I lead my men by example.

“I am an officer of the Singapore Armed Forces. 

My Duty is to lead, to excel and to overcome.

I lead my men by example.
I answer for their training, morale and discipline.

I must excel in everything I do.

I serve with pride, honour and integrity.

I will overcome adversity with courage, fortitude and determination.

I dedicate my life to Singapore.”

Above is the Officer’s Creed, a pledge recited by the officers of the Singapore Armed Forces during their commissioning parade. In the 9 months of vigorous training before rising to the rank of 2nd lieutenant, cadets had to recite the Officer’s Creed daily during their water parade, before they turn in for the night. As an aspiring officer cadet, we were inculcated with three fundamental values; leadership, excellence, and tenacity.

In this blogpost, I will reflect on my leadership style during my time in the army, and evaluate the effectiveness of it. Throughout the 9 months of arduous and rigorous training, there were so many times when my fellow cadets and I were feeling so unmotivated and dejected, but yet we managed to persevere through ridiculous demands by our superiors. We only had one thing in our minds: we wanted to lead soldiers.

Reciting the Officer’s Creed daily, we were constantly reminded that the first duty of an officer is to lead by example, and that our soldier’s well-being was our responsibility. Yet during the training phase*, none of us were required to lead soldiers who were unmotivated or ill-disciplined. Sure, we took turns to uphold leadership position, but since we were all highly motivated cadets, our leadership capability was not fully tested as each of us played our roles.

*To provide context; officer cadets train amongst themselves for the full 9 months of training.

So when we were commissioned as officers, even with our expert knowledge in battle orders and technical knowledge in tank operations, we were still raw as leaders. The intense training only truly equipped us with two lines on leadership: ‘I lead my man by example. I answer for their training, morale, and discipline.’ With that mantra in mind, we were posted to our units with much anticipation.


Finally, we were going to be commissioned as officers!

In the first month or so, as a newly commissioned officer, I was still raw to the culture in an operational combat unit. However, under the guidance of a senior officer, I quickly learnt the ropes. It was easy for me to lead the soldiers who were under my charge, simply because I held the rank of a 2nd lieutenant. The legitimate power which I was ascribed based on 9 months of training gained the respect of my soldiers, even if they did not know me personally. Soldiers I met for the first time saluted me.  While I was highly respected in my new unit, it was due to the formal power structure and the hierarchical system that was already in place within the organisation. This was not the type of leader that I had aspired to be.

Luckily for me, I was tasked to organize the National Day Parade in 2010, and this gave me the opportunity to exhibit and hone my leadership capabilities. Without exposure to formal leadership lectures and people management classes, I only had one line to guide me. I lead my men by example.

As we held rehearsals over the weekends, many soldiers held grievances and were reluctant to burn their weekends for something that they did not believe to be beneficial to them. Over the months building up to NDP2010, I believe that I exhibited signs of transformational leadership, stated as follows:

Idealised Influence: Leading by example, I was always the first person to reach the rehersal site, and the last to leave. I ensured that my soldiers were all accounted for before I left the rehearsal site. I believe that this gained the respect of my soldiers.

Individualised Consideration: In order to motivate my soldiers, which was not an easy task, I allowed them to bring along books and devices to entertain themselves during their breaks. This was a decision which I made, which was against usual guidelines. Also, I made an effort to speak to each and every soldier under my charge during each rehearsal.

2015-04-03 12.39.17

Checking in on my soldiers was something I did every rehearsal.

Inspirational Motivation: Before every rehearsal, I would gather my soldiers for a pre-rehearsal pep talk. I told them how they are doing the nation proud, by being part of the NDP which showcases the independence of Singapore. I made them feel proud of burning the weekends to be part of something big.

Intellectual Stimulation: At the end of each rehearsal, I would allow my soldiers to provide feedback and submit their complaints to me. However, I would also seek their suggestions so that the next rehearsal could be conducted in a better manner.

I was grateful for the rare opportunity to hone my leadership capabilities, and I believe that organizing NDP2010 helped me grow to be a better leader. I have learnt that good leaders emerge from circumstances which require someone to step up, and dare to be different from the others. If not for organizing the NDP, I perhaps would not be able to gain these set of skills, which certainly cannot be learnt just from books and classes.


Organising the NDP rehearsals was certainly no mean feat.



Just a couple months back, as I was walking along the streets at Clementi, I heard a voice shout out to me,

‘Lieutenant Louis Sir! How have you been?’

Much to my surprise, it was one of my recruits under my charge when I was organizing the national day parade in 2010. I had not been addressed as sir for a long time, and it certainly made me smile. To be honest, I could not even remember the guy’s name, yet he still remembers me, and still respects me by addressing me as ‘Sir’. We exchanged a few words and a firm handshake.

‘It was nice to see you again after so long, I hope to see you in camp sometime,’ he said to me as we parted ways.

This incident truly made me felt proud. I must have done something right as a leader. Although I was not a true transformational leader to the core, I believe that I did exhibit traits of it. This made me realise that transformational leadership can indeed motivate followers, and garner their respect, for a long time to come.

