Inspiring lessons from Alvin Ung, renowned author of Barefoot Leadership

I met Alvin Ung today, he gave a talk to the guys at Teach for Malaysia, about building Super Teams. He was very friendly and encouraging when I told him about my little project, and he also gave me ideas of authors I should also check out, including Jeffrey Fox and Adam Grant.

The culture in Teach for Malaysia is amazing, there was such a supportive vibe in the room, and you could tell that they cared a lot about self development, for individuals and also the organisation. As soon as the talk ended, they immediately discussed possibilities of implementing some of Alvin’s ideas.


Here are my two personal interpretations and takeaways from the session:

– Super teams are created when companies are able to align their goals with each individual’s personal values and goals

Alvin shared a story of a company in Netherlands (it had a very unique name, which I cannot remember now), which won several awards as preferred employers. This particular company included each individual employees personal goals as part its performance management process (think goals such as “losing weight” or “travelling more”), allows time   for employees to achieve these goals, and also takes these personal goals into account when rating the employees’ overall PERFORMANCE in the company.

It seemed to be such a strange and unique idea, but it makes perfect sense if you pause for a bit to think about it. Of course, its not all about personal time. By evaluating how aligned an employees personal values are to the business, it also ensures the right employees are hired and retained.

– Super teams are full of “givers”, it’s not all just about skills, people are genuine friends with each other

It’s important for teammates to work well with each other, or be friends, in the context of a work environment. When this happens, the support and sharing of ideas happen naturally, which flows through to planning and then execution. When people do not work well with each other, teams will struggle to move forward as a unit, as individuals look out for themselves, resulting in an overall poorer team performance compared to a united team.


To conclude, frankly there were many more lessons and ideas discussed and I do not think my interpretations do justice to Alvin’s research and work on the subject. I would highly recommend people pick up his book Barefoot Leadership (I am not paid to promote this), and I hope it will inspire and show many Malaysians who think they are ordinary, that they can be great leaders too.