By Alvin Ung
There is a famous phrase in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet which goes “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” In leadership, an equally important question is to ask ourselves to do or not to do. What not to do can often be equally or even more important than what you do. Here’s what I learned from Dato’ Sri Dr Halim, the chairman of Telekom Malaysia, on what not to do.
- Do not complain. When faced with daunting challenges as a civil servant, he chose not to moan or gripe, even though he had many reasons to do so. The decision not to complain saved him from learned helplessness. If you have issues that make you unhappy, raise it up face to face.
- Do not disparage people. During our broad-ranging conversation that spanned topics from family to personal history to work challenges, not once did he speak ill of anybody. Instead do the opposite. Halim repeatedly highlighted individuals who have impacted his life and described them as “great guy!” “He’s fantastic,” “what a terrific person” and “I’m nothing compared to him.”
- Do not feed on pomp and circumstance. At his level, it is common to be given a red carpet treatment. He accepted the royal treatment. But he was equally happy being an ordinary, anonymous person. On our way back from Jengka, Dr Halim parked at Genting Sempah and stopped to pray, where we sipped teh tarik in a metal bench. Here, we were just two people chatting away at the foot of the mountains.
- Do not ask for entitlements. Despite being the chairman of a major telecommunications company, he walked into a TM Point retail outlet to purchase a Streamyx package for his daughter. When the service went down, he called up the help line. In both situations, he did not let the staff knew he was TM chairman or Dato’ Sri. No name dropping. This decision helped him to live outside his leadership bubble.
- Do not do anything else when you make a decision to be present to someone. In our ten hours together, Dr Halim did not answer his phone or fiddle with any gadget. He was totally focused on our time together. Later, I learned he had switched his Blackberry into silent mode. It is rare to find leaders with such intensity of focus.
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