Category Archives: Neuroscience of Leadership

The Rise of Singapore – And Leadership Lessons from Lee Kuan Yew (part 3)

LEE promoted savings by each individual citizens to boost wealth accumulation by giving higher interest rates in provident fund savings. He believed savings give economic power to a nation. He set up industries and created employment. Though not enough to create massive job opportunities. This farther pressed the need of inviting MNCs to come to the land. Citizens more aligned their actions with the goal that Lee had seen for the nation- be educated, be skilled, be clean, build infrastructure and bait foreign investment. All these to lead a better life style.

He projected Singapore as a trading nation harping on its geographical position. He promoted import of goods from west and export to the Far East and vice versa. This was to earn enough revenues to develop infrastructure in the country to provide facilities to the investor MNCs.

He made doing business in Singapore and getting a job in Singapore easy. He liberated various related policies to invite foreign investors and workers to come in. He amalgamated home grown talents with that from overseas to create an innovative and efficient workforce mix.

Popularly known as the architect of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew composed a country with passion and sustainability. Singapore today stands as a realized dream of Lee. It stands as the monument of dedication, discipline and development. It’s a testimony of what good governance can do. Many world leaders today follow footsteps of Lee to create a garden city nation, like what Lee had made possible in his lifetime.

Rising from a poor country in 1960s today Singapore is a world trade center. A transformation that amazes all brilliant economists of the world. Thanks to stringent laws of the land that has taken a little of freedom from every citizen but in return has given a world full of opportunities and economic freedom to each one of them.  Thanks to a hardworking and ready to compromise citizen force of the country too who together with Lee composed the story.

In today’s context there are about 7000 MNCs who had put up their manufacturing base in glittering, sky kissing Singapore. Thanks to liberal industrial policies. Inviting these investments was a persistent move that has helped mass employment for 49 lacs of people out of it’s total population of 50 lacs. Yes you are reading it right. Only 2% of the Singaporeans are jobless. A citizen in Singapore earns an average salary of INR 2.5 lacs per month according to://

Today the world leaders recognize Singapore’s transition story from third world to fastest grown developed country as a true Asian ‘economic mirracle’. Singapore is world’s most researched case study in business schools. ‘Lee the leader’ made it.

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The Rise of Singapore – And Leadership Lessons from Lee Kuan Yew (part 2)

No one counted Singapore when it took birth in 1965 as an independent Republic. The primary challenges those Lee faced after becoming the first prime minister were disciplining the citizens, creating jobs, establishing sources of revenues, and building potable water facilities to reduce dependence on Malaysia. He continued addressing all these issues without any diversion over a period of 3 decades from 1959 till 1990 as the prime Minister of the nation. During this regime he brought in very strict laws and punishment systems and tamed the citizens to behave within framed code of conducts. He promoted education for all. He focused on to cleanliness of the tiny city nation as preparatory work towards his vision: prepare the nation to bring investment from MNCs.

Spitting in public, smoking in public, chewing ‘chewing gums’, even wearing wrong dress may not only warrant for fine but also put one in jail! So strict is the law there, easily one can guess the punishment for serious crimes!

Result? The moment you walk in to the city nation you feel like you have entered a huge holiday resort.

He made it mandatory for every 18 years old or more to serve country’s defense services. This was to tighten nation’s security system as it had a very week defense force post freedom and was threatened by confronting Indonesia from the neighborhood and communism from within.

He promoted child birth by educated graduate women. This was to produce an educated skilled workforce generation. He in fact set up a match making agency to socialize graduate man and women. MNCs would certainly look for a ready workforce once they were in and that was the agenda. To control population boom on this tiny land ‘Stop at Two’ policy was enacted. More than 2 children would attract social bias in availing government facilities.

He scrapped freedom of press to tame opposition and rebellion. That reduced political instabilities caused by unnecessary criticism of policies. He introduced canning as a corporal punishment. Drug addicts, illegal immigrants and 42 other crimes still invite canning in Singapore.

Singapore had corruption in it’s political system. Lee believed one way to stop this bug was to pay ministers well in order to fulfill their requirements. He equaled salaries of ministers, judges and top civil servants with that of top private sector professionals. He took only the most honest ministers in his cabinet to mitigate any kind of corruption in the system. He provided the nation a distinction that was severely absent in it’s neighboring countries. A corruption free governance.  Continue reading The Rise of Singapore – And Leadership Lessons from Lee Kuan Yew (part 2)

The Rise of Singapore – A Leadership Lesson from Lee Kuan Yew (part 1)

26 km in breadth and 50 km in length. Overall about 700 square km of land, Singapore, an island country that equals the
size of Pune city in India, has beaten enormous India, China, USA, Japan and Hong Kong in its per person productivity. Per Capita GDP (aka per person productivity) is an indicator of productivity, progress and prosperity of a nation. It is a parameter to compare relative economic performances of various countries. This means on an average a Singaporean citizen contributes more to the country’s GDP in comparison to the citizens of all the other countries mentioned above. Amazing! A country that got freedom only in 1965 how could turn around so majestically and astonishingly and become what it is today?

