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Sunday, 13 July 2014

Principle Based Leadership and Young Adults in PNG: an optimistic assessment

Principle-Based Leadership and Young Adults in PNG: an optimistic assessment

A short version of the text below was delivered as a dinner speech at the Divine Word University's Student Representative Council fundraising dinner (Madang Resort, 11 July 2014).
With SRC president

With Hon. Don Polye MP
A- FRAMEWORK. First, I will present a framework to think about principle-based leadership. Leadership can can have a country, organisation or personal scope.

1- COUNTRY. By reading the newspapers, we will conclude there is a global crisis of leadership. Not only is this apparent in the last weeks reading the Post-Courier or The Nation, in many other countries leadership is disappointing.

Democratic principles, human rights and respect for the rule of law are the relevant principles at this level of leadership. When you understand the fundamental principles of democracy, and the role of the state in guaranteeing fundamental human rights, it is not hard to understand what is going on in society. If these principles are correctly understood, exposing corruption and contributing to the healthy development of democratic institutions becomes easy. After all, we have 2 eyes to see, 2 ears to hear, and following these principles can distinguish right from wrong.

The short sighted policy responses to globalisation and migration in some countries, for example, lack proper understanding of underlying global trends, the response is short sighted and selfishly nationalistic. We can blame our leaders, but are they not merely trying to read what the electorate wants? When we are the victims of these policies, we protest. Do we speak up however when we are the victimizers?

In any democracy, we must suffer the current generation of leaders until the next elections or crisis, but for those privileged to work in higher education we have the responsibility to produce the next generation of leaders. We must ask ourselves: are we really using student centred approaches to develop the necessary personal communication and soft, social skills to form and shape the next generation of leaders? Do we speak up in defense of a merit-based career system in which our graduates who have shown leadership get a fair chance? Truly a large challenge, which must keep us busy continuously.

2- ORGANISATION. Principled-based leadership at the national level, is of no effect unless leadership at the organisational and personal level  in place. The state, after all, is made up of many separate organisations, which are supposed to provide a wide array of services paid for by the residents' taxes. Private organisations provide employment and income for the majority of the population, and must also be properly lead.

The relevant principles here are the principles of sound management, which are described in a large body of literature on management sciences. While in any organisation for sustaining success professional management is enough, leadership becomes essential when transformation or change of course is required. In today's rapidly changing world, more often than not organisations need to transform themselves in order to live up to the promises contained in theirs missions. Management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things (Peter Drucker). Leadership is therefore concerned with change, with communication and with strategy.

At this organisation level the 4 Ps of leadership are important:

a- PEOPLE CENTRED. All goals need to be achieved through others. Doing things yourself is not the answer to dealing with failure to perform. When we centre on people, it become apparent immediately we have to take responsibility for our communication. Often we think we have communicated, but we have not. Unless we communicate effectively, we can not expect people to buy into our vision.

b- POSITIVE. Only positive vision will mobilise necessary energies. Don't fall into the blame game trap. Take responsibility for everything: your communication, your lack of results, your personal failures, and work on them, relentlessly. Don't whine as a leader complaining "they all hate me", and hide isolate yourself from necessary feedback of your staff, providers and customers.

c- PROFESSIONAL. Leaders who are not good managers, and allocate the right people and sufficient financial resources to specific tasks will fail. This has been the downfall of many a Vice-Chancellor, for example, who continues to act as an academic instead of focusing on the basics of the university management.

d- PRINCIPLE BASED. Once sound management principles are understood, you can become an effective leader. If not not based on sound management and leadership principles it is based on individual or arbitrary decision-making, selfishness, and personal whim. You need to be explicit about your principles, and walk the walk, not just talk the talk. The principles of sound management and rule based organisations are the relevant principles here.

I am paid to provide leadership to UNITECH, for example. After all the infighting, I am still there, because others failed to provide principle-based, people centred, positive and professional leadership.