Transformational Leadership and the Flat Hierarchies of Holacracy

Hi everyone! I was intrigued by what Prof Audrey said during our class on Leadership and OB; it was a comment about transformational leadership and how it is usually associated with central positioning within social networks. This makes sense, since to have the combination of the four factors transformational leadership (idealised influence, individualised consideration, intellectual stimulation, and inspirational motivation) you would need to have a wide reach, and a sufficient amount of influence. That got me thinking: with a flatter hierarchy in organisations, and as “open concept” offices become more and more popular, can transformational leadership still work? Or does it have to change? On some reflection, I think it does.

That’s how I ended up looking up holacracy, a new kind of flat organisational structure invented by programmer Brian Robertson. Robertson’s explains holacracy as “regrouping around a 
profoundly deeper level of meaning and capability, so 
that we can more artfully navigate the increasing 
complexity and uncertainty in today’s world, while more
 fully finding and expressing our own highest potential” (Robertson, 2007). You can also try watching this video:

It flattens the tree-like hierarchical system that causes bottlenecks at leaders who are node points, and converts it to circular systems that overlap each other, called holons.

So, from this:

holacracy tree

To this:


Zappos, as Chek How has earlier noted in his blog post on flat hierarchies, has adopted holacracy. The great thing about this system is that individuals have more power to take initiative and to assume leadership. Ideally, organisations become more flexible and maximise their talent pool. The response has been good thus far in Zappos, although the controversy has been primarily over how difficult it is for an organisation to teach the rules and ideas behind holacracy, and restructure itself. There will be no more CEOs in a holacracy. Change is brought about organically, and not through the transformative or visionary force of one person. People who naturally practice the affiliative, democratic, pacesetting, and coaching leadership styles are more likely to do well in a holacracy than those who naturally practice coercive and authoritative leadership styles. Generally, though, and as we agreed in class, one should practise having a mix of several of these.

The main concern I raise is that transformational leadership may not be able to thrive because individuals will be less likely to hold central positions in social networks, and so cannot exercise the 4 I’s. On the one hand, intellectual stimulation does not require initialisation from a leader since the nature of circular systems is to encourage all to participate actively. However, on the other hand, idealised influence involves followers seeing a particular trait they admire embodied in their leader; or what we also call referent power, which is tied usually to the personality of a specific individual. In a holacracy, this is less possible since people will usually only see those in their own circle, and there is no one person who is in every circle (see diagram above). Furthermore, due to varying group dynamics across circles, it may be very difficult to enforce one set of unified inspirational values across the organisation as a result of different group dynamics. Individualised consideration is not guaranteed; although employees are more able to ask for help in smaller circles, if there are conflicting concerns and needs, there is no designated individual who is obligated to be impartial from the start, as roles are always switching in a holon.

We also have seen in the Haier case how transformational leadership can be essential in cases where companies need help being turned around for the better. The power of such a leader, however, can be diminished in a holacratic system for the reasons above, and also because of the danger of groupthink.

All that said, however, it is not all gloom and doom for transformational leadership in this era of flattening hierarchies. An organisation, I imagine, can take the important 4 I’s of transformational leadership and encourage all circles to practise at least the three that do not require a singular personality: intellectual stimulation, individualised consideration, and inspirational motivation. Circles appoint rotating leaders, keeping to a set of practices agreed upon and shared by all employees (e.g. all employees must collaboratively ensure that everyone’s needs are met; shared inspirational values are agreed upon). These values, when practised across circles, can still enable companies to make the sort of vital transformations when required, such as those catalysed by Zhang Ruimin in Haier. Idealised influence may have to go, but this is part and parcel of the network shifts in a flatter system.

Thus, as holacracy calls for groups to “lead themselves”, transformational leadership can evolve and be adapted to suit such systems. I guess that comes as a relief – our leadership theories remain relevant after all!

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Reference Cited

Robertson, B. J. (2007). Organization at the Leading Edge: Introducing Holacracy™. Retrieved 04 02, 2015, from holacracy.org: http://www.holacracy.org/sites/default/files/resources/HolacracyIntro2007-06.pdf

Ethics and Leadership

In recent years, the demand for ethical leadership has been growing tremendously and researchers have begun to consider the ethical implications in leadership. Yet the supply remains low, as evidenced by the large number of recent business scandals. In these circumstances the leaders as well as the followers did not have had the courage and the skills to act on their values in the face of fear.

In response to such scandals, leaders should rethinking conceptions about the origin of competitive advantage, which increasingly originates from how we behave rather than what we produce. We should rethink how to lead, by placing less emphasis on carrots and sticks and focusing more on inspiration and humanity. These efforts require ethical leadership, which inspires peoples’ behaviours and paves the ground for creating competitive advantage. Such ethical leadership is the basis for ethical cultures, corporate social responsibility, sustainability and other concepts such as the triple bottom line.

Hence, the crucial question arises how leaders become ethical leaders in order to satisfy the pressing demand for ethical leadership.

