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Leadership and the Internationalization of Universities in Thailand

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Cross Cultural Leadership in Thailand


Leadership and the Internationalization of Universities in Thailand

Global economic competition has rapidly placed the importance of education in the center of the public sphere.  Educational institutions in Thailand are, increasingly, feeling the pressure to become more internationalized and international student mobility has increased considerably (OECD, 2007).  It is expected that the international student market will increase to about 5.8 million by the year 2020 (British Council, 2004). Moreover, the youth and student group accounts for over 20% of international tourist arrivals, and the spending of this sector is more than any other group within international travel (UNWTO, 2008).  The importance of the youth and student market has been increasingly documented by the global market, governments, academics, and private sectors because the growth seen in students engaged in international mobility and the global university student population presently represents a significant proportion of the world’s general population (Carr, 2003).  Students are now consumers who define quality education from a global perspective (Drucker, 1995).  To attract these students many countries and individual universities within national systems have expanded their attempts to internationalize their programs.  More and more schools are looking to the international student market for economic and social rewards.  As a result, educational institutions in Asia are now in direct competition to accomplish goals such as creating modern programs, internationalizing their curriculum and developing modern departments which understand the pace of innovation in many fields (Hallinger, 2004).  The process of internationalization is not limited to the diversity of the student body.  It incorporates all aspects of promoting, managing and staffing the educational or corporate organization (Richards & Wilson, 2003). 

In order to attract international students, more Thai universities compete by providing their own international or exchange programs. This is also referred to as the internationalization of Thai education.  English language based programs are not the sole benchmark by which the internationalization process is measured.  This paper will use the working definition developed by DeWit and Knight (1994) who claimed “Internationalization of higher education is the process of integrating an international/intercultural dimension into the teaching, research and service functions of the institution” (p.16).     

This internationalization process is widely discussed at universities in Asia but very little attention has been given to the responsibilities and problems faced by the faculty on an operational level. There are many dimensions in enhancing the internationalization of an institution, such as quality of leadership or education, availability of programs, international faculty or staff, and improving international alliances, but student and employee retention is also a fundamental aspect of the internationalization process.

Any leadership framework must consider the culture it is to be implemented in prior to execution.  This paper will explore the practical and theoretical issues associated with leadership and the internationalization process at Thai universities.  A further description of the various theories of leadership within an Asian context and the challenges associated with leadership are discussed in relation to normative Thai culture.  Finally this paper concludes with a possible resolution to these issues of culture and leadership in a Thai contextual framework.

Conceptualization of the Challenge

Many areas of leadership and public administration in Asia are highly centralized and the Thai education system is among these (Meesing, 1979; Ketudat, 1984).  Recently there have been more demands for educational change which suggests a movement away from traditional Asian values and social norms (O’Toole, 1995). However, the implementation of a major change will face great resistance.  In much of Asia, members of an organization assume that all orders or directives are from a higher position within the organizational hierarchy and are therefore tasks to be completed without questioning necessity or practicality.  This lends to a compliance culture (Wheeler et al, 1997).  Through conversations with members of the Thai MOE and various university leaders, it is my understanding that there is a collective agreement regarding the need to reform the current inefficient and ineffective education system and yet it is the national culture which is creating many of the obstacles. 

The changes necessary for modernization conflict with traditional cultural norms in Thailand (Sykes et al. 1997).  Both the student market and the local policy-makers demand a more international approach to education while at least partially knowing that this change may lead to educational and social instability.  This section of the paper will provide an overview of the Thai education system and discuss some of the relevant attributes which inhibit change.    

Decentralization and Educational Reform in Thailand

In the last thirty years decentralization of school systems has become commonplace.  We have seen many countries move toward a more local education authority (LEA) or as in Thailand, a school based management (SBM) scheme (Gamage & Sooksomchitra, 2006).  This approach, which incorporates community and culture, has taken root in the tertiary programs.  However, the university level programs have been split into one of two classifications: public and private.  Even this distinction is vague as many of the international programs, including my employer of 12 years, is classified as a private college within a public university.  Essentially, this semi-autonomous status means that while we collect both private and public grants and government funding, the college is also allowed to set its’ own tuition rates, salaries and so on just as any other private institution would.   Within this public school there is a private cash stream.  This unusual situation is a result of the 1997 economic collapse in Thailand which, to a large extent, was blamed on a weak human resource base that was the result of a poor education system and a historically entrenched hierarchical bureaucratic system.  The changes that commenced in 1997 were largely the result of a nation that wanted to create a higher quality education system which would increase Thailand’s competitiveness during rapid globalization (ONEC, 1997).  There are two points which deeply resonated with my experiences here: bureaucracy and preparation for rapid globalization.  However, these are not the only two factors of Thai education and culture which have been identified and studied.     

