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From Where We Sit

Leadership lessons from two heads of state

Mailene Sigue-Bisnar Mailene Sigue-Bisnar

Listening to two former heads of state as they shared insights and bounced off ideas is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I have learned so much about leadership in the one hour I spent listening to former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and former Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos as they discussed the current challenges facing Southeast Asian leaders. Allow me to share a few of the many leadership insights that I picked up from the two statesmen during our recent Asean Leaders Forum, which we – the P&A Grant Thornton – co-sponsored.

Do not ignore the opinions and ideas of the young…

When asked by Maria Ressa what advice they could give to the leaders of today’s crazy and dynamic world, Prime Minister Mahathir replied, “Old people should give way to the younger people. Wisdom is now with the younger people.” As the architect of modern Malaysia who served as its Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003, Dr. Mahathir was humble enough to acknowledge the value and contributions the younger generation could offer.

Former President Ramos added that we could learn so much about technology and global connectivity from the youth. To me, being a mother of five children, this statement is very relatable. My children often teach me about computers and share with me tips on how to get the most out of PowerPoint. Whether it is using the apps on our smartphones or having a greater respect for people from all walks of life, the young have much to teach us in this constantly changing world.

What I appreciate the most about our two distinguished panelists is that they recognize the importance of young blood, from generation X to the millennials and even to generation Z. For older generations in leadership roles, it is easy to be overcome with power and self-interest, along with the inherent privileges and perks. A true leader, however, recognizes the importance of passing the torch to the younger and emerging leaders and listening to the ideas they can provide.

People of the younger generation are generally idealistic, far from being jaded, understandably because they have not experienced much of life’s harsh realities. They still have boundless energy and don’t seem to get tired of doing whatever work they passionately believe in. They approach things with a clean slate and carry no old prejudices as we, older adults, do. Young people have a right to express their views on matters important to them. As adults with influence and the means to introduce change, it is our role to listen and act on their views in order to improve their lives as much as ours.

But do not discount the wisdom and experience of elders…

While listening and consulting with the young is important, we must not overlook the wisdom and experience that our elders can offer. As President Ramos shared at the forum, “Leaders must listen and consult with their people.” President Ramos, whom Ressa described as the man who has instilled a culture of empowerment and excellence in our government by collaborating with people across party lines and by rallying them under one strategic vision, reminds us that a true leader gathers feedback and insights from individuals of all ages and backgrounds.

In order to shape a better future for the young, we have to learn from the people who lived in the past. Younger and emerging leaders can learn much by listening to the wisdom of their elders and mentors who are far more experienced when it comes to work and life challenges. I especially enjoy talking with the elders in my life, listening to the anecdotes and guidance they have to share. While we might not always agree with the advice they have to give, it is important to acknowledge the wisdom they earned from their life experiences.

I now have a better appreciation of the advice given by my elders as I get older and have gone through similar life challenges and situations. Learning from one another is important, more so from our elders who have been through life’s ups and downs. I always bear in mind and heart the wisdom and advice passed on by my elders, particularly my grandfather, who was a World War II veteran and a Bataan Death March survivor. What I am today as a leader and mother, I especially owe to my grandfather.

The mark of a true leader is in his ability to gather feedback and opinions from other people. A true leader always thinks of others, putting them first when making decisions. An esteemed leader respects the voices of both the young and old. Prime Minister Mahathir and President Ramos exhibited these traits at the Asean Leaders Forum, and the personal insights they shared somehow mirrored my personal leadership philosophy.

Mai Sigue-Bisnar is a partner, Audit & Assurance, and head of Markets Group, of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 partners and over 850 staff members. For your comments, please email or For more information about P&A Grant Thornton, visit our website


As published in The Manila Times, dated 25 October 2017