Who is a leader? What is a leader? The Webster’s Dictionary in Steven (2003) defines leader as a person who by force of example, talents or qualities of leadership plays a directing role, wields commanding influence, or has a following in any sphere of activity or thought.
On the other note, Alder (1995, pp. 6-7) listed the differences between managers and leaders as shown on the table 1.0.
Table 1.0. The Differences of Roles between Managers and Leaders
Accept status quo
From the table 1.0, we can see that the leaders play important roles in an organization. The leader will set the direction for the organization that he/she represented.
In the interim, leadership could be defined as ingredient of personality that causes men (and/or women) to follow or in a simple word, influence people to follow his/her instruction. Leadership must have the following characteristics as mentioned by Steven (2003) i.e. enthusiasm, dedication and charisma. Leaders are seen as good and evil and have many personalities and roles, from managers or coaches to world leaders. Thus, leadership begins with vision, concern and mentorship.
Everybody has the capability to become a leader. Some of us already lead a family, team and even an organization. Believe it or not, we are born to be a leader. God created man to be khalifa (caliph) to rule this world in accordance with the guidance from Him (Maqsood Jafri 2012).
The Quran says in Surah Al-Baqarah (2:30):
“And remember when your Lord said to the angels, I am going to place a successor (Khalifa) on Earth”.
And Quran further says in Surah Al-Baqarah (2:124):
“And remember when the Lord of Abraham tried him with certain commands which he fulfilled. Allah said to him, verily, I am going to make you a leader (Imam) of mankind. Abraham said, ‘And my offspring? Allah said, ‘my providence includes not the wrong-doers (oppressors) (Maqsood Jafri 2012).”
From the Quranic verses above, we were created to administer the world and in this connection, it is our duty as Muslim to obey god’s commands.
The writer tends to choose YABhg. Tun Dr Mahathir, the then Prime Minister of Malaysia as his idol. Dr. Mahathir has proven his capability in managing country for over a decade and brought Malaysia into new era of modernization.
As we all known, during his tenure as Prime Minister, Malaysia’s economy has transformed from agro-based country into industrial country. He is visionary leader. The most popular policy introduced by him was Vision 2020. This vision not only for Malaysian, but for all Muslims the world over. This statement can be proved by looking at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) efforts on Science and Technology known as Vision 1441 Hijriah (Vision 1441H) in which it was emerged from the Vision 2020 that was introduced by the then Prime Minister.
The Vision 1441H was adopted at the 10th OIC Summit held in Kuala Lumpur in 2003. The objective of Vision 1441H is to strengthen science & technology in the OIC Member States so as to ensure the development of their socio-economic activities. By means of science & technology, Member States can face the challenges of the new global economy through the strategic thrust of Vision 1441H comprising the efforts to establish commitment, increasing capacities and capabilities, strengthening collaboration, nurturing the right culture, develop the innovation capacity of the Muslim community and create compassion of pursuing the knowledge of science & technology.
Pursuant to the above explanation, Vision 2020 has become globally accepted and indirectly, the international community recognizes the effort taken by Dr. Mahathir in ensuring Malaysia is fully developed country by the year 2020.
Other point to ponder is Dr. Mahathir was the captain among the developing states. His efforts in assisting developing states could be seen through Malaysia’s technical assistance known as Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programme (MTCP) (MTCP 2012).
The MTCP was first initiated at the First Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sydney in February 1978. It was officially launched on 7 September 1980 at the Commonwealth Heads of State Meeting in New Delhi, India, to signify Malaysia’s commitment to South-South Cooperation, in particular Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC). Malaysia through MTCP shares its development experiences and expertise with other developing countries (MTCP 2012).
Among others, the objectives of MTCP are to share development experience with other countries, to strengthen bilateral relations between Malaysia and other developing countries, to promote South-South Cooperation and to promote technical cooperation among developing countries (MTCP 2012).
Through MTCP, Malaysia provides assistances to the developing country namely short-term specialised courses, long-term courses (scholarship), study visits, services of experts, socio-economic development projects and supply of equipment and materials (MTCP 2012).
