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Softer skills are now also scrutinized

16 August 2013

Edwin Sim Managing Director of Human Capital Alliance looks at leadership traits demanded by Thai companies.

As Asia’s economies continue driving global economic growth, companies are scrambling to ensure their new leadership cohorts can meet the challenges of fast-changing and often volatile environments.

During the past several years, I’ve noticed that major Thai companies, both local and multinational, are looking more and more for leaders with distinct traits they believe can drive their companies successfully in expected fast-growing economies.

Visionaries:

Many major companies are now articulating and demanding these requirements from their future leaders. They want their new leaders not only to run company divisions but they must also to have the potential to become industry leaders and more.

These leaders must be visionaries that are able to see the future ahead of others. At the same time, they must also be able to think critically and creatively.

For many Thai managers, thinking critically and creatively has not come easily because the education system has emphasized rote memorization and finding standard solutions to problems. Thinking differently is very hard when everything they’ve learned has involved conforming, herding, and group-thinking.

Softer skills:

I’ve also noticed that many of our clients now spend more time scrutinizing potential senior managers’ softer skills. These skills include their ability to lead teams, communicate, and articulate their views.

Risk management capabilities are now also very important. Potential senior managers are now regularly evaluated under a corporate ethics framework, for their ability to perform well in crisis situations and how well they adapt to different corporate cultures.

Another important required softer-skill is their ability to cope with society’s “hidden rules” including business and political environments. Being effective in Thailand, many leading company stakeholders said means realizing everything is political. Executives must have a keen grasp of political and social trends so they can position their business strategies and communications messages within that landscape.

Executives must therefore be able develop nonmarket as well as normal business strategies. The nonmarket strategy includes plans for building networks that intersect with the government, business partners, suppliers, customers, and other industry and public stakeholders.

Culture:

From my observation, the best companies seem to have a culture, set from the top, in which everyone works toward common goals in a spirit of mutual respect.

However, I have also noted that the new generation of Thai leaders demands both purpose and work–life balance, and no longer automatically accepts hierarchy in the workplace.

The best way to retain these leaders is to have role models who inspire commitment—which makes it even more important to select leaders who can read and respond sincerely to their stakeholders.

Landscape:

During the past several decades, Thailand has been developing several distinct groups of corporate leaders with disparate knowledge and skills.

The state enterprises still are major participants in the Thai economy. My experience indicates that a majority of their senior managers while exhibiting the attributes of bureaucrats, at the same time have good managerial qualities, and some of them are also quite entrepreneurial.

Multinationals have long been major players in the Thai economy. Senior candidates from these companies usually understand how strategies are formulated and able to implement local elements of a global strategy. They flourish and operate efficiently and effectively in environments where well established structures, systems are in place.

Recently, Thai corporations have also developed a significant cohort of future leaders. They tend to have good people skills and are adept at dealing with the uncertainty of emerging markets and changing environments, as well as with government bureaucracy. Many of them also seem very entrepreneurial.

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