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Exploring the Determinants of Young Inclusive Leadership in Thailand: Research Taxonomy and Theoretical Framework

Abstract

Inclusive leadership has recently become an active topic in the literature on leadership and in the field of organizational behavior. However, there is currently a lack of consensus regarding whether the younger generation of inclusive leaders perceive and behave differently from the older generation. This study seeks to determine the traits, characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors of young inclusive Thai leaders who today play an increasingly influential role in various sectors of the Thai economy. The ultimate intent is to develop a theoretical framework for young inclusive leadership. Building on relational leadership theory and adopting the framework of Kouzes and Posner’s Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) and Hollander’s 4Rs of Inclusive Leadership, the authors use interviews with 12 young Thai leaders to classify the crucial attributes of young inclusive Thai leaders into five categories: role model, luminary, pioneer, motivator, and nurturer. These attributes reflect how young leaders express their inclusiveness in conjunction with relational, entrepreneurial, and transformational leadership and serve as the basis for a holistic framework for young inclusive leadership.

Introduction

Leadership is one of the most important domains that contribute significantly to the success of the organization (Charoensukmongkol & Puyod, 2021; Siangchokyoo et al., 2020). Prior literature has revealed various types of leadership that serve different purposes in organizational strategies (e.g., Berraies & El Abidine, 2019; Montgomery, 2008; Oc, 2018). For example, the literature regarding transformational leadership has been widely studied and applied in many contexts (Gardner et al., 2020; Mahmood et al., 2019) argued to improve a firm’s performance (Andrej et al., 2022; Chen et al., 2019). As myriads of people have emphasized that leadership is a prime topic in business management, there is an emerging trend regarding the type of leader that highly values individual differences with respect, equality, and sense of belongingness, so-called inclusive leadership (Bourke & Espedido, 2019; Hollander, 2008). Inclusive leadership differs from other leadership styles in that inclusive leaders see the potential of individual differences among their subordinates to contribute significantly to the success of the organization, while other types of leaders, such as those exercising transformational leadership, may be more oriented toward organizational goals and motivating others to adapt in order to achieve those goals (Chen et al., 2019). The existing literature suggests that inclusive leaders can improve both employee well-being (Choi et al., 2016) and innovation (Ye et al., 2019), which can improve the competitive advantages of the organization.

Although inclusive leadership has been discussed in previous studies (Nembhard & Edmondson, 2006; Roberson & Perry, 2021) as a part of relational leadership theory (Carmeli et al., 2010; Clarke, 2018), the concept is still unclear and scattered due to a lack of understanding and limited generalizability (Randel et al., 2018; Ryan, 2007). Among the more significant gaps in the literature is the absence of a study that investigates inclusive leadership as it relates to generational differences. This is especially noteworthy since a number of emerging leadership-related studies have emphasized the importance of the younger generation and their leadership styles (e.g., Balda & Mora, 2011; Maier et al., 2015). The existing literature portrays younger generation leaders as autonomous, creative, and entrepreneurial leaders whose leadership styles may differ from those of the older generation and that these generational differences may influence behaviors and attitudes differently in leading and managing people and organizations (Spisak et al., 2014). Previous studies on inclusive leadership (or leader inclusiveness) have mainly focused on the US and European context, exploring such issues as race discrimination, gender equality, power distance, and status differences (Shore et al., 2018). In the literature on inclusive leadership, the emerging contexts and dynamics of areas such as Southeast Asia have not been fully considered by scholars.

In an effort to broaden the discussion, this study seeks to address the research questions of (1) what traits, characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors are present in young inclusive leaders in Thailand, one of the emerging Southeast Asian economies, and (2) how to establish a theoretical framework for young inclusive leadership. Based on data obtained from interviews with 12 young inclusive Thai leaders, we propose new taxonomies regarding the attributes of young inclusive leaders using deductive content analysis (Elo & Kyngäs, 2008; Goel et al., 2019). The attributes of young inclusive leaders were identified based on the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) (Kouzes & Posner, 2003) and Hollander’s framework (Hollander, 2008), which were used as the framework for identifying the thematic attributes of young inclusive leadership. Hollander (2008) asserted that inclusive leadership should manifest a two-way interaction through the “4Rs”: respect, recognition, responsiveness, and responsibility. The LPI framework identifies the common characteristics found in inclusive leaders, arguing that inclusive leaders “model the way,” “inspire a shared vision,” “challenge the process,” “enable others to act,” and “encourage the heart.” The qualitative method through deductive content analysis used in this study offers a comprehensive structure for the explored framework based on prior knowledge (Maschi, 2015; Pandey, 2019). Given the research questions cited above, an inductive approach using the qualitative method can provide in-depth insights into the attributes of young inclusive leadership. Following the studies by Schreier (2012) and Elo et al. (2014), a deductive content analysis is appropriate for exploring the rejuvenated conceptualization that is derived from interview data.

