Father leadership examples are shown and illustrated in the Brunei context.
To be referenced as Low Kim Cheng, Patrick (2008) Father Leadership with Special
Reference to Negara Brunei Darussalam , E-Leader, Chinese American Scholars
Association: CASA Conference, Krakow, Poland. 9 11 June 2008.
The Father Leadership Way
With Special Reference to Negara Brunei Darussalam
(also available in http://www.g-
Prof. Dr. Patrick Low Kim Cheng
University Brunei Darussalam, Brunei/
Associate University of South Australia
Several countries in Asia such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, their leaders
and governments practise a benevolent type of leadership, the father leadership style.
Paternal or maternal authority captures the expectations of concern and nurtures the belief
that people or staff should be treated like the leader s family members, and that the all-
in-the-family feeling and the leader-followers bo nding/ relationship matters. Desirable
qualities in a leader are to be expert and knowledgeable knowing what to do in a wide
range of situations for the people s good. The leader cares and shows concern for the
well-being and welfare of his people. In this paper, it is this author s conviction that
leading, the father leadership way, can create a competitive advantage for growing
transitional economies. Here in Negara Brunei Darussalam, His Majesty Sultan Haji
Hassanal Bolkiah Mu izzaddin Waddaulah s leadership based on the national philosophy
of Melayu Islam Beraja (Malay, Muslim and Monarchy) can, in some ways, be seen as
father leadership in action. Father leadership examples are then shown and illustrated in
Keyword: Father Leader, Parental Leadership, Brunei Darussalam, High-relationship,
Introduction & Background
In Asia, several countries such as India (Brislin, 1993:275; Kumar and Saxena, 1983;
Sinha, 1980), Indonesia (Low, 2005), Kazakhstan (Low and Tabyldy, 2007; Low, 2006;
Low and Tabyldy, 2005), Japan (Hanada and Yoshikawa, 1991), Malaysia (Low, 2008)
and Singapore (Low, 2005), their leaders and governments practise a benevolent type of
leadership, the father leadership style. It seems that critics and/ or European and North
American readers would probably find the actual term and the explanation of
organisational practice of father leadership to be gender-biased. That is, that the
wholesale use of the male gender term appears to preclude women who may have these
characteristics (and perhaps raises the question is there a term such as mother
leadership which can be characterised in the same way?). To respond to this, the author
has these to say: the term father leadership is u sed to refer to both male and female
leadership and more so, it reflects paternal or maternal leadership. Paternal or maternal
authority captures the expectations of concern and nurtures the belief that people or staff
should be treated like the leader s family members (Low and Mohd Zain, 2008). Besides,
that all-in-the-family feeling is nurtured (Low a nd Tabyldy, 2007; Low, 2007a; Low,
2006; Low, 2005).
Desirable qualities in a leader are to be expert and knowledgeable knowing what to do
in a wide range of situations for the people s good. The leader cares and shows concern
for the well-being and welfare of his people. In the Asian context, as the leader grows
older, all the more (s)he is wiser with his or her expanded experiences (Low, 2002; Asma
The Objectives Of the Paper
In this paper, the author puts forth two arguments: One, the key style of leadership in
Brunei Darussalam is father leadership. Two, leading, the father leadership way, can
create a competitive advantage for growing transitional economies such as Brunei
Darussalam. In Brunei Darussalam, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah
Mu izzaddin Waddaulah s (the 29th ruler of the sole surviving ancient Malay kingdom in
South-east Asia) leadership based on the national philosophy of Melayu Islam Beraja
(Malay, Muslim and Monarchy) can, in some ways, be analysed as father leadership in
action. Father leadership examples are then shown and illustrated in the Bruneian context.
National Ideology - MIB: Melayu Islam Beraja
National ideology, created to foster national identity, can also serve as a basic source of a
particular country s national culture or values. Examples include the Pancasila (five
principles) in Indonesia (Sedyawati, 1996: 55; Clammer, 1998: 238) and the Rukun
Negara (Articles of Faith of the State) in Malaysia (Syed Hassan, 1996: 98; Andaya &
Andaya; 2001: 299 300; Clammer, 1998: 238).