Just as most people are not born leaders (but rather learn to be so through experience and hard work) people learn to practice ethical leadership. Not for nothing does a dominant part of the literature on leadership address the fact that it can and must be taught. A coherent ethical framework or philosophy that the leader can draw on in making decisions does not pop into the head overnight. Rather it develops over time through personal background and history, experience, as well as education. At this stage, let me propose some potential guidelines for fostering and nourishing ethical leadership:

  1. View the world as interconnected and face the complexity involved in making ethical decisions by developing multidisciplinary solutions. In the same time, view ethical leadership as integrated system of relationships that operate across hierarchical levels.
  1. Embed assumptions and expectations concerning ethics among organizational members. Because leaders set the moral tone for an organization, they need to set high ethical standards and demonstrate them through their own behaviour.
  1. Involve others in more of the ethical decisions, allocate resources to improve others’ ethical understandings and encourage and reward integrity in others.
  1. Do not separate ethics from day-to-day business and integrate ethics into every action of the organization.
  1. Cultivate a respectful environment, in which people can speak up about ethics and share the responsibility, by building trust and demanding open communication.

However, these are only some insights of how ethical leadership can be fostered and nourished. The aspects raised in this blog entry point to the conclusion that there is much to learn about how and why ethical leadership needs to be developed and nourished in organizations and throughout society as a whole. Answering such questions calls for a multidisciplinary approach, drawing on content from several other disciplines including leadership, psychology, economics and ecology. The marriage between ethics and leadership reveals a new discipline, which is likely to grow in importance in the coming years.



The Land Mines of Leadership

With many leadership theories being developed and scrutinized so far, it is fair to say that leadership does not escape from Darwin’s theory of evolution, just like any other things. As our society grows and prosper over time, the way we live and perceptions about life change as well. This explains why there are new leadership theories that emerge at different timeline to cater to the constantly changing landscape of business and people’s lifestyles. We have the trait theory of leadership, behavioral and style leadership theories, situational and contingency theories, transactional and transformational theories, and leader-member exchange theory. All these leadership theories emerge in an attempt to explain, understand, and perhaps predict, the dynamic nature of our social processes in life.

In this modern age, I believe that the leadership landscape has evolved yet again and we may no longer apply the leadership theories that we currently have. Leaders are expected to not only lead, but also create an impact to the environment. Leaders are ‘expected’ to stay ahead of the competitors and embrace new technologies, ideologies, and diversities. With the inter-connected globalized world, leaders are facing tremendous challenges and pressures that come from all over the world, and a leader’s decision/opinion/standpoint has multi-layered implications to different stakeholders.

Very recently, Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla, stepped down from his position just after two weeks into the job due to the public protest over his private view against gay marriage. He did not publicly offend any gay couples or gay marriages, but he had donated US$ 1,000 to Proposition 8, the anti-gay law that banned gay marriage back in 2008. His past action caught up with him and stirred a controversy around the social media (particularly Twitter and Instagram) that eventually cost him his job. It goes to show that leaders in this modern world have increasingly become political and their views on controversial affairs may affect the business or organizations in which they are in. leaders are not only under the pressure of the shareholders, but from the public as well and when they do not handle the media and social media well, they are at risk of getting fired. This is leadership on a whole new level.

A Tweet from Mozilla's Employee A Tweet From Mozilla's Employee A Tweet from OKCupid

Brendan Eich had unfortunately stepped on a land mine of leadership, and that is his view on gay marriage. A leader’s view on controversial issues can lead to a great disadvantage for the company or a disaster instead. Controversial issues are the land mines of leadership and when leaders cannot handle them well, they will be out of the game due to social pressure. A more local example in Singapore, though it is not a leadership case, is the Anton Casey case, a British banker who insulted many Singaporeans and was “asked” to leave the company. The company stated that they have “opposing views” in terms of values with Casey and therefore, they “parted ways”. In this case, Anton Casey also stepped on a land mine and he did not survive either.

In the I-merger simulation game that we played earlier in the week, we can also notice how challenging it is to deal with multi-parties, especially when different people have differing opinions on the same thing. It is the leader’s job to find out who are the important and influential people so that we do not get into a ‘meltdown’ situation by keeping good relationships with them. In relation to the land mines of leadership, if we do not convey what we are doing clearly or clarify any missteps, the media will take opportunity to leverage on our misstep by ‘blowing’ things up in the media and/or social media.  Hence, leaders in this modern age have to be mindful about taking good care of the company image and reputation, and that includes being mindful of their own personal actions. A leader’s action can trigger a chain reaction, which if not handled properly, will adversely affect the company.

Leadership has never been more challenging than ever and we, as aspiring future leaders, need to understand how different leading can be in the past and present so that we can be aware of such land mines in the future. However, it must be noted that not all leaders in all countries may face the same issue. It depends on how volatile the landscape in which the business is operating in. nevertheless, this is what I believe the leadership landscape is heading towards and we need to keep ourselves abreast to these challenges.


“Mozilla’s Brendan Eich: Persecutor Or Persecuted? – Forbes.” 2014. 5 Apr. 2014 <http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2014/04/04/mozillas-brendan-eich-persecutor-or-persecuted/>