• 2023
  • The ‘Power Of One’ Can Make A Difference To Save Malaysia

The ‘Power Of One’ Can Make A Difference To Save Malaysia

Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak 
Opinion - Bacalah Malaysia 
September 21, 2023 


Teamwork has always been factored in as an important ingredient with regards to high performance at the organisational level. Massive data and articles can be found testifying to this, based on organisational achievements in meeting set goals and targets. 

The importance and focus on keeping the team spirit and performance set the tone for leaders to monitor and recognise them accordingly. 

While many are used to the positive implications of teamwork, recent experiences indicated there are merits on working in isolation, from home for example, and attention has been accorded to possibility of notable for individual performance, given the emerging “new” normal within the complex work environment such as during the pandemic period. 

Could it be that such practices (and values) have been overlooked in comparison to that of teamwork (like in the pre-pandemic days)?

In an organisation, individuals are often likened to ‘a cog in the wheel,’ implying that the whole team effort is more impactful vis-a-vis any of the team members. 


The ‘team’ often refers to the broader framework whereby the cog, being a small part, needs to fit in so that the team can collectively accomplish the mission without the team falling short.

Meaning to say, a cog is a vital piece, only if it is appropriately aligned, as normally alluded to, as “one of the teeth on a gear that, by engaging other teeth, transmits or enables motion.”

In other words, one person can impact the rest of the team, or others, in transmitting the relevant changes in the process. 

Consequently, every individual is indeed vital, provided all are working in tandem with each other, that is, performing as a  ‘real’ team! On the contrary they can also undermine or withhold a particular decision and/or action which, in general, can be as disruptive or regressive resulting in poor performance and outcome. The team dynamics will grind into a halt. 

Thus, the metaphor ‘the power of one’ has its own merit. As Bryce Courtenay, author of the novel – The Power of One – wrote in 1989:  “The power of one is above all things the power to believe in yourself, often well beyond any latent ability you may have previously demonstrated.”

A Harvard Business Review in article (Dec. 2019), “How One Person Can Change the Conscience of an Organization,” highlighted a case of the power of one concerning a chairman of research and development in a pharmaceutical company who was bold enough to review some of its questionable policies.

“A single person with a clarity of conscience and a willingness to speak up can make a difference,” the authors wrote.

“Contributing to the greater good is a deep and fundamental human need. When a leader, even a mid-level or lower-level leader, skillfully brings a voice and a vision, others will follow, and surprising things can happen — even culture change on a large scale.”

The case is not uncommon in other spheres. Freedom fighters are often among those named in history, like of Nelson Mandela. The Director of, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Institute on Race and Ethnicity, confessed:

“As a college student, Mandela’s message empowered me to speak up. As a civil servant and admirer, I was humbled by his presence, and now as the head of an organization dedicated to ending institutionalized racism, I am motivated to work for racial and ethnic justice.  


“Today, the world celebrates Mandela’s legacy and we all are indebted to his sacrifice; his example proves once again the power of one; and the moment to act is now.” 

Nelson Mandela, the first democratically-elected president of South Africa spent almost his entire life fighting against injustice in his country. During the 27 years of imprisonment, he continued to influence people all around the world with his message of equality; with a significant impact on the then generation of youth. 

Alone, Mandela advocated reconciliation in a land riven by racism and the desire for revenge based on sheer hatred. He stood as a solitary and powerful example of resilience and righteousness, especially among the youth of the day.

Other figures include Mahatma Gandhi and even Steve Jobs, testifying that knowing and harnessing individual power is undoubtedly important.

Too many people (especially among the youth) doubt themselves, to the point of being manipulated by the selfish elders who discouraged them from trying. Hence, they cut off their power and instead further reinforce that self-doubt so that the status quo remains.

Nevertheless, for those who continue to embrace their ‘power of one,’ and boldly put their conscience, talents, abilities, and plans into motion, it becomes very clear very quickly that even one person can create a big difference, and make desirable changes for the future.

The moment is now here to welcome a “third force” coming from the power of one to save Malaysia from normalizing corruption and the corrupted.

  • The writer is the Rector of the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM)