He is stoic about disagreements, both past and present. He states, “I have developed a thick skin because, in order to move around and work with people, I had to accept that some people do not like me.”
Never was there a person who seemed more resolute in this acceptance of not being liked. This is because he views the bigger picture as more important than a fallout here and there. Or perhaps achievement and delivery matter more than relationships, for as he describes what gives him joy and happiness, it is “…being able to deliver what I want to deliver is very satisfying, it gives me pleasure.”
And here I have to echo a quote from Churchill, “You have enemies? Good. It means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” And Tun Dr Mahathir, for good reasons and perhaps for reasons we may disagree with, has stood up every single time. It seems he has never run away from conflict, even as he consciously decides to get conflicting advice. “I like to have a lot of contradictory advice from people so that I can have a choice. I will assess the quality of the advice. And if by my own assessment, I find that one of them is good, I will follow that advice.” Abraham Lincoln’s Team of Rivals springs to mind.
Conflict is not a necessary evil for him nor something that intimidates him; rather it is as normal as breathing almost, as he remarks, “Well, when there are conflicts, obviously there are differences. One has to decide whether the differences are worth taking into consideration because they are legitimate or sometimes, of course, we can ignore the conflicts. And go ahead with the main purpose of whatever campaign you’re doing.”
Working with this man cannot be the easiest thing in the world. A member of his team, Endie Shazlie says, “He wants us always to remain focused. There is no space for joking around, except after office hours.”
Tun Daim Zainuddin, undoubtedly his most trusted “consigliere” seems to revel in working with him in times of difficulty, and said that his favourite times to work with Tun Dr Mahathir was when they “exchanged ideas in solving very delicate and sensitive issues”.
This is echoed by a former UMNO treasurer Datuk Seri Azim Zabidi who said, “On any issue, he (Mahathir) expected you to list down all your arguments if you were for or against. For example, I could list five reasons why we should; he would come back with 20 reasons why we shouldn’t. That was his brilliance. He always knew so much more than everybody else, and was always well researched.”
In fact Daim says his least favourite time to work with Tun Dr Mahathir is when “he (Mahathir) is very tired”. Perhaps because during those times there is less fight in the man when fatigue sets in.
While western media may have given him recognition for being influential, and focused on his battleship formidable personality, less has been said about how erudite or to quote Azim, how “well researched” he is.
This article is an excerpt from UNRESERVED’s June 2019 issue from the article PATRIOT ACT: TUN M’S AUDACITY OF HOPE.
Related: Tun M on Working with Others