronnie Lee: For instance, while the government has started to relax regulations. You’re allowed to go back to office. What we have told everyone is, “if there is no need to come to the office, please don’t come and continue work from home. I’m very happy that this work from home policy that we have has started 8 to 10 years ago.

Ronnie Lee: We have also started equipping- giving people laptops, so that they can work anywhere. We have always been giving people good headset. I’m wearing headset now. And of course, fundamentally what’s even more important is we look at future work. And in this case, conducting first your office space to make sure that you allow collaborations.

Ronnie Lee: Because what we believe is that collaboration creates even more sparks. And we want people to continue to have an inventors mentality to come in and say, ” we may be good but no! How to be great. Let’s go try. And I think that also seeps into how we deal with the marketplace. How we deal with the partners and customer that we work with. It’s more about talking through understanding. We want to also share with the customer what we have. At the same time, listen to what they have to share on how we can make it better.

Ronnie Lee: That’s why CX scores are important. That’s why today we run surveys. We want to understand our our stakeholders, what we have been doing well. But more importantly, the areas that they think we can take a stronger position. That we are also taking the lead in some of the things we are doing.

Ronnie Lee: For Lenovo, we wanna bring smarter technology to the world. And yes, we have done it. Yet again, we are the first kind to bring in the 5g laptop and sell to some parts of the world now. We also have, based on the custom need, decided on a new genre of products where we have laptops that are affordable.

Ronnie Lee: And then it becomes a gigantic tablet because we foresee things that people don’t see yet. But we are now hearing people and more customer, so I think that agility is something I cannot say is just reserved for internal or external. But to have the overall agility makes a lot more sense effectively.

Ronnie Lee: I don’t think, it’s just an IT environment, but it’s also a consideration of the culture you want to drive. Today, if you have a culture where the workforce is highly motivated. One that is really of a high level of trust, you also have to look into other aspect of it. And again, I have to say we are probably not towards the ideal state yet, because we are also looking into compensation program. We are looking into HR benefit. If a greater portion starts to work from home, then how do we change our compensation program?

Ronnie Lee: How do we change the evaluation process? How do we make sure that remote worker is not inferior to someone who reports to work every day.

Ronnie Lee: Work from home has been prevalent. A lot of our colleagues are actively working from home since 8 to 10 years back. And we intend to continue to encourage our colleagues to adopt this new mode. Because it is really about outcome that we want to see. So far, we have placed with what we have been seeing the last three months.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Yes, that’s very good. And I think you also highlighted something about 5g. I need to research and learn about it.

Ronnie Lee: Yeah.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: And Lenovo is definitely many steps ahead of my understanding of what 5g is. We are then relying. Lenovo is taking the lead in educating the market. What is 5g, and how it can change and empower our lives.

Ronnie Lee: Yep. And I think you strike a point, which is back to the first point I mentioned, life-long learning. You’re true noth may the same. Your guiding principle will be the same, but as the marketplace changes, the technology changes. It’s a question of really taking that first step forward. It is unknown. It is scary, but the minute you are into it, it becomes something very admitting.

Ronnie Lee: Because suddenly you can do the same amount work in half the time. Not just work, sometimes work slash play. And today, even in the world of gamification, we are even talking about lessons learned where gaming is profession now. There are a lot of topics out there interestingly under industry 4.0 disruption. But I think to the uninitiated, I will say, pick a topic you’re comfortable. Find someone you can relate to and try to understand the essence. Because once you do, any other topic is just another.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: You highlighted one important thing which is, let’s choose one area that we are interested in, and then consistent effort over time accumulatively, we will find ourselves moving forward and that’s really good advice. So what other advice do you have to veteran and aspiring leaders out there?

An Advice to Veterans and Aspiring Leaders

Ronnie Lee: There are many to start with. But one thing I would encourage leaders would be to seriously consider is that, the agility part comes in almost at every phase of your working life as your status change. And again, it all started with something intriguing. Something that is unfamiliar.

Ronnie Lee: What I would really encourage leaders to consider is, what has worked for you previously, is not going to work for you in the future. Because the world is changing as we speak. And the worst thing to do is really to stand still as the bus is moving, and then you’ll get left behind but really jump onboard the bus. You may not have the full knowledge, upskill as you go.

Ronnie Lee: And remember, the people are the reason why there are leaders.

Chuen Chuen Yeo: Yeah! Leadership gold, I must say. So many mentioned that there’s no function for leaders unless you are serving people.

Ronnie Lee: The other point I really like to make to leaders is that reflection should be a daily part of your life because it is always good to remind yourself that you could have lived better yesterday. With that, you have learned about yesterday that can be put into the tomorrow.

Ronnie Lee: It’s very good to hear all this sharing from you Ronnie. And I think by now, some of the viewers might be interested to connect with Ronnie. Feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn. I will leave his LinkedIn URL in the post.

Ronnie Lee: Thank you Chuen Chuen. I would like, on behalf of the team, also to thank you for reading a great book, we really like the model. In fact, I’m running through feedback sessions with them on their take on the book, and I’ll get you a summary soon.

Ronnie Lee: And I think, they are all really gleaming with joy. And I hope with this, it is really just the first step for them to try out new things, embrace the unknown with confidence and really to seek their true north. With the right lens to which the changes we are looking at.

Ronnie Lee: So thank you for your time Ronnie, and thanks so much for the support and information.

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