Reply to TODAY Forum letter "The importance of leaders’ empathy and a sustainable meritocracy"

01 September 2014

Empathy a factor when choosing Public Service leaders

We thank Mr Kwek Jia Hao for his comments in “The importance of leaders’ empathy and a sustainable meritocracy” (20 August), and agree that it is important that public officers perform their duties with empathy. It is this quality that ensures that our officers are able to better understand our citizens’ concerns and connect with those whom we serve.

Indeed, to better connect with those whom we serve, our officers, beginning with the leaders, are encouraged to be involved in the community, for example through community attachments. They are also posted to frontline agencies to be exposed to operational issues, as well as serve through direct interactions with our citizens. We do this systematically, including with our scholarship recipients.

Our officers move up the ranks by merit. There is no presumed fast-tracked progress for an officer just because he was a scholarship recipient. Everyone is assessed based on his performance and ability to take on larger responsibilities. Many officers holding senior appointments in the Service did not start out as scholarship recipients.

Qualities such as the ability to empathise with the concerns and needs of our citizens and staff are also considered when choosing leaders. Within the organisation, we regularly conduct employee engagement surveys, where emphasis is placed on the leaders’ ability to lead and win the trust of their colleagues.

Chan Boon Fui
Senior Director, Leadership Development
Public Service Division, Prime Minister’s Office