Leadership. It has been the buzzword in the education realm for the past decade. From Hwa Chong’s mission of nurturing leaders in research, industry and government to Crescent Girls’ vision of preparing girls to be ladies and leaders of tomorrow, taking charge is all the hype now. While MOE may have forgotten that there are only so many managerial and leadership roles to go around, and that a large proportion of the student population will be out of job if they are not trained to be more than just leaders, leadership is indeed a crucial characteristic to develop.  

given that Singapore’s only resource is its people (SS lesson here, pay attention), people of high calibre are what we need

Because to be a leader, you must first be exemplary at what you do, so that other people will willingly submit to your authority. And given that Singapore’s only resource is its people (SS lesson here, pay attention), people of high calibre are what we need. But more than just being good at what you do, successful leaders also possess the following characteristics, without which, you will just be a manager and not a leader.

1. Vision

Are you the chairperson of your sports CCA? If so, have you envisioned where your team will be in one year’s time? Will you win the interschool championship? Will your team be much more bonded? Or if you are the president of a performing arts CCA, where will you lead your team? Just to a gold in SYF? Or will you aim higher and try to procure oversea performance opportunities?

A good leader knows the potential of his/ her people and inspire them with words. He/she paints a bright future for his/her follower. That is why Obama garnered so much support for his presidential campaign in 2008. Because he painted a future that many Americans want to be part of and by voting Obama, they know that yes, they can. 

2. Conviction

Conviction is choosing to make the right decision even when the right decision may be unpopular. It is only possible if you already have an ingrained set of values.


Do you know that recently the German car giant Volkswagen admitted to cheating on emissions test to make their cars look more environmentally friendly than they actually are? This huge scandal put a huge dent in the reputation of Volkswagen and caused the resignation of the CEO at that time, Martin Winterkorn. We may think that Mr Winterkorn’s dishonest practice is unimaginable. But the truth is, many other carmakers also try to cheat the system. The only difference is that they have not been caught. Yet. So when all your peers are doing something that will give them an advantage, and by not following suit, you will be losing out, will you have the conviction to do what is right?

However, take note that conviction is not obstinacy. It is not a refusal to listen to reason. That means that by insisting on going to Pulau Ubin for CCA camp when all your members object, you are making yourself a tyrant, not a leader with conviction.

3. Service

The truly great leaders are people who are others-centred

The truly great leaders are people who are others-centred. They do not want fame and power for themselves. They truly want to change society for the better. They simply want to serve. And they are willing to pour out their lives to achieve such a purpose. Think Mother Teresa, think Nelson Mandela, think Ghandi. Because of their selflessness, they shaped history for the better and as a by-product, praises are still being sung to them today.


So the next time you catch yourself thinking about how a leadership role will look good on your resume, or how an overseas CIP trip will give you much to talk about during scholarship interviews, re-evaluate your motives. Ghandi once said, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Sounds counterintuitive? You will be surprised how much wisdom it contains.

Even if you do not hold a leadership position, do not lose heart. As long as your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. Because a leader is not defined by his position. Instead, a leader is one who leaves an impact wherever he goes.