Our colleagues in Singapore have not left the country since March. A hub of Southern Asia, Singapore is experiencing some of the world’s strictest Covid 19 regulations. What can leaders learn from its example?
When the pandemic hit Singapore there was no time for sitting back and allowing complacency to take over - something the population of Singapore doesn’t have in its DNA! Instead, Singapore took a proactive and 'curious' approach. Questions rolled in by the ton and on a constant basis, relating to the virus and how best to tackle the issue. This curiosity was the foundation for our situation today: alternative sources of surgical masks encouraged the use of re-usables. Breath tests were developed that delivered results in under one minute.
And most important of all, Singapore remained focused on one question: HOW? In what ways will this impact our citizens and local businesses now, and in the future?
The Importance of Being Agile
Singapore’s leadership acted swiftly in implementing the hard decisions that would impact the lives of its citizens. At times working against popular public opinion, they acted on what they felt was the best decision for Singapore as a nation (this was community-centricity at work, one of the critical fundamentals in Asian culture). They reacted quickly to WHO advice and when necessary issued travel bans on cities or countries, depending on the situation.
Inclusion, Caring and Ethics
Many of the measures have been taken with a focus on the citizens and Singapore as a community. This very much reflects the vision and values upon which the founding members built Singapore, under the visionary leadership of Lee Kuan Yew. For example, issuing free masks to citizens whilst prioritizing frontline staff is a fair statement of the collective cultural thinking in play. The government's intervention in companies suspected of profiteering from surgical masks saw several taken to task, including a leading online shopping platform.
While jobs were lost, others were created to help manage the lack of manpower (we are a small nation) and provide re-employment opportunities for those affected.
Specific handouts were provided to selected groups of people, typically the lower-income bracket. It is delicate balancing act to decide who gets what, but at least the vulnerable have some assistance.
Leaders For What’s Next?
All in all, looking back on the measures taken and the sequence of events, it seems that in comparison to many other nations the Singapore government and business' leadership displayed restraint in 'giving' when needed.
Still, they pulled no punches in tackling the virus where necessary, dealing firmly with individuals and corporates who broke the rules.
Singaporeans also united in speaking up when it came to prejudices against our healthcare workers and other essential staff, including those in the transport/food and beverage sectors. Without them, the country would have come to a standstill. We adapted when we needed to in order to survive, and to support our fellow citizens.
Corporates and the government co-operated to tackle the challenges, whilst keeping in mind the importance of keeping the economy afloat. Working from home was a drastic measure and a new thing for Singaporeans culturally. But within the span of this pandemic, people have evolved to make the best of it, while entrepreneurs and hotels alike recognized the new future and with this recognition, new business concepts emerged. Flexible working has become the new norm!
As a foreigner who has lived in Singapore for many years, here’s my personal impression of this exceptional culture: Singapore as a nation and Singaporean nationals share some common traits: resilience, grit, hard work and adaptability. Attributes which weave throughout the country’s society and daily living and working in Singapore. Attributes which in my view will determine the new generation of leadership skills.