This study particularly emphasizes young inclusive leadership in Thailand as the primary scope of the investigation. Thailand is one of the fastest growing nations for new ventures (GEM Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, 2021), and facilitated by the dynamic environment, young leaders in Thailand have been recognized as highly entrepreneurial (Prospect ASEAN, 2019; Top 10 Asia, 2019). As leadership is one of important components of entrepreneurial ecosystem that influences the culture by the degree of employee involvement in pursuing the new organizational creations (Bhardwaj, 2019), and the fact that Thailand has a culture that drives the entrepreneurial mindset, combined with an emphasis on the relational leadership style, makes it an attractive and suitable research setting (Weerakit & Beeton, 2018). The study of young inclusive leaders in Thailand has the potential to contribute significantly to the development of a consensus understanding and a framework for young inclusive leadership. For these reasons, it would be beneficial to explore both the attributes and dispositions of young inclusive leaders in an emerging and competitive economy such as Thailand.

This study contributes to the ongoing research stream of relational leadership theory, particularly, to research on inclusive leadership among the younger generation. By identifying crucial attributes, the proposed taxonomy and framework provide a better understanding of young inclusive leadership, and extend the LPI, combining it with the concept of an inclusive leader, to derive a new theoretical framework of young inclusive leadership. Regarding practical contributions, the results of this study could be used to form a standard framework for identifying effective young leaders who are also inclusion-oriented, which could result in greater organizational performance. Furthermore, organizations could utilize the results of this study to enhance the culture of inclusion for future young leaders.

In the sections that follow, we first review the literature on inclusive leadership and the specific context of leadership in Thailand before focusing on inclusive leadership for younger leaders. We then discuss the methodology used in the study, emphasizing the use of deductive content analysis. This is followed by a description of the results of the study, and, finally, by a discussion of the theoretical and practical implications of the study and its limitations.

Literature Review

Inclusive Leadership

Inclusive leadership has been developed based on relational leadership theory (Carmeli et al., 2010), which appreciates diversity, values individual contributions, and encourages full engagement with the decision-making processes that shape reality (Bortini et al., 2018). Inclusive leadership consists of a set of positive leader behaviors that are focused on facilitating group members to feel like they belong to the group while retaining their sense of individual uniqueness, thereby contributing to group processes and outcomes (Brewer, 1991; Shore et al., 2011). Therefore, inclusive leaders assure that all team members feel as though they are treated respectfully and fairly, are valued and sense that they belong and are confident and inspired (Bourke & Espedido, 2019). In other words, inclusive leaders are leaders who encourage an inclusive environment through the full engagement of group members and who promote the value of group members. Since leadership is a process (McGregor, 1966), inclusive leadership is not about a grand action at one event, but rather, regular small-scale committed actions at all organizational levels that are practiced every day (Bourke & Espedido, 2019). In addition, inclusive leadership is often defined by relationships that can accomplish goals for mutual benefit (Hollander, 2008). Kouzes and Posner (2003) and Bortini et al. (2018) highlight the importance of involvement and participation, which are key elements for inclusive leaders in order to ensure mutual benefit between leaders and followers. Moreover, respect, recognition, responsiveness, and responsibility are key success elements for both inclusive leaders and followers. As leadership benefits from active followers (Hollander, 2004), inclusive leaders encourage followers to seek their own leadership potential and are willing to create a culture of shared responsibility where everyone feels personally involved and in what is at stake. Wuffli (2016) defined inclusive leadership as an applicable approach in which leaders think and act dynamically and horizontally across societal sectors and cultures. Moreover, Nembhard and Edmondson (2006) defined inclusive leaders as those who exhibit openness, accessibility and availability in their interactions with followers, and who invite and appreciate input from others. Despite the various definitions of inclusive leadership by different researchers, it is collectively evident that inclusive leadership emphasizes the value of individual differences through respect and equality (Bourke & Espedido, 2019). Henceforth, the common aim of inclusive leadership is to attain mutual goals through creating, changing, and innovating while balancing needs and appreciating differences.

