Leadership Conversation with Dr. G.T. Ng



Dr. G. T. Ng 

Dr. G. T. Ng, Executive Secretary
Seventh-day Adventist World Church

Dr. G. T. Ng was elected Secretary of the General Conference in July 2010. He is one of the three Executive Officers of the Church (the other two being the President and the Treasurer). He serves as an advisor to the Office of Adventist Mission, the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, the Institute of World Mission, and the Ellen G White Estate.

Dr. Ng holds a bachelor’s degree from Southeast Asia Union College in Singapore. His post-graduate work includes a master’s degree from the Adventist Theological Seminary in the Philippines and a Ph.D. from the Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. He worked in Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, and his native Singapore, prior to coming to the General Conference (Image and Bio Source: https://secretariat.adventist.org/leadership/secretary/)


DL: How and when did you first see yourself as a leader?  Who have been your leadership mentors? 

GT: I never saw myself as a leader until much later in my career.  I didn’t see it at my first job posting when I went to Cambodia as a missionary since there wasn’t any leadership expectation.  Neither did I see myself as a leader upon my return to Singapore where I served at Youngberg Hospital since my area of work did not require leadership.  Later, I became a departmental director at the Southeast Asia Union Mission and I still didn’t see myself as a leader.  The inkling of leadership was not awakened in me until my next role.

It finally dawned on me about being a leader when I got to AIIAS, Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies.  I was asked to be the Assistant Dean of the Seminary, but I was most reluctant as I was not ready to be a leader.  The president of the institution became rather impatient with me as I did not respond with an answer for 3-4 months.  Finally, I agreed to accept it with the condition to serve only for a year and subsequently review it a year later.  After 2 years, I became the Dean.  I saw for the first time that I had the leadership potential even though I did not volunteer for leadership.

Years later, I ran into a couple of “volunteer” leaders while attending leadership training at a university.  They were people who overtly saw themselves as leaders. Two vice presidents took me aside and tried to impress me with their “president” wannabe overture.  Wow, those were the “career” volunteer leaders that I would stay far away.

Although God has been my mentor all through the years, there was one “earthly” mentor, Dr. Mervyn Hardinge, whose humble leadership impressed me greatly.  He was then the Health Director at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.  A highly learned man with an MD and two PhDs, he impressed me most with his humility and dedication.  Each time I heard him speak in Singapore and interacted with him, I could not help but wish to be a leader like him.  His impact on me resulted in us naming our son Mervyn after him.  What a tremendous example of a servant leader.  We do not have a shortage of leaders.  We need more servant and spiritual leaders.

DL: What is your biggest leadership lesson or “Aha” moment?

GT: There is no one single “aha” moment as it has been a continual learning process.  I have learned to stay clear of “volunteer leaders” and there are plenty around.  I have grown to be impatient with them because they think a world of themselves.  They try to impress us and ask loaded questions.  They are not shy of telling and showing how good they are as leaders.  Here are a few important lessons I have learned about leadership:

  1. Leadership is not politics.  Leaders who think leadership is mostly about politics are not spiritual leaders. They lack the spiritual foundation and thus they use politics to wield power and influence.  They are on shallow ground and it will come back and bite them.
  2. Leadership is not position.  Position is visible and temporary; leadership is subtle and indefinite.  From one position to the next, spiritual leadership continues.  The leadership by position is a sickness in the church, just like any other organization. It is sad that many are defined by their positions.  I’m not tied to my position and my leadership continues in whatever responsibility assigned to me. I define my position and stay true to who I am.
  3. Leadership is stewardship.  Talents, time, money belong to God.  When I am called to a position, I’m the steward of the position.  Whenever my term of office is up, I’ll bring an empty box to my office, empty everything, thank my staff, and bid them farewell.  I may not see them again and so we need closure. I’m ready to be transferred and I have no disappointment.  Unfortunately, a year before the 2020 General Conference Session, many “volunteer” leaders will sing the song “I shall not be moved”.  Some will hum the GC election “theme” song: “I’m pressing on the upward way” while others :“Pass me not my Gentle Savior, Hear my humble cry”. This song is not uncommon either: “Is my name written there”.  I’ll remind them to sing the song “It is well with my soul”.
  4. Finally, a lesson from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi martyr who wrote the classic, “The Cost Of Discipleship”:  when God calls you to be a leader, he bids you to come and die.  How does a Christian leader talk about a position?  Leadership is much deeper; it’s a spiritual journey with God.  Your leadership continues even after retirement. It is more far reaching than a position.

