Rohit Bassi

Jun 5, 2020


Singapore seemed like a country destined for failure but Singapore’s founding father had a different view. There is perhaps no better example of exemplary critical thinking and executive presence than former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. He was commonly referred to by his initials LKY.

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew used critical thinking throughout his time in power to advance Singapore, solidifying himself as one of the most esteemed and successful leaders in contemporary history. Critical thinking skills have never been more essential for the leaders of today and tomorrow.

For effective leadership, critical thinking must be used to further the success of a company or individual. That means to amplify ones executive presence. Executive presence cannot be tied down to one attribute, but Mr. Lee Kuan Yew has shown how critical thinking is an essential trait. We explore four of the lessons he taught us.

I do not yet know of a man who became a leader as a result of having undergone a leadership course.” ― Lee Kuan Yew


1. Critical thinking unlocks limitless opportunities

After World War II, Singapore seemed like a country destined for failure. Surviving a Japanese occupation, Singapore was left under British Colonial rule and had limited economic prospects.

Rather than accepting the seemingly negative fate of his country, Mr. Lee Kuan decided to challenge it, co-founding the People’s Action Party and beginning to critically assess the future of Singapore. During his three decades in power, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew revolutionised the economic and social structures of Singapore, advancing the country from a Third World to First World status.

His ability to revolutionise a county in a generation proves that critical thinking has the power to unlock countless achievements and possibilities.

“What I fear is complacency. When things always become better, people tend to want more for less work.” – Lee Kuan Yew

2. The importance of linking creative and critical thinking

If an individual is thinking critically, they should be by extension thinking creatively also. That means the expansion of using one’s executive presence capabilities. Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, for example, when assessing the future of Singapore, did not constrict his thoughts to improving the existing structures of the country, but thought creatively about the future potential of the country.

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew revolutionised Singapore’s economy by adopting a manufacturing-focused infrastructure in Singapore, knowing this innovation would attract foreign investors from America and Japan.

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s ability to think innovatively and creatively about the economy of Singapore saw the country thrive financially as unemployment rates dropped significantly.

“No, your job as a leader is to inspire and to galvanize, not to share your distraught thoughts. You make your people dispirited.”  – Lee Kuan Yew

3. Emotion has a place in critical thinking

Critical thinking can be applied to an issue or problem, but a true leader has the executive presence that critical thinking must also be used to analyse one’s own emotions and thoughts.

Connecting your thoughts to your feelings is not a weakness, rather it is a quality of leadership and powerful executive presence. You could attribute much of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s success to his love of Singapore. After experiencing the Japanese occupation of Singapore in 1942-45, Mr. Lee realised Singapore had to rule itself, as the British failed to defend his country.

Love of his country and determination to see its independence inspired Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s work, yet he had the emotional intelligence to build positive relationships with Britain and Japan, rather than resorting to blind hatred for their actions in the past.

“Even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel something is going wrong, I will get up.” – Lee Kuan Yew

4. Critical listening is essential for critical thinking

It is easy to listen to something, but to think critically about what you have heard and apply it to your thoughts and emotions, is a skill necessary for effective leadership.

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew famously said, “throughout history, all empires that succeeded have embraced and included in their midst people of other races, languages, religions, and cultures”, indicating that not only listening, but understanding and thinking critically about the role that other individuals and other countries can play in achieving your ambitions is essential for leaders.

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew continued to listen and be inspired by other countries throughout his presidency; for example, after seeing vulnerabilities in Singapore’s security, he assessed his options and took advice from Israel, forming a special relationship with the country.

“A society to be successful must maintain a balance between nurturing excellence and encouraging the average to improve.” ― Lee Kuan Yew

To conclude, critical thinking skills applies at every level be this the individual, family, community, society, an organisation, a country or the world. There are many traits needed to be an effective leader and one that demonstrates actual executive presence. But one of the toughest is being decisive and incisive in solving problems to move forward and inspiring others to do the same.

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew was recognised as Singapore’s founding father. “His vision,” wrote Henry Kissinger, “was of a state that would not simply survive, but prevail by excelling. Superior intelligence, discipline, and ingenuity would substitute for resources.”

As a TEDx and Global Professional Speaker with decades of experience, I can help you to focus upon the most important leadership attributes, and inspire you to develop your own unique formula for success mastery. Connect with me or book me to be inspired by developing an executive presence that leads to your own unique formula of success mastery, –

Written by:

Rohit Bassi


Jun 5, 2020