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Why we need transformative leadership in Cambodia

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Photo taken on Dec. 14, 2017 shows high-rise buildings in Phnom Penh. Xinhua/Sovannara

In our previous editorials, we stressed that “transformative leadership” was required to address national issues, some of them chronic and some emerging. Some have asked our editors to elaborate on what constitutes transformative leadership.

Here are our responses. Firstly, transformative leaders are bold and proactive. They are willing to take risks if necessary in order to transform society and set high standards of performance. They embrace changes and get ready to adapt and respond to emerging issues.

They are not passive and do not wait for orders and ideas from the top. On the other hand, they take initiatives and propose novel solutions and ideas to the leadership.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a malaise in the government with the lackadaisical attitude of some cabinet ministers who seem reluctant to initiate solutions on their own and always have to wait for the first steps to be taken by the prime minister.

Secondly, transformative leaders are visionaries and future-oriented. They are long-term strategic planners and doers, and look beyond short-term interests. They take incremental and sometimes drastic measures to realise a long-term vision. The challenges for these visionaries are how to propose ideas and institutional mechanisms to realise Cambodia’s vision to become a higher-middle-income country by 2030 and high-income country by 2050. The key question here is how Cambodia can overcome the middle-income trap and build a knowledge-based economy.

Thirdly, transformative leaders look beyond immediate self-interests by putting common interests above all else. They are different from transactional leaders who are only interested in building relationships and institutions that serve their own interests.

Those who want to become political leaders in the 6th mandate, just after the July 29 general election, should bear in mind that transactional leadership does not serve common national interests. They must understand that as public servants they must put people’s interests and aspirations first.

Fourthly, transformative leaders set an example to be followed. We need role models who can inspire others, especially the future generation of leadership in the public sector, from the commune to national levels.

For one, public service awards should be created to incentivize public servants who have adopted transformative leadership. There is no shortage of politicians in Cambodia – in fact we have a glut of them. What Cambodia urgently needs is more professional technocrats and bureaucrats to run the government machinery. The role of political leaders, on the other hand, is mainly to set the vision and direction.

The 6th mandate of the Royal Government should focus on transformative leadership with the ultimate aim of developing a knowledge-based economy. The government needs to identify and utilize talents. In addition to material incentives – and we can emulate the General Department of Taxation which has an incentive scheme for tax officers linked with performance – those with talents also need to be recognised. Without doubt, they want to contribute their ideas and policy inputs to generate positive impacts and changes.

In terms of managing national intellectual assets, the government must develop a strategy to attract qualified people to serve in the public sector. As for now, most of competent people choose to work for private companies or international organizations, that pay higher.

The new government should no longer tolerate nepotism and corruption in order to recruit more talent in the public sector. Meritocracy is vital to strengthening the performance legitimacy of the new government.

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