(function() { (function(){function b(g){this.t={};this.tick=function(h,m,f){var n=f!=void 0?f:(new Date).getTime();this.t[h]=[n,m];if(f==void 0)try{window.console.timeStamp("CSI/"+h)}catch(q){}};this.getStartTickTime=function(){return this.t.start[0]};this.tick("start",null,g)}var a;if(window.performance)var e=(a=window.performance.timing)&&a.responseStart;var p=e>0?new b(e):new b;window.jstiming={Timer:b,load:p};if(a){var c=a.navigationStart;c>0&&e>=c&&(window.jstiming.srt=e-c)}if(a){var d=window.jstiming.load; c>0&&e>=c&&(d.tick("_wtsrt",void 0,c),d.tick("wtsrt_","_wtsrt",e),d.tick("tbsd_","wtsrt_"))}try{a=null,window.chrome&&window.chrome.csi&&(a=Math.floor(window.chrome.csi().pageT),d&&c>0&&(d.tick("_tbnd",void 0,window.chrome.csi().startE),d.tick("tbnd_","_tbnd",c))),a==null&&window.gtbExternal&&(a=window.gtbExternal.pageT()),a==null&&window.external&&(a=window.external.pageT,d&&c>0&&(d.tick("_tbnd",void 0,window.external.startE),d.tick("tbnd_","_tbnd",c))),a&&(window.jstiming.pt=a)}catch(g){}})();window.tickAboveFold=function(b){var a=0;if(b.offsetParent){do a+=b.offsetTop;while(b=b.offsetParent)}b=a;b<=750&&window.jstiming.load.tick("aft")};var k=!1;function l(){k||(k=!0,window.jstiming.load.tick("firstScrollTime"))}window.addEventListener?window.addEventListener("scroll",l,!1):window.attachEvent("onscroll",l); })();

M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

To my readers in America,

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving holiday is a uniquely North American tradition. It is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in America and the second Monday of October in Canada, to mark the end of the (hopefully) successful harvest season and to give thanks to a generous Almighty.

Today with farming being the pursuit of an increasingly fewer number of Americans (and also Canadians), Thanksgiving is a fast becoming a secular holiday celebrated by all.

I used to think that the Canadians were particularly smart or pragmatic in having their holiday on a Monday, thus effectively extending their weekend. Now I think the Americans are more so, as many take the Friday following Thanksgiving as a holiday too.

I remember my first fall season in Canada decades ago and spending Thanksgiving dinner in a Canadian home. The hostess asked me whether there was a similar tradition in my culture. Without a moment of hesitation I replied, “Yes,” referring to our own Eidul Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice.

Thanksgiving celebrates the tradition of the pilgrims of early 17th century when they shared their bountiful harvests among themselves and with the surrounding natives. This of course was during the days when such concepts as alien registration were, well, alien. Today’s pilgrims would more likely erect fences or walls, all in the name of “security!”

Likewise, with Eidul Adha we celebrate with those pilgrims in Mecca for their successful completion of their Hajj. We join them as they, and we, re-enact Abraham’s ultimate sacrifice. The theme is the same, to express our gratitude to an Almighty and to share our bounty with others. With Thanksgiving it is the turkey that is traditionally being sacrificed, with Eidul Adha, the lamb.

It is a tradition with my family to have guests, usually students from the nearby college, to share Thanksgiving dinner with us, reciprocating my earlier experience as a student. I have been blessed with meeting many fine young men and women thus, and we treasure those many precious memories.

On such occasions it is also a tradition with us, after the usual prayers before dinner, to have each of us cite what it is that we are most grateful for in the preceding year. There were times when such a simple exercise in reflection would demand the greatest thought, nonetheless there was always something that each of us could be grateful for.

