27 March 2015

Art of War reveals the Greatness of Lee Kuan Yew and the Success of Singapore

Sun Zi's Art of War teaches us 5 factors and 7 measures to enable us to know whether we will win even before we start a war. It reveals to us the greatness of Lee Kuan Yew and explains the success of Singapore. This then enables us, and even others, to see how we can continue to build upon the legacies of Mr Lee and to sustain the success of Singapore.
As I was doing additional readings on Sun Zi's Art of War and revising my own notes to prepare to conduct this very popular Art of War course soon, it suddenly drawn on me that I can use the teaching of Art of War to understand the greatness of our nation founding PM Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the success of Singapore. It is well accepted that we have a great leader that transformed a third world nation to a first world nation within a generation. But how did he do it? Can it be repeated? Can another person do it? I think Sun Zi's Art of War is a good guide for us to think about this issue. While it may not be complete or right, it is a good starting point.

Sun Zi gives us 5 factors and 7 measures to enable us to evaluate and compare against others so that we can determine whether we can win or loose even before we start a battle with another. Actually, Art of War is not just about warfare, it is more about how to build a strong nation; so strong that others do not dare to attack you. The best strategy, according to Sun Zi, is not winning every time but rather, win without a war. Sun Zi's strategy is about maximizing benefits at minimum costs and risks. For a more complete picture see Durians, Singaporeans, Li Ka Shing and Sun Zi's Art of War.

The five factors are 道 philosophy,天 seasonal timing,地 terrain,将 commanders,法 systems& laws. The seven meaures are: (see Sun Zi Art of War-3: Health Check with 7 Measures)

1.  Does the leader has internalized and exhibited the philosophies, values, mission and visions?

Sun Zi explained that Dao 道 is the thing that unite the people from top to bottom such that they can live and die for the Dao. So, Dao is the values, philosophies, mission and vision that the people can believe and commit to.  A more important measure is not just about the Dao, but rather, whether the leader, the King in the past and the President or PM in our modern times, practice what he believes. In our case of Singapore, we share and strongly believe in the values, mission, vision and challenges that our Founding PM told us. Furthermore, he dedicated his whole life living out the values and vision that he shared with us. He is the great 4D leader in my leadership model The Superior Mindset of A Leader - The 4 Dimensional Thinking.

I like the following quote:
  • "I have spent my life, so much of it, building up this country. There's nothing more that I need to do. At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life." is a quote from Mr Lee in 2011.
2. Are the Commanders/Cabinet Ministers capable?   将孰有能?
Some people said that Mr Lee did not do it alone. Credits should be given to others as well. This is such a bad misunderstanding of leadership. A good leader should not do everything by himself. A true leader is one that pick the best and motivate them to achieve the shared mission together. It takes great leadership to pick the right talents with the right character, assign them to the right jobs, and working together full heartedly to accomplish the shared mission. Mr Lee did just that. He got an excellent team of Goh Keng Swee, Toh Chin Chye, Lim Kim San and many others. They themselves pick other talents like the Ngiam Tong Dow, Philip Yeo, Lim Siong Guan and many others  to help build Singapore.

Sun Zi gives us 5 attributes for a commander: 智、信、仁、勇、严 namely Wisdom, Trust-worthiness, charity/love, boldness/decisiveness, and strict/disciplined. I think it is an apt description of the capabilities of our Mr Lee.

3.  Are the timing & position and positioning right ?天地孰得?
Our leaders recognised the urgency for action. So we started first before our neighbours and China then was stilled closed-up. Singapore is blessed with a strategic location. The positioning was right, to move from a trading port into higher value creation of industralisation. We get the expertises from the MNCs of the developed nations and provide them with good terms and most importanly educated and skills workers. During those days, Singapore was a very good choice for MNCs expanding globally.

