Leading, Her Way is a Leadership Development interview series featuring a line-up of remarkable female leaders in Singapore as they share their thoughts on self-exploration, career development, overcoming failures and work-life alignment.
In this interview, we feature Ms Jaelle Ang, Chief Executive Officer of The Great Room.
She shares her take on the importance of a Growth Mindset, the concept of ‘Maverick Learning’ and questions leaders need to be cognizant of to keep a team motivated and moving forward.
How did your education or early professional experiences prepare you for the business that you have built today?
I started my education in Singapore with a little more rigour than joy, a little more 'stamp collecting way of linear learning' by picking up one skill after another. However, when I was 18, with my blue punk rock hair and in architecture school, it taught me to adopt a growth mindset and to learn from everything and everyone around me.
I learnt to earn my seat on the ‘grown-up’ table by ‘fitting in and standing out’. I learnt to look out for unlikely experts who sometimes give me incredible guidance towards ‘the missing pieces of a project’. I learnt the technique of maximising time with important people by ‘walking them to their car or lunch’.
The Great Room is a culmination of all that relentless learning and meandering journeys from punk, architecture, banker, real estate developer and entrepreneur; and crystallising in a business which I am building today.
How would you define “The Growth Mindset” and what are the steps in cultivating this?
People with a growth mindset believe that if they see greater effort, show more perseverance and willingness to learn something new again and again, they are able to expand their intelligence, talent and opportunities. If you use a growth mindset towards self-education, you are going to be more impactful in all areas of your life - at work and at home.
Personally to me, it’s really about an attitude towards learning, I call it ‘Maverick Learning’; and this embraces two concepts:
The first thing and one of the best things about Maverick Learning, is to find the field experts to master anything as fast as possible. Life is just too short to figure everything out yourself. Therefore, be open minded and determined to find experts who can become your conduits of learning, whether they are experienced veterans or unlikely characters of a certain niche domain, will support and super charge your learning journey.
Secondly, another aspect of Maverick Learning is to piece together tough and different things that we are interested in to create new and valuable things. I would like to debunk the myth that only specialists get farthest in life. When you actually stack on several normal skills - adopting the concept of skill stacking (Credit: Scott Adam who created Dilbert) - to create a combination of talents, it will make you an extraordinarily valuable individual.
Are there any common challenges that you see that people struggle with trying to adopt this mindset?
Despite Singaporeans consistently ranking first or second in 79 major economies of the world in reading, math and science, 40% of those studied have a fixed mindset (https://www.oecd.org/pisa/PISA%202018%20Insights%20and%20Interpretations%20FINAL%20PDF.pdf). People with a fixed mindset feel that no matter what they do, their intelligence and ability is limited.
In Singapore, as a population of enviable academic achievers compared to most of the world, a whopping 72% of us are worried about failing. What a big stumbling block this is!
Therefore, I strongly believe that if people can be inspired to learn from everything and everyone around them, as well as proactively skill stack, they would be able to move towards having a growth mindset and over time, become so much more confident in their abilities.
Do you actively nurture this mentality within your team?
We look for certain types of people at The Great Room - people who are humble, hungry and hardy - and who are ready to be ‘learning animals’. When we are in a fast growing business and have a mission to change how people think about work, we need to learn fast, take risks and make redeemable mistakes.
We believe that workplaces are the modern agora - a space of learning and growing. To prevent falling into the trap of groupthink, we work hard to create a growth mindset environment through our culture and beliefs.
• We believe and present that all skills that the organisation needs are learnable
• We recognise when team members persevere and learn new skills, and are not just ready-made talent
• We don’t dwell on mistakes and acknowledge that when people take risks, there may be mistakes
• We encourage and present leaders as resources of soft skills, hard skills and ‘secret super powers’
As a leader during a crisis, you are dealing with a lot of immediate issues. In the midst of all that, what are some of the big questions that a leader needs to be asking to keep the team motivated and moving forward?
What are our principles and values?
Crisis situations are a time for principles. Immediate and urgent issues always seem to dwarf everything else. But more than ever, it is about taking care of people - it’s that simple and it’s that hard. Our principles and values will be what people remember at the end of it all.
In this (difficult and no-win) situation, what can be a picture of success?
There are often difficult and developing situations we find ourselves in during crises. It may seem a big, grey and heavy cloud of many probable undesirable outcomes. We need to step back and ask this question so that the team can picture the ‘best outcome’ even within ‘not great outcomes’ and work towards that.
How do we overtake 15 cars on this rainy day?
"Race car driver Ayrton Senna said “You cannot overtake 15 cars in sunny weather ... but you can when it’s raining”. While we need to take care of the daily challenges during this time, we also need the motivation of the impossible things and opportunities this crisis can create. It is such a driving force to possibly do the impossible."
It is undeniably important to ensure sustainable growth in any organisation. Is there any advice you would give to build adaptive work cultures and cement the resilience of a business?
Through the crisis, many companies have learned that working from home can be more effective than expected.
We have all been able to cope with working from home with some resemblance of productivity because of the capital that we have accumulated before when we could meet face to face for the purpose of problem-solving, creating ideas, building trust or peer inspiration. We can draw from this reserve for 1-2 months but it will erode over time and we will need to top up this capital. Just hear the number of times we say “Let’s meet properly once this is over.”
However, I believe there will be changes. Employees will demand more flexible arrangements and adaptive work cultures in the future and will have an opportunity to choose where they want to work based on convenience and preferences.
If companies want to win the war of talent, they need to pay attention to having a work culture that is more talent-centric and a flexible real estate solution that allows a business to counter the uncertainty with agility.
Lastly, workplaces must be the modern agora, allowing people to learn and connect in deeper ways rather than a game to fit more headcount per square foot.
Lastly, in one sentence, what does ‘Leading, Her Way’ mean to you?
When I was 12, I morbidly thought about and scribbled down what would be inscribed on my tombstone when I die, “She always played her heart out on the field, taking long shots and braving bruises, and she was never on the sidelines”. I always want to play and lead with all my heart.