Classic material

Leadership lessons from a sub-contractor

Lim Chih Yang It is not often that one can learn leadership lessons from The New Paper. While our local tabloid is a surprisingly good resource on how to manage one’s finances, enjoy fine dining, get the latest gossip, and contains the most comprehensive coverage of football news, it rarely comes up with soul-inspiring stuff...(until this comes along).

Mr Lam Teck Foo, a sub-contractor, was fined a total of $150,000 for “failing to take reasonable and adequate fall protection measures, under the Workplace Safety and Health Act”. He was fined as a fatal accident had occurred to one of his workers, who fell to his death while working on the rooftop on September 2006. While his workers had been wearing safety helmets, safety goggles, gloves, safety harnesses and belts, they had no lifelines to secure their harnesses to.

The fine of $150,000 is huge when we look at Lam’s income tax return of a little over $43,000. He had not contested the charge and had in fact acknowledged his responsibility for the worker:

…I was not around the work site, but my foreman said that the worker was feeling dizzy. He was walking backwards when he fell off the roof. But, he admitted, that as the boss of the company, he is responsible for the safety of his workers….

While we are in no position to gauge Lam’s financial means, I am nevertheless touched by his gesture and sincere apology to the family. Feelings aside, though, a few questions are still in my mind.

While Lam is the boss, he was not physically present at the worksite to personally supervise the workers, and ensure that his workers had their life-lines secured. So why, then, is he being held responsible for the accident?

Perhaps Lam should have taken a leaf out of our Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng’s example. Here is how the scenario would have played out had Lam been an attentive student in Wong’s leadership class.

1) Upon knowing that the accident had happened, Lam would have made a gesture of apology by telling the deceased family, “This should not have happened. I am sorry that it has.”

2) Then, he would have convened a Commission of Inquiry (COI), including one of his own safety officers as part of the committee.

3) Thirdly, he would then have released the COI’s findings and absolved himself of all blame, since he is the boss and he is reasonably not expected to be on site to check all lifelines.

4) Fourthly, he would have gotten his colleagues to be both cheerleader and defence attorney, and exhort everyone to “move on”.

5) Lastly, he would have lain low and waited for it to blow over.

Hey if Lam had learned his lesson, he would have saved his company a whopping $150,000 in fines, plus all the other costs he incurred in compensating the deceased’s family.

But no, Lam did not evade responsibility. In fact, he did just the opposite. He stood up, accepted his part of the blame, apologised to the family of the deceased, paid the $150,000 fine, paid for the funeral and even pledged to give the family $3,000 for the next three years at Hari Raya.

Now that, dear readers, is true leadership – from a sub-contractor.

Mr Lam has, according to The New Paper report, five children aged 3, 11, 12, 14 and 15. His request to pay the $150,000 fine over ten months was rejected by the authorities.

[The above should be copied, bounded and included as a module in management studies in our universities. It can be used as an SOP by top executives in both public and private companies as an efficient and effective way of crisis management, and keep the job.]


Anonymous said...

This was taken from the following website:


News Releases > 2003 > October

Ministerial Statement on the Recent Deaths of Three SAF Servicemen, by Minister for Defence, RADM(NS) Teo Chee Hean, Parliament Sitting

This is an extremely serious lapse in the conduct of the training. It should never have happened. MINDEF takes the gravest possible view of the matter. I am determined to establish the full facts of how such an unauthorised act occurred and to identify the persons responsible for it. I have convened a Higher Board of Inquiry to do so. Investigations are also being conducted by the Criminal Investigation Department of the Police, and there will be a coroner’s inquiry. The results of these investigations will be made public. Any SAF personnel who have been negligent or culpable will be held to account and punished according to the law.

After the incident MINDEF suspended 5 instructors who conducted the training. In addition, MINDEF has relieved from their duties two other instructors who were responsible for supervising the training. MINDEF has also relieved the Commanding Officer of the School of Commando Training from command and has also appointed a new Chief Commando Officer to take charge of the Commando formation.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Read this: http://thestar.com.my/columnists/story.asp?col=insightdownsouth&file=/2008/5/17/columnists/insightdownsouth/21271268&sec=Insight%20Down%20South

Anonymous said...

Gah, can't paste the link in full. It's an article from The Star on 'The Ugly Singaporean' - go google.