Vital for leaders to have people who tell them the truth

It is heartening to read Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's assertion at the Camp Sequoia dialogue session last Friday that leaders need to be open to criticism, be close to the ground and not surround themselves with "yes men" (Leaders must remain open to other views: PM Lee; Feb 27).

This is easier said than done, as people on the ground are constantly trying to get into their superiors' good books.

I am in my 50s and hail from a generation where visits by VIPs were elaborately staged affairs.

The purpose of the visit was supposed to be for the VIP to see and hear genuine feedback from workers.

But before the visit, an army of cleaners, painters and event organisers would descend on the venue to ensure everything was spick and span and not a blade of grass is out of place.

The programme would be rehearsed down to the nitty-gritty.

Questions to be posed at dialogue sessions would be vetted to weed out taboo topics.

Potential troublemakers or those who were likely to pose difficult questions would be barred from the session.

In short, unless the VIP made a surprise visit, he would see and hear only the good side of things, and not the real situation.

With such an entrenched culture, leaders need to have trusted people who are willing to tell the truth, however unpleasant it may be.

This will ensure that they keep their finger on the pulse and not miss anything that is happening on the ground.

Seah Yam Meng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2017, with the headline 'Vital for leaders to have people who tell them the truth'. Print Edition | Subscribe