Theories of Cross Cultural Organization

There are an increasing number of multinational and international organizations which are entering Thailand.  Each of these organizations brings with it a new culture or way of doing things. The organizational cultures that are introduced are dynamic systems of rules that are shared by members of the organization.  This includes their attitudes, beliefs, values, norms and behavior. There are three levels of comparison for cross cultural organizations; the individual level, the intra-organizational level and the inter-organizational level.  The individual level refers to the culture that individuals bring to the organization.  The intra-organizational level compares people within departments and units.  This includes rules, human resource policies, compensation, promotion and so on.  Lastly, the inter-organizational level explores how the company interacts with others in the market (either domestic or international).  Robbins (1987) claimed that within an organizational culture there were three aspects which needed to be analyzed; complexity, formalization, and centralization.  Complexity refers to the degree to which organizations create differentiation of tasks, duties and activities.  Formalization is the degree to which organizations provide structure and rules.  Centralization is the degree to which they concentrate their operations and decision making capabilities in a limited number of business units or people.  Berry (1992) added that various factors determine how organizations deal with these.  For example: the size of the organization, the technology available, resources, and history all impact the levels of complexity, formalization and centralization.  This analysis of cross cultural organizations and leadership led me to Lammers and Hickson (1979) work on regionalism and cultural attributes where they claimed that three types of work culture were predominant.  They were the Latin type which was characterized as a classic bureaucracy, centralized power and decision making with many hierarchical levels.  The Anglo-Saxon which was the opposite of the Latin model in that it had less centralization, diffusion of power and decision making,  and less hierarchy.  The final classification was called the Third World Type which they described as having greater centralization of decision making, less formalized rules and more paternalistic or traditional family orientation.  In Trompenaars (1993), seven factors were implemented to predict intercultural differences.  Of the seven discussed, there are clear similarities with Hofstede’s work. The use of individualism and collectivism and other cultural measurement dimensions are discussed in detail later in this paper.  Importantly, of the culture theories above, none adequately provided a clear framework for leadership in a Thai educational context.

Culture, Leadership and Management Styles

Hollander (1985) defined leadership as “the process of influence between a leader and followers to attain group, organizational, or societal goals” (p.486).  However, it is important to recognize that different cultures appreciate and value different leadership techniques.  The leadership behavior in the west will not be as well received or as effective in the east. In many western organizations there is a clear boundary between work and life and leaders are aware not to get involved in the personal affairs of their employees.  However, the east has a more integrated approach to work and social life which is a further example of the impact of collectivism.  Leaders in collective cultures see their responsibilities as extending beyond the work environment to a much greater extent than those from individual cultures.  Other cross cultural studies of decision making introduced other important differences of leadership and decision making.  For example, Yates and Lee (1996) found that people of East Asian cultures were more confident than Americans that their decisions were right. The authors suggest that people of South East Asia tend to select what appears to be the first adequate solution as opposed considering a wide range of alternatives and narrowing down to the best solution.  This preference for convergence rather than divergence can be seen by educators who regularly assign group work or team projects in Asia.  Other studies such as those by Smith, Wang, and Leung (1997), Radford and associates (1991), Hall, Jiang, Losocco, and Allen (1993) all found that Chinese organizations were more centralized than the Americans.  The studies above all pointed to differences in culture, organizational structure and leadership.  Therefore, to properly frame an exploration of educational leadership, the unique attributes of culture must be incorporated.