Among the existing literature in the inclusive leadership field, few studies have paid attention to the traits, characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors of inclusive leaders in different contexts. Based on an investigation by Bourke (2016), inclusive leaders should have the following six traits: cognizance, curiosity, cultural intelligence, collaboration, commitment, and courage. This finding is similar to that reported by Bourke and Espedido (2019), who found that visible commitment, humility, awareness of bias, curiosity about others, cultural intelligence, and effective collaboration are the common traits or behaviors that distinguish inclusive leaders from others. Furthermore, sharing personal weaknesses, learning about cultural differences, and acknowledging team members as individuals have been reported to be common tangible behaviors among inclusive leaders, whereas overpowering others, displaying favoritism, and discounting alternative views have been found to be the least common behaviors among inclusive leaders (Bourke & Espedido, 2019). However, research focused on such limited dimensions may fail to capture the full dimension of inclusive leadership. In fact, inclusive leadership may involve the practice of self-awareness, living a shared vision, building relationships, and creating change (Bortini et al., 2018). With these common traits and behaviors, inclusive leaders can create an inclusive work environment by facilitating belongingness through supporting individuals as group members, ensuring justice and equity and sharing decision-making, thereby indicating individual value uniqueness by encouraging diverse contributions and helping group members to fully realize their common goals (Randel et al., 2018). While there has been some prior research on the measurements of inclusive leadership (Carmeil et al., 2010; Nembhard & Edmondson, 2006; Nishii & Mayer, 2009), such studies have tended to be generic or limited to a specific context and thus have had little generalizability. Such limitations highlight the need for further investigation and the development of suitable measurements. Hollander (2008) suggested that inclusive leadership is, in fact, a two-way interaction concept in which leaders and followers interact with each other. The success of this two-way interaction depends on the “4Rs” (Hollander, 2008): respect (for each other), recognition (of input), responsiveness (to the others), and responsibility (of both parties). Kouzes and Posner (2003) developed the LPI framework, which identifies five common characteristics of inclusive leadership. According to this framework, inclusive leaders “model the way,” “inspire a shared vision,” “challenge the process,” “enable others to act,” and “encourage the heart.” Although the 5LPI and 4R theories have been adopted by many practitioners, these theoretical frameworks are still general and lack important aspects. For example, 4R theory fails to consider long-term vision, which may well be a general characteristic of leaders. Similarly, 5LPI theory fails to include a sense of responsibility. Although these theories are well-developed and commonly used by practitioners, they are nevertheless in need of further development.

Leadership in Thailand

Pimpa and Moore (2012) found that communication orientation, strategic thinking, planning, relationship building, and conflict management were vital traits that influence leadership styles, specifically in the Thai context. In line with this research, Kantabutra (2006) stressed the importance of vision-based leadership among Thai leaders, as it directly affects firm performance. Yukongdi (2010) reported that consultative, participative, and paternalistic leaders were preferred in this local context. Vaughn (2018) more recently found that Thai leaders to be both relationship- and result-oriented, and described them as incorporating relationship and task-oriented streams into their core leadership values. In their research, Suriyankietkaew and Avery (2014) investigated 23 leadership and management practices and concluded that sustainable leadership, or the leaders who manage organizations while keeping people, the planet, profits, and long-term sustainable development goals in mind help to increase overall stakeholder satisfaction. However, their research was focused exclusively on Thai SMEs. Thus, the generalizability of their results may be limited, leaving room for future research in different research settings. Taking a cultural perspective, Selvarajah et al. (2013) reported that cultural norms, such as non-confrontation, respect, and deference for authority, influence the perceptions of Thai leaders. Newer research by Guang and Charoensukmongkol (2020) and Charoensukmongkol (2021) highlights the importance of the cultural intelligence of Chinese expats when leading employees in Thailand. Such cultural intelligence is seen as a key that could enhance the effectiveness of leadership in Thailand through supervisor support (Guang & Charoensukmongkol, 2020) and benevolence (Charoensukmongkol, 2021). The cited research, however, focuses rather narrowly on Chinese expats leading Thai people and examines only limited aspects of leadership, inviting future research involving different contexts and dimensions of leadership. Notably, Thai leadership is not centered solely on Buddhist doctrines and Thai ways of life. This influences the unique characteristics of Thai leaders who exhibit particular traits, attitudes, and behaviors that share partial commonalities with inclusive leadership theory; that is, embracing people regardless of differences in race, background, and values, while at the same time, appreciating diversity in a congruous approach. Despite some prior studies on leadership in emerging economies, there has been little research on inclusive leadership in a Thai context, thus making it a research area in need further investigation.