At the organisational level, outside help is still needed in PNG organisations from individuals with recent work experience abroad in modern, IT intensive, organisations in developed countries. These can be PNG or foreign passport holders. We need organisational leaders with management skills and integrity, who know how a rule based organisation works. These individuals must have experience in mission driven organisations, which make use of modern IT based communication and knowledge management systems. Know-how beats book knowledge at every turn.

3- PERSONAL. Individuals who show leadership at the national or organisational levels, must demonstrate integrity and personal leadership, if not lack of the latter will erode all achievements in the former. The relevant principles for personal leadership are ethical principles, which can be rooted in a religious faith, or not. Personal leadership is therefore the most fundamental level of leadership. In all cases your personal values and principles must be authentic and consistently applied and exhibit in all your behaviours and expressions.

Young adults must focus on exhibiting this type of personal integrity, be reliable and trustworthy. Once they have credibly established a reputation for personal integrity, can they aspire to leadership position at organisational or national level. You have to LEAD your life, nobody else can do it for you. You better take control over your life, which means you need to responsibility for everything and stop blaming others.

Courage to defend your personal principles and values is proven in the line of fire, not safely behind a fortress' walls. It is only when tested in a crisis situation that the presence or absence of leadership will become apparent. It involves acting on the basis of principles and saying "no" when these principles are violated.

B- EXAMPLES. Let me give you a few examples of leadership at a personal level in the context of this year's and last year's governance crisis regarding UNITECH.

First, let me start with my wife Paulina and myself. Our role in the events was not to lead them, but not to compromise over our principles. Over the last years, we have been tried tested, and we did not run away from hard choices. In the process, we suffered much, but in the end we were victorious, gained respect from many.

Regarding the risks I took when exhibiting personal leadership, people have asked me: Is it hard to stand up against corruption, how do you recognize it, how do you expose it? You expose with your mouth by talking and writing about it, naming things by their proper name, not sugar-coating them.

You recognize corruption or lack of principle-based leadership at all levels with your owb two eyes and ears. Anybody with some character would have done the same, as I did. Of course, I knew evil people were trying to damage my professional reputation with silly and baseless allegations. I had done nothing wrong, however, therefore I just exposed their lies, hoping somebody would stand up for justice to prevail.

Often people have asked me to compromise, to be flexible, or to fit in. During the last SRC class boycott for better governance and against corruption, for example, I was offered by then AG Kerenga Kua a temporary business visa, just to come back to reassure the students. Because the boycott was still ongoing, Chancellor and SRC president put pressure on me to accept. AG tried to solve the situation, my refusal made it easier for him to solve it. In the end, my compromise would have undermined his position, and our only opportunity to achieve a sustainable outcome.

If I did this and sold out the students who wanted me back as VC not as business man, where would my compromising end? I refused, because given the persistent madness of our adversaries, I believed only a sustainable solution would restore stable governance at UNITECH. Without legitimate governance and effective management restored, the university would be doomed. As Vice-Chancellor I am the custodian of the resources of this university, and defender of the University Act where institutional autonomy and academic freedom are enshrined. This were the principles we fought for, I was not going to sell out the students by an easy compromise.

I am pretty bad at compromising my principles, and rather persistent at defending them. My wife however is even worse, and she does not make such a noise about it either. In a less well-known episode, my wife Paulina's passport was stolen by a former UNITECH student, who took advantage of the fact that she went to the toilet in the airplane when she was travelling out of the country. He started to call her, trying to extort her. She refused to be extorted. Where would this end if she had given in? I am truly proud of her.

UNITECH SRC president 2012, Joe Kaowai, was induced by Former Chancellor and Registrar to "keeping the students out of council business", "not put yourself in danger by participating in public demonstrations", "go back to classes", and "focus on the purpose of your studies". The usual mantra.

When on 17 April 2012, just 2 months after starting, I was dismissed for no reason whatsoever, he stopped Chancellor at the gate, asked him to explain. He could not explain, of course, and did not even try. He made a run for it and rammed his car into the gate. The rest is history.

What few people know, is that when he worked in Lae and Port Moresby, Joe was continuously harassed by members of the Old Council. I then helped him fill out the forms for a European Commission Erasmus Mundus Scholarship, which allowed him to do his MBA in Spain for two years. He will be coming back for a short visit in the coming months, and we will welcome him as he deserves at UNITECH.