DL: How has your leadership style evolved? 

GT: I used to teach leadership courses for years, covering topics in leadership principles, theories, and skills.  But I became disillusioned with “classroom” leadership training and I literally threw away my syllabus.  I found that spiritual leadership is the true foundation of leadership.  When the foundation is missing, leadership becomes superficial and political.  My current leadership style is that of “directed consensus”. It is leading a team but not dictated by the group.  I would sell the idea to the group and invite and value their contributions.  It’s building consensus among the group guided by the group leader.

Do you consider yourself a natural leader (NL) or serendipitous leader (SL) and how would you work with a NL and SL? 

GT: I’m not a natural leader, but a reluctant leader.  Over time, I accepted the leadership role as I could not be a reluctant leader forever.  I find it difficult to work with natural leaders as they think they have the answers for everything.  It’s a problem with some gifted people, but we still need to bring the team together.

Reluctant leaders need a lot of encouragement.  Their talents and leadership are discovered by the group.  Working with reluctant leaders, I would remind them that when they are called to be leaders, God will qualify that call.  Over time, God will make you the kind of leader He has intended for you.

Could you think of a question in your leadership journey that is still perplexing or inexplicable?  Why has it been perplexing? 

GT: This question perplexes me: “Why am I chosen?”  I don’t like the limelight; it’s not my cup of tea.  Why does God choose a person who prefers to be behind the scene?  It scares me to be out in front.

Over time, you don’t have to let the question bother you.  Yes, there was no answer to why I was chosen to be the Assistant Dean at the Seminary?  No answer, but it awakened my leadership consciousness.

Final thought, what’s ahead in your leadership journey?

GT: My next chapter is being written.  We are in the hands of God.  It’s very intriguing we are writing the book of Acts in our own way.  God’s in control and our role is following his direction.





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Leadership decision making: Trust Your Gut?

Businessman choosing the right door

Do you trust your gut? I have worked with several leaders who confessed they trust their gut feeling in a lot of major decisions – especially having to do with hiring. Other terms for this might be instinct or, with a nod to gender, woman’s intuition. The term can sound quite mysterious (somewhat of a “black box” experience) where things stir around inside and out pops an impression you feel can be trusted. I believe that while it may have a subconscious element, gut feeling is a skill that can be strengthened with experience.

This capacity is a feedback loop between what you observe (visually and auditorily) from the environment, and what your experience and insight does with that information.  For example, you may be interviewing someone and at an almost subconscious level you note their lack of eye contact, or the pauses in answering a simple question or the sound of a dry mouth.

Each of these cues, added to other more conscious information you are receiving, is processed outside of your conscious awareness many times. By the end of the interview, you have this gut feeling that there is more to the story than you are being told. You may choose to use this information to ask further questions or probe more deeply on the ones you have asked.

Do you trust your gut? I believe we should listen to our gut – not for a final decision, but to pursue further information or clarification. The more experience we have the more we see this as a reliable source in a sometimes complex process.  What do you think?

— Don

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Leadership Conversation with Dr. Esther Beltran


Dr. Esther Beltran

Dr. Esther Beltran, MD, MS, DrPH
Chief Scientist, Human Space Exploration
Deputy Director of NASA SSERVI REVEALS
Florida Space Institute
University of Central Florida

Dr. Esther Beltran is a medical doctor who has studied how humans can survive and thrive in extreme environments. Her career has had a large impact in the aerospace field and in areas where people need to be prepared to endure tough conditions. Most of her professional work has been in male dominated fields for which she has been a trail blazer and an equalizer for women. She is an example of how women can excel, achieve their own aspirations and continue their life’s work regardless of their chosen field. It is her personal passion to enhance the status of women and children worldwide. (Source: Editorial Reviews at Amazon about Dr. Beltran’s book “Fly High, Reach The Sky: 7 Ways for Women to Take Action in Life”)

