Having completed the Spring 2018 Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge program, Dr. Muhamad Ikhlasul Amal is now primarily employed as a researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences’ Research Center for Metallurgy and Materials. Committed to the concept of knowledge creation, Amal and his colleagues at a start-up called Nanocenter established a platform for the incubation process of research products to support entrepreneurship. In addition to his professional activities, Amal is also an advisor to Nanoedu, another start-up which works with high schools to develop students’ skills such as critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration through Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education.

―How did your stance on leadership change after completing the Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge program?
Before the program I really had no idea about how to define the term “leader.” In my prior education I didn’t learn about philosophy or think about the true meaning of leadership. Among the government institutions here in Indonesia, leadership is merely about how you manage the work, the structural coordination; it’s not about inspiring others or trying to motivate them. I couldn’t distinguish between simply management and true leadership, but now I know that these are two different things. Needless to say, going into the program I had a very limited mindset.

The program taught me the right mentality of a leader, that leadership is not about distributing work, but how you improve yourself while trying to inspire and lead others. We were given many real-world examples from which we could draw inspiration. In Singapore, past prime ministers like Lee Kuan Yew illustrated that a leadership mentality encompasses the courage to make the right decisions and gain trust to lead others. You have to walk the talk, and that is very difficult, especially when you yourself might not have enough confidence.

―What type of leader would you like to become in the future?
In the future I hope to become a transformational leader with the ability to inspire people. It’s important to understand how to use different types of leadership wisely at different times. Perhaps I am comfortable with one dominant type of leadership, but I have to try and develop the skills to handle different kinds of situations. The objective of this kind of leadership is not just to change yourself but to change those around you as well.

―What are your major takeaways from the program and how are they helping you now in your day-to-day working life?
A major takeaway for me that I always remember is “knowledge creation.” This concept is based on an understanding that we have to improve ourselves all the time, and use that knowledge to serve and lead people.

Taking the idea of knowledge creation and knowledge sharing to heart, my friends and I established the start-up Nanocenter to act as a catalyst for innovation. Through this I hope to disseminate knowledge and experience to budding entrepreneurs in Indonesia.

The program also helped me appreciate diversity, as we encountered people from many different backgrounds. The program itself even took place across different countries besides Japan including the US, Thailand and Singapore, so that was a very valuable experience to develop more of an open mind.

Finally, I would say that the program not only changed my mindset but my attitude towards professionalism. People in Japan are very disciplined in their work and I found that diligence to one’s duties inspiring.

―How would you describe the Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge program in a single word?
When I looked at the syllabus for the first time, I noticed that we would be studying aspects of finance and management, among other subjects, which I was already familiar with. Initially, I doubted that there would be anything really new– these were subjects I could learn elsewhere. However, the awakening for me came about through the experience of working with so many others. We had to practice teamwork and collaboration, and try to be as creative as possible. Consequently, we all developed strong bonds with our fellow classmates.

The awakening was also evident in how we had to open ourselves to others before opening our mind to learning. We learned to respect and accept others, and be open to exchanging ideas. We had to develop intellectual humility before we could grasp the ideas of the program and let them influence us. I’ve attended other workshops and seminars since then, but they just didn’t compare with this program.

―What are your future goals?
My primary work is in academia, and I hope that I can improve my standing as a researcher in the future. My focus at the moment is on gaining a position as a professor, which I hope to achieve in the near future.

If life provides me with an opportunity to excel in my career, I hope I can benefit others and make a positive impact on them. In Indonesia, there are few success stories for how academics or scientists can contribute to society through their research. We haven’t been that innovative as a country, partly due to our abundance of and reliance on natural resources. In my opinion we haven’t seen the kind of true innovation through technology and science that there has been in Japan, Korea, and Singapore, for example.

―What type of leadership do you think will be need in the post-coronavirus era?
The current pandemic has really demonstrated to me that the best type of leader is one who can calmly guide people, but is also decisive and firm. Politicians, for example, often think about their own political positions and end up trying to compromise between what people want and what should be done.

―Do you have any message to others interested in applying to the program?
My message to others is, just go for it! The program is really hard to describe succinctly, but I can say that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and definitely a life-changing one at that. You cannot have this sort of experience in other programs. It’s very different and unique in terms of the people you are going to meet and the places you visit, not to mention the curriculum that you will study.

1. Summary of what was learned, changes in leadership
The program really changed my mindset about leadership; before I used to think it was merely about managing work but now I realize it’s about inspiring others and trying to motivate them. I now try to develop my own leadership skills based on respect for other people and gaining their trust.

A key takeaway from the program was the concept of knowledge creation,

2. Scenes or situations to apply what was learned on the program
I try to share about this new concept of leadership with my colleagues. I’m also applying the concept of knowledge creation in startups that help disseminate scientific knowledge and experience.

3. One-sentence summary of the Global Leaders for Innovation and Knowledge
The program is really an awakening – I was surprised at just how unique the experience was, and how it changed my mindset toward leadership.

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