Sunday, August 08, 2021

Letter to our Young Leaders by A/Prof Tan Boon Yeow


Dear Young Leaders,

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why do I want to be a leader?”.

What is your ultimate goal as a leader? What motivates and keeps you going as a leader? Perhaps many of you, like me, came into leadership roles quite “accidentally” and you did not aspire to be one. Yet, over the years, I have come to realise that it is vital to ask myself these crucial questions as a leader especially when I encounter challenges.

I find the ‘Golden Circle’ concept by Simon Sinek, a well-known author and speaker, a useful one to help frame the essentials in each of our leadership journeys. First, I ask myself the WHYs (purpose) of my leadership. Next, I seek to know the WHATs (means) that need to be done in order to accomplish the WHYs. Last but not least, I apply the HOWs (methods) in order to accomplish the WHATs.

Start with the WHY (Purpose)

I ask myself the ‘WHY’ question when I am asked to lead. I also consider if I am the best person for the job. In my opinion, I think we do not ask the ‘WHY’ question enough. This is the first and probably the most important starting point in our leadership journey. If we are not clear about this, our foundation would likely be shaken when the going gets tough, and we will struggle to chart the way forward (as com- mander-in-charge) and hold the team together.

I urge you to pause and ask yourself the hard question of ‘WHY’ in your current leadership role.

Know the WHATs (Means)

Once we are clear with the ‘WHYs’ of our leadership role, we need to seek out the ‘WHATs’ or the actions needed.

It may help to craft a purpose statement. My personal leadership purpose statement is: “To inspire, build, lead; and in so doing, to live out my Christian faith” The WHAT here includes the need to build the team and create a conducive environment for staff to grow, both professionally and personally. I also seek to inspire them to act and lead them to collectively accomplish the mission/goals of the organisation.

I find the following ‘WHATs’ essential in my leadership journey:

A. Embracing a Growth instead of a Fixed Mindset

Being open to new ways and solutions to challenges. The leader with a growth mindset is unfazed by
challenges and failures, but see them as opportunities for growth.

B. Being Resilient

Being receptive to change and inspire the change process within the organisation. This is no easy feat and is oftentimes met with much reluctance and resistance. Leaders need to be hardy yet patient, in order to help their people and the organisation thrive in altered circumstances.

C. Having both Insight and Foresight

Possessing the ability to have a forward view and leverage on insights and prior knowledge to anticipate the
future so as to chart the best way forward for the team and the organisation.

Apply the HOWs (Methods)

In order to realise the ‘WHATs’, we need to take specific steps. The following ‘HOWs’ build on the ‘WHATs’ listed above.

A. Applying the PSC (Perceive, Sense-make, Choreograph) Model

Honing the ability to perceive or to look at issues with new (and wider) lenses. Having seen a different perspective to the problem, one then sets out to sense-make or think differently. This includes challenging the assumptions and understanding the WHYs and WHATs
to reframe and gain fresh insights.

Finally, having perceived and sense-made, we are then required to choreograph, which is to act differently by engaging and influencing the ecosystem to action.

B. Zooming In and Zooming Out

I have also observed that many clinicians are good at dealing with issues at the micro or individual level largely because we have been trained that way. To be an effective leader, one needs to acquire the ability to look at micro-, meso- and macro-level issues by zooming out to see the bigger picture. This is particularly helpful as we address current issues (insight matters), and also as we plan for the future (foresight) to provide anticipatory care.

Finally, it is imperative as leaders to be aware of the effects of our leadership by soliciting feedback on our leadership. This will help us hone our leadership abilities by fine-tuning our ‘WHATs’ and ‘HOWs’ so as to achieve our purpose or the ‘WHYs’ of our leadership.

About A/Prof Tan Boon Yeow

A/Prof Tan’s experience spans from acute to community-based hospital care and primary care. His passion lies in the integration of care across the diverse settings that patients will traverse during their care journey. His leadership and academic appointments include Chief Executive Officer and Senior Consultant Physician of St Luke’s Hospital; Chairman, Chapter of Family Medicine, Academy of Medicine Singapore and Adjunct Associate Professor at both National University of Singapore and Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine & Duke-NUS Medical School. He was also awarded the MOH National Outstanding Clinician Educator Award in 2019 under the National Medical Excellence Awards (NMEA) and ‘The Albert & Mary Lim’s Award’ 2019.

“Letter to our Young Leaders” was originally published in Leading Healthcare, Healthcare Leadership College, June 2021, Page 3-4. Reproduced with permission.

Recommended Posts