Showing Leadership (December 2019)

I had the privilege of being the MC for the recent Training & Development Asia conference held at the Shangri-La in Singapore. The two days confirmed my belief that more than ever the broad people development sector, and by that I include everyone in HR/OD, L&D, as well as external partners like myself need to grasp the mantle of leaders and not simply wait to be given whatever budget the CFO deems fit.

Would it be an exaggeration to say that the health and success of the organisations we work in and work with is dependent on the ability of people working in them to develop and to adapt? I don’t think so. So how is that going to happen? Are operational managers and leaders doing this themselves on the scale and frequency that is needed?

On leadership programs, particularly with those in the organisation who see themselves as individual contributors and not leaders, I get them to look at the case study of Melati and Isabel Wijsen, two school girls at the Bali Green School. They were given lessons in leadership and asked to think of a leadership challenge that they could take on that would make a positive difference. The proliferation of discarded plastic bags seemed a good challenge, albeit a big one.

They had no proper connections with government or anyone in power who could make decisions about this. Indeed politicians were doing nothing about it. They had also no experience in doing anything like this before. Most of us would have looked for an easier challenge. After all it’s not their job to challenge the system. But they did anyway. They mobilised others, they persisted when faced with obstacles and eventually 1,000,000 signatures later presented a petition to the Prime Minister of Bali. Bye bye plastics bags in Bali.

And that’s the thing about leadership. It’s there for anyone to take. All of us know in our heart we could do better. Should do better. But it’s hard, we don’t have the authority, we’re not sitting at the top table, we’re not given the budget, we have poor systems. What we are saying is that it’s someone else’s job, someone with the authority.

Yet the world isn’t changed just by people in authority. It’s changed by small groups of committed people who can see that something needs working on and have a go, enlist some help, influence, persist and get change happening.

Most of the people I meet in this profession are passionate, articulate, intelligent (emotionally and intellectually) and decent. So why aren’t we making the difference we should? I suggest respectfully that it’s because we don’t have that leadership mindset and we end up operating as nags, administrators of budgets or police enforcers of processes.

Take a leaf out of Melati and Isabel’s book and have a go at a big challenge. If you are saying to yourself “I’ve tried and it hasn’t worked”, then try again and try a different tack. This is too important to wait for others to act.

Richard Wentworth Ping is CEO and owner of Wentworth People. With offices in Singapore and Australia and a network of consultants across Asia, they help clients handle change, build leaders and shape culture. Contact him on or +61 425 262580 or visit the website