UM LEAD SHARING ON PURPOSEFUL AND PRINCIPLED LEADERSHIP COURSE

December 1, 2023 11:22 pm 0 comments

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Thursday, 30 November 2023
UM LEAD – Centre for Leadership and Professional Development, Universiti Malaya

 

I must thank Datuk Dr Anis for inviting me to share my “personal journey on providing leadership and in particular in promoting integrity”.

2. I recall meeting Dr Anis then with IIM when he came to tutor the Chairman of IIM at the KSN’s official residence in November 2006 on what I was expected to say and do in relation to that year’s CPI Report.

3. I suppose he now want to check whether what he taught some 17 years ago still resonates with me!

4. It gives me great pleasure to be with all of you today. Leaders and future leaders of UM.

As KSN, I made it a point to visit INTAN on a regular basis

  • spent half a day interacting with every session of JUSA participants
  • met with every fresh intake of PTD Cadet officers into the public service twice. At the beginning and at the end of their training.

And, I found interacting with both groups, the very senior and the very junior, the Q&A in particular to be very stimulating.

5. What I’d like to share with you today are lessons I have learned in my 47 odd years of endeavouring to be of service. Things I learned along the way. Things I tried to practice.

6. I came from an obscure kampung called Cherok Paloh, which is somewhere between Kuantan and Pekan in Pahang. I don’t blame you if you have not heard of Cherok Paloh. It is “Cherok” – obscure. I rejoiced informing PETRONAS Executives, including those in C-Suites attending programs at PLC (PETRONAS Leadership Centre) that from a kampung no one heard of, I spoke to them (then) as Chairman of the only Malaysian company in the Global Fortune 500.

7. It was not and is not about boasting. There are some important lessons in it.

  • Firstly, it doesn’t matter where we come from, what matters is what we do with our lives
  • 
Secondly, although it doesn’t matter where we come from, we should never forget our roots.

8. For me, not once did I forget Cherok Paloh. In fact, I am who I am in spite of Cherok Paloh. Correction, NOT “in spite” of Cherok Paloh. BECAUSE of Cherok Paloh.

For me, Cherok Paloh was my raison détre for joining the Civil Service. My PURPOSE of joining the Civil Service.

9. When I was young, most of my relatives worked the land for their livelihood. When they wanted to pay their ‘cukai tanah’, they had to travel a long way then to Pekan where the land office was. And since it’s so far, they practically had to take a day off. That meant no income for that day. To get to Pekan, they had to cycle, cross the river twice on a boat or ferry and cycle again. Sometimes, they might reach the office when it was about to close. The Peon at the Land Office would tell them to come back the next day. Can you imagine that? A whole day of travel and you have to come back another day!

10. That peon at the Land Office gave me the cause for my career. I wanted to make lives EASIER and more pleasant for the likes of my kampong people. I wanted to be a Clerk who will say, “It’s okay. You have travelled the whole day. I can work an extra 10 minutes to get this processed”. That’s it.

11. You may have your own ‘Cherok Paloh’. Call it Bario, Ulu Tembeling, Grik or whatever. Cherok Paloh is just a concept. Something that drives us to improve – ourselves, our family, our Faculty, our University, our society, our country.

12. I urge you to hold on to your ‘Cherok Paloh’. It gives meaning to what we do and motivates us to overcome challenges. It will keep us going in the face of obstacles. If every one of us have that seed inside us, to be the better peon, the better taxi driver, the better teacher, the better version of whoever we encounter – imagine how much better our Entity would be. How much better Malaysia would be!

13. But it is very common to hear people say, “Yes I want to improve but they are not improving. They are the stumbling block. They don’t see what I see.” ‘They’ could be the company, the government or many others. Of course there are a million things which are not under our control. But there are many that we can control, or at least influence.

14. I like to touch upon a number of principles which were very important in guiding me along. The Ten Commandments.

15. First is to see myself as a member of the larger organisation. The BIG PICTURE. Not the unit, section, department or the division. But more importantly as a Member of the Larger Organisation. The Common Good.

16. While being realistic in drawing my circle of influence, I have always been very adventurous with my ‘sphere of thinking’. We must think big picture. A key principle here is to think beyond ourselves, beyond our current portfolio. That naturally meant I must think like the Secretary General, Chief Secretary, Minister or the PM, even when I was only 10 years in the service. What would Tan Sri Asmat (my KSU) say or do? What outcome will be in the best interest of the organisation, even if it’s not the best outcome for my own unit? It also meant I had to read up a lot more than what my position required.