Today I am grateful that my family and I are all in good health and active contributors to the community in our various capacities. Except for my youngest son Azlan, my children and grandchildren are spread literally all over the globe. That too we take is as a special blessing from Allah. And we are grateful.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I wish my readers too would have something special to be grateful for during the past year.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Towards A Competitive Malaysia #32

Chapter 6 Great Nation, Great Leaders (Con’td)

Leadership Qualities of Prophet Muhammad (bpuh)

On rare occasions humanity is blessed with a “complete” leader, flexible enough to assume and excel in multiple roles at different times. One such individual was Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He demonstrated his leadership qualities long before Allah chose him to be His Last Messenger.19 Once when the Arabs were rebuilding the Ka’aba after it was damaged from an earlier flood, there was much rivalry among the participants as to who would have the honor of putting the finishing touch. As usual, the disagreement quickly escalated. Finally, they agreed to ask young Muhammad (before he was anointed prophet) to arbitrate. He immediately sensed the gravity of the situation, fully aware of the disastrous consequences should he make a mistake. He quickly devised a brilliant and equitable scheme for sharing the honor. He asked them to spread out a carpet, and then placed the black stone, the central object of veneration, in the center. He then had a representative from each tribe raised the edge of the carpet to carry the stone to its final spot. Everyone was satisfied; they had all participated in the solemn rite, with no one tribe hogging the honor. They were even more pleased that they had successfully converted a potentially divisive and explosive rivalry into an amicable and cooperative endeavor.

Muhammad intuitively knew the wisdom that honor is never diluted when shared; on the contrary, it is enhanced. Similarly, rivalry can, with ingenuity, be converted to meaningful teamwork, and destructive competition to fruitful cooperation.

His leadership style early in his prophethood was more coach-like. He continued this pattern at Medina after the hijra (migration). His Charter of Medina was significant in that for the first time it clearly defined the relationship between the ruler and the ruled, and the attendant responsibilities of each party to the other. Followers had an obligation to follow leaders, and leaders had an obligation to follow the dictates of Allah (be just). Equally important, the Medina Compact was the model of governance for a plural society. Zealots of our faith today conveniently forget this point when they insist that a truly Islamic state has no place for those outside the faith.

Despite his esteemed reputation, the prophet still encountered obstacles—some monumental—in spreading the word of Allah. His divine message of belief in a Supreme Being, equality of humans, and social justice threatened the existing order. He understood the vast implications of his mission and was fully aware of the intense opposition. His forcing the message would only divide his people. He had no intention of destroying his community in order to save it, to borrow a Vietnam-era military maxim. Thus even though he was carrying Allah’s message, he preached initially in secret, and only to his family and closest friends.

Lesser mortals with even smaller mandates from much lower authorities would unhesitatingly and arrogantly trumpet their self-righteousness and charge right ahead, oblivious of the damages and consequences they would wreck.

As the faith spread and the prophet encountered organized armed resistance, we saw another aspect of his leadership—the military commander. The two most celebrated battles he led were the Battle of Badr, in which the Muslims won despite overwhelming odds, and the Battle of Uhud, in which the well prepared but over confident Muslims were nearly routed, with the prophet himself being injured. These exploits attained legendary proportions to instill in Muslims the lesson that victory is not always assured simply because of the justness of the cause, and of the dangers of overconfidence.

To me, the genius of the prophet’s military leadership lies not in the heroic battles he won, rather in the conflicts he avoided. The peace treaty he signed at Al-Hudaibiyah with the pagan Meccans is instructive.

It was the sixth year of the Hijrah, and the prophet had declared his intention to lead his followers on their first pilgrimage to Mecca. He publicly demonstrated his peaceful intent by forbidding them from carrying arms except for their sheathed swords, the traditional accoutrement of desert travelers. To the Meccans, the pilgrimage was a frontal challenge to their authority as custodians of the Ka’aba.

A brutal confrontation was avoided only after a series of negotiations culminating in a peace treaty. Unfortunately it heavily favored the Meccans. Yes, the Muslims avoided war but the price was stiff. They had to delay their pilgrimage to the following year and to stop spreading the faith. Delaying their pilgrimage was a tough sell as the Muslims were already in a heightened state of religious fervor. To be disrupted in one’s pilgrimage is an event of singular significance to Muslims, then and now.

The next year when the prophet gathered his followers for their deferred pilgrimage, the crowd was even larger. More significantly, the Meccans were so impressed with the Muslims’ peaceful mission and tolerant gesture the year earlier that many joined the new faith. Thus what had previously been perceived as a defeat for Muslims and victory for the Meccans, turned out to be just the opposite!