Intercultural Communication within the Thai Context

There is a natural symbiotic relationship between work culture and national culture.  Generally when people refer to their work culture they are talking about the experience they are having with their immediate team and managers.  This culture impacts the organizations ability to change, to respond to market or administrative challenges and to comply with laws and regulations.  For example a culture that is ‘uncontrolled and unmanaged’ risks accidents to employees or contravention of quality standards.  Culture also impacts the organization’s ability to retain and attract the best people from its talent pools.  People constantly talk about an organization’s culture (without even knowing it).  For example when a person meets someone new they will ask ’where do you work?’ and ‘how is it?’ or ‘what is it like to work in that organization?  Inquiries such as these are often seeking information regarding leadership and culture.  Culture also impacts on the organization’s ability to achieve high performance from teams and individuals.  Performance may be at the individual, team or organizational level. A fundamental contributing factor to performance is motivation.  A culture may be negatively motivating for an individual if it doesn’t meet or surpass their expectations.  Culture’s influence on behavior is tremendous and it was with this understanding that culture studies flourished.

In the 1960s, the IBM Corporation enlisted the assistance of an engineer and cross-cultural researcher, Geert Hofstede, to perform a long term study of cultural differences among the employees at IBM.  Hofstede chose to define culture as ‘collective mental programming of the people in a social environment in which one grew up and collected one’s life experiences’ (Hofstdede, 1980, 1983).  His work has had a great impact on the study of culture both in academia as well as in the corporate or private sector.  Hofstede identified four characteristics which shed light on the various differences in national culture; power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism-collectivism and masculinity-femininity.  Hofstede categorized Thailand as a nation which is high on power distance, high on collectivism, high on uncertainty avoidance and high on femininity.  Each of these cultural dimensions has a profound influence on and assists in the analysis of education in Thailand. Therefore a description of each dimension within a Thai context is necessary.

Power Distance

Thailand was described as a nation of high power distance.  Power distance is used to describe the extent of power inequality among members of an organization.  This high power distance influences the behavior of administrators, lecturers and other members of faculty, students and their families.  This is often seen within the unusually high level of personal esteem or social deference (referred to as greng-jai in Thai) given to members near the top of the hierarchy or those who have senior status.  Thai language has specific honorifics which indicate social standing for each sex, age, position, title or occupation.  This is done to save the face of lower status individuals as one need not ask personal questions of a possibly higher status individual.  In many areas of Asia power distance is a fundamental aspect of history, socialization and learning. Educators must be able to determine which members of the organization have attained their status through achievement and which have status of ascription (status given for an accomplishment is achieved whereas status given for non-accomplishment characteristics such as a hereditary title is ascribed).  This is power distance is often justified by the leaders social position or innate charisma as described by Gronn (1995) in his exploration of transformational leadership. Power distance pervades all social relationships in Thailand and this is not unique in Asia.   Sin-ming Shaw has written:

Blaming Asian schools for focusing on memorization—as opposed to “thinking”—is too pat an excuse, as schools reflect the basic values of a society. It is ingrained in the Asian psyche that “correct” answers always exist and are to be found in books or from authorities. Teachers dispense truth, parents are always right and political leaders know better. In executive-led societies such as China and Hong Kong, leaders act like philosopher-kings, often uttering unchallenged banalities. Senior officials sometimes resemble the powerful palace eunuchs of the past dynasties: imperial, unaccountable, incompetent. Questioning authority, especially in public life, is disrespectful, un-Asian, un-Confucian. (Shaw, 1999, p. 23)

The effect this has is tremendous as most people will wait for decisions to be made by those of senior status and authority and avoid proactive behavior.  To further illustrate, Pillar (2007) interviewed Thai professors regarding their major influences on educational issues and the respondents commented (in order) that the leaders at the MOE, the royal family and then international experts were most influential.  The influence of power distance is also visible in certain tasks such as group work where to speak up or speak out against change is interpreted as a direct challenge to the power holder.  This is a socially legitimate method of leadership as all orders are seen as ‘coming from the top’ and must be followed.  Therefore, administrators lead by a socially reinforced authority which is not to be questioned.  

Individualism and Collectivism

Thailand is characterized as having a strong collective culture.  Within this mindset one must consider the needs of the group as superseding the needs of the individual.  Emphasis is placed on group orientation and teamwork.  This collectivism is also bolstered by the patronage system which enables the formation of strong strategic alliances and coalitions.  This pervades all aspects of life in Thailand from deciding which text to use or which administrator should be promoted to a position of higher authority and thus status.  Individuals must conform to this Thai cultural ideal and change their perspective or face social ostracism.  When faced with a choice it is seen as best to look to the referent social groups to understand the best course of action and role within the particular activity (Holmes & Tangtongtavy, 1995). For instance, in a predominantly Thai department, when discussing the next head or manager, it is important to keep one’s opinions to oneself and wait for a consensus among the group prior to revealing your ideal candidate.  Lecturers who have chosen to ignore this aspect of Thai culture often find themselves unemployed when their chosen candidate was not given the position discussed.  Within a collective culture word of dissenting opinions travels quickly and immediate action is often taken to excise dissent.  This collective culture then strengthens the legitimacy of the ruling elite.  A further result of this is a group reduction of accountability and an avoidance of accountability (Hallinger and Kantamara, 2000).    