In 2013, when nobody wanted to talk with me, the brief time Hon. Don Polye MP was Minster of Higher Education, he took the time to meet me in Cairns and listen to my story. He then took his decisions, and at the time there was little he could do to make my case progress.

More importantly, in just 2 months he managed to secure a K500 million for all PNG universities which would imply a complete revamping of all universities. Part of this would be the counterpart funding necessary to unlock the Australian funding part of the Independent Review of the University System (IRUS) or the Namaliu Garnaut report from 2010. For UNITECH, his alma mater, he secured a K50 million budget for 5 years for international accreditation of our Engineering Departments according to the Washington Accords.

These decisions took a lot of effort from Don Polye, and did not benefit him personally, made him popular, or gave him any electoral advantage. It was however what needed to be done, and it can be only lamented that the follow up by his successors has been so lacklustre until now.

UNITECH Chancellor, Sir Nagora Bogan, is another example of personal leadership. Behind the scenes he was working relentlessly to restore legitimate governance to UNITECH with civil servants and national politicians.

When the students in December scared of the government lawyer, who was playing delaying tactics, Council finally came out unanimously for my return. Chancellor quickly paid for an advertisement in the national newspapers clearing my name, and the 3 staff organisations fell in behind him in support.

The students, however were not aware yet of the situation, but that change was brought about by one man, who showed courage and exceptional leadership. In February, Ken Polin, a UNITECH employee, he let me know he was going to hold a one man forum. I did not know what he meant, but soon found out. He took a loud hailer and started to inform the students about the facts regarding the refusal of the government to renew my work permit, and the management's lackadaisical approach to restoring proper governance to UNITECH.

He also asked the students to continue to go to classes and not use violence or intimidation. The students now became aware of the issues, and started to preparations for their peaceful demonstrations. Ken was immediately threatened with dismissal, and later asked to resign. We asked him to stay on. One man can make a big difference.

UNITECH SRC President 2014, Eddie Nagual is another case. At one point, he was threatened by the Minister with the final warning. SOE would be declared, army would move in, the academic year would be cancelled. He was told it was "impossible" for VC Schram to come back. Despite immense pressure, and the insistence of 5 Ministers who came to campus to speak to him, he politely listened, and said "just bring our VC Schram back". Leadership is making the impossible, possible. Well done, Eddie.

During the boycott, however, Eddie was under great pressure from the radical elements, who wanted to attack policy and burn property. Instead of giving in, he circulated a memo where he said he would personally call off the boycott if any violence was used, or property destroyed. This did not make him popular, because students were tired and the radicals were taking over the movement. It did save the movement, and eventually brought success.

Eddie stuck to the principles underlying his leadership, which were non-violence. For this reason, we nominated SRC 2014 for the UNESCO prize for the promotion of tolerance and non-violence. In the course of the year we will hear whether they won the prize.

Now to round things up, countries need smart people with character to develop. Character is formed in the first 6 years of a child's life when our mothers teach us right from wrong, in other words ethical principles. Countries need principle-based leadership by people with character, with integrity, at the state, organisational and personal levels.

Character should be polished and made to shine later in life, or it is forgotten when other aims such as getting rich or being liked become more important, than fundamental aims of leading a good life, and being able to live with yourself. Smart people are formed by challenging their intellectual capabilities. We try to do this in higher education. Smart people without character or principles, however, will only pursue selfish goals, and not contribute to development. They will run themselves, their organisations and their countries into the ground.

With all these excellent young and middle-aged Papua New Guineans, each of them with proven leadership ability, I am therefore optimistic for the future, despite the daily torrent of bad news in the newspapers. My friend, Dr. Roxanne Zolin from QUT has asked: "We can see there are so many excellent people in PNG, demonstrating great personal leadership and principles. Why is the country so messed up?" We have established there are many excellent Papua New Guinean leaders. The country is messed up because its institutions, and the state, are geared to benefit a small elite, and extract as many resources for this elite. In this system, the real leaders do not get a chance. We must make sure, instead, that they do, particularly those of us lucky enough to educate the next generation of leaders.