17. For many years, the Tourism Malaysia Office at Trafalgar Square in London was in the Assets book of MITI. This was simply because when it was bought, Tourism was a part of the MITI portfolio. Just like Domestic Trade or Plantation Industries. All in the old MITI domain. But since there was already a Ministry of Tourism, I couldn’t find a logical reason why that building should stay with MITI. As it was whenever they needed to do some plumbing work or electrical work, the Tourism Office in London will contact the Ministry of Tourism in KL, which will then contact MITI for funding and approval. The usual questions and answers about the need for the repairs, cost estimates, alternative options etc will flow to and fro. Once agreed, the same trail will carry the message back to London. Just explaining the process is quite tiring; imagine the actual convoluted accounting treatment! And, so UNNECESSARY!

18. If the building is used by Tourism, let the Ministry of Tourism manage and maintain it. It sounded quite straight forward. But there were many within MITI who objected. There was a matter of prestige attached to ‘owning’ the building. To me, being in MITI’s asset books is not the same as it being owned by MITI. Because it wasn’t. MITI was only a trustee. It was owned by the Government of Malaysia. MITI was chosen and entrusted to manage the asset at some point in the past. That’s it. So MITI passed the asset to the Ministry of Tourism when I was Secretary General of MITI. One couldn’t see it that way if one doesn’t see the bigger picture, the larger purpose.

19. Second is INNOVATION. At its most basic, innovation requires us to challenge the status-quo, discard pre-conceived ideas and ask tough, sometimes uncomfortable, questions.

20. For some years our country was confronted by news of increasing crime rates. The public was, understandably, getting very worried. Very nervous.

21. There was a need to increase the number of police patrol personnel. Normally, that would have meant increasing the intake and the training capacity of PDRM, potentially involving millions of ringgit to build new training facilities. And it would take time. But we decided to take a path less travelled. This was among the first initiative taken under the National Blue Ocean Strategy.

22. First, we took stock of the personnel we already had in the system. There were trained police personnel who could not do patrolling because they had other work to do – they were desk-bound to do administrative work. So, the first solution was to redeploy existing officers from other agencies into PDRM to do administrative work and free-up the police personnel to do what they were supposed to do: policing. Seven thousand four hundred of them. So police do the policing, and civilians do the administrative work.

23. But that was not enough. We needed more. It seemed investing in additional training facilities was inevitable. The Government approved refurbishment of an old complex at a cost of RM159 million. It took about three years to complete and had capacity to train 300 personnel at a time, with each batch requiring six months of training. If we had stuck to that model, it would take a while to train the new intakes.

24. So we brought the Military and the Police together. Two groups who seemingly had their own ‘line-of-business’ and had little to do with each other. We asked a simple question, “Why don’t we train the police at military camps?” After spending just an additional RM1 million, 4 months later the first batch of 1,600 personnel started their training at Port Dickson and Tanjong Pengeleh camps.

25. Traditional model dictated RM159 million, 3 years and 300 trainees. A simple question yielded an alternative model – RM1 million and 1,600 trainees.

26. In this case, innovation was removing the mental barrier about being ‘police’ and ‘military’ and seeing themselves as the security forces of the country. Now the sharing of training facilities goes beyond the military and police. It includes Prisons Department, Fire Services and others.

27. Third is a SENSE OF URGENCY. It is not about rushing decisions or action, it is about being responsive. For the life of me, I could never understand why someone would delay making decisions just to make oneself appear important. It doesn’t show importance, it shows incompetence!

28. We should treat urgent phone call, email, letter and query with respect. The fact it is brought to our attention means someone is awaiting our response to move on with their job. Give due consideration and respond. Fast. If it can be done today, do it today. If we are not going to approve it, the least we could do is to have the courtesy to convey the decision quickly. And tell them why it is not approved. They can move on with alternative options.

29. And if the request will be approved, why not deliver the good news fast?

30. Tun Abdullah Badawi early into his tenure as PM made reference to ‘the Little Napoleons’. The pockets of public servants who wanted to show their authority by delaying decisions and actions such as on payments. We found a way to strip these ‘emperors’ off their perceived power.

31. The Treasury Instruction then was that payment must be made within 30 days of receiving an invoice. But the attitude of these Little Napoleons was, “you should be grateful that I pay at all, even if it takes 30 months.” It was discussed at the Secretaries-General Meeting and it was agreed to shorten the period for payment from 30 days to 14 days.

