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Leaders learn how to be led

Published on Thursday, 14 Oct 2010
Illustration: Bay Leung
Listen First, Create Later
“Listen to your seniors … Absorb other opinions before making suggestions. It will do no good to your work and leave a bad impression if you refute immediately.”
Emily Cheung
Report First, Execute Later
“Young people are very creative. But they have to notify and seek consent from their supervisors first. Don’t do something your way and take your supervisors by surprise.”
Irene Cheung
Obey First, Ask Later
“Young people ask too many questions when they are told to do something instead of learning from the process. That’s why many have limited knowledge about their trade.”
Tsao Yow-chian

For ambitious Generation Y graduates, it pays to remember that a good follower makes a good leader. For employers, it pays to listen to these young mavericks.

Known as the products of advantageous upbringings and an ideal education, today's fresh graduates are proactive, creative and independent.

"Our mindset is to create something unconventional and unique to highlight our talents," says Emily Cheung Tak-yan, a 24-year-old assistant marketing manager in the information technology business. "We want to contribute to the company, but we also want to create something of our own."

However, in the eyes of seasoned colleagues from a different age, Generation Y graduates can be egocentric and stubborn. Young people should possess "ledership quality" - a term coined by life and career coach Tsao Yow-chian, who argues that people must learn to be led before becoming leaders.

Tsao, founder of GaoDingRenSheng Coaching and Consulting Group, says leadership involves four components, and obedience is the first lesson. "You must obey and listen to instructions. The seniors have plenty to teach you."

Yet, unquestioning obedience is not enough, as no employer would like to hire a vegetable of a worker. "The second thing is self-reflection. You must think how to complete the task faster and better, and understand the details of your trade during the process," Tsao says.

After that comes co-ordination, which entails building rapport and an effective working relationship with senior colleagues and mediating between opposing parties. "Even when you have many ideas, how can you implement your plans when all seasoned colleagues don't trust you or will not listen to you?"

Lastly, innovate. "It is about absorbing past experiences and then coming up with something more effective," Tsao says.

Irene Cheung Chung-yan, founder and executive director of e-mail marketing company Radica, says it is equally important for employers to engage with Generation Y. "People say members of the post-'80s generation are creative, but maybe a little bit egocentric and lacking in discipline. These are characteristics that I have noticed, but I don't see them as negative. My concern is how to harness these characteristics."

For instance, telling young people off may not always be effective management. "If you challenge and stimulate their thinking, they will be very keen on finding a solution to the problem because they enjoy flexing their creative muscles," Cheung says.

Her company organises a weekly Monday lunch during which a randomly selected employee shares his or her thoughts and interests on anything from travelling to work-related issues. "This provides helpful information to the HR department and is very good for team building," she says. 

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