Asian Executive Presence: Mervin Yeo
If there ever was a quiet hero, Mervin Yeo, would be it. Mervin, director of My Preferred Business, is well-known for his introversion. But that has not stopped him from drawing people to himself and launching the Introvert Network Asia.
It started with a small group in Singapore five years ago. Today, his network extends out to three cities – Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Jakarta, with a total of 3,000 followers and growing. He champions introverts to rise up the corporate ladder and claim leadership positions.
Mervin is proof that building presence doesn’t entail being larger than life and definitely not loud.
1. What is leadership to you?
In the past, I thought of leadership as something that revolves around titles, designations and big personalities. Now, I look at leadership as a combination of communications, processes and practices.
2. What are your motivations and influences in becoming a leader?
I have never strived for any leadership role. I often describe myself as a “reluctant leader”. I step up into leadership roles whenever I see a need for it.
Whenever I look at bad practices of management teams and those in leadership positions or injustice suffered by their followers, whether they are employees, clients or members, I will ask myself, Can I make a difference?
I do not always have to be the key person, but I surely will do my part to ensure the right person fulfils that role.
Without a doubt, there were people in leadership who have inspired me or influenced my way of thinking. At the same time, I have seen leadership change for the worse because of power rather than for the people.
I am a strong advocate of mentoring, and I have always had mentors as a source of advisory and guidance from their experience and knowledge. I also believe in peer mentoring. Also, that good things must be shared not hoarded. Hence, I find myself always mentoring others.
3. In your opinion, what does it take to build an executive presence?
I think the key traits are not visible but experienced, namely trust and integrity. I do not believe in manipulating to influence but to appeal and attract followership. I often tell my mentees and proteges for leadership roles – character first, competency second. Competency can always be trained.
I belong to the “old school” where exchanging handshakes and making eye contact is essential in building relationships. However, because of the social media platforms, I have tried to be more active on Facebook and LinkedIn.
One way to be influential to many is through collaborations and alliances with network leaders. I am active in selected online communities and make my presence felt by posting articles and sharing my thoughts. I also connect with network leaders of such communities and offer them my support.
4. What knowledge/skill did you have to learn on your journey to leadership?
SOHK (School of Hard Knocks) is what my mentor always believes is the secret to success in his life. Learning by experience. Learning by taking calculated risks. Observing and lots of reading.
I have always believed that respect must be earned. We are not self-entitled just because our designation suggests authority over others.
While many of my values are derived from biblical principles, I see many connections to the principles of Confucianism. Here are a couple of quotes on wisdom, learning and leadership:
“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”
“If a leader isn’t serious, he will inspire no awe and lack a solid foundation in learning.”
5. What was your greatest challenge?
My most significant challenge in leadership was also my best teacher. It was a sad experience because it revealed the integrity of the top two leaders in the organisation I was in then. It was a painful lesson in leadership for me, but it was worth the pain.
I questioned the decision made by my immediate superior because to me it was not the right thing to do. For fear of losing revenue, he went back on his word. I was not willing to compromise, so I challenged him. My mistake was not in questioning him, but how I did that. It made him look bad to his superior. That made him mad as hell, so he gave me a tough time and started nit-picking.
I had to make a value-based business decision that day. I chose not to follow this leader. I quit! It was the best decision of my career.
Asians are less outspoken than our extroverted co-workers. What I did by questioning the CEO may have been seen as insubordination to these people, but I know I did what was morally right for me. If I kept silent, it would go against my values and principles.
6. What was your moment of greatest fulfilment so far?
My most enormous sense of fulfilment came from mentoring future leaders. Many have applauded me for starting the world’s largest referral organisation in Singapore. However, what I am really proud of is knowing that I had trained and mentored future leaders of the organisation.
I am thrilled that I started a networking community for introverts, not only in Singapore where I am based but also in Indonesia and the Philippines. It takes much effort to get introverts to network. It takes even more determination to mentor leaders to run these networks.
It’s always lovely to receive testimonials from those who have benefitted, but it’s really fulfilling when I see introverted individuals develop more confidence to interact, speak, host and lead.
7. What do you expect from a leader that you are mentoring?
I believe in servant leadership which is essentially leading with others in mind. When I mentor my community leaders, I always ask the big why.
Why do you aspire to be in that leadership role? To me, it is crucial that my decisions and actions are aligned with my purpose, which is serving the community and the people I lead.
About Asian Executive Presence
Asian Executive Presence movement is started by Dean Shams to bring an Asian perspective and voice to the topic of developing Executive Presence. The blog features Asian executives, entrepreneurs and leaders who exude presence. They are either hand picked by Dean or nominated by someone.
The interviews are meant to gain a deeper understanding of how these individuals think about leadership and build a strong presence.
You don't have to be a top executive to exude presence. Leadership can be displayed and experienced at any level of the corporate ladder. And I want to celebrate that.
Know someone who exudes presence? Nominate him/her to be interviewed. Click here