5 Leadership Lessons Learned In Singapore

August 2015, by So-Young Kang

One can learn many things while living in another country. Having lived in different cities, I’d love to share 5 lessons I have learned along the way and how it applies to innovative leaders in business.

  1. Visionary tomorrow, excellent today. Singapore started with very humble beginnings, with a very big dream: to be an independent, self-sufficient nation. What’s been quite amazing is how Singapore achieved success while building measurable blocks today to help them get there.

How do you stay ruthlessly focused on achieving an inspiring vision when things get tough?

  1. Unadulterated intention to ‘always doing the right thing.’ Having interacted with close to 20 different government agencies in Singapore since 2010, one thing that has really stood out for me has been the level of integrity and lack of corruption that I have personally experienced. People genuinely want to do the right thing with a purity of purpose that is admirable.

How do you cultivate a culture* where people ‘always try to do the right thing,’ from the top to the bottom of an organization?

  1. Inclusion to provide dignity. When I first came to Singapore, I was a bit surprised to see a temple next to a mosque, next to a church, all peacefully coexisting. When I learn more about this intentional integration of differences, I am learning that it’s not just about integration but also about celebrating the minority view and providing dignity to the underrepresented.What it would look like if we actively invited those who seem different to live with dignity and bring their unique cultures, ideas and strengths?

Do we go out of our way to intentionally bring out the uniqueness of every person in our staff (e.g., their heritage, points of view, strengths) to celebrate and invite them to the table? How do we go about doing that?

I believe that a positive unintended outcome of this inclusiveness has resulted in Singapore’s ability to innovate and grow as she embraces and accepts people’s uniqueness.

  1. Servant leadership. When we see a leader who gives his life to serve his country, that’s really inspiring. Some people say that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ I believe we see an exception in the life of Lee Kuan Yew, who lived a very humble life until his death. In my experience with some of the senior government leaders in Singapore, there has been the remarkable lack of personal agenda. When we have conversations, it is really about ‘what is best for the people and the country, not for myself.’ I find that very rare and admirable.

To what extent are our personal agendas mixed in with those of serving our people, organizations, and society?

  1. Humility to succeed. One characteristic I really admire is the humility to learn and openness to new ideas.

In the midst of success, how do you remain ‘humble to learn’?

As a result of living these principles in the day-to-day and for the long-term, Singapore is now a key business hub in Southeast Asia and has earned a seat in the global arena as a first world country. Quite impressive for a very young country.


How do you apply these principles to the way you lead and innovate within your organizations?

*Related video:
Living Your Values: Turning Intent into Action