The aim of this study is to understand how local leadership development is operationalised in the INGO sector in the social context of Laos. Until recently, leadership has been studied academically from a psychological paradigm. This paradigm sees leadership from the Western individual attribute perspective. A growing body of research addresses the sociocultural context of leadership. The sociocultural view is derived from a container model-a Nation-state perspective- which pays limited attention to the external social forces that come with globalisation. In practice, organisational research shows that leadership development initiatives often take the form of “fill-the-gap” approach emphasising mechanical fixes for intra-personal competency deficits through the provision of training. This study transcends the individual attribute approach. The focus of this study is to explore local leadership development in INGOs from a glocalisation perspective: seeing the social context of leadership from a combination of domestic and international guiding norms.
Informed by a bricolage approach, this study adopts the epistemological perspective of social constructionism, which sees social reality as relative and contextually constructed (Crotty 1998). The bricolage suggests researchers use the tools at hands to generate data about social reality which involves using multiple methods and logic to understand that social world. Therefore, this study combines multiple data-collection methods to ensure greater depth and validity. The four mutually reinforcing methods selected included: in-depth interview, informal conversational interview, participant observation and document analysis. Ethnographic fieldwork was conducted in Vientiane, Lao PDR for seven months in 2011. INGO staff and some international organisation staff were recruited for interviews. They were divided into three groups: local staff member, local senior staff member and expatriate staff.
At a macro level, the study found that local leaders work in the middle of two social worlds. On the one hand, they worked with INGOs who represent the mainstream Western worldviews, working in those the systems and common organisational culture. On the other hand, they work with government partners who represent the domestic power dynamics, cultural and social norms and ways of doing things which often brought them into conflict with their international equivalences. Using the concept of glocalisation, the research explains how domestic and international social norms and guiding principles form the social context for local leadership in the Lao INGO sector. The study found that while the (potential) local leaders comply with these norms and principles, they also attempt to change them.
At a micro level, the research found how (potential) local leaders developed a set of leadership characteristics and competencies so that they would be seen as legitimate leaders in INGO leadership roles. Using Max Weber’s concept of legitimacy, the study found that relational skill competencies such as social networking, building trust and utilising social network were seen as more important by research participants when working with government partners, but less important when working with the INGO staff including expats. In contrast, possession of technical skills and an ability to get the job done were seen as more important by the majority of the three groups of participants when working with the international staff and concerned stakeholders.
Furthermore, an analysis of local leadership development initiatives implemented by Lao INGOs revealed that the practices were not based upon the sociocultural background of the staff and the political context of INGOs. Leadership development training initiatives have been carried out which was short-term, focused on producing quantity or the number of trainees rather than quality of the training and over-focused on technical skills rather than building relational skills.
This research expands the personal attribute focus in the organisational leadership literature by using an approach based on Weberian sociology, Institutional theory of leadership and Institutional entrepreneurship to link leadership to the legitimating principles and norms of the social context in which leadership occurs. This research extends an understanding of the legitimating principles and norms of leadership from a traditional perspective, which is limited within the national boundary to adopt a glocalisation approach. A glocalisation approach sees social context of local leadership as an emerging social space where international and local social principles and norms intersect.
This study was tightly focused on exploring leadership as described and observed by the senior personnel, local members of staff and expatriate staff of INGOs. The research does not consider the perspectives of other stakeholders-such as government officials, donors and INGO headquarters in developed countries, all of whom may have different views and understandings of leadership development in Laos.
The current study explored local leadership development from a hybrid perspective therefore its focus was placed on the interface between the mainstream leadership and the indigenous leadership. Future research could focus on how to understand local leadership development from an indigenous leadership perspective. In addition, further research could also explore in more detail the nature and style of local indigenous leadership.