Lee Kuan Yew’s Leadership

Leadership is one of the most discussed and researched topics since the 19th century. Yet still, there is no clear formula for the best leader. That is why I think there is a depth in this topic and is very interesting. In our Organisational Behaviour class, we learned about factors that determine a good leader. I would like to apply this knowledge from the class and my views on leadership to Lee Kuan Yew, founding father of Singapore who has recently passed away.

Nature and nurture is often discussed when looking at leadership. There are researches supporting both sides and I believe that both are important factors contributing to the leadership. In Lee Kuan Yew’s case, nature is easily visible in his family background. Lee Kuan Yew’s grandfather was successful with his large wealth. His aunt, Lee Choo Neo, is known as the first female doctor in Singapore. His three brothers were lawyer, chairman of stockbroker, and the president of Singapore Medical Council. Lee Kuan Yew’s children are current Prime Minister, former CEO of SingTel and Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, and head of the National Neuroscience Institute. As shown, many of his family members take important leadership roles in various professional fields. His personality contributes to his successful leadership also. As a prime minister of Singapore, he was honest with his opinion to the people and attracted people with his charisma.

Nurture is also vital in forming Lee Kuan Yew’s vision and skill as the leader. He faced the horrible reality during the Japanese occupation and experienced the horror of the war. This experience allowed him to become the leader who seeks no conflicts and no war. Lee Kuan Yew was educated in top school and studied in England. There, he learned law and was influenced by the western culture. The knowledge and intellectual he gained through his education provided necessary decision making skill.

Nature and nurture both play strong role in shaping Lee Kuan Yew as a leader of the country. I usually think that nurture weighs more for most people, but Lee Kuan Yew’s personality and characteristics that attracts people and the accomplishments of his family members makes me think that nature weighed more in his case.

As a transformational leader, I believe that Lee Kuan Yew had all four of the “I”s. Lee Kuan Yew had the “I”ndividual consideration because he cared about his people and encouraged them to make Singapore a great country. He was very “I”ntellectually stimulated with all of his ideas that challenged the traditional life style and methods. Lee Kuan Yew was a great speaker and often spoke about his ideal future of Singapore; his “I”nspirational motivation catalyzed the forward movement of Singapore by leading his people. Lee Kuan Yew had “I”dealized attributes and behaviours, because he cared about Singapore and it’s people and took actions himself. He was exemplary role model and had the trust of his people.

Lee Kuan Yew was a unique and successful leader who built and led Singapore. Some people criticize him for violating the freedom of speech, but Lee Kuan Yew argued that some limitation on those opinions are necessary to maintain the respect from people in order to lead the country and avoid unnecessary conflicts that would slow down the growth in Singapore. In regards of his personality, I personally like his honesty and bluntness in his speech. He had ideas and values, which may be different from other people, but he has his reasons to believe in his way and advocates loudly. I think that this is rarely seen in politicians, since this kind of communication may offend people with different views. But in the end, this type of honest and clear voice allowed people to trust in his words and follow his path to build the Singapore to where it is today.


“Between being loved and being feared, I have always believed Machiavelli was right. If nobody is afraid of me, I’m meaningless.” – Lee Kuan Yew






Effect of Culture on Organizations

In week 6, we learned about the effects of culture in the organizations through the example of incident at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. As the article describes, the reaction of workers at Taj displayed the culture of India as well as the company culture; workers risked their lives and sacrificed themselves to protect and save the guests of the hotel by working cohesively. Frequent training for these kind of emergencies and the strong collectivism of the culture allowed very smooth reaction to the crisis.

Through learning about this case, I realized that there are a lot of similarities between the Taj culture and the Japanese culture. The earthquake and tsunami disaster took place in 2011 and people were shocked and panicked for the sudden life-threatening situation. Despite the urgent situation, people were working together to escape to the safe place and acted in very organized matter. In Tokyo Disney Land, the staffs helped the customers to evacuate to the safe location and passed out their food, blankets, and other goods at the store without any charge. In center of the city, trains had to stop and train stations were filled with people. Workers of Japan Railroad organized and guided people to avoid the further confusion. In some hotels, people were stranded inside for multiples of hours. Rice balls and miso soups were distributed to people in the lobby. Guests yielded to each other and distributed the extras to people who were still in their room instead of eating more to relieve their hunger. All of these actions show the collectivity and selflessness of Japanese culture.

Looking at these examples of caring culture, I wonder what made them to react they way they did to these situation. Was it just the culture of these two countries? Or ware there something more than that. I think the culture do effect but the way they are expected to react in the society or at the work place formed who they are. In Taj, workers go through 18 months of training. This creates loyalty, commitment, pride and other positive feelings towards Taj and themselves. In the Japanese society, people are expected to take care of one another. Especially in the company, people are expected to be respectful and polite towards the customers.

So would this humbling culture be the best culture to have in every situation? I think these collectivistic and serving characteristics are great when it comes to service industry or workers following orders from the top. However, when it comes to management, leadership, creativity, decision-making, or other fields, this culture is somewhat of a burden. Some positions require being different from other people and sometimes going against the social norm or people’s expectation. Hence, is there a culture that works the best in organizations?

Unlike the two cultures described so far, western culture encourage more individualism. From my example, I notice that the American education system allows students to form and supporting opinions and presenting the ideas to others compared to the education in Asia. Therefore the western culture is more suited to train creativity and the characteristics of the leader and the thinkers.

Taking these cultural effects on people’s characteristics, I wonder if it would be better to have organizations with western style leader leading the Asian style workers. For example in 1999, Carlos Ghosn began to lead Nissan, the Japanese car manufacture company that was struggling at that time. Under western style leader, Nissan was able to rebuild itself and remain as one of the top 3 in the Japanese market. However, there are challenges to having the transcultural leadership. Workers may not connect well with their leader, because there are the cultural and language barriers between them. Also, the leader must be careful to understand the characteristics of the culture and the market to lead in the right direction.

Overall, culture affects largely on how individuals act in a group. There are various types of cultures and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. It is important for the companies to train the right people with right culture to have the best result.