DL: How and when did you first see yourself as a leader?  Who have been your leadership mentors?­ 

Dr. Beltran: It started out at an early age. I was not intimidated by authority and spoke my mind. As early as grade school, around 7 or 8 years old, my classmates would point at me and identify me as their leader.  It continued through middle school but the truth is: I really didn’t want to be a leader.  Yet, they saw me as their leader since I was not afraid to speak up and fought for them.  For instance, at a banquet when I was 13 years old, the school picked a native American theme for the evening.  Every student in my class was asked to write a name for each other that would fit that person.  The teacher went through the suggested names from the class and chose a nickname for me: “Wise Eyes”.  In high school, I was elected as the class president but I declined.  I needed to focus on my studies. I did the same thing throughout medical school: declined leadership roles.

The hero who encouraged me to follow my passion was my uncle.  He was a trauma surgeon who influenced me to become a surgeon. Ever since I was five years old, I wanted to be a physician.  My uncle saw that vision and passion in me.  Among my high school mentors, one stood out: a science high school teacher, Oscar.  He saw the talents in me and told me, “You need to move forward”.  I did my best in the high school placement test. I was surprised that I was strong in all disciplines and it greatly encouraged me. When I told my high school teachers my desire was to go to medical school, they said that I needed to take sciences and maintain a high GPA.  Oscar continued monitoring my progress and guided me socially as well.

During residency, I was training to be a surgeon under Dr. Huguet, the Chief Surgeon. I started out stitching and working on the pig’s feet during the training period, moved on steadily, and eventually became his assistant. He would tease me in the operating room. One of the best compliments in my life came from him when he said: “I should give you a pair of sunglasses because you are learning too fast”.  He was the best in his field.  However, he had multiple sclerosis and his health deteriorated through the years. At times, after intense hours operating in the OR, I would pick up on his fatigue and bring a chair to him. I was fortunate to continue training and learning from him, and he helped me develop social skills and how to work with strong personalities.  Yes, some accomplished surgeons have strong personalities.

DL: What is your biggest leadership lesson or “Aha” moment?

Dr. Beltran: It’s to show up, follow up, and follow through.  Once you show up, you need to follow up.  The key thing in this process is following through.  You need to evaluate how long it takes to follow through while knowing when to stop, cut your losses, or pursue further.  For instance, I enjoyed writing my book; however, at times it was such a painful process that I would rather have had an appendectomy.  But I persevered because I knew the end would be rewarding. It was worth it!  After hearing someone speak about book writing, I thought I could do it.  I showed up but not sure if I wanted to follow up and much less follow through.  I really didn’t know how to follow up regarding how to write a book or follow through in getting a publisher.  Finally, I decided to write my story.  It was not easy to get started, just like anything in life it takes discipline. The editing of the book turned out to be harder than I thought.  Listening to the inner voice, I persisted and finally finished the book.  Although it was meant to encourage others, I desperately needed to see it done, for myself.  I needed to see the result! Now when I look at the cover, I chuckle at the lengthy process that ended well.

DL: How has your leadership style evolved? 

Dr. Beltran: I do not micromanage.  I believe that if you have the right people, get out of the way, and let them do their job.  Be there to support them and advocate for them.  The core in me has not changed over the years, but it has become more efficient with maturity and experience.

What has changed is I have become more selective.  I am not sure if I want to be in multiple roles anymore.  I am more selective regarding my time, focus, presence, and battles.  I am in a position now that I could choose research or projects that are uplifting rather than draining me.

What appeals to me is putting things together and working with teams.  I am all for a common goal toward learning and achieving together.  I enjoy putting people to work subtly, without them knowing it.

DL: Do you consider yourself a natural leader (NL) or serendipitous leader (SL) and how would you work with a NL and SL?

Dr. Beltran: I am a natural leader with some reluctance.  As nicknamed the “Wise Eyes”, I observe quietly and learn a great deal.  The “Wise Eyes” is my approach to lead naturally and the desire to grow drives my leadership.  If I’m not growing, I’m dying.

