Leaders should work out their role

  • Business
  • Thursday, 05 Jun 2003

SUN TZU's Management Leadership, a weekly column by Dr. Ong Hean-Tatt

ACCORDING to Pareto’s Law, 20% of the group members do 80% of the work. These are the leaders. Management and motivation gurus would endeavour to persuade members of their audience to strive to be among this 20%.  

Pareto’s Law is a form of the statistical binomial distribution curve, where a heterogeneous population will show a characteristic bell shaped distribution. There will always be the above-average 20% at the upper end of the curve, and, of course, the below- average 20% at the other end of the curve. Being law, the binomial distribution curve, and Pareto’s Law, is unchangeable and cannot be altered. The problem is that some of the 20% would grumble why the other 80% do only 20% of the work. 

Pareto’s Law means that there will always be the above-average group who would normally be the leaders, who should cover up for their people. They should not grumble but are expected to shoulder the work which the rest could not do. If you become a leader, Pareto’s Law simply means you have to do 80% of the work.  

When there is an organisational problem, the question should not be asked why others are not doing their work. This is often a case of the leader passing the buck. Should the question be asked, it would often be found that it is the leader who is not doing his part. 

Many leaders are torn between putting time to do the work of a leader and using time to enjoy the status of being a leader. 

The general, who advances without coveting fame and withdraws without fearing disgrace, but only intend to protect the people and do good service for his ruler, is the jewel of the state. (Sun Tzu 10:24) 

The leader who refuses to work out his role but wants to enjoy his role can be like the peacock. The peacock is indeed a beautiful bird. It is well known to be a vain bird that likes to look at its beautiful reflection. He can be easily misled by false friends, who will use flattery to bait him. He can be further baited because of his unstable emotions: 

Hold out baits to entice the enemy; feign disorder and crush him ... If he has a choleric temper, irritate him. Pretend to be weak so that he may become arrogant. (Sun Tzu 1:20, 22) 

The foolish leader has to be replaced with a leader of reputation with desirable qualities, vis: 

The commander is the general’s qualities of virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness. (Sun Tzu 1:9) 

These leadership qualities include the individual traits of wisdom and courage. Many honest persons have wisdom but not courage. Other honest people may have courage but not wisdom. They must have the sense to know their real worth and realise they do not qualify to be a leader. They should humbly refuse requests for them to become leaders, otherwise they could endanger the community. 

Many of these good leadership qualities concern relationships with other people. The good leader respects the people, whom he benevolently cares for and controls strictly and properly. It emphasises again that leadership is based on the people and that leadership is essentially hard work and service for the people. 

Unfortunately, there are many who want the prestige of being a leader without doing the hard work. The I Ching warns that when there is such a leader, there will be much bloodshed caused by fighting with other often equally stubborn arrogant leaders.  

The I Ching depicts this struggle as “yellow and black dragons fighting in the meadows.” Each of them would be vain enough to think he should ascend the throne. Powerful as they are, these leaders would have no real reputation that could rally people around them. To the people, they are just a pack of devils, one as bad as the other. So, in many corporations, there would be endless boardroom infighting that will wear down the organisation. 

Once entrenched, such vain leaders are difficult to remove. Organisations wanting excellence must prevent such persons becoming their leaders. 

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