Terence Quek - Jan 8, 2020

From Wardroom to Boardroom - Three Lessons for Business Leaders

In life, there are lessons we learnt that help us move forward. For me, lessons I gleaned from National Service (NS) and my time with the Republic of Singapore Navy were helpful in running my business.

Here are three of them:

#1 Look Ahead

When I was learning to operate a warship, we learnt to look ahead for floating debris and oncoming vessels. In business, “looking ahead” is about strategising, anticipating, and being vigilant for any variable that may affect the business. At my company Emergenetics Caelan & Sage (ECS), we constantly review our strategies and plans to ensure we are prepared to overcome future challenges so as to stay ahead of the game.

#2 Think Safety

Safety is a big thing in the Navy, especially when we were out at sea. We were constantly drilled to watch out for dangers, and put safety first in whatever we do. In business, “Think Safety” is about mitigating risks. It’s also about creating a workplace culture where people feel safe to voice their opinions. At ECS, we put a lot of effort into building and sustaining a workplace culture that is respectful and inclusive and promotes team psychological safety.

#3 Take Charge

Since the first day that I was handed a rifle at Basic Military Training, I was trained to be dutiful, responsible, accountable, and to take charge of every situation. This meant rising to the occasion, to seize the initiative, and to take the lead, especially when circumstances were ambiguous and could potentially become dangerous. “Take Charge” in business is about compassionate leadership, having the courage to make difficult decisions, accountability and taking positive action. This is why at ECS, we encourage everyone to front projects, so everyone can feel a sense of ownership, and gain the opportunity to practise leadership.

There are more lessons that I have learnt from NS that have been helpful to my business, all of which I am grateful for. But I guess it’s more than just learning and applying the lessons – it’s also important that I model the way with my thoughts, actions and words. If I want my team to care for our customers, I need to care for them first. If I want dedication and commitment and respect from my team, I need to show that I am dedicated, committed, and respectful. This includes how I view NS and whether I am consistent in my actions in demonstrating my commitment to defending our nation. Through my show of support for NS – like having HR policies that support our NSmen employees – I model the way for the team to respect and be grateful for what we have, act with integrity, have the courage to do the right thing, and pursue excellence. Our commitment to support our NSmen employees has seen us pledging our support with NS Mark, a national-level accreditation scheme that recognises businesses and organisations with policies and human resource practices that support National Service and Total Defence.

What are your lessons from NS and how are you applying them to help you navigate uncharted waters?

This article was originally published in Entreprenuers Digest From Wardroom to Boardroom - Business Lessons from National Service". 

Written by Terence Quek