Although the weather was chilly on the day of our interview, Colonel (COL) Shaiful Herman Bin Shali’s welcome was anything but cool. The Commander of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) 1st Division immediately puts us at ease with his refreshing candour. The Singapore Government Scholarship holder joined SCDF after graduating with a degree in Chemistry and Management from Imperial College London.
COL Shaiful has served for 15 years in a variety of roles including Rota Commander at Alexandra Fire Station and a concurrent appointment as Commander of SCDF’s Fire Research Unit and Fire Investigation Unit. He shared how his experiences on the ground – and a little inspiration from Sir Alex Ferguson – have shaped his leadership style.
Do you remember the first time you were in a supervisory role?
The first time I was a supervisor was in 2006. I’d just completed the nine-month Basic Officer Course and had assumed the post of a Rota Commander at Alexandra Fire Station. I found myself working with supervisees who were as young as me, as well as veteran officers of my father’s generation. As this was my first posting, it felt strange, and nothing had quite prepared me for it. I learnt to lead on the job. What I found helpful was the mantra to treat others as you wish to be treated.
What’s a memorable lesson from your days as a Rota Commander?
Once, we had to respond to a chlorine leak incident at a swimming pool. After the incident had been attended to, one of the officers said to me, “Sir, we didn’t expect you to don the HazMat suit and go into the hot zone with us.”
The position of a commander is one that other officers look up to. Not being afraid to roll up my sleeves, get my hands dirty, and to be humble and genuine in my interactions – these have helped me establish a good rapport with my team members.
Who are some of the leaders you look up to?
I know many senior SCDF officers who are caring and have the welfare of their officers at heart. Simple gestures go a long way towards making our fellow officers feel appreciated, and this is something I strive to do for my team. Sometimes you also have to be like a coach, to guide staff through the process of finding solutions, rather than giving them all the answers.
I used to think that being a leader is all about the hard skills or someone who has all the answers at his or her fingertips. But I realised as I moved along in my journey, this isn’t always the case. We must also be comfortable about being in a position of vulnerability. This is why we work as a team in the first place: a leader’s job is to orchestrate resources, seek diverse inputs, judge the best way forward and rally our officers to achieve our objectives.
Another inspiring person for me is Sir Alex Ferguson, who was the manager of Manchester United for 27 years. His longevity in the sport was due to his ability to build and rebuild teams, and adapt to change while continuing to fulfil his mission.
What are the leadership traits that are important to you?
For me, good communication is key, as it helps us to persuade and influence our team members. A case in point: when we first started rostering our officers for their COVID-19 vaccinations in early 2021, there were several who were unsure of its effects. I engaged them by sharing that I myself had tested positive for COVID-19, and was in fact case number 619. This happened after I’d returned to Singapore in March 2020 from a work trip.
I didn’t expect to test positive, but my fears weren’t for myself but for my family. I shared that as lifesavers, we have to take care of ourselves first in order to take care of others, and I’m glad our officers understood this.
What did you learn about leadership from attending the Home Team Academy’s Home Team Senior Command and Staff Course, and what advice do you have for aspiring leaders?
What I found helpful was meeting peers from across the Home Team and sharing our experiences. I also learnt more about the importance of self-care, which helps me to be in the best mental state to give advice and listen to my officers.
As for my advice, it’s to be mindful when it comes to walking the walk. Be a genuine leader whom officers can trust and follow. Also, leadership is very much a journey and, along the way, one is bound to make mistakes. It’s crucial that we are resilient and bounce back to do better!
Home Team Leadership Series
This leadership series features Home Team leaders who have attended leadership programmes organised by the Home Team Academy
(HTA). As the Corporate University of the Home Team, HTA delivers leading edge training and learning opportunities for Home Team leaders, trainers and officers. This includes a suite of leadership programmes for Home Team leaders at different stages of their career. Follow HTA’s LinkedIn page
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