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Leaders with strong social skills are becoming more valued, says chief of Google Singapore Ben King

The idea of what it takes to be a good leader has changed quite dramatically in a time of significant transformational change post COVID-19. “Executive presence” is not enough, says Ben King, head of Google Singapore in this special series on leadership on CNA’s Work It podcast.

Leaders with strong social skills are becoming more valued, says chief of Google Singapore Ben King

Ben King, managing director of Google Singapore. (Photo: Google Singapore)

SINGAPORE: “Untested” and “maybe a bit too young”.

That’s how the managing director of Google Singapore Ben King described himself thinking back to the time he was sent to Thailand in 2015 to build the business.

The stress of getting the business going would later manifest itself as chest pains that lasted months, said the 40-year-old. Yet looking back, the communications graduate from Australia who took over the top job in 2019, believes the experience made him a stronger leader.

“If I look back now, the learnings that I gained as a leader, (and the) experiences we went through as a team, did two things: As a team (it) helped us build a very, very successful business. It also helped me build skills that set me up for (future) challenges,” said Mr King.

Mr King was the first guest on The Leader’s Chair, a limited series on CNA’s podcast Work It, which is hosted by CNA's Crispina Robert and HR expert Adrian Tan.

In The Leader’s Chair, C-suite leaders from various fields talk candidly about their work and provide insights on leadership lessons they’ve learnt along the way.

Mr King said his experience in Thailand gave him an opportunity to deepen his skills and forge a team that worked well together. But he also stressed that he has noticed that there’s been an evolution of what makes a good leader.

Leaders were once picked for their technical talent, said Mr King, adding that such people had to exhibit “executive presence” and show charisma.

“We used to grapple with this a little bit in terms of executive presence. This need to have executive presence was seen as something that was required to move up or go into leadership roles and over time that's been unwound,” he said.

 A good leader now is someone who may not be the most charismatic speaker but “they could be an incredible thinker and somebody that can influence in ways that other people just cannot”, he added.

Today, these leaders have a combination of social skills like empathy, influence, the ability to listen and fold in different viewpoints, said Mr King.

Here are some excerpts from the podcast:


King: Monday mornings for me are a protected area. I used to start at about 8.30am with one-on-ones. I don't take a meeting now before 12pm, doesn't mean I'm not working. I'm working from 7am to noon. It allows me time to do all my pre-reads, make sure I'm organised for the week, make sure my inbox is well managed. The benefit is that it takes pressure off Sunday. In my house, Sunday is called Daddy Day.


King: As you move on in your career, you go from a set of responsibilities, which are very execution focused. When you move into leadership, it’s actually not about all the things you do. It's about the decisions you make.

It's very hard to make meaningful or thoughtful decisions, if you have no time to consider (and are) constantly in execution mode.

A lot of people develop their career based on really first-class execution. You have to have that foundation but making that transition to be able to be say, “I'm not the smartest person in the room. I'm definitely not the person who knows the most about this topic. But I do have a significant value creation to add in the room.” That's a hard transition to make and something that took me some time.


King: Everybody's career journey is different. And there's various ways to achieve success. I think success is a relative term. Too often people think of success in terms of linear progression or more money. Definitely, they are markers of success but it's changing too.

A career is a journey, almost like a marathon. It’s important to be resilient but also important to enjoy the journey.

(That means) you need to continually evolve and learn (because) the skills required today are going to be different from the skills required in the future. 

Listen to the full episode to hear what Mr King thinks about artificial intelligence, what he does to de-stress and what he considers to be the biggest challenge facing workers in Singapore. 

Source: CNA/jq(ta)


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