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

Find your True North and Chart With Path with Agility

In episode 8 of Agile Leaders Conversations, hear Mr Ronnie Lee, General Manager of Lenovo Singapore share his insights after reading ‘8 Paradoxes of Leadership Agility’ and lots of leadership gold for aspiring and veteran leaders. From agility in creating great customer experience to envisioning future workplaces, this episode is not to be missed.

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



Welcome to Agile Leaders Conversations. My name is Chuen Chuen and I’m executive coach from Singapore and I specialize in leadership agility. Now 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 and then leap and pivot in the new normal. My guest today is Mr. Ronnie Lee, General Manager of Lenovo Singapore. I’ll hand over the time to Ronnie to share a little about himself.

Hi, good morning everyone. And thanks Chuen for inviting me for this series. As Chuen has mentioned, I’m currently leading the country for Lenovo Singapore, I’ve been with the IT industry for the past 25 years and various roles in the IT fraternity. And I think I have actually gained many aspects of experience. Definitely the experience has been very fulfilling and that is where as part of the effort to continue learning I chanced upon Chuen Chuen’s book and it has been a good read for me and my team as we progress in the journey to upgrade ourselves.

Yes, indeed. I was very grateful and blessed. I feel lucky, I guess, because given we didn’t know each other, I think to have that affirmation and confidence in my work, I feel that affirmation is really priceless. So thank you so much for your support and I hope that it was useful for your team in helping them navigate uncertainties in today’s workplaces.

Well, it certainly is. I think probably just to give the audience an idea, I managed to chance upon Chuen Chuen’s work in some of the posts, we have some discussions, and I find that the approach Chuen Chuen has used is really straightforward, easy to understand. She has a really very clear methodology in her mind on how to help leaders grow. And back then, well, it was a circuit breaker, so in that sense, I wanted to give the team a circuit breaker survival kit, I call it. And I thought, what better way than to have them to have a good book to accompany them during the two months lockdown. And of course together with the backdrop of the lockdown, it again, enhances the fact that we are moving to a new normal, changes are needed. And I’ll share a little bit more about my feel about the book, but in essence, most of the people I spoke to have given me very positive feedback, and I really want to thank Chuen Chuen for the chance also to expose us to what she is preaching.

Can you share with us your general thoughts of the book?

Yep. I think the first thing I exclaimed to my team, while I was discussing with them after we have some time to read the book, it’s somehow I find that this is not a typical book based on a backdrop of leadership agility, which is very, very key, in this new world whereby… it’s volatile, uncertain, and full of complexity and ambiguous.

And essentially this is what I call a breath of fresh air, right? Because most of the enrichment books are really heavy on theories, but I think Chuen Chuen actually makes it in such a way that the theory is down, it is something structured yet the examples are really lively. And I think from a personal point of view, it benefits me because I can see myself in a lot of these scenarios before, through the different phases of my 25 years career. And what is really intriguing is I think if I’m going to read this in the next 25 years, I’ll probably again gain new insights, because, while situation have changed, there are some basic principles will stay. And I think it’s important to gain this as the essence of the book.

Yeah. Yeah. I think your spirit of lifelong learning is very strong, and self reflection to continue to improve your practice and your effectiveness as a leader.

I believe in this, because I think, well, essentially skills are going to last you for a limited time. And I think as the society progress, pushes in technology, disruptions, what will actually stay on is your desire to want to do more. I think besides reading the book, I have a checklist on my bucket list and at the age of 47, I jump onto my executive MBA program. And I think I did it mainly for two reasons.

One is I always wanted to do it, but I think what is also more important is to really show to my younger ones at home, if your daddy can be going back to school at 47, there’s nothing that’s going to stop you in your journey for learning. And I think as a role model in the company as well, I think that also gives a lot of my coworkers that 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.

This is very good to hear. I think we are aligned on the fundamental and the belief level that we have to keep moving forward, keep evolving. You never know until you try. And actually we have the influence on people and I guess many leaders might not know it, perhaps they might not see themselves as leaders, and they do not know that their behavior actually have the impact on others. Showing, demonstrating how things should be done. And I think I like that you are intentional. So let’s talk a little bit about the book. Was there a paradox that resonated strongly with you?

Well, that’s actually a difficult one because I was pondering over it for the past week, because wow, there are so many of them, right. But again, one thing that hits me the most is really enforcing versus empowerment. I think that part is really relevant because, I should say at the earlier part of my career, leaders I follow adopted the enforcement style. All right. It’s always about leader being the subject matter expert. The other guys telling you, okay, this is the right thing to do, that’s the right thing to do. And you just follow.

