There is an inevitable suspicion that comes with a top military commander in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) being fast-tracked to politics.
And it’s completely understandable.
Why is a man who has served two decades in the military considered qualified to lead in the civilian world? What does a stellar track record in a highly regimental environment prove?
To compound the misgivings of the public, most ex-commanders in politics are SAF scholarship recipients who underwent an expedited career progression. Most, if not all, have seen no combat on the battlefield, earning them the moniker “paper generals”.
So many of us think: “If this doesn’t exemplify the state of elitism in the country, surely nothing else does!”
Yet the opposite could not be truer.
Being a minister is about leading one’s ministry with a compelling vision, and motivating those under them to execute said vision.
This is no different from being a general, who has thousands of men in various units and departments under his command to accomplish mission objectives, whether they are set in training exercises or policy administration.
It’s easy to mistake a general for one with the cushiest job, just sitting in his office and dishing out orders, when his actual job scope involves so much more than that.
Lieutenant General Russel Honoré, former US commander of the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in 2005, said in an interview with consulting company Gallup, “In the military, as in any organisation, giving the order might be the easiest part. Execution is the real game. The hierarchy starts with the leadership, which provides vision, wisdom, and motivation.
“Then there’s management. That’s turning time, task, and purpose into action. Leadership is working with goals and vision; management is working with objectives. Objectives, as you know, are specific, and they’re tied to time, coordination and resources.”
Former Minister of Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin would agree with General Honoré. After all, he was the coordinator of humanitarian efforts in Aceh following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami when he was still a colonel in the army. That must have been one hell of a leadership exercise.