About Dr Beng Yeoh
Beng Yeoh was born in Malaysia, educated in England and Canada and has worked in many countries. After studying engineering at the University of Birmingham in 1981, his professional career started in Andersen Consulting.
He then co-founded an IT company in Malaysia before migrating to Australia in 1987. Over the next 20 years, he held senior executive roles in several IT and Telecom companies including Tandem Computers, Computer Power Group and Motorola.
In 2007, he resigned as CEO of Reach Global Services in Hong Kong to pursue theological studies at Regent College in Canada. This led to 12 years of ministry service, helping beggars in India, promoting Christian media and broadcasting in Asia Pacific, and leading World Vision in East Asia, the Middle East & Eastern Europe.
Today, he volunteers in charities and not-for-profit organisations in Australia, serving as a non-executive director of Excelsia College and Help The Persecuted.
Beng has two Master’s degrees, management and theological studies, and a PhD in engineering. He now lives in Sydney with his wife, and together they have two married children and five grandchildren.
Lesson 1: Begin By Envisioning The End 01:56
Lesson 2: Don’t Be Afraid Of Making Mistakes; They Are Necessary For Growth 06:57
Lesson 3: There’s Always Something You Can Learn 12:54
Lesson 4: Know Who To Trust; Without Counsel Plans Fail 15:13
Lesson 5: Change Is Inevitable. Understand It, Embrace It And Managed It 20:45
Lesson 6: You Can Buy Talent, But You Can’t Buy Integrity 25:20
Lesson 7: Choose And Follow A Reliable Compass 32:10
Lesson 8: Develop Your Work/Rest Ethic 37:58
Lesson 9: Value The Relationships That Matters Most 43:53
Lesson 10: Give Thanks In All Circumstances 50:06
Beng Yeoh – You Can Buy Talent, But You Can’t Buy Integrity
[00:00:06] Jeffery Wang: Hello and welcome to the podcast “10 lessons it took me 50 years to learn” where we talk to inspirational leaders from all over the world to dispense wisdom for life, business, and career, in order to provide you shortcuts to excellence.
My name is Jeffery Wang, the founder of the Professional Development Forum and your host today. This podcast is sponsored by the Professional Development Forum, which helps diverse young professionals of any age, find fulfillment in the modern workplace.
Today we’re joined by Beng Yeoh. Beng Yeoh was born in Malaysia, educated in England and Canada, and has worked in many countries after studying engineering at the University of Birmingham in 1981.
His professional career started in Anderson consulting. He then co-founded an IT company in Malaysia, before migrating to Australia in 1987. Over the next 20 years, he held senior executive roles in several IT and telecom companies, including Tandem Computers, Computer Power Group, and Motorola. In 2007, he resigned as CEO of Reach Global Services in Hong Kong to pursue Theological studies at Regent college in Canada.
This led to 12 years of Ministry service helping beggars in India, promoting Christian media and broadcasting in Asia Pac, and leading World Vision in East Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Today he volunteers in charities and not-for-profit organizations in Australia, serving as non-executive director of Excelsior college and Help the Persecuted.
Beng has two master’s degrees, management and theological studies, and a PhD in engineering. He now lives in Sydney with his wife and together, they have two married children and five grandchildren. Welcome to the show Beng!
[00:01:51] Beng Yeoh: Well, thank you very much for inviting me, Jeff. It’s a pleasure to be able to talk to you.
[00:01:56] Lesson 1: Begin By Envisioning The End
[00:01:56] Jeffery Wang: Well, that’s just jumped straight into it then, lesson number one, “Begin by envisioning the end”.
[00:02:03] Beng Yeoh: I remember nearly 30 years ago; I came across this book written by Stephen Covey.
The “seven habits of highly effective people”. And I could relate to everything that he wrote. It really seemed to be wise words of advice and it really made good sense. And number two of his seven habits was to “begin with the end in mind”. That really has shaped a lot of my leadership experience after I came across this invaluable book.
It helps when you’re starting out to have some idea or to be able to imagine what it would be like, at the end. You know, Hopefully it’s a better outcome, a better future. It really helps to focus your energies, your personal efforts and the energies and efforts of your team to us realizing it. I’m really talking about vision casting in a sense, uh, and I’m also talking about goal setting, because usually goals are defined as outcomes or results at the end of the day.
So having that clear view of the destination helps you to plan the journey. And I suppose this applies not only to the job or leadership role, but also the personal development as well.
Um, in addition to that, it also helps you to think about succession planning, because in leadership, nothing goes on forever. I found it very helpful, to be able to identify and to proactively, with intentionality, uh, identify potential successors, right from the beginning, and invest in them.
Because when you hand over, you want to hand over something that is sustainable, an organization that continues to thrive. And that depends a lot on its leadership. So, it takes time to develop leaders. And so, there’s a benefit of identifying ahead of time, the potential successors so that you can gradually give them the opportunity to take responsibility, whenever you’re unavailable, you know, sometimes you can plan to be unavailable so that they can take the opportunity to develop because, there’s nothing like learning on the job.
