Lee Kuan Yew: The Five Practices of the Exemplary Leadership


A leader’s contribution goes beyond the present day and is to provide a long-term development of an organization and a team. The mission of the leadership is to create a cohesive team that could be able to pass the test of time and change. The leadership mission remains unchanged, although the leadership context can change over the time. 

The leaders are everywhere – in every sphere, in a city, a country, and an organization. Each leader is unique in his/her way, but they are somewhat similar. The five practices of the exemplary leadership create a model to guide leaders to find supporters, encourage them, and achieve outstanding results together. It is a developed model based on the research of the nature of personal leadership. It consists of five principles, which are to simulate the way, inspire a shared vision, accept challenges, incite others to act, and be encouraging. These five components of the exemplary leadership strategy create a model of a behavior and guide to action, which helps to uncover the leadership potential in every person. 


Lee Kuan Yew is a Singaporean national leader. He is considered the great teacher of the modernization. He is a striking example of a patriotic service to the nation. Yew’s selfless work for the good of Singapore has been included into the books of the political science, patriotic education, and the theory of modernization. Yew’s life and political biography is a history of the young formation of the country in Southeast Asia and its transformation into a powerful state. His actions have led to the fact that modern Singapore is nowadays considered to be a dynamic digital economy country based on the export of the electronic industry. 

Thus, the aim of the research paper is to study Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership skills to identify the way this person has had to gain enormous success in his country and encouraged the political leaders of the world to follow his advice and model the way of leadership style. The mentioned five practices of exemplary leadership will be applied to Yew’s professional and personal skills and will help to present recommendations for a better application of the leadership aspects in practice and achieve astonishing results in this area. 

Lee Kuan Yew: a Brilliant Example of Exemplary Leadership

Lee Kuan Yew can be considered the great teacher of the modernization in Singapore. Yew’s life and political biography is a history of the formation of a young country in Southeast Asia and its transformation into a powerful state. In fact, Singapore is not a state in the classic sense of the word, but the city-state. Lee Kuan Yew is a genuine leader who descended the grace of God. His dreams have become true as he has managed to transform Singapore from a poor fishing village into one of the most high-tech and prosperous countries in the world taking into account the absence of natural resources. Modern Singapore is a dynamic digital economy state based on the export of finished products of the electronic industry. 

Strategic thinking, strong will, and sharpness under the strict defense of national interests in conjunction with tactful flexibility are the key parameters of the Lee Kuan’s stunning success. Even the Singaporean opposition media calls him a national forecaster when recognizing the leader’s great gift. This person has managed to charge the nation on the modernization breakthrough, which has also been admitted even by his opponents. 

Lee Kuan Yew has become one of those exemplary leaders who can keep a watchful eye not only on the general line of development of events but also on many private little things. It describes the ability to watch the forest and the trees simultaneously. The leader had had time to notice the change in the balance of social forces before others understood which path should be elected as an overdue historical opportunity to be turned into reality. The application of five practices of exemplary leadership to Lee Kuan’s actions during his lifetime will help to realize the way this person has managed to become an outstanding personality whose work is and will be studied and talked about for decades.

Practice 1: Stimulate the Way 

The first practice of exemplary leadership implies that all great leaders are united by a sincere belief in their personal values, ethics, and ideas. Such leaders believe in their principles and continue to defend them during all the life as it is not enough to just believe in the values, but one needs to follow, promote, and inculcate them into a team. The values indicate the direction allowing a person to keep the course; they motivate as well as strengthen the cohesion and team spirit. Strong leaders inspire their supporters using not corporate values but personal beliefs. At the same time, the unity of the standard values of the team contributes to coordinated work of the entire organization. Clear values, which are the basis of the company’s strategy and management, are the key to success and sustainable competitive advantage. However, the team members should be actively involved directly in the creation of the company’s values so they could accept the values because the unity is being created but not imposed. 

