Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What Malaysian politicians can learn from Drucker

A company's very "survival," Peter Drucker wrote in his 1946 book Concept of the Corporation, depends on the ability "to develop independent leaders below the top who are capable of taking top command themselves, and to devise a system under which succession will be rational and by recognized merit rather than the result of a civil war within the institution and of force, fraud, or favoritism."

This is not something we see in Malaysian politics. Malaysian political leaders tend to adopt a proprietary attitude towards their position. It does not help that their followers adopt a sycophantic posture borne largely by the Asian culture that clings doggedly to a feudal attitude of subservience. It also does not help that many Asian myths promote the value of blind loyalty and filial piety, as if political leaders are the patriarchs. Naming past prime ministers Bapa for this and, Bapa for that, reinforces this.

In Management Challenges for the 21st Century, published in 1999, Drucker echoed what he had concluded more than 50 years earlier: "Succession has always been the ultimate test of any top management and the ultimate test of any institution."
In the context of Malaysian political succession, particularly in UMNO, Drucker's statement is particularly resonant. In the best of times, say, the Tunku to Tun Razak transition, Tunku was reportedly miffed at being shunted aside. Tun Hussein to Dr M was the same. Dr M to Pak Lah? Well, the story of the scorn of the predecessor is still unfolding in its awful form. And, let us not forget the thwarted succession plans for Anwar Ibrahim in 1998.
Most of the problems of political succession is the result of fear—specifically, a fear by certain leaders (or "misleaders," as Drucker labeled them) of having smart, self-assured colleagues around them. "An effective leader knows, of course, that there is a risk: Able people tend to be ambitious," Drucker wrote in 1992's Managing for the Future. "But he realizes that it is a much smaller risk than to be served by mediocrity. He also knows that the gravest predicament of a leader is for the organization to collapse as soon as he leaves or dies."
Doesn't that mean that Dr M was, ultimately, an ineffective leader? He ordained Pak Lah in the expectation that a mediocre successor will keep running back to him for counsel, caution and remonstrance (to borrow Walter Bagehot's oft-quoted phrase for the role of monarchs). That is to put it mildly. More likely, Dr M wanted to be the shadow shogun (the moniker for Kakuei Tanaka after he resigned in disgrace as the Japanese prime minister in the wake of a corruption scandal in the 1970s). But, to Dr M's dismay, it turned out that even puppets can develop a sentience.
Drucker's advice, though, was to keep things pretty simple. To leave a lasting legacy, one hard-and-fast rule is that the leader heading for the exit should never select his or her own heir. He or she can be part of the process—but shouldn't control it. Otherwise, vanity is apt to override most every other consideration.

"We tend to pick people who remind us of ourselves when we were 20 years younger," Drucker said. "First, this is pure delusion. Second, you end up with carbon copies, and carbon copies are weak."

Truer words were never spoken.


Patricia said...

It's been a long time since I last read Drucker... and he still makes sense to me.

When my husband was in school (RMC), his Add Maths teacher used to tell them: 'I never get A, wan, how you want to get A in exam, ah?' A hahaha moment, eh?

Actually, it is not. I always told my students that a good teacher would guide them to be better than they are; better than she (the teacher) is. And that is what I tried to do.

For instance, I myself may not be a good writer, but if I see talent in you, I could guide you and help you reach your potential, and more.

And, sadly, what you say here is fact: the true test of a good leader is his legacy; his choice of successor included.

Where do we go from here?

CT Choo said...

Hi Patricia

Good to know that you've read Drucker, the mahaguru of management.

The first thing is, in political parties (as with companies) there should be mentoring of "possible successors". But, there should be no annointment of successors.

In a democratic party election process, the slate of candidates will be of high calibre and worthy of taking over the mantle on the basis of a ballot by members.

2 problems in UMNO. First, Dr M's ego and paranoia was such that he culled all good successor material - Ku Li, Musa Hitam and Anwar. Second, UMNO still cling to the "no contest" approach for President. This prevents genuine contenders from rising, leaving only sycophants and pretenders.

Anonymous said...


Another fab post. I am a fan now. =)
I was laughing at your piece on confessions of a risk manager. HA HA HA.

"But, to Dr M's dismay, it turned out that even puppets can develop a sentience."

HAHAHA. But maybe the puppet has a new master promising more moolah?

I agree that the failure of succession in BN is a sign of Dr M's failed leadership.

The thing is a country is an institution with institutions. =) If properly maintained and not destroyed, they will function properly even with a mediocre leader like Bush...=)

Now, we dun really knwo what's happening with the country except the politicians are talking a lot.

CT Choo said...

Hi Jed

I'm glad to be able to bring some laughter into your life! God knows, we all need some mirth in these dire times.

Anonymous said...

As for me nothing to blame Tun M, as all his deputies were not to the mark, even the current premier.

I would rather pick professionals like Mohamad Hassan or Khalid Ibrahim or Effendy Norwawi or even our madam governor, Zeti to run the country. But likewise, pros are not good politicians.The problem with politicians, they talk too much.Be it Pak Lah or Anwar, they are of the same standard.I would prefer somebody who can make sound judgements, & take this country to a new height.

Anonymous said...

Afraid to me to hear his name. It sounds like Dracula...

Opp sorry he is your mahaguru in management. But limited to you.

There should be second opinion on the way certain thing should be managed.

The British had intoduced a free trade. But to American Nationalists that system is nothing more than to subjugate Americans to British. They, the American then promote American system which oppose to the free trade. Protectionism.

To sum up there must be pros and cons on certain idea. To swallow blatantly your mahaguru idea is not good for rationale health..