Helping young leaders focus on soft skills

This is the second part of the article on leadership programmes in Malaysia. The first part was published on April 3, 2005. 

SOME of the few leadership programmes available for the young are The Star’s BRATs, New Straits Times’ Quake, Rotary’s Ryla and MIM’s Tryla. The National Service is more of a boot camp, with the objective being more to promote national unity than leadership.  

Tryla in particular, is a tested programme for young executives and professionals aged 21 to 35 years. It has been conducted by the Malaysian Institute of Management (MIM) for over 10 years. 

It is the acronym for Tun Razak Youth Leadership Awards, and applications are invited from eligible Malaysians who must be recommended and supported by their employers. Successful candidates will be invited to participate in a nine-day high involvement residential experience to learn how to be better leaders.  

Named after the second Prime Minister, Tryla has the full support of the family of Tun Razak, including Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib, who normally makes it a point to meet and address participants. Through generous funding from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, participants do not have to pay fees. What is expected in return is for them to contribute more effectively and responsibly to their organisations and to the community. 

There is a difference between hard qualification and soft skills. An academic qualification certifies that its holder has acquired a specific body of knowledge, while a professional qualification attests to a prescribed level of technical competency. 

The job market will be influenced by the needs of industry. Currently, the need is particularly felt in the engineering, technical and financial fields and they do attract premium salaries.  

However, knowledge and competencies requirement will be greatly influenced by change and new developments. 

In the information technology field, for example, a graduate who does not keep updated on new processes will be rendered obsolete within a few years, and will therefore be less competitive and useful to his or her employer.  

That is why continuing education has to be a prerequisite to sustaining our competitive edge. Unfortunately, most Malaysian graduates feel that graduation is the end of education. Worse still, most Malaysians do not even read enough!  

Soft skills on the other hand tend to last. They are the universals as they relate to principles of conduct and values of behaviour. They cannot be taught but they can be learned. 

And learning has to be experiential, drawing not on our intellect but on our emotional and spiritual intelligences. 

This means lots of exercises, fieldwork and direct participation and involvement in grappling with issues rather than in dealing with tasks. You can listen to all the lectures on good communication, but unless you are also required to practise and be consciously assessed as to how you have performed, you will not likely be a good communicator.  

Likewise, promoting honesty and integrity is not a matter of classroom discussion as much as pursuing processes and experiences that will test our honesty and our ability to respond to different situations.  

With so much rhetoric on the importance of human capital, there is the need to shift from the current bias for hardware competency to a concern for software development. 

Organisations like Rotary and the Malaysian Institute of Management have been taking the initiative to develop the full person with a focus on soft skills, in particular leadership in the belief that it is the quality of our leaders that will ultimately make the difference in the lives of the community.  

Dr Tarcisius Chin is a Fellow of the Malaysian Institute of Management. The Tryla 2005 programme is scheduled for May 12 - May 20, 2005. Applications are now open for eligible young Malaysians. For more information or to apply, contact MIM Customer Service at Tel: 03-2165 4611, e-mail or visit 

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