Successful leadership

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew fielded wide-ranging questions for 30 minutes following the Tate Lecture at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Here and on the facing page are edited excerpts of some of his replies.

“LEADERSHIP is specific to a particular situation.

You cannot have Mao becoming leader of the Indian nation. To be a leader of a society you must share the interests. The destiny of the people you represent is a prerequisite.

Secondly, they must believe that you can make a difference in their lives. How you do that depends upon your quality of leadership. Many people want to be leaders, and they promise many things, but I believe it depends upon the system you have.

If you are a leader of a newly independent country, and I’ve met many of them, often they are good destroyers of the old system.

And they believe when you destroy the old system, then you will move into all the places where the white man was, and then you’ll govern like they govern. Unfortunately, life is not that easy, and economies don’t work that way.

In so many of the new countries, the leaders were very good at decolonisation but not good at post-colonial nation building. They’re learning, but by the time they start learning, they’ve destroyed much of what they had inherited, the institutions, the rule of law, the clean administration that the British or the French, or whatever, created.

And it’s going to be quite a problem. So you have the Congo, Darfur, you name it, Rwanda, Burundi. These are problems of less-than-experienced or circumspect leaders and worse, a population that’s not well-educated and believes that if you get a charismatic speaker, and you vote him in, he’ll produce results.

But usually, good speakers require good colleagues who are good doers, and if you can’t get good doers, all the speaking and all the sound bites that you can make in the world won’t help you, because at the end of four or five years, you’ve got to face the same people you made promises to and you’ve got to show results.

So my advice to all people who want to be leaders is, make sure you’ve got a team who’s going to help you deliver.”

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