The Way Thais Lead: Larry Persons 2016

Thailand is a fascinating country, with a unique culture, a long and proud history, and a bright economic future.

Unfortunately, Thailand has not always lived up to its full economic or developmental potential. Thailand has enjoyed significant growth and development over the past 30 years, and continues to mature in a measured, sustainable manner. However, peer countries such as S. Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore have previously outpaced Thailand’s development.

Dr. Larry Persons has recently published a fascinating book that carefully analyses the Thai leadership style. Dr. Persons was born and raised in Thailand, and earned a Ph.D. from the Fuller School of International Studies. He is well-qualified to research and evaluate the unique aspects of Thai leadership culture.

An important aspect of Person’s research covers the concept of “Face” as practiced and defined within Thai culture. As a fascinating introduction to Face, Person shares a riddle published by Lin in 1939: “Face cannot be translated or defined. It is like honor and is not honor. It cannot be purchased with money, and gives a man or a woman a material pride. It is hollow and yet is what men fight for and what many women die for. It is invisible and yet by definition exists by being shown to the public. It exists in the ether and yet cannot be heard, and sounds eminently respectable and solid.”

Person notes that, when stripped down to its bare essence, Face is about “the human desires for acceptance and significance.  We reach out to others seeking confirmation for what we hope is true: that we are lovable enough to be included and dignified enough to be respected.”

Person observes that Face has five (5) dimensions. He spends a great deal of time patiently describing these dimensions, which are “Face Eyes”, Honor, Public Acclaim, Accumulated Goodness or Moral Strength, and Radiant Power.

The important concept of “Loss of Face” is also diligently explored and explained.

The bulk of the book is devoted to the historical and current norms of Thai leadership style. Person references a great deal of academic research to provide support for all of his observations. Person observes that the secret to true success in Thai leadership is “Rather than simply lording power over followers, leaders can choose to nurture warm relationships with them. It is an approach that preserves and perpetuates the bond between leader and follower. It lends longevity to relationship, and it also arouses a valuable sense of harmony in local collectives.” This is certainly valuable advice for Thailand executives, and is wise advice for leadership in most global cultures.

If you are an executive or in a leadership position in a Thailand based organization, or want to improve your relationships with both Thai leaders and Thai subordinates, I highly recommend this book. I strongly recommend expatriate leaders in Thailand to buy this book, and read it at least once per year during their Thailand leadership tenure. I would also recommend this book to Thai junior executives who wish to improve their leadership performance to more effectively lead Thai teams and organizations.

Frank T.