Published on November 23, 2021
“Leadership is action, not position.”
― Donald H. McGannon
Moments of trials and tribulations bring out the best and worst in people. We won’t know about our true potential until we are challenged. Only when we step out of our comfort zone will we be able to grow and gain new perspectives.
The unprecedented COVID-19 crisis reveals a great deal about one’s leadership skills (or the lack thereof), particularly those who are in a leadership position. Unsurprisingly, not all “leaders” in the leadership position possess the qualities or the capacity of an effective leader. Their actions and/or inactions in response to this defining moment separated the authentic leaders―who rose to the occasion, from the rest―who sank to the bottom. Leadership is an endless journey of self-discovery and self-reflection, and just like any other skill, leadership skills must be continuously honed. The legendary coach Vince Lombardi said it best, “Leaders are made, they are not born.”
So, what makes a leader a good leader? This issue will explore what leadership means to different people from different walks of life.
I want to thank all article contributors for this issue and special thanks to all featured article writers. The diverse insights on this topic are indeed fascinating. I appreciate it, you are all rockstars!
Have something to share for our next issue? We’d love to hear from you, drop us a line and consider becoming a contributor to the magazine. Get in touch with me: email@example.com. Stay safe and stay classy.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this magazine are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of PSU Phuket and its employees or the official policies of PSU Phuket. Any content provided by our contributors is of their opinions and is not intended to malign any individuals or entities.
By Shaun Stenning
Lately, I’ve taken some time for introspection. About my beliefs, my values, and my strengths and weaknesses in order to try and understand what leadership really means to me. I soon realised that the concept had morphed quite dramatically recently and what leadership used to mean has adapted and grown over the last 18 months. What leadership means to me now, during these unprecedented times is so much more complex and profound than it used to be, and this is because of the necessity for me to survive as a small, local business.
As the CEO of 5 Star Marine; a speedboat tour company operating out of Phuket and Krabi, I have been forced to learn to keep my head above water (pardon the pun) via resilience and adaptability. Adapting can be hard to accept and implement—after all, we are only human and tend to get stuck in our ways. So, for me personally, adapting to the new world had to come with making myself vulnerable. I now had to be open, to learn from my mistakes, learn from others around me and fundamentally learn from the changing ways of the world we now live in.
Making myself vulnerable to learn from my surroundings allowed my business and my leadership style an element of flexibility. My business had been turned upside down by Covid-19, there were no more tourists coming into Phuket and no international travellers booking boat tours to Phi Phi and James Bond Islands up to a year in advance—the future of my business looked so fragile.
I realised it was no longer enough to just run my business. I had to change, grow, and be flexible with what my business could potentially be; this was the time to reassess my objectives and strategies for now and for the post-pandemic world. I began focusing on the domestic market, especially those who are unable to leave Phuket and are ultimately stuck, and found the response extremely positive. The day and multi-night tours around Phuket and Krabi gave them a sense of escapism. I realised that everyone craves the romance of hidden coves, caves, deserted beaches, and breathtaking viewpoints.
Yes, my company was hit hard and faced multiple provincial restrictions and Covid-19 safety regulations. My business had to flip on its head and I considered taking all the boats out of the water and shutting up when Covid-19 first hit. I forced myself and my business to change and be flexible. In the last year, we have managed to double the size of our speedboat fleet and introduced new day and overnight tours and transfer options to meet the different needs of the domestic market. We also received a SHA (Amazing Thailand Safety and Health Administration) Plus Certificate awarded by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) for having Covid-19 health and preventative protocols in place and more than 70% of our employees fully vaccinated.
During this entire time, it was heartbreaking to see the devastation of people losing their livelihoods and the enormous gap that the island faced as one of the most travel-dependent economies in the world. No tourists, no work, no income. So, what does leadership mean to me? Resilience, adaptability, and flexibility—without a doubt. But for me, empathy is absolutely essential and this includes looking after the people around you, the people who work with you, and the people who are part of your community.
This laid the foundation for our ‘Life Bag’ programme. We made the conscious decision to lead by example—by actually doing and taking positive action. Almost 18 months later we continue our efforts supporting vulnerable communities in and around Phuket. Over 200,000 life bags have been paid for, packed, and delivered. Each contains staple food and hygiene items to support a family of four people for up to five days. We worked long and hard to build trusted relationships with a network of local subdistrict administrative organisations or OrBorTor, which enabled us to get insights into the real needs of these communities. Packing and distribution efforts have taken place each and every week, and we utilise our speedboat fleet to enable us to reach the more remote islands. We have managed to continue these indispensable efforts throughout the multiple pandemic waves and restrictions in Phuket.
