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’A fish rots from the head’
  - Comment -
By: Professor Tan Sri Dato’ Dzulkifli Abd Razak
Source: New Sunday Times - June 15, 2014
   

IT was refreshing to read Deputy Education Minister Datuk Mary Yap’s column on education in a tabloid last week. It is also somewhat overdue!

A Guru Cemerlang even before she was appointed to the cabinet, she writes from experience unlike armchair advocates. Her focus on leadership “beyond the technical and professional aspects of school (or, for that matter, universities) management" is sound and timely. It is also the aim of the Education Blueprint in realising the oft-talked about transformation at all levels of education.

I have always found that the word pemimpin conveys a more comprehensive meaning than “leader”. For a start, it not about that one person who sticks out like a sore thumb, ready to exercise command-and-control or micro-manage. It is someone who is always ready to walk hand-in-hand (which is what pimpin literally means) as described by Yap. Someone who is ready to share and work as a team through thick and thin for the sake of education and the students in particular.

The selflessness and sacrifice of a pemimpin is often not visible. A pemimpin is less hierarchical in the sense that his comfort zone is very well spread out and he can fit in almost anywhere, often brushing protocol aside.

From my observations, teachers serving in the rural and remotest parts of the country understand this better because of the cultural nuances that nurture and embrace the pimpin principle which has lost its essence in a more modern setting.

The elements of “relationship” and “collegiality” are vital. And more so in an educational setting where learning takes place best when the environment is more stable, cordial and friendly, based on a high degree of trust and honesty (intellectually or otherwise).

Consultation and participatory leadership are inherent in the concept of pemimpin where consensus or near consensus is the ultimate goal. It, no doubt, can be transformational if it strikes a rallying point for a quantum change, and is at once democratic in fervour.

This makes participatory leadership even easier to practise daily by harnessing diversity, building engagement, creating collective transformational actions, yet remaining respectful and inclusive in its human encounters. As Nelson Mandela said: “Democracy is a process and democracy in a university is a process that we have to work at every day.”

In such a conducive milieu, people (including students) speak more freely and frankly without the anxiety of making mistakes (which is an integral part of learning) or the fear of being reprimanded (at times for no rhyme or reason other than someone is overshadowed in the process) — more so when it comes to the untried and untested as Yap suggested.

A pemimpin does not have to pull rank to remind subordinates who is the boss (who most likely is not leader material and needs to intimidate others when challenged).

Opportunities are more open and more readily accessible rather than being assigned to “camps” of a chosen few.

Figuratively, there is no better axiom to describe the situation than "a fish rots from the head". Be mindful though it is often not the person per se but more of the practice that causes the decay.

Here again, a pemimpin is less likely to err when collective leadership is practised instead of a one-man show made worse by a burning ambition to forge a legacy. The rotting head will invariably affect the entire body sooner or later.

Unfortunately, the rot spreads across the board, regardless of fancy designations or the size of the institution/organisation at his helm.

As far as the rotting head is concerned, size does not matter. The saying “too big to fail” does not hold true as current events show. While school principals may want to be a pemimpin, they too may be victims of other rotting heads, and this goes on to bigger heads. Indeed, the bigger the fish head which rots, the worse the stench!


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