It may be counterintuitive, but the power of peace can often overwhelm the might of the military. Mahatma Gandhi humbled the great British Empire not through the show of force—he had none—but through his peaceful gestures. Likewise, Martin Luther King prevailed by shaming America for failing to live up to its stated ideals. Today, far too many, within as well as outside our faith, fail to appreciate what our beloved prophet dramatically demonstrated over 14 centuries ago.

After Islam was firmly established, the prophet again modified his leadership style. With a cadre of committed companions, he was now more the orchestra conductor, nurturing and bringing out the best among his many disciples. When he died there was no shortage of talent to carry the faith forward. The four Rightly Guided Caliphs—Abu Bakar, Omar, Uthman, and Ali—led Islam to even greater heights. Today over a billion people embrace the faith. There can be no greater legacy to the prophet’s leadership.

In James McGregor Burns’ terminology, leaders like Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) are transforming. They induced metamorphic changes in their followers and society.20 The prophet literally lifted the veil of darkness from the Arabs. They rightly labeled the era before the prophet as the Age of Jahiliyah (Ignorance). He transformed the way the Arabs, and later other Muslims, look at each other and at the cosmos.

Transforming leaders effect quantitative as well as qualitative changes. This is contrasted to what Burns refers to as transactional leaders, those who perform the important practical but routine functions. I would refer to them as administrative and managerial staff. I do not belittle their contributions. Transitional leaders may not necessarily lead a nation or organization to greatness, but at least they ensure that whatever gains had been made would not be eroded.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

You Have Been Challenged, Abdullah Badawi!

Saya pantang dicabar!” (lit: “I am allergic to challenges;” fig. “Don’t challenge me!”) declared Prime Minister Abdullah in an uncharacteristically bold assertion to the media on the eve of BERSIH’s massive street demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday, November 10, 2007.

You have now been challenged, Mr. Prime Minister, openly and publicly by your own citizens, and you have emerged impotent! That huge street rally may be illegal to you, but the King had consented to receiving its leaders and their petition. In effect, the King too has challenged you, Abdullah! In case you did not get the message, you had just been served a very public royal rebuff.

I too, challenge you, Abdullah! Instead of arresting those ordinary citizen demonstrators, I dare you to arrest their leaders, Anwar Ibrahim, Hadi Awang, Lim Kit Siang, and Raja Petra Kamarudin. Those ordinary folks were merely exercising their basic rights as citizens of a democracy: the right to free assembly and to petition the authorities.

As per the refrain of the Ghostbusters theme song, “Who are you gonna call now!” Mr. Prime Minister? Your fabulous Fourth Floor boys? Your son-in-law who is using you as his “protection?” Imagine being considered as such by your son-in-law!

Khairy Jamaluddin obviously had not heard of your “demonstrations are not part of our Malay culture” bit. Either that or Khairy had blissfully ignored it as when he led that pathetic street demonstration against your official guest, US State Secretary Rice.

In a speech earlier in the week, Khairy demanded that the authorities “come down hard” on the BERSIH demonstrators. While there were some water cannons and tear gas canisters unloaded, the demonstrations went ahead smoothly and successfully to the palace. The police even released most of those arrested. Your son-in-law challenged you to be tough on the demonstrators, and you came out lembik (limp).

Dim Wit Understanding of Democracy

In denying the BERSIH demonstrators their police permit, Abdullah demonstrated only a dim wit understanding of democracy, akin to that held by Saddam Hussein and Pervez Musharraf. Both were voted in with over 98 percent of the votes, and they took that to mean they could ride roughshod over their country and citizens. Never mind that their elections were anything but fair and free.

Democracy means rule of the people, but it does not mean mob rule legitimized through the ballot box. Electoral victory is not a license for tyranny of the majority. As Fareed Zakaria wrote so eloquently in his book, The Future of Freedom, democracy is more than just elections. Even if elections were fair and free (far from the reality in Malaysia, hence the demonstrations!), obsession with or sole reliance on them would threaten the other far more important aspects like the rule of law, private property rights, separation of powers, and the right to free speech and to assemble freely.

Elections regular or otherwise, honest or rigged, do not guarantee these; only independent and impartial judges could. An independent judiciary is thus the hallmark as well as the guarantor of democracy and freedom, certainly much more than universal adult suffrage.

