Malaysia lacks great leaders, says Zeti


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia needs leaders who can make a difference and create a better future for the people. They need to be in step with a changing environment.

This is the view of former Bank Negara Malaysia governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz.

She added, in an interview with The Edge, that gender diversity was important in the workplace and that the education system needed change.

Zeti, who is Iclif Leadership and Governance Centre chairman, said Malaysia faced a leadership deficit in both the public and private sectors.

Iclif, an Asia-based international centre established by Bank Negara in 2003, provides executive education, research, coaching and consulting services in leadership development, organisational effectiveness and corporate governance.

Zeti told The Edge: “If you look around the world, there has been a lot of discussion about leadership in the public sector [and] in the corporate sector. I believe there is a leadership deficit that we not only need to create new leaders that can manage in this new environment but [also for] leaders to reinvent themselves.

“The world has changed so much due to changes in technology and an increased [level of] uncertainty that has been challenging; all these changes have generated greater visibility, scrutiny and expectations of leadership. We want leaders who can make a difference and create a better future. Essentially, that is how Iclif has defined leadership – and that is what we seek to develop.”

Zeti, who was the central bank governor for 16 years before her retirement in April last year and had won many accolades for her work, said the education system needed to evolve with the rapid changes in the global environment.

“Looking back at history, there were many great leaders who took our country forward, during the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and even the 1990s, but then the environment changed significantly and it really demanded a new education [system].”

Speaking about the role of women in leadership, Bank Negara’s first female governor said gender was never a problem at Bank Negara and that when she left the central bank, 38% of senior management were women.

She added: “We never did anything special to enhance women. All we did was to give everyone the opportunity to develop and improve themselves, and women took that and rose to key positions in certain departments, heading projects and so on.

“I believe [gender] diversity is very important because people think differently. Every project we had, had diverse membership to it because you want to hear different perspectives, and issues from different angles and so on to get that best outcome.”

Saying it was important for women to have a strong support system at home, she revealed that she had tremendous backing from her family, including her husband, mother and children.

Iclif CEO and executive director Rajeev Peshawaria, who was also at the interview, said in today’s socially connected world, it was important for leaders to “walk the talk” and have the right values and live these values in their daily life. They needed to be clean, he added.