Q&A: Professor Loredana Padurean, Asia School of Business
As someone who is creating Asia Pacific’s business leaders of the future, what do you believe are the essential skills leaders require?
In many ways, we need leaders who are Renaissance women/men or polymaths, as opposed to specialists of an industry or a field. A polymath is a person with profound knowledge, proficiency and expertise in multiple fields and today’s leaders have to be able to combine various ideas, look at problems in novel and useful ways, and develop a broad and yet still deep set of skills, talents, and knowledge.
You’ve coined ‘smart’ and ‘sharp’ as skills of the future. What are these?
They are replacements for ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ skills, a concept coined by a US Army doctor in 1972 who observed that his pupils had different skills: dealing with machinery required ‘hard’ skills, while dealing with people and paper were ‘soft’ skills. This concept has served us well since, but I find it too binary, not to mention the semantic implications of the words themselves.
Soft implies gentle, delicate, mild, quiet, tender, weak. However, there is nothing soft in navigating competing perspectives and cultures, handling and delivering critical feedback or dealing with office politics. Instead, I prefer to call these skills ‘smart’. Hard implies rigid, difficult, heavy, static. But how can we think of engineering or software development as static or rigid? I believe ‘sharp’ is more apt as such skills need constant updating or sharpening.
I think it’s time to reflect on these classifications, because we can drastically change someone’s perspective by how we choose to talk about and frame something.
How important are smart skills in leadership today?
Smart skills are more important than ever because we live in a world of extreme diversity: generational, ethical, value-based, gender, etc. Gone are the days when giving an order was an effective act of leadership. I personally work with people from five different continents and across five different generations, therefore as leaders, we need to know how to adapt, motivate, inspire and connect. We need to increase our investment in learning about them in action, especially as smart skills are more difficult to develop.
I believe that a successful leader today has to be both smart and sharp. Take cognitive readiness, one of my top 10 smart skills. In order to be cognitive ready, one has to master system dynamics, one of my top 10 sharp skills. Also, did you know that one of the primary reasons why digital transformation fails is not the absence of digital literacy, a sharp skill, but the need for more validation and adaptability, both smart skills. So, instead of thinking of these skills as binary, I prefer to think of them as the yin and yang; co-existing and complementing each other.
So, you can teach leaders smart skills then?
Yes, you can, via a combination of the classroom experience, plus an action component supported by deeply embedded reflection. At ASB we call this Action Learning, and we teach it both in the MBA and in the executive programs. For example, in teaching a leader emotional maturity as a smart skill, first they need to learn what it is, and then act on it, before reflecting on what we did and how we did it. And then to repeat it, but this time with more expertise and awareness. It’s not easy, but that’s why my favourite mantra is ‘the job is easy, the people are not’.
Discover Professor Padurean's successful skills for a digital transformation here
Rainmaking + ESG Launch Supply Chain Resilience Accelerator
Rainmaking, one of the world’s leading corporate innovation and venture development firms that create, accelerate and scale new business, has partnered with Enterprise Singapore (ESG), a government agency that champions enterprise development, to launch Singapore’s first ‘Supply Chain Resilience Accelerator’.
The new programme will unite startups and enterprises to boost scalable technology solutions that help fuel supply chain resilience by addressing pain points in transport and logistics.
Over the last 13 years, Rainmaking has launched 30 ventures totalling US$2bn, including Startupbootcamp. Having invested in over 900 startups that have raised more than US$1bn, Startupbootcamp is one of the world’s most active global investors and accelerators.
The new programme looks to help build more resilient supply chains for Singapore’s burgeoning network of startups by leveraging its advantageous position as a global trade and connectivity hub. As part of the Supply Chain Resilience Accelerator programme, no less than 20 startups with high-growth potential will have the opportunity to become a part of Singapore’s vibrant ecosystem of startups.
Calling Supply Chain Solution Startups!
The programme will kick off with an open call for startups who specialise in supply chain solutions for end-to-end visibility, analytics, automation and sustainability.
Applicants will then be shortlisted and receive nurturing from Rainmaking, fostering valuable engagements with corporates to drive scalable pilots with the aim to stimulate investment opportunities.
“Covid-19 exposed the fragility of global trade, and the Supply Chain Resilience Accelerator is our opportunity to spot weak links and build back better. Piloting outside tech can be an incredibly efficient way to test viable solutions to big problems, provided you de-risk and design for scale. Our programme does precisely this by helping corporate decision-makers and startups to work on compelling business opportunities, anticipate operational risks, and ultimately co-create solutions fit for wider industry adoption,” said Angela Noronha, Director for Open Innovation at Rainmaking.
Pilots will run from Singapore, with the objective that relevant organisations may adopt successful solutions globally. To that end, Rainmaking is currently engaging with enterprises specialising in varying industry verticals and have expressed interest in partnering.
“Even as we continue to work with startups and corporations all over the globe, we are so pleased to be anchoring this program out of Singapore. With a perfect storm of tech talent, corporate innovators, and robust institutional support, it’s the ideal launchpad for testing new solutions that have the potential to change entire industries. We look forward to driving the transformation with the ecosystem,” added Angela Noronha.
One of the first selected corporate partners is Cargill, a leader in innovating and decarbonising food supply chains.
"Cargill is constantly exploring ways to improve the way we work and service our customers. Sustainability, smart manufacturing and supply chain optimisation are key areas of focus for us; exploring these from Singapore, where so many key players are already innovating, will help us form valuable partnerships from day one. We look forward to joining Rainmaking and ESG on this journey to work with, support, and grow the startup community by keeping them connected to industry needs,” said Dirk Robers, Cargill Digital Labs.
In order to raise awareness on the importance of building resilience and how technology can be leveraged to mitigate risks of disruption, industry outreach efforts will include fireside chats, discussions and demo days.
In July, Rainmaking will host a virtual insight sharing event for innovation partners as well as a ‘Deal Friday’ session that connects businesses, investors, and selected startups with investment and partnership opportunities.
Programme events will also benefit Institutes of Higher Learning by offering exposure to how advanced practitioners leverage new technologies to transform traditional supply chain management and share real-world case studies and lessons learned, better equipping next-gen supply chain leaders.
“As an advocate of market-oriented open innovation, we welcome programmes like the Supply Chain Resilience Accelerator, which aims to help companies resolve operational pain points, strengthen supply chain resilience and spur growth in a post-pandemic world. With a strong track record in driving open innovation initiatives for the transport and supply chain industry, we believe that Rainmaking’s in-depth knowledge of the ecosystem and network of global partners can complement Singapore’s efforts in accelerating our business community’s adoption of tech-enabled tools, to better manage future disruptions and capture opportunities arising from shifts in global supply chains. This will in turn help to strengthen our local ecosystem and Singapore’s status as a global hub for trade and connectivity,” said Law Chung Ming, Executive Director for Transport and Logistics, Enterprise Singapore.