The value of advisers

It’s really sad that the previous regime in Malaysia ended with the arrest of its last prime minister, Najib Razak. It’s a lesson for all, and, especially for the members of the new Cabinet, that what happened to Najib can happen to any of us.

No one is incorruptible. Every human being, by virtue of being human, is corruptible. The wise among us realise our limitations and act meekly, checking to be constrained by the rule of law and ethics.

If you are thrust into public office that responsibility is even greater because you have access to power to use for the good of the people who placed you in that seat of power or to misuse and abuse.

That’s the reason for checks and balances. They are set up on the premise that human nature is corruptible and needs laws and conventions to keep us in line.

Sometimes, though, leaders ignore the checks and balances. That’s another reason why we must develop the culture of holding leaders to the rule of law and speaking out swiftly when any transgresses.

Such public debate must be encouraged so that leaders are exposed to dissenting voices because the latter might be an aspect of truth that they can’t afford to ignore. Yes, there is much scurrilous politicking in our public debates. There’s a great deal of mud-slinging and name calling. Yet, these shouldn’t be dismissed because they reveal the depth of sentiments people feel.

Good leaders will recognize those sentiments while ignoring the language, and take note. Good leaders are also able to identify the dissenters who speak honestly and argue logically. They take note of the latter, too.

When leaders take note of dissenting views and factor them into their decision-making processes, they protect themselves from being insulated by their own perspective. It is that insulation that stops them from seeing the truth right before them and adjusting their thinking to act honestly.

When leaders reach that state of insularity, they won’t be able to see no matter what people say and advise. That’s a sure sign that it’s time for them to go.

There is, however, one group of people who can break the insularity — the advisers. Leaders should nurture a group of advisers who will speak the truth — no matter what the consequences.

These are the advisers who correctly read the pulse on the ground and present the alternative points of view with facts, statistics and logical argument to their leader. They will fight for what is right at personal cost because they know their allegiance is to a higher authority rather than their bosses.

These advisers are not the types who feel they must show their loyalty to their bosses by conforming to his or her perspective and insisting and imposing on others to do the same. The latter are the yes-men and they are as dangerous as insular leaders because they put a burden on the people to conform, even when they know it isn’t right or necessary.

Notice that none of Najib’s so-called advisers have spoken up to his defence? If, from the start, his advisers had advised him to change to a better course of action, I wonder if he and they would be where they are now.

On the other hand, if an adviser is willing to break ranks to show his boss the “error of his ways”, he or she may just save him. Take US president Donald Trump, for instance. Isolated in his own world, he really believes it is for the good of the nation to build a wall between the US and Mexico and separate children from their parents caught crossing the border. Until his wife tweeted it was wrong and other First Ladies did the same! Then, he backed off.

It took one person — the First Lady — who broke convention and spoke up against her husband to get him to change his mind.

I’m not implying here that advisers should go against their bosses. Nothing of that sort. But when advisers are caught up conforming to their bosses’ expectations, they will be unable to make a stand for what is clearly right. Such advisers usually give excuses such as “We have no choice”, “I need the job” or “They are paying us to do the job. Let’s just do it and keep quiet”!

Operating in such a culture where conformity is equated to loyalty to your boss, they’ll not expose a wrong-doing for fear of losing their jobs.

When something is not quite right, whether as an adviser or an ordinary citizen, speak up. Our silence means tacit approval. Our dissent means an opportunity to rethink an issue, confront the wrong and correct ourselves.

To the new leaders, I hope they will get good, fearless counsel!

 

 

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