32. And we monitored its implementation closely. We monitored the PM’s Department every night, and other ministries twice a month – on the 15th and the last day of the month. But of course, there was always the possibility people might manipulate the report to make their departments look good. Make their bosses look good.

33. So we did one more thing. We put a simple announcement on the websites of the KSN, PM and DPM. It said, “All payments will be made within 14 days. If you have not received payment within 14 days, please give the details, and payment is guaranteed within 24 hours!”

34. This way, everyone knew they cannot ‘manipulate’ their departments’ performance report because someone who didn’t receive his payment will report it. Call it ‘crowd-sourcing the enforcement’ if you like. It got the job done. Easily 90% of payments were made within 7 days.

MAKE IT SIMPLE (PEMUDAH)

35. Fourth is SIMPLICITY. A leader’s crusade and challenge is to facilitate. To make difficult things simple. Make simple things simpler. KISS.

Albert Einstein: “Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler”

36. Back in 2007, the Malaysian Government set up PEMUDAH, the Special Task Force to Facilitate Business, with the aim of improving public sector delivery through Public-Private Partnership. PEMUDAH comprised 13 Senior Officials and 10 Captains of Industry. As KSN I co-chaired PEMUDAH together with Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon, President of Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM).

37. There are many ways to measure the public sector delivery. One of the most widely used yardsticks then was the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ index. When PEMUDAH was established, Malaysia was ranked number 25 in the world. We set the target of Top 10 by 2015, then a big-hairy-audacious-goal, or BHAG in short.

38. In 2013, Malaysia was ranked by the World Bank at Sixth in the World. Not Tenth, but Sixth. Against target, that was four positions higher, two years earlier. That is what BHAGs are capable of. They bring the best out of us. Levels of achievement we may not even know we are capable of. To be clear, we didn’t embark on the improvements to chase World Bank ranking. We did it for ourselves. For our Country. The rankings are only a useful yardstick. And of course, it gives us bragging rights in the global arena!

39. So much for PEMUDAH. Many people associated me with PEMUDAH as if KSN’s job was only to chair PEMUDAH. But let me state that PEMUDAH only took at most three days of my time in a month. And the other 27 days or so were perhaps much more challenging! And, equally as rewarding.

40. As KSN, I made my email address available to all. And I personally read and replied to every email. That is important. But the follow up is even more important. As leaders, it is not enough to say we are open to suggestions. We must really be open to suggestions and criticism. Our actions are constantly sending messages to others. They will know if we mean what we say, or if we are only giving lip service. They will know if suggestions and criticisms will be welcomed, and whether honest mistakes will be tolerated and forgiven. If we don’t hear criticism and if we don’t see some mistakes being committed, it is time to re-examine our leadership. Is our team being sub-optimal by playing it safe?

41. Whether it was PEMUDAH or regular ministry or departmental work like issuing passport, driver’s license or paying taxes, the essence must be the same. Make them EASY.

42. Making things easy should always be our salvation. But NEVER TO COMPROMISE on a very important Commandment.

43. INTEGRITY

44. Integrity is about being honest and truthful, and having consistency between principles, expectations, words and deeds. In public and in private. Especially in private. When no one is watching.

45. Integrity is not just about avoiding corruption. Though that is a very important component. There is much more to integrity. We must be honest with how we spend our time at work. Objective in making our decisions. Fair and firm in managing our teams. Integrity must be the core of our being. It must be the foundational value of our personality, from where our thoughts, words and actions originate.

46. PETRONAS have a dedicated Chief Integrity Officer, a senior official seconded from MACC. It also have a Code of Conduct and Business Ethics, No Gift Policy, Whistle Blower Policy. Other GLCs, corporations and entities may have similar outfits.

47. But make no mistake: these are not the be all and end all of Integrity. All these are mere manifestation of resolve and intent. At the end of the day, it is left to us all, to you and me. Each and every one of us must uphold integrity in our thoughts, words and deeds. If one of us fails, as an organisation, we all fail. At the expense of sounding cliché, if integrity is likened to DNA, a breach of it is a cancer. One that needs to be removed immediately, lest it spreads and triggers our downfall. As a Leader, WE must be the one to remove that cancerous cell, not MACC or anyone else.

48. Those are some markers for our discussions. I look forward to engaging you in the remaining time of this session.

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