Seeking the real change agent.
Sakmongkol warms up to the idea when KJ said, that no one has the monopoly over good ideas. One has to engage others, include them in discussions. No man is an island. To his credit, KJ has spoken about this matter. We are sure Mukhriz and Khir Toyo have their ideas on inclusiveness and participatory leadership. So we have the choices on which to make judgment. At the end of the day, the public and not just the Pemuda UMNO delegates have to convince us, they are leadership material. We must be convinced of their arguments, vision, ideas and so forth. In the absence of open debates, articulation of ideas, we can only work on their abridged versions of their visions and mission. These are gleaned from interviews and writings.
Sakmongkol came across an article in McKinsey Quarterly. It is an interview conducted with one of Obama’s advisor. His name is Leo Penetta. Mr Panetta also served under Bill Clinton. The subject of his interview is about making changes. Coincidentally, changes are what the contestants in the Pemuda Race are trying to carry out. The interview with Panetta offers practical insights. Of course, for a sound theoretical foundation, the contestants can look up Rosabeth Moss Canter’s Change Masters or When Giants learn to Dance. We prefer a practical insight.
In a previous article Sakmongkol has written about making changes. We must distinguish between form or style with substance. Changes cannot be made just by declaring it. The bottom line, as Sakmongkol likes to quote many times, making changes, like a revolution, is a not like a dinner party.
In the interview some elements crucial to making substantive changes were raised. These were:-
1. how to make things work in the public sector,
2. how to develop strong leaders,
3. the importance of private-sector involvement,
4. and the challenges confronting the government.
Perhaps UMNO people can learn a few things there. The present contestants in the Ketua Pemuda race certainly do and must.
A correct institutional culture.
Creating the right culture in UMNO is more important than any government experience. UMNO leaders need to learn something from another institution such as the military for example.
1. There must be someone at the top who is capable of running a strong organization:
2. establishing a chain of command,
3. maintaining a list of priorities,
4. and making sure that everyone is working toward the same goals.
All managers have to be aware of their priorities—even the president of UMNO. The bully pulpit isn’t worth much if you don’t have a clear sense of mission.
Now bullying can come in many forms. Using the present office. Using the argument of genetic privilege. Using government machinery to one’s advantage. Using the idea of who you are instead of convincing others of what you are capable of doing. Remember, David McClelland’s ascriptive and descriptive mode? In poor/backward societies, you get ahead because of who you are. In rich/developed societies, you get ahead because of what you can accomplished. You accomplish by hard work and using the substance between the ears-not the nose OK?.
Just so anyone would not think Sakmongkol is chiding Mukhriz, Sakmongkol will need convincing from people like Dato Seri Najib and Hishamudin Hussein that they are real because of what they can accomplish. Also from those who get into powerful office because they are sons and daughters of some previous leaders. In other words, their genetic lineage should be discounted as a factor when evaluating leadership potential. .
First, they must be a principle of mission—of knowing your goals and collaborating to achieve them. This shall be the guiding principle of the commander in chief (CIC) ( read UMNO president/ketua pemuda/ketua wanita etc etc). establish a clear chain of command, responsibility, and discipline.
The CIC must have some organizational skills. One key element is a readiness to be inclusive and favour participation from other leaders. Holding participative discussions is more important than making unilateral decisions. One of the means to inculcate a feeling of shared beliefs is holding on a daily basis, regular staff meetings. Perhaps, within Pemuda, there is a jawatankuasa pengurusan or management committee- comprising of a few key people. What do they do? They look at issues, discuss their mission for the day, and anticipate problems and crises. The exercise was to share advice and make sure every member the group knew what was going on and where they are headed. After that, the chief of staff ( commander in chief). Then the CIC conducts a larger staff meeting to involve everybody else. Those meetings were extremely important for getting input and spotting problems.
Striking a balance between responding to short-term challenges and tackling UMNO’s longer-term priorities.
Clearly, UMNO or in our present case, PPU ( pergerakan Pemuda UMNO) could not be reactive. Must never be. The CIC, the Ketua Pemuda must see to it that there must be schedules operating on a daily basis maybe a couple of weeks in advance at most. The schedules look ahead to everything that needed to get done and developed a focus for that schedule. Was education going to be a priority? Health care? Crime? Malay economic issues? Party members welfare? Inter-party relationships that needed to be worked on? Or even foreign-policy trips that needed to be planned. ( Mukhriz likes to go abroad on missions) Basically, all these issues must be anticipated. The leader must appreciate that crises would always emerge that they would have to deal with. The idea was never to lose sight of the fundamental mission.
The universal management principles.
People accept there are differences in operating a private company and public office. Most people are aware of the basic difference- leaders in the private sector do things right, leaders in public sectors do the right things.
The fundamental principles—developing a strong organization, operating with a list of priorities, and creating a coordinated team effort—are very much the same. Of course, we see these basic principles much more in the private sector because in the public sector, the profit motive isn’t there driving people to figure out the most effective ways to get things done.
In the public sector, the way these principles are implemented ends up depending an awful lot ON WHO’S IN CHARGE. Too often, public-sector bosses let their people get into a grind where they do the same things day in and day out. They’re moving paper from the in-box to the out-box, without a larger sense of mission and priorities. Sometimes they prefer to operate in their particular program or area of expertise and just stay under the radar, because they know that the more they communicate, the more they will be subject to other people’s discipline and intervention.
