October 28, 2023




10 Lessons From The Founder of Modern Singapore

At a glance

Today’s Fast Summary:

  • Lee Kuan Yew, hailed as the founder of modern Singapore, took office as the country’s Prime Minister when Singapore was in the midst of political and economic uncertainty.

  • When LKY took office, Singapore’s per capita income was approximately $400. Today, it exceeds $50,000.

  • LKY’s success and vision are admired by many modern and former political leaders. Throughout his tenure, the country developed an anti-corrupt, highly effective government.

  • His advice comes from a place of substantial wisdom and is essential in your pursuit of the best version of yourself.

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10 Lessons From The Founder of Modern Singapore

Lee Kuan Yew, hailed as the founder of modern Singapore, took office as the country’s Prime Minister in 1959.

At the time, Singapore was in the midst of political and economic uncertainty. It was the smallest country in Southeast Asia and had few natural resources. When LKY took office, Singapore’s per capita income was approximately $400. Today, it exceeds $50,000.

As Henry Kessinger, former U.S. Secretary of State said, “[LKY’s] vision was of a state that would not simply survive, but prevail by excelling.” He went on to say this of Singapore’s poor natural resources, “Superior intelligence, discipline, and ingenuity would substitute for resources.”

LKY’s success and vision are admired by many modern and former political leaders. Throughout his tenure, the country developed an anti-corrupt, highly effective government.

And, for his economic and financial decisions, Charlie Munger, an American businessman, called him the “Warren Buffett” of Singapore.

It’s safe to say that LKY’s advice is worth heeding.

Here are 10 valuable lessons from LKY:

  1. Cultivate Character

“Ability can be assessed fairly accurately by a person’s academic record and achievement in work. Character is not so easily measured. After some successes but too many failures, I concluded that it was more important, though more difficult, to assess a person’s character”

Ability is more easily quantifiable by a person’s achievements and accolades. However, A person’s character is more valuable, and a more accurate indicator of success, than their natural skill set.

LKY reminds us that though it’s more difficult to assess a person’s character, it’s a more accurate estimation of their worth than their accomplishments.

It’s easy to be swayed by a long list of impressive achievements. Demonstrating morality is more difficult.

Assess other’s potential value through their morality, not their connections or past successes.

Make your own list of top character values, and embody them. Look for them in those around you.

  1. Acknowledge Your Failures

If you don’t “publicly acknowledge [a] failure and its reasons, this will not be the last time [you] make this mistake.”

It’s not enough to acknowledge your failures only to yourself. Publicly apologize for your shortcomings when they occur.

Acknowledging your failures, and changing as a result, fosters personal growth. Doing so cultivates accountability and allows you to move forward.

If you don’t, you’re more likely to repeat your mistakes.

When you make a mistake at work, or in conversation, apologize to the other person face-to-face. If you don’t achieve the goal you were aiming for, don’t be afraid to update friends and family. They can keep you accountable.

  1. Pursue Diverse Experiences

“Throughout history, all empires that succeeded have embraced people of other races, languages, religions, and cultures.”

It’s like the wisdom of the crowd: The collective opinion of a diverse group of people is stronger and more correct than that of a single expert.

Cultivating diverse experiences, friendships, and interests fosters personal growth. Engaging in these staves mediocrity and stifled thinking.

Seek out multicultural events in your area, and don’t be afraid to read about, learn, or watch videos about things you’re interested in.

  1. Live By Your Core Values

“It is easy to start off with high moral standards, strong convictions, and determination to beat down corruption. But it is difficult to live up to these good intentions unless the leaders are strong and determined enough to deal with all transgressors, and without exceptions”

Beliefs and values are meaningless unless you embody them. Simply saying something—without meaning it—isn’t enough.

Strong leaders “are strong and determined enough to deal with all transgressors.” They deliver on the promises they make.

Identify and live by your values by creating a value list. Name your top five personal values. Embody them as key character traits.

  1. Don’t Rely On The Opinions Of Others

“I have never been overconcerned or obsessed with opinion polls or popularity polls. I think a leader who is, is a weak leader. If you are concerned with whether your rating will go up or down, then you are not a leader. You are just catching the wind … you will go where the wind is blowing….”

