Lee Kuan Yew’s passing and the subsequent week of national mourning caused many Singaporeans to revisit the achievements of one of the most important figures in Singapore’s history. Lee’s absence will be felt but more importantly his void must be filled. Lee was a man who had a unique blend of skills that were relevant and rare during the years of his leadership.
Thinker: As a young analyst, what really struck me was Lee’s ability to see both the forest and the trees at the same time. It is often difficult to balance both breadth and depth without being drawn too deeply to either ends of the spectrum. There are many strategic thinkers who are unable to keep track of the micro details that will slowly change the long term trends that they are watching. Knowing when to zoom into the details is important. It comes with experience and knowledge of the subject matter at hand. Lee’s ability to keep the big picture in mind while quickly focusing on the key micro information gaps was something to be admired. He did on his own what some would require a team to do. These thinking skills when well-honed can translate to better situational awareness and the ability to act two or three steps ahead of others. This was what made Lee a forward thinker. This to me was Lee’s most important attribute that led to his success.
Executor: Lee was able to find the right balance between planning and execution most of the time. There are leaders who rush to make decisions. Some may feel the pressure to appear decisive and this often comes at the cost of poor planning. Some get so fixated with the perfect plan that the plan in reality can hardly be executed. Toeing the fine line between sufficient planning and proper execution made Lee a leader that could effectively translate his thoughts into action. A brilliant thinker who is unable to take action is waste of talent and Lee dodged that common bullet with his uncanny ability to execute well-thought plans at the right time.
Leader: Some leaders are stuck in the middle of executing an action plan because they are not clear about the vision they have in mind. Some do not believe fully in what they are doing. This often translates into half hearted efforts that do not inspire followers to support and take actions necessary to see the plan come into fruition. Gaining clarity is not easy but this was second nature for Lee. Benefiting greatly from his ability to think through each issue comprehensively, Lee gained self confidence, boldness and the belief that he had the right vision in mind. With this, it became easy for Lee to be committed to his ideas because that would be the only logical thing to do. This was why it was important that Lee did only what he believed in. Failing which, he would not have been able to push through tough policies and be convincing in persuading others to believe in his plans. With a strong personal conviction, commitment and follow-through become a lot easier and natural.
The traits above are not just important for leading others. They are important for self reflection and personal improvement. A leader begins from within. A man with a brilliant mind must first be able to master his thoughts and channel them the way he wants to. To be able to bring your own mind under subjection allows you to be clear about what you are thinking. Such self awareness is rare but Lee was able to do so with the skills above. He was able to project his confidence into others and people trusted him because they knew he had a plan that was clear, well-thought out, relevant and more importantly one that he would execute and follow-through to the end.
Lee’s passing is a loss for Singapore but his skills must be emulated. As the country takes time to mourn his absence, we must find in ourselves the same elements that can enable us to realise our potentials just like how Lee unlocked his. Failing to do so would be an even greater tragedy for Singapore.