Young Inclusive Leadership

Despite the strong establishment of inclusive leadership theory, few studies have paid attention to the younger generation of inclusive leadership. In fact, the theory of inclusive leadership may depend on the generation. It is assumed that because individuals in the same generation were born in the same specific time period, lived through and attended the same major historical events, and share the same socio-cultural context and influences, they may have a tendency to share the same traits, characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors. The literature suggests that young employees, some of whom have already assumed a leadership role, are likely to have a high score on positive personality traits such as self-esteem and assertiveness (Twenge & Campbell, 2001, 2009). However, the literature also indicates that they have a high negative score on personality traits such as narcissism (Twenge & Campbell, 2009; Twenge & Foster, 2010). Much work on generational differences has shown that young employees are more likely to show individualistic characteristics such as a low concern for others (Twenge et al., 2012), a high degree of individual accomplishment (Twenge & Foster, 2010), and a greater sense of entitlement (Laird et al., 2015); these characteristics might differ from those within the concept of inclusive leadership (Bourke & Espedido, 2019). However, in the workplace context, young employees tend to focus more on self-expression (Myers & Sadaghiani, 2010), close communication among team members (Myers & Sadaghiani, 2010), frequent feedback (Gursoy et al., 2008), greater support (Ng et al., 2010), a work–life balance, (Twenge, 2010; Twenge & Kasser, 2013), being reward-driven (Twenge, 2010), and promotions and career progression (Ng et al., 2010). When young employee’s expectations cannot be fulfilled, they are likely and willing to pursue a new journey in a different company (Johnson & Ng, 2016; Rawlins et al., 2011). Chaikaew (2016) investigated young inclusive leadership in Thailand using the Deloitte Global Research Model. Among the six signature traits of inclusive leadership identified by Deloitte, Chaikaew (2016) found cognizance of bias to be the most critical element. In addition, Spisak et al. (2014) found that younger generation leaders are more self-directed, creative and entrepreneurial, and therefore preferred by followers when a change is needed. By contrast, older generation leaders are preferred when an organization prioritizes stability and avoiding uncertainty. Younger generation leaders have also been reported to be more explorational and prosocial (Spisak et al., 2012). Likewise, younger generation leaders are perceived as result-oriented (Oshagbemi, 2004), which can be a great advantage for new entrepreneurial firms. Therefore, generational differences have been found to have some influences on the behaviors and attitudes of leaders in leading and managing their people and organizations. Thus, it is important to understand further how young inclusive leaders think, feel, and behave. To date, as limited attention has been given to the field of young inclusive leadership, especially in a specific context, there is a need to extend this boundary.

Research Design and Method

To explore and determine the traits, characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors of young Thai inclusive leaders who play influential roles in different sectors/industries, qualitative research method was undertaken by conducting semi-structured interviews with 12 young Thai inclusive leaders under the age of 35 years. Besides age, education level, organization type and size, and managerial position and experience were taken into consideration when selecting the interview participants. This research involved two stages: first, completion of a self-assessment survey to assure the inclusivity of the interviewees (Kouzes & Posner, 2003), and second, a semi-structured interview.

For the data collection, the researchers recruited interviewees based on their different profiles in various industries who were well known for their embracing and empowering leadership styles (Muafi et al., 2019). Table 1 shows information regarding the respondents’ profiles. The 12 interviewees were a diverse group with respect to gender, education level, organization type and size, managerial position and experience, as well as industry and occupation. These included two fashion and apparel business owners, a social media influencer, a columnist and senior marketing advisor for a chemical and color printing business, an executive officer in a community mall, a politician, an event organizer and sportswear producer, an ophthalmologist and medical educator, two restaurant and food business retailers, an alternative energy business operator and executive officer, a car dealer, and a charity and non-profit organization (NPO) founder (beauty pageant). Such diversity gave us the opportunity to explore and uncover the common characteristics, attitudes and traits of young Thai inclusive leaders across a broad spectrum. Although middle management and top management are different levels for analysis (Michalle et al., 2021; Shore et al., 2018), young inclusive leadership can be found at all organizational levels (Bourke & Espedido, 2019). Thus, to ensure generalizability, we included both levels in our study.

Table 1 Diversity and inclusivity of the interviewees

To ensure inclusivity among the interviewees, the interview participants were asked to complete a self-assessment survey composed of 25 questions using a five-point Likert scale. The self-assessment questions were adopted from Kouzes and Posner’s Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) (2003). According to the results of the self-assessment survey (Table 2), all 12 interviewees scored very high (average 4 points and above) on four of the five studied attributes of the LPI, particularly on “model the way” (4.4), “challenge the process” (4.16), “enable others to act” (4.48), and “encourage the heart” (4.17). While the scores for “inspire a shared vision” were very high on particular questions, the overall score was just below 4.0 (3.90). Hence, all the interviewees displayed a distinctive set of inclusive leadership characteristics/traits and were proven to be credible samples.

Table 2 Self-assessment survey results (Kouzes & Posner, 2003)

In stage two of the interview process, semi-structured interviews were conducted. A semi-structured interview is a verbal interchange between an interviewer and an interviewee in which a predetermined set of questions is asked. Since additional questions may arise during interviews to probe for better explanations, nuance, and meaningful answers, semi-structured interviews are considered to be more effective than structured interviews (Neergaard & Ulhøi, 2007). The rationale for using interviews as part of the qualitative method for collecting data included several considerations: First, interviews help researchers understand the meaning that each individual attaches to a phenomenon (Creswell, 2014). The interview participants would thus be able to share their understanding and experience regarding inclusive leadership during the interviews. Second, conducting interviews as part of a qualitative method is commonly done in order to develop a theory, and can provide a richer perspective on the existing literature (Saunders et al., 2007). Usefully, the interviews offer the opportunity and flexibility to ask follow-up questions, enabling researchers to probe more deeply when interesting points arise. However, there are limitations associated with interviews, where, by their very nature, the collected data can be rather abstract and unquantifiable.

