Asia Leadership Youth Conference 2019

Written by Jessie Koh Jie Xin

On the 23rd of February and the 3rd of March, the Asia Leadership Conference (ALC) took place in Sunway University in the form of a 1-day leadership conference. Featuring Harvard Teaching Fellows, participants were exposed to various leadership activities to learn what is ‘real leadership’, through a mixture of plenary sessions and interactive workshops. The theme for this year’s Asia Leadership Youth Conference was “Personal Leadership: 21st Century Skills to Navigate through Changing Times”.

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At 9a.m., the conference started heartily with John Lim initiating the participants to shake hands with fellow participants and the Teaching Fellows. He commended the participants for attending this conference on a Saturday morning because it was an action taken to do something, emphasising the point that “leadership is a conscious choice”. The fact is, 80% of the ALC programmes are for adults but John felt that he prefers to work with young people as they are more receptive to change and represent new life. Then, the Teaching Fellows went through a round of self-introduction with a fun fact about themselves.


After that, Matthew Turner gave a Smart Talk which was roughly 20 minutes. He chose to give the participants an insight into leadership through a relatable role model – teachers. Using quotes from many famous leaders such as John F. Kennedy and Benjamin Franklin, he led in to his topic “Lead like a Teacher”.

To summarise, there were 5 points:

  1. The Teaching Mindset
    Leaders should act like teachers to fill in the gaps for their members. Instead of having the extracting or taking mindset, leaders should have the giving or helping mindset like a teacher.
  2. Making abstract concepts real
    Leaders should be able to break down ideas into digestible points so that they can help their members connect the dots. They should also be filled with commitment and engagement.
  3. Modelling what you teach
    Leaders ought to set the tone for the whole team to get them excited and to establish expectations. It is also a far more effective way of leading.
  4. Mentoring
    Leaders should recognize potential of their members and challenge them. “I care about your potential” is the message that members receive so that leaders can help them achieve something greater than imagined.
  5. Setting Big goals
    In continuation of the previous point, challenges should be given in the form of big goals to push members to achieve higher and learn more. The accomplishment of these goals will become valuable experience along with beneficial results.

Turner concluded his Talk by assuring that teachers gain a lot in return as satisfaction comes through enabling others. He reiterated his point to “Lead like a Teacher” in order to have greater outcomes for everyone.

Next, Samuel Kim gave a plenary session on leadership using his life experience. The takeaway points are the three parts to a leader, the Head, the Hands and the Heart. The Head represents knowledge and students are studying full-time to prepare their Heads. Other than receiving, contribution of knowledge is paramount so that people can learn from each other. The Hands represent skillfulness and the execution of tasks. On the contrary of the Head, the Hands are not limited to oneself and it is possible to benefit others and contribute to the society through them. The Hands give meaning to the amplitude of the Head. Last but not least is the Heart, the integrity of a person must not be compromised and only do what is good.

There are many smart and skillful people out there but fail as a person because they do not have the right heart. For example, during the Wall Street crash in 2008, 5 in 10 jailed were from Harvard. This is especially true in the world now that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Therefore, it is important for people to consciously gather knowledge, be skillful and have a good heart.

At 10.30a.m., the participants broke out into groups. Each participant had the choice to select two workshop sessions and two professional development sessions. The sessions were carried out in classrooms with a Teaching Fellow in each. Due to the small amount of people in each classroom, participants were able to engage interactively in the sessions.

At around 4p.m., participants were gathered back into the JC Hall. Jessica Lim gave a Smart Talk on “Leadership through Martial Arts” by relating her leadership experience with her taekwondo background. There are 5 steps in leadership:

  1. Adaptability: Like a martial artist, the leader is a master strategist who controls the game after assessing the opponent – when to block, when to evade. To quote Bruce Lee, “Be water, my friend.”.
  2. Overcoming fears: In martial arts, fear is part and parcel of training as being hit is a constant concern. When people fail as a leader, they attract attention to themselves and it is off-putting. This is akin to losing in tournaments in martial arts. However, leaders have to pick themselves back up and overcome that fear.
  3. Trust the process: Leadership is a continuous learning process. To quote Harvard Business Review, “Leaders must get comfortable with living in a state of continually becoming, a perpetual beta mode.”.
  4. Teamwork: There are people around to help support, teach, and cheer us on. These people are all important.
  5. Breaking Glass Ceilings: Leaders have to take risks to achieve their dreams, including breaking social limitations and stereotypes. Lim used her personal experience of previously being the only girl in Muay Thai as an example.

She ended by mentioning the matter about martial artists training in front of a mirror to enhance their pose and improve themselves. Leaders should also do the same by reflecting on themselves constantly.


The last activity of the day was a dialogue session featuring the host CALI-Atlas Corps Fellow Nirva Delacruz, Teaching Fellows Matthew Turner, Orianne Montaubin and Jessica Lim. They were open to questions from the participants and the panel did their best to answer the questions posed based on their personal experience and exposure, including questions like “what was the most challenging thing to deal with as a teen?” and “how to get into Harvard?”.


At 5.10p.m., the conference came to a close. Participants went to collect their certificates and mingled around with fellow participants and some even interacted with the Teaching Fellows. The event was successful and participants had a fruitful day. The comments from the participants on this event were positive and some expressed that they “gained new perspectives”. Personal leadership comes before leading others, leaders have to lead themselves consciously so that they can lead others to the greater good for everyone.

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