World Class Leaders
“Developing World Class ASEAN Leaders - The Role Of Universities”
When I first saw the title given to me for this presentation, I asked myself whether I am capable to discuss this subject in a very comprehensive manner. The title looks simple - “Developing World Class ASEAN Leaders”, but, believe me, when we try to dissect the key words one by one, we will notice that the title is so much deceiving then the way it looks.
As a politician, it would be more appropriate for me to talk on this subject from the perspective of a politician, rather than from the view of a medical practitioner. If I try to discuss this subject from a medical practitioner’s point of view, I worry that I will confuse more people, including myself at the end of my presentation.
I will try to dissect the two most important key words in this subject, which are `roles of universities’ and `world-class ASEAN leaders.” By defining these two key words clearly, we would be able to set the best direction for our discussion later.
World Class ASEAN leaders
I would like to limit my discussion to only political leaders, and not corporate or other leaders. Let me begin by asking the floor a simple question - who are actually world-class ASEAN leaders? Do we have any leading, or living examples? Is Lee Kuan Yew, the Senior Minister of Singapore an example of ASEAN world-class leaders? Could it be Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, or would it be Bapak Suharto, Bapak Gus Dur or Ibu Megawati Sukarnoputri, of Indonesia?
How do we characterize world-class leaders? By leading powerful nations? If that is the case, could we say that George Bush, Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair are world-class leaders? Could we say that leaders who have strong command in English and graduated from Ivy League universities are world-class leaders? Or, could we say people who are so daring like Saddam Hussain, Ariel Sharon and Osama ben Laden, world-class leaders too?
How do we define a world-class leader? Prior to defining `world-class’, what actually is our definition of `leaders’?
It is not a simple task, even to define the word `leaders’. Leaders have never been similar to managers or chief administrators. Leaders are not heroes, who rise only during a crisis. Leaders are more than decision makers, group mobilizers or goal setters. To Peter M. Senge, leaders are best described as designers, facilitators and stewards.
From Islamic perspective, the term `imam’ is used to accurately describe leader, where the leadership tradition is not only perceived as `an interpersonal process involving the exercise of influence’ but more towards leadership that leads the ummah (Muslim community) in fulfilling the divine trust, that is preserving the religion, leading the humanity to decency, happiness, salvation and felicity, and nurturing the world to prosperity.
A world-class leader, in my opinion, is "a leader, who has acquired the position of best of the best in his country and the world, has continuously played his role to bring peace and prosperity in his own country and to the world, and continuously strives to beat his own standards, in any kind of situations, good and bad. "
Today, we have seen rapid changes in global reality and order, characterized by networks that bind the people, organizations and countries (and also terrorists?), the phenomenon of an increasingly borderless world, and intense flood of knowledge and information, either true or false, have pushed the limits of leadership excellence to new frontiers that we have never seen before.
The world-class leaders, by my definition, should be able to face this challenges and play their role to ensure peace and development to the world. They must have the capability to bring not only their own ethnic, people, organization and country to actively participate to reach this goal, but also they must be able to get the world communities to support and act together, side by side to sustain the prosperity achieved.
They are the people who are pragmatic and sometimes dare to take unpopular action, when they know that their action is for the best interest of their own people, nation and the world. They are the people who conquest of knowledge has no end, obsess with quality and excellence, develop highly discipline followers, passionate for innovation and reinvention, and has a very globalize mind-set.
Can the universities produce such leaders?
Let us look at the education background of some of the world leaders today, including those, who are so-called terrorist leaders.
The present President George Bush was a mediocre student at Andover and was never viewed by his classmates as a leader. He attended Yale University. Bill Clinton seems smarter than Bush. He earned his bachelor's degree from Georgetown University and a law degree from Yale Law School. He also studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.
There are a number of world leaders who studied law in universities. Senior Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, studied law at Cambridge and Tony Blair, at Oxford University [Where he was also, at the same time, the lead singer of a rock band called `Ugly Rumours’]. You will be surprised to know that Saddam Hussain and the `Bosnian Butcher’, Slobodan Milosevic also studied law in their student days. Saddam graduated from Cairo School of Law, while Milosevic, graduated from University of Belgrade.
Malaysia Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad studied Medicine at King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore. China Vice President, Hu Jintao was an engineering student of Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University, in China. Like Hu Jintao, Osama ben Laden also studied engineering. He graduated from King Abdul Aziz University of Jeddah. The only leader who really specializes into something, that he fancies most until today is Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, who is also known as the `Palestinian Butcher’. He studied military science at the Staff College in Camberley, England.
Obviously from the background of these leaders, the universities could produce both world-class leaders and also world-class enemies. [This makes this subject becomes more confusing.]
The role of universities
Let us face the fact, that whether these leaders are the leaders of the good, or the leaders of the bad, they are still leaders. For our discussion, we just want to focus only on the leaders, who contribute to peace and prosperity to their own countries and the world.
What kind of education that these leaders went through before? One thing that I am very sure of is that – these leaders went through education systems, which did not have much reform like today, and with not many `state of art’ facilities like what universities’ students enjoy today. But still, they made their way to be the so-called `world-class leaders’.
To develop a world-class leader, it does not depend on how big and up-dated a university is. It is about something intangible, that the university or an education system has, that helps to groom such leaders. It is not so much about the ‘hardware’ but more related to the `software’. It is not about the building and the facilities that a university has. It is more about the values that the university carries and instills into the mind of its graduates.
