Be Nimble yet Steadfast, Khoo Boon Hui

Khoo Boon Hui

Senior Deputy Secretary (Development), Ministry of Home Affairs
Director, Institute of Leadership and Organisation Development and Senior Fellow, Civil Service College
Be Nimble yet Steadfast, Khoo Boon Hui


Our Public Service and the world at large have evolved beyond recognition since I was a young officer like you some 40 years ago when I first joined the Service. Today’s challenges and opportunities are not those of a decade ago, nor will they remain the same a few years from now. Hence we need to be fast in responding to change.

The Singapore Police Force used to rely upon a top-down, command-and-control management approach. While such a traditional leadership style has its merits, we have realised that the strength of any organisation lies in its people, and its preparedness to engage staff as partners to co-create success. That is why when I became Commissioner in 1997, we embraced collective leadership and practised transparent and open communication at all levels.

When I took on the role of President of INTERPOL in 2008, I thought the same concepts of openness and transparency would put me in good stead in guiding the organisation. However, as an international organisation with numerous stakeholders, these basic tenets were often inadequate, handicapped in part by cultural and language differences.

Such experiences showed me that change is constant – there is no one-size-fits-all strategy to managing people, organisations and work challenges. Instead, explore better ways of doing things and come up with creative solutions. Be mindful, however, that many ideas have been previously considered and not all the reasons for decisions made have been or can be recorded.

Stand firm

In the midst of making bold moves, there will be times when mistakes are made, or changes introduced are slow to produce results. To that, I urge you to push on, and hold fast to your values; not just your own, but your organisation’s, the Public Service’s and Singapore’s. Through my years of policing experiences, I have learnt to live by a core set of values which remind me to be self-disciplined, have respect for others, uphold integrity, commit selflessly to our Public Service, engage with others, and have compassion.

Mistakes will not define you, but your values will.

It is easier to make decisions when you have deeply held values that will steadfastly guide you at the crossroads of your life. Only then will you be able to do the right thing at the right time in the right way, and with the right motive to produce the right results.

On leadership

As you advance in your career and take on greater leadership roles, I encourage you to be…

Humble – The best ideas do not always come from the top. Listen to your peers and subordinates.

Brave – Have the intellectual courage to speak your mind even when talking to your superiors.

Thoughtful – Instil in your team members a sense of self-worth. Engage and involve them, and develop processes and platforms for them to create value for the organisation and themselves. Be a leader and a team player by taking ownership for both the team’s triumphs and failures.

Also, to lead well, you need to regularly examine the moral implications and effects of your actions on others, and understand the values that drive you.

Many high-potential young leaders have derailed because they had failed to learn from mistakes, change and grow. Some were over-reliant on strengths that became weaknesses when circumstances changed. Others failed to address some crucial deficiencies that became accentuated when their roles expanded. To remain effective in your leadership, you have to be keenly aware of what strengths you bring to your leadership and where your limitations lie, and to continuously challenge yourself so as to expand your own capacity to lead well.

It is your fresh mind, enthusiasm, optimism about what is possible, and commitment to the core values of our profession that will bring our Public Service forward.

    Mar 18, 2013
    Khoo Boon Hui
  • link facebook
  • link twitter
  • link whatsapp
  • link email