If converting this tiny traditional, religious conflict hit, poor fishermen village into a massive financial hub was a magic, then Lee Kuan Yew was certainly the magician. Magicians work hard and deploy killer strategies creating perfect illusions so did Lee. He had created perfect aspirations among citizens of Singapore. A population which is a mix of Chinese, Malays and Indians, following varied religions, needed to remain united and glued to the dream that Lee saw. Lee inspired them all to see a common dream – economic liberation.

Lee’s idea was very simple – invite investment and create jobs in the land which was otherwise deprived of natural resources. But then who would come to a land to do business where political vandalism, unskilled population and rioting publics take on the land for rides?

Let’s look at those tiny steps, the builder of the nation – Lee took in making the country prepared to take lead on the stage of world economy.

Lee Kuan Yew contributed immensely in liberating this tiny island from British colonial rules in 1959. He had then lead the country to a merger with Malaysia in 1963 before breaking up with it in 1965 to from the independent state of Singapore.

What did he do to change the socio cultural, educational and political image of the land to attract MNCs from all over the world to come and set up industries in Singapore? Well that’s not a step by step composition of a musical extravaganza but a step by step advancement on a Warfield. A war that he strategically fought against with ill habits, traditional mindsets, communists within and neighboring enemies.

Continued as part 2 in my next blog.

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The Neuroscience of Leading through POOR performance?

Have you ever thought why you feel happy and excited even with the thought of having a cup of coffee? Or why you feel happy with the thought of having a go flying in the evening with your best friends and champaign? Do you get tempted to just buzz in and savour some sweets at one go when passing by a mouth watering Sweets shop. Well in the language of psychology this behaviour is called as craving. Craving gives us ecstasy even with the thought of indulging into a habitual behaviour. Craving gives us the happiness before we indulge into the real or actual act of physically exposing our body to that particular stimulus. When for a substantial period of time we practice a particular behaviour be it smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol or getting up early in the morning and going for exercise or having certain type of food, we form particular habits. Craving drives our habits. Though drugs form dependence later on, at the initial phase any habit formation follow this Loop CUE, CRAVING, ROUTINE and REWARD.

We have discussed in our previous post that habit formation requires three basic ingredients namely a cue, a routine and a reward. But when you continue a certain behaviour for a long period of time the reward which initially comes at the end starts coming immediately after Cue. That means the happiness is already experienced before actual act. We understand from this discussion is that it is not only cue and a routine and a sense of the accomplishment associated happiness that helps us form various behaviours or habits, it is also the craving for that particular moment that solidifies those habits in us. Craving repeatedly invites us into the execution of our those behaviours. Examples: It is the THOUGHTS of endorphin rise and the happiness felt therefore after exercise is the motivation behind exercising. It is the preemptive FEELINGS of euphoria after taking a particular drug like caffeine or alcohol that creates a craving. Craving is FELT in thoughts and  is powerful to drive actions, when repeated in autopilot are called as HABITS.

Having understood how habits form and how they are persistently driven now the challenge is to understand how do we change habits.

Let’s take the example of Indian cricket team during Greg Chappell’s coaching period. It is known to everyone today that Greg Chappell as a coach almost destroyed a very well knit Indian cricket team. Out of many new habits good or bad, those were formed during this period of anarchy one we could discuss is when the players used to go to the net for practice. There were cues. The cues were the alarm clock in the morning, or the call from other colleagues, or all the habituation of the players since very long, of getting up early, putting the shoes and tracks and moving towards the field.

Now look at the changed routine during Greg’s time. Previously these same players used to look at each other as synergistic contributors. But under the coaching period of Greg Chappell these bunch of legends started looking at each other as  competitors. A competition to stay in the team by overpowering the other. People started focusing on individual records. Team went south. There always lurked the risk of loosing out from the team. Many legends were temporarily destroyed during that time like the Ganguly’s. These players started guessing every morning who’s from who’s camp! From the coach’s camp or from the captain’s camp. Whom they could trust sharing their feelings and whom to not. There were massive ideological differences between the captain and the coach. All these gradually divided the team into fragments of nonperforming individuals. This was the CHANGED routine from the previous base line routine that took away the element of CRAVING for team performance from each players psyche. Though the reward for habit formation was high: only to remain fit and retain post in the team that too just to hang on there.

