A Blast From The Past On Leadership

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A throwback to 10 years ago. 

Facebook reminded me that on 16 August 2010, I delivered a presentation on Leadership to about 400 civil servants at the Ministry of Manpower. It was entitled “Different, but Same Same”. I feel that the content of this presentation is still relevant to us, and I very much like to share it with you today. I recall that at that time, I was a rather young and idealistic CEO of NTUC Income. I spoke my mind, on what Singapore civil servants needed to be. 

I quoted heavily from Mr Tharman Shamugaratnam who was Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister at that time. He said that Singapore’s STRENGTH was integrity, trust, method and analysis, academic results, dedication and meeting targets, and we are and are good taskmasters but not leaders. We are LACKING in our ability to dream, drive curiosity and deal with ambiguity. 

He also said that, above all, we should work to avoid convergence of ideas, because it leads to closed systems where everyone thinks more or less alike. Closed systems lack energy, vibrancy and deprives organisations diversity of approaches and ideas that are needed to thrive. 

We must

• Value irregular strengths

• Build confidence and adversity quotient

• Avoid convergence of ideas

I wonder how we are doing ten years later.

In that presentation, I summarised what is needed for outstanding public service.

• Authenticity – Independence of thought, diversity and genuineness

• Public accountability and service – openness and communication

• Action orientation and ownership

  • People above process 
  • Principles above rules
  • Outcomes above compliance

• Creativity and innovation – Less hierarchy, more individualism and curiosity

• Trust – build trust internally and externally, less power-based.