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take tbenwelves too seriously." CEO of the Civil Service College and Deputy Secretary (Development) of the Public Service Division, Lionel Yeo offers refreshing personal takes on life, art and trekking. <3TZ^/

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L I O N E L Y E O IS T H E K I N D O F affable chap you could happily shoot the breeze with on first meeting. The trim, youthful Dean and C E O of the Civil Service College - the training arm for Singapore's public officers - and Deputy Secretary (Development) of the Public Service Division regales with delightful, revealing anecdotes about life, his wife, art, trekking and work.

The accidental public officer As a teenager, he harboured dreams of becoming an ad agency creative director or lawyer. But his biggest wish was to study overseas and a government scholarship was what reeled him into public service. "The PSC (Public Service Commission) was first to make me an offer and I accepted. Otherwise, I didn't know very much about public

Wong Sher Maine Photos by John Heng

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service," says the London School of Economics alumnus.

an avid trekker who has hit the trails in Nepal and Mount Kilimanjaro.

Fifteen years later, M r Yeo, 38 who served in the Ministries of Trade and Industry (MTI), Finance, Information and the Arts (MITA), and Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) - is still around, earning "psychic income" (non-monetary income that gratifies psychological and emotional needs) by working with great people. "Also, I do get a kick out of doing good for Singapore."

The two went for a walk in the foothills of Santiago. Taking a break by a stream, they talked business, with M r Lagos giving M r Yeo greater insight on the issues that Chile was concerned about and the ones they had more room to negotiate. "Negotiation is not always what takes place in formal meetings. In this case, my trekking came in useful!"

Trekking diplomacy At M T I , he led the Singapore delegation in negotiating a free trade agreement with New Zealand, Chile and Brunei. Chief Chilean negotiator Ricardo Lagos Jr, son of the then Chilean President, found out that M r Yeo is

Investing in relationships M r Yeo's father - a public officer with secondary school education who served in the customs and excise department for over 30 years - was recently hospitalised and was visited by customs officers, despite having retired 20 years ago. Says M r Yeo, whose mother was a housewife: "How many of us can


A Cuppa With

leave the S e r v i c e f o r 2 0 years a n d s t i l l be w e l l - r e g a r d e d b y c u r r e n t l y s e r v i n g officers? T h e m e a s u r e o f a m a n is n o t b a s e d o n t h e t i t l e s he h o l d s . T o m e , it's a p e r s o n a l r e m i n d er t h a t we have to treat p e o p l e w i t h respect, that i n v e s t i n g i n h u m a n rel a t i o n s h i p s is i m p o r t a n t . " T h i s , he feels, c a n m a k e a d i f f e r e n c e i n e n g a g i n g staff. " I n t e r n a l s t a f f e n g a g e m e n t is p a t c h y across p u b l i c sector organisations a n d i t really b o i l s d o w n to h o w to relate to each o t h e r o n a p e r s o n a l b a s i s . I f we don't practise empathy w i t h our o w n peop l e , t h e r e is no c h a n c e o f p r a c t i s i n g e m p a t h y w i t h the p u b l i c . "

A supportive workplace T o t h a t e n d , one k e y p r o j e c t o n his r a d a r is b u i l d i n g u p C u b e , a n i n tranet p o r t a l for p u b l i c officers. " T h e a s p i r a t i o n is to create an o n line c o m m u n i t y o f p u b l i c officers w h o c a n c o l l a b o r a t e , share ideas, d i s c u s s , c o n n e c t , f i n d each o t h e r . " * H a v i n g e m p a t h y a n d a k e e n eye c a n h e l p to get t h e best o u t o f p e o p l e . M r Y e o has seen h o w s o m e p u b l i c o f f i c e r s c l a m u p at m e e t i n g s ( i f t h e y n o t i c e t h a t t h e i r bosses are n o t s p e a k i n g up) as i f i n fear o f u p s t a g ing their superiors. " I f y o u have s o m e t h i n g to c o n t r i b u t e , let's h e a r i t . I t doesn't m a t t e r w h a t your title i s . . . I f you're l i v i n g i n c o n s t a n t fear o f l o s i n g y o u r j o b , y o u can't be a g o o d p u b l i c o f f i c e r . W e have to be able to serve w i t h o u t fear o r f a v o u r . "

