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Lee Kuan Yew Essay

1. Historical Background of the Leader

Lee Kuan Yew was born a British subject in at Kampong Java Road Singapore on September 16, 1923. He was born to Lee Chin Koon, an English-educated and a British subject, and Chua Jim Neo. He had three brothers and a sister namely, Dennis Lee, who was able to put up a law firm with Lee Kuan Yew called Lee & Lee, Freddy Lee, a stockbroker, Lee Suan Yew, who read medicine at the University of Cambridge, and Monica Lee. Lee Kuan Yew got married to Kwa Geok Choo on September 30, 1950. They had two sons, Lee Hsien Loong, who became a Prime Minister in Singapore, and Lee Hsien Yang, who was a former President and Chief Executive Officer of SingTel. They also had a daughter named Lee Wei Ling, who runs the National Neuroscience Institute.

He first studied at Telok Kurau Primary School, which he perceived as a school whose primary students were poor and not as bright and advantaged. He moved to Raffles Institution, where he was challenged because he was surrounded with the top 150 students in Singapore. Despite this, he still strived to get into the top of his class. On his junior year, he studied in Cambridge where he was able to receive scholarships and top position for the School Certificate examinations. Lee also received a scholarship for Raffles College (National University of Singapore) where he obtained the top student position for both Singapore and Malaya. When the Japanese arrived in Singapore, Lee’s university education was delayed. He used this time to learn Japanese and work as a clerk in a textile importing company. He also put up his own business where he manufactured stationery glue. When the war finished, Lee continued his studies in London School of Economics and afterwards moved to University of Cambridge. Here, he took up law at Fitzwilliam College and graduated with a double First Class Honors, an award that is rarely received.

After taking up his graduate degree, he returned to Singapore to work as a lawyer. He was offered a job in John Laycock’s law firm, which he served as a legal advisor to the trade and students’ union. He also worked as an election agent for the company, and this is where he encountered politics. Eventually, he was able to work is way to the top and he became the first Prime Minister of Singapore on June 3, 1959. During his term, he was able to make third world country, Singapore, to a first world country.1

2. Application of Edwin Locke’s Framework

3. Leadership Styles
Covey’s Transformational vs. Transactional
Lee Kuan Yew was more of a transformational leader. He involved changing the organization and its members for the better. He motivated his subordinates to work for “higher level” goals that allegedly transcend their personal interests. He shaped and drove Singapore’s development, catapulting the city-state from a Third World backwater, to the front ranks of the First World. An example for this would be when he wanted to lower down the unemployment rate. He decided that change was necessary and they specifically needed to get manufacturing sectors put up in Singapore then sent back to America.

This resulted to them running and exporting within months, which solved their unemployment problem. Another example would be the time when he inspired the polyglot population to become the intellectual and technical center of the region. This resulted then to becoming a major player in the international economic market. Lee Kuan Yew was able to transform Singapore drastically by appealing to his followers’ values and sense of higher purpose to execute his vision for a new and improved Singapore. He was also able to align his vision accordingly with his followers, which can be seen in a testimony saying that Lee has created a tiny island of three million who constantly strive to improve.

Schmidt and Tannebaum’s Continuum
Lee Kuan Yew’s style is nearing the Laissez Faire leadership. He shares decision-making with group members specifically cabinet and party members, experts, the people of Singapore and many others and works with them side by side (Dubrin et al., 2006).8 He cannot be depicted wholly as a Laissez Faire leader due to the fact that although he considers other peoples’ opinions, but since he is a Prime Minister, he has to make the final decisions. Lee Kuan Yew also allows his people to take a vote on certain issues and make them decide the outcome. An example for this would be him holding a referendum on merger with Malaysia.

Blake and Mouton
There are people who believe that Lee Kuan Yew is a participative leader (Dubrin et al, 2006, 75) since when he makes deicisions, he does so with a group of members and he works with them side by side. In this case, Lee’s group included his cabinet and party members, the experts he consulted with, the people of Singapore and many others. It is hard to pin point a specific subtype of participative leadership and he displays all three: Consultative, Consensus and Democratic. As Prime Minister it is important to consider other people’s opinions but often he has the power of making the final decision. This is called consultative leadership. A consensus leader will aim to have all members agree on an issue although in Lee’s case, it is virtually impossible as there are so many people involved when making decisions on behalf of the nation.

