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Leadership powered by purpose

Photo Credit to MINDEF/SAF – COL Cai Dexian 

Joining the military was a natural choice for Colonel (COL) Cai Dexian. Even as a teenager, he wanted to play a part in building a better future for Singapore. He also desired to work in an environment that requires strong teamwork. A military profession in the Army was the ideal fit for him after honing his leadership skills during his years as a rugby player and student council member in school.

In 2003, COL Cai was awarded The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Scholarship. He graduated with a double degree in Economics and International Studies from Stanford University.


 Holistic development

In his decade-long career with the Army, COL Cai has taken on a variety of appointments, including a commander of an armoured infantry company, brigade operations officer, and plans officer in the Army’s Force Transformation office.

The variety and scale of career opportunities have been very exciting,” he says. “I like that I got placed in new situations that forced me to learn and adapt quickly. I also wanted something that would allow me to alternate between command appointments, where I would be leading soldiers, and staff positions, where I help design policies for the Army and the SAF.”

He considers his six-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2012 as one of his biggest career highlights. As part of the multi-national coalition force, he saw how crucial it was for the military to partner with civil agencies in rebuilding a country. “Seeing the trials and tribulations of the Afghan people brought home the point that we should never take our security for granted,” he says.

Helming the Ministry of Defence’s (MINDEF) Personnel Policy department from 2016 to 2019 was another fulfilling experience for him. “My team and I developed human resource policies that had a direct impact on our regular servicemen and women. It was very meaningful knowing that we were helping to determine whether MINDEF and the SAF could remain an attractive career choice for good people.”

Having to lead a team of non-uniformed Defence Executive Officers (DXOs) was also a new experience for him. “I learnt to adapt my leadership style to take a more collaborative and consultative approach. My colleagues are very experienced and professional. They taught me a great deal about policymaking and listening to diverse perspectives.”


Making a difference

Currently, COL Cai is the Commander of the 8th Singapore Armoured Brigade. He is responsible for ensuring that the units under his charge have the space, time, equipment and manpower to be operationally ready and capable to undertake any mission assigned to them.

One of his responsibilities this year involves coordinating extensively with other public agencies and grassroots organisations to bring the National Day Parade experience to people across Singapore.

He says: “Command in the SAF is a sacred responsibility. It’s about leading our soldiers well and ensuring they are capable of and committed to defending our country. Seeing the growth and development of my soldiers and my team during our time together is probably the most rewarding part of being an officer.”

For those considering a MINDEF/SAF profession, COL Cai has this piece of advice: “Rather than the scholarship, think about the career you would like to have: What experiences would you want to have? What makes you happy and fulfilled, and what difference would you want to make? Thinking about these questions will give you a clearer sense of the career you want to pursue.”