As for the state of the Malaysian judiciary, the Lingam tapes painfully showed what a sorry mess it is in. Even if BERSIH were completely successful with its petition and the Elections Commission completely overhauled, there is still the monumental task of cleaning up the judiciary and restoring its long lost integrity.

These points are elementary and obvious to all, save the dim witted.

Time to Deliver The Next Lesson

There is another feature of the dim witted; they are slow learners. It is unlikely for them to have learned a lesson from Bersih’s successful rally, or if they did it may not have stuck.

Since the only lesson that would register on their thick skulls is election returns, my friend Din Merican had started a campaign to register voters. The next step would be to ensure that they will vote against the Barisan coalition.

It would encourage voters to do that if there were to be substantial and effective co-ordination among the opposition parties to ensure that there would only be a one-on-one battle with the Barisan in every constituency. The objective here is rather modest, to inflict enough damage to the Barisan coalition such that it would precipitate internal squabbling especially within UMNO to trigger its implosion.

Selecting the best candidate, meaning one who would most likely defeat the Barisan’s nominee, involves studying the demographics of the constituency as well as the Barisan’s candidate. Since race is never far from voters’ considerations, the best avenue to neutralize this crucial factor would be to field candidates of the same race as the Barisan’s nominees. This was the clear lesson from the recent Ijok by-elections. Thus the opposition must be ready to change candidates on nomination day depending on who would represent Barisan.

For example, if Barisan were to re-nominate the current MCA candidate but at the last minute the seat were to go to UMNO, then the opposition must be ready to substitute a Malay candidate. If that party (like DAP for instance) cannot come up with a Malay nominee, then it should be willing to give the slot to a Malay from one of the other parties.

BERSIH’s victory should embolden the citizens to impart to the Barisan government the other equally important lesson: cleaning out the rot in the judiciary. No less than a full Royal Commission with full powers to subpoena witnesses and grant them immunity should be the objective. As Fareed Zakaria noted, an impartial and independent judiciary is the best guarantor of our freedoms and democracy. We must keep drumming these lessons lest they forget easily.

We must keep mencabar (challenging) Abdullah until he comes to his senses and realizes the obvious: the job of being a Prime Minister of our great nation is way above his head. If he does not, others either within or outside his party should be emboldened enough to tell him so.

Malaysia-Today.net, November 12, 2007

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Towards A Competitive Malaysia #31

Chapter 6 Great Nations, Great People

The Holistic Leader

It would take a unique or fortuitous combination of leader, followers, and circumstances for the leader and his or her organization (or nation) to excel: the mood, aspirations, and temperament of the followers; the gifts, skills, and personality of the leader; and the particular circumstances or challenges. Then there is the role of culture, as exemplified by Mahathir when he did not venture beyond his party in search of a successor, and geography that may present the leader with an opportunity to be capitalized upon.

The effective leader reads his followers well, connects with them, and is aware of their challenges. The leader then mobilizes them to reach greater heights. When they reach there, it matters not whether they were being led or pushed, the results were as if they had achieved it themselves. Or by the wisdom of Lao-Tze, the best leaders are those, when their task is accomplished, the people would all remark, “We have done it ourselves!”

For this to occur, the leader must establish an emotional bond with his followers. Lee Kuan Yew was a brilliant leader of his little and overwhelmingly Chinese republic, but when Singapore was part of Malaysia in the early 1960s, he failed miserably to expand his reach beyond his race. He could not connect with Malays in the rest of Malaysia. He made the elementary mistake of assuming that Malaysian Malays were of the same variety as those on his tiny island.

Daniel Goldman, the Harvard psychologist with his concept of Emotional Intelligence, believes that this emotional aspect of a leader is primal, first in importance. When leaders have it, there is resonance; absent, dissonance.18

He describes at least six leadership styles. One, the commanding style, would correspond to my military model; the second, coaching style. The next three—affiliative, visionary, and pacesetting—describe my orchestra conductor model. His last—democratic—refers to leaders who lead more through consensus and persuasion. They encourage their followers to commit to the same goals, and once committed they would carry forth on their own. Elements of these are seen especially in the conductor model, and to some extent, the coaching one.