In Brunei Darussalam, MIB [Melayu Islam Beraja or 3M: Malay Muslim (Islamic)
Monarchy] is actively promoted as a national ideology (Hussainmiya, 2006; Omar, 1996:
13 14). With its MIB philosophy and with a small po pulation of less than 400,000
people, Brunei with the Sultan as the Head of State and Government is able to bring
about a sort of an all-in-the-family situation; the majority of the Bruneians are loyal to the
people-caring Sultan (Low and Mohd Zain, 2008). Much national unity exists, with the
majority of Bruneians seeing the Sultan as fatherly, the provider, caring and showing
concern for their welfare and wellbeing. Bruneians also enjoyed many benefits and these,
among other things, include no income tax, free education and health services.
Besides, one can argue that Islam subscribes to father or parental leadership. Take for
example, in Islam, the followers are asked: what a ctions are most excellent? To gladden
the heart of a human being, to feed the hungry to remove the wrongs of the injured
(Al-Mamun Al-Suhrawardy, 1992: 89). They are then told: God s pleasure is a father s
pleasure; and God s displeasure is a father s displ easure (Al-Mamun Al-Suhrawardy,
1992: 103). The leader can be seen as a father af ter all, the best of your leaders are
those whom you love and they love you; you pray for them and they pray for you (Low,
2007: 38; Philips, 2002).
The creation is as God s family (Al-Mamun Al-Suhr awardy, 1992: 75). All God s
creatures are His family; and he is the most beloved of God who doeth most good to
God s creatures (Al-Mamun Al-Suhrawardy, 1992, cit ed in Low, 2007). The leader, like
the father, needs to show care and concern to his followers, helping his fellow-creatures
in the hour of need (Low, 2007: 38; Al-Mamun Al-Su hrawardy, 1992).
Whoever is kind to His Creatures, God is kind to h im; therefore be kind to man on
earth (Al-Mamun Al-Suhrawardy, 1992, cited in Low, 2007). Kindness is therefore
stressed, and kindness is a mark of faith: and who ever hath not kindness hath not faith
(Al-Mamun Al-Suhrawardy, 1992, cited in Low, 2007). Such care, kindness and doing
good to one s fellow human beings can thus be overall seen as father leadership. The
father leader is normally gentle after all, it is said that, whoever hath been given
gentleness hath been given a good portion, in this world and the next . God is gentle and
loveth gentleness (Al-Mamun Al-Suhrawardy, 1992, c ited in Low, 2007). During the
2002 Brunei Independence Day celebrations (Borneo Bulletin, 2002), His Majesty in his
titah (official speech and directive) stressed the importance of God-fearing citizens and
pointed out that a citizen with strong faith in Allah the Almighty would not steal nor kill
As a devout Muslim and a leader of religion in the country, His Majesty has always
emphasised that success in this life and hereafter could only be realised if one upholds the
Holy Quran as a guiding light. His Majesty pursues a rigorous policy of propagating
Islam in the nation; he has introduced Islamic principles and ideas in his government. In
order to achieve this, His Majesty has built many religious schools, and centres of Islamic
religious teachings/ studies and mosques nation-wide to ensure that citizens and residents
are able to continue to learn, enriching their Islamic knowledge and performing piety
towards Allah with more humility.
People & Culture
When speaking to various people, it generally appears that the psychological insights and
inclinations towards father leadership lie in a person s perspective; or boils down to how
individual sees the individual s father. Individuals have different views of his (her) father.
Some fathers are good, caring and listen to their children, some are not. Be it as it may
be, in reality, there is no such thing as a perfec t father , but it can also be argued that
national ideology, religion and culture may mould or induce people to accepting the
practice of father leadership.
Father leadership is indeed practised in Brunei, a nd it s also reinforced by the people
and culture in Brunei Darussalam [as expressed by one of the several people whom this
researcher spoke to]. The Bruneian Malays are also well known for their values such as
respecting one s elders, obedience to one s parents , being loyal and obeying one s
leaders, as well as showing empathy and being considerate to others. (Haji Abdul Aziz
1992). Such cultural values, along with the national MIB national philosophy, thus
reinforce the practice of Father Leadership in the country.
Interestingly, one youth, in her twenties, intimated these [italics mine] to the researcher:
The younger generation may not view father leadership as the answer or being effective
since they tend to be more rebellious (an adolescent or growing up issue?) against the
father, just in the family situation. Westernisation and even lack of religious knowledge
or training may have brought about this phenomenon. However, this youth added that,
as a Muslim, she would subscribe to father leaders hip , besides, it brings about much
togetherness, family closeness among the people as well as unity. The same youth also
expressed her further agreement, indicating that there was a strong link between such the
leadership style, respecting one s elders and the Malay culture. She then cited the Malay
saying, Orang tua lebih banyak makan garam , meaning the elders have more
experiences, and they are respected; the saying also implies, with age comes wisdom .