The data collection for this study took place over 10 months, with both face-to-face and online interviews (resulting from Thailand’s national lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic). All interviews were conducted in the Thai language with the consent of the participants. All interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and then translated into English.

The 5LPI of Kouzes and Posner (Kouzes & Posner, 2003) and the 4Rs for Inclusive Leadership in Hollander’s framework (Hollander, 2008) were redefined by integrating “recognition” as part of “respect” and adding a new R, “result,” as an exploratory criterion specifically for this research, based on the fact that young leaders (Oshagbemi, 2004) and Thai leaders (Vaughn, 2018) have been found to be result-oriented in previous studies. Table 3 summarizes the 5LPI and 4Rs in the context of young inclusive leadership.

Table 3 Definitions of 5LPI and the 4Rs in young inclusive leadership

The authors then developed a 5 × 4 matrix based on the definitions of the 5LPI and 4Rs, as shown in Table 4.

Table 4 A 5 × 4 categorization matrix of young inclusive leadership

Regarding the data analysis, the authors applied qualitative content analysis to analyze the key characteristics, traits, attitudes, and behaviors of the young Thai inclusive leaders. Building on Mayring (2004), Elo and Kyngäs (2008), Schreier (2012), and Elo et al. (2014), this study applied the deductive content analysis approach to analyze and code the data.

The deductive content analysis is an appropriate method for analyzing qualitative data for the following reasons. First, it is used when the structure of the analysis is based on prior knowledge, and theories or concepts (Maschi, 2015; Pandey, 2019). As previously mentioned, a categorization matrix (see Table 4) was structured and established based on 5LPI and the 4Rs to obtain a better understanding of young inclusive leadership. Second, deductive content analysis is recommended when an existing theory is tested in different situations or the situation is compared in different time periods (Elo & Kyngäs, 2008).

As suggested by Schreier (2012), the coding process should be done by at least two researchers to minimize errors. Therefore, in this study, each research member (out of four) was randomized and assigned to code six different interviews. As a result, the coding and unclear areas in all interviews were compared, discussed, and shared to analyze further the key characteristics, traits, attitudes, and behaviors of young Thai inclusive leaders.

Data Analysis and Finding

Based in the interview data, all the interviewees, despite their differences in gender, education level, organizational type and size, industry, and occupation, as well as managerial position and experience, exhibited remarkably inclusive 5LPI behaviors for “enable others to act,” “encourage the heart,” “challenge the process,” “model the way,” and “inspire a shared vision,” in line with the 4Rs. The following sections highlight the views of the young Thai inclusive leaders and their responses during the interviews.

The Role Model

Leading by example, building consensus, having cultural intelligence, being an active listener, having cognizance, committing to create a sense of belongingness, and responding with integrity are the common traits of the role model that were mostly practiced and performed by the twelve interviewed young Thai inclusive leaders.

  • Respected role model: model the way and respect

    We tend to move away from solely voting. As we find there is also a conflict of interest that comes with it… To avoid this estrangement, we try to build consensus through a roundtable discussion.” (Restaurant and food business retailer (1))

  • Result-oriented role model: model the way and result

    When I want people to do something, I will not tell them directly what I want them to do or how they should do it. Instead, I will show them by walking the walk.” (Charity and NPO founder, former Miss Universe Thailand)

  • Responsible role model: model the way and responsibility

    When people work for a particular job over a period of time, they often feel less pleasure in doing it. Thus, to create a good vibe in the workplace, I always share the appreciation and admiration of patients and their families with my team… In doing so, the work is no longer routine, there is pleasure and many people can benefit from it.” (Ophthalmologist and medical educator)

  • Responsive role model: model the way and responsiveness

    With the pandemic, all the event-related businesses needed to be paused. Letting the staffs go is not part of my plan, as many of them have been working with my family for a long time. Rather than focus on the challenge, I want to pursue opportunities and adapt our businesses with help from the staffs... This is the nature of doing business, and I believe we can do it.” (Event organizer and sportswear producer)

The Luminary

When it comes to inspire a shared vision, this inclusive leadership attribute was not one of the strongest; it was found to be the fifth most common attribute among the young Thai inclusive leaders. Not all interviewed participants directly shared a long-term vision with their workers; as three of the interviewees were mid-level managers, they tended to focus more on the present and envision accordingly. A similar attitude was also found among the top-level managers who had been working in their managerial roles for more than 3 years; they were more inclined to share value through other inclusive leadership attributes such as “model the way,” as mentioned by the charity and NPO founder and former Miss Universe Thailand as a result-oriented role model. However, many displayed the attributes of a genuine luminary whose vision of the future was based on the present situation, and whose shared aspirations and common values to inspire others were reinforced over time.

