The Core of Leadership

The stuff that leaders are made of – that’s the code that Mr Chan Boon Fui of the Public Service Division (PSD) is working to crack. As the world becomes increasingly volatile and complex, leaders in the public sector also need to become more adaptive and innovative. Mr Chan and his team are working to develop leaders who can tackle the challenges of today, and those to come.
The Core of Leadership

“I always remember Shackleton’s story,” says Mr Chan, Senior Director of PSD’s Leadership Development and Human Resource (HR) Policy clusters. “It brought to life the differences between being a manager and a leader.”

In 1914, Ernest Shackleton led 27 men on an expedition to become the first people to traverse Antarctica. But along the way, their ship, Endurance, became trapped in ice, and sank. The mission of exploration quickly morphed into one of survival. After being trapped in the Antarctic for almost two years, Shackleton brought all 27 of his men back from the expedition, alive. While he did not cross Antarctica as he planned, his leadership in that trying situation earned him the loyalty of his crew.

Shackleton’s story continues to provide lessons. “To me, a leader inspires and brings people toward a vision,” says Mr Chan. “But the skill-sets we need of leaders are getting more diverse – leaders need to manage tensions, balance trade-offs between competing needs, and lead people to collaborate because the issues we face are becoming more interconnected.”

For Mr Chan, the challenges need to be addressed at the systems level. “It’s not possible to have all the skills reside in one person,” he explains. “What we need then is to build a strong leadership bench, one where people with different skill-sets complement each other. To do that, we need to broaden our leadership development pool.”

Developing Public Service Leaders

The Public Service requires both specialists and generalists. To that end, the Public Service Leadership Programme (PSLP) has been building a sectoral leadership pool, and part of Mr Chan’s team’s work is devoted to developing the career road-maps for officers on the PSLP.

Among the team’s achievements is the launching of Sectoral Competency frameworks in five key domains: Economy-building; Infrastructure and Environment; Security; Social; and Central Administration. “These competencies and capabilities need to be articulated and built into our leadership development,” says Mr Chan.

Attracting and Retaining Talent

Mr Chan’s other appointment as the Senior Director of HR Policy means he also gets to work with Ministry HR directors and union leaders to co-create policies that influence how public officers are hired, retained and managed. “Through such partnerships, we aim to develop frameworks and policies that better support agencies in attracting, retaining and managing public officers,” he explains.

In 2015, Mr Chan helped bring to fruition the extension of the Management Executive Scheme, under which non-university graduates are hired under the same scheme as university graduates, and have access to the same opportunities for advancement and career development. To support successful ageing, in 2016, his team also saw through the extension of re-employment age for public officers to 67.

Making Things Happen

In recognition of his contributions, Mr Chan received the Public Administration Medal (Silver) at this year’s National Day Awards. Asked how he feels about the award, his usual cheerful mien turns to one of contemplation.

“The developments that I’ve been fortunate to be part of occurred when many people came together to collaborate,” he explains. “So I’m very grateful to be involved in the work at PSD. Throughout my journey in the public sector, I’ve met many who are dedicated to public service. I’m just one among them. We just do our best to serve Singapore. To be appreciated for it is an honour.”

    Nov 6, 2016
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