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Leadership for Thailand 4.0: Five changes we must make

We've read a lot about how the government is pushing the country toward Thailand 4.0, which is an economy based on creativity, innovation and high-level services. On the human side, unskilled and low-skilled labour will have to be transformed into a new workforce characterised by knowledge, expertise and high skills.

In my opinion, the knowledge workers of Thailand 4.0 will need to possess six key qualities: willingness to embrace change, dedication to lifelong learning, critical thinking, creativity, communication skills and cross-cultural skills.

The leaders of these knowledge workers will also need to transform themselves. Let's look at how.

1. From command to engage: Leaders in the past led large numbers of manual or low-skilled workers. The focus was to ensure that everyone followed procedures, work instructions and rules without exception. There are very few judgement calls for the workers. Leaders needed to ensure that their instructions were followed through to the letter. The command style seemed to fit the context.

If we want to move to Thailand 4.0, we are talking about new workforce. They are knowledge workers who use information as an input. They make more judgement calls. In addition, there are more and more millennial workers in most organisations. The younger generation is uncomfortable with the command leadership style.

Solution: You need to engage your people more. That's why lot of organisations have employee engagement programmes. Such programmes start by measuring current engagement levels and then setting goals for improvement, backed by practical action pans. Achievement is measured regularly, usually on a yearly basis.

2. From control to inspire: In the past, leaders had to ensure that regulations, rules and policies were strictly complied with. Hence, the control style was applicable. But knowledge workers need to be inspired. How?

Leaders need to learn more about individual motivation. Knowledge workers are motivated differently because the workforce is more diverse than in the past, whether in terms of race, religion, sexuality or gender.

Solution: Leaders 4.0 need to be open-minded and inclusive.

3. From telling to asking: The management theorist Peter Drucker once said, "The leader of the past knew how to tell. The leader of the future will know how to ask." More and more leaders of the future will manage more and more knowledge workers. Knowledge workers usually know more about their work than their boss does.

It is hard to tell people what to do and how to do it when they know more than you do. Leadership in the future will involve more two-way involvement and sharing -- and less one-way direction. This is probably one of the most difficult things to do for most leaders.

Solution: I recommend the book Quiet Leadership by David Rock. This book will be enable you to be a good leader who knows how to ask people to think for themselves.

4. From focus on weakness to focus on strength: In the past, we wanted our workers to perform according to rules and processes; there were right and wrong ways to do things. Most of the work was tangible and manufacturing-based. On an assembly lines, the quality control function could detect output errors.

Now, in a world of knowledge-based work and high-value skills, the people are part of the process. It's harder to check quality control, most of which now happens in the hands of end users. Hence, focusing on weaknesses to prevent poor services is more difficult.

We need to focus on strengths more. Leaders 4.0 are champions of a strengths-based leadership style. High-performance organisations are those that are embracing positive psychology and the concept of appreciative inquiry.

Solution: Learn how to maximise strengths.

5. From training to coaching: Training is still important. It's useful when you need to educate your workforce on a standard subject or skills.

But for knowledge workers, training alone is not enough. Each knowledge worker has to use his or her judgements more and more. The judgement calls vary depending on the context, the environment, and individual styles. Hence, leaders need to interact more with each individual. Leaders need to listen, give feedback on the quality of knowledge workers' judgement, and coach them in better ways if improvement is needed.

Solution: Learn how to listen more.

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under the brand TheCoach. He can be reached at Daily inspirational quotations can be found on his Facebook fan page: Previous articles are archived at