10th APCG leadership

20 Jul

Asia-Pacific Conference on Giftedness — Topic: Leadership

I live under the assumption that everyone is rational.

The APCG youth summit this year was about leadership. Dr. Ng Eng Hen, the Singapore Minister of Education, gave the opening speech. I found the whole speech on the internet, how awesome is that?


On closer inspection, that version seems intended for the adult APCG. I’ll just give what I’d jotted down in my notes:

Dr. Ng Eng Hen repeatedly stressed three factors of leadership coupled with three goals –

1. Likeability – beyond studies

2. Availability – beyond self

3. Adaptability – beyond (insert name of your own country)

He also went on to explain these traits. Unfortunately I didn’t jot them all down. But his speech was bereft of the usual bureaucratic wheezliness that I’ve had to get used to and full of practical ideas that made me believe he actually had a clear vision for Singapore. I’d vote for him simply because he didn’t make us suffer during the speech.

Then we had Professor Robert J. Sternberg from Tufts University give us a speech about leadership. He made us laugh occasionally. I didn’t have a lot in my notes so I’ll just give you what I have:

1.  He gave us examples of two kinds of leadership – strong leadership and weak leadership. Nelson Mandela is an example of strong leadership, while Robert Mugabe is an example of weak leadership.

Nelson Mandela Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe

Nelson Mandela of South Africa v.s. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe

By the way, Mr. Mandela just had his 90th birthday on the 18th of July. Happy birthday, Mr. Mandela!

What characterizes bad leadership? Prof. Sternberg said that bad leadership often lives under certain beliefs that distances one from the people:

a. The omnipotent fallacy – you believe you can do anything.

b. The invulnerability fallacy – you believe you are impervious to harm

c. The ethical-disengagement fallacy – you believe you are not bound by normal standards of ethics

d. The omniscience fallacy – you believe you know everything


2.  Leadership is about making decisions – balancing polarity. (This made me think of Levi Eshkol, Prime minister of Israel from 1963 to his death in 1969. He was known for his ability to balance polarities within the cabinet and make sound decisions)


Poor guy, he looks all wrinkly. Painting doesn’t do him justice.

3.  Leadership is a decision. Prof. Sternberg gave an example of his own candidacy for president of the American Psychological Association. He said at first he pretended to run and did everything that candidates are expected to do, it was only later on did he realize that he had become the person he was pretending to be, and ran in earnest because he had a vision for the association.

This was also a process I experienced in the play we did there representing Taiwan. At first I just wanted to write the script since me singlehandedly writing the script on the plane to Singapore was the most efficient way I could think of to have our entire program move forward as quickly as possible. Then I fell in love with the script because I had this vision in my mind of how the characters would act. I didn’t want to say straight out that I wanted to play the leading female in the play, however, because there were many girls in the Taiwan group who wanted to act too and it didn’t seem fair to just take the role like that.

To make a long story short: I did eventually get to play the leading role. And though someone else volunteered to be the director, I was doing a great deal of the directing as well. It is only now that I realized how I went from wanting only to be a passive contributor to an active contributor and even a leadership position. This had to do with a growing anxiety to make the play as much a success as it possibly could be, to fulfill the vision I had of the play, and to showcase Taiwan well. So even though I couldn’t initially understand why Prof. Sternberg said that leadership is a decision contrary to popular belief that there are ‘born leaders’, I can now comprehend why he came to this idea.

4.  Ethical decisions can actually be good for leadership in the long run.

Here Prof. Sternberg gave the example of Merck.

Mectizan – Roy Vagelos

  In the 1980s Merck’s CEO C. Roy Vagelos was presented with a dilemma – they’d created a drug called Mectizan, which could help cure River Blindness, a debilitating disease that caused blindness in Africans regardless of age or gender and was crippling to society. However, they were unable to make a profit off the target population of this drug because neither the people nor the government of the patients could afford it. Mr. Vagelos was faced with the tough decision of letting the drug go because it wouldn’t be profitable to manufacture it. Instead, he decided to manufacture the drug and give it out for free. Though they lost millions in research and production, Merck gained publicity that could not have been bought for the same amount of money and stocks went up!

More here about Merck’s Mectizan project:


Vioxx – Ray Gilmartin

  Then there’s this other anti-example from Merck. In the year 1999 Vioxx came on the market. Vioxx was an extremely potent anti-inflammatory drug useful against arthritis. Unfortunately, studies by Merck showed that it could also increase risk of heart attack. The then CEO, Ray Gilmartin, was faced with the decision of letting the drug go (and millions of research dollars to boot) or putting it on the market. He decided to go ahead and put the product on the market. This had devastating results and by the year 2004 Merck was faced with lawsuits and had to pay large settlements. This was, of course, a hard blow to the industry.

I believe that ethical leadership in this age is a wiser choice because communication has become so much easier and government actions so much more transparent. You cannot easily silence or deceive the population. Machiavelli will probably have to revise his book.

5. Believe in your own capabilities.

Prof. Sternberg used his own example. For years he had believed that he was very bad with roads and would always have his wife read the map for him. One time he went had to go to a conference somewhere without his wife. The route from his abode to the conference was very complicated and passed through a very bad neighborhood. Prof. Sternberg was scared that he wouldn’t be able to remember the way back at night. On the way to the conference he tried very hard to remember the route. When it was time to get back he was nervous that he couldn’t find the way – but he did. So he said maybe he had been telling himself that he was bad with roads, but he wasn’t. (I wonder if it also had something to do with sharpened memory due to nervousness.)

Sometimes we set limits for ourselves, and believe we couldn’t achieve something – that actually impedes our capabilities. So we should believe in ourselves and not have preconceived notions of what we aren’t capable of.


2 Responses to “10th APCG leadership”

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