The power of heart: SM Teo on what’s important for public service

“The most important quality is that your heart is in the right place,” said Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean about public service this previous Friday (Oct 7) at the FutureChina Global Forum 2022.

This answer came from a question about SM Teo’s experiences mentoring the Party’s 4G leaders.

When answering this question, SM Teo also mused upon the Pew Research Centre’s findings that Singaporeans feel immensely more united because of Covid: What does this indicate about the PAP Government’s track records and future direction?

Heart, ability and competency

“If you want to be in public service, your happiness comes from other people’s happiness; your satisfaction comes from seeing other people satisfied and happy,” SM Teo continued.

“That is the essence of the right person being in public service. I can see that my colleagues have their hearts in the right place, and that is what they want to do. That is very important.”

And SM Teo’s younger colleagues back this public-spiritedness up with competence.

“They also have the ability and the capability. You can see that increasingly over the last few years,” he said.

“Covid is a very good example.”

“You are thrown into a crisis; you have to make decisions — difficult decisions — in the face of uncertainty. You have to explain to a public that is frightened, confused, and wanting guidance and leadership,” he detailed.

“I think they have succeeded in doing that quite well.”

Case in point? A 19-country survey from the Pew Research Centre which simply asked nearly 25, 000 adults, “Was your country more united or more divided after Covid?”

“Singapore was at the bottom of the list, because the one at the top of the list was the one with the highest percentage who said they were the most divided,” said SM Teo.

“Something like three-quarters of Singaporeans said that we were more united after Covid than divided. Out of the 19, there were only four or five countries that crossed the 50 per cent mark. We were at 75 per cent.”

The results and value of unity

More, out of all the people surveyed, Singaporeans were the one who agreed most with vaccinations.

“The other question that was very interesting was: Is it important for you to be vaccinated to be a good member of society? They did not ask whether or not it is important to be vaccinated to protect yourself from Covid, but asked: Is it important for you to be vaccinated to be a good member of society?” said the Senior Minister.

“Again, Singaporeans were at the top of the list. Seventy-two per cent of Singaporeans thought that it was very important to be vaccinated to be a good member of society.”

“That was the highest of all the countries, and shows the spirit of unity of Singapore.”

And, as SM Teo noted, this trust and public-spiritedness did not come about overnight.

“That kind of spirit has come about over many, many years, overcoming many crises in the past, working together and developing that trust — not just in government, but in each other — that we will be there for each other in a time of crisis.”

“That comes also in having the right kind of leadership that fosters this kind of feeling,” he continued.

In fact, it is prudent planning which helps create good leadership that, in turn, weaves these heartfelt connections.

“The secret to stability and continuity for a country — and in fact for the companies that you run — is making sure that you have a good succession plan,” shared the Senior Minister.

“Even if you are young, start laying down your succession plan for the future, if you want your company to last more than one generation and carry on for two or three generations.”

“I am confident the next generation of leaders — the 4G — are people who are like that, and who will be able to foster that kind of leadership and community bonding among Singaporeans, to take us on, to face further challenges.”