One of the great temptations in government is to let everybody do their own thing and disappear into their own area and to think it’s all fine as long as nothing unfortunate happens or no scandal emerges. Remember the famous creative inactivity? The Elegant Silence ala Musa Hitam?
But the job of department heads and supervisors is to make sure nobody operates under the radar. You need very strong supervisors to keep people from losing their ability to relate to the larger mission.
Participative and inclusive leadership to develop strong leaders and supervisors.
A most important way to inspire leadership, whether in government or in the corporate world, is to give people the opportunity to say what they want and then to pay attention to what they say. You have to reward people for being honest and talking straight. You have to be willing to engage people with ideas. You must be willing to debate not to belittle but to come out with ideas. Too often, UMNO people have been part of leadership groups where nobody likes to tell the boss what’s really happening—especially if the boss is the president of UMNO, the Youth Leader, the Wanita Leader etc, especially when the news is bad. But having people around who are willing to say what they believe is invaluable. You must have people who are candid and upfront in everything. Similarly, you have to support people willing to take measured risks. Finally, it’s important to lead by example and be willing to work hard. You won’t develop leadership if you just punch in and punch out.
Developing synergies with the private sector in addressing major societal challenges.
Many UMNO politicians underestimate the ability of the private sector to influence policy. They have this bad habit of thinking since they hold power, all other groups are insignificant. This bad habit of believing that the only good can only come from politicians must be thrown out. If its not our idea, it is not good. Politicians must realize that, their ideas will ultimately depend on the quality of their minds and experiences. And within UMNO , where qualifications are trivialized, the idea of listening and establishing participative leadership with the private sector is crucial.
UMNO needs a leadership that recognizes that a group of business leaders can come together and champions a particular cause. For example, business groups can tell the government that it is really important to discipline the government budget in order to reduce the deficit. They can come forward and present some ideas that show that they really cared about the issue. That can make a difference. Sakmongkol has been in debates on state budget himself and is sorry to say about the humdrum speeches by some ADUNs on the budget. Boring to Sakmongkol and boring to the department heads who prefer to doze off.
Policy makers pay attention when business leaders are willing to engage as a group. You come back again to the issue of putting in place a leadership that values participation from the private sector. The best approach, in our democracy, is to have strong public–private partnerships, because even if the private sector can make some gains, it still requires government support to implement broad policy changes. An example of a partnership would be providing incentives for R&D so that the private sector can engage in cutting-edge technology: the Internet, telecommunications, and so on.
Facing the big management issues.
The first challenge of the CIC is selecting a team of qualified people who are good managers as well. The UMNO president, the youth leader are going to be coming off a successful campaign, and so their natural instinct will be to rely on campaign people to assist during the transition. That’s probably the biggest mistake. Your foot soldiers and field commanders may be the least equipped to run the organization. Reward them by other means. Taking over the government involves operating in a completely different sphere.
The problem is that gearing up takes six months to a year. No leader has his entire team in place right after the inauguration. What’s imperative is to develop the key team of players who can assist the president with issues that he will have to deal with immediately, so things don’t fall apart. The responsibility then will be to backfill over the next year: organize the core leadership, find the right people to head departments and agencies, fill other key positions, and so on.
How to get good leaders.
This is a very scary prospect. How to make public service more attractive. LKY of Singapore seemed to have solved this issue. He knows if he does not make public service attractive, the younger generation, more nimble and qualified, will opt for private sector. When Sakmongkol was studying at the Economics Faculty,
We need a leadership which is willing to catch the bull by its horns. Our leadership has not really focused on this issue. We must know that we are operating at a higher level. Its important to have a vetting process, such as going through a nominating process that involves not only background checks but also a very difficult confirming process by top leaders. Then there is the low level of pay, which has made it hard to attract qualified people. Also, there is a view that the public sector is a huge bureaucracy and that everybody is a cog in the machine.
Because of these reasons, good and qualified people are turned off by politics. So what do you have in UMNO? The second and 3rd raters. And we are pining our hopes, our visions on 2nd and 3rd raters to face off with first raters in the opposition. All the UMNO leaders must make this issue their concern.
And so how do you do counter this slide? You must have an inspiring leadership. One that can convince people that it is important to give something back to the country. You must have a leadership that gets into the thick of things, being at the forefront, getting off their high horse, kick ass if need be, scream off etc etc.
The younger generation, the lost souls are very important. For whatever reason, that message of giving back to society is not getting across to young people. So those efforts of sparking the interest in young people of giving back to society through organizations are commendable. For example, Sakmongkol may disagree with the direction taken by the Mat Rempits under the thuggish Azeez Raheem, but the idea of including mat rempits in some organization is a very credible idea. We must have some organisations championed by our leadership, to inspire young people to think about a public-service career.
What does it take to bring about real change?
Examine our candidates. Who has come out with a willingness and readiness for engagement? Who is for honest conversation and dialogue, and a willingness to engage in a little give-and-take?. Our politicians on all sides of the aisle have to be open to compromise; their main objective should be to govern rather than to win. If you’re not willing to have that dialogue, if you’re not willing to put everything on the table, if winning is more important than governing, if getting your 30-second sound bite is more important than solving problems—then the government will not work.
In our democracy, you can bring about change either through leadership or through crisis. If there is no leadership—if political leaders are not willing to take risks, have honest conversations, and make tough decisions—then crisis will drive policy. Unfortunately, that’s where we are today. Crisis is largely driving policy.