While at University, young people must try to establish their reputation for leadership, and practice relevant skills. Once they have done this, I am sure their lives and careers will take a turn for the better and take off. I believe therefore that all our graduates should take it as their personal responsibility, that when they work to the state they put as a goal for themselves to speak up against corruption, and create some order in public administration by changing the institutions and the rules that govern them.

Our state institutions in PNG should be more democratic, benefit all, not extract wealth for the benefit of the few. The country can not continue as it did for the past decades to show healthy growth in the size of its economy, but very little development in terms of improvement of health and educational outcomes.

The task of making the state more functional may not be glamourous, it may not make you rich, but you will be doing the right thing and experience tremendous personal satisfaction and respect from your friends and adversaries. We have a large job to do at UNITECH, and if you are excited by the prospect of turning this state organisation around, we have plenty of vacancies.


  1. Very inspirational. Thank you sir

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  3. Full disclosure: at the SRC dinner in Madang I only delivered a shortened version of this speech focusing on the examples of leadership, in order not to steal the thunder from the key-note speaker Don Polye. He spoke very eloquently about spoke very eloquently about the need to respect the rule of law as a necessary condition for engaging in international partnerships.

  4. These ideas certainly talk to progress or, more properly, progressive forces for reducing corruption. The country-organisation-personal perspectives based framework seems very useful for framing and reducing the enormity of the problem and provides good guidance for factor-wise (possibly reductive) solution. Nevertheless, perhaps also recognising and incorporating into the framework the tremendous retardative forces that exist across these country-organisation-personal strata can assist in determining how corruption can best be systemically attacked. For instance, while PNG is almost uniquely blessed with seemingly unbreakable social network support systems -- the group is strongly self-protecting, the cohort seeks to preserve itself even at the expense of witnessed injustices -- those selfsame factors are in our PNG context often inimical to recognising "corruption or lack of principle-based leadership at all levels with your own two eyes and ears. Anybody with some character would have done the same." Character judged this way can look decidedly unlike PNGean character judged in terms of deep cohort loyalties. Thus, in analysis, how does the proferred perspectives-based progressive framework recognise and incorporate perspectives-based retardative forces (as opposed to positing only progressive actions)? More importantly, from a multi-perspectives stance, how does it pronounce one force progressive and another retardative under one perspective when facing opposite pronouncements of these when examined from another view? How would one resolve these tensions, especially when the "retardative" is held "progressive" and vice versa under competing culturally and normatively valued views?

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Indeed, I did not consider "retardative", obstructionist or reactive leadership which is continuously trying to stop all change or revert back to the past. The proof of the pudding is in the eating: if progressive leaders have more followers, retardative forces will be overwhelmed by numbers.

  5. A speech in itself that delivers some good insights and lessons

  6. Indeed life is of course a ‘Journey of Learning’. I read through it and found out that truly our leadership development starts from us. Our personal integrity is the foundation to build a firm and respectable leadership that our people truly require from us to provide true leadership. Our integrity normally builds on such values as; honesty, truthful, trustworthy, committed, faithful, respectful, competence….etc. these values can take time to built in a person’s life, because they defines the true authenticity of a person.
    Almost all the known people who call themselves a leader in this country have compromised into corruption and having destroyed their integrity, but few who have survived are true leaders. No wonder in PNG people who do corrupt things are many, and if someone tries to do something good they start accusing them because their moral actions will reveal their corrupt secrets. Life seems though in PNG but people with moral standings will always be honoured by God and His creations, therefore I believe in my personal values that truly define who I am.
    Thanks, Dr. Scharm you are right VC of Unitech, and I see our fighting for your return as VC to Unitech worth it.

    1. Dear Joseph: I never replied to your comment, my apologies. I hope you still feel this way, it is now up to the UNITECH alumni and students to continue demand a good education, and transparent university governance. As Peter Drucker said: "Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes"

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