3 Qualities of a Great Leader

Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

Tun Dr. Mahathir once said,

“To be a great leader, one needs to have good strategies, be knowledgeable and able to predict the future.”

As suggested by Tun, great leaders must have these qualities:
1. Have good strategies
2. Knowledgeable
3. Able to predict the future

Predicting the Future
I have heard of this quote years ago. But at that time I was not sure on the meaning of the ability to predict the future. It came into my mind that there were a crystal ball that a leader might have, or something like the movie Nujum Pak Belalang.

However, keeping this quote in mind and as I move on, I have learn a lot from this quote. Now I understand that by seeing things around on what is happening now, you may be able to predict the outcome. If people are building highways today, so many things will happen. The land price might be increase. There will be more commercial areas to be developed, and so on. This is an example of predicting the future.

Looking into business perspective, if you know what is happening in a company, you might be able to predict the performance of the company. If you are into share trading, you might be able to predict the value of the shares. If you are an employee, you might know whether the company is sustainable, expanding or shrinking. You can make the decision on where you are standing then.

Tun Mahathir has the ability to predict the future. In a talk during Prestige Leadership Programme, Tun mentioned that he decided to build a bridge between  the mainland and Penand Island. At that time, people are criticizing him heavily on the project and label it as a waste for the country. He proved them wrong.  It happened again when he planned to build the KLCC and Putrajaya. The only reason why he stick with his decision is because he see things in the future, and how people will appreciate it. I personally think that the current government motto of “Zaman kerajaan mengetahui segalanya sudah berakhir” is not really a good motto. As a good leader, one must decide on what he think the best for the future. Not now! Yes, we can listen, but we need to decide what is good for the future.

Don’t ask average people what they want, because they don’t know what they wanted.

Steve Jobs once said,

 “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

and Henry Ford also said,

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Be Knowledgeable
However, to be able to predict the future, one must also be knowledgeable. Information today is overloading. There is no reason not to be knowledgeable, unless you choose not to. Knowledge, in my opinion for this case can come from two sources – experience or learn from theories.

Experience can come from your own experience or learn from other people’s experience. Of course one might not have enough time to learn everything in life, but we can learn from other people’s success and mistakes that they have made. People today are more willing to share their experience. Good leaders like to share their secrets of success. You can find a lot of leaders wrote books on their strategies and lesson learned for them to become successful. Modeling is easier today than ever before.

Another way to learn is from the history. History is an experience that we can never experience ourselves, but we can learn the lesson from things happened in the past. We studied history during our secondary school just for the sake of passing SPM, but the educator sometimes forgot to tell us that history can teach us a lot of things and we may not do some of the mistakes. As the famous lyric of a song suggest “Sejarah Mungkin Berulang”, it might be true, only if we don’t learn from the past.

Theories also is a good way to be knowledgeable. Theories in my opinion can come from academic theories or metaphor.

i. Academic theories was labeled as a boring things. But they are actually a great things that has been delivered boringly. Watch Professor Walter Lewin of MIT on how he thought physics and you will love all the theories that he taught. But the application of these theories are more important.

ii. Metaphor is another way to be knowledgeable. You see, the world works within the same principle. It is difficult for a small mouse-deer to face an elephant. But it is not impossible. It should not compete face to face, rather using different strategy. This is a metaphor of small organization when facing big organization. They can’t compete the same way face-to-face, rather using strategies like flanking the market. Metaphor can be logical and some might not. To be knowledgeable, the metaphor should sound logical.

Personally, I think that reading is the best way to be knowledgeable. As you can choose what to read, you can choose which knowledge you want to learn. You can learn from other people experience and also theories from books or from the internet. Secondly, you can attend classes, seminars or talks. This might give different impact from learning alone, because you are using different senses (if the speaker is using so) to learn.

Have a Good Strategies
If you are knowledgeable enough, you can have a good strategies. If you know what will happen in the future, and have a good knowledge, you can formulate your own strategies in order to win the battle. In any revolutionaries happen in the past, there will be a leader that is doing things differently. They don’t just benchmark what others are doing and follow exactly. They see some flaw in what is happening today, and find new ways to improve. Steve Jobs did it by creating a computer that build for consumers when computers is only for large organizations, Tony Fernandes create an affordable flight when aeroplane was perceived of an expensive mode of travel, Tunku Abdul Rahman decided to use a democratic way to ask for independence from the British when war was the normal mode of fighting for independence. If you can see, those who don’t use the what others has been using normally their name will be known in the history.

The system that worked for people might not necessarily is the best system, because it was a man made system. Man made system always has flaw and as time goes, this flaw become very obvious. As a great leader, we need to identify the flaw and find alternatives to handle the situation. In other words, challenge the status quo and do things differently. THINK DIFFERENT.

Once you have the great strategy, communicate with your people. Let the people know your vision. As Michael Porter once said:

“The best CEOs I know are teachers, and at the core of what they teach is strategy.”

And Jeck Welch agreed on this:

“A strategy is something like, an innovative new product; globalization, taking your products around the world; be the low-cost producer. A strategy is something you can touch; you can motivate people with; be number one and number two in every business. You can energize people around the message.”

As you can see, all three qualities mentioned by Tun is actually interrelated. And the key-point is to have good strategies. You can’t have good strategies if you are not able to predict the future. And you can’t predict the future if you are not knowledgeable.

1 thought on “3 Qualities of a Great Leader”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *