10 Leadership traits that we could learn from the 7th Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad

oleh Team Richworks pada 15 May 2018

9th May 2018, the day Malaysians witnessed unbelievable radical change for the first time in the political history of this country.

And how did this all happen? It took one MAN with a VISION on a MISSION to help REFORM MALAYSIA.

Reflecting on the recent scenario that has impacted every individual in this thriving nation, both rivals and supporters are impressed by the leadership of one man to bring about change in the next 5 years.

Now what makes this man so remarkable and to be the talk of the town and the world is his compelling LEADERSHIP.

That’s one reason why I love observing leaders. I enjoy reading and following their journey. Being able to reflect on the reasons I admire countless leaders opens my eyes to the qualities of Great Leadership.

What makes a Great Leader?

As far as I can recall, my childhood years till I was a young adult were during the 22 years reign of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as the 4th Prime Minister back then.

In general, life for Malaysians were rather peaceful with a sense of growth and progress for the country though there may be differing opinions on this subject.

Since then, I have always admired Tun as a great leader to this country. I was so inspired by him, so much so that I even adapted my signature similar to his.

Today, in my private circle business coaching and mentoring session, I laid down 10 things that Tun has done right in “leading” the changes in the government together with all the parties that were once his foe and opponents.

How could this be possible?

It wouldn’t have materialized unless it’s being done by a person who has great leadership traits. And this brings my point to how you could apply these traits at work and in leading your businesses, organizations and team.

  1. The Power of Alignment – Setting a clear Vision

A great leader possesses a clear vision. He is courageous to lead that vision and has a clear focus of what needs to be done to attain that vision.

In many circumstances in the past few weeks leading to the elections, we saw one very clear role that Tun and his team of leaders had. They all led the role of articulating a clear vision for the future of Malaysia with a 100-day manifesto and this short-term vision gave hope to Malaysians of what Malaysia could be in the next 5 years to come if they are the governing administration.

Tun not only united the parties for a common goal but he was able to influence and unite the hearts of the rakyat to achieve this one similar vision – to REFORM MALAYSIA.

However, this success and responsibility is not just a one-man task. The right timing and the role of the people is also significant. Though the parties have been rivals for years, they were forced to be united by the power of the people.

As with your organizations, your executives and employees could be working hard no doubt. But most of the time, they are not successful because they are all busy with their own goals and are not aligned with one another in achieving one common goal.

Thus, in business, the power of alignment between a leader and the team plays a significant role in ensuring the vision, goals and objectives are met.

  1. Identifying the same purpose – The Big Why and the common frustrations

What are the main drivers of frustration for your team at the work place? What are the frustrations of your clients? In this context, what are the common frustrations of the rakyat. What are the common identifiable struggles? What’s the future frustration if the problem is not resolved now?

Identifying the root problem is the foundation of addressing the common frustration as the livelihood of the rakyat depends on this. Likewise, if you don’t know what the critical issues and problems are faced by your team and clients within your organization, they will resort to other leaders, other products and brands or to any other available options to help them solve their frustrations.

That’s why understanding, identifying, and eliminating the causes of frustration is critical for success.

Being a leader requires a lot of soft skills as you need to make sure that your team is comfortable with the goals that you are setting for the team. What is the Big Why for your team? Your organization? Why do you do what you do?

Leaders need to have a better working strategy and make sure that each and every one on the team is focused on achieving the same Big Why and results. This is what separates a high performing team from failing or underachieving.

Common goals are important not only because it gives your team focus on the big picture but because it brings people together and encourage them to communicate problems and results. This allows for a much earlier and faster recognition of problems to address as you progress to achieve your goals.

An obvious thing we have witnessed is the common goals and frustrations addressed by Tun and the party leaders. If that connection wasn’t clear, they would have been on shaky grounds. And by addressing the frustrations of the rakyat, they have minimized and eliminated fear, doubts and uncertainty about the rakyat’s future.

As such, it is critical to identify the common values of your team members. Goals need to be aligned with common values or you definitely won’t get people buying in.

