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Friday, 19 May 2017 09:32
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The science of leadership and management in Vietnam: some urgent fundamental issues

(LLCT) - In Vietnam, politics have long been a dominant influential factor within the country’s leadership and management. It seems that the science of leadership and management has determined its own goals, research methodology, and theory, and does not have the same necessary independence that political science (politics) does. Meanwhile, in developed countries, researchers on leadership and the science of success have already been studying this field at multiple universities. Therefore, we must admit that we have been left behind in this field. 

 1. Overview of leadership and management science theory

- Research carried out by ancient Chinese philosophers and modern Chinese scholars on leadership and management theory

Confucius, Han Fei, and Lao Tzu founded three different schools of politics addressing the rule of virtue, rule of law and non-action. Their works focused on expressing ideas and thoughts on political leadership, including individual ruling skills and national governance such as Confucius wrote Analects, Great Learning, and Mediations; Lao Tzu wrote Ethics; and Han Fei wrote Han Feizi. In Vietnam, these have been published with the added interpretation of scholars such as Ngo Tat To, Nguyen Hien Le, Nguyen Dang Thuc, and Vu Khieu Phan.

Modern Chinese researchers such as Fung Yu-lan (A History of Chinese History), Hu Shih (Outline of the History of Chinese Philosophy), Guo Moruo (Study of Ancient Chinese Society), Fan Wen Lan, and Lin Yutang expressed the richness, depth, and strengths as well as the limitations of Chinese philosophy, including thoughts on political and social management.

Modern China has conducted number of political and social studies applying to their national conditions, however, these have not left major impacts on the rest of the world. Chinese scholars had to study in developed countries or import Western textbooks and monograph books on corporate governance, organizational leadership, and public administration management.

- Studies on management and leadership in developed countries like Japan, the United States, and European Union countries.

The F. Taylor school of scientific management is represented through studies such as Workshop Management (1903); System of product norms and the art of cutting metals (1906); and Principles of scientific management (1911). Scientific management separates the functions of a “manager” from those of a “boss,” which makes production governance smarter and more efficient than traditional management. Taylor proposed several principles that would ensure a scientific method of conducting management including standardization of work, standardization of operations and working procedures, specialization of labor, and the use of appropriate working tools and environment. Although this approach has been applied widely in modern governance, Taylor’s “economic man” ideas have been criticized for being too unilateral and mechanic.

In his books on General and industrial management (1911), H. Fayol’s general management theory proposed that the application of scientific management theory needs to expand not only to industrial manufacturers but also to state administration agencies. Fayol’s definition of management encompasses the functions of a manager and management subjects. Management includes planning, organizing, directing, coordinating and examining. Theory of scientific management of Taylor and Fayol are later developed by other scientists. These ideas followed several different directions and branches, the strongest of which was the study of scientific management that was relatively independent compared to management science with higher requirements and standards.

Traits Theory is based on the characteristics of leaders. In the 1930s and 1940s in the United States, many scholars tried to prove that excellent leaders all had preeminent, outstanding characteristics compared to the majority. These included dominance, ambition, enthusiasm, and modesty. Nevertheless, it was hard for researchers to come to an agreement on the list of innate qualities of leaders.

The study of behavioral theories focused on the leadership styles of corporate leaders. Michigan University and Ohio University (United States) researched whether leaders focused on work, people, or both. The results pointed out similar leadership styles can bring about different results in different environments.

Leadership studies in the 1960s focused on leadership effectiveness, specifically focusing on new leadership theories proposed by corporate leaders. These contingency theories promoted the idea that objective environment and its appropriate changes determine the style and effectiveness of managers and leaders.

A new school of modern management leadership follows theory based on a system of organizational culture/corporate culture. Studies within this school include works by W. Ouchi on Theory Z and M. Yoshino and E. Vogel’s writings on the Japanese Model of Management. According to E. Vogel, Japanese management models in the 1970s and 1990s were very successful and should be instated in other countries, beginning with the United States. Business and trade organizations can build the value of themselves and society; and organization founders and leaders can play an important role in the establishment of organizational culture and corporate culture.

Recent leadership theories focus on the role of excellent start-up leaders and founders who build, disseminate, govern and develop organizational culture. In this approach, great leaders set goals to make their organizations and employees succeed not only materially, but also spiritually. Leadership via organizational culture is explained in the studies of P. Drucker, W. Ouchi, and E. Schein, and also strongly and effectively propagated within memoirs written by leaders of businesses, organizations, and even political and religious institutions. Following a philosophy of right action and steady organizational culture is a foundation and operating system allowing leaders to renovate and adapt to the rapid changes of globalization, the intellectual economy, and the scientific-technological revolution.

To be effectively integrated into Vietnam, these ideologies and theories must be applied selectively and creatively into a particular conditions’ contexts. A modern shortcoming is that many universities are using foreign textbooks to teach their students about management theories without paying full attention to Vietnam’s unique political institutions and features. Meanwhile, public authorities continue to manage and lead based on political consciousness according to traditional doctrines and their own experiences. These bodies lack the knowledge and skills of modern science and technology.

- Studies on management and leadership in Vietnam

Studies on the impact of national ideological values and cultural traditions on the behaviour of Vietnamese leaders and managers: In ancient and medieval Vietnam, leadership and management was restricted to the ruling class. Some of the legacies of Confucian rule and management culture continue to be studied and propagated today. This affirms the suitability and rationality of the Confucian idea of rulers, who should have sufficient righteousness, benevolence, emphasizing the morality-based management method and the family and clan-based model for social management... On the other hand, Vietnam’s leadership and management ideology has benefited greatly from our own national heroes and political and military geniuses, such as Ly Thai To, Tran Hung Dao, Le Thanh Tong, Nguyen Trai, and Nguyen Hue. These leaders have affirmed independent sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the development and preservation of cultural identity and national unity.

Studies on theories related to the operational mechanism and organizational structures of public powers in the political system and public authorities: This school of organizational science has become backward compared to the world. There are many impacts left over from the decades-long use of Soviet Union scientific schools in Vietnam. Organization is considered to encompass all institutional work, personnel work, and human resources management within the political system. This approach is limited in that while it does not attach importance to issues of power, personal responsibility, and leadership effectiveness, it also does not clarify the relationship between a leader and their institution or organization. Questions on whether a leader determines their institution or vice versa, and whether leadership should focus on an organization or its personnel require further study.

Studies on the lives and thought of President Ho Chi Minh, Le Duan, Truong Chinh, Pham Van Dong, Vo Nguyen Giap: Ho Chi Minh Thought which is focused in works such as “Changing Working Methods” (1947), and “Testament” (1969) had a profound impact on leaders during his time. Studies conducted by Vo Nguyen Giap, Pham Van Dong, Tran Van Giau, Dang Xuan Ky, and modern Vietnamese researchers have shown the value of Ho Chi Minh’s thought, wisdom, personality, morality and leadership style. He has set a brilliant example for Vietnamese leaders and managers. However, Vietnam still has a long way to go to reach his ideology. Moral conscience and practical, effective leadership methods still require specific research and explanation.

Studies on Vietnam’s leadership and management science conducted by studying the viewpoints, guidelines, and methods of the Party’s leadership toward the State and society. These macro studies of political leadership and management science related to politics and the Party building have been used since the renovation period. They have concluded with several published works. Many meticulous studies relating to the Party leadership on personnel work and  the contingent of leaders and managers of the country in the renovation and international integration period focus on “enhancing capacity and combativeness of the Party” and of the cadres, public servants, and party members. A limitation of this approach is its heavy focus on politics and morality in proposing development solutions, especially pertaining to effective power control and governance and the lack of basic studies on Vietnamese leadership and management at present.

