The (Not-so-) Secret Leadership Philosophies for the “Now Normal”

Learnings from the dialogue with Mr Philip Yeo and Mr Lim Swee Say

NUS Enterprise
4 min readJan 27, 2022

10 Jan 2022 — The second week of 2022 saw the first physical (or rather, hybrid) event held by the Philip Yeo Initiative (PYI) in two years. It brought together more than 100 guests from all parts of the vibrant the PYI and NUS Enterprise community, to hear from Mr Philip Yeo (whom everyone endearingly calls, “Chairman”), Mr Lim Swee Say, NTUC Trustee and Adviser, on what is needed in terms of leadership to chart the way forward in the “Now Normal”.

A maverick of his time, Chairman was never shy in doing what it takes to achieve his goals. Even more significant, and we quote Ms Chong Siak Ching, Chairman of the PYI Steering Committee and CEO of National Gallery Singapore, is his “special ability to nurture and develop talent with his unique brand of leadership,” to Make A Difference and Change Our World (MAD COW).

Below are five very colorful takeaways to bring us from the New Normal to Now Normal, as shared by Mr Yeo and Mr Lim:

1) Inspire, not micromanage

Mr Yeo strongly believes that people learn from making mistakes. By allowing them to make their own mistakes, to fall, and more crucially, to solve the problems by themselves — that is how they’ll learn to become better. What he looks out for are people who have the resilience and courage to pick themselves up. Mr Lim, having experienced it first-hand, describes Mr Yeo’s management style as flying a kite, to let go when the wind is blowing, but ever ready and willing to rescue when they land in trouble.

2) Focus on one’s strengths, cultivate them till it compensates the weaknesses

Mr Lim described Mr Yeo’s leadership style with an anecdote of an old lady who likened his husband’s weaknesses to the stars in the skies and his strength to the sun. While the weaknesses were seemingly many like the stars in the night sky, the moment the sun came out, it was able to drown all the stars away. Similarly, Mr Lim fondly recalled how Mr Yeo has a habit of immediately picking up and nurturing one’s strength, instead of harping on their weaknesses.

3) Be an inspiring, curious, and insightful virus

According to Mr Lim, Mr Yeo has been an inspiring leader because he dreamt big and was always focused on the country and the lives of its people. He reads widely and is always insightful. His passion and energy have always been highly infectious. And these were what Mr Lim felt are the three characteristics that made Mr Yeo a good leader. Mr Yeo’s advice to the audience: “Always be curious. Read widely and connect the dots”.

4) Chart your own path, driven by your internal motivations

On the topic of failure, Mr Lim shared that “success never comes easy”. Failure is a given. He emphasised that external motivation will never last forever. Everyone needs to find their own internal source of motivation, something that they believe in — based on their own passion, belief and conviction. That internal motivation is more important, to drive them forward.

5) Dare to dream, never say die, set a target, go for it!

Mr Lim shared that the world is never stagnant, and there’s always a need to make changes and capture new opportunities. Both Mr Yeo and Mr Lim encouraged the current generation of changemakers to continue to pioneer and strive to continuously transform to be better. What the society needs are “troublemakers” that are not afraid to challenge the status quo.

We also got to meet the new PYI Associates of 2020 and 2021!

Left image: 2020 PYI Associates — David Hoe, Mr Philip Yeo, Samantha Thian, Claire Teo;
Right image: 2021 PYI Associates — Lee Jin, Chong Ing Kai, Suzanna Tang, Mr Philip Yeo, Lee Zixin, Kazel Koh

About Philip Yeo Initiative

The Philip Yeo Initiative (PYI) is a ground-up movement, hosted by the National University of Singapore (NUS), to honour Mr Philip Yeo’s contributions and to create an organised platform for him to continue to do what he does best — develop people and talent. The initiative is devoted to growing individuals in their personal and professional capacities by opening opportunities and networks for them to develop their potential.

The Philip Yeo Initiative community consists of individuals who are changemakers, leaders, and visionaries in their fields.

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NUS Enterprise

NUS Enterprise nurtures entrepreneurial talents with global mindsets, while advancing innovation and entrepreneurship at Asia’s leading university.