“Peter, congratulations on being named leader of the year by your Foreign-Thai chamber of commerce.”
“Thank you, Khun Kriengsak. This award has got me an assignment. The chamber has asked me to write a short article on leadership insights for its newsletter. Could you help me as a sounding board for this column?”
“Sure. What would you like to get out of our session?”
“I want some ideas to write in the column.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“I face a dilemma _ should I pick some concept from leadership books or write some things from my experience?”
“Who are the readers?”
“The readers are senior executives, a mix of Thais and foreigners. Most of them are working in medium-sized and large organisations. They’re generally quite exposed to regional or international business environments.
“What do you think is their preferred reading style?”
“They want a quick win, pragmatic tips. Few would want much theory.”
Peter pauses and then declares: “Coach, I think I’ll share my leadership experience.”
I nod and ask: “Why do you think you got the award?”
“The performance of our operation in Thailand.”
“What was your role in that performance?”
“Three years ago when I came to Thailand, my predecessor, who was also my mentor, gave me a very critical piece of advice: win the hearts of Thais and you will win the business,” Peter says.
“With that end in mind, I started by learning to understand Thai culture first. I learned Thais are humble, caring, respectful of seniority, with the character of krengjai and responsibility.
“Hence, my mission in the first three months was winning their hearts. I translated the mission into a pragmatic, simple action: learning about Thais.
“I organised informal lunches with small groups of Thais three times a week. Each time, five or six people from various departments joined me. I learned from them about Thai history, some Thai words, Thai food, Thai movies, the dynamic of Thai families, the education system, the political system and most importantly, His Majesty the King.
“These were enlightening moments for me. I started to appreciate Thai strengths and uniqueness. During lunch, I also told them about my background, my family, my strengths and weaknesses.
“After three months, I come up with a set of vision, missions and values (VMV) that I expected to see after five years. These VMV are my mantra. Every month, I have a ‘town hall’ meeting with all our staff. I update them on what’s going on inside our company and the key activities of the coming month. I also review our achievements and compliment the people involved. At every meeting, I remind everyone of our VMV. Once people know where we want to be, why or the purpose of our mission and how to reach it, then they figure out how they can best fit into that picture.”
“Peter, that’s quite impressive,” I say. “But nobody’s perfect. If you could go back in time and do it again, what would you do it differently?”
“Dealing more effectively with people who are shy. I’m more comfortable with Thais who are able to communicate in English. They tell me what they think I can exchange with them.
“However, most Thais lack the confidence to speak English. Most understand 70-80% from reading or listening. They probably could speak in broken English, but they’re too nervous to speak up. So whenever I had to exchange ideas with them, I was not getting much out of the conversation. I lost an opportunity to maximise their potential.
“In the second year, I decided to learn how to speak Thai. After a year, I could understand them more. That’s how I realise that a lot of these shy Thais have a lot of great ideas. Communication is the only barrier holding them back from unleashing their potential. Once I could communicate with them more in Thai, the third year’s results were fantastic.
“If I could go back in time, I’d start learning Thai from Day One.”
Peter pauses to think. Then he exclaims: “Coach, in fact I will have more time if I hire a secretary.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Right now I have to spend at least an hour or two on scheduling appointments or following up work. I could be more productive if I had a secretary to do it.”
“But why haven’t you had one since the beginning?”
“This is probably a silly thing. I came from the head office in Europe and didn’t have a secretary there either. It’s too expensive. Besides, we were a flat organisation.
“I have to hire one now because a lot of my people have been telling me to do that since Day One.”
Peter pauses again and then says: “Thank you, Coach. Now I have a column and also a productive idea.”