Recently I met a very senior manager of a local company who mentioned my father. He remembered my father very well especially because he helped his Chinese friends to draft speeches and letters in Malay and he also helped them to understand the correct protocols that should be used when communicating with very senior officials of the government. This was one generous side of my father which I have always known, but which had never been described to me by a third party, who expressed gratitude for something that I would term “insignificant”; but which was somehow considered by others to be “significant.”
My father started his career in the civil service as a ‘Clerk Grade B’ which in the early 1960s meant that he was a clerical staff member who could speak and write in Malay and English. And soon after he completed his HSC (Higher School Certificate) equivalent to today’s GCE A Levels my grandfather advised him to join the ‘government’ if only as a clerk. My grandfather, a policeman, had the foresight to understand that he needed to send my father to a convent school in Kuala Belait, in order to give him a heads up in the English language, a distinct advantage in those days.
My father then worked his way up from being a clerk to being an Administrative Officer Cadet before being accepted as an officer in the Brunei Administrative Service. In between he was sent to England to study for a Diploma in Administration. My father had worked hard and we knew that he’d always wanted to go back to further his studies. But he did not have the opportunity as he had a growing family. We were not a wealthy family but whatever money he managed to save he used to purchase land and build rented properties, as he wanted to ensure that all his children would have their own property; and that there would be sufficient income for all of us. My father was able to progress to the position of head of a government department and at the culmination of his career he was appointed as Brunei Darussalam’s Ambassador to a few countries and this is where he spent almost half of his career.
I saw how my father’s career progressed. In my younger days, I was able to go to his office and see for myself how he worked, his conduct and his interaction with other people. He worked hard and I remember there was a period of time when he was hospitalised but he continued working. The peon would smuggle in office files for him to work on while he was recuperating on the hospital bed. I learnt a lot from my father and I can only pass on what I observed so that hopefully it can be used by other people so that they too can have an extraordinary career. Some of my father’s ‘be’ rules were-:
1/ Be Wary
Most of us think that we are smart and that we know everything. The younger we are, the more conceited we are and often we think that we know everything. So at first, tread lightly when it comes to sharing your ideas but as time progresses and as you acquire more knowledge, feel free to share more. But always keep in mind – ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’.
2/ Be Nice
This is such a simple piece of advice but people forget to do this. Even a simple but sincere ‘Thank You’ will go a long way. Bosses and colleagues are just like you and me. Everybody wants to be appreciated.
3/ Be a Doer
It is not that hard to shine in any organisation. There are many people who only do the work that is asked of them and put in their five days a week, not a second more. Their indifference can be our gain if we simply offer to take on additional assignments or put in extra time once in a while. Management is always impressed when staff are willing to do more, to roll up their sleeves and pitch in to help. By exhibiting this type of attitude, we can show management that we are committed to hard work, advancement and to team effort.
4/ Be a Listener
Listening is often highly underrated. Sometimes staff are anxious to prove their knowledge and they speak without listening first. This can unintendly result in the person being thought of as a “know-it-all” with no regard for more experienced colleagues. It is best to listen first and learn how to really listen. It is when we understand what people are saying rather than always focusing on our own needs, we can garner respect from our colleagues and be thought of someone who is attentive and cares.
5/ Be Gentle
We must learn how to handle tense interactions. The most important point is to focus on results, not emotions. See others as reasonable, rational and decent human beings even if they hold a view that we strongly oppose. It is only when others feel respected and trust our motives that they will let their guard down and begin to listen, even if the topic is unpleasant. Then you could confidently share your views and invite the other person to do so. If we are open to hearing others’ points of view, then they will be more open to ours.
6/ Be a Team Worker
We need to work in a team, where our colleagues have a variety of thoughts and ideas that need to be respected. We may need to, from time to time, take a junior role to those with more experience. We may have to listen more than talk, and be respectful of others when we have an opposing view. Most importantly, we should ask the supervisor who the best team players are in our organisation and make them our role models.
7/ Be Humble and Patient
Management wants to promote individuals who are willing to prove themselves. Try speaking to other senior officers to get a greater appreciation for how others successfully moved up over time. In most instances, we will learn how other leaders had to roll up their sleeves and prove themselves just like everyone else.
8/ Be Informed
Nothing is more impressive than staff who can relate current events to their industry or job. Read an array of publications to broaden your knowledge.
9/ Be A Good Time Manager
We may want to do everything but we may end up neglecting core activities or stretching ourselves to breaking point. Time-management skills must be inculcated to manage energy and attention.
Haji Rozan currently holds the post of Permanent Secretary (Media and Cabinet) at the Prime Minister’s Office. His busy schedule does not deter his writing where he has the longest running column at The Brunei Times and has written more than 250 articles. He has also published three books. He has also presented a number of papers at international and local conferences and seminars.