A democratic leader is one who takes a vote on an issue to decide the outcome. The best example of that in Lee’s case is holding a referendum.10 His high concern for people is also seen in the riot between Malaysia and Singapore. The riot ended with twenty-three fatalities and hundreds injured so Lee appealed to the public to end the riot and severed ties with Malaysia (Wikipedia, 2007, n.p). This demonstrated his “utilitarianism” approach to decision making. He believed that the merger with Malaysia was crucial for Singapore’s survival but he saw that his people were displeased and that the situation could result in more bloodshed so he decided that ending the Federation would be the most beneficial decision.

Situational Leadership and David Coleman’s Situations
Lee Kuan Yew is definitely has a coercive leadership style. Despite the fact that Singapore was in a crisis, he was able to deal with a very difficult task and that is to transform a developing nation into one of the world’s most developed countries. Through industrialization, Singapore was able to work her way up to the top.

Lee Kuan Yew could also be considered as having affiliation as his leadership style since he was able to devise a plan with the Malayan Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman to merge the countries of Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore together to form a Federation in order to end British Colonial Rule, despite the fact that this union was short-lived.

4. Special Qualities

Bennis’ Attributes
Lee Kuan Yew possessed a guided vision. An example for this would be his vision of greening the city in Singapore. Due to his determination he has transformed Singapore to one of the greenest cities of the world.13 Lee Kuan Yew also possessed passion. According to the former Malaysian Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin. He remains, as always, passionate about Singapore, its citizens, its future and its relationship with its neighbors. That passion has driven him to make Singapore vibrant and relevant, and towards this he is committed to shaping the minds of young Singaporeans. This latest book illuminates his thinking that is bound to raise discussions about the future of Singapore.

Covey’s Seven Habits

Lee Kuan Yew was also believed to have made proactive movements under his governance. Himself a lawyer, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew knows the importance of effective law enforcement and rigorous administrative system. Under his leadership, the Government has been proactive in developing high standards of public health and a quality environment with clean air, clean land, clean water and also a control on noise pollution.

Aside from this, Lee Kuan Yew set his priorities straight. He aimed for Singapore’s economic and social development, which he made sure that the government delivered, even if it meant tough laws such as the Land Acquisition Act. He also prioritized nationhood and unity. He provided a quality living environment, regardless of status, coupled with universal home ownership. He believed this will contribute to the sense of equality in the society. He even said in a speech “You can’t have this sense without giving all Singaporeans a clean and green Singapore. Today, whether you are in a flat, executive condominium or landed property, it’s clean. You don’t live equally, but you are not excluded from the public spaces for everybody.”

Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership
Lee Kuan Yew was a prime minister and a public servant. He places service before self-interest (Dubrin et al, 2006, 69). He is concerned with developing his people’s welfare and socioeconomic status, which included creating a better health and education standards. Lee is also believed to “listen first to express confidence in others,” another attribute of a servant leader. He pays attention for his to be able to acquire insights to concerns and problems in order to decide what action he has to take to resolve these issues. As a politician in a democratic society, this is crucial because if Lee ignored the needs of his country he would have be overturned and lost power. A servant leader must also be able to “inspire trust by being trustworthy.” Lee built a foundation of trust early in his political career.

He was able to relate to his voters by describing his political party, People’s Action Party as, “beer-swilling bourgeois.” (Wikipedia, 2007, n.p) More importantly, he consistently delivered on his policies. An example for this would be when he was recognising Singapore’s housing problem and solving it. There was a shortage of housing so he organised housing to be built on government owned land and currently, 90% of Singaporeans own their own home as cited by Elegant, Elliot and Smith. (2005, p.38). Lee Kuan Yew is also considered a servant leader since he focuses on what is feasible to accomplish” and concentrates on the most important issues which means some will be neglected. As Prime Minister, he was responsible for an entire country with a population of over four million so naturally, some issues would be overlooked but he ensured that his people’s interests were placed first and his three main concerns were national security, the economy and social issues.

5. Conclusions and Implications for Organizational Effectiveness

Lee Kuan Yew is considered one of the most successful and exceptional leaders of our time. He is able to communicate with people and identify with their goals and aspirations. He is also trustworthy and this could be demonstrated in his track record of good judgment. Smedinghoff (2004, p.9) believes Lee displays excellent character and this is shown through his integrity. He states that, “Lee Kuan Yew’s insistence on replicating his integrity was recognized when the Institute for National Development voted Singapore the least corrupt country in Asia, and the seventh least corrupt worldwide.” His accomplishment and forty year reign in Singapore’s political scene speaks for himself. It is evident that he is highly regarded by many. Lee is testimony to show what hard work, perseverance and discipline can achieve. Lee Kuan Yew has achieved what many world leaders dream of and accomplished this without violence. He is an example of an exemplary leader.


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