Last week, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to meet Malaysia’s 4th and 7th Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad or affectionately known as Tun M. The title ‘Tun’ is the highest civilian honour that can be granted to a deserving Malaysian by the King of Malaysia at Federal Level.
This privilege was given to me under my own personal capacity as the founder of Cyberjaya’s digital community called Cyberjaya Community. Cyberjaya is Malaysia’s leading technology and innovation hub which was founded by Tun M in 1997. It was built to bring Malaysians into the information age, a revolutionary idea when it was first introduced in the 90’s.
During my meeting with Tun Dr Mahathir, I made some observations and learned some important leadership skills from the Prime Minister who will be celebrating this 94th birthday this year. Recently, Tun M was included in the list of World’s Greatest Leaders by Fortune.
1. Giving Full Attention
One of Tun M’s most admirable leadership skills is giving full attention to those who speak to Tun. During my presentation to Tun, Tun gave his full attention. There was no distraction at all. No phone, no computer. I have had interacted with some companies CEOs before who were trying to multitask or or responding to a message while taking to them but Tun really sets apart the standards.
2. Being a Great Listener
Tun Dr Mahathir listened to my presentation with all ears. Not once Tun interrupted. Tun did have some questions but Tun only asked them in between two slides and at the end of my presentation. I believe everyone knows that listening is one of the hardest things to do. Tun is a great speaker but I was surprised to learn how he listens.
3. Offering Opportunity
It was very surprising that Tun granted me the opportunity to have that meeting. I trust there are thousands more people out there who would like to meet Tun. While no one knows how the decision was made, Tun has always been a very visionary person and able to look at the big picture. Perhaps, it was the first meeting ever with the Cyberjaya community that’s non work-related.
4. Giving More than Expected
At the end of the meeting, I requested for a photo session with Tun and Tun happily obliged. What was surprising that Tun actually suggested for us to have a ‘wefie’ together. In our daily work, how often do we give more than what’s expected of us?
5. Always Serving Others First
Being the leader means that you have been placed in a position to serve others such as your customers, investors, your team, and the employees who are part of the company or division you run. Tun M knows this extremely well. While waiting for my turn, Tun was having a back to back meeting with others. That shows how much time Tun dedicated for the people despite being three times busier compared to when Tun first became the Prime Minister in 1981.
6. Doing the Impossible
At 93, Tun is really doing the impossible. It becomes a benchmark for all Malaysians and a proof that age is nothing but a number. In a newspaper interview a few months ago by Focus Malaysia, Tun stated the following:
“I am not young anymore. In 1981, I was 56 years old. At a time when other people retire, I began my work. Now I am 93 years old. I think by 93, you are no longer functional, but I still feel capable so much so that the coalition put their trust in me. I have made a promise that I will step down but, in the meantime, I have to deliver and I have so short a time trying to compress 10 years of work into two or three years.“
7. Being Approachable
I have to admit that the whole experience of meeting Tun M was nerve racking. However, all of that went away a few minutes after meeting Tun. Tun was extremely approachable and friendly. Tun knows how to make me comfortable and feeling at ease. I believe Tun developed this amazing leadership skill throughout Tun’s career.
We may not think about it often, but smiling is a powerful leadership tool. Tun surely knows how to use the power of smiling. When you scowl or look too intense, it creates a primal reaction in others. Their defenses go up. They become protective and guarded. Tun smiles to make others more relaxed and make them feel more connected. A smile communicates that you are safe and can be trusted.
The meeting wasn’t very long but I get to learn so many things from the Prime Minister. It was inspiring and will become a strong source of motivation for whatever I’m trying to achieve in life. I’ve met and experienced the interaction with a world leader and we Malaysians are fortunate indeed to have Tun Dr Mahathir as our Prime Minister, not once but twice.