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10 Leadership Lessons Drawn from My Travels Around the World – Part 3

By Samuel Kim

Thus far, I have shared the first four of my ten leadership lessons I have garnered over the many years of my travels around the world. These are as follows:

1. Leadership means paying attention to how the world is changing.

2. Leadership means asking the questions that will matter tomorrow. 

3. Leadership means knowing what matters to people. 

4. Leadership means being aware of and managing one’s own ignorance and arrogance. 

Here comes the next two, the fifth and sixth, in my third of the five-part essay. I hope some of us readers can resonate to what I am sharing in these essays. 

5. Leadership means doing the right things. 

Never before have we seen such an abundance of ideas, principles, and practices aimed at benefiting the world. Yet the world does not seem any better for it; on the contrary, there seem to be increasing levels of confusion and frustration, due to the world’s ever-growing complexities and uncertainties. Many people are founding social enterprises that promote laudable ideals like sustainability, poverty reduction, education for all, and green energy. Yet many others are negative agents who, even if they have received a top-notch education, use their brain power to perpetuate exploitative practices and use “power without conscience.” Think of all the seemingly respectable people behind the 2008 financial crisis, the unethical amassing of wealth in politics, money laundering, inhumane business practices, institutionalized corruption, and countless other forms of “white-collar crimes.” No major bane of our times would exist without the complicity of people with power and authority. 

So how can our laudable ideas and intentions for positive change gain traction? The answer depends on clarifying the role of our leaders. For the most part, people in authority tend to focus on doing things right. Particularly in Asia, the education system places an overwhelming emphasis on checking all the pre-existing boxes—getting good grades, being admitted to the best schools, finding jobs at the best companies. Success is defined by tangible assets and promotion-oriented careers rather than by doing the right things—living according to noble ideals like values of compassion, we over I, and advancing public interest. Of course, both systems are necessary. Every individual and organization need to come up with effective goals, strategies, and well-laid-out plans. But doing the right things means figuring out why we want to do what we’re doing—shaping our priorities, habits, and mindsets so that we can contribute meaningfully to our world, culminating in improving human lives and conditions. 

6. Leadership means using the head, hands, and heart. 

A commitment to authentic leadership in our changing world means leading with the head, the hands, and the heart. Even after studying at Harvard, an institution many consider to be the gold standard of scholarly practices, and academic excellence, I see that leading just with the head—with knowledge—is not enough. The hands, which symbolize action, are a crucial part of leadership too. But action does not complete the picture. The heart, symbolizing values and passion, defines both individuals and organizations, and here you can find the true essence of leadership. A leader becomes a potent agent of change when the head and hands are powered by the heart, creating an irresistible trinity. 

Of the three, the heart is the least understood. Having the heart of a leader doesn’t just mean putting others first; it means engaging people in the cause of improving the world and encouraging them to face the challenges around us. It also means giving others the courage to do what is necessary, both strategically and morally, thus carrying us from the problems of today to the aspirations of tomorrow.