Former civil service head Lim Siong Guan launches book on leadership
- POSTED: 08 Jan 2014 21:53
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Former top civil servant Lim Siong Guan says there is a need to document the principles and values of Singapore's founding generation, so that they are not lost over time.
SINGAPORE: Former top civil servant Lim Siong Guan says there is a need to document the principles and values of Singapore's founding generation, so that they are not lost over time.
Mr Lim, who worked with some of the country's early leaders, said this was what motivated him to write his first book titled “The Leader, The Teacher and You: Leadership Through the Third Generation", which was launched on Wednesday.
Mr Lim's illustrious career in the public service spanned 37 years.
He was the head of the civil service and held the post of Permanent Secretary in the Finance, Education and Defence Ministries and the Prime Minister's Office.
He retired from the public service in 2006 and produced a book seven years later to share his experiences. And he believes it is necessary to record the values of the founding generation in order to effectively pass down leadership lessons and capabilities.
"Just as an illustration - 60 per cent of the principles, the values and the approaches of the first generation were used by the second generation to tackle the particular issues of their day,” said Mr Lim.
“If the third generation also takes up 60 per cent (of) what the second generation had exposed them to, you will end up in the situation where the third generation now is using only 36 per cent of what the first generation has started off with."
Mr Lim was the first Principal Private Secretary to Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, and he recalls one of the key values Mr Lee shared with him.
"He said that as his Principal Private Secretary, I'm going to meet up with foreign officials. He said, ‘when you meet them, you must look them in the eye, you never look on the ground because they need to understand that you are representing Singapore, and they have to pay due regard, due respect’," recalled Mr Lim.
In 1995, the Public Service for the 21st Century (PS 21) movement was launched, spearheaded by Mr Lim Siong Guan. The initiative seeks to make the public service a more responsive and creative organisation. One aim was to encourage more public officers to contribute ideas to improve processes."
However, he feels that the spirit behind the initiative could have been better communicated.
"As I look back, I could have done a better job of communication of PS 21,” Mr Lim reflected.
“I think PS 21 rather quickly came down to a series of rules about ‘this is how you put in suggestions, and this is how you take part in work improvement teams’, but once let's say PS 21 got boiled down to a set of rules on doing things and on participation, people sometimes forget what is the spirit behind it."
Mr Lim said one way of communicating the PS 21 movement better is by going on the ground and speaking with small groups of public officers, even to the point of 'over communicating'.
Communicating well with the people is another important aspect of the Civil Service, as part of its role is to deliver the policies of the government.
However, Mr Lim said the prime responsibility for good communication lies with the originator who needs to have a clear appreciation of what the concerns of the people.
Referring to the case of the Population White Paper last year, Mr Lim said, "In communication, we have to be able to put ourselves in the other person's shoes and say ‘what is he thinking, what is he feeling’, and you need to have a fairly good assessment of that, and it's always best (for) the first round of communication to be able to address those concerns, rather than to have to do further explanation after the event."
The White Paper caused widespread unhappiness with its planning parameter of a 6.9 million population in 2030. Mr Lim said the real question is whether the government could have anticipated the reactions from the people.
In addition, he believes there needs to be a synergy between the public service and the political leadership.
Mr Lim said, "The public is not going to judge a policy on the basis of what was written in the paper to Cabinet. The public is going to judge the policy on how they are affected in the implementation process.”
In his book, Mr Lim also explores the principles of leadership.
He said the most critical attribute of a government is to earn the trust of its people, and this is what Singapore's next generation of leaders will need to focus on.
Mr Lim said, "If you have the trust of the people, it also means that if you have an unexpected event, if you have things happening in the world which impinges on Singapore, when you have no time to go consult people for which the government must take the position of leadership and decide what they believe is best for the country, then with that trust they are also able to be nimble as necessary.
“So, you consult whenever you can, in whatever way you can, but at the same time you must be able to move without the consultation."
A long-time colleague of Mr Lim in the civil service, Minister for Education Heng Swee Keat said the book does not just draw on Mr Lim's life story but also conveys his sense of purpose and desire to help others.
Mr Heng said the book makes clear a leader is both a teacher and a learner, and that the best legacy a leader can leave is the people he has developed.
“We live in a more globalised, more interconnected and information intensive world, where changes in one part are transmitted rapidly to another. The need to anticipate change, welcome change and execute change is greater than ever,” said Mr Heng.
“In the face of these changes, it is even more critical that we hold on to timeless values and our deep sense of purpose. The art of leadership, infused with a deep sense of purpose, is needed more than ever.”