Masculinity and Femininity

Hofstede identified Thailand as a nation which exhibits high deference for femininity.  In this context, the masculine feminine dichotomy is characterized by the people in a society who put different emphasis on work goals and assertiveness as opposed to personal goals and nurturance.  The femininity of Thai culture entails the desire for social harmony, avoidance of conflict, and establishment of valuable social relationships often based on a form of social reciprocity.  There is a strong desire to avoid conflict.  Negotiation and bargaining to find common ground or a mutually beneficial solution is desired over conflict.  This poses particular problems for any social, educational, legal or political reform in Thailand.  Almost any organizational change creates some conflict and conflict is to be avoided.  Therefore, the only pressure to create real change must come from the top down and the group at the top of the hierarchy usually has the least to gain from organizational reform.  This greatly reduces Thailand’s efficiency as change which is seen to threaten social groups immediately encounters resistance. 

Another component of femininity with this cultural milieu is the strong desire for happiness or pleasure.  This is often described as the Thai fondness for ‘sanook’ in all environments.  Whether it is in the office, in a courtroom or a university, the importance of ‘sanook’ cannot be overlooked.  In Thai culture feelings and hedonistic pursuits often take precedence over reason (Holmes & Tangtongtavy, 1995).  Indeed, even at universities there is a prevailing sense of celebration which is cherished by locals and often interpreted as an impediment to serious academia by western faculty.

Uncertainty Avoidance

The high level of uncertainty avoidance refers to the extent to which members of an organizational society feel threatened by and try to avoid future uncertainty or ambiguous situations.  This influences the Thais’ willingness and appreciation for conformity to group norms, social norms, local and national traditions, rules and regulations.  Their avoidance of any disruptive behavior propels them to a state of stability in family, work and life.

High- Low Context Communication

Another measurement which is used to gain insight to some of the issues of variability in culture is supplied by Hall (1976) in regards to how a culture approaches normative communication styles. Hall’s research focussed on different communication patterns from a cross cultural perspective.  Therefore a further dimension to be considered in additional to Hofstede’s work is a culture’s tendency to use direct or indirect communication patterns.  This dimension reflects the amount of information contained either in explicit language or in implicit contextual clues (Hall, 1976).  The result of Hall’s worked concluded that some cultures favor direct communication patterns whereas others favor a discreet or indirect pattern of communicating.  This has a significant impact on people’s reliance on contextual clues in understanding and deciphering a message (Hall & Hall, 1990; Cohen, 1991). This is often not considered by western leaders in Asia who are communicating in low context language with the belief that their personal directness is lending to communication as opposed to distracting them from the implicit meanings of the high context communicator.

Communicators from collectivist cultures tend to emphasize high context communication and often attribute meaning to both the context and the receiver’s social position or orientation which adds to a state of confusion and misunderstanding for those who are not oriented to high context communication. Collectivist cultures often have the meanings or message of their communication embedded in the context of the communication.  On the other hand, communicators from individualist cultures tend to emphasize low context, direct patterns of communication (Hall, 1976). Most western leaders intentionally use a low context or direct communication style which depends on direct confrontation, open discussion and not reserving opinion in favor of face, status and greng jai; important information is provided explicitly so the possibility of misinterpretation is reduced.

The implications of Hofstede and Hall’s work are important but it is also equally important to be aware of individual differences within a national culture.  Leaders must be mindful not to pigeon-hole subordinates based on cultural background.  These dimensions allow comparisons of groups cross-culturally but they are limited in that they do not take into account the behaviour changes of people in intercultural situations.  This is an important limitation as studies have suggested that people may behave differently when working with foreign colleagues (Adler and Graham, 1989).  As a leader, this may be an important source of information as it will allow for an opportunity to gain insight.  These opportunities also provide a window for communication and a westerner may establish a relationship which enables a subordinate to feel comfortable communicating from an individualistic perspective or in a low context manner.  

