Speech of the day

'Tradition of mentorship must continue'

Mr de Souza hopes there will continue to be a long path for senior leaders to impart lessons on how to tackle difficult situations and, most importantly, values, even after they leave day-to-day leadership roles.
Mr de Souza hopes there will continue to be a long path for senior leaders to impart lessons on how to tackle difficult situations and, most importantly, values, even after they leave day-to-day leadership roles.

In his speech to round up the debate on the President's Address, Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) yesterday summed up the key points of 62 MPs who spoke over the past five days.

Mr de Souza, who was 30 when he was first elected in 2006, also spoke of a culture of mentoring, and hoped it would continue.

Here is an edited extract:The Prime Minister outlined how the Government will be making the necessary refinements to the current system to make our political system more robust and responsive to the changing political landscape. And to many of these proposals, I am in agreement.

But one caveat I would like to make is that any change needs to be closely accompanied by a deliberate retention of the existing culture of mentorship and the passing down of experiences. That should not change. Let me share why this is important.

Starting in politics at a young age, I had to learn humbly and fast. And more than anything, it taught me the importance and value of mentorship.

While we tweak and refine the system, let us not throw out the continuity of mentorship, especially in the ecosystem of politics. The value of mentorship from more experienced ministers, MPs, senior leaders; the imparting of values; and the training of reflex actions to make important decisions in crisis situations must never be sidelined. This is especially important for a young nation storing up its own precedents of experiences to learn from and to rely on in future.

I hope there will continue to be a long path for senior leaders to impart lessons on how to tackle difficult situations and, most importantly, values, even after they leave day-to-day leadership roles.

ESM Goh Chok Tong led Singapore as our prime minister, and still continues to serve his constituency and our nation as an MP with loyalty. To have him still imparting lessons is a treasure.

Mr Lim Swee Say and Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, my seniors in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, impressed the importance of constituency work, being resolutely focused on residents and ensuring changes are made in Parliament if one believes hard enough in the causes one holds.

Mentorship is very important. Without it, we just drift out at sea.

Former president S R Nathan continued to mentor well into his 80s, and still does. I remember accompanying Mr Nathan on a state visit to Istanbul. It was quite a long flight, so SQ dimmed the cabin lights after the meal was cleared.

During the flight, I remember going through in my mind the briefs Ministry of Foreign Affairs had issued us on Singapore's purpose and objectives for the trip. And then, all of a sudden, I found Mr Nathan sitting on my seat's armrest. He had walked over from his seat.

I stood up immediately, anticipating he would ask me questions on the briefs. He did not. Instead he spoke with me about Singapore: Never let our guard down, stay driven, stay focused. He then talked with sincerity and insight about the Singaporean Eurasian community and asked after it.

He was mentoring, there at 33,000ft when the rest of the cabin was asleep. It left a deep impression on me. And that he was our president makes all races, majority and minority, very proud.

The value of mentorship. The ensuring that values continue. These can be passed down only by human beings - not an SOP, not an instruction manual. Mr S. Dhanabalan, himself an exceptional person, talked of the value of being mentored by Mr Lee Kuan Yew in his eulogy at MM's state funeral.

How much richer we are as a nation that we have men, with deep reservoirs of personal experience, who are able to impart life lessons in leadership long after they step down from day-to-day leadership positions. This must continue.

I was in the region on travel recently. A trusted friend many years my senior said Singapore had got it right - former leaders help, they don't ambush.

In 2012, when MM was accepting fewer public engagements, I wrote him a note expressing thanks for his mentorship. He wrote back within a day, saying: "I am glad you found our conversations over the years of value. When meeting people, you need EQ. You need IQ, because the margin of error for Singapore is very small."

The need to ensure continuity of mentorship - PM has regular lunches with two or three MPs at a time. Sometimes, we have no idea what we will be quizzed about.

The content invariably revolves around four areas - how we can better the lives of Singaporeans; how we should never be afraid of breaking out of outdated mindsets; how we each play a part in advancing Singapore; and very importantly, how are our constituents, are they well, are their children advancing, are they happy, do they have opportunities.

A 360-degree conversation about Singapore and Singaporeans - living, thinking Singapore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2016, with the headline ''Tradition of mentorship must continue''. Print Edition | Subscribe