  1. Harnessing teamwork by negotiating for one coalition on an agreed and acceptable win-win formula for all parties involved

Being a strategic planner, Tun first garnered teamwork by uniting the 4 parties to be represented as 1 united coalition for the 14th General Elections. By doing this, he had reduced confusion among the voters and lessened the dispersion of votes. So, voters did not have to decide among the 4, they just had to choose 1 unified party.

Imagine if Tun had not done so, the voters would have been undecided to elect their representatives as there are about 9-10 parties including the independent candidates.

It was definitely not an easy feat to unite the 4 parties as one, and this leads me to my next point – the negotiation skills of a leader, his ability to influence without authority and his proposed winning formula for one coalition.

  1. Negotiate with the decision makers, the right people with influence over others

A key skill relevant to leaders at all levels is the ability to positively influence people in such a way that others follow and act willingly, as opposed to complying because of the authority factor. This is the power to influence others without imposing your authority.

It’s a great skill that you could develop over time and with experience but it’s definite a powerful skill to have when you are able to influence others to voluntarily and willingly act out of their own will just by sharing your vision or negotiating for common values and benefits.

Enemies. Rivals. Adversaries. Foes. Competitors. Haters. Critics. Skeptics. Sadly, in politics and business, we all have them.

They make our lives more difficult and less pleasant. And regrettably, enemies will always exist in your life. But they are just an additional obstacle on the way towards your goal. If you look for solutions, you can defeat them or make them your allies. We all have the ability to win over our enemies.

Let me explain. Here’s how. Win them over with collaboration and cooperation.

Sometimes you can’t ignore them. If so, it is better to enlist the help of these people, rather than oppose them. Tell them that you understand their concerns. But tell them too that their help and support is very important to you. This is where the power to negotiate comes to play.

You must first understand your rivals. Who are they? What are their goals? Why do they oppose you? It’s the same scenario in the work place. Your rivals could be your colleague, your boss, a customer or anyone related to your work and business. Study them, their strengths and weaknesses and propose your winning formula for cooperation that benefits both you and your rival.

With great humility, Tun met his opponents requesting for collaboration and cooperation. As we know, the opponents and Tun himself have had a painful past and unpleasant experiences, but for a common goal, they are willing to be professionally united though with differences in opinions. They are willing to let go of the past to achieve a higher goal that mutually benefits everyone for the future.

  1. Lead from the front – Be the example

The key factor to any leader is connection to the people they are leading. Who are the people that you are leading and do they believe in you? To be a great leader, first and foremost, mutual trust between you and your team is essential.

Nobody is going to give their all for a leader who can’t be forthright with the information or fails to keep up their end of a deal. Responsibility and dependability are critical traits of a great leader, and it earns respect from those who are working with you to achieve your vision.

At the end of the day, the key to effective leadership is commitment to the cause, being the first on and the last off the battlefield.

Did Tun and the party leaders portray this? Definitely they have led by example. They did their homework, they met the rakyat at grass-root level, they addressed their concerns, they communicated clearly with everyone and they shared with clarity how they plan to resolve the problems of the rakyat.

Is that a winning formula? I would say yes.

  1. Declaring the winning manifesto which reflected the key frustrations of the people. Understanding what people want.

Why is it important to understand what people want? What do your clients or customers want? What do your employees want?

Basically, the social perception involves you as a leader being able to identify the mental states of others, their thoughts by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. This helps us understand their beliefs, feelings, experiences and intentions.

By understanding someone means you have the ability to empathize with that person. You are able to think along the lines of what the other person is thinking. You are able to reason out what transpired in someone’s mind before doing what they have done.

For example, understanding why did the rakyat protest the previous government? Or why did your customer buy from a competitor? Why did your employees leave?

Understanding with empathy is important because it helps us understand how others are feeling so we can respond appropriately to the situation. When you are able to empathize with others, you can build and sustain meaningful relationships, hold a job, or client effectively.

And the winning formula with the rakyat was creating a manifesto that understands and empathizes the rakyat’s frustrations.

  1. Tun has been consistent in “advising” and “demanding for changes” up to the point that he is even willing to do whatever it takes to create the change

Tun had always been outspoken in his views with regards to the progress of the country and the direction that the nation was heading to even long after his retirement 15 years ago.

