3 Leadership Nuggets From Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari

Mar 30, 2018 1 Min Read

Of courage, servanthood and transformation


A few weeks ago, I was in Kuching, Sarawak for the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Leaderonomics and the Sarawak Leadership Institute, led ably by its executive director, Datuk Dr Sabariah Putit and chief operating officer (COO) Segaren Arumugam.

Sarawak Chief Minister (CM) Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg was also present as a witness to our signing and it was my first time having the opportunity to connect with him and hear him.

It was great to see him so passionate about developing Sarawakians and enabling them to become great leaders through our content and partnership, as he was also keen to see his people grow into digital leaders.

Not only was Abang Johari a leader with clarity of vision, he also provided me with many insightful words of wisdom on what it meant to be a leader.

I thought I should quickly share some of his leadership nuggets.

  1. Leaders must take risks 

Abang Johari truly believes that great leaders can only achieve greatness if they take risk. It is part of a leader’s responsibility. If you are afraid of taking risks and just want to maintain status quo, you are not a true leader.

He shared how he took a risk to set up Sarawak’s very own petroleum company, Petroleum Sarawak Bhd (Petros).

“It’s not easy to announce Petros due to factors such as its status and the laws that are involved.

“But I dare to take the risk because I believe that we have the legal argument in our favour, and I think we are on the right track because we feel that our legal position is very clear in the Constitution and it is the supreme law of the federation,” he stated during his speech at the Leadership Institute’s Appreciation Night dinner prior to our MOU signing ceremony.

A good definition of risk-taking is as follows: “Undertaking a task in which there is a lack of certainty or a fear of failure.”

At the heart of it, the key issue why people fail to take risk is fear – fear of failure, fear of looking foolish, fear of not accomplishing what we set out to do and fear of repercussions.

Fear cripples risk-taking. A risk-taking leader confronts these fears and are courageous enough to move forward.

American author Seth Godin once quoted, “Playing it safe and not taking a risk is probably the most dangerous thing you could do in today’s rapidly changing and highly competitive business environment.”

Abang Johari takes calculated risks, just like other great leaders do. They weigh in all matters, and are courageous enough to do the right thing – even though the stakes may be high.

To be a leader means being brave.

  1. Leaders protect 

What is the right thing to do when you are a leader?

Abang Johari believes that leaders must put others before themselves. This means putting the interest of those you lead above your own.

When he first took office as CM, he shared that he pledged he would do his best to protect Sarawak and Sarawakians. One key area he needed to put right was to help put Sarawak on the global digital map.

How does a leader know what are right things that need to be done for others? The answer is obvious as you study great leaders.

Leaders always ask questions. They always probe.

By asking questions like “What should our shared vision be?”, “What are our gaps?”, “What is holding us back?”, “What are the challenges curtailing us from greatness?”, we start to understand what needs to be done.

Great leaders don’t just talk about what needs to be corrected, they go about driving change.

  1. Leadership is about change

Most great leaders are defined by how they changed the world around them. Mahatma Gandhi changed India, while Steve Jobs changed the music and telecommunications industry.

Leadership is always about driving positive change.

Abang Johari echoes similar sentiments. He declared, “I believe I have that power in me and this is what leadership is all about. We must be daring enough to bring changes to ourselves and the country.”

By asking the right questions, he knew building a digital economy in Sarawak was crucial, saying, “Sarawak needs to move away from conventional economy and embrace digital transformation, or risk being left behind.”

The key reason for doing so was that “in Sarawak, where youths comprised about 60% of the population, the shift towards a digital economy would give opportunities to Internet-literate young people to be actively involved in the digitisation of the economy.”

Bringing it altogether

Leadership is about clarity of vision. It is about knowing how far you are from your vision and then ensuring you drive the change needed to make that vision a reality.

Are you a leader that has a clear vision? Are you asking enough questions?

Are you a brave leader, willing to take risks to bring about a better society or organisation? Are you willing to work hard to make that change a reality?

Be a leader!

(From left to right) Segaren, Sabariah, Sarawak State Secretary Tan Sri Datuk Amar Mohamad Morshidi Ghani, Abang Johari and the writer at the MOU signing ceremony. Image | Leadership Institute of Sarawak Civil Service


What’s Currently Brewing In Sarawak?

Sarawak CM Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg has a vision to transform Sarawak into a high-income state and digital powerhouse by 2030.

Since he was sworn in in Jan 2017, he has been actively working to lay down plans and initiatives to develop the state.

Here are some of the key initiatives:

  1. Digital economy

  • A mobile app, Sarawak Pay, was launched in Nov 15, 2017 to enable cashless payment. Users merely have to scan a QR code on a bill or as displayed by a retailer to make a transaction.
  • Pilot education labs for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or STEM) in six schools, 10 competency courses and 10 short courses for technical and vocational education and training (or TVET) were carried out as part of the state’s intervening programme to produce a high quality human capital.
  • The Sarawak Multimedia Authority (SMA) was established to spearhead and regulate the state’s digital economy initiatives. The Sarawak Digital Economy Corporation (SDEC) is responsible to implement these initiatives.
  1. Transportation & public infrastructure

  • With a purpose to improve connectivity and to reduce traffic congestion, light rail transit (or LRT) will be constructed across the state.
  • Dilapidated schools in Sarawak will undergo redevelopment.
  • Residents across the state can now have access to sufficient water through the Water Grid project. The project will commence in October.
  1. Finance

  1. Education

  • Scholarships will be given to 40 students per year to study medicine in Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas).
  • The increased revenue of timber will aid Yayasan Sarawak (The Sarawak Foundation) in providing more opportunities to students and therefore develop the state’s human capital.


This is not the end of the list. There is so much more being done to boost the state’s economy. Visit www.cm.sarawak.gov.my to find out more.



Roshan Thiran is group CEO of Leaderonomics, a social enterprise passionate about transforming the nation through leadership and youth development. If you are keen to volunteer (and learn leadership) to help school kids grow as leaders, email youth@leaderonomics.com. To follow Roshan daily leadership advice, follow him on Facebook , Twitter or LinkedIn.


Prethiba is a writer and content curator with Leaderonomics. She is passionate about impacting people through the written word. She believes that our lives are solely written by us, and thus the power to change for the better lies with us. Get in touch with her at editor@leaderonomics.com.

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This article is published by the editors of Leaderonomics.com with the consent of the guest author. 

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