This practice has been successfully applied by Lee Kuan Yew when he was the leader of Singapore. In particular, Yew has proved his loyalty to the values and beliefs that he declared. Although Yew repeatedly changed his political preference ranging from socialism to libertarianism, he always tried to keep all his promises and, therefore, to show an example to other citizens of the state. It has made this person the epitome of public values for the nation even despite the fact that the final model that worked for Singapore was the one with a high level of social responsibility and strict control over the lives of citizens. This model helped the leader to devote time and attention to the most important values as well as seek for feedback, which was an essential tool for the assessment and development of this person’s leadership skills. 

Lee Kuan Yew was often accused of his intervening in private lives of the citizens. However, his strict belief in the public values helped the leader to achieve the prosperity of the country. It was the reason why Lee did not regret that he intervened in personal lives of citizens because the country could not be able to achieve the present success if Lee Kuan Yew had not done it. 

Lee Kuan used to say that it is necessary just to fulfill the promises, do not betray the party, and succumb to bribery in order to realize that people believe in their leader when he turns out to them for the mandate once again. The idea that a political leader makes a name for him/herself under the following conditions is among Yew’s statements. The first one is realized through the ability to dispose of the trusted to him power in the interests of the people. The second condition lies in the way he/she forms continuity to the government in the future as well as takes care of the national interests. Finally, the last one implies the ability to lay down the power with dignity and give place to others. 

Yew also believed that the people would obey the leaders until they watch over the interests of the nation. He believed that a political leader must be able to convince the locals to make painful and tough steps in case there was an assurance that the country would benefit from it.

Practice 2: Inspire a Shared Vision 

The principle is based on the value of imagining the future and being able to realize the opportunities. Lee Kuan’s primary challenge was to imagine the future of his country by exploring it and watching the latest trends related to technology, economics, politics, arts, and others. 

As a result, Lee Kuan Yew has paid attention to an active development of all sectors of the economy in the first place. In particular, the leader initiated the construction and development of the airport, banking, electronics manufacturing sector, trade, and tourism. It has become the prerequisites of the magnificence of modern Singapore. The state, which was plunged into debts in the 1970s, has nowadays the investments abroad of more than $300 billion. Moreover, the government has about $200 billion for future projects at its disposal. 

The strategy of the economic development of Lee Kuan Yew’s government was based on the transformation into a financial and commercial center of Southeast Asia as well as the attraction of foreign investors. It also brought venture capitalists with the rise of the IT era. The Singaporean government welcomed every investor those days. Moreover, it tried to create favorable conditions for the investors to start the production. As a result, the US multinational corporations have laid the foundation for a large-scale high-tech industry in Singapore. The city-country has begun to produce electronics apart from developing the traditional production and processing. 

Today, no less than 50 thousand millionaires and billionaires live in Singapore, which has a population of about 4 million people in total. The Singaporean miracle that had been created by Lee Kuan Yew during all his life is now considered a model for many countries in the world. Despite the fact that the leader died in 2015, he has been named the leader and the father of the nation since his lifetime. 

Practice 3: Accept Challenges 

The approach includes the understanding of such basic abilities as the possibility to take the initiative, develop the observation, and not to be afraid of conducting experiments and taking risks. The leader is an innovator, and his/her job is to initiate changes in the organization, seek for the opportunities for improvement, development, and growth. The leadership is inextricably linked with the process of innovation, which is the key to success. To carry out the organization or the country through all the ups and downs that can happen in the way of development, the leader must be innovative. It is relevant to note that Lee Kuan Yew did not stop when reaching a certain comfort zone. On the contrary, he went beyond that zone. It is due to this fact that the responsibility for the implementation of changes encourages innovation, new ideas, and the promotion of other initiatives. 