LKY wasn’t too concerned with being liked. He believed that leaders who are concerned only with likability are weak and spineless. Their opinions follow the crowd’s.

Strong individuals are motivated by self-confidence, not the beliefs of others. Impressing those around you is a meaningless pursuit.

Focus on cultivating your own opinions, and stick to them. Be consistent in your execution.

  1. Embrace Open-Mindedness

“China will inevitably catch up to the U.S. in absolute GDP. But its creativity may never match America’s, because its culture does not permit a free exchange and contest of ideas.”

LKY valued diverse voices and the freedom to exchange ideas. He felt creativity was pertinent to improving Singapore.

He suggests that exchanging dissenting ideas is key to original thought.

Don’t be afraid to voice your unpopular beliefs. Doing so cultivates open-minded debate.

  1. Be Guided By Action, Not Past Results

“That we have succeeded in the last three decades does not ensure our doing so in the future. However, we stand a better chance of not failing if we abide by the basic principles that have helped us progress: social cohesion through sharing the benefits of progress, equal opportunities for all, and meritocracy, with the best man or woman for the job, especially as leaders in government.”

LKY was steadfast against corruption, believing it was the antithesis of success in modern governments. He believed that a meritocracy was the best way to curb corruption.

Here, LKY suggests that a history of success is meritless without plans for progress. Past failures or successes are not a measure of your future success—today’s actions are.

  1. Seek Respect

“If you can't force or are unwilling to force your people to follow you, with or without threats, you are not a leader.”

LKY strongly believed in leadership—that a leader isn’t a dictator or all-knowing, but is a guide.

Force is the antithesis of respect. Making people follow you blindly doesn’t illustrate respect—it illustrates subordination.

Respect is more valuable than force or obligation. Cultivate respect from your subordinates and peers. It yields more significant results.

  1. Embrace Change

“I believe that life is a process of continuous change and a constant struggle to make that change one for the better.”

Life is highly characterized by change. In fact, some say that change is the one part of life that doesn’t change.

Change is inevitable, but meaningless without effort to understand and improve it. View change as an advantageous opportunity.

Adapt and thrive in response to life’s flux.

  1. Balance Your Strengths And Weaknesses

“A society to be successful must…balance nurturing excellence and [encourage] the average to improve.”

Everyone has unique strengths and weaknesses. Don’t let weaknesses hinder your potential, but don’t solely focus on them either.

Strengths are just as important as weaknesses. Accentuate your skills while improving upon those you’ve yet to develop.

This week, we’ll take a few of LKY’s pieces of sage advice, and create a framework for adaptation. Focus on the concrete ways you can incorporate these pieces of advice into your life.

  1. Acknowledging failures privately isn’t enough to hinder you from doing them again. Publicly acknowledge failure.

    a. What does this look like? Brainstorm some ways you can put this into practice. Think about the newsletter’s examples.

    b. Visualize what this looks like. How can you practically try this yourself?

    c. Consider a time when you could’ve used this method. What would you have done? What might’ve happened?

  2. Live by your core values. Do (and act) what you preach.

    a. Create a core values list. Aim to add 5-7 values to your list. Research top values in others if you need help.

    b. Visualize how you can practically life by these values. What do they really mean?

    c. How do others live by your chosen values? Consider people you know who embody one or a few of your key values. How do they do so?

    d. Then, do what you’ve visualized.

  1. Balance your strengths and weaknesses.

    a. Create a strengths and weaknesses matrix. Write down all of your strengths in one column, and weaknesses in another. Take time to come up with this list. Consult others for their input.

    b. How can you accentuate your strengths? Think about the strengths you wrote down. How can you bring those to light? List some practical ways you can improve your strengths.

    c. How can you improve on your weaknesses? What are some exercises, mental models, frameworks, or tools you can use to boost your skills?

As Lee Kuan Yew says, “There is a glorious rainbow that beckons those with the spirit of adventure.” Seek adventure and self-improvement in all of your engagements.


I’d love to hear from you:

  • Which of these did you find particularly meaningful?

  • How can LKY’s principles benefit you?

Tweet at me (@_alexbrogan) or respond to this email — I’ll try to respond to everyone.

Have a wonderful Saturday, all.

Until next time,


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