Leadership by all, for all

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.
– Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher and writer

Leadership! A term that in everyday usage seems to apply to anyone who heads a team, group, organisation or a country. It implies that a person is in charge or gives commands.

I think many of us have the above general perception until we are exposed to concepts of leadership via education or training. I first started reading in detail when I was tasked with preparing some training material for a leadership seminar about 20 years ago.

Since it was a seminar for company staff, the focus was on the corporate sector. It started off with an explanation of the basic definition and the difference between a manager (boss) and a leader.

One such example is, a manager is a person who gives orders to his employees while a leader influences his followers by examples. There were many more examples from various points of views and in differing contexts.

Ideally, as many of us who attend leadership training programmes know, in the corporate world we should integrate leadership attributes into managerial roles.

Much has been written about leadership since time immemorial and I don’t claim to be an expert nor will claim to be able to adopt all its characteristics.

Since 20 years ago, I have conducted numerous workshops and lectures on the topic and as time passes more has been written on leadership and more reading has to be done.

This one seemingly simple term ‘leadership’ can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Simple, if you use it in the everyday context and more complex as you delve into it deeper, especially academically.

Recently, I attended a sharing session where we were asked to discuss what ‘moral leadership’ means. All gave good inputs and the right answers. However, the session reminded me of a question which was once posed to me … is a manager or a politician automatically a leader?

For those of us who are familiar with the term ‘leader’, we know that the very word means to lead with honesty, integrity, morally, respectfully, ethically and with vision amongst many other almost endless positive attributes.

Let’s try to apply this to President Trump. Normally an American president is referred to by the international press as the leader of the ‘free world’, meaning democratic countries.

However, increasingly President Trump is being portrayed as a person who is coming across as a racist and one who is depicted as trying to enrich his business interest. Can the term leader be applied to him or is he just a person who only holds the title, ‘President’?

Therefore, can politicians who make clearly defined promises, before an election, such as those related to our oil royalties and autonomy, but upon having won and formed a government, subsequently backtracks virtually completely, be called a leader?

I am sure any rationally such a person would be deemed as just a common liar and charlatan.

I believe that we have to be more selective in our choice of words when we apply the term leader to a person.

We have too many ‘characters’ in positions of power who have a low concern and are indifferent to the needs of the people and their plight.

They evade their responsibilities. Their main priority seems to be protecting themselves. They do not want to be held responsible for any of their mistakes and deflect blame onto others.

Holding a title does not mean a person is automatically a leader. Being in a position of power, such as a manager, head of a political party or of a nation, is a privilege. It has been said many times, with power comes great responsibility.

If this responsibility is exercised together with leadership skills, great and incredible things can be done in an organisation or a country. Therefore, political leadership with it brings great expectations of the people.

Anyone who aspires to be labelled as a leader should become an enabler as well, a person who can clear the path for their supporters to get the job done. Only then collectively, the desired results and outcomes will materialise.

One other interesting aspect of leadership is that, although many managers or people in authority have been trained in the corporate sector and have acquired leadership skills, it does not mean that only they have leadership positions.

About nine years ago, Tan Sri Datuk Patinggi Dr George Chan Hong Nam, then the deputy chief minister of Sarawak shared a book with me titled, ‘The Leader Who Had No Title’ by Robin Sharma. Well, if there is one book that you want to read on leadership, read this one.

It is written in a fable-style and is engaging. It takes you through practical ways to improve your leadership capabilities via key principles to allow you to make a difference at any level in an organisation or in your personal life.

It is basically a ‘toolbox’ that can help “ordinary” people become true leaders by practising self-leadership and responsibility.

All of us in Sarawak, collectively those with titles and those without titles, need to work with self-leadership in mind. This will enable us to do our best to contribute to Sarawak. It has been 56 years since we helped to form Malaysia and much still needs to be done.

Due to a people-centric leadership in Sarawak at the moment, we can see the green shoots of the progress of many initiatives.

Given the time and opportunity to further serve Sarawak, I am confident Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg will continue leading Sarawak with the interest of Sarawakians as his guiding principle.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.