He was always consistent in championing causes for the rakyat’s future. He wrote on his blogs, he spoke in public, he addressed the media, he collaborated with people, he met his opponents with humility, he admitted and apologized for his past mistakes, he adapted technology, he embraced young people, he in fact did everything possible to ensure he achieved his goal. And that every effort he built consistently over 15 years gave him his biggest victory.

Similarly, growing and running a business takes a tremendous amount of roll-up-your-sleeves and hard work. The long hours and “do whatever it takes to get the job done” work ethic is important to achieve success especially in the early phase of your business.

And as leaders and entrepreneurs, if you’re going to do it, do it well, do it right. Be a role model for others to follow. You have to push yourself to be the best in what you do and stay laser-focused till you achieve success.

  1. Push till the last mile – Never give up

Sometimes, there comes times in the lives of all great leaders when they are pushed to their physical, emotional, mental or spiritual limits. Fatigued, exhausted and drained by their experiences, they still relentlessly pursue their journey. They never give up.  It is their attitude and mindset to hold on to their hopes, dreams, determination and life’s purpose.

When the rakyat was rather uncertain on the victory rate of Tun and his party due to various known and unknown factors, Tun and his team still pursued relentlessly to campaign till the last mile. They exhausted every single medium, resources and people to reach out to the rakyat to champion for a common goal.

We`ve seen the content on social media, the virality of the news, the uprising of the rakyat and the gathering by thousands of people all over the country in every medium and platform.

The leaders were willing to sacrifice their time, resources, energy and effort to be that servant leader of love, caring and hope for the rakyat.

Would you do the same for your people, your team or your customers?

  1. Constantly updating and communicating the progress to build trust, confidence and to gain more support

Communication is at the core of every political campaign. Certainly, issues like the economy, GST, unemployment, money laundering and policies matter, but the way Tun and the leaders conveyed their ideas to the voters hinges their success and ability to communicate messages effectively to the people.

Today, political parties no longer determine the election. The leaders and candidates must appeal to the voters directly and with greater frequency. They have to sell themselves to grab people’s attention. And we’ve seen in the recent elections how social media has aided these leaders in their quest to effectively engage voters.

Leaders are communicators. Their key responsibilities are to “communicate, communicate and communicate even more.” Why? Because communication is fundamental to building trust.

It creates an environment of trust around leaders that enables them to lead effectively, engage employees and ultimately deliver results. And building trust in an organization requires a personal effort on the part of the leaders themselves besides team effort.

  1. Committed to Leadership

What does it mean to be a committed leader?

First of all, making a commitment involves dedicating yourself to a person, to something or to a cause. A commitment obligates you to do something. And leadership is a decision and obligation that you have towards others.

Are you prepared to lead the way to whatever you believe is right? We’ve all worked with leaders who show up every day with such determination, and others who are just there. Real leaders accept responsibility as the heads of their teams, and they’re always working to do things better.

And once you’ve made that deliberate decision to be a leader, you must accept that the expectations are higher for you than for everyone else in your organization. You have a duty to your team, your customers, and your community.

To make a vision stick, you have to be committed to a set of core values that will bring the vision to life.

You need to understand that the values that you uphold as a leader will determine the behaviors, the culture and the success of your organization.

And when you do all that, your customers, your team and your people can see the difference.

As leaders and entrepreneurs, you must remember that you are not here merely to make a living or achieve your own success. You are here in order to enable the world to live more abundantly, with greater vision, with a greater spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world with your presence.

And this is what we see in Tun’s leadership. “Tun walks the talk.”

A wise quote from Ronald Reagan, the 40th U.S. President, “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”

Didn’t we all witness this on 9th May 2018? This day will be a day in the history of our country and the world for generations to come, and it is all because of one remarkable man and a great leader, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.


Azizan Osman
Founder, Richworks International
Entrepreneur & SME Business Training & Coaching Consultant Firm

The writer is a renowned world class Business & Marketing Growth Strategist & Accredited International Master Coach for Entrepreneurs & Small & Medium Businesses

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author for the purpose of education on leadership.

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