Most of us are aware that the ASEAN was established to promote the cultural, economic, and political development of the region comprising of the member nations. The founders were visionaries who created a regional organization that promoted the legitimate aspirations of its people and also helped to safeguard stability and security among member countries. The secure environment was conducive to fast-paced economic development and the growth of human capital.
Within the ASEAN today, traditional practices of leadership and governance are being re-shaped. Leaders across all sectors are finding they need to be nimbler, adaptive and demonstrate a softer touch in order to address the demands of the day: transparency, communication, greater people-participation and accountability. So what are the skills the modern leader in the ASEAN needs, and what are the challenges they have to be able to address?
The better leader is not the person with the highest qualifications or the most experience but the one with the ability to take others together towards a shared goal. Leadership now, is more about being open-minded and inclusive of contrary opinions, especially within a region of multiple forms of governance, economic systems and cultural practices.
A successful ASEAN leader should also be equipped with negotiating skills; not just for business, but to speak within different groups of people, build consensus among them and arrive at a solution that is satisfactory to everyone. In the ASEAN, one has to appreciate that it is not always about winning, but marrying different perspectives together to solve common problems. Leaders who embrace this can be the drivers of innovative change.
In the realm of tri-sector collaboration, an ASEAN leader has to recognize the impact from decisions made by political structures within different political systems, and work in parallel with ongoing governmental efforts as well as other stakeholders within member countries. For example, if you consider action on livelihoods in the context of climate change, there isn't a common ministry within the ASEAN. A leader looking to address this would have to bring together many ministries, public and private sectors together with civil society of individual nations to find common ground.
There is also ageing within the ASEAN, with generational differences resulting in mixed approaches to problems. It is important for different age-groups to be able to work together. A future leader would need to recognize these challenges and deal with people from different age groups, perspectives and backgrounds where issues may not be in black and white but come in many shades of grey.
It is within this context, that I am excited the ASEAN Foundation, an organisation from and for the people of ASEAN, has partnered with Common Purpose in the region to launch the ASEAN Leaders Programme. The ASEAN Foundation makes people aware of the ASEAN Community, connects them and develops their capacity. In a way, the ASEAN Leaders Programme offers comprehensive leadership learning through a unique approach that includes the participation of the three sectors – public, private and nonprofit; the use of the city as a classroom; the participation of people from diverse backgrounds and leadership positions; and the sharing of experience in search of solutions to problems. In addition, the ASEAN Leaders Programme has senior leaders interacting with each other and with younger leaders to pass on the benefit among their communities and areas of management. I hope that participants embed their learning within and beyond their areas of influence inside ministries, offices, and community groups to keep coming up with solutions that meet varying challenges going into the future.