Lim Boon Heng

"What we do, in time, people will know our heart's intent. Our intentions are seen in our actions," said Temasek Holdings Chairman Lim Boon Heng. Photo by Karen Tan.

Traditionally, the leadership pyramid has the leader at the top while workers are at the bottom. Chairman of Temasek Holdings Lim Boon Heng thinks it should be upended.

“The leader should stand at the bottom supporting the subordinates and help them succeed,” he told the close to 700 participants at the annual Christ@Work Conference held earlier this week.

“People can decide whether we are trustworthy leaders, then they will follow.” 

“It should never be about me. It should be about my subordinates, my customers.”

Lim, 72, who spent more than three decades in public office, said that servant leadership is based on values and purpose comes from those values.

“When I was in government, the purpose was to uplift the lives of the people. As a trade unionist, the purpose was to uplift the life of the workers and their families,” he explained.

This purpose of heart, though, should be handled with care as laid out in Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

“What we do, in time, people will know our heart’s intent. Our intentions are seen in our actions,” he said. “People can decide whether we are trustworthy leaders, then they will follow.” 

Serving stakeholders, not just shareholders

Having crossed over from the public sector, Lim concludes that the purpose of a business should be “to make life better for people”.

“Therefore, businesses serve not only shareholders, but all stakeholders. The stakeholders include employees, customers, business partners and community,” he said. 

Organised by the Catholic Business Network, this year’s Christ@Work Conference was held at Singapore Conference Hall and attended by almost 700 participants. Photo courtesy of Catholic Business Network.

“According to Quakers’ business ethics, business is to be of service to the community. A good businessman must be honest in intention and actions, and he is expected to use his profits in a socially responsible way.”

“A good businessman must be honest in intention and actions.”

Lim also referenced Proverbs 11:14 and expounded on Exodus 18:21, “But select capable men from all the people – men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain – and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.”

“The passage is true today as it was thousands of years ago and it spells out, in very simple terms, the foundation for good governance,” he explained.

“It places less reliance on rules and regulations. Instead, it urges us to find able leaders.

 “We spend too much time on framing rules and regulations or enforcing those rules and regulations, and far too little time on forming honest men and women. This is what we have in our society today,” Lim lamented.

All that glitters is not gold

Living in the 21st century, we are often deluged with work values and principles that direct us to move to the top of the pile. However, these mantras to success can also unwittingly delude and even derail our lives.

Monsignor Philip Heng said that while working hard to provide for the family is an important part of our faith, taking it to the extreme can result in secularism which distorts our views. Photo by Karen Tan.

“Secularism distorts our views through relativism and tempting us to think that ‘success and happiness’ is about gold, glamour and gratification,” said Monsignor Philip Heng.

“When we are connected with God, we are connected with our most authentic self.”

“Working hard to provide for the family draws out the dignity of the human person and is an important part of living out our faith.”

But the Jesuit priest also cautioned that if we took it to the extreme we would be drawn into the secularism that “destroys everything, including our faith”.

There is hope though. Contrary to the secularism that may frustrate, there’s the fulfilment that comes from our Heavenly Father.

Msgr Heng explained: “It is so easy to fall into self-deception and we need God’s help and grace to be an authentic person. It is important that authenticity becomes the call on awareness of life.

“When we are connected with God, we are connected with our most authentic self.”

About the author

Karen Tan

Karen was a producer at Asia Business News (Singapore), Bloomberg News and CNBC Asia. She subsequently joined the Far East Organisation to oversee corporate social responsibility. Karen is now Associate Editor at Salt&Light.