a n d t h e A r t s - b e f o r e she b e c a m e a f u l l - f l e d g e d actress. " M y w i f e is b e t t e r at w h a t she does, t h a n I a m at w h a t I d o , " says M r Y e o , w h o m o s t e n j o y e d h i s wife's a c t i n g i n t h e p l a y One Flea Spare, i n w h i c h she p l a y e d a 1 2 - y e a r - o l d g i r l . " N o t m a n y p e o p l e are p r e p a r e d to i n v e s t t h e i r careers i n the a r t s . " M r Y e o earns m o r e t h a n h i s w i f e s o m e t h i n g he q u e s t i o n s . " O u r s o c i ety has d e c i d e d to p a y o f f i c i a l s m o r e t h a n a r t i s t s . It's n o t a b s o l u t e l y c l e a r to me t h a t t h i s is a g o o d t h i n g . I n 1 0 0 years, w h o w i l l k n o w t h e n a m e s o f today's p e r m a n e n t secretaries? B u t p e o p l e w i l l s t i l l be a p p r e c i a t i n g the p a i n t i n g s o f C h u a E k K a y a n d r e a d i n g the w o r k s o f A l f i a n Sa'at." " T h e r e ' s a r i s k s o m e t i m e s t h a t those o f us i n p u b l i c s e r v i c e take o u r s e l v e s a bit too seriously. P u b l i c officers m u s t k n o w o u r p l a c e i n h i s t o r y a n d p a y s u f f i c i e n t respect to o t h e r professions that play a vital part i n n a t i o n - b u i l d i n g " - not o n l y artists, b u t also e n t r e p r e n e u r s , c i v i l s o c i e t y groups, "any other person or group w h o s e h e a r t is i n the r i g h t p l a c e " .

Empathy is vital

R e s p e c t goes r i g h t d o w n to the g r o u n d , w h e n a p u b l i c o f f i c e r is, say, e v a l u a t i n g appeals f r o m e n t r e p r e n e u r s . " T o d a y w e m a y say we're n o t g o i n g to g i v e y o u a l i c e n c e . A r e we p r e p a r e d to c o n t e m p l a t e t h a t t h i s e n t r e p r e n e u r m a y have a n i d e a w h i c h c o u l d tr an s for m the w o r l d ?

H e n c e , as a b o s s , he b e l i e v e s i n " s e e k i n g f i r s t to u n d e r s t a n d before you make yourself understood". A t m e e t i n g s , he tries to " m a k e p e o p l e f e e l a b i t m o r e secure ( a n d t h a t t h e y can) suggest a l t e r n a t i v e ideas w i t h o u t fear o f r e p r i s a l . "

The under-valued spouse

M r Yeo's w i f e is a w a r d - w i n n i n g actress J a n i c e K o h , w h o was a N a t i o n a l A r t s C o u n c i l officer for about four years. T h e t w o , i n t r o d u c e d b y m u tual friends, w o r k e d on the R e n a i s sance C i t y p r o j e c t t o g e t h e r - he was at t h e t h e n M i n i s t r y o f I n f o r m a t i o n

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Ifyou .have so toco^ it-It .jdbesn^msitter. what^our title is.. " I t m a y seem o b v i o u s to t a k e t h e p u b l i c s e c t o r p o s i t i o n as t h e c o r r e c t o n e . B u t s o m e t i m e s we s h o u l d pause a n d ask o u r s e l v e s : C o u l d we be w r o n g ? W e s h o u l d n ' t be t o o q u i c k to assume we k n o w best. W e n e e d to l i s t e n , engage a n d u n d e r s t a n d . " W h i c h is w h y t h e C S C a i m s f o r p u b l i c o f f i c e r s to see m u l t i p l e v i e w p o i n t s i n any issue. " E m p a t h y i n p o l i c y - m a k i n g is a b o u t b e i n g able to wear different stakeholders' s h o e s , " says M r Y e o , w h o uses t h e w o r d "empathy" numerous times i n the i n t e r v i e w .

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What's usually in your cuppa? American ginseng tea. Where do you get your favourite drink? The shop at Funan IT mall next to my PSD office.

"It's s t i l l w o r k i n p r o g r e s s , we w a n t p e o p l e to see t h a t g o v e r n m e n t p e r s p e c t i v e is b u t perspective." H

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* You can follow Lionel Yeo on Cube (www.cube. gov.sg) from Dec 2011 onwards.


Challenge Nov/Dec 2011