4. Are the laws being implemented ? 法令孰行?
Singapore is well known as the FINE city. Our laws are relatively severe and executed fairly, quickly and strictly.  The government is clean and corruptions are relative less. When a command is given, do the people follow quickly? Singapore is also known as the efficient and safe city. Things get done quickly. There may be faults and breakdown now and then. But they are addressed quickly. Consider Bukit Timah and Katong and many other low lying areas, there used to be floods often. But now they don't happen at all except on very rare occasion. From expecting flood to happen, now any flood become big news e.g. Orchard Road flooding a few years back. Efforts are continued in improving the drainage and water capturing systems. Identifying and fixing the water supply problem is a great accomplishment.

5  Are the strength of the men strong?  兵众孰强?
There are a few ways to look at the overall strength of men. The easiest is the number of men. But more importantly, it is the capability of the man. MM Lee has put much emphasis on education since the beginning. There was the stress on technological skills, multi-lingual. Dr Goh followed up with a major restructuring to ensure education fit the capability of the students, catering to the needs of not just the talented, but more importantly towards the needs for those that need more help. Then there is the emphasis on vocational skills to ensure all c an find jobs or start their own small businesses after graduation. The emphasis in skills development provide the workers, managers and talents that extract the MNCs to come here.  The only regret, may be, was the lack of emphasis on developing our own SME which the government now is spending much effort. But, in the needs of speed, attracting the MNCs was the right move then. The other is the organizational strength. Are the man well organized to give of their best and well co-ordinated to move as one unified force. The organization, operations and systems are covered in the 5th factor 法 of Sun Zi. Some have pointed out the good Civil Service operation was the good thing left behind by the British. But, it still took good men to follow, run and continue to improve it. Our Civil Service in the was not as customer friendly as today's. Changing the Civil Service from red-tape focus towards serving the people was a key and very good move by the leaders.

6 Are the men well trained?   士卒孰练?
There was much emphasis at the start to build up our own national defence force.  National Service was implemented. The training in the early days was very tough and demanding. They were trained by the best from over the world. There are many exercises carried out not just locally, but over the world. The effectiveness of the training could be since in a few major incidences like hijacking of an SIA flight, rescue of those trapped in cable cars, the search and rescue, the peace mission etc.

7 Are the rewards & punishments fair & transparent?   赏罚孰明?
Singapore is also known as nation run by Laws. The laws must be opened to all, be fair to all, and the execution of the laws must be just - impartial and no mercy.  There were cases that even ministers and high ranking officers were investigated and charged.  The government also follow the meritocracy system - making sure that the talented, irrespective of status, were given scholarships and other aids, there were tested and promoted accordingly. There are many ministers and high ranking officials that came from poor background and also from foreign countries. It is a performance base system to ensure those talented are discovered and employed gainfully Even so, there is the other side of the governement system ,,, the care for the poor. The social and medical subsidy systems are rather complex to make sure the system is not exploited but only the needy enjoyed it. It goes but the house you stay, the income the family and siblings etc. The government system is tough but also it has a heart. People sometimes complained about the too much red tape of the government. But we must appreciate that the rules are there to make sure the benefits are not misused and abused. Even so, despite the rules. there are still people finding loopholes to beat the system. Hence it goes back the very basic. the Dao 道, the values of the people. To inculcate the Dao into the people is first priority. Then relying on social pressure is the next. Lastly, we rely on the Laws, to ensure peace and order in the society. Laws is the most effective short term solution. But long term solution must be on Dao.

By looking a the success of Singapore through the eyes of Sun Zi's Art of War, I hope you can see the why and how of the greatness of our Founding Father Lee Kuan Yew. It gives us the framework to continue to build upon the legacy left behind. I am sure you can list other great attributes and work of MM Lee within the framework.

Building upon what he left is our best tribute to him.

See also:
Strong Nation, Great Man, Wise Wife and True Love - Reflection on the Passing of Our Founding Father Lee Kuan Yew.

The Real Master of Sun Zi's Art of War

Lim Liat (c) 27 March 2015

(To understand the Singapore Values in a ligther spirit, see The Kia-Su Kia-X's Uniquely Singaporeans - Mindset & Their Values).

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