Leadership in Thailand: the challenge ahead
Ask most people what Thailand’s #1 challenge is going forward and the answer will largely be one thing: improving the quality of its leadership. Leadership (or lack of it) in Thailand is the reason most Thais will give for the country’s failure to grasp the opportunities before it. And leadership, specifically with the ‘new generation coming through’ is the one hope that Thailand will progress, sometime, in the future.
But, ever the ones to spoil a party when we see one, we’re not so sure.
Recent studies have shed more light on the problem.
First there was this study by Cornell University, which found that people are ‘too dumb to pick the right person to lead us’. Put simply, humans have proved to be terrible judges of competence or good ideas and so are condemned, through the ballot box, to choose the wrong person as a leader in the first place.
Then there’s been the usual raft of surveys that have landed Thailand as a nation and Thai people in particular well and truly in the sin bin – from the country’s slump to 80th (and then only just) in the Corruption Perceptions Index, to the finding here that most Thais condone corruption, and then to stories of ‘corruption fees’ now being over 35% across the board.
Why ‘leaders’ aren’t going to do it for you anytime soon…
In the first case, the problem is not so much with the quality of the leader, but with the quality of the follower. If the follower’s judgment is as flawed as the Cornell Study claims, then the best we’re ever going to get is mediocrity. So if Thais are holding out for ‘the next Anand Panyarachun’ to solve their problems, it may be a long wait – it’s doubtful they would vote for him even if he stood up to the fanfare of a talent show.
In the second case, it’s clear that since corruption is condoned by the followers, an honest leader would not then be sharing their values, and would essentially become unelectable. Thai society seems, at one and the same time, to both accept corruption (in private) and condemn it (in public). The key thing, it seems, is not getting caught.
It’s for these two reasons that Thais would be doing better to look to something other than ‘their leaders’ to take their nation forward. First because of the problems they may have judging who has the right policies for the country, and secondly because the people are not ready to be followed in the one area that would make a real difference: defeating corruption.
What Thailand needs to do to move forward
The real problem is that corruption creates a money loop – blinding judgment at the best of times – and that this loop starts early in Thai society – namely, at school. Here’s where the leadership deficit really starts:
- Cheating and colluding in tests and homework in the name of ‘helping’.
- Parents paying schools to secure the best places for their children.
- Bribery to improve results
So long as these behaviours continue, Thailand’s social problems will unfortunately never be solved. This is because achievement is linked to money, and money itself becomes the governing value.
In many cases those who complain about the injustice of Thai society and often those who condone these behaviours.
Good news for companies
The good news for companies is that they control the money nexus of their employees. As a result, they should not be too discouraged by the goings on in Thai society as a whole.
But they do need strong leaders – leaders who are clear about their values, and reinforce these.
One effective way to do this is to implement a programme like The Leadership Challenge in your organisation. This programme tackles all the problems faced by would-be leaders in Thailand, including:
· getting clear on personal values and then establishing shared values
· how to lead by example
· how to challenge the process, including cultural factors that create huge gaps between leader and follower in Thailand
· how to enable others to act – so that they, too, can grow as leaders