Friday, November 12, 2010

Disruptive Leadership- Lead, follow or get out of my way!

by Amir Faisal Manan

As I sit here at my hotel room desk in Jakarta, glimpsing out of the window occasionally, I could not help but compare and contrast the capital of Indonesia with our very own pride and joy, KL. And I must admit that we have gone a long way to come to where we are now today, not just in terms of the physical socio-economic transformation, but also the in the quality level of the physical infrastructures. This is not insinuating that Indonesia is much more inferior than Malaysia, but if you feel offended, then sorry- get over it and get on with life.

Some may argue that I have not lived long enough to appreciate the evolutionary transformation that has taken place from way before my generation. But I will of course beg to differ for my very own reasons. I recalled a book I read several years back written by Kim Quek titled “Where to Malaysia? Back to Mahathirism or Anwar’s Reformasi”, where the author has very strong negative views against Dr Mahathir and in particular his mega projects. It made me realize that no matter what you do, you will always have people going against what you believe, telling you that you have done wrong and criticizing your every decision. The art of effective leadership is to not ignore criticism, but also to not take it personally.

I sometimes think that people confuse between leaders and politicians. To my mind, not all politicians are leaders inasmuch as not all leaders are popular. Most politicians would only change their ways when they receive cues from the citizens reminding them that it is time to change and the fear of losing the popularity battle is the impetus for change. A true leader, on the other hand, has sufficient foresight to think what is strategically best for the nation or the people of the country. To put it simply, a leader leads and not waits to be led by the citizens. But of course, that would mean that his actions would not necessarily be a popular one thus making him a failed politician. There are many instances where leaders were/are also popular, but there is no point in naming names since obviously my perception of a successful leader will differ from others. It is subjective in nature.

In thinking about leadership styles, there are also cases of disruptive leadership that is often against the majority thinking flows that are entrenched with complacency. These are the kinds of leaders who believe in a cause that differs from the majority, but seeks to revolutionize the present system for a potentially better future. Worst still, often they are dismissed as a “mad-man” and their ideals go unnoticed. This is a deterrent for many to go down the route of being different from the majority as they fear that they would inevitably invite trouble. The mere fact that there is a saying of “never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you” signifies that this is the mindset that is prevalent in the current society globally –i.e. just go with the flow.

We need more disruptive leaders to bring about the change that is required. Relying on the naturally slow Darwinian momentum may prove to be too late for us as a nation. A disruptive leader, by definition, would disrupt the natural cycle by turbocharging change and overcoming whatever inertia thats holding us back against progress and betterment. Martin Luther King was a disruptive leader. He saw injustice and inequality in his society and decided to change it. He disrupted the existing system which initially drew resistance from his very own people, the oppressed. But as with all charismatic leaders in history, although he had a difficult start, he managed to gain sufficient supporters to fight for the dream that he had. And yes, it all starts with a dream of a future that we want… 
Amir Faisal Manan is a fuel scientist in an international Oil &Gas Company. This article originally appeared here.

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