Views on Leadership – Dato Timothy Ong

Dato Timothy Ong


Dato Timothy Ong is a leading Brunei businessman and the Chairman of Asia Inc Forum, he is also an acclaimed facilitator of business and public policy dialogue in ASEAN and beyond. He served as the Acting Chairman of the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB), Brunei’s leading economic agency from 2005 to 2010


This article was published in the Jan-Mar 2015 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!

What are the characteristics of a good leader?
I believe that a good leader should possess a few common traits. As a leader you must have a vision; for your country, for your company or for your organisation. You must know what your end goal is. You must have courage. Leadership means you have to make decisions that may not please everyone. Go for it, explain it and debate it.

Let’s take a look at the Former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore is probably the only country in the world that has gone from third world to first world in one generation. This probably wouldn’t have happened without his vision and his culture. His vision and his courage as well as his ability to communicate it effectively made him a successful leader.

As humans we are limited in knowledge and wisdom, we can be great but far from perfect. Yet another example is, Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma. She is not yet number one in her country – she has a clear vision built around democracy. And has the courage to stand by that vision.

How important is charisma as a leadership trait?
Charisma helps, but should not be overrated because there are a lot of people making a powerful difference to the world who have little charisma, and some terrible people in the world who have a lot of charisma. Adolf Hitler, he had the whole nation entranced, but that charisma was used for bad purposes. If leaders possess charisma they tend to be more interesting to watch and listen to, but leadership is much more than that. Leadership is the about the quality of the vision. What kind of vision does a leader have – is it inclusive or exclusive, does it create opportunities for ordinary people or not, is it elitist or egalitarian?

Sometimes leaders preach openness but if you approach them with a new idea you get shouted down. A well-known leader projected an image that was very different from the person he was- in private he had temper and was closed.

As such, we need to be discerning we need to look beyond the razzmatazz.

It’s more interesting to look at business leaders because political leaders are more challenging.


A lot of top CEO’s are very good at what they do but are not charismatic. Steve Jobs was charismatic and a great innovator. I don’t know who the leader of Samsung is -but this is a very innovative company, so they must have a “change” leader there.