Traditionally in Bruneian Malay families, key decisions made are normally vested on the
father as the head of the family, and he is the sole authority regarding family matters. If
the father has made a decision, the children do not question the decision(s) made; it is
more of a one way communication. Nonetheless, nowadays, since the children are more
exposed to external influences such as knowledge and exposure gained from formal
education, children tend to seek, request and/ or demand the rationale and justifications
for the decision(s) made to ensure or take the comfort that the right decisions are made.
Yet at the same time, they still obey while respecting the father as the head of the family.
Planning & Directing
Under the reign of the Sultan, the nation has enjo yed uninterrupted peace and much
prosperity for almost four decades (Asia, Inc.; 20 06: 60). The people are happy. Oil and
gas export revenues and government income has also made possible for Bruneians to
enjoy a standard of living that is among the highest in the world (Asia, Inc, 2006).
Policies of economic diversification are also currently effected to generate higher
Generally-speaking and in the Asian context, the father leader knows best, and he gives
direction to his people. His vision guides his followers. In his Titah, the Sultan gives
direction to his people. The Deputy Sultan and Crown Prince Haji Al- Mutadee Billah,
for example, has urged the people to adopt a healthy lifestyle to avoid a risky lifestyle
prone to chronic diseases when he launched the scheme to mark the hundred years of
health services in the Sultanate (Han, 2007: 1).
True, some critics may argue that there has been too much planning and directing on the
part of the government. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some may even point out that
Bruneians may be too scared to talk back or give feedback to their leader. However,
proponents view that what is critical is that the father leadership ways get things done,
and that gives the competitive edge. What s more, things get done in a fatherly manner
with care and concern in their heart.
Providing & Showing Fatherly Care and Concern
A parent of the father leader is ordinarily gentle, and nurturing. In Islam, it is said:
Whoever hath been given gentleness hath been given a good portion, in this world and
the next . God is gentle and loveth gentleness (A l-Mamun Al-Suhrawardy, 1992, cited
in Low and Mohd. Zain, 2008).
On many occasions, His Majesty visits his subjects to lend a hand, showing care and
concern for them. Concerned when several houses in Kampong Ayer were affected by the
storms in July 2007, His Majesty the Caring Mona rch (Wani Abdul Gapar, 2007: 1)
made visits to give a sense of presence while ensuring that repair works and relief to the
residents were duly made. The second visit surpris ed most villagers, even though some
had expected the return of His Majesty to see the progress made. (The Brunei Times,
A further example includes the recent 15 February 2008 incident when His Majesty the
Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam paid house calls to some badly
affected homes by flood in Temburong (Waleed, 2008). He stopped by just long enough
to ask villagers and their families the extent of the damage suffered by the floods, taking
the time to offer some advice and caring words to several as well as sharing some
laughter during light-hearted moments. At one particular house, His Majesty came across
an elderly lady, who came forward to greet the monarch. His Majesty enquired, Is there
anything I can help you with? . The old woman simply replied by gesturing with h er
thumb and fingers to indicate the universal sign of money. His Majesty laughed and
mimicked the woman with his own hand and said to her Bah, nanti tah mencarikan.
(Yes, let me go find some for you.) This little episode thus captures the very essence of
the caring leader and the close family-like bond between the monarch and his loyal
His Majesty s birthday celebrations also usually see His Majesty working since the
Monarch every year graces with his district visits and presence in the Bercemar Duli in
which people of various races, cultures and ethnic backgrounds have the opportunity to
meet and greet His Majesty. His compassion and sin cerity for his subjects extends
beyond such visits and onto a national level. (Wan i Abdul Gapar, 2007: 1). Caring and
nurturing, the father leader also encourages dialogues from his followers or anak buah.
Low s (2007a: 10, italics mine) study also shows that the father-leader can ( also)
encourage openness that can be fostered by allowing citizens (employees) to voice goal-
achieving ideas and concerns; with such openness, the father leaders ears are on the
The leaders benevolent ways and people-centred ways are usually appealing; such ways
are ordinarily much appreciated by the people, and the father-leaders are thus able to
bring about unity among their people.
Quintessentially critical, leaders give their presence to the people, and that presence can
be assuring and comforting to the people.
His Majesty, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu izzaddin Waddaulah and the Yang di
Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam and in fact, members of the royal family serve as role
models. Even His Royal Highness Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior
Minister at the Prime Minister s Office, gives his presence to the citizens. And among the
many examples of his working and industry visits include that of the Water Works
Department under the Public Works Department, and the Town and Country, Land
Planning Department, the Housing Development Department and several other
departments at the Ministry of Development (Abu Bakar, 2007; Ong, 2007).
