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Last updated:  19/3/2019



Salt & Light Feature:

Running 200km in 45 hours: Hospice president Dr Tan Poh Kiang says, it is “God’s path for me”


Salt & Light reveals and details the motivations and aspirations behind Dr Tan Poh Kiang's fundraising cause, as well as the passion and inspiration behind his support for HCA's work in palliative and hospice care.

Read more to hear Dr Tan speak about his personal journey through the years of following his calling, and using his unique talents to do good.

Article can be found here:

Straits Times Feature:

"It Changed My Life: This doctor is set to run 200km in 44 hours"

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On 3 March 2019, Dr Tan Poh Kiang was featured on the Sunday Times (page B9 of the Insight Section, or article found online) - the article featured his individual experience finding his calling to serve others as well as his motivation to run an ultramarathon to support HCA and its work. 

Find out more about the race and his journey of volunteering and running for a good cause, and don't forget to check out the Straits Times video!

Video and article can be found here:


Leadership succession is a non-negotiable in a thriving organization. Too often an organization rises to greatness with a charismatic and powerful leader but fades into obscurity when that leader steps out of her or his position.

If an organization is founded on a good cause or a noble set of values, it deserves to continue to thrive through changes of leadership. Its leaders will learn that the mark of good leadership is seen in the quality of their followers. And organizational greatness is never sporadic; it is being built up by successive good leaders. Such leaders constantly ask: if I am no longer around, who can take over my work? Another critical question is: if I am suddenly incapacitated, will our mission be compromised?

Leadership succession only happens when it is an intentional effort in a culture that considers succession part and parcel of the normal practice of leadership. The default is that leaders tend to sit on their positions till they can no longer do so or when they are ousted. Either way, not planning for a proper transition puts the organization at risk and subjects the mission to jeopardy.

To have a viable succession, there has to be a pipeline of suitable candidates. It must be a place people love to work in and those with leadership potential are regularly invited to take up new challenges to be stretched. We must not obsess over assessing these candidates. In fact, the first order of things is not assessment; it is nurturance. Future leaders should be placed in positions where they are challenged and allow their colleagues to observe their giftedness, strengths and weaknesses. Even better is the situation where potential leaders are mentored and coached as they develop.

An emerging leader will feel cherished by her organization when her seniors are engaging and communicating with her regularly. Nobody wants to sacrifice for her organization if her aspirations and ambitions matter little. On the other hand, everyone feels fiercely loyal to her organization when there is lavish effort to align organizational goals to her personal goals.

The selection of the leader should not be done only by the incumbent; a select group ought to assist in the selection independently. In a culture of candor, the potential candidates should be involved in the selection process where their views and choices enrich the input of the selection committee.

The identified successor needs to be engaged immediately to establish her willingness and readiness. There are ample talented individuals but not a single unwilling person will become a great leader. Knowledge and skills can be upgraded but the heart's commitment is beyond our control. When the successor has made the commitment to be appointed, her readiness needs to be enhanced through a combination of job shadowing and targeted training.

The handover process between the incumbent leader and her successor is a thoughtful act if it is going to be meaningful for the successor. In order to set the next leader to succeed, the incoming leader needs to have a deep understanding of the history of the organization, to appreciate the strategic direction and current priorities as well as be plugged into the relevant networks. This can only take place if elaborate time and effort are expended in spending time together.

Finally when the baton has been handed over, the predecessor needs to get out of the way to grant her predecessor space and liberty to establish her own unique manner of leading. Guidance is done in the background and only when called upon. The period following the official handover is a vulnerable time for the new leader. The learning curve is steep and the emotional burden heavy. The best things the previous leader can offer are affirmation and encouragement. No matter how talented a new leader is, she will not mind having a trusted friend-mentor cheering her on the side.

No one says leadership succession is easy. Yet everybody knows that in spite of its challenging nature, it can be done. And it must be done as a part of the organization's DNA. The organization that has a succession culture is fertile soil for the nurturance of many generations of leaders. That is the organization I want to be a part of.

