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Envisioning the future of 21st century leadership

19 Aug 2013

Minister Wong with fellow panellists, including NUS Provost Prof Tan (top photo, far right), at the inaugural NUSLead Forum
The world is changing rapidly. We now live in what author Tom Hayes calls the “10-year century”. Events that used to take place in the course of a lifetime are now compressed into the duration of a decade. Whether in government, business or in non-profit organisations, 21st century leaders are facing unprecedented and unpredictable challenges. Problems today are not just complicated, but also complex, where mechanistic solutions no longer suffice. Furthermore, there are “wicked problems” – tricky issues with no obvious solutions which involve multiple, and at times passionate, stakeholders who maintain different perspectives.

These developments necessitate a significant change of leadership style. Complex and interrelated issues can no longer be dealt with in isolation, and the ability to engage and collaborate across the private, public and social spaces, as well as the need to craft simple messages that resonate across cultures, are valued highly. As Singapore gears up to be a leadership hub in Asia, how should our youths prepare themselves for the rigours of 21st century leadership?

Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, Mr Lawrence Wong kicked off the inaugural NUSLead Forum 2013, titled “Imagining the Future of 21st Century Leadership – Are you a part of it or apart from it?” by highlighting three key traits he felt were important for a leader. A leader must have the dedication to serve; a leader must be authentic; and a leader must make a positive impact. Speaking to about 200 university and junior college Students, Mr Wong represented the public sector, and was one of five panellists at the forum.

The other panellists were Deputy President and Provost of NUS, Professor Tan Eng Chye, representing the education sector; Senior Partner and ASEAN Managing Director of Mercer, Ms Wong Su-Yen, representing the corporate sector; Vice President of Human Capital at Pontiac Land Group, Ms Melissa Kwee, representing the social sector; and Savant Degrees Chief Executive Officer, Mr Zwee Wee, representing the entrepreneurial sector. The discussion was moderated by Mr Peter Ong, Managing Director of the Rested Edge Advisory.

During the dialogue session, Kenneth Lim, a second-year NUS Statistics student, started the ball rolling with the question, what advice would the panel dish out to someone assuming a leadership position for the first time. In response, Mr Wong explained that leadership has to evolve as times change, and a leader needs to learn to accept his own faults and shortcomings and have the humility to admit that he does not have all the answers. During the 90-minute session, the students capitalised on the opportunity to pose questions on what it means to be a leader in a rapidly changing world, and gained invaluable insights from the panellists who are leaders in their respective fields.

This inaugural forum is part of the NUSLead programme. Launched in 2011, NUSLead was designed for students to learn leadership principles and hone their leadership skills through self-initiated projects that promote social, economic and environmental sustainability. Students participating in the programme are mentored by industry leaders in related fields.

By NUS Career Centre