Lee Kuan Yew
Leadership Case Study

Lee Kuan Yew Leadership Case Study is a part of Leadership Stories, a series of biographies of great leaders in history that have impacted the world in a huge way.

Lee Kuan Yew Leadership
Who was He?

Lee Kuan Yew was the first and longest serving Prime Minister of Singapore; and it was his leadership that brought Third World Singapore into a thriving metropolitan city in a stunning 3 decades.

He is currently serving as Minister Mentor in the government, advising the country’s leaders on national issues. 

To date, he still wields much influence in the region as an authority in nation building.

A Quick History

Lee Kuan Yew was born in 1923 as the eldest child of Lee Chin Koon. He studied in the top schools in Singapore and went to the London school of Economics briefly for his university education before moving over to Cambridge where he obtained his Law degree.

He started his political career under a Pro-British Progressive Party as an election agent. However, he began to realize that the British would not gain the support of the Chinese. He would grow the connections which would help his future political career later on when he was engaged as a lawyer to the Student and Trade Unions.

Soon, he started his own opposition party People’s Action Party against the then Labour Front.

On 5 June 1959, Lee became the first Prime Minister of Singapore when PAP won the most seats in the legislative assembly.

He pushed for a merger with Malaysia but the integration proved to be too much for both sides and the then Malaysia Prime Minister decided that Singapore should be separated from the Union.

This became the lowest point of Lee’s life and also the turning point for Singapore’s success. Although Lee was in anguish at that point, he never gave up the vision for Singapore and he brought it all the way from a 3rd world country to a first world metropolitan city today.

Singapore is one of the world’s success stories and Lee is the man behind this success. Although a lot of critics question his style of leadership, often being seen as autocratic and dictatorial, but no one will question the success of Singapore that he has brought.

Awards and Honours

1. Order of the Companions of Honour
2. Ig Nobel Prize
3. Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service

Lee Kuan Yew
Leadership Lessons

1. Say it as it is

One of Lee’s most obvious qualities is that he is a frank and straightforward talker that minces no words. He is not afraid to be blunt about certain truths and he sometimes gets on people’s nerves for doing so.

However, you cannot argue that his approach has yielded results. 

The best thing you can do for your team is to acknowledge and speak the truth. It might hurt a few people, ruffle a few feathers, but to frame things as they are and allowing your team to face the truth is probably the best favor you can do for them.

Although some might be offended or feel uncomfortable, you will gain a lot of respect for doing so. People know that they can trust you. 

2. Plan your leadership succession

Lee planned for the people that will take over him years before he actually stepped down as Prime Minister. He saw the importance of raising up the next generation of leaders to lead the nation.

The saying goes, there is no success without a successor. To be successful as a leader, your organization must transcend you and you must be humble enough to acknowledge that.

If you are indispensable to your organization, then your organization will not last after you're gone. You need to strive to build an organization centered around a mission or purpose rather than an organization centered around you. 

3. The power of tenacity

Lee had gone through his toughest period when Malaysia chose to separate itself from Singapore. Him shedding tears on public television marked one of the most historic moments in Singapore history.

However, he never gave up, strengthened his resolve and continued to believed that he could develop Singapore into what he envisioned it to be.

A leader must have this resolve to just press on no matter how difficult the circumstances. In fact, it is this quality that separates the good from the excellent. Everyone can lead well when circumstances are favorable, but it is the times of adversity that distinguishes you as an excellent leader.

Moreover, when you choose to press on, you will develop a tenacity and persistence that will carry you through your leadership journey. 

Related Books on
Lee Kuan Yew Leadership

Best Quotes from
Lee Kuan Yew Leadership

“Even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel something is going wrong, I will get up.”

"Between being loved and being feared, I have always believed Machiavelli was right. If nobody is afraid of me, I’m meaningless.”

"Supposing Catherine Lim was writing about me and not the prime minister...She would not dare, right? Because my posture, my response has been such that nobody doubts that if you take me on, I will put on knuckle-dusters and catch you in a cul de sac...Anybody who decides to take me on needs to put on knuckle dusters. If you think you can hurt me more than I can hurt you, try. There is no other way you can govern a Chinese society."

"... If you can't think because you can't chew, try a banana", 2000. Lee was responding to a BBC reporter who suggested that Singapore's draconian laws (including the ban on chewing gum) could stifle the people's creativity"

"Low salaries will draw in the hypocrites who sweet talk their way into power in the name of public service, but once in charge will show their true colour, and ruin the country."

"When you're Singapore and your existence depends on performance - extraordinary performance, better than your competitors - when that performance disappears because the system on which it's been based becomes eroded, then you've lost everything... I try to tell the younger generation that and they say the old man is playing the same record, we've heard it all before. I happen to know how we got here and I know how we can unscramble it." - On one freak election result ruining Singapore (Straits Times, 26 April 2008)

Video on
Lee Kuan Yew Leadership

Other Links

Wikipedia: A highly detaled account of Lee Kuan Yew's Life
Lee Kuan Yew.com: A site with much information about Lee Kuan Yew

Other Political Leaders

»Lee Kuan Yew
Lee Kuan Yew was the first and longest serving Prime Minister of Singapore; and it was his leadership that brought Third World Singapore into a thriving metropolitan city in a stunning 3 decades.

» Nelson Mandela
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» Martin Luther King Junior
Martin Luther King Junior was an Americian Baptist preacher, an activist and a prominent leader in the American civil rights movement. His greatest work was probably to fight for the civil rights of the African-American people.

» Abraham Lincoln
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» George Washington
George Washington is the first President of the United States and is known as the “father of the country.” Before he stepped up as President of the United States, he was the military commander in chief of the then US forces who drove out the British from America.

» Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was the head and leader of Nazi Germany who started the World War II. He was most known for his for his central leadership role in the rise of fascism in Europe, World War II and The Holocaust.

» Barack Obama
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» Colin Powell
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» Tony Blair
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