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Prof. Dato’ Dr. Santhiram Raman and Datin Vasantha Santhiram

This week was historic for my family. Not just for my immediate family, but also for everyone in my extended family.

My father, Prof. Dr. Santhiram Raman was conferred the ‘Darjah Setia Pangkuan Negeri’ or DSPN award by His Excellency, the Governor of Penang, which carries the title ‘Dato’.

It was especially significant because my paternal grandfather was a migrant.

He came to Malaysia as a teenager, with no money and no formal education. He arrived on the island of Penang only with a determination to make life work.

For my father, his second born son, to receive this coveted honour is surely a testament to what can be achieved with good parenting, personal leadership, and a commitment to education.

At the investiture ceremony, I also had occasion to meet and have a conversation with the Deputy Chief Minister of Penang, Prof. Dr. P. Ramasamy. I serve on the Penang State Human Resources Committee, which he chairs.

He was very happy that my father’s tireless contribution to education, and social welfare was being recognised, by way of this award.

But during this chat, the Deputy Chief Minister also lamented on the lack of leadership in our country. We discussed ideas for cultivating committed people who will work for the betterment of the nation, and to not just be self-serving.

This conversation made me reflect on the type of leaders our country needs to help society navigate the complexities of modern life. And I refer to leaders in all spheres of life, ranging from public service to businesses.

I think that the ability to actually “serve” others is the first trait that anyone who wants to be a leader, must have. The renowned management guru Stephen R. Covey always contended that leaders need to first be servants.

In order to be a true leader, you must serve and give to others. And how you do this, is by respecting them and by actually being able to do things yourself. Leaders simply cannot ask others to work harder than they do.

The next characteristic that a leader needs is the ability to make hard decisions, and not just convenient ones. Effective leadership will often require you to make many daily decisions that ensure that you deliver on your promises, and fulfil the collective vision of your team.

For this, you cannot make expedient choices. Instead, your decision making process needs to be firmly grounded on a solid perspective of the greater good of your organisation, or your cause.

I also believe that good leaders are not driven just by the quest for popularity. They will always work purposefully on being effective, and making the right impact for the people they serve.

If you concentrate on this, and adjust all your actions to be significant for the greater good of your team, and your purpose, popularity will naturally be an ensuing by-product.

Impactful leaders will do what they say and they protect their teams by giving credit. They also encourage responsibility through accountability.

Next, good leaders are confident, and not insecure.

You can teach yourself to be an effective problem solver; become more decisive; learn how to communicate effectively; coach, mentor and hold team members accountable; and develop other skills.

But you have to believe in yourself and your message first, to truly succeed. All of us work better when we are led by a confident person. Being confident shows that you are competent!

In a recent training programme with Malaysia’s leading fully-integrated media company, I asked the senior managers who were attending the programme to grasp that their teams will only trust them, when they show more confidence and lead with a sense of purpose.

Strong leaders also always show courage over cowardice.

Many people think that you need to be loud and boisterous to show courage. However, being a courageous leader is far more multi-dimensional. You will certainly need courage to stand up and speak up. But remember, it also takes courage to sit down, and listen.

Another trait you need is to be happy to stand alone.

Upright leaders will do what is right, even in the face of great danger or under the brunt of relentless criticism. Yet they are never really alone.

My experience with exemplary leaders in management, business, and politics has shown me that their biggest wins do not come from their individual effort, but by working in; with; and for their community.

Finally, authentic leaders always commit to long-term vision and not just short-term success.

The business doyen Jack Welch put it succinctly when he said, "Good leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”

This is what our nation needs; committed leaders with passion and who are purposed driven.

As I congratulate my father on his well-deserved award, I can say with perhaps just a small tinge of filial bias that in all his professional and community work, he has tried to live these tenets of leadership.

Shankar R. Santhiram is managing consultant and executive leadership coach at EQTD Consulting. He is also the author of the national bestseller “So, You Want To Get Promoted?”

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