These efforts show that Malaysia is keen to help other countries and participate at the international activities. This situation will make Malaysia popular in the eyes of the world. The idea of having MTCP which was mooted by Dr. Mahathir is in line with the statement by Meyer (2010, p. 76) i.e. “Leadership is not a one-time job. It commences with mission, to performance, competition and change.” Meyer (2010 p. 76) further stated that evaluating strategic options are clear attainable goals, exploiting emerging markets, efficient use of resources and timely deployment of strategies.
In this context, Dr. Mahathir has a clear attainable goal that is Malaysia to become developed country by the year 2020. With regard to exploiting the emerging market, he believed that the developing countries are the potential trading partners for Malaysia. In addition, his idea in promoting MTCP to the developing countries was the right strategy in which he believed that this programme will benefit Malaysia in the future in terms of transferring technology and expertise.
Miller (1995, pp. 65-70) defined that there are nine axioms successful leaders, i.e. spirit, purpose, creativity, challenge and response, planned urgency, unity and diversity, specialized competence, efficient administration and on-the-spot decision. In this connection, the writer believes that Dr. Mahathir has some of the axioms of leadership as mentioned by Miller. The elaboration of the axioms is as follows:
Dr. Mahathir unified and maintained both spiritual and material assets in his administration.
Dr. Mahathir has instilled and reinforced social purpose in his decision.
Dr. Mahathir is creative and innovative in his decision. It can be seen by looking to his policy on Vision 2020 and National Science and Technology Policy.
iv. Challenges and Response
Dr. Mahathir has recognized the current challenge and responded creatively and avoid a condition ease. This situation happened during the economic crisis that hit Malaysia in 1997-1998 in which Malaysia has successfully solved the problem. Malaysia imposed its exchange control measure by lowering the interest rate and injected liquidity into the monetary system.
v. Planned Urgency
Dr. Mahathir has the ability to decide and act promptly.
vi. Efficient Administration
Dr. Mahathir is well known as perfectionist in his work. Therefore during his administration, he stressed on the efficiency of delivering information and services to the people.
vii. On-The-Spot Decision
World has witnessed Dr. Mahathir’s capability in making on-the-spot decision particularly on matter of economic and politic.
From the statements above, the writer is of the view that Dr. Mahathir has fulfilled the criteria of a good leader. Being a good leader, Dr. Mahathir has also taken into his consideration the approaches in decision-making process as listed by Harvard Business Essential (2006, p. 16) namely consensus, majority and directive leadership. From his action, we can see that he always conducted meeting to gain consensus from the member of the meeting on certain issues. In the meantime, he used to make a decision based on the majority and always inform the group of the decision and the reasons that support it.
Mistakes made by leader
Leader has also no exception from committing mistake in making decision. The most common mistake that leaders tend to commit are blaming others on the mistake that he/she had done, pointing finger to other people when he/she found guilty and irresponsible from action he/she had done.
Other mistake that obviously done by leaders is the tendency of making quick decision without having discussion with other people and later, the decision he/she made went wrong.
Recommendation for those who want to be a better leader
In this context, the writer would like to recommend for those who interested to become a good leader to learn the leadership skill.
As mentioned by Mintzberg (1973, pp. 190-193), the leadership skill comprises of conflict-resolution skills, information-processing skills, skills in decision-making under ambiguity, resource-allocation skills and skills of introspection. He also mentioned that “The leadership skills, perhaps more than any others, require participative training. Leadership, like swimming, cannot be learned by reading about it. Leadership skills are so closely related to innate personality, however, that it may be difficult to effect really significant behavioral change in the classroom.”
Mintzberg (1973, pp. 190-193) described that the conflict-resolution skills included the interpersonal skill of mediating between conflicting individuals and the decisional skill of handling disturbances. The information-processing skills are to build information networks, find sources of information and extract what is really need, validate information, assimilate the information and build effective mental models. The skills in decision-making under ambiguity are the leader must first decide when a decision must be made and diagnose the situation and plan an approach to it and search for the solution. The resource-allocation skills requires leader to choose among competing resource demand and make a decision. Finally, skills of introspection requires leader to thoroughly understand his job.
As a conclusion remarks, leadership skills should be developed at the early age. It is simply because, leadership skill could not be obtained through observation and reading. It must be developed and polished by experience, knowledge, training and time.
Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is the best example of a good leader and he was trained on the leadership skills since he was at the secondary school. Therefore, the writer is of the view that, the trait of leadership influenced by surrounding community, level of education and experiences as well as family background.
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