And the third idea that comes out of this, when you can visualize a better future, a better outcome, it helps to inspire hope and that hope motivates the action and energizes the team as well.
When there’s pressure to look inwards and really get discouraged by just the problem you face in front of you, or the crisis. And that brings to mind a lesson that I learned from, a wise leader that I used to work for many years ago.
And he told me that the leader must always be optimistic about the future, and he used the analogy of the military campaign. In the middle of a battle, if you look worried or deflated or defeated, and the troops will be worried, and they will run away before the battle even begins. So, you got to keep looking confident and optimistic and hopeful.
And of course, my, my personal faith in God, informs and helps me tremendously in this matter. Wise king Solomon said that God has made everything beautiful in its time. And that’s also because God has put eternity in our human hearts.
And there’s a lovely promise in that statement that our divine creator has placed in us a sense of eternity, that there is something much more than our life in this transient world. And even when we can’t see through our current problem, that hope of a better future keeps us going, you know, and it’s, uh, a really very, very powerful thought.
[00:05:51] Jeffery Wang: I liked that point about how a leader needs to inspire hope. And you mentioned that you have hope because you have a certain belief. You know, so my question to you is, can good leadership exist if the leader himself or herself don’t have that hope? So, if a leader goes and paint a picture, that himself or herself don’t believe in, can they still be a good leader?
[00:06:16] Beng Yeoh: Well, I’m not that person I’m afraid. I’m kind of a compulsive optimist. There has to be some sincerity in this though, because you, can’t just simply fake it, you know, because people will see through it.
You know, you have to be authentic in the way that you look at life and the way you look at things, circumstances can be sometimes very discouraging, and discouragement is one of the biggest obstacles to apathy and inaction and failure.
You need to look beyond that and try and lead people beyond that, so that they can pick up themselves from the floor and get on with the job.
[00:06:57] Lesson 2 – Don’t be afraid of making mistakes; they are necessary for growth
[00:06:57] Beng Yeoh: And so that kind of leads me to a lesson that I learned so many years ago. I mean, it was nearly 40 years ago and that’s a scary thought in itself. Uh, I was in the UK. I was completing my PhD, my post-graduate studies in the UK was actually funded by a company that I work for in the automotive industry.
So, I was working as this young project engineer. I had a couple of projects that I was responsible for in the manufacturing technology department. And one of the projects that I was running, it really went badly wrong. Uh, it was a costly mistake that I had made. I didn’t know what to do, except that I, I thought, look, you know, why don’t you be proactive and apologize.
And, uh, so I went to my, I went to my manager’s manager, and his name was John Wilson. He was our group manager, sheepishly went into his office and I said, John, I’m terribly sorry. I made this stupid mistake. And, um, and I was really looking down. I mean, we talk about discouragement, right? I was really down, and he said something that would impact my entire leadership life after that.
He said to me, Beng, looked me in the eye and he said, this, show me someone who has never made a mistake, and I will show you someone who has never done anything. And his words were just so redemptive. It was so uplifting, just what I needed to hear that time. And it helped me a great deal.
And that’s also part of my leadership lesson. You know, sometimes as leaders, if you can speak words of encouragement like that, and you can lift people up from their despair, it taught me a very important lesson for the rest of my life that I would never be afraid to make making mistakes again.
But John also said something else, after that, he said, just don’t repeat the mistake, make sure you learn from it. All right. So, I now begin to see that every mistake is a learning opportunity.
You know, these are the kinds of lessons that you can’t learn in university.
We should not let mistakes stop us from being decisive. My point is that as leaders, we need to be decisive, dithering has costly consequences as well.
You know, no decision is a decision by default. So, leaders need to be decisive because other people depend on our decisions. So, we need to make decisions to move forward. So, fear of failure sometimes can really stop us from trying new ideas. It can be a big obstacle. It leads to procrastination, missed opportunities. So, I, in my optimistic self, I try to then look beyond that and say, look, don’t let this failure get us down.
We can learn from our mistakes, and we can move on. You know, let’s use this learning opportunity. And in a lot of my leadership life now, I’ve really learned about the value of after -action reviews, you know, post-mortems. Even when things go right and go well, it’s helpful to still conduct an after-action review because you can also learn about what did we do right. Not only what we did wrong.
With the comfort and benefit of hindsight, when people can look back and say, oh, that will be a tremendous learning experience, because you can learn from other people’s mistakes as well, you know?
[00:10:26] Jeffery Wang: Okay. So, I just want to take you back a little bit in terms of your story about John Wilson. Um, and of course, that’s lesson number two, “don’t be afraid of making mistakes, because they are necessary for growth”. The question I have in my head, is that this is so much easier said than done, especially for those people who have never really push outside of their comfort zones.
So, for someone who was a bit of a perfectionist, their fear of failure is absolutely crippling. How did you get over that initial mindset? When you started your career, you’re afraid to make mistakes. How do you go from someone who was afraid to make mistakes to someone who’s open to learning?
Um, how do you overcome that mental barrier?
