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7 Questions on Leadership with Zainol Zainuddin

Name: Zainol Zainuddin

Title: Chief Technology Officer

Organisation: iPay88

Zainol Zainuddin is an accomplished leader in IT Transformation, boasting an extensive career spanning over three decades. He has consistently provided exceptional guidance and direction to numerous IT Operations and undertaken large-scale Program/Project Management initiatives, primarily within the Financial and TELCO industries. In 2023, He's also been inducted into World CIO 200 by Global CIO Forum ; Malaysia Chapter @

Zainol's track record showcases his ability to effectively manage and advise a wide range of projects, ranging from modest budgets of RM250K to substantial ones reaching RM390M. His portfolio encompasses notable achievements, including spearheading Core Banking replacement programs, overseeing Internet Banking implementations for both retail and corporate sectors, managing regulatory compliance projects mandated by BNM (Bank Negara Malaysia), and successfully handling Payment and FINTECH programs.

A key attribute of Zainol is his proficiency in delivering IT Strategic plans that align with agreed roadmaps and priorities. He excels in leveraging his interpersonal skills and change management expertise to excel in stakeholder management—an indispensable component for ensuring the triumph of any transformation program.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Zainol's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Being a leader has its fair share of challenges, and I've learned that addressing and growing from these hurdles is crucial. Here are my thoughts:

First, managing a diverse bunch with distinct personalities, work styles, and expectations is no cakewalk. It's an ongoing effort to keep the team motivated, engaged, and aligned with the same mission and vision.

Implementing process change in a legacy team is another hurdle I've faced in my leadership journey. Picture trying to shake things up in a team with age-old practices and a 'we've always done it this way' mindset. It takes patience and savvy change management to push through the resistance.

Then, there's making tough calls. Leadership isn't always sunshine and rainbows. It often means making decisions that aren't the most popular but are vital for the organization's growth. Balancing team needs and organizational goals can be a real tightrope act.

Another leadership challenge is managing interdepartmental teams, trying to coordinate teams from different departments with their unique priorities and objectives. It's like solving a puzzle every day.

Ensuring top-notch communication and team-building skills to guarantee team cohesion is another area of concern. Some team members are tight-lipped when it comes to sharing what they know, either due to job security concerns or guarding their territory. Encouraging knowledge sharing and creating a culture of learning isn't a walk in the park but It is something that needs to be done.

One thing's for sure, leadership is a journey, not a destination. Over time and with experience, these challenges become less daunting. I've learned from the good, the bad, and the ugly, adapted to the ever-changing landscape, and always strived for improvement. As I continue on this journey, I'm all in, committed to turning these challenges into stepping stones for growth, not just for me but for my team too.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Becoming a leader has been a journey marked by several key steps. I started from the ground up, entering the corporate world with a determination to learn and grow. Climbing the corporate ladder, I embraced each role as an opportunity to gain experience and build expertise.

My journey involved a blend of formal education, including management institutes, whether local or overseas; and online materials that equipped me with essential knowledge and frameworks. Equally crucial was my informal learning path. I sought mentors who generously shared their wisdom and insights, helping me refine my technical and leadership skills.

Observing other leaders and bosses was also a significant part of my development. I carefully examined their actions and behaviors, extracting valuable attributes to adopt and making a conscious effort to leave behind any detrimental practices.

Importantly, I've learned from my own missteps and errors along the way. Each mistake became a lesson that I've carried forward, shaping my leadership style and reinforcing the importance of continuous growth and self-improvement.

This journey of growth and development has been instrumental in shaping me into the leader I am today, constantly evolving and striving to bring out the best in myself for my team and the company to which I'm attached.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I believe in a balanced approach to my daily routine, combining my professional commitments with my spiritual and personal development. As a Muslim, I start my day early by waking up before the time of Fajr to perform Solat Subuh or Fajr prayer, an essential spiritual practice for Muslims. After that, I usually engage in light exercises, such as stretching, to get the blood flowing and energize myself. Depending on how I feel, I may either have breakfast or skip it. I just don't eat when I don't feel hungry. It might not be the best approach, but it works for me. Then, I'm off to work, whether at the office or from home, always with a clear plan of tasks and priorities. During this time, I dedicate focused attention to my professional commitments. As the workday nears its end, I try to complete any remaining tasks and prepare for the next day. Along the way, I take short breaks to perform my Zohor and Asar prayers. After work, I allocate some time to relax and engage in activities I enjoy, as well as spend quality time with my family. I guess, nothing out of the ordinary.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

In my role as a leader, I've come to understand that leadership often goes hand in hand with a sense of authority and responsibility. I vividly remember a significant conversation I had with my mentor quite some time ago, a conversation that left a lasting impact on my approach to leadership. During this conversation, my mentor emphasized the critical concept of 'fiduciary duty.'

Over the years, I've consistently emphasized and prioritized the paramount importance of upholding our fiduciary duty within my team. This principle serves as the cornerstone of my leadership philosophy, reinforcing my commitment to the well-being of those I lead. Although 'fiduciary duty' may appear to be legal jargon, its significance goes beyond mere words; it serves as a guiding light for those entrusted with the care and welfare of others.

