Right leaders at right time and right place will produce positive results






Long-serving leader: Nursultan, the only leader that independent Kazakhstan has ever known, announced his resignation on March 19, after three decades in power. — AP

Long-serving leader: Nursultan, the only leader that independent Kazakhstan has ever known, announced his resignation on March 19, after three decades in power. — AP

Just two days ago I had an interesting chat with Daniyar Sarekenov, Ambassador of Kazakstan regarding the topic of leadership. Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of Kazakstan had relinquished his duties as Head of State/President on March 19 before the next presidential election scheduled for 2020.

Nursultan had been President since the fall of the Soviet Union Empire when Kazakstan declared independence in Dec 1991. For 28 years Nursultan ruled in an authoritarian manner, won five presidential elections with massive landslides and his Nur Otan party and affiliates dominating the lower and upper house in Parliament with minimal opposition.

This is reminiscent of the leadership style of Lee Kwan Yew and his PAP party dominating the Singapore Parliament for 30 years after Singapore broke away from Malaysia. In his last address to the nation as the Head of State, Nursultan recallrf how the Soviet empire fell, leaving behind a ruined economy without a political system, GDP fell by half, major shortage of food and essential goods and all major factories stopped operating.

Nursultan and his comrades in arms’ first task was to build a market economy, dismantle the communist totalitarian system and ideology, and set about putting in place an economic development plan with the growth of citizen’s welfare at the forefront.

Politically, Kazakhstan became a democratic state and economically move from an agrarian economy to an industrial service economy thanks to large oil and gas reserve and rich mineral resources. The high oil prices and foreign direct investments help to develop the commodity and mineral sectors. Kazakhstan is now the largest producer of uranium which attracted the interest of United States, Russia and China, the major nuclear producers.

With a population of only 18 million people over a large land mass, Nursultan has managed to create peace and stability within a multi-ethnic (131 ethnicities) and multi religious society of 70% Muslims and 26% Christians. Investments were made to build infrastructure and set up a modern education ecosystem resulting in a top class national university in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.

Nursultan now hands over the Presidency to Kassym-Jomart Kemelovich Tokayev, 66, who has held the cabinet positions of Foreign Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Prime Minister and even having a stint at United Nations as the deputy secretary-general. The leadership succession plan seems to be in place with the right candidate but Nursultan remain as Head of Security Council and his party. Similar to the appointment of Senior Minister Lee Kwan Yew after handing over his reign to Goh Chok Tong.

I mentioned to Daniyar Sarekenov that this transition looks orderly but Nursultan should play his role as an advisor and nothing more. His leadership style and ideas have been relevant through the last 28 years but the needs of the country is very different now. He should allow the next generation leaders to emerge, give them responsibilities and let them lead the new transformation programmes.

Singapore government is at the forefront of leadership succession planning. Their next generation of politicians are being groomed and in the civil service for example, their army leaders are only in their 40’s. The older generals and colonels have been phased out while in their 50’s. Our current Malaysian government has the weirdest combination, from a 26-year-old Minister to a 94-year-old Prime Minister. Leadership succession planning is in turmoil with all kinds of

speculation and power play among the motley crew of leaders in the coalition. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s leadership qualities was suitable for restoring law and order in this country but his economic policies looks outdated and irrelevant to the new economy.

There is no succession planning in place probably due to the fact that they are a new setup and also due to the lack of quality among their members. Some ministers are raw, young and inexperienced whereas some are just plain unintelligent. It will be good if Tun M for instance bring back Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz as a Mentor Minister to the Education Minister. Rafidah’s reputation as a no nonsense leader will be crucial in revamping the Ministry of Education, our national school system and remove the religious bigots who have planted themselves into our national syllabus.

Like any entrepreneur, my biggest headache in managing the company has always been identifying leaders suitable for the job at any given time. In the early years, sales managers must have good relationships with wholesalers, then with the advance of modern trade they need to learn technical skills in negotiation, spreadsheet presentation and logistic planning.

Brand managers only need to understand the 4P’s then 5P’s and 6P’s over the years. Now the e-commerce have thrown them off balance, forget about the P’s and just make sure the influencers and key opinion leaders sell your products.

Do we have the national leaders to take us into Industrial Revolution 4.0? Do we have brave new leaders to lead Malaysians to the path of equal rights for all and off the path of race and religion?

Whether in business or government, placing the right leaders in the right place at the right time will only produce positive results. If you are an old leader, make sure you stay in touch with new trends and new technology shifts. If you are not able to cope, it is best you step back and remain as an advisor and let the younger leaders take over.

That is probably the best advice that an outdated entrepreneur like me can give to outdated leaders out there still plying the trade dishing out outdated ideas to the public. Getting old is a blessing. Being outdated can be pathetic.

Tan Thiam Hock , On your Own