Leadership quality of the Myanmar Military Generals

 Leadership quality of  the Myanmar Military Generals

KJ John | Apr 1, 08

Modified and edited the original letter, Leadership for the times” by KJ John in the Malaysiakini .

I have edited and adapted to the Myanmar context from the original article. I hope that KJ John  and Malaysiakini could understand and forgive us for this. They should even be proud that they could contribute a very good article for the fellow Myanmar/Burmese citizens.

True leadership is_

  • the art of setting new directions
  • and then creating the environment for that vision to become possible; not just plausible.
  • Nurturing the right climate for ideas and ideals to flourish

It is just as important as the new directions set.

Follower-ship consequently is_

  • the discipline of acknowledging visionary leadership
  • and the requisite obedience to new and shared directions.

Together they make up what is called_

  • a purpose-inspired life of leadership
  • and follower-ship.

Peter Vaill, my doctoral chairperson, calls this ‘Managing as a Performing Art’ (also the title of a book).

Frankly, both models are only partially relevant under current conditions of rapid, turbulent change; when small ripples become tidal waves of change being washed in, and without any human ability to control them.

Allow me to give ‘my three sen’ worth of advice to Myanmar Military SPDC leadership on differing styles of organisational leadership models that appear to be practiced.  

Unfortunately, within Myanmar Military Generals, the current models of leadership and managing are what I have in the past referred to as ‘cat or dog loyalty models of blind obedience’.

As the Burmese saying goes_

Yae Boo Pauk Tar_ Ma Low Chin Boo.

Yae Par Dar Bae_Low Chin Dae.

Yes! In the Military_

  • the leaders never accept the excuses.
  • Orders must be obeyed and fulfilled.
  • Rank and file must be willing to sacrifice their lives on the line of duty.
  • Soldiers must be like robots.
  • If the owner/handler/player click the button, whether right or wrong button, the robort must obey like a character in the video-game.
  • No reasoning nor analysis of correctness or morality or religious views of the nature of job or consequences of the order and results need to be considered.
  • Order is order.
  • Do or die in the battle field or face the consequences of punishments or court-martialed.

Because more than 70 percent of the electorate are living in urban areas, the  governance of Myanmar would be decided on modern and urban issues. That is enough reason for a predictable and fundamental change in scenario and landscape of today’s Myanmar politics.

The information age contributed to a fundamental and radical change in people’s expectations and perceptions. Urban voters were concurrently informed, misinformed and dis-informed. But, it appears like no one from the military government either heard or really understood this.  

Today, all of that is water under the bridge in urbanised Myanmar towns. These are so-called developed states in urbanisation terms. The arrogance and abuse of power in most states and local military authorities would ensure the outcome of the coming referendum.

Models of leadership

With this as the context, allow me to reflect on the two most prevalent models of leadership visible within all organisations, whether in the corporate or political world or civil society or in the military dictator governments.  

The one demands what I call ‘the cat loyalty syndrome’.

A syndrome is almost like a theological conviction about a truth that the beholder believes in and expects from the rest of the world.

The cat loyalty model demands the symbolic and implicit obedience and loyalty of a cat to the house.

This model of leadership demands that the person is loyal to the home or the institution that one belongs to, and claims full cat-like commitment to it.  

  • Most cats are in fact comfortable in the house
  • even after the owners move out.
  • They simply can carry on with life even with the new owners.
  • To the cat, that house is its home
  • and there is little or no loyalty to the master or owner of the house.
  • Owners can come and go.

This appears to be the prevalent model of leadership in SPDC leaders, demanding absolute obedience to the Tatmadaw and its current leader. Questions over their morality and ethics are a secondary matter.

The ‘dog model of loyalty’ puts a premium on loyalty explicitly to the master, but not so much to the house or organisation. But the more important question is: who is the real master? If one served long with General Ne Win or Senior General than Shwe, then one must always be almost loyal to them, in spite of differing circumstances or different worldviews one holds.

It is a lifetime personal loyalty to the person and relationship, and not so much to the authority or the position of the person. The result is almost blind loyalty to all instructions of the master and almost zero public disagreement with that person. Any disagreement must be handled in the privacy of the relationship.

Maybe Senior General than Shwe, as a strong military-type, also expects this kind of blind loyalty from all the generals.

Under conditions of turbulence, old-style captains cannot expect blind obedience. Truth is what will help all to move forward. Under whitewater conditions of extreme turbulence, what we need is a newer model of leadership, not that of a calm captain of an ocean-going vessel.

Vaill would argue that all leadership today is currently operating under whitewater conditions. Because of the Internet and the convergence of new technologies, leadership models must change to reflect new realities. He might ask, for instance: What is the real meaning of leadership under whitewater rafting conditions?

Message for Senior General than Shwe:

Robert Greenleaf’s ‘servant leadership model’, which emulates the ‘work with me and not for me’ motto should actually be the right one to replace Than Shwe’s ‘Listen to me, obey my orders’ military doctrine. There were many good speeches and slogans but things were done wrongly on the ground.  

  • Myanmar Military should work with the people.
  • Myanmar Military should work with all the opposition groups.
  • Myanmar Military should work with the NLD including their present leaders including Daw aung San Suu Kyi.
  • Myanmar Military should work with all the Ethnic Minority groups.
  • Myanmar Military should work with all the Religious Minority groups.

Senior General, you need their cooperation, their advise, their blessings to face the whole world. Their experience can tell you the truth about what is happening on the ground.

  • You need to work with them and not ask them to work for you.
  • You need to work with them  and no need to lock them up in the jails.
  • You need to work with them  and no need to lock them up in in their houses as house arrests.
  • You need to work with them  and no need to be afraid to talk to them.
  • You need to work with them  and no need to be afraid to start a dialogue with them, discuss and negotiate with them.
  • You need to work with them  and start a  national reconciliatory process which could eventually protect you, other SPDC generals, families, friends and cronies.

They will not and cannot do this as if you refuse to allow them or rufuse to listen to them or you recognize and respect them as the valuable personalities in their own rights. And they have as much if not more experience to provide leadership under whitewater conditions.

The ‘servant leadership model’ requires one to become chairperson of the board but not try to lead like an Old Captain. The person does not table papers but listens to ideas and steers the discussion towards a consensus decision.

Peter Drucker calls this ‘wise leadership’.

My three sen worth of suggestions for Sr General Than Shwe:

  • Let the people ask any question they choose and encourage open dialogue.
  • Do not protect anyone, let each carry their own weight or sack them if need be.
  • Ask all your generals to sincerely work with you and not for you.

You must start out right with good intentions, by making everyone  in SPDC to declare their assets publicly.

The people will judge you in the coming referendum and election by what you do and not just what you say.

Integrity means both –

  • doing what you say
  • and then preaching only what you have already practiced.

Let me end with a quote from John F Kennedy, who in his first speech as US president said: “Ask not what the country can do for you but ask what you can do for the country.”  

Myanmar Tatmadaw should review both the cat and dog loyalty models, and try to distinguish how every public servant and military official can serve first the public and national interest (defined as the interest of all the people of Myanmar, not just any one group regardless of how we carve the cake).

 

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