This concept has become my moral compass, steering me as a professional to place the best interests of my clients or beneficiaries above all other considerations. It reminds me that as a leader, my foremost obligation is to ensure the welfare and success of those I serve. Upholding fiduciary duty reinforces my dedication to maintaining professionalism and transparency in all my actions, without any hidden personal agendas.

Knowing that I have given my utmost to fulfill my fiduciary duty to the company I am affiliated with brings me a profound sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. It provides me with the peace of mind that allows me to rest easy at night, knowing that I have consistently acted in the best interests of those who rely on my leadership and guidance. This commitment to fiduciary duty is a core pillar of my leadership philosophy, guiding my actions and decisions to create a positive and trustworthy environment for my team and stakeholders.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Instead of discussing a book, I would like to talk about an author, Simon Sinek. Simon Sinek is an inspirational author and speaker whom I deeply admire for his unique approach to leadership and his ability to inspire positive change in individuals and organizations. There are several reasons why I appreciate and resonate with Simon Sinek's work.

First and foremost, Simon's emphasis on the importance of purpose and why we do what we do resonates with me on a profound level. His famous concept of the "Golden Circle" and the idea that people don't buy what you do but why you do it has had a significant impact on my leadership philosophy. It has encouraged me to delve deeper into the core values and motivations behind my actions as a leader, helping me better articulate and communicate my vision to my team.

Simon's book, "Leaders Eat Last," is a testament to his ability to simplify complex ideas and make them accessible to a wide audience. It's not only easy to read but also has a profound impact on one's leadership style. Through real-world examples and compelling stories, he illustrates the principles of trust, empathy, and selflessness in leadership. This book has served as a practical guide for me, reinforcing the importance of putting the well-being of my team members first and creating a safe and supportive work environment.

Furthermore, I admire Simon Sinek for his authentic and genuine approach. He doesn't just talk the talk; he walks the walk. His commitment to his message and his dedication to making a positive difference in the world are evident in his actions and the causes he supports. This authenticity is something I strive to embody in my own leadership journey.

In conclusion, Simon Sinek's work, particularly in "Leaders Eat Last," has not only reshaped my leadership philosophy but has also inspired me to be a more purpose-driven and empathetic leader. His ability to simplify complex concepts and his dedication to creating a better world through leadership serve as a constant source of motivation and guidance for me in my own leadership endeavors

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

If I were to offer a young leader a single, invaluable piece of advice, it would be this: Embrace the concept of a growth mindset and weave it into the fabric of your leadership journey.

A growth mindset is not merely a buzzword but a guiding philosophy that can shape your path toward becoming an outstanding leader. It entails an unwavering commitment to lifelong learning, an inherent openness to adapting to changing circumstances, and an innate willingness to evolve continuously.

It's crucial to understand that leadership is far more than a destination to reach and plant your flag; rather, it's a dynamic, ongoing voyage. This perspective can serve as the cornerstone of your leadership approach, allowing you to thrive in an ever-evolving landscape.

In this ongoing journey, nurturing a proactive thirst for knowledge is paramount. It means seeking out new information, perspectives, and insights from various sources, and it's not limited to learning from success. Your most profound lessons may stem from navigating through challenging situations, setbacks, and even failures. Every experience is an opportunity to grow, adapt, and ultimately enhance your leadership capabilities.

Effective leadership is not a solitary endeavor; it hinges on the ability to communicate, connect, and collaborate with various stakeholders. Thus, besides fostering a growth mindset, focus on honing your communication skills. Articulate your vision, engage your team, and ensure that your message resonates with clarity and purpose. Effective communication is the glue that binds your team and allows you to navigate the complex terrain of leadership successfully.

Ultimately, a growth mindset empowers you to remain resilient in the face of adversity, adaptable in a rapidly changing world, and dedicated to continuous personal and professional development. These qualities are the bedrock of effective leadership, equipping you with the tools needed to inspire and guide your team toward success in a constantly evolving landscape.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

One of the most heartwarming and fulfilling moments in my leadership journey occurred when I had the privilege of witnessing one of my team members transition into a leadership role, whether as a CTO succeeding me or taking on leadership responsibilities elsewhere. This experience has been a testament to the lasting impact of mentorship and the incredible sense of pride that comes from nurturing the growth of future leaders.

As a leader, there's a special kind of satisfaction in guiding and supporting these emerging leaders, providing them with the guidance, encouragement, and opportunities they need to navigate their own leadership journeys. It's an investment in the future and reflects the belief in their potential to make a positive impact.

The transformation of a team member into a confident, capable professional has been a truly gratifying experience. Witnessing their journey from being a team contributor to becoming a leader is a reminder of the profound power of belief and support in the realm of leadership. The moment they realize their full potential and begin to excel in their new role is nothing short of remarkable.

This experience has reaffirmed my commitment to the principles of mentorship, coaching, and leadership development. It underscores the importance of providing a nurturing and empowering environment where team members can learn, grow, and ultimately step into leadership roles with confidence and competence. It's a cycle of growth and empowerment that contributes to the success and sustainability of any organization.

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