This month, the core value of the month is Leadership. This is something that’s very close to my heart. It doesn’t take a genius to know that the culture in Singapore is changing. As we become more educated and developed, the voices are getting increasingly loud in many different aspects. Coupled with increasing influence from different parts of the world, Singaporeans are importing ideologies and beliefs from different societies. Without strong leadership, influence and control, its can tear our society apart. Unlike bigger countries which can tolerate failure and mistakes to a larger extent, Singapore only has one chance in many things, and hence, Singaporeans must be wise enough to look at the larger picture, as well as long term sustainability. We must guard against ideologies that may not work for us. And for that to happen, we need strong leadership to unify the people, to communicate to the masses and to provide the direction forward.
Strong leadership does not appear out of thin air. It is often tightly linked with the people, because no leader can lead without the mandate of the masses. Hence, the population while advocating civil discourse and differing views, should self calibrate and know where to draw the line. Like the popular saying, sometimes, having differing views and intense debate can produce more heat and no light. A mature individual will know when we must bring up our views, and when it is more important for us to agree to disagree and move along as a group.
Today, there are many who talks about leadership on the internet. Some of these ideas are very popular. For instance, the image below is rather well known and well liked. But does this really paint the full image of leadership? Leadership is about context. It is the result of one’s assessment of the confluence of factors – the kind of people you are leading, the people you answer to, the mission, as well as the people around you which you have to balance with. For instance, if your entire environment consist of people who are people and emotional oriented, to balance things off, it is hard for you to go towards that direction. I often tell my participants when I was an Outward Bound Instructor – You affect me as much as I affect you. I would love to be a fun and easygoing instructor. But if you do not listen to instructions, do not manage yourself well, then I have little choice but to be directive, strict and serious.
We often forget that we influence our leaders as much as they affect us. Yes, your boss may be micromanaging. But what can you do to influence them towards the direction that you want them to go? Is their micromanagement due to your behaviour or is it because of their own underlying issue? Are they micromanaging towards all or just a selected few? Is their actions targeting someone or is it targeting an issue? This is a tough question that not many people want to answer, because it is always easier to externalise faults. It is often easier for us to blame our leaders simply because they ought to be better than us (hence they are our “superiors”), but we often forget that there is nothing stopping us from exercise leadership or to work ourselves up to be that leader. This brings me to another key point – Leadership can be exercised regardless of your position. When you influenced your boss to be less micromanaging through your actions and words, you are already displaying leadership. Most importantly, we need to remember that Singapore while it is not perfect, has good social mobility. My father aptly puts it across: Go to any coffeeshop and you can hear tons of complaints from people towards their bosses. But yet many of them don’t have what it takes to be their own boss. By refusing to partake in leadership, you are giving indirect consent for someone who is inferior to rule over you. It is an open market.
There are just too many things to talk about when it comes to leadership. I started this article by sharing about the change in our culture. What was acceptable in the past may not be well tolerated by the people today. But as I have mentioned – Leadership is dependent on the context. And we should not confuse soft leadership with good leadership. In some context, it is important for us to adopt a nurturing, supportive form of leadership. But in some context, it is important for us to have the courage to take a strong stand, to not hold back our actions because of our fear or to underuse the authority or position given to us to make beneficial changes. All these, while in progress, may not be popular. But hopefully with time, the people who enjoy the fruits of such courageous acts will understand why we need to take a strong stand when it comes to certain issues. Often, when we can afford to be a nice and soft leader, it is because someone else in front have paved the road for us. Leadership is not displayed at times of convenience and comfort. It is displayed in difficult times, in contentious issue, on emotionally charged topics. Just like how Lee Kuan Yew built this country and how he said it – Whoever that governs Singapore must have that iron in him. I hope Singapore will not lose that iron in us.