[00:11:07] Beng Yeoh: I learned this lesson very early on in my career. I was just starting out, and I was fortunate that somebody like John Wilson was there, and he had the, uh, wisdom and foresight, to say those words to me. If I were to imagine myself in his shoes, he may have thought, look, you know, this young fellow Beng came to see me in his office.
And he probably is feeling very bad about it. If I were to reprimand him for that costly mistake, without saying something to encourage him, I could destroy him as a person, you know, not just his ability to function as a project engineer.
I think the ability to learn and reflect is very important because, you’re never too old to learn. And there’s always something you can learn, beyond formal education, experience is a great teacher, but only if you reflect on it, just having that experience is not enough.
You need to process it and make sure that it, it really makes sense to you, uh, so that you can internalize it, so that you can externalize it later on in terms of what you have learned. And don’t repeat that mistake.
[00:12:20] Jeffery Wang: For those of us that weren’t fortunate enough to have a leader like John Wilson in our lives that encourages us to make mistakes and learn from it.
Um, it’s important to know or understand that mistakes can be a blessing, especially early on in your career, if you can use that to break out of that comfort zone or that need for perfectionism. And hopefully through the people listening to this podcast, if you don’t have a leader like John Wilson in your life, hopefully listening to this podcast can let you think about how you can move on from that need to be perfect all the time and, embrace the mistakes,
[00:12:54] Lesson 3 – There’s Always Something You Can Learn
[00:12:54] Jeffery Wang: which is actually a great segue to lesson number three. There’s always something you can learn. So, tell us about that.
[00:13:01] Beng Yeoh: Yes. I’ve already mentioned about the learning and reflecting, um, experience is a great teacher. Yeah. Only if you reflect on it.
And so, I suppose that leads me to the point that It’s not just learning, it’s not just knowledge that I’m talking about, I’m talking about seeking wisdom. Knowledge in itself and understanding in itself, is only part of the way there, um, if you don’t have the wisdom to apply that, that would also be counterproductive.
I think it was Winston Churchill who said this, that “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, you know?
We might think we are unique, and we are brilliant. Uh, but there are many others have gone on before us. They’ve already made those mistakes. You can learn from other people’s mistakes. There’s really nothing new under the sun. That leads me to the other point where wise king Solomon said this, “iron sharpens iron”, he also said “fools despise wisdom and instruction”.
So, we can always learn from other people and gain wisdom. And, and so this principle applies to every relationship that we have, you know, whether it’s in work or just in life, even in marriage, I can learn lots from my wife, and I’ve learned to be willing to be corrected by other people as well.
That’s what he means by iron sharpening iron, two hard surfaces coming together in conflict results in a sharper blade, right? You sharpen in yourself when you, are prepared to learn from one another.
So as a leader, I would always apply this principle to myself first, to challenge myself and then to be prepared to challenge other people as well.
So that’s what, I mean, by saying that you can always learn from experience, from history, from other people.
[00:14:51] Jeffery Wang: Absolutely. And so it sounds to me like when you see someone who is quality, who has wisdom, who has character, rather than be intimidated and run away from them, you should be running towards them, embrace the opportunity to be challenged in your thinking, because that will make you a wiser person as a result, which is a great point.
[00:15:13] Lesson 4: Know Who To Trust; Without Counsel, Plans Fail.
[00:15:13] Jeffery Wang: Um, now that brings us to lesson number four, know who to trust, without counsel, plans fail. What do you mean by that?
[00:15:21] Beng Yeoh: That’s a very important point, which you’ve made, um, you know, how can we learn from other people? Because sometimes you can learn bad things from the wrong people too, right? You keep the wrong company, ultimately you become like them.
So being circumspect, being discerning and choosing who you seek advice from is, I think, a very important thing. But the first point is really that we need to be able to keep an eye out for people who can help us, who can give us good advice.
That’s the problem that says without counsel, plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed. And one of the reasons I, I think it’s because we all have blind spots, you know, I can see you, I can see the screen, but I can see what’s behind me, or I can see things that on both sides of me at this time, when I’m looking at you, you know, so who can see those blind spots?
Sometimes other people who come alongside you or you invite to come alongside you, when you share your challenge with them, the issue you’re dealing with, sometimes they can offer you a different perspective. You know, having these wise and trusted advisors opens your perspective up, you can see beyond your own blind spots because we all have personal biases and sometimes, we can have wrong presuppositions that lead to faulty decisions.
So being able to discern our blind spots and welcome these other perspectives helps us to, uh, consider more factors before we face any big decision, and having these trusted advisors is not just a question of just going to them when you have a problem, yes, there may be some who will be willing to help at that point in time, but you need to cultivate them as well.
You know, cultivate friendships with people that you can relate to, you respect that you can trust, who you believe has some wisdom, and I’m not talking of doing it in a selfish way, just for myself to be able to glean advice from them. But because you appreciate them and you want to truly go through life with them,
I think we were talking of having not just one trusted advisor, but a few, you know, a few buddies that maybe could be older than you, or they could be younger than you or could be married to you. Right?