By a `narrow’ definition, a university is an institution that provides facilities for higher learning education and awards, at least a bachelor’s degree to its graduates. Even though in Latin, `universitas’ means universal, the present universities have somehow failed to produce `universal men’, who are well balanced in term of intellectual, spiritual, emotional and physical.
Judging from this narrow definition, we understand that the present universities can only be illustrated as knowledge cafeterias and have the function similar to scroll-stamping factories.
This not surprising since the present universities have lesser role in determining the market demand. On the reverse, the demand of the market actually determines the `size, shape and colours’ of the graduates produced by the universities.
The tremendous growth and development in industrial and manufacturing sector have somehow influenced the universities. The manufacturing sector focuses on mass production and tries to minimize the production cost. This has resulted the invention of machine and parts, where more technologies were introduced into the market, thus made the number of `technical specialists’ produced by universities increase drastically. The industry force later has lead to the advancement of other areas, such as marketing, advertisement, retail, wholesale, repair and maintenance services, etc where more and more `specialists’ are created to cater for all these needs.
At the end, these developments, have made the function of universities became smaller and narrower, and later transformed the universities, from being the institutions which develop well-rounded graduates, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and physically into `machines’ that produce only skilled work forces to meet the market demand.
Fortunately, now, the era has changed – globalisation and ICT revolution has shifted the economy from manufacturing based to knowledge based. Although the market still dictates the kind of graduates that the universities must produced, but at least now, the market demands for multi-skilled people who are not only specialists but also those who are well attuned to general issues. Due to this, the universities have to reorient their curriculum to develop graduates with the capacity for critical and analytical thinking, which will be needed for an adequate and strongly motivated labour force, as well as to produce responsible citizens.
In my opinion, now is the right time for the universities to start looking at the method of creating `universal men’ again, which emphasizes the creation of well balanced graduates, spiritually, emotionally, physically and intellectually. While it is important to produce k-workers, it is also equally important to produce k-leaders for the future.
The universities must continue its efforts to produce graduates with academic excellence. In addition to that, they must also produce graduates who value the importance of continuous education and do their level best to equip their students with essential skills to cope with globalization and ICT revolution, e.g. strong command in English and ability to maximize the use of ICT. To strengthen "life-long learning" habits, subjects like communication, learning and thinking skills should be incorporated into the teaching and learning process. The students, then, have to apply what they learn into projects, and continuing doing so in other upcoming projects.
In k-economy era, universities have started to focus on "applied learning", where students use what they have learned in real-world contexts. While the exam-oriented education system leads to students being spoon-fed with vast amounts of information without any encouragement to understand its application, “applied learning” will be able to capture students' interest and thus motivate them by showing the relevance and usefulness of what they are learning. This is a very effective way of learning complex academic concepts. The same approach applies to groom leadership. The universities must encourage `applied learning’ approach, not only in academic related projects, but also in positive leadership, social and political projects.
Since world-class leaders are those who are capable to play their roles, both at national and international level, the universities must prepare them to understand the global situation. The universities have to make them ready to think and act globally. Global leaders must be able to look beyond ethnicity, religion, gender and nationality boundaries. In order to create such leaders, universities have to provide avenues for the students to appreciate pluralism and work towards reducing ideological, religion and cultural gap, without losing their own origin identity.
Lastly but not least, the strategies to develop world-class leaders must start by re-training the trainers, or to be exact, the lecturers and administrators of the universities first. The trainers must acquire the new skills first before they are entrusted with the task to pass the knowledge to the students. They must be the first people to be given new orientation and skills. They must be the first to be taught on how to develop good mental models, acquire personal mastery skills, adapt to systemic thinking and practice team learning. Otherwise, the strategies to develop world-class leaders would be a total failure.
But of course, when the universities want to implement this, they must be aware and always made to remember the objective that they want to achieve, which is to develop leaders who could lead the humanity to decency, happiness, salvation and felicity, and nurturing the world to prosperity. In other word, their objective is to create not only leaders, but also responsible leaders who are at the same time responsible citizens of their own countries and the world.
Having said that, I strongly believe that a responsible person would know how to act in a responsible manner, mature, filled with diplomacy, able to balance between ideals and practice, pragmatic and full of patience when solving different opinions. A responsible person will not end up solving problem by creating more problems, which will jeopardize unity and harmony in the society. A responsible person also will not express his opinion impolitely and offensively, or getting himself involve in riots or street demonstrations. I am very sure that the products of a responsible `teacher’ will choose to air their views ingeniously, and I am 100% convinced that the products of a responsible `guru’ will always put the national interest first, above all other things.
As a conclusion, to develop world-class leaders in this region, universities must make sure the kind of `software’ that they want to install into their graduates’ minds. Not only the universities have to develop `compatible software’ for their students, they must also develop something of a higher version for their lecturers and tutors too. The universities must pay their attention not only to its students, but also must be aware of the potential and the potential danger of the `gurus’, whom they keep within their institutions.
A Spanish philosopher, Baltasar Gracian said; "Wise men appreciate all men, for they see the good in each and know how hard it is to make anything good." World-class leaders do not emerge by chance. They are created by visions, nurture by ambitions, shaped by experiences and perfected by actions. Can the universities help to craft such leaders? In a way, `yes’. Learn from their history - learn from their success and also learn from their failure. Pass the knowledge to the students. Let the values to be appreciated by all. Their biography might mean nothing to some, but values more than a hill of diamonds to others. Like what is said by a famous political commentator, Walter Lippman; "It requires wisdom to understand wisdom; the music is nothing if the audience is deaf."