No matter which side of the political spectrum you stand on, it’s safe to say that Singapore wouldn’t be what it is today without Lee Kuan Yew. And Singapore has come a long way since he became Prime Minister in 1959 – transforming it from a vulnerable city-state to a global financial hub within a generation.
He was not a man known for his warm personality, empathy, or acceptance of opposing political viewpoints – but no one can doubt that every decision he made, no matter how controversial, was made with Singapore’s best interests in mind.
Here are 3 critical life lessons that all of us should learn from Singapore’s founding father:
#1 Success Requires Preparing Well Into the Future
Successful leaders plan ahead – and Lee was a master at anticipating challenges that could affect Singapore’s future, and identifying the solutions. He was especially keen on finding long-term answers to the following Singapore issues:
- Urban planning: For urban planning, he established a long-term plan to clear land, build public housing units, and resettle Singaporeans into “towns” all around the island.
- Infrastructure: For infrastructure, he put into action the building of an expressway network and the MRT system to connect the island’s towns and business district.
- Racial integration: For racial integration, he sought to build a greater sense of community by integrating Chinese, Malays and Indians into public housing communities and schools.
- National defence: For national defence, he established National Service (NS), adopting a conscription scheme similar to that of Israel and also helped broker the Five Power Defence Agreement to protect Singapore’s sovereignty.
How you can apply this lesson to your life: By preparing well in advance for any career or financial problems that may arise in the future, you can mitigate their impact. For example, if you are a 30-year-old working professional, you should start preparing for retirement by purchasing enough insurance coverage and building up a diversified investment portfolio.
#2 Build Strong Relationships and Continually Expand Your Network
It’s a sad fact – but small nations without ties to larger, more powerful nations don’t remain autonomous very long. Lee was well aware of this reality and merged with the Federation of Malaysia in 1962, only to get expelled three years later in 1965. It became an independent nation the same year.
Despite this major setback, Lee continued to expand Singapore’s “network” by becoming a member of the UN (1965), co-founding ASEAN (1967) and building strong relationships with China, India and the United States during his tenure as Prime Minister.
How you can apply this lesson to your life: By continually growing your network and nurturing business and personal relationships, you gain access to new knowledge and opportunities that would have otherwise been inaccessible. For example, if you are a business owner who has a problem hiring good employees, you can join a business owner network to find out how more experienced business owners solve their hiring problems.
#3 Know Your Weaknesses and Focus on Strengths
Lee understood that Singapore’s biggest weakness was its lack of natural resources. This meant that the nation needed to import practically all of life’s necessities – including food, water and building materials such as sand. Instead of focusing on the weakness, Lee sought to limit its impact on Singapore’s growth by developing the nation’s strengths instead.
He utilised Singapore’s strategic position as a sea- and air-trading hub to manufacture and export technological products such as semiconductor wafers and refine oil and chemicals. He also established the business-friendly environment that helped transform Singapore into the financial/technology hub that it is today.
How you can apply this lesson to your life: By acknowledging and understanding your weaknesses, you can limit their impact on your professional or financial well-being – and ultimately overshadow them by focusing your energy on developing your strengths instead. For example, if you are a business development executive who communicates better in conversation than in writing – develop your speaking ability and focus on networking events.
A Man With a Lifetime of Lessons to Offer
He was a man who never made excuses for his mistakes (nor was he apologetic about his shortcomings) and he stuck to his decisions, no matter how unpopular.
He was also intensely determined to transform Singapore into the first-world nation that it is today. This trait – determination – is best exemplified by a quote from his book, The Man and His Ideas:
“If I decide what something is worth doing, then I’ll put my heart and
soul into it. The whole ground can be against me, but if I know it is
right, I’ll do it. That’s the business of a leader.”
Perhaps that is the greatest life lesson we can learn from Singapore’s founding father – have the determination to pursue your life’s passion, even if the world is against you