Having a trusted advisor that you can just call or WhatsApp in today’s world, and be able to just talk through things, helps a great deal, and also kind of reminds me of, a couple of other people that have really helped me, one of them, I’ll just call him JVK right, because he’s got a long name and, he’s younger than me, but a very wise leader.
And he taught me. Never make a big decision under stress, calm down, take a walk outdoors, if possible, maybe find a tree in the shade and sit down in the shade and reflect, before deciding. Because rushing a decision means you, you won’t have the opportunity to discern and reflect carefully, especially if it’s a big decision, you know?
Uh, so there was very helpful advice. In an emergency or in a crisis, you’re being forced to make a decision. I mean, this is kind of the opposite of what I was trying to say earlier on, don’t let the fear of mistakes paralyse you from making a decision and to be decisive.
But here, I’m saying, you know, depending on the type of decisions you’re faced with, don’t jump into a decision that have massive consequences, you know, especially if you get it wrong. Um, reflect and think about it. And so that leads me to the, the other person who has given me some really invaluable advice.
I’m speaking of the minister in our church at that time, his name is Simon Manchester, and he gave me this decision-making frame. I sort of refer to it today as Simon’s 4 Cs for discerning important decisions. And the four CS are number one, consider your Circumstances, second, whether you have the Capability to do it.
And third, seek the Counsel, wise counsel, which we were talking about here. And only fourthly, when you reach a point where you have strong Conviction, this is the right decision, then move forward. You know, so I found these Simon’s 4 Cs very helpful. And I, I applied it a few times now in my life, you know, especially for life decisions. Whether you want to make this change of country, take on a new responsibility or, any big decisions, discerning, through this framework of four C’s is very helpful.
[00:20:37] Jeffery Wang: That’s a great, great model. Circumstance, Capability, Counsel, and then Conviction. Thanks for sharing that.
[00:20:45] Lesson 5: Change Is Inevitable. Understand It, Embrace It And Managed It
[00:20:45] Jeffery Wang: Let’s move on to lesson number five. Change is inevitable. Understand it, embrace it and manage it. Now we all know there’s bound to be changes in our life. So, what’s your approach to change?
[00:20:58] Beng Yeoh: In my school days, I was very, very active in the boy Scouts. I was a boy scout leader, and I suppose maybe that’s kind of where I learned leadership. I was responsible for a very big boy scout troop, which included a number of other leaders as well.
And there was a boy scout motto, I’m sure some of your listeners who are familiar with the scouting movement, uh, would know that Lord Baden-Powell, the founder, had this motto for Boy Scouts. It’s just simply two words, “be prepared”, “be prepared”. Be prepared for the unexpected circumstance, be prepared to, to respond. When you go on a long hike through the jungles, be prepared to get lost and survive.
So being prepared means anticipating and expecting the unexpected. Being prepared is also an attitude of mind, um, to cope with change. We all know that change is inevitable. I have five grandchildren now and I look at them how quickly they change, especially in those young little ages, when they start to crawl and they start to talk, and they start to run and then you can’t even catch up with them, you know?
And, and they start to play tricks and they start to get naughty. And I mean, that’s all change right? and in life and work and everything that there’s always change happening, just as the fear of mistakes can really stop us from making decisions, fear of change can also be just as debilitating and paralysing. So really recognizing that change is inevitable, and that you can prepare for change, and you can respond positively to the change. Because sometimes the change in itself can lead to better outcomes or better circumstances in the future.
This whole idea of growing up, getting growing wiser and stronger and more capable, those are all very positive changes in our lives. Right? The point here then is to look at change with the lens that you can really harness the change for something better.
That’s what I mean by not only understanding it and embracing it, but to manage it. To allow the change or to manage it in such a way that it leads to some positive transformation. Of course, it starts from overcoming the fear of change in the first place, and then being prepared for it and then managing it, so that it actually leads to something better.
There’s also another related point here. when I think I have the greatest idea in the world, and if somebody in my team or from somebody that I meet, comes up with a better idea, am I going to defend my idea and fight back and refuse to accept the better idea or should I embrace it? I should be adaptable enough and humble enough to know that, even though I thought I had the best idea, somebody else has a better idea, so let’s embrace it, let’s take it on board and move on with it. So being prepared to change yourself is also an important aspect of this.
And of course, I mentioned earlier on about, about, dealing with challenges and crisis and I’m reminded of Murphy’s laws. You’ve heard of Murphy’s law, right?
Uh, and Murphy’s law.
[00:24:33] Jeffery Wang: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong?
[00:24:35] Beng Yeoh: Yes, exactly. You know, so that’s life, right? And so that’s why we need to do some contingency planning, you know, have the plan in the lower drawer that you can pull out, if you need to. That way you can be prepared for the worst, while you’re striving for the best outcome.
And that’s how you can develop agility and adaptability. And those are I think, very important, aspects of life and in leadership. I learned to really welcome change in my life, I’ve really done a lot of interesting things, because I’ve approached it with this kind of attitude.