For a particular time and circumstance, a military-like leader may be what is needed; for another, a coach-like leader; and yet another, the orchestra conductor type. Successful leaders are aware of when circumstances have changed sufficiently for them to withdraw, or at least play a less leading role, as Singapore’s Lee did. Others who are otherwise effective leaders would be rudely reminded that their style is no longer welcomed or appropriate.

Winston Churchill was a brilliant wartime leader; he successfully rallied his nation against the Nazis. After the war, the Brits wisely decided that he was not the best person to lead them during peacetime. Knowing Churchill’s subsequent Cold War rhetoric, they were right. He would have plunged Britain and the world into yet another cataclysmic war, this time against the Soviets.

Tunku Abdul Rahman was the perfect coach-like leader for Malaysia at the time of independence. He had the right style and personality, together with the right expectations from the citizenry. Malaysians then saw the terrible fate awaiting many newly independent nations. They therefore had a necessarily low expectation of their leaders: Just do not screw up what the British had left. No new initiatives were expected or even welcomed. Stay the course was the objective, and Tunku fitted that role perfectly. He once proclaimed himself to be the world’s “Happiest Prime Minister!” He loved maintaining the status quo.

That lasted for over a decade. As Malaysians gained more confidence, they aspired to greater heights. Staying the course was no longer acceptable; pressing problems could no longer be ignored. The Tunku was oblivious of these changing undercurrents; he ignored them until they blew up in his and the nation’s collective face.

Tun Razak was the rare leader who excelled in more than one leadership role. He was in effect a military commander following the 1969 riots, and then a visionary coach of a democratic nation. Franklin Roosevelt was another, with the transition in the opposite direction. He gave hope to his countrymen immediately following the depression, and then went on to be a brilliant wartime leader during World War II.

Next: Leadership Qualities of Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Even UMNO's Morons Are Teachable

Even UMNO’s Morons Are Teachable

(Malaysiakini.com, November 8, 2007)

Editorial lead: If enough voters were to teach these Umno operatives a lesson, they might just learn to behave themselves for the better permanently.

Hishammuddin’s decidedly subdued speech to UMNO Youth at the party’s recent General Assembly was in mark contrast to his racist histrionics of last year. This showed one thing: even these morons in UMNO are teachable after all.

Last year we witnessed the revolting spectacle of Hishammuddin repeatedly stabbing the sterile chilled air of the PWTC Conference Hall. The only thing missing was the foam frothing from his wide, open mouth to make that silly scene really complete as a sandiwara (shadow play).

Hishammuddin of course received a rousing response in that hall for his piece of titillating theatrics. That prompted me to write then that we should expect his deputy Khairy Jamaluddin to outdo Hishammuddin at this year’s gathering. Meaning, Khairy would probably attempt a silat with his keris instead of merely jabbing an imagined enemy in the air. I also wrote that the only way to end such silly stunts would be to have the klutz Khairy accidentally stab himself. Only through such divine interventions would these latter day Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat pretenders be taught a memorable lesson.

Fortunately, thanks to the outrage expressed by ordinary Malaysians to last year’s crudities, we were thankfully spared similar stupid spectacles this year. The good lord need not have to intervene after all to stop these childish charades.

To be sure, such outrages were expressed only in cyberspace in the various web blogs and Internet portals like Malaysiakini.com and Malaysia-Today.net. Our intellectuals and pussy footing pundits remained curiously silent. I interpreted that to mean that they must have approved of the stunts and the accompanying venomous messages spewed by these characters.

In contrast to the furor in the Malaysian blogosphere, there were apologias galore in the mainstream media. One sycophantic columnist excused the whole ugly episode as nothing more than “party politics as usual.” She duly noted, with approval undoubtedly, that Najib Razak had many years earlier dripped his keris with tomato ketchup to emphasize a particularly racist point when he was UMNO Youth leader addressing a similar crowd.

Seeing that Najib is now UMNO’s Deputy President and thus the nation’s Deputy Prime Minister, a mark of success by any measure, Hishammuddin must have taken his cue from his beres (brother-in-law by marriage). Thus it was not far fetched of me to predict last year that Khairy would, in a “monkey see, monkey do” style, ape Hishammuddin.

The Greater Lesson

There is a greater lesson here. That is, despite the government’s (UMNO specifically) repeated attempts at ignoring and dismissing the role of bloggers and the Internet generally, we who use cyberspace to spread our message are making an impact, whether the establishment acknowledges it or not.

