Leaders, Vietnam

Leadership Strategies for Vietnam Team


Starting to lead a new team is a challenge for any leader, new or seasoned.  There are different personalities within the group that needs to be learned and different abilities that needs to be brought out.  We need to know what it will take to motivate and drive your team to success.  If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, being in a position to lead a new team in a foreign country with foreign culture and expectations makes it that much more difficult.  Instead of charging into the challenge and taking the bull by the horn, sort of speak, there are strategies you can use to better plan for your approach.

Over the years, I’ve witness many of my colleagues starting to lead a new team in Vietnam without taking the time to prepare properly.  Starting off with the confidence that they’ve successfully lead other teams previously, their over confidence eventually gave way to self-reflection on why their previous experiences didn’t help them here.  Below are some strategies I’ve gathered and used over the years which helped me get a head start to leading a team in Vietnam.

  1. Understand your business title and what it means. Not just what the job description says, but what the perception of the title brings. Because the power distance for Vietnamese are high, Vietnamese automatically place high value and give by default great respect to titles like Manager, Director and so on. Recognizing this and respecting what it means will give you a head start into your leadership style strategy.
  2. Respect is vital to your success. Respect the title and position you’re in and respect the people who work for you. If you don’t then you will lose the respect others give to you.  Once that happens, you would be completely ineffective.
  3. Get personal with your team. Unlike the western cultures, Vietnamese culture not only allow but expects that leaders gets close to the team and understand them outside of work.  That means that you must a lot time outside of work for team building.  Regular happy hour several times a week are normal.  Team trips once every month or two are expected.  The more time you invest in your team, the more relationships you will build to become a more effective leader.
  4. Expect that your team members are more capable than they led on. As a culture in general, Vietnamese are quite and do not speak up often.  Showing off and speaking out is not considered to be acceptable.  Judge your team’s skills by the product they delivery.  Ask direct questions and judge the answers given.  Don’t ask general questions and expect quality answers.
  5. Set timing expectations early and often. It’s very commonly know that Vietnamese treat time very casually.  If you set a meeting time or a delivery time and those times are delayed, don’t angry or frustrated.  It’s just a cultural aspect that can be corrected if you’re disciplined about it.  If you’re ok with the casual time culture great.  If you want to set a different team culture, then do so from the get go and be consistent and disciplined all the way through.  Meeting times starts on time.  Delivery times are due on time.  Even casual social meetings should also be expected to be on time.  On time every time.

These strategies are far from all the available strategies that can be deployed in leading a Vietnamese team.  However, these are 5 of the most effective strategies that I’ve uncovered, used, shared and proven to bring results.  Give them serious consideration in your leadership strategies and let me know how they work out for you.

Photo by: Mimi Thian

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