Khairul Anwar: Architect of Innovation, Builder of Leaders

Khairul Anwar | Executive Director | Innovation Coach | Design Thinking, and ESG Facilitation
Khairul Anwar | Executive Director | Innovation Coach | Design Thinking, and ESG Facilitation

Khairul Anwar proudly brandishes the baton of ingenuity and leadership in the vibrant realm of innovation where creativity meets business acumen. From the nascent days of conceptualizing a digital photo frame in the late ‘90s to pioneering a healthy café business and venturing into the domain of online learning startups, Khairul’s entrepreneurial spirit knows no bounds.

Amidst the ebbs and flows of the startup world, Khairul found his true calling in developing talents and fostering innovation. His brainchild, DT LEADERSHIP, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, founded in 2013, stands as an embodiment of his ability to nurture ideas into impactful ventures. Despite the challenges, he persevered, channeling his energies into coaching, training and advisory services. His knack for Design Thinking & Innovation Development and Executive Coaching Leadership Development sets him apart.

Holding the position of Executive Director, Innovation Coach, Design Thinking, and ESG Facilitation, Khairul’s influence extends beyond the boardrooms—it permeates community courts and educational initiatives. His collaborations with medical professionals and support for youth basketball training underscore his commitment to making a difference.

Let’s explore Khairul’s approach, marked by a blend of innovation, mentorship and community engagement that continues to inspire and shape the future of innovation leadership!

Can you provide a brief overview of your professional background and experience in the fields of Innovation Coaching, Design Thinking and ESG Facilitation?

As a professionally trained Innovation and Climate Change Coach, I’ve worked and facilitated various types of clients for over 20 years. They are from multi-billion dollar MNCs, regional & national champion companies and local SMEs. I founded DT Leadership in 2013 with the aim of assisting our clients to be stronger in leadership and innovation through coaching, training workshops and boot camps.

My team and I have been advocating SDGs and ESG since its establishment in all our innovation workshops. In the early years, there were a lot of trappings, lack of purpose and unhelpful mindsets such as scarcity and dissonance around this topic. In recent years especially after the pandemic, the commitment from the government to all sectors increased with the recently launched i-ESG Framework. There’s a new hope emerged!

How do you define innovation coaching and why is it essential for organizations today?

Innovation coaching is simply a form of communicating the problems that need solving in organizations. A lot of times, many things don’t get done properly because of miscommunication, especially between internal departments and customers. From the top office right down to our salesman—fronting the customers (physically and digitally).

With the help of innovation tools and proper coaching approaches, we help top management, their generals and the workforce identify problems, explore opportunities and experiment with possibilities for customers’ insights.

Let’s face it, today’s organization has to focus on the 3P—Planet, People, Profit (shareholders not listed here, sorry!). This is where innovation coaching comes in as the trusted guide, with compassion and strengthens internal connections.

As someone deeply involved in ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) facilitation, how do you define sustainability leadership and why is it crucial for businesses today?

The current landscape of sustainability places excessive emphasis on governance, leading to an exhaustive checklist approach that organizations struggle to fulfill. Despite heightened commitments, implementing substantial changes proves challenging, as evident in endeavors like the Energy Transition 2050.

Recent appeals during the UNGA underscore the need to rescue Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) along with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives due to insufficient progress. The persistent focus on self-interest and patching existing flaws rather than fundamental transformation is a concern, akin to repairing a ship’s holes instead of saving the entire vessel.

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) face mounting challenges and their survival is contingent on adaptation and change. Collaborative efforts between government authorities and SME leaders are pivotal. Furthermore, larger corporations must shift their mindset from cutthroat competition to collaboration, fostering an environment where everyone benefits. Startup support is vital, as their innovative solutions often outshine established businesses clinging to outdated models.

The ESG landscape needs the fixation on governance neglecting critical aspects of environmental and social factors. These elements encompass energy consumption, waste reduction, fair labor practices, workplace safety, and more. A shift in focus towards these areas is overdue, encouraging a holistic approach to sustainability.

