“To be a great leader, one needs to have good strategies, be knowledgeable and able to predict the future” Mahathir Mohamed
After becoming the Prime Minister of Malaysia in 1981, Mahathir Mohammed has changed a lot of polices and economic strategies, which reflected positively on Malaysian economy. In his era, Malaysia has changed from a poor agricultural country to a very rich industrial modern country, Where he was known as the Father of Modernization for Malaysia . He has made a lot of achievements on economic and political level in Malaysia and was also known for his extreme critique of Western anti-Islamic policies . He is truly an extraordinary man and multi-talented leader where he was able to achieve a breakthrough in a short period of time. I will talk in this paper about the leadership qualities of Mahathir Mohammed and some of the most important achievements and his leadership styles and then I will address some of the negatives that have marred his tenure.
Dr Mahathir Mohamad was born on December 20, 1925 in Seberang Perak, Alor Setar, Kedah1. He was the youngest of nine children. His father Mohamad bin Iskandar was a half Indian origin while his mother Wan Tampawan was Malay. His family came from a very modest background, as they were not aristocrats, now were they particularly inclined religiously or politically. As schools were closed during the Japanese occupation of Malaya in World War II, Mahathir started off in small businesses. He first started selling coffee, and later was a hawker of snacks, mostly pisang goring (banana fritters)
He started his education by attending a Malay vernacular school before continuing his education at the Sultan Abdul Hamid College in Alor Setar. He continued his study and attended Medical Study at King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore2.
He graduated in 1954 from medical college, and started his carrier as a doctor in Penang General Hospital3. in 1957 he establish his own clinic. In 1964, he was elected to parliament, as a member of the United Malays National Organization (UMNA).
3- Mahathir’s Characters and Personality.
a. Look to leadership. Mahathir Mohammed was fond of leadership and love of work is done correctly. It was remarkable among his friends and peers for his ability to persuade. It also looks like the features of the seriousness and purposefulness.
b.Strategic and Visionary Way of Thinking.
(1) Mahathir Muhammad was preferred to study law, but it did not happen where he got a scholarship in medicine as explained above he wanted to study law because he enjoy debating4. But medical profession helped him a lot in his work as a politician. He has earned the status of diagnosis and treatment, bringing diagnose diseases of Malaysian nation economically, politically and socially. The way in dealing with the problems of his country’s was like a relationship of doctor and his patients.
(2)Mahathir Mohammed, after his visit to Japan and South Korea could be a vision of his country through dissemination of education and rely on human resources In what was called ‘Look East’ policy5. He was inspired by the Japanese and Korean experience in modernization and future vision6.
(3)Mahathir Mohammed has development a plan is to include the development of all parts of the country, including remote areas. Has taken care to build roads and bridges linking the cities and villages of Malaysia as interested in the elaboration of the economic vision for Malaysia 20207. Mahathir Mohammed was keen to build a strong network of contacts in order to contribute to advancing the Malaysian economy, and thus was able to enter the country to the era of fast communication in the early eighties of the last century.
(1)Mahathir is believed in leadership by example8. He was trying to implant the values of Work loving in Malaysian people by the example, he was spending long hours at work and hardly takes a vacation, but he continues to work to improve the economic situation of Malaysia (2)He was very influential Mahathir Mohammed at the political level as part of the continuation of his rule in Malaysia for 22 years ‘Barisan Nasional’ and influence the people continuing support the ledge9.
d.A Strict Disciplinarian.
(1) Early in his inception Mahathir Mohammed has earned status of strict and seriousness in education and dealing. He was like his father, cares about the education of his children and sometimes treated them harshly10. In leading the country as a Prime Minister some example of this characteristic can be viewed in the case of his decision in 1988 whereby on his advice for conducting tribunal to Lord president Tun Saleh Abbas for “gross misconduct”resulting the King sacked Lord president Tun Saleh Abbas, and two supreme court judges were also dismissed. Another example was in 1998 his Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim was sacked and arrested under the Internal Security Act and served a 15 year jail sentence on charges of corruption and sexual misconduct11.
e.Multi-talented Person. Mahathir Mohammed was a multi-talented person and deep thinking, he was able to deal with a lot of problems at one time and decisively. He has been known about these qualities during his study in the university where he was able to lead more than student group also founded some student magazines at the university. He established a medical journal and was its editor called `The Cauldron’ It also wrote a book before becoming prime minister, called the Malay Dilemma and the book was banned until he became prime minister 12.
