Learning Through Leading

Updated: Apr 29

Is it possible to ever be fully ready to take on a leadership role for the first time?


First-time leaders face a steep learning curve: it is a humbling process of confronting and overcoming limitations with the additional need to pick up new leadership competencies on the fly.


Letting go of execution becomes an unexpected struggle, as control now needs to be relinquished for the team to take the reins, and for the leaders to take a step back to have a bird’s eye view on situations and projects. At the same time, with a new set of responsibilities, the risks and stakes of each decision made for and with the team are higher.


Joining the YWLC Executive Committee (Exco) may have been an unexpected deep dive, but it gave these ladies the freedom to hone, adjust, and improve their leadership skills in order to fulfill their respective goals whilst managing a team of volunteers.


Hear more from Yvonne, Recruitment Director; Brenda, Membership Director; and Kristin, Marketing and Communications (Marcomms) Director, on their experiences as Exco Directors, and what they have learnt over their leadership journey.





1. What is something you did not expect to learn in Exco, but did?



Yvonne: There are two lessons that stand out. First, leading a team is foremost about relationships. As someone who is results-oriented, my initial leadership style was focused on tasks and making sure things got done. I’ve learned over my term to focus more on investing in relationships within the team, so that people feel valued and a sense of belonging.


Second, striking a balance between creating structure and leaving space for autonomy. The Recruitment subcommittee runs both flagship and ad hoc events for the public. The team for one of our flagship events comprised over 20 volunteers, most of whom were new. This necessitated a different strategy of implementing clear processes, so that new volunteers would feel supported and the event would be well-harmonised. At the same time, given the scale of the project, I had to learn to let go and trust the team to lead and execute their portions of the project. Being open to new ideas also allowed the team to bring their unique perspectives to the table, which benefited the event overall!



Brenda: My experiences were very similar to Yvonne’s! I echo the point raised on the importance of focusing on building relationships within the team. Leading through the COVID-19 crisis taught me the importance of doubling down on relationship-building, especially when we were all isolated due to the pandemic. It was difficult for the team to meet, and team dynamics suffered from the lack of interaction between members. It took conscious effort to schedule meet-ups where possible and to find time to catch up with the team in a meaningful way.


I also learnt how important it is to be adaptable because COVID-19 threw the membership ‘playbook’ completely out the window! I was lucky to have the support of an amazing team who was able to innovate and create new ideas to keep members engaged.



Brenda (first from right), together with her Membership subcommittee members at a casual home gathering



Kristin: I never imagined that I’d scale a team in a short period of time. When I first took on this role, I wanted to create meaningful and engaging content for our members. However, I underestimated the sheer amount of work behind the growing number of events and programmes. This is in addition to other Marcomms goals, like revamping the YWLC brand, website, and newsletter, as well as helming committee-driven marketing campaigns. To achieve all this, I had to expand my team quickly - we went from two to over thirty subcommittee members.


As the team grew, it had to go beyond personal relationships to establishing a formal team structure to manage more effectively. I split the team into Event Marketing, and Channels, and introduced Deputy Directors to run each sub-team, who were free to form and lead their own project teams in order to achieve their respective goals. Good communication became even more essential with a fast-growing team. It was a lot of trial and error figuring out how specifically I should communicate, without the message being misinterpreted across multiple layers of management, while ensuring that the team still has the autonomy to experiment and implement new ideas.



2. How did being in Exco spur your personal and professional growth?


Yvonne: Being part of the Exco meant that I am both a leader (of my subcommittee) and a teammate (in the Exco), and have developed myself in both capacities. On one hand, being a part of the committee driving the organisation’s broader mission has enabled me to make decisions from a high-level and strategic perspective. On the other hand, leading a subcommittee has taught me better management and relational skills.


Working with so many different women, I have learned to be more attuned and adapt to a variety of communication and working styles. I am more confident in using my strengths and more aware of the need to complement my weaknesses. On a personal level, I have been challenged to better understand the different identities we hold as women, and how each facet necessitates different forms of support.




Yvonne (1st from right) with some of the Recruitment subcommittee members who were part of the Future Women Leaders Forum’s organising team



Brenda: Being part of the YWLC Exco has honed my ability to plan more strategically and for the long term. As an analyst by profession, much of my day-to-day work revolves around analysing data in order to make a sound decision. At YWLC, it becomes more than just data. It is also about operations, processes, and most importantly, people. My journey has honed my style of leadership and shed light on areas of improvement – all useful skills and knowledge to have early in my career.


As an Exco member, I also have had the chance to meet a very wide range of many amazing individuals with different talents – charming orators, detail-oriented taskmasters, intuitive relationship builders – and with each interaction, I learnt more about my own relative strengths and how to overcome my shortcomings.



Kristin: With an ever-growing subcommittee, I worked with many ladies with different working styles, motivations, and areas of expertise. This meant that I had to be flexible in the way I think and communicate to better adapt to the preferences of each individual, and to understand each person well to form synergistic project teams.


The opportunity to work closely with those who lead teams - the Exco, as well as the Deputies and Leads within my team - gave me greater exposure to a broad spectrum of leadership mindsets and strategies. I learnt to take a step back and focus on the big picture. I also had to relearn the way I approached marketing. While I used to do Marketing & Communications professionally, what used to work previously was not necessarily relevant for the YWLC target audience, and for current times. I had to continually challenge myself to reinvent ways to bring interesting and useful content to members. Also, how well a project runs is only as effective as the leader's communication. Without clear communication, it is easy for projects to go astray.


Over every project, I constantly learn better ways to do branding, design, copywriting, marketing, campaigns, and even video-taking techniques for Instagram stories from each member. The cross-pollination of skills and ideas has significantly impacted and improved my direction, quality, and mindset in marketing and brand management.




Kristin (1st from left) at the first Marcomms meeting in her term


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Yvonne, Brenda and Kristin are a part of YWLC’s 6th Executive Committee (Exco). The Exco roles are voluntary, and Exco Members run various functions of YWLC, including Recruitment, Membership, Mentorship, Community Engagement, and Leadership Development. As part of YWLC’s goal of nurturing young women leaders, the Exco roles offer a chance for members to step up and hone their leadership skills while driving change for women in Singapore.


The Exco term is for two years, and the 6th Exco will be stepping down in June 2021 over YWLC’s Biennial General Meeting (BGM). The 7th Exco Elections will be taking place on the same day. Look out for more information on YWLC’s BGM, members are invited to attend the event and vote for the 7th Exco.


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Organising Committee: Marketing & Communications Subcommittee

Organising Team: Joaquim Tan, Rachel Tan

Interviewees: Yvonne Mak, Brenda Lee, Kristin Loo

Editor: Joaquim Tan


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