Advice from my father

My father often gave me tips on leadership. I guess he was keen for me to be a leader! His children call him Bapak.

Bapak always told me, when I was growing up, that leaders do not abdicate, but they delegate work or tasks. A good leader explains exactly how work is to be done. He entrusts the person to do it in whatever ways he deems fit. He will not micro-manage. He sets targets and judge the result based on these. His catch words also shows the importance of trust. He would tell me this, “If you want it done your way, do it yourself.”

The underlying factor here is trust. When there is trust, work goes a long way. But often, and particularly in Malaysia, we do not trust our subordinates enough. When I was working in a local bank years ago, a fellow manager commented that I was too close with them, in his own words. I told him I was not being close to be liked but to understand them better. If I did, there would be trust. And we could get them to do things willingly for us. Of course he was sceptical.

I proved this to my superiors and colleagues, many times. It was not just the clerks and non-clerical, but even for our juniors. In the bank branch I was in, we had several sections, with unofficial section heads. These section heads lead their groups due to their extensive experience and sometimes, unwittingly they do not know anything about another section. As the bank was expanding, instead of recruiting new staff, I suggested we provide these section heads the opportunity to become branch managers. I entrusted them by allowing them to be reallocated to other sections for three months. Thus in one year we had retrained enough officers to understand all the different aspects of banking. They became capable of leading a new small branch.

So as Bapak always told me as an early advice is to delegate work by giving trust, not abdicating and not micro-managing.

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