4-An Analysis of Dr Mahathir Leadership.
a. Leadership: it is very clear that Tun Dr Mahathir has a good character of leadership whereby his personality and character has inspired people to achieve their Goals. You can see His leadership successes by achievement of the country and also it can be seen byThe high level of income and living standards of the people of Malaysia. It can also touch on the impact of his neighboring countries such as Indonesia, which is trying to inspire experience of Mahathir Mohammed in the economy.
b. Management: It is proven that he was successes in managing the government structure, Where he was able to run the government in a good way, which led to the achievement of the desired during his tenure. He has good plans for the continued progress and ensure the achievement of the objectives of Vision 2020 c. Decision Making: By looking at his way of thinking it is shown that Mahathir has a strategic and critical thinking. This can be seen from his idea of The Look East Policy and The Vision 2020 whereby it is shown of his concern and awareness about the nation and the direction to go for Malaysia and the benefits to all Malaysian people.
He had also shown that he is a careful person in making his decision, even when he wanted to announced his resignation, he did not tell anybody including his wife but only asking his deputy Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi whether he is ready to be his successor. He wanted his announcement to be a public statement as he would not able to retract and he do not want any body to dissuade him for the resignation .
d. Style of Leadership: From the discussion of his personality and character, it is seen that Dr Mahathir was applying both autocratic and democratic style of leadership. As a leader, he used his power and being strict to enforce the policies or plan that he had decided to achieved certain objectives but at the mean time he is also admit in his memoirs, A Doctor in the House as in the government and in the organization, all of the achievement are not only by himself but by everyone in the organization.
5- Leadership weaknesses of Dr Mahathir the biggest failure of his 20 year rule that his inability to create a better work ethic among fellow ethnic Malay despite affirmative action policies in their favour has been13.
In conclusion, it is identified that Tun Dr Mahathir has applied not only one style of leadership but he had applied the autocratic and democratic style depending on situation and he had shown that he had manage it accordingly and proven by his great achievement.
There are so many good thing about Tun Dr Mahathir from his personality and character that can be adapt to become a good leader. Tun Mahathir has shown that, to become a leader, one must have the desire to be a leader then only he or she can become the truly leader and he has prove that the important of knowledge is a vital aspects to be a successful leader. Only by having wide knowledge the leader can success his leadership whereby a leader without knowledge will lead his follower to the uncertainty. With the knowledge a leader can develop his vision by foreseeing the right direction or what his organization should be heading to or what to become. Another principle that has been practiced by Tun Mahathir was lead by the example.
A good leader should have always shown to his follower or subordinate a good example by himself. Only by showing a good example the follower will given their respect followed by having confidence to be lead by the leader. Another point to be highlighted here is that, in approaching the follower, the leader should not practicing only one type or style of leadership. The style should always depend on situation, in order to get the affirmative guarantee to achieve the objectives in executing tasks given the autocratic style seem to be the best but throughout the process, the democratic way might encourage the follower to voluntarily impart their contribution and fully cooperation to achieve a better results.
The mentor mentee concept can also become a factor to a success in leadership as in this case, Tun Mahathir’s father was the person who had inspired him the importance of revere learning and knowledge that has lead him to his success later on throughout his life.
1-Mahathir Mohamad (2011). A Doctor in the House: The Memoirs of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Petaling Jaya, Selangor: MPH Publishing. pp843.
2- The Defence Leadership Centre, Defence Academy of United Kingdom (2004). Leadership in Defence. p2-4.
3- BTDM Ser: 122/ Sep-Oct 2003. Tentera dan Dr Mahathir . p4.
4- Linda D. Henman. Leadership: Theories and Controversies. p1.
5- Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, Tun Dr Mahatir Mohamad; Leaders. Retrieved 01:30, June 10, 2012 from
6- C. S. Kuppuswamy (2001). Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in power for two decades-An assessment. South Asia Analysis Group. Retrieved June 10, 2012 at 2345 from
7- Retrieved 23 Jun 12 at 2330 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahathir.