Friday, 26 April 2013

Singapore’s aspiring democrats turn to violence

With the vandalism of Singapore's Cenotaph, politics in the nation crossed another 'Red Line.' Violence has crept into Singapore's political sphere.

Let's be clear, spray painting a national monument is violence, not 'graffiti art.' Sure, the structure was not destroyed. Nor does the damage appear irreparable. However, violence against Singapore's history eats at the nation's soul.

Singapore's Cenotaph monument located in the Esplanade Park
Singaporeans, like people everywhere, are shaped by shared historical experiences. The colonial era, including participation in the last century's two world wars, is part of Singapore's recent history.  

As Singapore builds upon its history, citizens aspire for greater freedoms. However, the Cenotaph's vandalism may be interpreted as a sign that some Singaporeans are not ready for greater personal responsibility, a by-product of freedom.

Civil society is a prerequisite for democracy. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, 'Civil' means, "Adequate in courtesy and politeness; of, relating to, or based on civil law; established by law."

Democracy is more than 'one person, one vote.' Democracy is a culture - a way of thinking. Democracy grants freedoms but requires respect. Democracy is a way for society to establish laws; laws which are just and in line with the ambitions of society.

Respect for the law is paramount for any 'wannabe' democrat.

Undoubtedly, there are those who disagree with some prevalent laws. Consider the gay community with its repugnance for Section 377A of Singapore's penal code. To their credit, those opposed to Singapore's homosexuality laws are encouraging change in a mature manner – by challenging the statute through Singapore's Supreme Court.

Additionally, there is the example of Singaporean cartoonist Leslie Chew arrested for sedition. The cartoonist proclaims his views openly, not hiding behind a cloak of anonymity. He overtly confronts the system and appears prepared to face the legal consequences. In other words, if laws are perceived to be unjust then transparent, civil disobedience is the answer.

Violence – call it vandalism if you like – is not a catalyst for change. Vandalism in democracy's name is as abhorrent as violence in religion's name.

Misguided passion will not engender more political freedoms, leave alone democracy.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at

Friday, 5 April 2013

Leadership lessons from Pope Francis

Crisis management is not an easy task, particularly for a global organization with a mission statement which might read, 'Spread the gospel and the word of God.' Nonetheless, Pope Francis has done an admirable job in reviving the fortunes of the Catholic Church since taking office a few weeks ago. Indeed, his behaviour provides an interesting case study in leadership.

For starters, Pope Francis made his intentions for the papacy clear through his choice of name. Branding and names are inextricably linked. By (unexpectedly) associating himself with a Saint best known for helping the poor and a love for animals, Pope Francis underscored his priorities.

However, branding is more than a name. It is about actions creating a deserved image. At least so far, the Pope practices what he preaches.

The Pope reminds us the Catholic Church, like any religious structure, exists to better the spiritual and material welfare of humans. Undoubtedly, the Pope's behaviour must adapt to the integrity of the high office he now holds – he is no longer an Archbishop in a Latin American country.

Nonetheless, he has refused the elaborate trappings associated with the papacy, preferring the simplicity he was used to as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Famously remarking, "This is enough space for 300 people," Pope Francis declined to live in the Pope's ostentatious quarters, instead choosing communal apartments reserved for high Vatican officials in its place.

The Pope appears to stress a 'back to basics' policy. Let's focus the Church and its bureaucracy on alleviating the suffering of people.

The Pope has even broken some cardinal rules, apparently flouting Church canonical law in some instances. Such was the case during the ritual washing of feet during traditional Easter rites. In a 'double whammy' move, the Pope washed and kissed the feet of a Muslim Woman. Never before has any Pope washed the feet of females, leave alone a non-Catholic woman.

Again, the Pope stays true to his own conscience; sets a real example of 'doing good' overriding 'ritual.' Controversial? Maybe. Effective? Yes.

The human defines the office, any office. Individuals bring a personal leadership style to the office, be it the Papacy or CEO of a multinational corporate. First and foremost, these leaders must inspire others to assume ownership of the organization's collective goals. Lest there is any confusion, the Church's goals have been clearly articulated through the Pope's behaviour.

Pope Francis might be exactly what the doctor ordered to rejuvenate the Catholic Church.  Indeed, he has already succeeded in providing hope to millions of Christians the world over. From my point of view, Pope Francis might also usher in a new period of interfaith dialogue between Islam and Christianity, thereby shunning his immediate predecessor's tendency to provoke differences between the two Abrahamic faiths.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at