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Among others, Catherine Low, Country Manager of ING in Singapore, affirms to Jerene Ang that servant leadership can make a positive difference, even though the contribution of such leadership is usually not highly visible to others.
Q How would you describe your journey with ING so far? What has been your most memorable moment with the organisation?
After fifteen-plus years with ING, I am still learning new things every day. ING gives a lot of freedom and support to employees to chart their personal development, especially for employees who take personal responsibility for their own learning and development. For example, I have been given the opportunity to move from a specialised lending function in trade and commodity financing, to a general management role as the Singapore Country Manager.
What I also appreciate about ING is its diverse and international mix of employees, and the relatively flat organisation structure that recognises the value of employee contribution apart from a hierarchical role. For example, in 2014-2017, I was appointed to the bank’s global leadership council despite the fact that I was not the most senior employee in Asia in terms of hierarchy.
Q How would you define your leadership style?
I believe in servant leadership, and hope to keep growing as one. The needs of employees – to perform, grow professionally, and find fulfilment and meaning in their job scope and job environment – are put ahead of quid pro quo considerations or even the leader’s own self-interest. A servant leader does not manage from a position of power or authority, but uses influence to facilitate and serve, and to allow others to shine.
Many people confuse service with servitude or subservience. Serving that is purely driven out of the primary desire to help others, if combined with leadership skills, can make a positive difference, even though the contribution of such servant leadership is usually not highly visible to others.
Q When you’re struggling with stress or a bad day, how do you unwind and re-energise yourself?
A few years ago I went through a period of illness. Having emerged from that, with a much deeper appreciation for health and relationships and my personal faith, work troubles no longer become mountains in my mind. I am blessed to have a group of caring friends and trusted colleagues with whom I can talk about the issues I am facing, or turn to for help and advice.
Q Having been in the banking sector for more than 20 years, how have you seen the industry evolve from a talent standpoint? Do you find the oft-cited gender diversity imbalance in the sector improving?
Gender diversity has certainly improved in the area of corporate banking. When I first became a corporate banker in the ‘90s, my manager told me that the ability to entertain clients over meals, karaoke, drinks, or to play golf were considered as strengths.
As a woman with family commitments, I challenged my manager to let me develop my own client portfolio based on the ability to deliver products and services well to the corporates, rather than having to entertain individuals within those corporates outside of office hours.
My corporate client portfolio grew rapidly, and I believe that I was one of the pioneers in the then male-dominated commodity trade financing industry who showed that females can become senior bankers.
Q What do you think organisations can do to empower more women leaders like yourself?
Many organisations already dedicate resources to building and maintaining diversity, including gender diversity. Yet gender diversity is still not at ideal levels at very senior levels. This may require intentional intervention in the beginning, such as targeted sponsorship of high potential female talent to ensure a robust pipeline for key senior positions. I believe that once there are more female role models at key positions, there will be a natural virtuous snowball effect.
Q What is your view of human resources as a business function? How closely do you work with your HR head and on what kind of issues?
Human capital is key for organisations, hence the importance of human resources as a business function. A dollar of financial capital is the same dollar everywhere, and how it is deployed determines the return on that capital.
However, every employee is different, how they are enabled and developed determines how well financial capital is used to generate economic and social benefits for all stakeholders. Any business leader will have to work closely with HR as a business partner in the different areas of recruitment, learning and development, compensation and performance management.
Q Describe your ideal CHRO.
An ideal CHRO is forward-thinking, and goes beyond running a well-oiled administration function to being a business partner who can attract, retain and build talent according to the strategic long-term requirements of the organisation.
Q If not this career, what alternative career path might you have chosen?
Despite being in banking for so long, I don’t feel that I am in one career path, because the learning experience along my personal journey has been so varied, and there is so much to learn from and contribute to, every day. This is why I have not actively considered other careers so far.
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