The key benefits here are that the leader is indeed there for the people, and the leader,
humble, serves the people. Akin to servant leadership, the father leaders also focus on
helping people to develop The humanistic approach ..also helps build community or
a sense of togetherness among the stakeholders (Du Brin, 2007: 243). Moreover, as in
the Fish! Philosophy, the presence of the leader be there can be very motivating for
the followers (stakeholders) (Pike Place Fish Market, 2007, italics mine).
Role Modeling, Guiding and Growing
The leaders set the example, advise and guide; and the followers learn and grow. His
Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah demonstrated this in his inspiring advice to
Bruneian students in the United Kingdom and Ireland. His Majesty called on students to
succeed by being single-minded in their academic pursuits and help Brunei become a
generation of intellectuals and to turn the country into a great and prosperous nation. (The
Brunei Times, 4 December 2007, cited in Low and Mohd. Zain, 2008).
Apart from His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu izzaddin Waddaulah, Her
Majesty Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha, through officiating ceremonies, also
guides the people of Brunei Darussalam. For example, she has stressed the need for a
clean and healthy environment (Abu Bakar, 2007: 1). Here, she speaks of the
environment influencing and designing the level of human life and simultaneously, the
human lifestyle needs to influence and take care of its surroundings. If an area is clean
and beautiful, then ultimately, the entire surrounding area, kampung or mukim as well as
nation will also be organised, clean and beautiful.
Like Singapore, Brunei is also politically stable. The Sultan as a father-leader is bringing
about much growth in Brunei so that the Sultanate can attain a higher level of economic
growth and achieve much progress. The port facilities at Muara are being further
developed and improved upon while the development of the Sungei Liang Industrial Park
(SPARK) are being initiated, planned and acted upon. Interestingly, in the Singapore
Case as argued by Low (2005), the Singapore Government provided the necessary
infrastructure with a politically stable and con ducive
environment for the growth of business . Singapore s success is bolstered by the
Government s continuous efforts in laying down the required support, and infrastructure.
Singapore has continued to be the premier hub stat us in the Asia-Pacific ; in fact, it has
won several accolades (Chin and Tongzon, 1998, cited in Low, 2005) including for
Singapore s Changi Airport . . . one of the best i n the world and in a business-traveller
magazine survey, the best for baggage retrieval . . . (Tan, 1992, cited in Low, 2005).
With regard to the Singapore port in spite of com petition and cheaper port facilities
pricing with some players such as Evergreen and Maersk having moved from Singapore
to neighbouring Johor Baru, Singapore is seen as t he best port in Asia and it is the
world s busiest container port (Goh, 2001a). The W orld Competitiveness Yearbook
1999 ranked Singapore as the most attractive location in the world, apart from the USA,
as a manufacturing hub (Institute for Management Development (IMD, 1999 cited in
Low, 2005). Additionally, Singaporean children today too are going to better schools
Like Singaporeans, Bruneians are also enjoying a high level of education; they enjoy free
education and health services as provided by the Brunei Government. The Sultan s
Scholarships are also given to Bruneian students who obtain commendable results in their
A levels or equivalent. The Health Ministry is de dicated in providing the best in terms
of products and services to the country s citizens and residents (Dewi Mohd Sofri, 2007,
cited in Low and Mohd Zain, 2008). Small businesses and entrepreneurship are
encouraged, and His Majesty s Government is also laying the necessary infrastructure
such as the building of more roads, highways, and fly-overs to facilitate business and
economic growth. The size of Bandar is also to be expanded.
Just like Singapore (its small size, roughly the size of Chicago with the same population,
probably provides an overwhelming reason for the success of this Singapore model and
this could be a possible attribute for the controlled development and success of the
Singapore Government s paternalistic leadership model), Brunei is also small. The people
know each other and it is said that people are usually connected with each other by blood
ties and by other ways, and the leaders relate well with the people. Such being the case,
one can argue that Brunei indeed has much space in the global economy as niche player
with father leadership as the way of business pro cesses, and that can give the sultanate
the competitive edge. In brief, father leadership has that edge; it gets things done with the
leader s good relationships with the people. Father leadership is both high task and high
touch. And what s more, with the people being united, all-in-the-family, under the
Sultanas a father-leader, Brunei can attain a higher level of economic growth and achieve
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