There are all kinds of leaders in the real world, especially among the Type “AAA” personalities in the space industry. For me, I stand my ground.  I am fully aware of my boundaries and I don’t hesitate to let them know.  Interestingly, it turns out that they would respect me more even though it is a male dominated field.  They see me as a student but I take it as a compliment.  Yes, they still think I’m too young and wonder: “What does she know?”.  Although I can’t change how they think of me, I stand my ground and lead them nonetheless.

Overall, I am a reluctant leader who believes in learning from each other.  It’s really a two-way street.

DL: Could you think of a question in your leadership journey that is still perplexing?  Why has it been perplexing?

Dr. Beltran: It’s working for NASA, preparing for the mission to MARS.  It is very perplexing indeed!  How on earth are we going to design and build a viable habitat for space? As a physician, I’ve never dreamed to be involved in the science fiction projects.  How did I get into this?

Another perplexing thing about human nature: leaders who should know better still go about their foolish ways.  And on top of that, they complicate it with politics. We need to have smarter and wiser leaders.  They could use some help from the widely known “Serenity Prayer”.

DL: Final thought, what’s ahead in your leadership journey?

Dr. Beltran: I’m working on my speaking style, aspiring to become a motivational speaker and producing personal development products. Now I have the opportunity to do educational and public outreach for the NASA projects. I really can’t wait to get this started. I feel alive when I’m surrounded by great people who are also humble in sharing their experiences with young kids and younger generations. Have fun, doing practical things where science shows up everywhere in life. The physics of how we open the door at home apply to how we go to Mars.  I love to surround myself with fun-loving people, energizing me with their enthusiasm for life!






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Leadership Conversations with Dr. Richard Hart


Source: Loma Linda University Website

Dr. Richard Hart is the President and CEO of Loma Linda University Health since 2008.  Named one of “110 Physician Leaders to Know” in 2016 by Becker’s Hospital Review, Dr. Hart received his MD from Loma Linda University in 1970 and a Doctor of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University in 1977.  He was previously the chancellor and CEO of Loma Linda University.  Currently also serving as the president of Adventist Health International, Dr. Hart impacts global leadership in healthcare while he still commits to seeing patients one day a week.  

Home of the only Blue Zone in North America and one of the five Blue Zones in the world where the healthiest people live, Loma Linda University is known for its medical education, heart transplant, and the acclaimed NIH funded Adventist Health Study 1 and 2, which provided the data for the high concentration of centenarians that contributed to Loma Linda being identified as a Blue Zone.

DL:  How and when did you first see yourself as a leader?  Who have been your leadership mentors? 

Dr. Hart: Although I did not seek any office, I was elected the class president in high school, college, and medical school.  My name was placed by the nominating committees in various leadership roles. It is done differently today and you need to run for leadership roles and offices.  If those days were like today, I would not have been in those leadership roles as I would never run for any office.  That’s me and I have never applied for a position in my life.  I just took the positions when I was asked.

My early mentors were faculty in high school and college who nurtured me about life and work skills.  One of my great mentors was Dr. Jim Crawford.  After my return from the mission work in Africa, he guided me in my career and leadership development.  He encouraged and appreciated those who worked for him, rather than exerting undue pressure.  The other mentor was Dr. William Dysinger who influenced me greatly in the passion and perspectives of Global Health.

“Those who are reluctant to lead have turned out to be better choices”


DL:  What is your biggest leadership lesson or “Aha” moment?

Dr. Hart: As I have chaired a lot of search committees, I have discovered those who think they are leaders are usually not the best choice.  Instead, those who have the skills and reluctant to lead have turned out to be better choices.

Secondly, leadership is about balancing between goal setting and timing.  It is important to know when to back off or change leadership direction.  It is easy to set goals and directions but they need to be tempered by reality or timing.

Thirdly, include humor in leading.  I heard this in a meeting that leaders need to have 3 bones: a wish bone, a back bone, and a funny bone.  The wish bone is about the wishes and goals that propel us forward.  The back bone is the strength and determination to implement the goals. And the funny bone is the sense of humor, lubricating and smoothening out the process.  Naturally I have tried to bring humor to discussion and working with leadership teams, helping them relax and feel comfortable with each other.  Maintaining cordiality and personalization in team work have greatly enhanced my leadership journey.

“…Self confidence…but also a healthy dose of self-doubt”


DL:  How has your leadership style evolved? 