We discovered that many people wanted to get involved and were willing to lend a helping hand for this lifesaving initiative. So we set up the system, processes, and infrastructure to get the life bags to the communities in need. From this initiative, One Phuket was set up in February 2021 to try to help more where the needs were greatest. 5 Star Marine fully supports One Phuket’s operational efforts and works collectively on several elements of this crucial charity drive. One Phuket is working continuously on much-welcomed fundraising efforts to reduce the financial burden of these life bags that 5 Star Marine has carried for eighteen months.
As Phuket now attempts to re-emerge from a forced hibernation with the introduction of the Sandbox initiative and the arrival of the first international travellers, we recognise that this is a positive step in the right direction to rebuilding our devastated economy. However, as a company, I know we have to keep growing, learning, and being flexible and compassionate because as it stands, Covid-19 is not going away any time soon; we must evolve in order to overcome further challenges and support our community that needs us now more than ever.
About the author:
Shaun Stenning is the Founder of 5 Star Marine and has spent the last 18 months helping to support the community through Food Assistance.
Steps: Leading the Way to Inclusive Employment in Thailand
By Tanya Perdikou
“I always thought there were too many barriers to finding work. Training with Steps showed me I can do it,” says Chanon.
Chanon is one of two million people with disabilities living in Thailand. Less than 2% of these people have access to vocational training and less than 25% are employed. In 2016, inclusion specialist Max Simpson, pastry chef Theeta Hokratikya, and psychologist Yim Mainchainant decided it was time to change all this.
In a small side street of Ekkamai, Bangkok, they founded Steps—a social enterprise cafe and vocational training centre for neurodiverse young people. The Steps model focuses on individual talent and learning needs. Every trainee has the chance to get work experience in the cafe, helping them to develop transferable skills such as confidence and social skills, and enabling possible future employers to see their capabilities.
Today, the Steps model has expanded into two vocational training centres, five coffee shops, two zero waste shops, two business service centres, and two franchise coffee shops across Bangkok and Phuket.
But the biggest news is that 100% of Steps’ graduates are now in employment, including some right here in Phuket.
So, how important is leadership to Steps’ success? As you might expect, it is pretty essential! Here’s a look at how leading through collaboration and innovation is helping Steps achieve its vision of a truly inclusive society for young people with neurodiversity.
Letting trainees lead by example
It was thanks to Steps graduate, Nakita, and her family that Steps made it to Phuket. They founded Steps with Nakita, which has cafes at Blue Tree and HeadStart International School. Nakita has Down’s Syndrome and there were limited work opportunities for her on the island, but rather than settle for that, they made opportunities.
Nakita is the epitome of Steps’ approach to leadership. She pushes for change, leads by example and, now that she’s been given the chance, her talent and capability as an individual shine through. She greets customers with a smile, makes coffee, rings up the bills, and works hard at keeping the coffee shop looking its best.
Like any skill, leadership is best learned by doing. So we also offer a peer mentoring scheme at Steps, where trainees can support their friends in the kitchen, in the office and running fitness sessions. Pete, 20, describes how mentoring helped him become a better leader:
“I supported my friends in the fitness session with the goals to improve their muscular and cardiovascular endurance, agility, flexibility and balance. I designed the sessions, prepared resources and led the sessions. I learn to be more patient, understanding, to stay active and be a good problem solver. I also learned to improve my communication skills. I really enjoy being a peer mentor. I think it’s the right pathway for me because I am calm and I like to teach others and it makes me happy.”
A positive mission
Aiming high is a crucial element of Steps becoming a leading voice for employment equality in Thailand. Its mission goes beyond offering pathways to training. It’s about creating an equal society which welcomes neurodiverse people into work. This mission includes everybody, both within and outside of the organisation, meaning it’s something we can all buy into.
It also drives everyone involved with Steps to focus on transformation day in, day out.
“One coffee shop and training centre was never going to be enough,” says Steps co-founder Max. “We have to shift the perceptions of neurodiverse people across the board and we believe partnerships are the key to doing that.”
“Imagination shared creates collaboration, and collaboration creates community, and community inspires social change,” says American writer Terry Tempest Williams.
