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How Are You? The First Question in Leadership

A rebel at heart, a passionate leader, a laidback mother, and a supporting wife – there’s no title Sri Widowati doesn’t wear well. From being a local in Jakarta, to an expat in Singapore; Regional Director for an FMCG company to Country Director of a tech giant; she’s conquered everything. As a leader, Sri Widowati or Wido (as she prefers to be addressed) has inspired all those who comes her way, and today she’s here to share her journey with us.

As a leader, you rated yourself as an 8 out of 10 and said there’s room for improvement. How would you set the tone with your team?

I believe that setting the tone and building relationships are key to any leader’s success. For me, the first step is getting to know my team members; checking in on how they are and understanding how I can be there for them. Sometimes people don't make enough time to establish a connection and only focus on the task at hand, especially for someone with an Alpha personality like me. We sometimes miss out on why people can’t deliver their tasks, and neither do we ask if they need support. As someone who is very driven by the output and achievements; I often end up telling my team what to do, especially when I am under stress. That’s when my personal style and almost two decades of experience comes to play. So, in these instances, I try to be mindful about checking on the team’s pulse and their well-being to ensure that I am taking them with me and not just pushing them forward.

You’ve been in the industry for about 2 decades now. As a leader, you have a vision of the direction the industry is going to take. What do you think will be the biggest change in the next decade?

The world is changing so much right now, and this past year is a testament on how life can change in just an instant. We used to be able to just go into the airport and fly anywhere without thinking. COVID-19 has thrown this stability off balance and it’s become extremely difficult to set our expectations for what the future holds, whether it’s in an organisation or in our personal lives. As a leader, I have had a fixed mindset on how to do to things; because my experience has taught me to do things a certain way. But now, everyone’s forced to take a step back, unlearn a lot of things, and look at the bigger picture how all these changes in the world is impacting our current reality. This whole situation resonates with Adam Grant’s book on “Think again: Knowing What You Don’t Know”, which has forced us to ask ourselves if what we are doing is the right thing to do. If I had to pick one change that the world will have to adhere to, I’d say it’s the ability to take a step back and to constantly ask ourselves if there is a different way to see & do things.

What is the biggest career risk you’ve taken?

I have many of those, to be honest. One which strikes a chord till today was when I was an expat in Singapore, working with Unilever. After 15 years with them, I was longing for a new challenge; but was unsure of what was next. Can you imagine being a single mom with two kids in a foreign country and a break from work for 9 months? It was scary! Yet, I took that leap of faith, and without thinking twice, quit my job.

What’s the turning point in your career?

For me, that’s when I detached my value as a human being from my role as a professional. We often tend to associate our self-worth with our title and what we do. My role as a big shot Regional Director with this big FMCG became my entire identity; and I had to disassociate myself from that to realise that I’m just me. I’m not limited to any professional title; and was able to better see things from a third person’s point of view. It’s more about doing the thing that felt right to me and where I can make the biggest impact. As a woman, we have other roles to play. As a mother, I have all my pride and joy coming from being one; but I’m trying to also not associate so much of my self-worth based on that. As an individual, we need to know who we are outside of all the responsibilities, and the titles that come along with it.

What are your thoughts on Ibu Kartini?

I think she’s an awesome role model - she’s able to drive change and transformation in a way that’s not very aggressive. She married her husband at the young age of 20, and while some people look at that as a defeat; it was actually an empowering relationship. He supported her choice to continue studying and even helped her to open a school for women. Alpha females like myself, tend to be more aggressive, while she does it in a way that's very graceful. She takes people with her, rather than eliminating them from her mission

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