Dr. Hart: Over a span 30 year of leadership at Loma Linda University, I have developed a sense of self confidence, gut, and reality but also a healthy dose of self-doubt.  At times, I wondered if I was seeing the right issue.  As I have worked enough cross culturally, I realized that I might not understand others fully or see their perspective clearly.

I was very passionate early on in my leadership journey. Now I have mellowed and a little less passionate, letting timing play its role.  Timing is very critical in decision-making.  There is a time to push and a time to slow down.  Waiting for the right moment is key in any leadership role.  Although there are times we ought to do something and I don’t easily take no for an answer, I recognize sometimes we need to move things around and still could arrive at the same outcome.  So, I mentally have plans B and C to get to the ultimate objective. When I see where the momentum is going and the support to move forward, I would let that be my guide and push for it accordingly.

I have great satisfaction in letting others take the lead for two reasons: 1) to grow them and 2) to be more effective leaders.  As I plant ideas and let them lead, I don’t need to take credit but I would be happy when it happened.  It’s definitely more gratifying.  I’m happy steering the bus from the back and pulling some strings.

I’m happy steering the bus from the back…


DL:  Do you consider yourself a natural leader (NL) or serendipitous leader (SL) and how would you work with a NL and SL?   

Dr. Hart:  Although I am a reluctant leader and I don’t try to grab things, I’m also a natural leader.  I don’t go by the study of leadership principles and thus not much confidence in the leadership books.  My gut is the best guide on how to lead.  I identify the right people, grow them, and let them lead.  I put them in committees and responsibilities and keep moving them up as they develop.  I have become more upfront at my current age to tell hard-task leaders to slow down and rethink their leadership strategy.  I have given more directives in containing such leaders in the last decade and modeled for them when to move forward and when to hold back as a key component of any leadership.

“The biggest responsibility is putting people in the right positions”


DL:  Could you think of a question in your leadership journey that is still perplexing or frustrating?   What do you see is a great need in the field of leadership development? 

Dr. Hart: The biggest responsibility of a leader is putting people in the right positions as judging people in a particular role is not easy.  I have made mistakes and it is frustrating that we can’t do a better job in predicting who would succeed in a given position.  Another challenge is leadership rivals.  In a book about Abraham Lincoln, the Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote about the team of rivals.  As I have competing teams working with me, I keep them moving forward by maintaining peace and collective leadership effectiveness. I identify talents and let them grow rather than educating them about leadership principles.  Most leaders came out of intuition and how to relate to people, not so much in reading books.

DL:  Final Thought – What’s ahead in your leadership journey?

Dr. Hart: My current thinking is about succession planning at LLU.  I’m now 73, not much time left to make that happen in trying to identify people who can carry this “burden” in general in LLU, and in particular my position.  After that, I would still stay involved globally as the president of Adventist Health International.  It’s hard for me to slow down.


Source: Loma Linda University website


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Surviving Imposter Syndrome: A Serendipitous Journey


(Source: https://www.hbscny.org/)

I heard Beth Comstock interviewed about a book she had just published entitled: Imagine it Forward: Courage Creativity and the Power of Change. Beth has been an executive at GE, NBC, CBS and Turner Broadcasting.

In the interview I was surprised to hear Beth confess two things. One, that she was a reserved person who, early on, had to force herself to speak up. And, two, that she had struggled through the years with feelings of insecurity. She said she had often felt others in the room were smarter and more creative than she was.

She identified qualities that have been associated with the Imposter Syndrome. The term was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes to refer to high-achieving individuals who had a difficult time acknowledging their achievements and who were dogged by a fear of being exposed as a fraud. While the early research focused on women, it is now seen to affect men and women in equal numbers.

While there are various ways of addressing this, we propose several:

  1. Acknowledge that each of us have God-given talents
  2. That our talents have a unique configuration different than anyone else’s.
  3. Avoid at all costs comparing the talents you have with those of others.
  4. Accept the fact that God gave you those talents to use to help others
  5. That discounting your talents diminishes their effectiveness

In a conversation years ago, a hospital executive confessed to a colleague that there were others who were more capable than he was. But, he believed God had put him in a place of leadership and he would ignore the comparisons and simply do his best. Not a bad strategy.

— Don

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