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SEA Marketers Navigating Leadership: Here's What's Up

November 10, 2022

Relationship-building is crucial in good leadership and sustainable business success. Business leaders from Viber, ASTRO, Homage, and GoToko share advice on how to do it.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. For first-time managers, navigating tough times means learning to count on others. 

"As you start to lead teams, you start to move away from focusing on the what and the why of: 'This is what I can do. These are the skills that I bring to the table and why I feel it's important,'" says Chris Aguilar, Marketing Director of APAC at Rakuten Viber, one of the world's largest messaging mobile applications. 

Your responsibility becomes less about how you can perform these tasks yourself and towards about focusing on the broader business strategy. Chris adds that leaders must shift their mindset to the who and the how: "Who is going to help drive this project, and how are they going to do it?"

In this edition of Middle Matters, we spoke to Chris and marketing leaders throughout Southeast Asia from GoToko, Homage and Astro for their advice on how first-time managers can navigate their new roles by building their teams and keeping them motivated.

Find the Right Fit 

For Priska Lampangateia, Head of Brand at GOTOKO, building a team aligned with the company's mission and purpose is essential. 

GoToko connects warungs (Indonesian mom-and-pop shops) with consumer goods companies to help them grow their business. When Priska was first offered the job, she was delighted that the company's mission aligned with her own goal of making a real difference. 

The importance of a person's alignment with a company's purpose is something Priska — who earlier in her career worked in the fashion industry and then at companies like Fave, Gojek, and AirAsia — feels passionate about:

"When you start asking yourself whether I'm doing enough, whether I'm doing good or not, it will definitely affect your personal life, work, and quality of work. 
So the happiest people will bring out the best in everything we do. So when you know your purpose, you don't have to question things."

While numbers and deadlines are still important at GoToko, the purpose of achieving those numbers or ROIs is for a good cause. Priska recounted when a warung owner thanked the GoToko team for their work because she could still keep her shop open despite her husband getting into an accident. 

"We know the numbers we are achieving; it's not just numbers — it's lives that we are saving. It's dreams that we are fulfilling."

So when it comes to building her team, Priska makes sure to bring on team members who share the same vision and mission; many of whom went through the same challenges and came from the same companies she did before joining GoToko too. 

"I think a lot of times you're stuck - you don't know what impact you're making … Sometimes you question yourself, am I doing enough? Am I doing the right thing? Is what I'm doing actually helping people?" 

The shared purpose and knowledge that their work is impacting helps get them through higher-stress periods. 

Empower the Hunger for Adventure

Deborah Yaw, Head of Marketing for Malaysia at Homage, has always had a sense of adventure and intentionality in how she approached her career. 

Hailing from Ipoh, Deborah's passions led her to other states in Malaysia - from the West to the East and West again. First at the Star, a Malaysian news publication, to practising conservational biology at Kota Kinabalu Wetlands, then as a content manager in a children's book company before finding herself back in Malaysia's capitol city of Kuala Lumpur. 

With Homage, a leading technology-driven care and health services platform, this spirit of adventure is something that she encourages as it creates room for growth. 

A leader she manages once told her: "We always expect our managers to decide for us, but it doesn't give us room to grow.

Empowering her team with the ability to make decisions on their own has allowed her to see solutions that she would've never come up with on her own. This experience highlighted the need to build a team with diverse ideas.

"You need to create that space for them: not to decide everything for people under you or people working together with you, but to bring out that space to have room for feedback and improvement."

Create a Safe Space for Learning 

Another meaningful way for a leader to build up the people on their team is to trust them and help them grow, according to Evan Januli, VP of Brands and Marketing at ASTRO, Indonesia's first and fastest-growing on-demand platform for groceries and essentials.

Trust and delegation are essential, he says. This means allowing – or even encouraging team members to make mistakes. 

"Until now, I never, ever tell the team that you cannot make mistakes. In fact, you should make mistakes because no one knows how to run quick commerce, and no one even knows if the campaign is good."

This encouragement can reap great rewards for team cohesion and the overall company; he adds: "I do believe that if you give your team enough room to breathe, enough room to make mistakes, enough room to explore themselves, they will love you, and they will love the brand. And that's where the good starts."

Managers need to remember that at the end of the day, the people working for them are. In the words of Chris Aguilar, they are "thinking, living, human being[s], trying and struggling just the same as you" and are not just an extension of the company. 

From there, he says, a manager should connect with their employees on that human level and share their strengths to support employees professionally and as human beings. 

Reflection questions:

"We build the capabilities that we have based on the community that we're surrounded by. [...] We need the help of the tribe, need the help of the community to help us to be able to succeed." - Chris Aguilar 

It can be easy to be overly focused on getting the "what" and "why" accomplished and to lose sight of the "who" and "how". But building up your company's people power is extremely important for your startup's success because your team members are the foundation of your company. 

As these four leaders have shared, choose people aligned with the company's goal, support your team's decision-making agency, and encourage your team to embrace and grow from mistakes. 

  • When was the last time you thought about the "who" and the "how" of your team's work? How can you approach it differently if you think consciously about it? 
  • Do your team members feel a connection to the work they are doing? How can you help them feel more aligned with the company's mission?
  • Are you afraid of you and your team making mistakes? What is one decision you could give them the space to resolve them?




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