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The 3Cs of Leadership – Take Charge, Connect and Have Courage!

A leadership lecture by Mr Seah Moon Ming, Chairman, SMRT

(26 October 2018)

By Elijah Ng, Student Writer

Mr Seah Moon Ming was thrust into the public spotlight when he apologised at a press conference on SMRT’s behalf by bowing. Since then, to focus on turning around SMRT, he has also stepped down as the CEO of Pavilion Energy. He has been lauded as the beacon of hope for the company.

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At the NUS Engineering Distinguished Leaders Lecture held on 26 October 2018 in the Engineering Auditorium, Mr Seah shared his core motivations and values that had shaped his decisions and his leadership style.

As a prelude to his sharing, Mr Seah first remarked that being a leader was more than just knowing about management and leadership theories. He impressed upon the audience that leadership had to be practised.

True to his no-nonsense approach, Mr Seah then laid out his personal framework for corporate leadership, his 3Cs: Take Charge, Make Connections, and Have Courage.

Taking charge, according to Mr Seah, was the difference between being a manger and being a leader. He pointed out that while managers are meant to get things done, leaders must play a wholly different role by providing the vision and the top-down driving force of the organization. This was even more crucial in today’s culture as young talents desire more than just a “what” and “how” to get their jobs done: they now ask for a “why”. It is hence the job of the leader to provide that purpose to his peers and employees — to energise and “charge” them up.

This means that leaders must “walk the talk”. Recalling his time at ST Electronics, Mr Seah shared that as he was trying to encourage efforts in innovation and patent creation in the company, he led by example by publishing a few patents himself.

Mr Seah’s presence on the ground has become a known fact in the public eye. From interacting with commuters on the train to visiting his staff during the weekends, it is of little surprise that establishing connections is also one of Mr Seah’s core values. “Show me the leader and I will know his men. Show me the men and I will know their leader,” Mr Seah quoted as he stressed the need for leaders to establish authentic connections with their employees.

Lastly, Mr Seah emphasised the need for a leader to have courage. It was clear to all that this point was one he felt very deeply about. It takes courage to take ownership and responsibility for so many; to confront issues head on without blaming others.

It was upon this belief that Mr Seah felt the need to apologise on SMRT’s behalf and make public declarations of the company’s intent for transparency in all matters. The need to publicly admit all the problems weighed on him. He felt that being open was the only way to regain the public’s trust and re-build the public’s confidence in his organization.

 

People need to believe you can keep your word and deliver on your promise”

 

It takes courage to take charge and to make the right decisions at the right time, Mr Seah re-emphasised. Although this did not mean that he always succeeded, Mr Seah shared that despite setbacks that he had faced throughout his career, he felt at peace with the fact that they were learning experiences and that he did at least try his best. In the business world, there was always the easy choice of trading social benefit for company benefits. It takes courage to reject this false dichotomy and figure a way out to have a balance of both. Courage is required to brave the short-term sacrifices and reap the long-term benefits, Mr Seah concluded.

Adding on to this, Mr Seah highlighted the need for leaders to be anchored by a strong value system that emphasises integrity — especially in this day and age of extreme volatility. Principles allow leaders to face their problems with courage and strength; it was the reason he could look beyond the bottom line and be emboldened to do the right thing.

To conclude his lecture, Mr Seah revisited his initial point, using the SARS outbreak as an example. The engineers working to develop an infra-red sensor for temperature taking had to overcome many odds. In an act of great leadership, they worked at hospitals despite it being unsafe and did the impossible by convincing the factory to open two lines for their product. The values that drove them led to a revolutionary, life-saving product.

This, to Mr Seah, was leadership. It is the art of putting those values together: to make common people do uncommon things.

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