Last week, I was fortunate to attend a lecture at Dubai School of Government that was unique for both it’s title and the lecturer: “Nation Building – Malaysia’s Experience” by Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, former Malaysian Prime Minister!

It was a real opportunity to hear directly from such a visionary transformational leader who is credited with turning Malaysia from a newly established federation to one of the most successful economies of Asia that aspires now aspires many nations in Asia and around the world.

Needless to say, the Malaysian’s experience as well as Dr.Mahathir’s personal philosophy and thoughts are well documented and widely accessible, but my purpose of this post is to share with you Dr.Mahathir’s point of view on two exact important pillars of any renaissance of a nation: the leader and the people. He talked about the leadership issue as part of his speech, while he highlighted the people part as a response to a question i raised. He has clearly identified what he believes as prerequisites on both the nation’s leader and his/her people so that the nation can launch and successfully implement such comprehensive national development plans.

Not only his insightful and interesting comments that motivated me to share them with you, but also the fact that while I was listening to him I couldn’t resist the “joy” of testing my home country profile against these “Building a Nation” criteria! Sorry for not sharing with you the result of this quick test, but of course you can do your own one!

So what did Dr.Mahathir say about the criteria of a leader and the characteristics of his people to build a nation?

On the leader side, Dr. Mahathir quickly and briefly has listed three criteria a leader of a nation must have to become qualified to lead his/her nation towards the promised renaissance, these criteria are:

  • To be passionate about the development of his country and his people, this passion should motivate him/her to draw an ambitious challenging vision for the nation.
  • To be knowledgeable so that he/she can develop wise long term development plans and formulate sound governance policies.
  • To be inspiring in a way makes his people love him and support him to move forward his vision.

Of course we can extend the list, but I believe that these shortlisted features differentiate transformational leaders such as our speaker from ordinary ones. However, I was keen to hear a similar comment on the people side of the equation, and that was my question: don’t they have similar prerequisite features? Does the leader need to tackle certain social or cultural shifts to boos the chances achieving the defined vision? Dr. Mahathir answered that the people need to be educated, but he quickly pointed out a significant clarification: “I’m not talking about the formal education only, but also the its very important for the people to have the right values and … the discipline.”

Interesting and inspiring but disappointing!

Now dear reader of this post, how does your country do against these criteria?

Ibrahim (on Twitter)