As a result, the adoption of marriage agencies in Singapore can be considered one of Yew’s innovations. It was explained by the fact that the leader placed an emphasis on the fact that all citizens of the state are extremely interested in their personal growth and high income. Additionally, Lee Kuan understood the principles of the law of natural selection that played core role in the innovation. Hence, the concept of training under Lee’s authorship has formed the basis of fundamental changes in the country. This concept has allowed changing the statistics according to which the most intelligent and educated women will never marry or have children. At the same time, successful men have given priority to either the poor or poorly educated women. Lee has accepted the challenge to form a severe foundation for the development and creation of highly intelligent families who give life to healthy and smart generation. As a result, these actions have had a positive impact on the entire economy of the country in the long term. 

One of the leader’s most significant economic achievements is the creation of the Committee on Housing Development in Singapore. Due to Lee’s programs that were aimed at the retention of property prices at an acceptable level, a huge number of the locals changed their slums to luxury apartments in the city-state. Lee Kuan Yew had also been fighting the corruption in the most ruthless manner from the first days of the implementation of his programs. Lee did not distinguish relatives, friends, or acquaintances in this matter but only the interests of the business and the state. He also made the city clean. Hence, the adopted penalties even for a thrown cigarette butt reached out unimaginable values. Today, the streets of Singapore are clean not because of the fact they are being swept away, but because people do not litter on the streets. 

Practice 4: Incite Others to Act

The principle consists of the encouragement of the cooperation, development of the relationship, the assistance in others’ self-improvement, the development of independency as well as competence and confidence. 

Leadership is not a solo performance but a team play. Team cohesion and the creation of a climate of trust are related and extremely momentous factors for success. A real partnership is successful only when people are interdependent and rely on each other always and everywhere. It is easier to overcome obstacles when all the team members have a clear understanding of a long-term goal. Successful leaders help people to approve themselves by increasing the level of their competence, involving them in the decision-making process, and adequately assessing their contribution to the development of the organization. The axiom for leaders is that investments into the development and personnel training are paid off in full. 

To incite others to act, Lee has adopted significant reforms in the education system. As a result, it was decided to provide all children with equal conditions of development. There was no separation between the children’s schools and kindergartens. Every institution conducted annual tests for IQ guided by the British scientists. Children who showed the best results became the students of Raffles right away, which was the best school in Singapore. This school ensured the education of the future leadership of the state. This approach provided the country with highly intelligent specialists. At the same time, the country lacks the specialists of the middle and low qualification. However, these actions have brought significant benefits to the country. Thus, Singapore owns the first place in the world in terms of intellectual development these days. The constant influx of young people with good education and intelligence ensures continuous development of the state. The system of re-education of citizens has led to the reduction in crime rates as chaos and development are just incompatible in their nature. Additionally, successful students were sent abroad to study in the best universities across the globe. The government allocated money from the budget specifically for this purpose.  

Practice 5: Be Encouraging

According to the fifth principle of the exemplary leadership, to be encouraging means to appreciate the contribution of others, expect dedication, personalize recognition, honor winners, promote the values, foster the team spirit, and take personal part in the mentioned actions. 

It is important to appreciate the others’ contributions because outstanding leaders love and know how to recognize others’ outstanding achievements. Sometimes the words of encouragement and gratitude mean more that financial incentives. The leaders expect high accomplishments from both themselves and their subordinates. Trusting and respecting people motivate them to achieve more. The aims and values related to the future expectations provide specific guidelines and allow constructing a coordinate system for moving forward. If the leader clearly indicates the direction and gives feedback, it will give strength and confidence to his subordinates as well. Additionally, successful leaders know how social interaction reinforces the cohesion of the team and loyalty to common values. It helps to maintain motivation in the long term. It is also worth noting that the leader must earn trust because it helps to promote the declared value as the foundation of leadership. The importance of trust increases with the social interaction. Personal participation convinces people of a leader’s sincere attitude to the team. It creates a secure connection between the subordinates and the organization. 

Thus, at the age of 87 years, Lee announced his resignation as the Singapore Minister on May 16, 2011. He decided to give the young people the opportunity to govern the country after 30 years of ruling Singapore as the Prime Minister and 14 years as the Senior Minister in the Cabinet as well as 8 years as a government teacher. The world public applauded paying tribute to his political courage. These were well-deserved applause to the statesman, a patriot, and a strategist. No one forced Lee Kuan Yew to abandon his port as he had the moral right to stay in power as long as he wanted. However, Lee did not cling to the power but just felt that there was the time for him to go away. 

It is believed that these actions describe in full Lee’s greatness because such a person knew when to leave. His gesture aroused a storm of applause all over the world. Indeed, the world around us has changed beyond recognition, and this process is irreversible. Changes in the external environment require a symmetrical response from the internal environment. Otherwise, uncontrollable factors take effects. It is important to note that Singapore and its leader responded to these effects adequately. 

Lee Kuan Yew said once that his biggest consolation was the belief that there would become the day when he would be required to pass the baton. It is even more pleasant to realize that the baton is passed to those who think the same, who are inspired by the same ideas but are young, energetic, and able to meet the challenges of modern times. 

Recommendations for a Better Use of the Leadership Practices

It is wrong to assume that leaders are born. Leadership is not associated with the post, fame, power, or wealth. It is a specific set of skills and abilities that can and should be developed. Considering leadership an innate talent means limiting its development and suppressing personal leadership skills. 

Using five components of exemplary leadership strategy allows changing a person’s life and the lives of the others, which is to direct their energies into achieving the highest goals. If every person accepts the responsibility to create the world he/she dreams to live in, they can become leaders then. 

As a result, it is recommended to challenge the myth of the innate nature of the leadership in order to discover new unknown features of a leader. It depends on the efforts to self-development in becoming a leader after all. The main thing is to believe in the results. A person only needs some dedication, consistency, discipline, and the will. However, it is not required to bring the leadership strategy to absurdity because it can eventually have negative consequences. The mankind has been trying to unravel the secret of success in life for many years. As a result, many things have become clear after numerous interviews and analysis of behavioral strategies of several thousand leaders. It has become clear that it is all about love to a favorite cause, employees, and others that are capable of performing miracles, in particular, to inspire and lead for the sake of great ideas. The truth is that leadership is the way of the heart. 

Hence, to become a better leader, it is recommended to do the following. First, it is important to clearly clarify personal values as well as to help the supporters to do the same. Second, it is necessary to present a common vision, which is basically about selling the idea of bringing together to the supporters. Third, it is crucial to start large projects with small victories to motivate the supporters. Fourth, it is essential to consider acting as a leader or a mentor in everyday life. Fifth, it is worth always searching for the way of the elimination of unnecessary levels of management and hierarchical barriers in any organization. Finally, it is decisive to appreciate the contributions of others in a common sense. 


The founding father of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew was the man who transformed a little dot on the map into the thriving metropolis of the international significance. The first Prime Minister of Singapore who had served during the longest term ever was a prominent thinker and an outstanding leader. He was considered one of the most influential people in Asia. Lee was also known as a great orator who knew how to hold the attention of the public. The leader has shown that the achievement of the liberal miracle using the authoritarian methods has become a serious alternative to the Western democratic path. It is believed that the prominent personal skills that have made Lee an outstanding leader are special diligence and ability to adapt to any situation.  

To sum up, it is relevant to note that the research paper has allowed discussing five practices of exemplary leadership by applying them to the leadership skills of one of the most outstanding leaders of all times. The possession and successful application of all the practices have allowed Lee Kuan Yew to turn out one of the poorest countries of the globe into the richest state of the planet. Today, Singapore is considered as something incredible that has been achieved by the Singaporeans exclusively using their personal forces and intelligence. The leader of the state has made it the world financial center designed in the style of hi-tech and characterized by its sterile cleanliness. All this has become possible due to the country’s leader Lee Kuan Yew. Additionally, the research paper has allowed assessing better ways of the leadership practices application as well as presenting recommendations for the improvements of leadership.