Lieutenant General (Ret.) Muhammad Herindra is the Indonesian Deputy Minister of Defense. He graduated from the Military Academy in Magelang, and later graduated from The Military College of Vermont-Norwich University USA, and the National Defense University USA. He is also the recipient of many accolades including the prestigious Bintang Yudha Dharma (Grand Meritorious Military Order Star). Herindra recently opened up to Indonesia Business Post about his deepest thoughts regarding his duty and how his experience in the field has shaped his personality and leadership style.
What is your definition of a good leader?
A leader must set an example and lead by example in order to persuade others to follow them in achieving a common goal. Leading and managing are not the same thing. You can learn how to manage, but to lead, you need to use your heart.
So, how to lead from the heart?
Work with your heart. People are not robots; they are humans. People have various thoughts, ideas, and we need to be prepared to support them. As I’ve mentioned, give good examples. We have the character of a leader in ourselves, now it depends on how we can explore and exploit it.
Does your career in the military help to strengthen such leadership characteristics?
Our military training taught us leadership skills. There are many examples, and it may be learnt. When we observe a brilliant leader, we ponder: “How do they persuade others?” and we discovered it. It may be difficult because we all acquired the same fundamentals of leadership at the academy, but not everyone was able to develop themselves into a great leader. In order for our generation to have outstanding leaders, we must investigate and strengthen it ourselves.
How can you ‘lead with your heart’, the military’s life is difficult, isn’t it?
Who said it was heartless? We have the ability to be strict while simultaneously showing love to our subordinates. We would be nothing without them. Our subordinates help us grow into greatness. We were strict in the military because it was required. If not, they can lose their lives while fighting.
Discipline requires strictness. Being hard does not mean we hate people, oftentimes it even means the contrary. Nowadays, some people try to be hard, only to gain others’ esteem. That is not how it operates.
As a leader, what is the toughest decision you ever made?
The toughest decision is to choose between duty and family. It is really difficult to leave someone you love. But the choice between family and country must be made by a leader, even when being alone is not easy.
As a state official, I have had a duty to serve the nation. I made sure that my wife understands my duty since before we were married. I told her “I am donating my body and soul to the nation; if it pleases you, then that’s an added bonus for me.”
I also recall how difficult it was for me to go on duty, when my child was just one month old. But once my wife told me to “just go,” I felt relieved. There were only letters and posts available at the time, and I had high hopes whenever the postman delivered letters. I read each letter she sent me many times. At the time, it was really hard. But as a soldier, I have to follow orders without objection.
You are donating your body and soul to the nation, it was really a sacred statement.
It has been our pledge since the beginning, and we have come to understand that the country has complete authority over my body and spirit. I’m prepared to die if it’s necessary. If I am alive until today, then Thank God. I think it is the required behavior for all soldiers worldwide.
Because of this, a lot of people ponder “why are most heroes soldiers?” I always respond, “Because it was soldiers who gave their lives voluntarily.”
Did you realize how important and how sacred the oath was when you were being swearing in?
It didn’t initially feel as sacred as it does now. As I grew older and perhaps wiser, I understood that it was sacred. Soldiers act as directed by those who are giving them orders. Unfortunately, there are some people who take advantage of them. For them, these soldiers are nothing but tools.
And when a soldier was to be blamed, I always stated, “Don’t blame him, blame the people using him.” Soldiers are taught and trained to be completely loyal to the country, their superior, and their leaders.
What do you believe to be the biggest challenge Indonesia is now facing?
Indonesia is a big and a rich county. We have amazing natural resources even other countries don’t have. The biggest challenge for me is managing the nation’s unity and natural resources. What is the aim of a nation? to bring prosperity to its people. That is our challenge.
The vision of every Indonesian leader is essentially the same: to unite its people and to create prosperity for its people.
But now there are different visions?
Well, it is our responsibility to convey that we are similar and share the same goals. Instead of dividing the many religions, we must bring them together. Today, we still have cult identities, which we need to let go of along with our ego and prejudice. With respect to other religions, we must be tolerant. The Muslims, simply because we are the majority, must not overlook other religions. Our past leaders, the founders of the nation, already had these amazing visions.
Regarding the defense sector, what is the current state of the Indonesian defense? How strong are we today?
Indonesia has everything. Imagine we live in a house with lots of money, do you think we should be defending it or not? Another example, if a house has a garage filled with sports cars, but the fences are made out of bamboo, don’t you think it will invite thieves? These analogies also apply to our defense systems. Being a wealthy nation, we must be powerful. Prosperity and security must be in line. The world is anarchistic, chaotic, if we are weak, we will be eaten. It is not about Indonesia not having a power projection, we just want to defend our nation’s sovereignty.
What about the arms race in the region?
I would say there’s no need to worry. We uphold a free-and-active policy at the outset of the 1945 Constitution. We defend ourselves by defending, not by attacking. We merely seek to safeguard our sovereignty. There are disagreements occasionally, but we always attempt to resolve them amicably. I would argue that we don’t want any conflicts, but let me reiterate that we don’t want to be treated lightly.
What do you think about Indonesia’s role in the global geopolitical scene? Because to become a powerful country we need to be active in the global geopolitical scene.
I look at how Pak Jokowi engages in diplomacy to resolve the war in Europe. We are being active, but we want to find a peaceful solution. We don’t want conflict if we can have constructive discussions, use decent diplomacy, and come up with workable solutions. War is a sad thing. Consider the millions of fatalities during World War 2. It is difficult and expensive to halt a war once it has been started. We are always active, but active in promoting peace.
From a strategic and diplomatic point of view, why choose the Rafale from France?
We get along well with France. They also have experts in the industry. This does not, however, preclude us from working with other nations. It is also feasible if we decide to work together or purchase from America, England, or other nations tomorrow.
If you could have dinner with three people living or deceased, who would they be?
My wife [laugh].
What kind of qualities do you admire in a person?
When one can be of service to others. A person’s character is demonstrated when they can benefit others. Many people are wealthy and intelligent but are useless to others.
I also value a person’s humanity as a quality. if someone does good, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity.
What is the saddest thing in this world?
Humans are difficult to share, which makes me sad. Sometimes, one party has a severe lack of resources while the other has very generous resources. Sometimes I think, “Imagine if everyone could share,” and while it would be wonderful, humans are not like that.
Do you believe in fate?
I have faith in fate. We won’t know our situation in the future, but whenever you look back on the past there are occasionally things that go against your better judgment, but they may still be the best for both you and many other people.
When I reflect on my life’s journey, I can’t say that I ever envisioned myself to be a deputy minister. I understand that this is my fate and that it is hopefully the best for me and for many others.