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
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
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
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