But I think in 10 years back, I’m starting to realize, to say, hey, look, this is not going to work because if you had only one brain in the group of 50, 200, that is the so called only source of information, then I think it’s quite sad because then I become the bottleneck because I’m not actually empowering people to come into ideas. I’m not enabling people to go to the max of their potential. And it’s quite sad in a sense that we have 50 to 200 talent and we are not able to take on the summation of this talent.

So which is why this paradox really hit me hard, maybe 8 years, 10 years back. And I think with that as a journey, now what I set upon is really to… I mean, I have an adage whereby I talk about fishing, right? Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a person to fish, you give him a skill for a life time. And that’s really the motto I stick to. And I really want to sometimes encourage leaders to take that bold move, to take a step back, and allow the talent surrounding you to go and try.

And the other aspect I always tell my talent is really guys, we work for very big corporations. The things we do will comprise of areas that we will succeed, areas which we will fail, 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 now a mountain behind me, there’s many way to scale the mountain, it can be left, right, center, behind. But essentially what we want to do is to reach the peak.

Yes, yes. There are multiple pathways to success. And I think Ronnie, you brought up many good points and reminders for leaders. While we always know that leaders, you have to provide a direction. Perhaps in conventional times and traditional times is to provide the right solution. Right now I think leaders also have to guard against becoming the bottleneck. So if we now shift the lens to leadership agility, I’m wondering how do you see it?

The way I look at it, and I think it’s very apt in the tech world because tech is always leading the charge for changes. All right. Once upon a time, when I started, in my field, it is good enough to have, for instance if you’re launching a product, you have three types of product, one to be your so called market share chaser, which is low end. And 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 will be in trouble now because the niche end ones have become a lot more complicated. Users are expecting you to do a lot more, to understand them, to actually work with them, to then work out solutions for you.

And sometimes we are so called faced with situations where we don’t know what we don’t know, and it’s always this exploratory journey, whereby you have to sit down with your customer, you talk through, you go on POCs together and that’s where you find certain guidance, but of course, today staying agile means today you probably 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 principles, a set of framework, and basically that will drive action with your customer to go into the unknown, to venture into the unknown. And I think that creates a lot more stickiness because gone are the days whereby it’s a one size fit all theory, right? And today everybody wants to feel special because they are giving you not just the business, but they’re also entrusting their trust to you as an organization to help them make it better.

What you are saying is have that inner… I don’t know whether I’m using the right word, inner compass and the framework, know what’s important.

Yep. If I would use it, know your true north. Not just for yourself, but for your customers as well. And I think beyond that dollar and cents, beyond the budget, look towards a partnership whereby you are really wholeheartedly driving the resources to help improve, right? Certain pre-agreed, KPIs, commitment.

And I think very often we tend to divert back to our old self to say, ah okay, I’m here to sell you something, quickly buy something from me. But if you think of it from another angle, now you may be taking a slightly longer selling cycle, but this customer is as good to you for life. Because if he likes what he’s doing and you again, going into the next project and again likes what you are doing, now that’s a continual effort.

And I think in our world, we call it sell value rather than sell specs and price, because I think that’s so passe, right? So essentially even a simple act of saying, hey, what kind of a solution somebody put across to the customer, also involves a deeper dive whereby groups are getting together, understanding their needs and then giving them things that they know, and sometimes they may not even know they need.

So the connection with the consumer is really key. So guided by the true north, then with agility coming in, it is about keeping a true north as it is, but the approach is never fixed, right?

In this current situation, how are you changing the way you conduct your business and the way you lead teams?

I think the most important thing we need to acknowledge is today within the organization itself, our team members, our resource is the most important priority. So for instance, while the government has started to relax regulations, you’re allowed to go back to the office and all that, what we have told everyone is now, if there is no need to come to the office, please don’t come, please continue to work from home. I’m very happy that this work from home policy that we have, has started eight, 10 years ago. We have also started from an IT equipping angle, give people laptops, so that they can work anywhere. We have also always been giving people a good headset for that experience, when they talk about, that’s why I’m wearing a headset now. And of course, I think fundamentally what’s even more important is to re-look at future of work.

And in this case conducting first and foremost, your office space to make sure that you allow a lot more collaboration, right? Because what we believe is that collaboration will create even more sparks. And we want people to continue to have inventors mentality, to come in and say, hey yes, we may be good, but no, how do we go to great right? Let’s go try and let’s go test it out. 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, but at the same time, listen to what they have to share on how we can make it better.

And that’s where CX scores are important. That’s where today we run surveys. We want to understand from our customer, our stakeholders, what we have been doing well, but more importantly, the areas that’s coming up that they think we can take a stronger position at. We are also taking the lead in some of the things we are doing. So the adage for Lenovo is that they want to bring smarter technology to the world. And yes, we have done it yet again, we are the first guy to bring in a 5G laptop that’s selling some parts of the world now. And 5G is still in infancy in Singapore, right, but we are really selling something. And of course we also have based on the customer need, have decided on a new genre of products, whereby we have laptops that are foldable, and then it becomes a gigantic tablet. Because we foresee things that people don’t see yet, but we are now hearing more and more customer feedback that’s, hey, maybe that’s what I want, right?

So I think that agility part is something I cannot just say, hey, it’s just reserved for internal or for external, but to have the overall agility, I think it makes a lot more sense. Effectively I don’t think it’s just an IT enablement that’s the easiest part, right? But it’s also a consideration of the culture you want to drive. Today if you have a culture where the workforce is one whereby is highly motivated by one, that is really of a high level of trust. And today, you also have to look into other aspects of it.

And again, I have to say, we are probably not towards the ideal state yet, because we are also, we are looking into compensation program, we are looking into HR benefits to say now, if a greater portion starts to work from home from now, then how do we change our compensation program? How do we change the evaluation process? How do we make sure that today remote working is not any way inferior to someone who reports to work every day. Now, do you really need someone to report to work every day?

And of course today it involves a lot of discussion, it involves a lot of consultation with the various stakeholders, as well as the employees by and large. But I think employees have the trust in us. And I think, work from home has been prevailing, as I mentioned before, 8 to 10 years back, while it is not adopted as much as it used to be, but we do have a lot of colleagues who are actively working from home, since eight to 10 years back. And I think we intend to continue to encourage our colleagues to adopt this new mode because it is really about outcome that we want to see, all right. And I think so far we are pleased with what we have been seeing the last two, three months.

Yes. That’s very, very good. And I think you also highlighted or something about 5G I need to research. I learn about it later. And Lenovo is definitely many steps ahead of my understanding of what 5G is, and I think we are then relying on… Lenovo is taking the lead in educating the market about 5G and how it can change, empower our lives.

Correct. Yep. And I think you strike a point, which is back to the first point I mentioned, lifelong learning, right? So your true north maybe the same, your guiding principles may be the same, but as the marketplace change, technology change, it’s a question of really taking that first step forward, all right? It is unknown. It is scary. It is fearful, but the minute you’re into it, it becomes something really very enriching because suddenly you can do the same amount of work in half the time. Suddenly with the same amount of time, you can do three times as much work, or not just work, work but sometimes work/play.

And I think today, even in the world of gamification, we are even talking about lessons learned, and anyway gaming is a sort of profession now, so there are a lot of topics out there interestingly, coming under industry 4.0 disruption, right? But I think to the uninitiated, I will say, pick a topic you are comfortable, find someone that you can relate to and try to understand the essence, because once you do, any other topic, it’s just an add on.

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

Well, there are many to start with, but one thing I would encourage leaders, would-be leaders is 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, unknown. What I would really encourage leaders to consider is what has worked for you previously is not going to work for you in 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, right? And then you’ll get left behind. But really jump on board the bus. I mean, most of the time, you may be on board moving bus, moving train, but you may not have the full knowledge, but scale as you go, and effectively remember the people are the reason why there are leaders.

Yep. This is leadership gold, I must say. So many insights and you have mentioned that leaders don’t have a place unless… There’s no function for leaders, there’s no purpose unless you are serving people.

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

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.

Yep. Thank you Chuen Chuen. And I would like on behalf of the team also to thank you for really a great book. Well, we really like the Re4 model, and in fact, just for your benefit, I’m also running through so called feedback sessions with them on their take on the book. And of course, I’ll get you a summary soon. And I think they are all really gleaming with joy. And then I hope with this, it is really just the first step for them to try out new things, embrace the unknown, the confidence, and really to seek their true north with the right lens, towards the changes you are looking at.

Yeah. So thank you again for your time, Ronnie. And thanks so much for the support and affirmation.

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