How we lose out when our students are stifled

Singapore Democrats

In our previous post, we pointed out the chasm in the quality between our tertiary institutions and those in the advanced countries, particularly in the UK and the US. The differences are not, pardon the pun, academic.

They translate into very real terms when it comes to fostering the development of future leaders for society. The apathy and just-follow-the-rules mentality of our students have produced negative effects that will take years to undo.

Below is an excerpt from Dr Chee Soon Juan’s latest book A Nation Cheated that describes the cost our society bears when the Government keeps its intellectual shackles on our students:


In an extensive study, stretching over three years and covering several countries, it was found that leaders in Singapore compared unfavourably with their peers from the US, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand on all key measures that drive workforce innovation, engagement and performance.

The research, conducted by the Singapore Institute of Management, the Gallup Organization, and the Gallup Leadership Institute of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, showed that those heading companies and organisations in the city-state are not good at encouraging an innovative spirit among their employees.

Financial Times’ Sumathi Bala pointed out that, “For a tiny country with no natural resources and whose people are its most valuable asset, having a flexible and entrepreneurial workforce to compete effectively in a fast-changing environment is crucial.”

But the analyst also noted that the government’s autocratic ways have retarded the process of developing such a workforce. “As a result,” Bala continued, “most corporate leaders in Singapore prefer to stick to tried and tested management styles and policies, rather than push the envelope and break new ground.”

Dr Bruce Avolio, director of the Gallup Leadership Institute, agrees. He noted that the top-down approach led to a lack of focus on talent development, “If Singapore wants to become a ‘thinking and learning nation’, able to compete by using the full potential of an engaged workforce, what are its leaders willing to do to make this happen?”

A 2003 study asking Singaporean workers to rate the quality of their employers’ management skills, found that of the 30 organisations surveyed (16 MNCs, 10 GLCs and 4 government organisations), the top nine positions all went to MNCs, with a GLC squeezing in at number ten.

Such a finding was confirmed by another study conducted by the Chicago-based International Survey Research which found that among the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Singapore’s employees rated their bosses the least favourably in terms of leadership skills.

A Nation Cheated is available at Kinokuniya Bookstore and Select Books (Tanglin Shopping Centre). You can also purchase a copy by writing to

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