Good leaders can make a difference

I just finished my reservist today. For those of wondering, my comrades and I did not get to greet that same warrant officer and give him the pleasure of yelling at us again the next morning for not wearing a beret in camp. But being an obedient soldier, I did go to the eMart the next day to buy myself a new beret and jockey cap so I won’t have to break camp rules (albeit dumb ones) again during my next ICT.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I believe it is possible for NSmen (reservists) to put in their best effort into training, given the right leadership and guidance. My unit is a good example. Although I am not particularly fond of scrambling around in the hot sun, staying up all night to help prepare battle plans, and doing sai kang (unpleasant tasks) after the training is over, one thing that I like about ICTs is seeing my fellow soldiers cooperating so well to get the job done well and trying so hard to complete our training to a satisfactory standard.

Conventional belief is that NSmen are always just trying to keng (malinger). In my unit, chao keng soldiers are the rare exception rather than the rule. And this is not because we have some guai lan Commander barking at us all the time.

On the contrary, our Commander (a lieutenant colonel) tries his best to get us out of the “excused from thinking” mindset that many other soldiers have, and to put into practice the innovation and work ethic we are used to in our civilian jobs. He genuinely believes that innovation and improvements can come from even the lowest levels of the organisational hierarchy. Hence, it is not unusual to see him chatting one-on-one with drivers and clerks to get their feedback on how training can be improved. And we actually tell it to him like it is. Just last night he went out for supper with one “lowly” corporal (an IT manager in civilian life), who gave him an earful of feedback which he promised he would look into.

He also affords us a great deal of trust, even to the point of giving us tips on how to get our deferments approved quicker if we have urgent personal or work commitments. In return, I think our unit’s deferment rate is quite low, as my platoon is usually almost fully staffed at every ICT.

Some time ago, I wrote this in an article on this blog:

In recent years, lots of resources have been poured into recognising reservists’ contributions to “Total Defence”, including larger Progress Packages, NS tax relief, SAFRA recreational facilities and even a new golf course. While most reservists probably appreciate these measures, no amount of “welfare” will address the more critical need for a mindset change among many of our citizen-soldiers. There is a common joke that many reservists go into “excused (from) thinking” mode the moment they don their camouflage uniforms. Perhaps this is due to the rigid military culture that they are not used to at their workplaces in the corporate world.

The SAF needs to find more engaging and innovative ways to explain to all reservists — from officers down to enlisted men ­— the geo-strategic realities that compel us to maintain a strong defence capability. Reservists (and for that matter, all soldiers) should be given more in-depth briefings on our vulnerabilities as a little red dot in a potentially hostile region. These insights should go beyond the typical National Education lessons taught to secondary school students. Soldiers should be given more privileged information and analyses regarding the latest threats facing Singapore, of course without compromising state secrets. By doing so, the SAF will help our soldiers to better appreciate how they contribute individually to national defence.

I believe that if a leader leads by example, gets his followers to see the purpose in what they are doing, and acknowledges them as equal human beings deserving of respect, there is nothing he cannot inspire them to do for the cause he is leading. And yes, this works even for our men in green.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

4 thoughts on “Good leaders can make a difference”

  1. Sounds like my OCs and some of the regulars i knew. Unfortunately it seems that such regulars are not the norm.

  2. You are fortunate to have such an office in command who’s very much in touch with the ground people. Kudos to you and those serving under his command (during your ‘reservist’, that is).

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