Building leaders at all levels

Building leaders at all levels

It starts with seeing leadership as practice-based rather than position-based

Today’s business landscape requires collaborative, dynamic and empowered leadership approaches that are essential for Thai organisations navigating unpredictable challenges.

Leadership today presents distinct challenges. Companies must navigate the development of Generation Z, reskill older generations and build diverse leader pools to meet the need for flexible leaders. They must foster innovation, inspire performance and grasp a deep understanding of rapidly evolving technologies and emerging disciplines.

However, did you know that 77% of organisations report that leadership is lacking, and 83% say it is important to develop leaders at all levels? This research by Manpower also found less than 5% of companies had implemented leadership development across all levels. The same survey found that 69% of Millennials believe there is a lack of leadership development in their workplace.

Research by TeamStage, meanwhile, suggests that less than 20% of organisations claim their programmes are effective in building good leaders, and only 18% say such programmes have made their leaders “very effective” at meeting their organisation’s goals.

I think some organisations believe it impractical to attempt to build leadership at all levels. They may not think their people are “natural leaders”, or do not want to be leaders (often true). They may think they need executors instead. And let’s be honest: the return on investment of most leadership development programmes is traditionally not great, so why take people off the job?

I sympathise with their thinking, but believe Thai companies face a challenge. It is not just about having enough people willing to take leadership. It is about ensuring the leaders they develop have the essential skills for success.

We also must transform our notion of leadership from position-based to practice-based. We need to grow people that others will follow or be inspired by at every level in the organisation.

Why? Trust is low, and leaders must seek genuine input and prioritise listening over asserting their experience. The evolving nature of working relationships, particularly with younger generations prioritising employability, means leaders need to adapt their approaches. We may all see this as desirable, obvious, or common sense, but in practice it is not so straightforward.

Where to start?

Get your top leaders to commit: If they are not willing to share and empower leaders at all levels, then you will fail. So be honest. It is not an easy change for some leaders, but it is a deal breaker. If they are not willing, you will never succeed.

Develop leadership capabilities linked directly to your goals: Attempting to cultivate every leadership capability at once is an unattainable feat. Pursuing such a broad approach yields little success. While having a list of skills is good, being selective and strategic is crucial. Various business goals, such as growth, innovation, quality, new markets, and acquisitions, require distinct combinations of leadership experiences and capabilities.

Define what your required leadership looks like: Identify the mindset and behaviours required at every level of your organisation. Then create a situation-based approach that develops capabilities that will be used, rather than abstract skills. Start with the leaders as individuals, connecting between levels.

What kind of leaders at all levels do we need to build?

Successful future leaders must have a diverse skill set that transcends traditional management roles. They must fulfil the traditional leadership functions of inspiring and motivating teams, setting compelling visions and demonstrating enthusiasm for their work — without the “appointed leader” hat.

More than just managing, they must prioritise building relationships, fostering trust and respect, and creating a positive and collaborative workplace culture. They must provide their peers with mentorship, coaching and constructive feedback. They will require clear communication, active listening, empathy and emotional intelligence to cultivate an inclusive and supportive environment.

Business today demands a collaborative and dynamic approach, championing a community of leaders rather than adhering to traditional hierarchical structures. By fostering these extended leadership approaches, Thai organisations can successfully navigate to sustained success in unpredictable business landscape.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer, Managing Director, and Founder at SEAC — Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Centre. She is fascinated by the challenge of transforming education for all to create better prospects for Thais and people everywhere. Reach her email at or

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