Having a positive attitude when you’re faced with change, I think helps a great deal.
[00:25:20] Lesson 6: You Can Buy Talent, But You Can’t Buy Integrity
[00:25:20] Jeffery Wang: Well said, so lesson number six, I liked this one because I deeply believe in this, “you can buy talent, but you can’t buy integrity”.
[00:25:30] Beng Yeoh: Yes. That’s a backstory to this. I had over 40 years of work experience, I think the vast majority has been in Asia.
Uh, and, uh, you know, I, I struggled for many years, with the kind of corruption that I, I see there. You know, And it really challenged my faith, challenge me as, uh, personally. When you’re trying to do business and, inevitably you, you encounter these kinds of situations.
And I, I really looked at, how people got into trouble, how organizations got into trouble, I saw how wonderful people, had their lives destroyed because they, allow the bad influences to corrupt them and have their marriages destroyed and the lives destroyed because of that.
And so, when I left the corporate world and went back to school, so to speak at the age of 50 years old. I went back to study at Regent college in Vancouver. I wanted to kind of process this, you know, theologically, and personally. And so, I wrote a thesis, and my master’s degree there was really partly based on the thesis that I had written there.
And the thesis is entitled “the practice of integrity and leadership”. I explore, uh, the concept of integrity biblically, and from the viewpoint of ethics, as in general ethics and philosophical ethics and biblical ethics.
And I looked at triangulating a lot of that. Studied two CEOs who are quite well known at that time. And both of them claimed to be practicing Christians. One fail very badly and his company was destroyed and the other one thrived.
It was over a period of about one and a half years that I wrote this thesis, a lot of research and interviews and talking to a lot of people. I concluded that the essential difference was not just the claim of integrity, but the practice of integrity that made the difference. It’s not just about, what they claim to be their core values, in fact, both organizations had similar sounding core value statements. You know, if you check their websites, they would say almost the same thing.
But the difference between the two is, one was just, you know, in a sense paying lip service to it. It looked good on the outside. but inside was, was all corrupted to the core. But in the other one, the focus was on walking the talk, and there is a book written about the one that failed, it’s entitled “the smartest guys in the room”.
And I’m speaking about Enron and Kenneth Lay, who was the CEO of that. He employed the smartest people you can get from around the world. You know, the Ivy leaguers, MBAs, top business schools and, uh, the smartest people, you can find, you know, from the top consulting firms in the world and all that.
But when you don’t practice the ethics, the morality, that you claim, that you profess, things can go wrong very badly. They were manipulating the energy markets, and everything came tumbling down. Right. So, walking the walk there’s no substitute. I concluded, for uncompromising integrity, especially in leadership, because a lot rests on leadership. And having that quality of uncompromising integrity.
I think it’s for me a valuable leadership trait to look for, you know, it’s about the character of the leader. That is important.
[00:29:17] Jeffery Wang: So how do you know if someone has integrity?
[00:29:19] Beng Yeoh: You look for tangible evidence of that, you know, uh, and, and that’s the number one, character trait that I look for when I’m interviewing. And I’ve done a lot of, uh, leadership interviews, recruiting, and I, I look at, you know, you, you can try and get it.
I mean, you can ask people to talk about what they hold dear to their heart. What, what are their values? Through a series of questions, you ask them to explain their experiences, right. And you look for the evidence of consistency. You know, you look for the evidence of sincerity, you look for the evidence of authenticity.
You look for evidence where they’ve actually been true to their word, for me, I think the preparedness to admit that they made mistakes or even being prepared to make a big decisions to say no, because it’s crossed the line.
Those things I hold as being valuable clues as to a person’s practice of integrity.
Important positions that I’m recruiting for, I would look not only at references that a recruiter collects.
Sometimes I asked to speak to the person that is getting the reference, you know, so you can probe a little bit further and ask about, circumstances or experiences where there has been any inconsistency. Especially between what we’re talking about here, somebody who is all talk, but without the walk, those are warning signals.
I’ve rejected, very capable, very, very smart people, because I felt that maybe if things go wrong, am I going to be able to trust them? You know, I mean, integrity is about trust, right? When you can’t trust somebody in leadership, where do you go? What happens, I mean, a lot rests on the shoulders of leaders.
If you can be trusted with little things, you’ll be rewarded with trust for bigger things. You know, if you cannot be trusted with little things, how can you be trusted with big things? So, I look for little examples, if they failed the trust in that, in a little example, how can I trust them in a big situation?
You know? So, so I would always you know, pursue integrity, and that’s integrity for people that we recruit or, or people that we look for as potential successors or people that we want to nurture and mentor at work and also for my personal life as well.
You know, we’re all fallible human beings, and so we have to watch our own thoughts. Our attitudes, exercising self-control, it’s the kind of things that you do in secret, you know? Right. We think when nobody’s watching. Especially when you’re in leadership, you need to be watchful.
[00:32:10] Lesson 7: Choose And Follow A Reliable Compass
[00:32:10] Jeffery Wang: Indeed, indeed. Lesson number seven, choose and follow a reliable compass. And I’m guessing you don’t just mean a compass that tells you the direction.
