Untying the Gordian Knot

January 1, 2011 11:07 am 0 comments

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Saturday January 1, 2011

Untying the Gordian Knot


The ability to convey true and resounding change lies not in policies alone. It also resides in our will, our own faculties and our fortitude as future leaders.

THE inaugural cross fertilisation exchange of candidates between the public sector and government-linked companies was launched in September 2009 by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. The Prime Minister spoke of a more seamless environment between the GLCs and the Government.

A year on, and with many graduating from the programme, we must take stock of the objectives of this journey. As with any graduation, this moment straddles the feeling of excitement with the “so what next?” question.

Specifically, one may struggle between the questions, “Do I go back to business as usual?” or “Do I dare change in my old environment and if so, how do I do this?”

In the legends of the Greeks, an oracle informed the people of Phrygian who had lost their King that their future king would come riding in a wagon. Gordius, a poor peasant, would one day arrive in an oxcart with his wife in a public square. The people of Phrygian made Gordius the new King.

In gratitude, Gordius dedicated his oxcart to the Phrygian god Zeus. He tied the cart with a peculiar knot known till today as the Gordian Knot. Many tried to untie the oxcart but all to no avail.

In 333 B.C., Alexander the Great arrived in the central mountains of Gordium at the age of 23. Alexander decided he would negotiate the knot. He struggled like others and became frustrated. Stepping back, he then called out, “What does it matter how I loosen it?” With that, he drew his sword, and in one powerful stroke severed and cut the knot.

There may have been many ways to unbind the knot. No one will ever know that now. But what stayed with history was the one person who tried an unconventional way of solving a problem. We can all learn from this and be inspired by the impatience of convention when that convention brings the same old results, or in this instance, lack of the desired results.

In a rising complex landscape, the truism of the day longs for creativity. It hungers for new solutions to old problems for the old solutions work no more.

This world owes us nothing. It might, however, be willing to reward us if we are able to convince it of our deserving right. And so we must each claim our place, our rights and our authority from our actions.

The Gordian Knot is not a sphinx riddle. It is a story of mental and psychological greatness of a leader able to inspire a new way when all other conventions no longer worked.

The essence to any progress is meaningful delivery. The soul to any conversion and change is results. The panacea for cynicism and scepticism is promised results and delivery. Meaningful delivery comes when we each recognise the responsibilities bestowed on us.

Who would have ever thought that 10 years ago, a country whose name starts with a queer “Q”, with much low, barren desert land would today rise to having the highest GDP (or gross domestic product) per capita income in the world? Qatar is the country. Ruled by an absolute monarch, Qatar straddles between first and second spots on the rankings of highest GDP per capita income in the world, after countries like Luxemburg.

How did a country with a population of less than 1.7 million people, with foreign workers outnumbering locals, reach such heights, including hosting some of the most renowned global events today, and also owning some homegrown global brands?

When the economy of Qatar came to near collapse in 1995, their leaders re-evaluated their resources and re-positioned their gas industry outputs. Qatar decided it will use its natural gas supply, the second largest after Russia, to transform its desert land into one of the most competitive nations. It did not only depend on its natural resources but opened itself to new ideas, new economies and new industries. We must reflect on this success story.

We often cry out that only when a certain policy is instituted or relaxed can we do something. Only when ultimate democracy is in place, can success and competitiveness follow. Only when a certain grant or resource is given, can deliveries come to fruition.

The ability to convey true and resounding change lies not in policies alone. It resides in our will, our own faculties and our fortitude as future leaders. Leaders who are able to author their futures based on aspiration and not based on reliance! Leaders who recognise that every great idea has a will and life of its own. It is up to us as leaders to untie the Gordian Knot of these ideas into reality. If we don’t, someone else will turn that same great idea into reality and claim it as theirs.

Change, transformation, reformation some argue are overused and under-utilised lexicons. We can change and transform and remain where we are today in a space where others may have surged in leaps and bounds. There are many genres of aspiring leaders. The Thinkers the Doers the Thinkers and the Doers. The greatest of them all are the Thinkers and the Doers. Why? Because they inspire. They set new standards for themselves first and foremost and inspire others to emulate them. They are the ones who will go the distance, prove themselves first before claiming their rights not claim their rights to prove their worth!

Both the public and private sectors in Malaysia must grow entrepreneurial leaders who will inspire and motivate real and meaningful reformation and meaningful innovation at that. Much too often we convince ourselves that a solution can only be a solution when it looks grand, extravagant and complex. We must deliver the goods beyond the niceties. If you want to have a successful pizza delivery chain, this ain’t going to happen by just fast deliveries, pretty napkins, nice wrappings and low prices. You need to also know how to make basic pizzas.

One key change in leadership techniques of the 21st Century and beyond is that the traditional text book, MBA-style hierarchical leadership approach no longer works. The strength of economies and nations no longer reside on natural resources alone. It does in its talents.

In a world that uses highly talented people as its weapon of competitiveness, we must know the leadership techniques needed in motivating highly talented people if Malaysia is to fully realise its aspirations as a high-income economy.

Talented people seek to be inspired, not led or spoon fed. They wish to be given the space to grow and not be bridled by traditions. Talented individuals will select environments where everyone has a chance to succeed to their highest potential on their own terms. They will not be attracted by hierarchy, but by flat organisations. They don’t seek work security but instead long for personal growth. They will be attracted by diversity and not homogeneity.

These are people whose own skills and knowledge may out-scale us as their potential superiors. In such vistas of space, our own management styles must change from the traditional ways. This by far is the greatest challenge for public and private sectors globally how to attract the best, retain the best, and grow the best.

There is a standing joke amongst the media fraternity that working in the public sector is like visiting Hotel California in the song made popular by The Eagles in the late 70s. Part of its lyrics goes as follows:

Welcome to the Hotel California,

Such a lovely place,

They livin’ it up at the Hotel California,

What a nice surprise, bring your alibis,

Last thing I remember I was running for the door,

I had to find the passage back to the place I was before,

Relax,’ said the night man,

We are programmed to receive’

You can checkout any time you like,

But you can never leave!

The days when you check out and still remain in the service is fast diminishing. This applies to all industries. There is no guarantee of lifelong employment anywhere, anymore. Even if the organisation doesn’t take you to task, the world around it will.

So demonstrate your vision through your actions. Never be fatigued by change, for life in itself is hinged on change in its every breath. Simply put commit to excellence!

Tan Sri Sidek Hassan is Chief Secretary to the Government.


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