  • Respected luminary: inspire a shared vision and respect

    Personally, I never shared 5 or 10 years’ business vision with my team, as I never thought or aimed to have 100 million baht in sales. I just enjoy and accept the present and want the same for my team. I always tell them (employees) to ‘be happy and enjoy the work’. If they are unhappy, I am always here to have an open discussion. This is a common value that my team and I have; we work as a team and are more like a family. The business can run on its own if we have the same passion.” (Restaurant and food business retailer (2))

  • Result-oriented luminary: inspire a shared vision and result

    I always share the common goal and purpose of the work with my subordinates… For example, in our division, we could generate more than 100 million baht in sales with 20% profit. We should be proud of ourselves. Moreover, highlighting the benefits that the customers will receive is another thing that I always communicate with my team to encourage them.” (Social media influencer, columnist and senior marketing advisor of a chemical and color printing business)

  • Responsible luminary: inspire a shared vision and responsibility

    I often discuss the vision of our organization during meetings and make sure that everyone feels comfortable working with us and that they will be well taken care of… We always value everyone’s benefits, happiness and peace of mind.” (Car dealer)

  • Responsive luminary: inspire a shared vision and responsiveness

    I believe this is the time to revise the corporate vision, mission and culture, so that everyone in the organization will have one common DNA… I want to make it simple but still powerful, so that everyone can understand, and to make it easy to memorize to drive them in a new direction.” (Car dealer)

The Pioneer

This study also found the interviewed participants to be pioneers who see opportunities over challenges. These pioneers are also curious about new initiatives and more outward-looking while, at the same time, being realistic thinkers and courageous risk-takers, but still very result-oriented and responsive with constant learning agility. Being a pioneer was the third most common inclusive leadership trait generally practiced by young Thai inclusive leaders as discussed in the interviews.

  • Respected pioneer: challenge the process and respect

    Our dressmakers are highly creative; they always work on new patterns and new designs… I always provide support and assign them a challenging task that they have never done before. As I know that they have the ability to do it… This could be their shining time… I also motivate and incentivize them to celebrate their accomplishments.” (Fashion and apparel business owner (2))

  • Result-oriented pioneer: challenge the process and result

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, I would say that I am a risk taker and courageous person. I always see the opportunity over the challenge or crisis. I pay attention to how the overseas businesses were doing or handling the situation before it hit the Thai market. Thinking like an entrepreneur, while being aware of limits and shortcomings, has helped my businesses to overcome challenges during this tough time.” (Event organizer and sportswear producer)

  • Responsible pioneer: challenge the process and responsibility

    Every quarter, we often set a sales target. Let’s say we have agreed and set a target to increase sales by 10%. It is a challenging target, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic; however, with a concrete strategic plan and by guiding and working with the team, we were able to achieve it.” (Executive officer of a community mall)

  • Responsive pioneer: challenge the process and responsiveness

    Personally, I love to try new things, and I believe that if you never try, you will never know. Everything is an experience… When things don’t go as expected… Just do it again… Start over again… I learned about this from many successful people, they all have experienced obstacles… For me, this is my drive and my motivation.” (Fashion and apparel business owner (1))

The Motivator

Being a motivator was the most cited inclusive leadership trait commonly employed by all twelve of the interviewed young Thai inclusive leaders. When they were asked what leadership skills they found most important and useful, many mentioned the ability to motivate, communicate, empower, and enable others to act. Their views and experiences on relationship management, collaborative facilitation, trust-building, self-motivation, people empowerment, skill development, conflict management, and feedback appreciation were also described as part of being a motivator throughout the interviews.

  • Respected motivator: enable others to act and respect

    At work, I want my employees to enjoy their work. Because if they enjoy their work, they will be aware of what they are doing and the importance of their contributions… In an organization, if we have people who lack motivation and do not see the value of their work, do not see their own contributions, eventually, they will lack self-esteem. I believe that the organization would then start to go backward.” (Restaurant and food business retailer (1))

  • Result-oriented motivator: enable others to act and result

    I always encourage my staffs to develop new skills so that they can improve themselves in the area of services… I also send them to attend training programs and competitions… Of course, I ask about their interest and willingness first, and what can be built up after acquiring that knowledge and skills… By doing so, they realize that there are many things they still need to learn and develop.” (Restaurant and food business retailer (2))

  • Responsible motivator: enable others to act and responsibility

    Part of my responsibility is to encourage my subordinates to work as a team… Grooming them with the relevant knowledge and making sure that they can visualize the project… Boosting their confidence… I always give my team freedom to do their work, they can also make decisions. Thus, they feel a sense of ownership and value their work… In case they are not sure about their decision, they can come to me for advice anytime.” (Social media influencer, columnist and senior marketing advisor of a chemical and color printing business)