The Need for a Cultural Analysis of Educational Change in Thailand

All educational leaders must be aware of the above cultural dimensions in Thailand if they plan to successful implement any effective changes.  To ignore the influence of these characteristics is to choose to confuse, offend and ultimately fail.  Any leader here, especially a leader of western origin must practice and eventually become fluent in intercultural communication as this is an integral component of international education in Thailand.  There is a clear importance for all involved in this process to understand the importance of sociolinguistic backgrounds of those interacting with faculty and students.

Subsequently, the challenge educational leaders’ in Thailand face is framed within a cross-cultural psychology paradigm.  International educators are left to question to what extent can we move towards internationalization of our programs without systematically undermining local cultural norms.  This is particularly relevant in Thailand where the MOE has placed specific goals of cultural maintenance and promotion in undergraduate programs.  These goals are not always contradictory to the internationalization process, but many create challenges.  For example, in the introduction of the National Qualifications Framework for higher Education in Thailand (2006) the MOE stated:

“These priorities include emphasis on the transfer and application of cognitive skills in problem solving, creative thinking, and entrepreneurship; familiarity with and support for national culture and traditions; and reconciliation of those traditions with requirements for competitiveness in the international knowledge economy ” (p. 2)

No further description of how this can be done is included.  Therefore, international educators are considering to what extent can their program reconcile the Thai culture and traditions within a western liberal arts program?  Additionally, which traditions should be reconciled for the sake of international competitiveness?  Should attempts be made to change the collective nature of Thai culture?  For many western leaders it is difficult to create a leadership paradigm which achieves international competitiveness while working within a high power distance, collective, feminine, high context environment.  Clearly support for the national culture and traditions are an essential aspect of the Thai education process yet educational change is upon us.  Consequently, many western educators feel powerless when asked to create an international environment or an international program with international standards within the context of a strong Thai culture.

Additionally, in the same document the MOE outlines the conditions necessary for learning:

It is an important part of the internal quality assurance of higher education institutions to ensure that the necessary conditions for developing different kinds of learning outcomes are understood by faculty, are applied in courses and programs, and that the effectiveness of those strategies is evaluated on a continuing basis. The following conditions have been generally supported by research and appear to be necessary.

For ethical and moral development—This involves a combination of knowledge about appropriate behavior and formal and informal codes of practice, attitudes, and maturity of judgment. Development strategies may include exposure to positive role models and analysis and reflection on their own behavior and that of others in a variety of situations. Group discussions of simple and more complex moral dilemmas can help students clarify their own values and think through general principles that they believe should guide their own behavior…” (p.10.)

In this document, it is the use of the word “appropriate” which creates multiple problems within an international context.  What is considered appropriate in a western context may be culturally offensive in Asia.  International educators are left to question the ethics of the patronage system and a hierarchy which rewards birth title over individual accomplishment.  How does one teach students to navigate the moral dilemma of forgoing meritocracy for aristocracy?  It is also suggested that group discussions will clarify what is moral, yet following some of the cultural dimensions discussed this may not be effective as students expect their teachers to give them knowledge.  Additionally, this discussion may not be effective as most Thai students do not engage in classroom discussions out of fear of disagreement or debate (Eldridge & Cranston, 2009).  The importance of classroom harmony and face will override any desire for critical thinking or individual introspection.  Furthermore, most educators with experience in Thailand understand that Thais are passive learners.  Therefore this is no longer a discussion, but will result in the teacher directing the student on ethical or moral behavior in various situations.  This teacher-centered learning is more common in large power distance societies (Hofstede, 2001).

The impact of culture on individual and group behavior has a strong influence on what can be done in the classroom.  To further explore the problems faced by international educators in Thailand, one need only to look to the guidelines set by the MOE.  For example, the Thai MOE has produced a number of qualities which any graduate of a bachelor degree program should possess.  There were two learning outcomes in particular which, if measured by graduates of international programs, would conflict with the expectations of the majority within Thailand.  These are:

“Take initiative in identifying and resolving problems and issues both individually and in group situations exercising leadership in pursuit of innovative and practical solutions;

Apply the theoretical insights and methods of inquiry from their field of study in considering issues and problems in other contexts;” p.17.

