The Covid-19 crisis in Malaysia, initially led by our previous Health Minister, Dr Dzulkiffley, came to a sudden halt. Everything changed with the Sheraton Move. Overnight, Malaysia was in the midst of a double crisis. A sudden shift in power with incoming Health Minister, Adham Baba, with his advice of drinking warm water to beat coronavirus, caused an uproar among the netizens. Dr Noor Hisham stepped in quietly, and the nation calmed down.
We are in crisis. While watching the world leaders tackle this in their way, Dr Noor Hisham introduces the handcuff (lockdown) and hopes to move it to the handrail (social distancing). The isolation has brought about much pain, and hopefully, some reflection.
Hailed as the Malaysian hero with international recognition, Dr Noor has shown us how quiet leadership, not charismatic, will get us through this global crisis. Calmness is required to put out the fire of anxiety and uncertainty that eat us up. He becomes a leader overnight? Did he? He has been in the position since 2013, serving three governments. It means he is agile and resilient. Is he a product of leadership craft or character?
Here’s what I see in Dr Hisham, whose emotional intelligence is vital in helping the nation calm down and stay calm.
Competency is critical for leadership. Why would technical expertise be hailed as emotional intelligence? Well, continuous development in your field shows that you have self-awareness and self-regulation, and strong motivation to learn and stay relevant. So where was he all these years? He had been working on his technical competencies.
Communication. Malaysians are glued to the daily 5 p.m. press conference to listen to his rendition of facts and figures. He uses technical jargon to fill the appetite of the intellects. He uses stories – what does it mean for Malaysians, to reach the lay folks who need to understand the importance of staying home.
Calm. This is probably the first and most reassuring quality of a leader. His ability to stay calm in all his interactions, while managing the rising numbers of infections and death, the anxiety of the nation, plight of the healthcare workers and announcements of the lockdown that are happening simultaneously. His calmness permeates.
Consistent. His message to stay home, stay safe at every opportunity became a hit with Malaysian. When he receives thousands of birthday wishes, he is graciously grateful for the wishes, and yet reminds the nation that his best birthday gift is for people to stay home.
Courage. He walks in on time but never leaves on time after his press briefings. He stays till he has answered all questions. When you have a leader who gives you all his attention and time (which he has very little of), he gives you the confidence that he is reliable, even when he may not be confident of the future.
Confident. He is sure of his facts and delivers them in a neutral tone. He gives context to the numbers. He doesn’t say calm down, but you feel calmed by his presence, his voice. It becomes easier to get what he is saying, to see the context of the numbers.
Conflict. While he comes across as an introvert, he addresses accusations and rumours that are thrown at him with content and context.
Care. A leader who takes time to respond to a letter from a young citizen who sends him a loom band. His personalised response inspires and influences. This is in addition to all the sensible and helpful tweets he makes, well beyond office hours.
Character. The depth of his personality comes through his humble responses; sharing the credit with his team, his country and the Prime Minister. I doubt that he had the opportunity to groom himself in public relations before he was thrown into the limelight. His purpose is clear, ensuring Malaysians stay safe and clean from COVID 19. He is an inspiration to the young citizens of Malaysia.
It was such an uplifting experience to watch social media filled with creative messages and videos for our beloved Dr Noor Hisham. Here’s one that warms the heart.
This crisis will come to an end. When? We don’t know. Soon, we hope. But, we have many more that we will need to face as we heal and move forward as a nation. The role of leadership has never been more crucial. With the fragility and vulnerability that we are experiencing, new heroes like Dr Noor Hisham will emerge alongside the seasoned leaders. The leaders who help us heal and move forward will be the ones who are emotionally intelligent.