[00:32:20] Beng Yeoh: Well, that’s how this learning started. I was literally following a compass. That’s one of the tools I learned in my scouting days, I could go through virgin jungle and get to my destination. I used to go hiking with a machete and you would chop your way through, even when there’s no path because if you have a compass, you know, you’re heading in the right direction.
So, I, I am talking about a real compass that tells you where it’s true north. If you want to go north or east, you need to head in that direction and just keep going. And you get there. So that was very helpful when I was living in the UK and I lived in the Midlands mainly, and whenever I used to go to London. And in those days, there was no GPS, there was no mobile phone and all we had were those, printed maps of London. Roadmaps. And it’s not easy to drive. In fact, it’s illegal to drive, holding a roadmap in front of you. But I knew how to follow a compass.
So, I actually bought a compass and stuck it on my windscreen. And just by following the compass, I never got lost in London. And having that right compass, made sure that I never took the wrong path and got lost. And, and, and it’s a bit like that in life and in work and leadership, if you follow the wrong compass, you can go the wrong way, and you can get lost. And especially when you’re a leader. Our leadership decisions can have some big consequences and sometimes some leadership decisions can have moral consequences.
So that kind of leads me to the question, do good ends justify bad means? I think there is a danger in having an attitude that in leadership, sometimes you need to do whatever it takes just to get to that point, that you need to get to, just to get the necessary results.
You will do anything and compromise everything. No, I think, well firstly, my faith guides me and secondly, my experience guides me as well. That if you make compromises along the way, especially, I mean, ethical compromises, you end up with something worse.
So, so having a clear guide, kind of a moral guide, an ethical guide, that compass helps guide me in my decision-making, is it going to have a better outcome for greater good the way I’m going to do it. is it going to cause other people to do the wrong things? The means or the approach that I’m going to take, is it going to be illegal? There’s always a temptation to cheat, or to lie, or to take the shortcut, that tramples on a lot of other people, or to climb up the ladder by pushing other people down. There are all kinds of considerations in this and having that compass to guide us, to make sure that we don’t make a decision that you’ll regret later on in life.
[00:35:44] Jeffery Wang: I guess this is a thing that you probably accumulated over the years, right? How do you know that your compass is pointing to true north? And what I mean by that is how do you know that your moral compass is well aligned?
How do you know you’re doing the right thing?
[00:35:58] Beng Yeoh: Well, how do you know that the compass that you buy, it’s actually pointing in the right direction. You compare it with another compass or a few more compasses and you kind of check it against others, right?
In other words, you have a tried and tested compass, right? For me, my maker’s user manual is tried and tested, through history, through the lives of people, through lots and lots of personal experience. So, for me, I can say that my maker’s manual and I’m referring to the Bible, is an invaluable guide for my life and my work.
There’s a lot more to it, you know, there’s a lot more beyond, our present life to look forward to, according to my maker’s manual. So that optimism, that hope, keeps me going on. It keeps me striving in terms of today. Because I know that even when things go wrong here, not everything goes the way I hope it would, that ultimately all things will be made new and, and good. And if I may just add one more little quote, I remember this from one of the professors that I had at Regent college. He just died, I think last year, aged 95 or something like that.
His name is J I Packer. Well-known Oxford theologian. He wrote this, he said “readiness to die is the first step in living”. So, if we’re ready to die, it helps frame our whole life. Doesn’t it. Right? Anticipating that will happen one day.
It helps us to kind of appreciate our life today, and it helps us to stay on the right path, so that we will reach a happy death.
[00:37:51] Jeffery Wang: Oh, that’s very profound. You know, people who are afraid to die have not lived.
[00:37:57] Beng Yeoh: Indeed.
[00:37:58] Lesson 8: Develop Your Work/Rest Ethic
[00:37:58] Jeffery Wang: Moving on to lesson number eight, develop your work rest ethic. You know, I’ve heard of the work ethic. What is the work rest ethic?
[00:38:09] Beng Yeoh: Yes. Again, the, uh, the backstory is. I have to confess that for many years in my working life, I was a workaholic. You know what it’s like when you’re working in Asia, especially. People who would not want to go home because they felt that doing a good job is going home when it gets very dark, when it’s late at night, people work so hard. And, and so did I.
There were occasions when I felt I was getting really close to burnout. But thankfully I didn’t, burnout and wither away. Uh, I was able to bounce back and, you know, you’ve heard the story work hard and play hard, right?
I’m sure you’ve heard it many times before. And that was the Enron story. You know, the smartest guys in the room, they would work hard and play hard, and look where they got them.
So, when I left the corporate world and spent these wonderful years at Regent college in Vancouver, it’s a beautiful spot in the world.
You know, I mean, Sydney is beautiful, but Vancouver is beautiful. Uh, beyond compare. We were on a campus of the University of British Columbia. It’s on a peninsula, you could see the sea and snow-capped mountains in the distance, you know? and it’s a 20-minute drive to the ski fields from where I lived. And we had a forest next to us, and so I took time to smell the roses, so to speak, you know, as a student.
