Nelson Mandela

Q&A: Right way forward

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 November, 2008, 12:00am


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In your chambers, how do you keep your team motivated? Our set-up is small and the knowledge and skills required of us are obviously different from in a big factory or a corporation. We work closely together and know each other very well, so it is almost like a family. My secretary, for example, has been with me for 18 years - since I started to practise - but it also means there is no chance of promotion. As a boss, you therefore have to think of ways to give job satisfaction and let staff understand that what they are doing is important. Usually, I explain the reasons for doing certain things and the consequences if they go wrong. I also recommend courses and emphasise the need to keep up with changes in information technology (IT). We may know each other well, but it is still a business environment, so I have found it helps to understand the principles of personnel management.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in the past five years? Barristers are specialists who tend to focus on minute details in the cases we are handling and do not necessarily know what is going on in the 'outside world'. I realised that when I was taking a part-time course in Beijing and met a classmate's brother who was working there on an IT project. What he told us about technology and globalisation was so fascinating that I started to look around much more and see how the world is changing.

Even experienced leaders can be poor public speakers. Where do they go wrong? There are two dimensions to this problem. The first is preparation; you have to know what you are going to say and think it through inside out. It can be very embarrassing for all concerned if someone has not applied their mind to the subject. The second is to think about the topic from the point of view of the audience and realise what they want to know. Don't waste their time and if you don't know an answer, be honest about it. As a trainee barrister, my pupil master always taught me to find out about the judge hearing a case and to 'follow the pen'. Basically, if the judge is taking notes, it is a sign you are speaking clearly, relevantly and at the right speed, and that you have the attention of your 'audience'.

How can you pass on your experience to the younger generation? It can be hard for young people to find the right direction in life and, when I look back, I think it would have helped to have someone to give more career advice in my teenage years and to explain what different professions are all about. For that reason, I'm involved in a mentorship scheme at my former secondary school and in the CUHK leadership development programme to help students understand their abilities or inadequacies, and to assist with practicalities like reference letters and scholarship applications.

In your opinion, who stands out as a great leader? Two people I have always admired are Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. They share many common characteristics and, as it happens, both trained as lawyers. Although they used rather different strategies, both were ready to fight for their people and their countries, and showed that we should have the courage to speak out about what we truly and sincerely believe is right and worth pursuing.