  • Responsive motivator: enable others to act and responsiveness

    I always discuss and welcome new ideas/feedback from my team, for example, in the process of creating a new menu, the staffs submit the menu ideas; however, when there is disagreement, I have discussions with those who disagree and ask them why they don’t like that menu in order to understand their rationale… The open and constructive discussion continues until we reach a point where everyone is happy about the decision.” (Restaurant and food business retailer (2))

The above quotes illustrated how young inclusive leaders were acting as motivators by being considerate and respectful of others, while also being result-oriented and taking full responsibility for managing relationships and welcoming new ideas and feedbacks at all times as part of their responsiveness.

The Nurturer

Young inclusive leaders cherish individual contributions and appreciate and celebrate achievement. In addition, they provide constructive and supportive comments to inspire everyone to grow together, and thus, are true nurturers. This study found this attribute to be the second most common among the interviewees.

  • Respected nurturer: encourage the heart and respect

    I believe that expressing gratitude and appreciation about his/her (staff) contributions to the organization in front of other people will encourage him/her to continue doing great work. At the same time, it will also inspire others.” (Fashion and apparel business owner (2))

  • Result-oriented nurturer: encourage the heart and result

    Managing employee retention and tension is very important, it is not all about the monetary benefits, it is about human relationships and the work environment… In our company, if you work with us for 5 or 10 years, besides the standard benefits package that we offer, we also provide the Government Saving Banks lottery… We work together more like a family and celebrate achievements together… Sometimes, my employees are quite surprised that I can remember things about their personal life. For example, recently, I greeted one of my employees and asked him about his new-born baby… He was touched… I also advised him to apply for the supplemental social insurance and health care that the company provides to cover some expenses for the delivery of his new-born baby… I want to make sure that once they join our company, they can work comfortably and live happily.” (Car dealer)

  • Responsible nurturer: encourage the heart and responsibility

    I always make sure that the residents in my area have a better living situation with support from government initiative programs… I always listen and welcome feedback from villagers, the Village Headman and the Chief Executive Subdistrict Administrative Organization, as they are closer to the residents… I always discuss and check that they already receive support… If possible, I do my best to support them.” (Politician)

  • Responsive nurturer: encourage the heart and responsiveness

    Once we leave the board meeting, no matter how good or bad the situation is, I will always appreciate and encourage my subordinates by saying ‘good job!’ However, when I have a meeting with them the next time, I always point out the good point(s) in the previous meeting and also address the area(s) that still need to be improved.” (Alternative energy business operator and executive officer)

Table 5 summarizes the young inclusive leadership traits based on the results of the interviews. Despite the diverse backgrounds of the interviewees, the results showed clear commonalities in their inclusive leadership characteristics/traits.

Table 5 Traits matrix for young inclusive leadership

Moreover, the keywords of young inclusive leadership traits identified in the qualitative analysis were also in conjunction with the previous finding proposed by Deloitte’s six signature traits of inclusive leadership (Bourke, 2016), including cultural intelligence, commitment, cognizance, courage, curiosity, and collaboration (Table 6).

Table 6 Young inclusive leadership trait keywords

Overall, the findings demonstrated that the young inclusive leaders in this study commonly practiced the 5LPIs by the 4Rs through being respected/result-oriented/responsible/responsive role models, luminaries, pioneers, motivators, and nurturers. These findings extend the current inclusive leadership concepts and suggest a new theoretical framework that mostly fits the context of young inclusive leadership (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1
figure 1

Proposed theoretical framework for young inclusive leadership

Discussion

The findings of this study provide a better understanding of young inclusive leadership through its analysis of the interview responses of twelve young Thai leaders having different backgrounds, managerial positions, and experiences, but who share an inclusive mindset and exhibit somewhat similar behaviors. Although the interviewees took slightly different approaches to inclusion, some commonality regarding the ways of leadership were found, as evidenced by the following:

I feel that people do not rely on me, but it’s me who relies on them. I cannot do things alone. It is absolutely impossible... I am a team leader, not a controller. Everything needs to run with and by the team… For me, the owner is just a title, but it’s them that operate the business. How can I manage a business without people to operate it? Basically, that’s an important pillar of doing business and managing an organization.” (Restaurant and food business retailer (2))

