Leadership matters

Oinam Nabakishore Singh *

I was travelling in a taxi with my family members in the streets of Kuala Lumpur, capital city of Malaysia, some ten years back. The talkative local taxi driver was explaining the landmarks on the way. In fact, we had not really told him to take us to a particular destination. We just wanted to have a view of the city.

The taxi driver pointed to the magnificent building housing the Kuala Lumpur Sentral Railway Station, the main railway station of Kuala Lumpur opened in 2001. It is a railway hub for intercity and intra-city transportation and it replaced most of the traffic of old Central Railway station.

I was wondering as to how the Malaysian Government got so much of money to construct such beautiful buildings and enquired of the taxi driver. He said, “Our Prime Minister is smart. He raised the required fund from private parties by allotting space among various commercial ventures like construction of luxury hotels. With money received from developers, the railway station was constructed”.

During tenure of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003, Malaysia saw huge economic growth in consecutive years leading to a huge reduction of poverty in that country. The per capita GDP/income of Malaysia is US$30,858 (PPP, 2018 est.) and USS11,237 (nominal, 2018 est.).

After leaving politics for about 13 years, he set up a new political party to fught against his party and Prime Minister, Najib Razak, as there were charges of corruption against the latter. After winning the election, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, was again sworn as Prime Minister of Malaysia on 10th May, 2018 at the age of 92 years. He is the oldest serving Prime Minister in the world now.

Another leader appreciated across the world for his vision, strategy and transformation of City State of Singapore from third world to first world (developed country) is Lee Kuan Yew, the late Prime Minister of that country.

In his book, “From Third World to First: The Singapore Story, 1965-2000”, Lee Kuan Yew tells the story of complete transformation of a tiny island city state of Singapore, which was a trading post of British East India Company, and later a colony of British Raj, into a developed country. It is the financial, trading and transport hub in South East Asia. It is really worth learning from Lee Kuan Yew as to how he steered a small poor country till 1965 into a country dotted by skyscrapers.

Economic growth of China since 1978-79 till now has been phenomenal. It witnessed double digit growth in consecutive years for decades till it slowed down to about 6.5 % now. The size of China’s GDP in 2018 is estimated to be US$14.09 trillion with per capita income of US$10,087. India’s GDP is US$2.848 (nominal,2018 est.) while per capita income is US$ 2134(nominal, 2018 est.).

The complete transformation of an agrarian economy into a large manufacturing led economy with burgeoning exports to almost every country,in the world was possible because of the leadership of Deng Xiaoping since late seventies.

In the book, “ Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China”, Professor Ezra F. Vogel of Harvard University, while giving an account of life of Deng Xiaoping, attributes the complete transformation of China into a market driven economy with high growth and reduction of poverty to the practical approach of Deng and leadership given by him to a large country like China to switch over to a market economy.

His first tasks included learning from successful capitalist economies of Japan, South Korea, USA, etc. and adapting the lessons to China’s need to be a major manufacturing hub. His success in making China a fast developing country with modem technology driven economy is acknowledged by all.

Economic growth rate of India since Independence till economic liberalization in 1991 was sub-five per cent. As annual population growth was hovering around 2 per cent, actual improvement in percapita income was very low leading to persistent poverty among a large section of the country.

When the balance of payment position of the country was precarious in 1991, the then Prime Minsiter of India, P.V. Narasimha Rao stood behind the then Finance Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh to take transformative reforms in policies ushering in liberalization in the economy. It is Narasimha Rao and Dr. Manmohan Singh, which were instrumental in opening of the economy, import and exports and abolition of licence/permit Raj in 1991 -in order be integrated with the rest of the world.

After the liberalization in some sectors of the economy, India’s economy grew much beyond five percent and sometimes it touched 9 percent. Now, India’s economic growth rate is about 7 per cent. Credit for the rapid growth should go to the team led by Narasimha Rao for taking bold measures to face the challenges.

Lesson to be learnt is that extraordinary situations require extraordinary responses from leaders, who have complete grip over the situation. Understanding the problem is not enough. Action to face the challenges appropriately is too equally important.

There are many other successful leaders in the world who have lifted their countries out of poverty through policies and programmes , having great impacts on the economy and lives of their people. We are compelled to ask ourselves the most relevant question-what are the leadership qualities of successful leaders to lead countries, organizations and families. Many qualities are common across the board. The first and foremost attribute of a leader is to have a vision and to set goals for the organi¬zation in short-term, mid-term and long-term time horizons.

In our daily life as individuals, we are called upon to take decisions. Impact of those decisions on ourselves, own family members or society at large depends on our own position. Leaders of the nation have to be very care¬ful in deriding on any issue. We have seen that the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump has taken a number of decisions on tariffs, which has wide ranging impacts on international trade.

However, on reactions from countries like Canada and Mexico, which are members of North America Free Trade Agreement(NAFTA), European Union and China, the US has given concessions to Canada and Mexico. Trade war between China and US is now kept on hold for the time being. We have seen that Donald Trump is going back and forth in decision making. Because of difference of opinion on tariffs, his own Chief Economic Advisor re¬signed.

The leadership of Donald Trump in USA is under serious questions now not only in USA but also across the world for reneging on several agreements like Paris Agree¬ment on Climate Change, withdrawal from Iran Nuclear deal and cancellation of the much hyped summit with North Korea. A leader should be firm in his decisions and commitment. A question is being asked now as to whether Donal Trump can be trusted.

The leader at any level needs to be trustworthy. With¬out trust from others, it is not possible to get support from any quarter. Besides, a true leader has to make sacrifices in the interest of others. The interest of society has got to be prime in the hierarchy of choices. When there is con¬flicting choices, the one with maximum interest of society should be the preferred choice. In Bhagavat Gita, Lord Krishna counselled Arjuna to do all acts without thinking about result of the action. It is also emphasised by the Lord Krishna that the action producing maximum ben¬efits to the society is most desirable.

Anybody and everybody should take leadership role in any situation. In the book, “Extreme Ownership: How US Navy Seals Lead and Win” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, the authors who themselves were at the frontlines of war against the committed and well-armed ISIS jihadists in Iraq, details the essential attributes of leaders to own the tasks at hand at any cost to win the war. These at¬tributes are equally applicable to business, government, and individual lives.

At the end of the day, it is the leadership that matters. It is also the leadership that makes changes not only in their own lives, but also in the lives of others. Taking ownership of the problems of others as own problems, leaders across the world have made huge difference-difference for good.

Views expressed here are personal.

* Oinam Nabakishore Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer may be contacted at oinamsingh(at)gmail(dot)com for any queries/com¬ments.
This article was webcasted on June 11 , 2018.

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