If the likes of Hishammuddin truly believe in their own message that cyberspace is irrelevant or that it is the limited only to the fringes of Malaysian society, they would have continued behaving like the mischievous monkeys that they were last year. Nor for that matter would UMNO establish its halfwit “cyber troopers” to try and shut down some of the highly influential websites like Malaysia-Today.

To commentators in the Barisan-controlled media, the current mellowness of UMNO leaders is not the consequence of the severe criticisms in cyberspace rather to their being pragmatic and wanting to appear “moderate” and “rational” ahead of a soon-to-be-expected general election. That is the mainstream media’s spin, their way of ingratiating themselves to the establishment, their paymaster.

Never mind that such a portrayal merely exposes the cynicism and scheming nature of these UMNO operatives. Such a characterization means that they have not really changed, merely put on a cosmetic cover over their ugly racist stripes, mascara as it were, to make themselves presentable to voters.

If that were so, it would be even more important for voters to disabuse these UMNO operatives of their collective delusion. Even if they were to be minimally successful in the elections, that would only embolden them to be even more cynical the next time. They would then think that they could hoodwink and manipulate voters at will, like just before an election. Their contempt for citizens would only be reinforced.

That being the case it is all the more crucial that we should teach them a more memorable lesson, one that would stick with them forever. We know that morons are slow learners, but then as we have seen even UMNO morons are teachable. We just have to repeat the lessons more often, and increasing the punishment more severe each time they regress or forget their earlier lessons.

If enough voters were to teach these UMNO operatives a lesson, they might just learn to behave themselves for the better permanently. That would be good for them and for us, as well as for the nation.

Power of the Blogosphere

Meanwhile until that election comes, we in blogosphere must continue teaching them their much-needed lessons. That is our obligation, especially now that those whose traditional job is to keep those in power in check and the public informed – the journalists, reporters, and others in the fourth estate – have betrayed themselves and their profession.

Ours is not a hopeless cause. We have seen Chief Justice Ahmad Feiruz unceremoniously rebuffed for extension of his tenure. Former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has done more to cleanse the rot that is the Malaysian judiciary with his release of that explosive tape (showing a senior lawyer attempting to fix a judicial appointment) than when he was in power!

The mainstream media may have ignored Anwar and that tape, but thanks to bloggers and citizen journalists of the ‘Net, Ahmad Feiruz is now out. He joins former director of the Anti Corruption Agency, Zulkipli Mat Noor, another deserved casualty of cyberspace journalism. Our job is to make sure that this gallery of rogues keeps expanding.

Earlier, Raja Petra exposed the profligate spending of our “humble” and “pious” Prime Minister Abdullah in acquiring a RM200 million corporate jet for his use, financed of course by taxpayers’ money. Thanks to Raja Petra’s diligent work and pungent expose, Abdullah had to backtrack his earlier denial by clarifying that the government did not acquire the aircraft, rather a government-owned “private” entity did. Such semantic gymnastics and nuances of language!

As for the mainstream commentators, editors and journalists, they are busy transcribing ministers’ press releases. Such flagrant abuses of power by the powerful do not interest these journalists.

Already through the power of the Internet, BERSIH, a coalition of NGOs, will be organizing this Saturday, November 10th a massive display of civic dissatisfaction with the government. Specifically their petition will address a longstanding problem: fair and honest conduct of elections, that basic prerequisite of democracy. While I will not be able to physically take part in this worthy rally, I will be there in spirit. Already the Istana has berkenan (consented) to receive the citizens’ petition!

Meanwhile UMNO Youth Deputy Leader Khairy has stated his opposition to the proposed rally. He has asked the government to “come down hard” on the citizens. Presumably his model is Pakistan’s Musharraf. Someone ought to remind Khairy that it is the basic freedom of citizens in a democracy to petition their government. We are also free to associate. One wonders what did he learn at Oxford?