The changed ROUTINE changed the performance of the team India. They lost their chances in the qualifiers during the World Cup in 2007. After a lot of brawl between the coach and the captain the board took a decision to Fire the coach under media pressure and even public pressure. A new coach Gary Kirsten took over. He got a team which was no more a team but a bunch of devastated, demoralised, dissociated individual players.

Gary’s primary goal was to built trust and respect for talent in each of the morally down legends of the team. Don’t forget the likes of Sachin, Saurav, Dravid, Laksman, Jahir Khan, Harbhajan all were a part of that team. There was no dearth of talent or potential. There was a need to change the habits of the team members. Habits those developed in those years of highly polarised political environment were mistrust, nonperformance, low self esteem, procrastination, passing the buck, instability, indiscipline and shaken beliefs on the entire system. Goals were invisible, misty and murky.

Through many scientific research by that time it was well established that when you try to change performance of people you don’t alter the CUE neither alter the REWARD but alter the ROUTINE leg of the Habit loop. Particularly this formula is very popular  among the coaches who coached big football teams or cricket teams or any other teams who play international standard games. Sporting psychology explains it better.

So what did Gary Kirsten do?

He did not change the cues or the rewards. They all remained the very same. Kirsten only targeted Routines of the team. He established himself as an enabler and not a destroyer. He established that he was not an administrator but a facilitator. He restored TRUST among team players and recreated that respect for each other’s capabilities. He became a dependable bridge to communicate between team and board. He respected talent in the team. He set fitness and performance as the only  yardsticks in being in the team not mere age or previous performance. Team players started looking at each other as performance partners and not competitors. A lot of synergy flew in immediately with the trust flying in. This lens of looking at their own performance had put the focus back on self performance rather than the external environment. Threat was abolished. Practice sessions became fun. Gary himself became the CHEER LEADER of the Team India. Soon came back CRAVING to go out there in the field and perform for the team. Self esteem was restored. This Gary’s team ended up winning the mighty World Cup in 2011.

So what do the leaders who almost always COACH, should do in getting the performance back on the track out of ruckus? Well research recommend that they should not try and CHANGE the performance by trying to change everything at a time. They may rather only change the HABITS of their people. In the habit loop of CUE, CRAVING, ROUTINE and REWARDS change only the ROUTINE, HABIT will change as an effect! Positive Performance will just follow as the outcome.


This article is written by Rajesh Bhattacharjee,  a Harvard  Extension School Alumnus,  Psychology. He is a technical Coach and a Leadership trainer.

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Images courtesy : Google images 


Leaders of small things – 2

Early 1916, an incident rocked not only Calcutta but the  entire country shortly after its occurance. An English professor Prof. E F Oaten was beaten by a group of Indian students within the Presidency College premise. His mistake was he frequently exhibited racial behaviour in the class. Once he was recorded saying “The Indians should admit and accept the simple fact that the British is ruling India because they are morally superior to the Indians, and a frank admission of this position would do away with a great deal of mutual misunderstanding”. This statement invited this real trouble for him.

Those Indian students were expelled from the college of this British ruled India’s capital city. The leader of the mob was identified as a brilliant student in the college named  Subhas Chandra Bose. That was the first ever exuberance of patriotism from this great Indian soul. Yes this was his beginning.

After being rusticated from the college he got about one and a half years of time to organise groups of students for social work. In 1917 his rustication was revoked and again he got admitted in Scottish Churches College of Calcutta and graduated from there with a first class in Philosophy. He went to London to crack the ICSE (Indian Civil Service  Exam). He cleared it but refused to work under British Government. He did that as a part of his plan announcing his fight against British.

His rustication and refusal  of highly prestigious ICSE position made him a natural choice and a popular leader, very quickly.

We know his later life that he initially galvanised a huge support from Germany and then from Japan and established a huge Army force called INA – Indian National Army. He played a major role in India’s fight for FREEDOM. In fact very less known is the fact that he was the first prime minister of free India, of Japan occupied Andaman and Nicobar islands province for a very short period of time.

Leaders aren’t born as leaders. Leadership is a Choice. Leadership is born when Common people handle common situations uncommonly. Exhibition of courage comes from those neuronal connections of fearlessness. Those connections start forming during, and get consolidated after, each small strugles and wins.

Big Leaders are first leaders of small things.


This article is written by Rajesh Bhattacharjee, a Harvard Alumnus on Psychology. He is a technical coach and a leadership trainer. You may contact him at

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