The previous weeks mentioned an English translation of one of the two additional articles to be found in the Chinese version of the book “The Leader, The Teacher & You.”  The following is the English translation of the second article: 


by Mrs Ho Woon Ho

In my 20 years career as a Chinese teacher, I have been abiding to the orders or commands from my superiors without any doubts. I thought my superiors are not to be questioned.

It was till 1997 when I became the principal of Henderson Secondary School that I learnt that opinions from the ground can actually be heard. In that same year, a new Permanent Secretary was appointed, and he was Mr Lim Siong Guan. Mr Lim is a wise and knowledgeable person, who is at the same time good at listening. His remarkable effectiveness and efficiency has transformed the working culture of the education system.

During his three years’ term from year 1997 to year 1999, there are three things that have left an impression on me until now.

First, an e-mail he sent to all principals.  I cannot remember the details now, but I do recall it was a reminder to the principals, requesting us to respond swiftly to e-mails regarding execution of policies or instructions.

I responded right after reading the e-mail and informed Mr Lim about the situation of my school: a run-down school building with only one computer in the staff room, where more than ten teachers will crowd in a small room and take turns to use the computer. How was it possible for me to hog the shared computer and readily respond to the e-mails from the headquarters?

The next day, I received an e-mail from Mr Lim, informing me that he has arranged to link my personal computer at home to the MOE headquarters’ server, so I can check my e-mails from MOE even when I am at home. He solved my problem in a snap of the finger, how could I slack in my position?

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In March 1998, my school received the promotion list from the HR department of MOE. I was very shocked to see Head B promoted but not Head A. From my knowledge, Head A is well ahead of Head B in terms of years of experience, quality of work, performance and evaluation. I even checked and verified with my predecessor that Head A did have a better evaluation result than Head B. Hence I asked the school superintendent if there is any way to rectify the situation. He said the HR department has their own standards and there is no way we can pursue this issue. I called HR of MOE personally; the staff said there were guidelines to follow which they could not reveal.

As I was feeling indignant about the issue, I thought of Mr Lim. I wrote to him, explained the situation and asked him to look into the issue. On the evening of the same day, he replied to my e-mail saying that if it was a mistake committed by MOE, MOE would rectify it immediately. On the next day, HR department called me and confirmed that Head A should have been promoted. I was so grateful and touched, to me; Mr Lim was fair and wise like King Solomon.

In the year 1999, MOE chose Henderson Secondary School to be one of the pilot schools for testing out a “learning organization” programme. Half a year later, my head of department (HOD) and I visited MOE HQ to present our implementation report. After our presentation, Mr Lim Siong Guan asked my HOD whether the school could continue with the programme if there were a different principal. My HOD replied that she hoped I could stay on for a longer period of time. I took the opportunity to express my view on the rotation of principals. I personally felt that a principal should be kept in a school for longer than four or five years. This was apparently different from the policy implemented by Mr Lim at that time. However, he did not argue for, or defend, his policy, but smiled at me instead. His reaction again proved to me his magnanimity.

Humble Beginnings (Part II)

The following is an excerpt from one of the two additional chapters included in the Chinese version of the book, “The Leader, The Teacher & You”.


By Ms Poon Sing Wah

Lim Siong Guan


Mr Lim thinks that it is his good fortune that he had both Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Dr Goh Keng Swee as mentors during his career.

“These two leaders made bold and strategic decisions. When faced with new challenges, some leaders might not grasp the opportunity to make timely decisions. But both Mr Lee and Dr Goh were very wise, and they chose to face challenges head on and not avoid them.

Working with such leaders made work extremely satisfying. Not only did they dare to make tough decisions, they also gave me the chance to work on difficult issues. If my boss does not give me the chance to grow and try new things, I would be frustrated and unhappy, but I never faced such a problem whilst working under Mr Lee and Dr Goh. We had our own work to do but when we came together to work on something, we achieved excellent results.

Founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew was a great mentor. Regardless of how big or small the meeting was, or even if it was not related to my work, he would let me participate. He did it in order to expand my understanding of things so that I would be well prepared for any problems that I might face in the future. He also took the time to explain government policies to me so that I would have a complete understanding of them and be able to better understand policy formulation.

Mr Lee taught me that when it comes to nurturing the next generation of leaders, we must do our best and make the effort to help them fully understand the meaning of government policies, as well as the various problems that we faced in the past to teach them that policies are dependent on the external environment that constantly changes,” said Mr Lim.


Mr Lim’s mother, wife and sister were all teachers. From them, he learnt that all teachers expect their students to do better than their teachers and it is such an extraordinary concept that all leaders should embrace.

“Leaders must treat others the way teachers treat their students. They must want others to do better and to even surpass their own achievements. I believe a great leader must be a teacher. A great leader must do all he can to help others to succeed, to help others to be more competent so that they can contribute more. This will do well for him as a person and for his career as well.” explained Mr Lim.


Mr Lim does not see himself as someone who is intelligent enough to spot problems, but rather as someone who is willing to listen to others.

“Wherever I go, I hope to help my staff be the best that they can be. When I’m at a new organization, I will ask the staff, regardless of their rank in the organization, which practices should be stopped and if they have any new ideas that should be implemented.

By doing so, I will be able to quickly know the areas that need to be improved on because no matter where you go, most people want to do a good job. That’s an indisputable fact. Once you have determined what the problem is, then you can think about how to make things better, what else you can do for the organization etc. Therefore, I think of myself as a motivator and not the source of all wonderful ideas. I don’t solve the problem on my own. Instead, I find people who understand the problem to solve the problem. I will not give up until I have exhausted all means and I have tried out many different ideas,” said Mr Lim.