My objective as a committed cyberspace commentator is to make that rouge gallery bigger. I will not be satisfied, nor will I stop, until that gallery has the country’s biggest rogue included in its rooster.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Towards A Competitive Malaysia #30

Chapter 6: Great Nation, Great Leaders (Cont’d)

The Orchestra Conductor

The orchestra conductor model is seen beyond the symphony hall, more typically in academia and research institutes. In a roomful of accomplished individuals, you do not have to shout to be heard. You will be heard clearly even when you whisper if you have something important to say. People follow you because they want to, not because they have to. In an orchestra, all the musicians are talented and accomplished. They do not need a conductor to perform; they could do that on their own. Early in the last century, inspired by Marx’s ideals of the classless society, there was a movement towards a conductor-less orchestra. Even in those instances they still needed someone to at least keep the timing.

The conductor brings out the best of his or her musicians so together they could put on a superb performance. He or she serves more than just as a human metronome, rather to bring his (or her) unique interpretation to the composition. The conductor is “above all, … a leader of men,” as noted by Schonberg in his The Great Conductors. “His subjects look to him for guidance. He is at once a father image, the great provider, the fount of inspiration, the Teacher who knows all.”15 The relationship between musicians and conductor is based on mutual respect and understanding. A good conductor makes the orchestra perform beyond what it thinks it is capable. Equally important, an orchestra of able musicians could do better without a conductor than with a bad one.

This leadership is seen in modern hospitals and other complex organizations. My hospital went through a series of temporary CEOs, yet it ran smoothly as we were all professionals. To be effective and perform beyond the ordinary however, a hospital must have effective leadership.

This point in leadership was well understood by President Reagan. He appointed capable and seasoned individuals to his cabinet, and then let them have their way. This was in marked contrast to his immediate predecessor, Jimmy Carter. He too had an equally talented cabinet, but he felt the need to micromanage them. Reagan was reelected; Carter was a one-term president.

I would schematize this leadership model as a series of boxes (the followers) arranged circumferentially around a central hub (the leader), with a series of arrows going both ways between the center and the periphery, as well as between the elements in the periphery. If the military leadership were a pyramid and the coaching style a block with a gentle sloping roof, then a symphony model leadership would be a bicycle wheel.

The communications in an orchestra are intricate; the musicians and conductor depend on each other for feedback. Players in the wind section have to hear and be sensitive to as well as react to the brass section. The conductor serves as the overall guide.

The orchestra musicians are highly talented; they are proud of their skills. Yet there is remarkable absence of power struggle. The first violinist does not aspire or scheme to be the assistant, and later, conductor. She is not sitting by coyly in the wings plotting the downfall of the conductor so she could ascend to the podium. She is content and proud being the first violinist, thank you very much. She may occasionally indulge the conductor into letting her be the soloist. Yet with such seemingly informal structure, the orchestra performs complex operations flawlessly.

This model of leadership is rare in politics. The predictable drama is for the number two (or anyone else for that matter) challenging the leader. Unlike in an orchestra, it is rare in politics to have a team of highly talented individuals, each able to stand on his own. The typical pattern is for the leader to appoint only his supporters and cronies, and they in turn are beholden to the leader.

Nonetheless when we have an orchestra-like political team, the results can be phenomenal. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal team was one.16 In Canada, there was Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s cabinet in the 1960s. Roosevelt proved that government, properly harnessed, could be a force for the betterment of society. He gave hope to a society crushed by the Depression, and later under a very different set of challenges, led his nation to victory in World War II.

Up north, Pearson with his considerable skills as a former diplomat, successfully healed the deep fissure between Canada’s two founding nations—English and French—in time to celebrate its bicentennial in1967 in rousing unity. He convinced Canadians that they would be far better off remaining united instead of splitting. He did it not through military fiat or using the bully pulpit of his office, rather by coaxing and appealing to the best qualities of his people, just as a symphony conductor would of his musicians.17

Pearson’s Bilingual and Bicultural (B&B) Commission was also a rare demonstration on the effective use of committees and commissions. All too often such bodies are used more for avoiding decisions and ducking responsibilities, typically exemplified by Abdullah Badawi’s Royal Commission on the Police.

Leaders like Roosevelt and Pearson assembled a team of highly talented men and women, individuals of strong will and great accomplishments. They were not wallflowers; they spoke their mind freely. Consequently, their cabinets often resembled a team of wild cats, each going their separate ways. To the uninformed they may appear chaotic and disorganized, but the important key was that they accomplished great missions. That in the end is the hallmark of a great leader, and equally, his great team.

Next: The Holistic Leader