Career Guide

Leadership is being brave

What I learnt from Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari

A few weeks ago, I was in Kuching, Sarawak for the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Leaderonomics and the Leadership Institute of Sarawak Civil Service. It was led by the institute’s executive director Datu Dr Sabariah Putit – who is also the Deputy State Secretary (Performance and Service Delivery Transformation) – and chief operating officer Segaren Arumugam.

Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg was also present as a witness to our signing and it was my first time having the opportunity to connect with him and hear him.

It was great to see him so passionate about developing Sarawakians and enabling them to become great leaders through our content and partnership, as he was also keen to see his people grow into digital leaders.

Not only was Abang Johari a leader with clarity of vision, he also provided me with many insightful words of wisdom on what it meant to be a leader.

I thought I should share some of his leadership nuggets.

1. Leaders must take risks

Abang Johari truly believes that great leaders can only achieve greatness if they take risk. It is part of a leader’s responsibility. If you are afraid of taking risks and just want to maintain status quo, you are not a true leader.

He shared how he took a risk to set up Sarawak’s very own petroleum company, Petroleum Sarawak Bhd (Petros).

“It’s not easy to announce Petros due to factors such as its status and the laws that are involved.

“But I dare to take the risk because I believe that we have the legal argument in our favour, and I think we are on the right track because we feel that our legal position is very clear in the Constitution and it is the supreme law of the federation,” he stated during his speech at the Leadership Institute’s Appreciation Night dinner prior to our MOU signing ceremony.

A good definition of risk-taking is as follows: “Undertaking a task in which there is a lack of certainty or a fear of failure.”

At the heart of it, the key issue why people fail to take risk is fear – fear of failure, fear of looking foolish, fear of not accomplishing what we set out to do and fear of repercussions.

Fear cripples risk-taking. A risk-taking leader confronts these fears and are courageous enough to move forward.

American author Seth Godin once quoted, “Playing it safe and not taking a risk is probably the most dangerous thing you could do in today’s rapidly changing and highly competitive business environment.”

Abang Johari takes calculated risks, just like other great leaders do. They weigh in all matters, and are courageous enough to do the right thing – even though the stakes may be high.

To be a leader means being brave.

2. Leaders protect

What is the right thing to do when you are a leader?

Abang Johari believes that leaders must put others before themselves. This means putting the interest of those you lead above your own.

When he first took office as chief minister, he pledged he would do his best to protect Sarawak and Sarawakians. One key area he needed to put right was to help put Sarawak on the global digital map.

How does a leader know what are right things that need to be done for others? The answer is obvious as you study great leaders.

Leaders always ask questions. They always probe.

By asking questions like “What should our shared vision be?”, “What are our gaps?”, “What is holding us back?”, “What are the challenges curtailing us from greatness?”, we start to understand what needs to be done.

Great leaders don’t just talk about what needs to be corrected, they go about driving change.

3. Leadership is about change

Most great leaders are defined by how they changed the world around them. Mahatma Gandhi changed India, while Steve Jobs changed the music and telecommunications industries.

Leadership is always about driving positive change.

Abang Johari echoes similar sentiments. He declared: “I believe I have that responsibility in me and this is what leadership is all about. We must be daring enough to bring changes to ourselves and the country.”

By asking the right questions, he knew building a digital economy in Sarawak was crucial, saying, “Sarawak needs to move away from conventional economy and embrace digital transformation, or risk being left behind.”

The key reason for doing so was that “in Sarawak, where youths comprise about 60% of the population, the shift towards a digital economy would give opportunities to Internet-literate young people to be actively involved in the digitisation of the economy.”

In conclusion

Leadership is about clarity of vision. It is about knowing how far you are from your vision and then ensuring you drive the change needed to make that vision a reality.

Are you a leader that has a clear vision? Are you asking enough questions?

Are you a brave leader, willing to take risks to bring about a better society or organisation? Are you willing to work hard to make that change a reality?

Be a leader!

- Roshan Thiran is group CEO of Leaderonomics, a social enterprise passionate about transforming the nation through leadership and youth development. If you are keen to volunteer (and learn leadership) to help school kids grow as leaders, email To follow Roshan daily leadership advice, follow him on Facebook at bit.lyLdrRTfb, Twitter @lepaker or LinkedIn.

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