2. Practical issues posed to studies of leadership and management in Vietnam today

First, the four levels of the administration system contain a cumbersome and intensive contingent of cadres and civil servants. The organizational system of the Party, State and socio-political organizations are all salaried by the state budget. However, the efficiency of the apparatus, the output of the economy, and the national development level is very low in comparison to other nations in the region and the world. For example, the country’s productivity is equal to 1/18 of Singapore’s and our GDP per capita is 23 times less than Israel’s. Management of cadres, civil servants, and officials is ineffective. Several unresolved problems with human resources still exist.

Second, there is a lack of fully effective theoretical system of national leadership and management that can create a theoretical foundation, a renovative strategy, and rapid and sustainable national development. The administrative reform is very slow and reserved; the politics are outdated compared to the economic development; and there is a lack of political will and renewal motivation in the public sector. A number of national practical issues including climate change and pollution, have only been passively settled due to lack of vision and risk management. Many proper guidelines are ineffectively implemented, which leads to underdeveloped local and national governing bodies that cannot meet the country’s needs. Business and economic management policies often have to be modified and supplemented soon after they are issued. This makes them unpredictable. Although many have made strong claims about the level of publicity and transparency in political leadership and management, implementation has been low and of poor quality. 

Third, governance of human resources and national property remains ineffective and unsustainable. There is loss of public assets, especially those of state-owned enterprises, and even state management bodies and public authorities. Corruption and waste of public assets have become national disasters and prevention has proven ineffective. This has resulted in weakened leadership, management, and national internal strength. Policy critique and power supervision and control are ineffective and cannot keep up with the demands and requirements of the market economy and international integration.

Fourth, quality of human resources particularly in the public sector, is currently low and will take time to improve. The contingent of cadres and civil servants is generally poor in terms of service attitude, morality, knowledge, and skills of performing public duties. They have a low operational efficiency and they lack creative renovative capacity. The personal responsibilities of leaders, managers and civil servants have not been clearly defined in order to manage scientifically. There has been no prevention of the degration of political ideology, morality, and lifestyle of cadres and party members holding public power leading to serious consequences.

Fifth, the country currently has a weak capacity for building a socio-economic development plan and managing social infrastructure, which leads to traffic congestion problems, increased traffic accidents, overcrowded schools and hospitals, poor environmental management, and poor water supply and drainage.

Final, citizens’ trust and respect toward public authorities, cadres, and civil servants has been gradually decreasing, and take lots of time and effort to improve. The level of confidence in leadership, management, contracts, and public-private cooperation between people and authorities remains low, unstable, and unsustainable.


1. Dan Senor & Saul Singer: Start-up Nation, The Gioi (World) Publishers, 2013, p.9.

2. Kreiner, R., & Kinicki, A.: Organizational behavior, 5th ed., McGraw Hill, 2001.

3. Yukl, G.: Leadership in Organization, 6th ed., Pearson Education, 2006.

4. J. A. Raelin: Toward and Epistemology of Practice, Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2007.

5. Collins J: Good to Great, Tre Publishing House, 2007.

6. Yukl & Van Fleet: Theory and research on leadership in organizations, 1992.

7. C. F. Achua & R. N. Lussier: Effective Leadership, South-Western Cengage Learning, 2010.

8. S. Fineman: On Being Positive: Concerns and Counterpoints, Academy of Management Review, 2006.

9. A. J. Wefald & J. P. Katz: Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge, Academy of Management Learning and Education, 2007.

10. D. M. Sluss & B. E. Ashforth: Relational identity and identification: defining ourselves through work relationships, Academy of Management Review, 2007.

11. J. B. Miner: The rated importance, scientific validity, and practical usefulness of organizational behaviour theories, Academy of Management Learning and Education, 2003.

12. H. Mintzberg: The nature of managerial work, Harper & Row, New York, 1973.


13. Nguyen Thi Doan, Do Minh Cuong (chief editors): Management theories, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1996.

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Do Minh Cuong

University of Economics and Business

Vietnam National University, Hanoi


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