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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.

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.


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