Friday, June 16, 2017

The Lee vs Lee Saga – a question of public figure vs private individual

Our View: The Lee vs Lee Saga – A question of public figure vs private individual

lee vs lee sage

The online saga happening between Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings (Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling) highlights an important issue for crisis communications – the separation of the public figure from his private individual.

What PM Lee is facing now is not something new, and many political leaders and top CEOs have had, and will continue to have, this problem. What it boils down to is this … can a person have a successful professional life, if his home life is not perfect. Does being an insensitive husband or a less than supportive father, make you any less capable to lead a country or run a business. Now some will argue that the issue facing PM Lee is more serious. We would agree, but short of wild accusations, no real proof of wrong doing has been tendered by his siblings. But let’s not get into a political discussion, as this is not the intended topic of this post.

On the issue of whether a public figure can separate his professional life from his private life, we believe that it is both possible and impossible – depending on the indiscretions. Let us explain.

When a person is appointed as a CEO (or elected to public office), along with the role comes certain public expectations which are: (a) directly related to the performance of the professional role; and (b) additional considerations that the public had when they were appointed. Unless the indiscretions directly conflict with any of these two expectations, issues in private life will not cross over to impact the professional life.

If we use the example of PM Lee, Hsien Loong was elected by his peers to be first amongst equals and to lead the country till the next general elections. As part of being appointed Prime Minister by his peers, PM Lee was expected to constantly put Singapore and Singaporeans as his primary concern above everything else.

Hsien Yang’s and Wei Ling’s attacks against Hsien Loong attempts to paint him as an unfit leader as he is allegedly using his position as Prime Minister to deny fulfilling his father’s (Lee Kuan Yew’s) desire to have 38 Oxley Road demolished. While on the surface, the attacks appear concerning, Hsien Yand’s and Wei Ling’s line of attack is actually counter-intuitive as it reinforces the reason Hsien Loong was made Prime Minister i.e. he puts Singapore and Singaporeans above his personal and even his family wishes. Despite being a filial son who wants to fulfil his late father’s wishes, PM Lee has instead chosen to do what is best for Singapore and Singaporeans.


Thus, in this instance, we believe that Singaporeans will be able to separate between PM Lee’s private life (his family quarrel over 38 Oxley Road) and his professional role as the Prime Minister of Singapore. It is therefore our assessment is that, no matter the outcome of the quarrel with his siblings, PM Lee will still be PM Lee until the scheduled succession he has announced will take place after the next Singapore General Election in 2021.

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