This appears to be an excellent recommendation in various contexts with the possible exception of Thailand.  The reason for this lies within the cultural ideal of Thais as previously discussed using Hofstede’s work.  Taking initiative and resolving problems without permission is not a normative response.  This will be interpreted as a status seeking attempt at self promotion or simply unnecessarily involving oneself in the affairs of management.  Similarly, a young Thai may not voice their opinion on any issue in the presence of elders out of a fear of appearing to be arrogant, bossy or indirectly aggressive.

Application of Leadership Theories

Academics and modern pedagogy have introduced numerous and varied theories of education leadership.  The early readings on contingency approaches were particularly helpful as each assisted in the conceptualization of situational leadership.  The readings provided by Kets de Vries also included an interesting psychological component which led to consideration of the background and sociocultural implications of Thai leadership styles (De Vries, 1995).  Readings such as those on situational leadership and transformational leadership enabled further consideration of personal value orientations and Thai norms or normative behavior from a cross-cultural perspective.  Hersey et al. (1979) classified power and situation leadership within task based behavior which reinforced the relationship of power distance and dominant or subordinate status and maturity.  Ogawa and Bossert (1995) discussed four dimensions of leadership which incorporated organizational culture and leadership attributes among others.  Their analysis of institutional theory and it’s possible application to Thai leadership was major shift as it clarified how the process of decoupling structures can lead to “conflicting or even contradictory values in their environments” (p. 232).    The paper also introduced the work or Habermas, Adorno and other members of the Frankfurt school which sought to understand social relationships by determining which group gained advantage through the propagation of the culture.  Further reading of contingency models presented by Rice and Kastenbaum (1983) increased my desire to incorporate a psychological framework within a specifically Thai-style leadership model.

One of the striking aspects of leadership studies is the realization that with several thousand empirical studies on leadership mostly having inconsistent results (Yukl 2006), there is little to no consensus regarding the most efficient or effective method to lead in Asia.  This is an important area of concern as leadership abilities of administration have become a focal point for development in many areas of the world. (e.g. Hallinger & Bridges, 1997; Reeves et al. 1997; Feng 1999; Li 1999).  In Asia there are two particularly important lapses in educational leadership knowledge: training and implementation (Evans, 1996). This is even more evident in that there are few leadership texts printed in local languages which allow local leaders to expand their knowledge (Cheng, 1995; Walker & Quong, 1998). There is definite need for more culturally grounded research in Asia, particularly in Thailand.     

Proposal for Resolution

In regard to educational reform, some of the most important considerations of context are whether the leader is in a Thai program or an international program.  To what extent can the leader exercise authority and what is the employees’ perception of that leader?  Regardless of the accuracy of that perception, in Thailand perception is reality.  Therefore, the solutions I would recommend to leaders here are not simply based on one theory.   Rather these solutions are an amalgamation of theory, cultural awareness and the establishment of a well informed dominant hierarchy. 

Organizational change requires knowledge of culture, not only organizational culture, but national culture as well.  Leaders in Thailand must be able to interact within the local culture while also negotiating global changes in leadership and modern educational theory.  If the Thai educational system is going to move forward and institute progressive policies to prepare its’ people for the twenty first century, leaders must have the ability to be local as well as global.  This modernization of the education system refers to those advocating the accommodation of global education outcomes such as computer literacy, English proficiency, problem solving skills and social responsibility (Hallinger & Kantamara, 2000). 

Management and other educational leaders must be able to create widespread support for any initiative they plan to implement.  Further, it is in their best interest to be mindful of the differentiation of status among all members of their organization. Lastly, leaders must be able to collect a broad range of opinions and perspectives regarding the intended change prior to and during the transition. 

One leadership theory I find particularly relevant to Thailand is based on Confucian dynamism (Hofstede and Bond, 1988) with a Thai accent.  This area of leadership incorporates many of the elements of Asian culture and allows for a paternal (or maternal; although this is far less common) approach to leadership.  Some of the realities of leading in Asia cannot be easily adapted by a western leader.  For example, acting on the impression or understanding of unequal status relationships which will lead to a stable society is contrary to western ideology.  I do not recommend that this concept be embraced whole-heartedly, rather a leader must be mindful of ‘face’ and the importance of providing high status individuals with enough ‘face’ so that they continue to feel that they are a valued and essential component within the organizational framework.  To do this, leaders must remember the basics of face such as not publicly criticizing high status holders, using formal titles in public situations and showing them verbal and physical respect (a public greeting of a deep wai or other culturally relative displays of status).  This along with consideration of other culturally specific behaviors will lend to the perception of a benevolent leader which in turn enhances the familial atmosphere of an office (collectivism and sanook).  The fact that the family is typical of many social organizations in Asia is not unimportant.  The role of family is integral as it accentuates the leaders’ role as family head or patriarch.  In regard to the value of perception, it is important for employees to see the virtue in their leaders.  At the very least a strong leader should work to create an image of virtue.  This Confucian virtue emphasizes working hard in life, acquiring as much education as possible and developing useful skills.  This also includes being frugal and promoting an atmosphere of perseverance (Hofstede and Bond, 1988). 

