Thursday, April 16, 2009

Leadership & Effectiveness

A leader deals with effectiveness - doing the "right" thing.

What is the right thing to do for the country?

1. 1Malaysia. This is a very tricky one.

(a) That Malaysia is one nation of one people? If this is the case, then we should just take it to be as such and proceed with policies and action plans that implicitly that 1Malaysia as the underlying factor.

(b) That Malaysia is one nation of many different races? If this is the viewpoint, then the implied policies and actions are to define the racial differences and find ways and means to build the bridge towards racial unity.

This is one aspect of the tricky part - because you are going to be spend a lot of time trying to do something that could easily have been assumed and taken for granted, as explained in 1(a) above.

The other aspect of the tricky bit is this - that racial unity, though important for national harmony, is, by itself, something that the people cannot eat. Racial unity is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for nation prosperity. Prosperity is something that policy can dictate.

2. Prosperity. This is another tricky one. What is prosperity?

(a) Prosperity, to those who have been awakened to the negative feeling of jealousy, is about the "signs" of prosperity - big concrete houses, big metal cars, expensively tailored clothes, and all the things that you find on TV about the rich and famous. With this misconception, jealousy is transformed into greed. Greed becomes important because, in the modern economy, money is needed to pay for these things. So, the focus of policy is on how to make money - quick and easy. The policies of the last two or three decadees demonstrate the danger of such a misconception of the idea of prosperity - and how it can damage an entire generation.

(b) Prosperity is about satisfaction, contentment, and happiness. Malaysia was a prosperous nation in this sense, a state of equilibrium, of peace and harmony in the truest sense of the words. Then, we became jealous of foreign direct investors - we chased them off and we poured money to buy back what they had invested in our country - only to discover that we did not know how to handle those businesses profitably, because we forgot about business risks. We ventured outside our area of competence. Politicians tried to become businessmen. We went into a deep recession. We called in foreign direct investors to pull us out of the pit. Then, we tried to be clever again. We thought of schemes of spending without spending, thinking that the private sector and the foreigners could pay for the schemes. Reality showed up. We ended up having to dig deep into the treasury and the public paid dearly for misguided schemes. Now the coffers are empty. But we still dream of spending as the path to prosperity.

(c) Prosperity is the feeling we get when we, as individuals, are in full control of each of our own situation and, we would all like to think, destiny. Why? Because the reality is harsh and, whether we like it or not, we will have to put in effort, and even suffer, as we live our lives. Mistakes and errors will be made - old tricks, new circumstances; new tricks, old circumstances. By trying to take control of our own situation, or even having the impression that we are taking control of our own situation, we know what has happened, what is happening and, perhaps, what is going to happen to us. We know where we are and we know what we are going to do. There is purpose and direction. There is motivation. There will be effort. We rather suffer our own mistakes, and not the stupid ideas of others.

(d) Prosperity is NOT about an individual or a bunch of individuals, trying to take full control of the situation for everyone else. This will presume great power. This will be conspiratorial - things will go badly and the culprits will not own up and people will think they have a hidden agenda - and they may have not an agenda but lack of competence. Instead, the individual, or the bunch, should focus on building systems - clear systems that everybody can follow and play the game well. The economy is nothing but a system, and the economy is made up simply of rules of the game. The people play the economic game, and they will accept their own successes and failures - and put in extra effort to do better next time.

3. Clear System. What is a system? What is clarity?

(a) A clear system is one that everybody in the country can understand and follow and play well - or at least, the chance to play well. A clear system necessarily means that it is simple - that there are rules but not too many rules. We should do things, not wading through rules. We should not put in rules "just in case." We should think very hard before we create new rules, or exceptions to rules.

(b) Clear Economic System. We need to be clear about what an economy is all about. The economic system is basically an urban-based societal game where the chips used are called money. The tricky bit is to realise this: Economics is a game played by able-bodied educated individuals who constitute the economic mainstream. The internal game is how to join the mainstream. The external game is how to build a mainstream that can compete with the rest of the world; then, we will have a fighting chance to stand tall in the world. In the process, either the internal or external game, there will be people who are outside the mainstream. The role of the Social Safety Net is to provide assistance to people outside the mainstream. Sub-streams can be created - the economy can multi-layered. It is a mistake to destroy the mainstream and take the sub-streams to be the mainstream with no social safety net for the underpriviliged or undercapacitated.

4. Social Safety Net. Every modern society should have a good social safety net. What is the social safety net?

(a) The social safety net is the net that is placed under the high-flying mainstream of the economy in order to capture those who didn't make it to the tight rope or those who fall down from the tight rope. We want all our able-bodied and well-trained young people to climb to the top. This is important because with their advancement they will make the society a better place to live. The more productive the mainstream is, the more there is to spare to create the social safety net. By developing properly both the mainstream economy and the social safety net, the nation will have a system that can be conducive for peace and harmony and happiness.

(b) Without the social safety net, individuals will be petrified of the unknown future and their instinctive response will be to make lots of money and accumulate lots of assets in the hope of securing their future but in the process destroying the present for everyone.

(c) One of the arguments against the social safety net is that it will make people work less hard. I think it is about time that this is encouraged. I think Malaysians worry too much and work too hard for nothing. We should work less, create more by doing the things each of us really want to do. There is already too much economic progress through industrialisation and there should be greater emphasis placed on services.

(d) There could be less crime as a result.

1 comment:

walla said...