True leadership, exemplified by visionaries like Paul Polman, who championed sustainable living and equity at Unilever can drive meaningful change. Polman’s call to abandon incrementalism in favor of exponential thinking remains relevant, urging a departure from mere checklist fulfillment towards transformative actions that truly safeguard our future.

What are some common challenges organizations face when trying to implement ESG practices and how do you assist them in overcoming these challenges?

ESG is a visionary goal, therefore there are a lot of uncertainties, fear, pressure, and resistance from internal and external. The two common challenges are to positively educate the top management and to positively impact the rest of the workforce.

Companies do not innovate, only the people in the company do. We have to educate, train and coach our top management and workforce. They need to be inspired to think and do great stuff for sustainability.

Many organizations still implement ESG practices just by “doing less bad this and that,” “we save paper,” “we switch off lights when not in use,” and “we plant buckets of trees.” These were 20 years of initiatives!

Organizations now need to think of solutions that are regenerative and restorative. They have to look at the system in which their companies operate. There are always opportunities if we look hard enough or reach out to get help.

As an Innovation and Climate Change coach, my role is not here to judge, moralize, or convert clients to my ecological stance. My role is to ensure we are not in denial and blaming others that spiraling into powerlessness and scarcity mindset—we need to see abundance and open up our receptors wide.

How would you describe your leadership style and how has it evolved over the years?

As an innovation coach, my leadership style is highly adaptable and tailored to the specific needs of innovation teams and boot camps. In intense situations, where teams demand solutions, I provide them with initial motivation (10-20%) to ignite their progress. Once motivated, their determination drives them to find the remaining 80-90%.

Occasionally, I adopt an authoritative stance, pushing smart individuals who may not exert enough effort due to their academic successes and high salaries. Surprisingly, when challenged, they improve significantly and later express gratitude. I believe in celebrating successes during the journey, creating a fun environment that enhances creativity and employing positive intelligence techniques.

I recognize the need for continuous evolution in leadership. Adapting to diverse situations, upgrading knowledge, honing skills, and learning from failures are crucial. Leaders failing to evolve lose influence and relevance in the dynamic landscape of innovation.

As an Innovation & Climate Change Coach, what leadership qualities do you believe are essential for guiding teams and organizations in a rapidly changing business landscape?

Climate change is a human crisis and therefore it is the human that must change. We have certainly crossed the planetary boundaries in many parts of the world. We have to help our top executives, innovation teams, workforce, and business partners listen to the Earth screaming. We have to learn to connect the dots and events or else we will fail the future generation.

There are many different essential leadership qualities around but to be continuously in denial isn’t one of them. It seems we now have to do the impossible!

Leaders need to learn to make their people feel safe to make this change and experiment with new ways of doing things. Some people may feel threatened because they might lose their jobs, so why should they support or join the change?

As an innovation leader, what kind of legacy do you aspire to leave in your field and how do you measure the impact of your work?

I’d like to see my work impacting our client’s outcomes just like door hinges. Those little hinges hold the door steadily. With a door, we can go out and come in, safely. We can separate boundaries and protect our families and businesses. Can you imagine what happens if your doors are without hinges?

It’s a behind-the-scenes job supporting top executives, their generals and their workforce to look great innovating their companies into unknown territory with confidence! I love it 🙂

Is there anything else you would like to share about your experiences, your organization, or your vision for the future?

I am a big fan of innovation since my teenage years. I used to cut innovation articles from newspapers and magazines in my teens. The habits continued when I started office work where I like to keep those papercuts in my jacket to read while waiting for client appointments.

I conceptualized a digital photo frame in the late 90s, hand-drawn fast fashion design for ladies’ shoes, started a cafe business in the late 2000s and created an online learning startup that landed me into the Stanford program more than 10 years ago. I also designed a social finance concept for top talents, some fintech stuff and several others.

In short, I’m lousy at scaling ideas but really good at facilitating & coaching innovation teams. Hope you enjoy my little adventure story! Here are some thoughtful and influential leaders who are truly inspiring—Jeffrey Sachs, Charly Cox, Jacqueline Novogratz, Britt Wray, Seth Godin, Alison Whybrow, Mo Ibrahim, and Greta Thunberg, to name a few.

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