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.