The establishment of a dominant social hierarchy is a rational response to the value of collectivism in Asia, particularly in Thailand.  This group should also be enlisted to “cultivate the support of informal leaders and to leverage the resources of the social network to create pressure and support for change” (Hallinger & Kantamara, 2000. p. 200).  This method of hierarchical influence correctly assumes that there are other factors such as individual psychology that are influential.  The ‘Two-step Flow’ is a term used by Katz and Lazarsfeld (1955) to describe how a message flows from the source to an opinion leader (MOE, monarchy or expert) and then to the audience (the opinion leaders social network) whose opinions were affected by what the opinion leaders related to them.  Therefore, the interpretation of the message is dependent upon the audience.  Similar to the thesis Roland Barthes (1968) proposed in ‘Death of the Author’ that “a texts unity or the message lies not in its origin but in its destination”; therefore, it is not the leader’s message that is injected into the subordinates but their experiences with the message that allows for interpretation.  While Barthes was referring to literary texts, the use of two step flow in hierarchies is also important.  In this sense, an objective to appeal to the informal leaders of the organization will create a broader base for supporting change. 

The establishment of a clearly articulated pecking order also allows for a formalization of status differentiation which is a valuable commodity in Asia.  Subordinates are aware of their position while members of the organization with a dominant status will work hard to maintain their status within the organization.  The establishment of a hierarchy is not an easy task.  In Thailand this dominant hierarchy should enable some individuals in the group to attain some socially visible valuable resource (such as a reserved parking space or an individual office as opposed to shared office accommodations) which contributes to the individuals’ status or prestige within the organization.  In their simplest forms, dominance hierarchies are transitive meaning that lecturer A will be dominant over B, and B is dominant over C, then lecturer A will be dominant over C and so forth (Cummins, 1997).  The establishment of a dominant social hierarchy by a western leader eliminates the otherwise necessary grappling with subordinate or superior positions in the organization and the ideal of a working theory is its’ ability to make predictions regarding the tactics people use to negotiate the hierarchy.  A further hierarchy should be established for administration and other members of faculty which focuses on a production based hierarchical model. This would clearly outline the divisions of labor and allocation of further resources which lends to the achievement of organizational goals (Rubin, 2000).  The production hierarchy should be implemented in a manner which decreases power distance.  Promotions based on individual accomplishment and the encouraging a culture of information sharing as opposed to hoarding should also decrease the power distance and allow for exchange of ideas.  This combination of a status hierarchy and a production hierarchy should allow for appropriate levels of face, consideration of local culture and clarify individual roles and expectations.      

A concrete highly operational hierarchy alone is not sufficient to retain enough authority to implement lasting change in Thailand.  Following the work by Hofstede, Schwartz (2004 & 2006) and theories of Confucian dynamism, there is a culturally sensitive necessity to implement a policy which creates an atmosphere of celebration while also maintaining accountability.  Encouraging group harmony coupled with accountability is a challenge for anyone working in education. This requires a skilled leader who is able to balance the conflicting demands of accountability with competition while also fostering a familial atmosphere. 


In conclusion, as the number and size of international schools in Thailand continue rapid growth, more attention should be focused on the goals of these programs and the type of leaders they choose.    Within each prison, corporation or school there is a unique collection of personalities which favor certain styles of leadership over others.  The individual’s within these organizations and their background often determine which cultural leadership preference is dominant.  Therefore, there is no ‘one size fits all’ theory which can be applied to international schools in Thailand.  The promotion of a hierarchy and demotion of power distance

For an educator of western upbringing to effective lead in Thailand, the paramount influence of culture must be taken into consideration.  To do otherwise is to lead in a vacuum.

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