Singapore Helix Bridge

Leadership in Singapore: The next 50 years

Babara Lee Draminsky, IECL’s Singapore-based Principal and Coach, looks ahead to Singapore’s next 50 years and explains how future success will be measured on the willingness of future leaders to adopt or acquire new skills, mindsets and capabilities necessary to compete in the decades to come.

Looking back

In the past 50 years, Singapore has emerged from being less economically advanced to being one of the most developed economies in the world. Since its humble beginnings in 1965, Singapore had a gross domestic income that was amongst the lowest. Today, the GDP per capita is amongst the top five cities in the world, and now generating nearly three times as much income as 50 years ago.

The key success factor of Singapore was engineered by the foresight and vision of its early generation of leaders, whose purpose was building the nation into a political and economic hub, with continuous restructuring of industrial developments and technological trends. Non-economic factors that also contributed to success, can be attributed to Singapore’s culture of:

  • cohesion with multiracial societies working together;
  • resilience to crisis; and
  • innovation in attracting global multinational corporations.

Looking ahead

But as the nation has evolved, so must its leaders. The next 50 years of success or decline will depend on the future leaders’ willingness to adopt a continuous lifelong learning journey of acquiring new skills, mindsets, and capabilities necessary to compete in the decades to come.

Keeping up with digital transformation

As digital transformation takes centrestage in the economy today, business models are evolving ever more rapidly to keep up with technological disruptions to traditional businesses and jobs. This unpredictable future of disruptive technology is a megatrend that could take away up to 47% of jobs in the next 20 years. According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report, by 2020, over a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will comprise skills that are not yet considered crucial to the jobs of today. Technical skills valued at the start of the digital revolution, such as programming and equipment operation, will teeter towards irrelevance, while skills associated with sociability, creativity and critical thinking will be vital for the modern workplace.

Ever-rising customer expectations

A world with a rapid pace of change and ever-rising customer expectations will require highly adaptable leaders who must learn to manage and accept change. The key for leaders to staying relevant and resilient is to stay abreast of changes in the marketplace, and to stay adaptable by becoming an infinite learner. The ability to empathise and interact on multiple levels as people move between roles and experiences, as well as knowing how to build meaningful relationships, and connect with others on a deeper level will be crucial. Soft skills such as collaborating, negotiating, and the ability to engage and influence stakeholders, customers and their own teams will continue to be important.

Reflective thinking

The use of time effectively in a world when we are slaves to e-mails and victims to information overload is also crucial to surviving in a world overwhelmed by technology. We must not let technology accelerate the pace of our lives to the point where it consumes our attention, our ability to focus and to be present. Successful leaders need to rediscover and revive the art of reflective thinking in order to seek new stimulus to be creative, to innovate, and to access their own window and intuition.

One of the most efficient way to stimulate reflection thinking is by applying the Socratic Method, which is exactly what coaching does to facilitate the exploration of ideas. Having a trusted partner to facilitate the exploration of ideas, to inspire and refine reflective thoughts could greatly assist leaders in structuring and articulating the thoughts and making the reflection more productive. Leaders with coaching skills should also undertake coaching conversations with their teams. Having regular and meaningful dialogues entail feedback and constructive discussions, and ensure that learning is extracted.

Adopting an international mindset

Given the limited size of the Singapore market, leaders should adopt an international mindset, as there are many opportunities for exposure, cultural immersion, and business opportunities beyond Singapore. Several initiatives were announced by the Singapore government recently which would help Singapore workers to stay ahead of the curve. The Global Innovation Alliance is one program that aims to help Singaporean workers gain overseas experience, build international networks and create opportunities to collaborate with innovative overseas counterparts. Another initiative that has been running for a while, the SkillsFuture Leadership Development, will be further strengthened to groom Singaporean leaders needed to drive overseas expansion of Singaporean businesses. This initiative will expand leadership development programs, and send promising individuals on specialised courses and overseas postings. This program aims to develop 800 potential leaders over the next three years.

Engaging multi-generations

Other challenges that Singapore faces today are a four-generational leadership team, and a shrinking local workforce. Leaders must look at how to engage the senior generations towards virtual engagement and work structures, as well as creating greater gender diversity especially at the senior management levels to maximise the workforce.

Leading at every level

Leadership is now expected in everyone, and at every level of the organisation – everyone should be creating value instead of adding value. There are the natural born leaders and then the nurtured ones. The ability to influence an audience to engage others and build teams can be learned, and the best leaders are ones who leverage their individual strengths and are genuine. Whoever is able to cope with rapid technological changes and seize the opportunities it brings, emerges the winner at the end.

Babara Lee Draminsky is an IECL Certified Coach and drives IECL’s Singapore-based initiatives. She is a highly motivated and results-oriented professional with over 20 years’ background in hospitality, retail, public relations, and events management. She is multilingual with strong communication skills and has extensive experience building client relationships.