Changing times call for a new leadership style

Singapore has come a long way and our level-headed system of planning for succession has stood us in good stead (Singapore's 4G team addresses leadership succession issue; Jan 5).

It has ensured a continuity of how we operate and deliver the many long-term plans in nation building.

We are fortunate to have had good leaders who rose to the occasion time and again.

Every era has its unique circumstances and requires different leadership styles.

A wartime revolutionary, for instance, may fail miserably in delivering economic development during peacetime.

A leader must fit the time and place, and the people he leads.

Our founding fathers were not all equal orators but they complemented one another well; the visionaries were supported by executors.

The exigencies of the early independence years required a top-down style of leadership, and the populace stood behind such leaders.

As we prospered, aspirations grew divergent.

Managing these disparate expectations will be challenging.

An educated and vocal population will want participation before policies that affect them are set.

The top-down style may be passe.

But the intelligentsia should not hijack the agenda from the ordinary people.

Besides intellect, a leader should also have the soft skills in relating to the broad spectrum of citizens.

He must walk the ground often and know at first hand the grassroots' concerns.

Because a leader cannot be omnipresent, he must assemble a team of trustworthy and capable men and women to run the country. They help to take the pulse on the ground.

Amid challenging external conditions, our leader should represent our country well. A principled and consistent approach in conducting foreign affairs will strengthen our hallmark of trustworthiness abroad.

A good leader does not seek popularity for its sake. He must inspire confidence in hard times.

He must be firm and take hard decisions and persuade his followers to support his views.

He must leave things in better shape than when he assumed office.

Lee Teck Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2018, with the headline 'Changing times call for a new leadership style'. Print Edition | Subscribe