This sums up why Steps has never tried to act alone. It partners with scores of businesses from groceries to hotels to logistics companies. Some work with Steps to hire graduates, others outsource data entry to Steps trainees via their business service centre.
It also partners with organisations which support neurodiverse people and their families, schools, arts organisations, and anyone who shares its values around equality and sustainability.
“When we’re in conversation with organisations and individuals we admire and respect, it gives us ideas and inspiration for where we’d like to be,” Max says.
Those businesses which have taken on Steps graduates often become advocates for inclusive hiring. The graduates learn a lot, but they also teach a lot, and improve morale in their new workplaces.
They help employers understand that an inclusive employment environment does not require large, structural changes, just a willingness to understand, accept, and adapt to differences.
Nipaporn Noichan (Nano), a Front Desk Manager at The Rembrandt Hotel, Bangkok, gives a great example of this two-way learning process: “One of Steps graduates has been employed to work at the office. The way he works is unique and sometimes better than us. I have learned how to apply and utilise his unique abilities for our organisation. I have learned how to use different ways to communicate with him such as using a checklist and using clear and concise language. We need to acknowledge our differences and find ways to support him.”
Listening and adapting
Like many organisations, we’ve had to transform quickly during the pandemic. We shifted to online learning very early to protect our trainees. This threw up all kinds of challenges such as accessibility of technological devices and lack of normal social interactions. As always, we place our trainees and families at the centre of any changes we make, asking for feedback, exploring and adjusting until we find whatever works best for all of us.
There is space for every single one of us to be a leader in the mission to create a more inclusive society for neurodiverse people.
If you’re already in the world of work, you could talk to your employer about taking up more inclusive practices, and connect them with Steps.
There are lots of other ways to get involved with Steps, so please sign up for our newsletter, ‘like’ us on Facebook, and come and say hi to our trainees!
About the author:
Tanya Perdikou is a freelance writer. She specializes in telling stories of how the human experience intersects with society, nature, and travel. Among others, her work has been published by the BBC, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, and the Bangkok Post.
Exploring My Own Definition of Leadership
By Kristen Young
When trying to define leadership, the first place many will go is to Google. In writing this article, I did that, and I found 1,520,000,000 results for the definition of leadership. I had to do a double take! But it is true, there are millions of ways to define leadership. And what I have come to realize as a leadership educator is that for each person’s definition of leadership, it is most important that it is based on our values and is repeatedly acted upon in order to improve the communities we are a part of.
I currently serve as the Executive Director of LeaderShape, a U.S. based not-for-profit organization whose mission is to transform the world by helping more people lead with integrity and practice a healthy disregard for the impossible. LeaderShape has been partnering with colleges, universities, and for-profit organizations in the United States and internationally for the last 35 years to help participants explore their own definition of leadership and then put that into action.
The work of defining what leadership means to each of us is not simple nor do I believe it is ever complete. I think that as we grow, as we experience life, as we learn, our understanding of leadership evolves and changes.
For example, as a young child I was involved in the Girl Scouts. Girl Scouts is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place. So as a young child, I saw leadership through the lens of service and working to make the community I was a part of a better place. My experience with leadership as a Girl Scout was communal; it did not require someone to have a formal leadership role but asked that each person contribute their best.
As I got older, I began to see leadership as positional. As a high school student, I got involved in the National Honor Society. For me, it was the first time I was interacting with people as positional leaders. The organization has an executive board and policies in place that govern our activities and interactions. I realized that this form of leadership provided more structure than the leadership I experienced as a Girl Scout.
While these are just two of my experiences with leadership, there are many more that have gone into my own definition of leadership. Some of the experiences have been very positive like the two I mentioned above. Other experiences are ones that have given me great lessons, but I would not like to experience again.
The process of taking those experiences, learning from them, finding meaning in them, and then taking action is what leadership is all about!
Leadership to me means knowing and acting in alignment with your values. The process of determining your values is essential as a leader. Values provide a foundation from which you then base your actions and make decisions. At many of our LeaderShape programs, we spend time with participants engaging in activities that clarify their values. This process can be difficult because we can often hold values that may conflict with each other when making decisions. However, I have found that when I know my values and understand their importance in my life, I am better able to make those decisions and understand why, at times, values can conflict. The best example I can think of is my value for authenticity and loyalty. In some situations I have experienced, those values conflict. As a supervisor, my loyalty to an employee can sometimes come in conflict with my authenticity when I need to evaluate their performance. It is through the process of clarifying