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Speech by Mr James Lim


Good afternoon,
Members of the Board of Governors,
Mr. Tan Choon Shian, Principal & CEO of Singapore Polytechnic
Distinguished Guests, Family, Friends
And all Graduands

My hearty congratulations to all Graduands for the completion of your diploma programme.

Today marks an important milestone in your life; I would like to thank Singapore Polytechnic for the opportunity for me to be part of this milestone in your life.  You may be at a cross-road deciding what to do after this?  The men may have another 2 years to think about it - enlisting for army but I can tell you the 2 years will pass very quickly.  You may decide to further your studies or to enter the workforce. 

I thought today I will share with you 3 key learnings of my personal life and work experiences so you can be more prepared and have a successful career ahead of you. 

My first learning: “Take Some Risk”.
I came to Singapore some 31 years ago to pursue my Mechanical Engineering degree in NTU.  I am from a very small town called Sitiawan, 100 km south of Penang in Malaysia. Sitiawan is famous at times because the Malayan Communist Leader, Chin Peng, was born there in 1924. I left home at 17, with a bad “O” level result, to do my A Levels in KL back in 1982.  After A levels, I had a choice to stay back in Malaysia or take a risk to do Engineering in NTU which was my passion in life to become a Mechanical Engineer. I have always had an interested in understanding how anything works mechanically.  I took the risk to come to Singapore alone with not much money and no friends. Singapore was tough. English was not my first language, fellow students are all so smart and discipline. Everything was very advance for a kampong boy. 

 For you to take that risk, you need to be able to answer 2 questions:

If you have the answers for these 2 questions, this will help sustain and keep you going.  Same philosophy applies in your work.  You need to also take some risks at work. Go for it. If you have the passion and motivation for it, you are likely to do a great job.  It is not just perfection that you seek but you need to have the attitude to take risks and be feeling a little uncomfortable at your work. This creates learning opportunity.  For example, try something new, volunteer yourself to take on projects that are out of your job scope.  Make full use of your role to change things for the better for the company.  Your efforts will well be recognized by your employer or supervisors.

My second Learning: “Develop Learning Agility”
Continue to learn new things. Be curious. Learning comes from many areas and in many experiences.  I have found that people who develop the curiosity to learn and have very good learning agility usually learns from 3 areas much better than other.

If you have the learning agility to Read, Absorb and Apply, Watch and Observe and Visualize change and finally to engage experts and people with wisdom, this will shorten your learning curve and avoid making mistakes. Get ahead of others easily!

My third Learning: Learn from your failures and experiences in Life – Genuine and Authentic Leadership
In developing yourself over past years and in the future you should aspire to become a genuine and authentic leader. People trust and want to follow a genuine and authentic leader. Authentic leadership is born out of life experiences especially failures or crisis in life. I have my fair share of failures in life starting from mediocre O level, Hospitalized with broken leg due to misadventure with motorcycles, leaving home at 17, coming to Singapore alone in 1984, failing first year with 6 refer paper, struggle to pay for university education,  supporting my sister and brother through university and Polytechnic after starting work.

Out of these experiences you learn to develop your values and passion to lead. Authentic leaders demonstrate a passion for their purpose, practice their values consistently and leader with their hearts as well as their heads. There was a survey done for values throughout the world as to what values they would like to see in the organization or their leaders. The answer was very consistent in the top 5 values Honesty, Truth, Respect, Responsible and the most quoted was Integrity.  In today’s world what is lacking is great leadership besides just a sense of purpose and values of course the ability to lead with their hearts. The ability to think strategically and excellence in execution is important as you lead with your mind. You need to work hard at understanding and developing yourself hence having a trusted feedback provider is crucial.

Over the course of 27 years of my working life, I have seen many brilliant individuals never achieve their full potential without developing holistically around authentic and genuine leadership. Having a passion to engage people to achieve their best is a must have capability. You must develop yourself in these areas if you are going to have a successful career.

Last but not least your decision whether to change job. My advice is NOT to job hop because of money, the grass is always greener over the other side.  Your decision to change job should never be because the other company pays me a few hundred dollars more.  You only decide to change jobs when

Most importantly is the learning journey does not stop.   It goes back to the learning that I talked about earlier.  If the company offers you the opportunities to learn new skills for example giving you leadership training, move you around the company taking on different roles; take advantage of that and you probably also know the company is taking notice of you.  You need to also know your weakness; take charge of your development so that you are ready for your next bigger role.

So 3 key takeaways from my sharing today:

Once again, today marks the beginning of your journey. The diploma that you have earned is an excellent stepping stone to a challenging and fulfilling career ahead.  I wish you every success in your future endeavors. Thank you.

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