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The best organizations steer away from the extremes of either having only the management or the board driving the life of the organization. Leadership at its best is always an amalgamation of the leaders from both board and management. It is therefore of paramount importance that every organization learns the choreography that enables the collective leadership to drive its mission and vision. It is the responsibility of the board chairman and the CEO to exemplify to the rest of their respective colleagues how this dance works.

I have come to understand that the foremost priority for this harmony of leadership is alignment of purpose and vision. There has to be a shared idea of what the organization ought to be about as well as congruence of what the future promises. Iterations of candid debate and discussion can clarify intent as well as help shape collective decision on what is the raison d'être.

The second most important discipline is to define and observe boundaries. Mutual respect is the sealant of such boundaries. The common temptation for board members to get into the executive space to interfere with day-to-day operational affairs must be resisted and any errant board member must be taken to task by the chairman. The management team must make the effort to keep the board informed and involved in major decisions affecting strategy and resources. An effective board will have members who prefer to be consulted if in doubt about whether the board needs to be involved in any matter.

Communication between management and board has to be lavish and intentional. Keeping one another in the loop of ongoing discussion and thinking is crucial to building mutual trust. Leaders ought not underestimate the value of informal communication; frequent casual chats over drinks to share thoughts and ideas outside of formal scheduled meetings fill knowledge gaps to prevent misunderstanding.

The element of development is often overlooked. The board should constantly look out for opportunities for senior executives to acquire new ideas, knowledge and experiences. As and when appropriate, the management should also recommend development opportunities to some of the board members to enhance their abilities.

Finally, I have learned that the quality of our discourse is dependent on the degree of mutual liking and respect. While there are constantly serious and important matters to handle, it must not be at the expense of the privilege to enjoy one another's friendship and company.

The beauty of the board dancing well with the management is a deeply satisfying phenomenon. The diversity of the type of leaders on both sides is obviously challenging to brokering peaceable and effective collaboration. However, when the fundamental disciplines - alignment, boundaries, communication, development and enjoyment - are practised, it is a tremendous joy to be part of such a powerful leadership.

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Culture is a difficult word to define but an easy phenomenon to feel. You can walk into any organization and feel its culture almost immediately. Culture is, in a nutshell, the sum total of the ideas, the customs as well as the social behaviour of any group of people. More specifically, social scientists have described three levels to culture:

1. What we see (Behaviors, systems, policies and processes surrounding the way things are done)

2. What we say (Ideals, goals, values, and aspirations set by leadership)

3. What we believe (Underlying assumptions that guide behaviour)

When our CEO Angeline Wee came onboard to join us in 2015, I recalled teasing her by calling her our Chief Culture Officer. My theory to her was that if she could influence the culture appropriately, she could bring about any change she desired. The pivotal role of organizational culture in strategic transformation has always been underestimated and neglected. There is an urban legend that is attributed to the great Peter Drucker when he was quoted to say: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Even if the source is unverifiable, I believe the logic holds true.

In general, I am against anything that is top-down. The only exception is culture; creation of the right culture is a leadership responsibility and therefore it is by necessity driven from top down. My army boss years ago used to put it in a crude but easy to understand manner: shit flows downwards. He was an old school commander who believed that if leaders behave poorly, that misconduct would spread like wildfire through the rank and file.

There is a ton of literature on the subject that really befuddles. However if you accept it as your leadership function, it will begin with defining what we stand for. Our people need to hear us articulate what is the bedrock of values, ideals and principles. They need to understand why. They need to feel our conviction not merely through our words but mostly through our lifestyle and daily behaviour.

I learned early in my journey that no matter how loudly I speak, nobody will hear what I say if my actions contradict my words. The leadership of any organization must walk its talk if cultural elements are to take root.

A critical mass of people led by exemplary leaders forming habits aligned to shared values and ideals is culture in motion. Given enough time and iterations, this community develops a distinctive culture that defines who they are and their reason of being. Such a community will change the world.

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