Young inclusive leaders (in the Thai context) tend to emphasize relationships with their subordinates through the embedded mindset of interdependence. Although the concept of inclusive leadership is controversial and scattered, this study provides a better understanding of inclusive leaders in the younger generation. Compared with other types of leadership, young inclusive leaders seem to be oriented toward embracing both diversity and entrepreneurship. They exhibit a leadership role through maintaining a balance between organizational objectives and people with an entrepreneurial mindset. More specifically, the results of this qualitative study indicate that young inclusive leaders express their inclusion through at least one of the thematic attributes of role model, luminary, pioneer, motivator, or nurturer. As mentioned above, these attributes can be contingent on an inclusive orientation—respect, recognition, responsiveness, and responsibility (Hollander, 2008) and result (an exploratory criterion and found to be commonly practiced in this research context). Although these traits are not mutually exclusive, they provide guidelines for future research agendas. Our findings are consistent with the inclusive leadership literature (Bourke & Espedido, 2019; Choi et al., 2015, 2016; Ye et al., 2019) in proposing that young leaders, regardless of their gender (male, female, or LGBT), education level (bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or higher), managerial position (middle or top management level), or years of managerial experience, can exercise inclusion in a variety of economic sectors and industries and in both profit and non-profit organizations. Other studies have found that young leaders tend to be more entrepreneurial and transformational (Walter & Scheibe, 2013). In this study, it was found that young inclusive leaders in Thailand are also motivators, nurturers, pioneers, role models, and luminaries who strongly display relational, entrepreneurial, and transformational leadership traits. Thus, this study serves as an additional stream of knowledge to clarify the attributes and orientation of young inclusive leaders; it also provides a more holistic framework of young inclusive leadership traits.

Theoretical Implications

Regarding its theoretical contributions, this study extends relational leadership theory (Carmeli et al., 2010) by emphasizing the inclusive leadership styles of young leaders. In particular, this study highlights the importance of generational differences in inclusive leadership (Maier et al., 2015) and explores the common attributes of young inclusive leaders, applying the framework of LPI and extending it to the five attributes of young inclusive leaders. These five attributes can be used as a foundation for future inclusive leadership-related investigations. Importantly, the study contributes to the generalizability of inclusive leadership-related studies in the context of countries with emerging economies such as Thailand. The insights from the findings here can help build a solid theoretical foundation and promote a better understanding of young inclusive leaders in similar environments.

Practical Implications

As for practical contributions, the results from this research could help the public and private sectors identify the traits, characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors of young inclusive leaders. Particularly in terms of human capital, the present findings could help organizations select the right candidates to join career development programs and provide relevant training, resulting in improved growth and success. Upper management could also design a better organizational structure and allocate the appropriate resources to facilitate the inclusive growth of their young leaders and enlighten their career progression. Young inclusive leaders could help reconcile the potential conflicts regarding human resource management through the understanding and acceptance of individual differences. Moreover, governments could benefit from this research using the findings to gain a better understanding of the traits, characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors of young inclusive leaders and set the standard or criteria for further policy development for young inclusive leadership training.

Limitations and Future Study

Regarding the limitations of this study, the results were derived from a relatively small sample size. Therefore, the results are substantially limited in terms of their generalizability, which is common for qualitative studies. Future studies could apply this framework and test relationships with performance using a quantitative approach. In addition, this research was solely focused on the context of Thailand. By expanding the research scope and conducting a cross-cultural study in the future, the findings might provide more insight into the common traits, characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors of young inclusive leaders in other cultural contexts. Finally, this study was proportionally based on a qualitative approach in deriving the key attributes and framework. Although qualitative and deductive content analysis (Elo & Kyngäs, 2008; Goel et al., 2019) is suitable for this type of study, the application of statistical methods could also provide valuable insights into the concept of young inclusive leadership.

Conclusion

While a growing number of studies on inclusive leadership have appeared in recent years, little research has been done regarding inclusive leadership as manifested in the younger generations. This research sheds light on the traits, characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors of young inclusive leaders, particularly in the Thai context. Based on semi-structured interviews with 12 young inclusive leaders in Thailand, new taxonomies for young inclusive leadership based on various attributes (traits, characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors) emerged and were classified into five categories: role model, luminary, pioneer, motivator, and nurturer. These attributes and categories of young inclusive leadership extend the prior literature on inclusive leadership frameworks (Hollander, 2008; Kouzes & Posner, 2003), delineating the topic by emphasizing the entrepreneurial characteristics of young leaders together with relational leadership and transformational leadership through inclusiveness. The results of this study can be used as an initial framework for identifying young inclusive leadership, as well as enable other generation leaders to understand how young leaders implement their inclusive approach within an organization.

Availability of Data and Material

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Funding

This study was funded by the Center for Inclusive Leadership, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (Japan), under an AY2019 CIL Research Project Grant (open-faculty type).

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Ackaradejruangsri, P., Mumi, A., Rattanapituk, S. et al. Exploring the Determinants of Young Inclusive Leadership in Thailand: Research Taxonomy and Theoretical Framework. J Knowl Econ (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13132-022-01017-7

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Keywords

  • Young inclusive leadership
  • Traits
  • Characteristics
  • Attitudes
  • Behaviors