Must leaders be well-educated?

Must leaders be well-educated?
PM Lee takes a selfie with participants after he delivered the National University of Singapore Society's 60th anniversary lecture on Friday night, titled "Singapore in Transition - the Next Phase".

SINGAPORE - There are individuals who may not have aced an examination, or moved a crowd with speeches. But if they can guide Singapore out of a sticky situation, then they are the kind of leaders that Singapore needs, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday night.

He was responding at the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) Lecture to a question from a student who asked if Singapore's leaders needed to be the most well-educated.

Citing these qualities, Mr Lee said: "I think we need to find leaders like that for Singapore."

The student said that many of Singapore's ministers and community leaders were scholarship holders, and asked if the ongoing push to help non-degree holders gain better career prospects - as outlined in last month's Applied Study in Polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education Review (Aspire) report - could help groom future leaders too.

To this, Mr Lee said that a leader does not have to be the most well-educated person, but should be capable.

"They must know the world and they must know Singapore. So whether you have the formal education or not, you must have that knowledge and you must have that leadership," he said.

Citing the example of former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who had little formal education, he said that it is possible for someone to start at the bottom, and become an outstanding leader of a nation.

Singapore too, in its early days, had many unionists, grassroots leaders and Members of Parliament from "very humble backgrounds", he said.

"Now, as we go ahead, as more people make it into polytechnics and to universities... the chances are that the successful people would have more education."

Mr Lee pledged that the Government would help those who have started working, but want to complete their education, upgrade.

But he also said: "You may never ace an exam or be able to make a speech and move a crowd, but if you are stuck in a sticky spot, that's the person you want to be with you to see you through."

Another member of the NUSS, the alumni for university graduates, asked about the qualities that a Singapore leader should have.

"Everything," Mr Lee replied.

To laughter from the audience, he said there was an impossible combination of attributes: "You have to be nice, you must be firm, you must be able to hug babies, you must be able to go to war..."

The moderator of the question and answer session which followed Mr Lee's speech, Ambassador-at- large Tommy Koh, then chimed in: "Superman."

But no one leader can be like that, said Mr Lee. Which is why it is necessary to have a good team.

He said that Singapore has had good teams of ministers so far and so would the next team.

"I know the next team will have good ministers and I hope among them they'll be able to produce a leader whom they will support and whom Singaporeans would also similarly support and in time develop a bond with," he said.

charyong@sph.com.sg
yuenc@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on October 5, 2014.
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