Nurturing more human-centric leaders
Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Opinion - The New Strait Time
May 11, 2019
Artificial intelligence is one of the means to map out the future— to be used as a tool to accelerate change.(stock image for illustration purposes)
THE prime minister’s concern for future leaders with values is indeed shared by many. Especially when a study of late that showed today’s leaders are generally inundated by greed, incompetence and frivolity at the expense of the taxed, governed and managed — that is, referring to the ordinary citizens.
For Malaysians, this cannot be any truer than what we see unfolding right in front of our eyes. In fact, some have even ventured to say it is the end of leadership as it is understood today.
Evidently to name one “great” contemporary leader that goes beyond Nelson Mandela is very difficult if not impossible. Similarly for those of the yesteryear like Mahatma Gandhi, whose 150th death anniversary is being celebrated this year.
Barbara Kellerman in her book, entitled The End of Leadership (2012), highlighted this when she raised some very pertinent issues on American leadership. Some of them have been on the minds of many as far back as the Bush presidency allegedly blamed for the so-called American exceptionalism which is no less greedy, incompetent and frivolous.
The book further pointed out that if Americans are so good at developing leaders, why is America in such a mess? Why are the politics so ineffectual and why is the economy so resistant to resilience? Can those in the leadership industry honestly say that, in the last several decades, America had the impact it wanted and intended? The answer is now staring at our faces, thanks to Donald Trump and his efforts to make America great again.
In short, to talk about future leadership could be far-fetched and dicey. More so since no one can be sure what the future is about. If at all, “uncertainties” are said to be more certain cutting across boundaries and cultures.
Where do we go from here to develop future leaders locally, let alone globally. For sure, it is not as easy because the reference point has somewhat been rendered irrelevant as implied by Kellerman. Alternatively, a new form of leadership needs to be conceived and deeply contemplated upon to cope with the changing times. I would like to call this the 10A’s thought leadership.
To begin with, the first element deemed vital for future leadership is “anticipatory” skill. This is more than just the ability to make forecasts and plan for the conventional period of five to 10 years, rather it involves generations ahead. And not many are acquainted with this in the context of the 21st century and beyond.
To balance out the uncertainties, the need for “affirmative” skills comes next. Based on the Latin affirmare, meaning “to make steady, to assert”, it is essential to help confirm what are the more realistic choices in ensuring the desired future. Under the global agenda of sustainable development, this is matched with the “aspirations” expressed by the younger generation and thus linking them to previous A’s.
As it stands today, “artificial intelligence” (AI) is next. An imperative to map out the future, and enhance the required skills associated with it. However, it cannot be overemphasised that AI is not the future. Rather it is one of the means to the future as a tool that could accelerate the change using ultra-sophisticated technology.
As speed is vital to meet the changes, “accelerative” skills in the digital sense is key. In this way, the future is not only “available” but more importantly “accessible” to a wider global audience. These then are two additional elements that future leaders must be able to demonstrate in translating the future into reality.
Often in the digital (more so than the analogue) world, despite the many more things that are more readily available, they are often inaccessible because of the existing divides bordering on “affordability”.
Consequently, discrimination and imbalances between the haves and the have-nots widen as implied by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his address at the anniversary of the change in government.
To tackle this, the humanistic dimensions of delivery “affection” and “amanah” cannot be underestimated. The former argues for the need of a set of heart-ware often missing in western-centric leadership. The latter is the software consisting of values that drive the heart and compensates for the soulless AI in nurturing more human-centric leaders.
As propounded by the futuristic genius, the late Steve Jobs: “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector