I was walking along Orchard Road when I passed a man sitting in a wheelchair selling packets of tissue.

I did not need any more tissues, but decided I ought to make a donation towards meeting his needs anyway.  When I offered him my donation, I indicated I did not want the packets of tissue, and proceeded to walk away.

He called out to me: “Come sir!”  He them offered me a packet of “ang pows” – the little red envelopes the Chinese usually use for holding cash to be given out as gifts during the Chinese New Year.

The “ang pows” the man handed me contained no cash, but carried the Chinese phrase “大吉大利” (dà jí dà lì), which is used to wish others happiness, luck, and wealth.

What impressed me was that he had an alternative plan to thank people like me who are happy to help out but would prefer not to take the packets of tissue he was offering.

I consider that a wonderful illustration of leadership:  always being prepared for the situation when things do not work out as we hope by taking the time and effort to think ahead and think up an alternative plan of how to offer good in a different way.


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2016  l  Jan 18  l  Switzerland

Avenir-Suisse, a Swiss think-tank for economic and social issues, recently published a collection of articles in a booklet titled WATCH THE SWISS.

In the booklet, I wrote a short article entitled “Interdependence, not Isolation”, which compared Switzerland and Singapore and included observations about survival and success, as well as the will of a people to be free and independent. These are factors any national leadership must take into consideration and act upon.

This is my article:

Why Switzerland? Why is it the way it is? Why has it been so successful?

Because Switzerland has a small land mass with a small population and virtually no natural resources, and this has protected the Swiss from the resource curse and forced them to be creative.

Because the Swiss are intent on being both independent and sovereign. Because the Swiss know that for a small country, survival and success are two sides of the same coin. If a small country does not succeed, no one will be bothered about it.

A small nation must seek to have as many friends as possible. Its well-being hinges on interdependence, not isolation. It needs to be open to the inflow of capital and talent to enlarge and enhance its indigenous capacity. It needs to be useful to others so that others will find it beneficial co keep the country free and open. Switzerland has to create a brand out of its own enterprise and imagination.

Switzerland thrives on its image of quality, reliability, service excellence, and trustworthiness. The Swiss can be trusted to deliver on their promises – it is a matter of pride and honour.

Switzerland has succeeded based on a smallness that drives a sense of vulnerability and emboldens it to be uniquely different from others. To be willing to change with speed and flexibility is essential to survival and success. And the need to work hard and to drive productivity up is well understood.

The world waits for no country. And a small country does not have the weight to slow the world down.

The success of Switzerland 

The success of Switzerland can be seen in the supreme reliability of Swiss watches, the superior quality of Swiss confectionary, the excellence of Swiss hospitality, the trustworthiness in wealth management by Swiss banks, the inventiveness and innovation in Swiss industry, the advanced capability of Swiss pharmaceuticals, the world’s meeting place borne out of Swiss neutrality, and the ability to attract a wide array of multinational corporations, despite the high cost of living, due to its great living environment and access to talent.

The pride of the Swiss

Once – I was on my way to Zurich Airport admiring the beauty of the Alps in the distance with their snow-covered peaks – I remarked to my friendly driver: “Some people say Switzerland is God’s country.” He responded: “Yes, and he did a good job of it.”

The pride with which he said that, to me, is typical for the Swiss mentality. This is the most fundamental reason for the success of Switzerland. The Swiss are proud of their country. They are proud to be Swiss. And they are prepared to do their parts to keep Switzerland thriving. They are prepared to take on the changes necessary, to pay their taxes, to perform military duty, and to act in the interest of all Switzerland.

In what other country in the world will people vote not to raise the minimum wage? In what other country in the world will people vote against reducing working hours? These remarkable examples of economic insight and wisdom explain Switzerland, a country whose people are prepared to do what is necessary to allow it to succeed and keep succeeding. But sustained success is never assured!

The essential commitment

Countries can fall under external pressure, or fail due to internal fissures. The Swiss have to maintain their unity of purpose in a multi-lingual, federated structure with fiercely autonomous regions. And this has to be achieved in a world where trust in authority, institution and society appears to be diminishing.

The choices that people make will determine the destiny of Switzerland. Every new generation of Swiss needs to renew its understanding of, and its commitment to, the ways of Switzerland.

Why Switzerland? Because the Swiss will it to be so.

I write as someone from Singapore, another small country, indeed a country considerably smaller than Switzerland in land mass and a little smaller in population. If we replace the words “Switzerland” and “Swiss” in this note with “Singapore” and “Singaporeans”, these observations and conclusions will be just as true.

Perhaps that is why I can empathise so much with the Swiss – and why Singapore can hold lessons for Switzerland just like Switzerland holds important lessons for Singapore.”


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Happy New Year 2016 from TLTT

As we enter the new year, it is important for us to remind ourselves what leadership is all about.

Leadership is about making good things happen that on their own would not happen.

There is a clear moral dimension to leadership.  Leaders must always ask the question as to whether what they are doing is “good”.  Good for what?  Good for whom?

But just as critical is the behaviour and attitudes of leaders as they go about making good things happen. Do they treat their people like robots or toy soldiers that they can push around or threat into action?  Or do they treat their leadership of people as an honour and a privilege to be able to better their lives?

It is important for leaders to ask themselves the question: “Do we as leaders see ourselves as teachers?” 

The role of a teacher is to do the best he or she can to help each student be the best he or she can be.  If the student should reach a higher level than the teacher later in life, this is to the credit of the teacher.  Indeed, the more the students exceeds the teacher, the more the teacher has succeeded!

Such a perspective is totally different from what many managers and supervisors espouse.  Many of leaders see their people simply as tools to be pushed around, and people who should be kept in their places. The idea of helping their people grow and succeed the best way they can, is totally foreign.

Yet, history has shown that the best leaders are those who have the heart of the teacher who wish their people to succeed the best way they can.

We are starting a new year. As always, the start of a new year is a new opportunity to do the things we have failed to do, and become the kind of person we want to be.

As the management guru, Peter Drucker mentioned in the foreword of The Leader of the Future: “The only definition of a Leader is someone who has (willing) followers”

Hence, for all who are SUPERvisors or MANagers at work – the SUPERMANs – let us strive to be the leaders who attract followers because we are worth following.

We are worth following when we are excellent in our work, and we have the heart to help our people be the best they can be. In doing so, we become the “THE LEADER, THE TEACHER”.

Our best wishes to you and your family for 2016!  May it be a year where you reap much happiness and good health, and may you find satisfaction and fulfilment in your many undertakings!

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