Leading a Cause the Nation Counts On

Our Army is a key pillar in Singapore’s defence and the safeguarding of its sovereignty. As a Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Chua Xianyi leads his men in training and operations; driven by a sense of purpose to achieve our Army’s mission to defend the nation.

What was your initial impression and/or understanding of a MINDEF/SAF career? What got you to join?

It’s been thirteen years since I enlisted for National Service, and decided to join the Army as my career. At that time, I was a little bit of a maverick (probably still am) – I was searching for a path in life that those around me would be unlikely to take, something with both service and adventure. I was quite prepared to become a teacher as I found a calling for a role where I could make a difference in people’s lives and be remembered by those I have journeyed with.

While I did not give much in-depth thought to joining MINDEF/SAF prior to enlistment, I had always viewed National Service as something purposeful. Interactions with SAF leaders in Officer Cadet School (OCS) changed my mind when I witnessed the focus and drive with which they went about their daily lives, and the fulfilment they got from leading and developing us. The energy from being part of the Army family was definitely another factor that drew me in – it really is like being part of a giant sports team. We train and push through challenges together with full hearts. So, it was not really about “joining MINDEF/SAF” but rather I never thought about leaving.

Tell us more about your current role, day-to-day responsibilities and challenges.

Today I’m the Commanding Officer (CO) of the 42nd Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment (42 SAR). I lead a team of officers, warrant officers and specialists who in turn lead the bigger team of more than 500 soldiers.

As CO, one of the biggest challenges for me – as with all large and people-centric organisations – is facilitating communication and building teams. Be it reaching down to the last soldier, or running a large operation – there will always be blind spots and it is the eyes of the many that help us overcome these. This can only work when we share information and work collaboratively and this requires tending to team-building on a daily basis. There is a natural satisfaction in seeing people and teams develop – and in this challenge is where I find joy.

How has a career in MINDEF/SAF changed your life and/or thinking?

MINDEF/SAF has given me a clear purpose – the defence of Singapore’s interests. I know where my life is headed and what difference I can make to the people and teams I work with. I am grateful that I have a sense of direction, every day. 

The emphasis on principles and values has shaped who I have become as an individual – especially in being honest to myself. I am clearer now on what I find joy in doing, and it has helped me centre myself in the journey of living a full life!

How is the MINDEF/SAF career a rewarding one?

It is the memories and shared experiences with people that bring the greatest reward. After spending thirteen years in service, of which I spent about four years in command positions of various types, I’ve learnt so much – from military leadership to people management and development. But it is the memories with soldiers whom I’ve made a difference to that I treasure most. From working alongside soldiers who come from challenging backgrounds, to helping others adjust to adulthood with a firm hand, to helping the soft-spoken grow a sense of self-confidence – these are all experiences that bring fond memories and are rewarding to me.

The opportunity to develop those around me and the strong bonds built in the process continue to inspire me to keep doing what I do, and better.

What is the most memorable moment in your career?

The best memories I have from my career are when our team spirit is proven to be of worth. When the platoon and company celebrated our collective achievements after a tough exercise, being pushed on through leadership by example. When those I have led reach back to me to share their appreciation for the difficult and at times unpopular decisions I made when we were a team. That brings a deeper value to the sacrifices we make together. 

What makes a good, effective leader?

I do not claim to know the answer, nor profess to be one. Aspirationally, I think it really starts from the right values and source of purpose. It is in the integrity through which our decisions and leadership flows that makes a leader genuine and credible. Integrity not only in ethics but also in competence. And about commitment to the purpose for which you serve and lead. It is also about humility to serve and learn, because our teams are many a time better than the leader at many things – and that leaders and leading are never the finished product. 

Leading is a labour of love. One where the leader may feel alone, but also can rely on mentors and the seniors around to lend coaching to be a better leader.

2009 SAF Merit Scholarship Recipient
Bachelor of Arts in History, Cornell University
Commanding Officer, 42nd Battalion,
Singapore Armoured Regiment (42 SAR)

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