I really felt that it was a kind of a sabbatical, you know, it was an opportunity to not only smell the roses, but to kind of re recreate, you know, a time of renewal.
In, in my case, I wrote a couple of papers. One of them was a sabbatical paper. In my research, I learned that the ethic of rest is just as important as the ethic of work, it’s just the way we are created, you know, the creation story God created for six days, and on the seventh day he rested right? That’s why we have weekends. You know, we worked for five or six days a week and then we rest. It’s also in our daily rhythm as well, we work during the day, we play during the day, and then we rest at night, right?
How many people can survive without sleep? I can’t, I don’t think you can. I don’t think anybody can survive without sleep. It’s just the way we are wired. We are made this way. There is a rhythm of work and sleep, work, and rest, there is a daily rhythm. There is a weekly rhythm. There is a longer-term rhythm as well.
That’s why in work, we have annual leave. And I found that actually quite a number of companies had sabbatical leave as well. You know, one of the companies I’d worked. Tandem computers had sabbatical leave, after 10 years you have sabbatical leave in Australia.
There’s an author Eugene Peterson who wrote that there is a kind of a daily, weekly, monthly depletion in our own being that cannot be revitalized in our daily rest cycles or weekly rest cycles is a kind of a longer-term depletion.
There’s a decay in our energy levels. If we keep working hard and working hard. And, and so that’s why the longer-term sabbatical leaves and long service leave and all that helps us to recover.
I learned from that, that there are actually a whole series of words that start with R E. So having this rest ethic, includes spending time where we are spending redemptive time. Rest time, there is a time for renewal, time for a refreshing, a time for rejuvenation and includes recreation, playing sport and running, or going out for walks and all that is part of our resting from work, in a sense, doing something different is also a way of refreshing ourselves.
And recreation means making things new. It’s when we are resting, that’s when our body heals. So, there’s a healing and transformative aspect. And in the old days where rests from agricultural work means returning to your home village returning and reconnecting with family. Repairing or restoring relationships, forgiving one another and revitalizing connections.
They’re all part of the ethic of rest.
It’s about making things new again, and I’m talking of not just physical rest, but rest for your mind, rest for your emotions, the rest for our spirit and our whole being, our soul resting is just as important as work.
I would pursue excellence when I’m working, but how many of us pursue excellence in our rest?
The papers that I wrote was in a sense, quite redemptive for me too. It helped me to kind of reframe my understanding of life, understand also a sense of timing. There’s a time for work there’s is a time for rest and in life, you know, sometimes timing is everything.
[00:43:53] Lesson 9: Value The Relationships That Matters Most
[00:43:53] Jeffery Wang: Absolutely. Thank you very much for that. And lesson number nine – value the relationships that matters most.
[00:44:00] Beng Yeoh: Yes. It’s probably a lesson that people tend to learn when they get older in life, you know, and friends one by one start to die off, or loved ones die off. Of course, the pandemic, sadly has accelerated that those, some of those events or for some people.
It’s when you are facing the idea of leaving this life or somebody close to you that is leaving this life. That you begin to appreciate how much that person has meant to you, but that shouldn’t be the case for life. Right? I mean, it shouldn’t be just at the end that you appreciate somebody. You should be investing in that appreciation today, when you still have life ahead of you.
On your tombstone, nobody’s going to write he was a great executive, he made so much money and he had all these titles, and you know, what’s going to matter at the end of the day? The people who you love most. Right. And for me, it’s not just my wife and my children and grandchildren and my extended family.
But at the centre of it all as the anchor of my faith is my God. My relationship with God, it matters a lot to me and my relationship with my wife and my children and grandchildren matters a lot to me. And there are significant others as well earlier on, I talked about walking with brothers and sisters, people that you would appreciate and respect as trusted advisors or people that walk the journey of life with, they’re all gifts to us, right?
When you appreciate the relationship, you want to spend some time in it and you want to invest in it, and you want to develop mutual relationships, where you would encourage one another, you would inspire one another, you sometimes challenge one another. You know, having life giving relationships, I think is very helpful.
If we work so hard and we forget our families, you can’t make up the time again. you know, I was a very hardworking father, and one of my regrets is that I didn’t spend enough time with my children in the years when they needed me most. I was always traveling, around the world and, I wish I had the opportunity to spend that time with them again when they’re young. But I can’t, it’s gone. Don’t let those opportunities go past and have those regrets later on. But now I’m so thankful and in a sense, quite redemptive that I’m able to spend some time with my grandkids.
In my last significant role, I led the world vision operations in a couple of regions. And my last region was the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
And I’m talking about love. Right? And as a Christian, I claimed that I love God and I love people, but I was seriously challenged by my national director from Afghanistan. So, Jim Alexander, I was just starting in the role, and I hadn’t met, I was overseeing 13 countries and Jim was one of my national directors that I hadn’t met before.
