How to be a great leader when you work in Thailand

Work in Thailand

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Successful businesses in Thailand need great leaders and managers at all levels. But, while leadership and management are closely connected, with both focussed on achieving results through others, there are important differences, especially for expatriates who work in Thailand.

Leaders provide strategic direction and vision. They are transformational, creating a sense of trust, confidence and belief, inspiring people to follow them. People buy into the expat leader before they buy into the vision of the Thai business.

Managers meanwhile get things done. They facilitate and organise resources in order to optimise the performance of people, allowing them to carry out tasks and achieve the goals of the business in Thailand.

Whereas managers require strong planning and coordination skills to meet the necessary goals, leadership skills relate to the inspiration, motivation, and building of trust needed to believe in the goals. These skills, although different, need to work together to create a highly successful business in Thailand.

Good business owners are strong leaders and need to ensure their team sees the big picture, and a great management team will encourage their Thai staff to be a part of the big picture. They are different roles, but combined they create a compelling Thai business for expats who work in Thailand.

It is often noted that the best leaders are not necessarily very good managers. It is essential that leaders grasp the importance of supervising and allowing their managers to implement the strategy and organise the team. Many top managers are often too detail-oriented to be successful big picture thinkers.

It can be a hard transition for a really good manager to become a great leader, but this is what new business owners in Thailand often need to overcome. Leadership is learned behavior that becomes unconscious and automatic over time, and the most successful leaders are instinctive decision makers, a trait that comes from years of practice. They become immune to the pressure associated with decision making and are very intuitive about the process of making the most strategic and best decisions.

Effective leaders are also great communicators. They remind their team of the company’s core values and mission statement, ensuring that the vision is properly translated and objectives are executed. They practice what they preach and are mindful of their actions, and by challenging their teams to think and stretch them to reach for more, leaders can excel in not allowing their Thai team to get comfortable and enabling them to fully contribute to the overall success of the business in Thailand.

The best leaders create a professional yet fun environment and are ready to celebrate success to build the team ethos. Creating a positive and inspiring workplace culture is an essential element to build a first class business when you work in Thailand.

Leaders most likely to succeed are those take the time to mentor their team and make the investment to sponsor those who have proven they are able and eager to advance and help the Thai business grow.

No one style of leadership fits all situations, so it helps to have an understanding of the different styles so that you can adapt your approach to your situation or team.

Styles that generate a positive impact on attitudes and performance include the visionary, which is particularly useful when changes or a clear direction is needed, and focusses on self-confidence and empathy. The democratic approach to gather valuable input and collaboration forges consensus through participation, whilst the coaching style of working to develop team members’ long-term strengths can help lead to improved performance throughout the performance.

Less positive styles include the immediate demands of the commanding approach, but this can be necessary if a crisis arises in the business and you need to regain control.

The natural leader will stand out. It is not enough for people to have leadership potential – they must have character and the right setting in which to grow. The best Thai businesses will continually demonstrate why and how they earned the position they now hold. They will communicate using a variety of methods that show the team that they are worthy of being followed. If you make that process inspiring and positive you can almost guarantee that your results will be consistent with your efforts.

A combination of skills, including clear communication, building a great team and providing them with a clear sense of direction creates a successful leader, which is essential to build a profitable business in Thailand with an inspiring working environment.

Richard Holden
Head of Franchising
Lloyds Banking Group
Tel: 07802 324018

Richard heads up the Lloyds Bank franchise team and is a regular contributor to trade publications and national press. He regularly speaks at franchise seminars and exhibitions.