So here I was just arrived in Columbia, in Bogota for a global meeting at the airport. I bumped into this person who had just arrived as well on another flight from Afghanistan, and we chatted, and he introduced himself. And I did myself as well, and I found out he was Jim Alexander. Who’s going to be my national director in Afghanistan.
And he asked me, why are you here? I have no experience as a humanitarian prior to this. And some reason they put me in charge of you and the other countries like Syria and Iraq and others. So, I said simply look I believe I’m called to this role. God is calling me and, I believe that this is what I’m supposed to do.
And he said, hey, calling and obedience to God is not enough. Do you love the people? And, you know, I was going to be his boss and he was challenging me. Do you love the people? And I say, Jim, what are you talking about? Do you love the people? Of course, I do. And he said, do you really love the people?
And he asked me, and he said, he explained, he said, look, you know, the reason we persevere and continue to work in Afghanistan where there’s so many problems. And of course, now the problem is getting even harder with the Taliban taking over. And Jim said, the reason that we keep going in helping those poor people and suffering people in Afghanistan is because we love them.
Do you love them? I said, I haven’t even met them. How do I love them? How can you love the people that you don’t even know? And it really challenged me. I shared it with my wife and we both went through a period of introspection, and we really examine our own hearts.
When we say we love God and love people, do we? They’re very different people to us. Some of them can be very violent, but many of them are very, very poor and suffering. Will you love them? And helped me to really understand what it means to truly love somebody. Love means giving without expecting anything in return.
And I found that in my visits to Afghanistan, Jim’s challenge really helped me, you know, I could approach these people, who were very different from myself and from my own personal circle of friends. But I, I really felt for them, and I wanted to help them. Even though we come from a different faith, you know, they accepted me because I was speaking the language of love.
[00:50:06] Lesson 10: Give Thanks In All Circumstances
[00:50:06] Jeffery Wang: All right. Thank you for that. And lesson number 10, give thanks in all circumstances.
[00:50:11] Beng Yeoh: As a person of faith and the person who has seen a lot and received a lot, I’ve learned to be thankful for what I’ve received. The Bible teaches us to rejoice, always, you know, give thanks in all circumstances, because this is the will of God for you.
But it’s more than that. It’s because it’s also good for you, you know, being thankful for what we have helps me to really think about the good gifts that I have received, even when things are not going well.
Appreciating the good things that we have received in life and work and the good things that have happened, helps me to do, to maintain a positive attitude and an optimistic approach to my work and life.
We may think that we have earned everything that we have achieved and so on.
But there’s always more to it. There are some things that, that beyond us, sometimes they surprise us and acknowledging that we are just stewards of what we have been entrusted with.
I’m a steward of my family, my wife, my children, and grandchildren, and so on.
And at work as I’m a leader, I’m a steward of the organization and the people and the resources that are there. And, and so it’s an attitude of gratitude helps in my stewardship, how best do you use or apply those resources for the greater good. uh, But that attitude of gratitude is also very encouraging for your people as a leader.
A simple, thank you sometimes can go a very long way. Sincere appreciation when expressed generously is a great motivator for the team. I’ve learned as a leader; you always look out for others to thank them. I think we are all wired that way. We work better when we are appreciated, Giving thanks in all circumstances you know, it’s been a tremendous value to me in my life.
[00:52:19] Jeffery Wang: Indeed. by, by giving, thanks, what you actually saying is that, you know, there may be things that you got that you don’t deserve. It puts you in a much better mindset in order to make wiser decisions.
[00:52:31] Beng Yeoh: Yes, indeed. The glass is. Never just half empty. Right. You know, it’s also half full. You can see one way or the other.
You can approach someone and say, look, you’ve only done half of what you’re supposed to do. You failed. Or you can say, look, you’ve already done half of what you’re supposed to do. Let me encourage you to finish the other half.
One is much more uplifting and motivating and the other one can be soul destroying, especially if the person has worked so hard just to get the first half done. And to only to be told it’s only half full
so, this is about developing wisdom, there’s a lot of wisdom in, in looking at the glass as being half full versus half empty, being appreciative for what has already been done sometimes, so that you can motivate the completion of the rest.
[00:53:25] Jeffery Wang: Indeed. And that’s, those are very wise words. And with that, I like to thank you for spending your time with us today and sharing your 10 lessons.
[00:53:34] Beng Yeoh: Yes, it was my great pleasure to have the opportunity to talk about this. This exercise has been very helpful for me to think these things through, because sometimes you just get on with life and you don’t reflect enough. So, this has been very helpful for me personally as well.
Thank you very much Jeff.
[00:53:50] Jeffery Wang: Thank you. And we’re deeply appreciative of that. And we’ll finish on that note. You’ve been listening to the podcast “10 lessons it took me 50 years to learn”, where we dispense wisdom for career, business, and life. Our guest today has been Beng Yeoh sharing the 10 lessons it took him 50 years to learn. This episode is produced by Robert Hossary, sponsored by the Professional Development Forum, which offers insights, community discussions, podcast, parties, anything you want, anything you need and the best part it’s all free. You can find them online at www.professionaldevelopmentforum.org.
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