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Ho Chi Minh’s viewpoint on “modes of leadership” and its application today

(LLCT) - The work “Correct the Working Style” (1947) of President Ho Chi Minh contains a system of profound arguments and instructions on working attitudes and methods, particularly about modes of leadership. Based on the analysis of a new trend of research in the modern leadership science - the knowledge creation, the article seeks to clarify and affirm the modern scientific value in the arguments on “modes of leadership”. This opens up the implementation of Ho Chi Minh’s ideology in study, training and practice of leadership in the context of a “flat” world today.

Key words: knowledge creation, mass wisdom, collective wisdom, contextualized knowledge, modes of leadership.

1. President Ho Chi Minh’s guidelines on modes of leadership

In as early as 1947, Ho Chi Minh gave out profound instructions for leaders in mobilizing the wisdom of the masses in the work “Correct the Working Style”. This actively guided the process of knowledge creation of the collective and community in order to make clear-sighted leadership decisions.

Ho Chi Minh clearly pointed out that “leaders should not be arrogant, but be empathetic. Their understanding and experience are not enough for correct leadership. Therefore, apart from his own experience, the leader must use experience of Party members and the public in order to add up for their own gaps of knowledge. This means they must listen to the voice of party members, the people and those who are “not important””(1).

He argued convincingly that “leaders see only one side of the work, and everyone’s perspective changes from the top down. Consequently, their view is limited. On the contrary, the people see the work and everyone’s changes from the bottom up. As a result, their view is also limited. Therefore, to properly solve the problem, experiences of both sides should certainly be combined. In order to do so, leaders must have a close connection with all strata of people”(2).

As a scholar of wisdom in leadership, Ho Chi Minh always placed his absolute trust in the people’s wisdom. He always believed they understand their problems most clearly and the key is that leaders know how to inspire that source of wisdom. He clearly pointed out that “the people know how to solve a problem in a simple, quick, and complete way, which talented people and big organizations cannot manage to figure out”(3).

According to Ho Chi Minh, in order to mobilize the people’s wisdom, we must remove bureaucratic and authoritative leadership imposed from the top down that forces the people to follow. Instead, it should be replaced by the leadership that “follows the people’s way”. When mentioning “follow-the-people” leadership, he clearly pointed out how “in doing every work, it is necessary to ask the people’s opinions and to discuss with them. To explain so that the people clearly understand. To have the people’s agreement. To get the people to be willing to do their best”(4).

In order to implement this leadership effectively, President Ho Chi Minh made very specific instructions:

First, cadres should clearly understand the psychological characteristics and intellectual level of the people, which should be considered an essential part of leadership context. He pointed out the static characteristics of the people, in which there are different strata: some are progressive, some are hesitant, and some are unprogressive. Because of that, the people’s opinions differ. He emphasized the dynamic advantages of the people, which are feelings, comparison according to time, and the context of specific space. Together with that is the people’s general ability in discovering contradictions and proposing solutions.

Second, when fully understanding psychological and intellectual characteristics of the people, cadres should use the method of opening up the problems and stimulating the people’s critical thinking in solving problems together. Ho Chi Minh clearly pointed out that “when problems are brought to the people for discussion, different opinions will be compared. Through several comparisons, there will be an opinion agreed by all or the majority of people. Points of that opinion will again be compared among themselves, in which good points will be added, bad points be removed. Thus, that opinion becomes adequate and practical. After discussing, comparing, and adding, the final result clearly show the people’s development level at that place and that time. Following that idea, success will certainly come. Not keeping up with that idea is speculative and cowardly. Over-emphazing that idea is risky, narrow-minded, and “leftist””(5).

Ho Chi Minh strongly cricized the cadres who disregard the people’s wisdom. He writes, “There are people who often consider the public to be ignorant and know nothing, while they themselves are smart. Therefore, they do not want to learn from and discuss with the public. This is a very dangerous mistake. Those who have this mistake must self-correct immediately, otherwise they will always fail”(6).

Third, trusting the people’s wisdom. However leaders should not “tail the people”. They must take responsibilities before the people and play an proactive, positive, dynamic, and creative role in leading the collective knowledge creation in order to make rational decisions. The leadership role in the decision-making process is manifested in promoting the scientific theoretical methodology in order to compare and synthesize the people’s opinions and deepen their scientific basis. They are then to bring these works of thinking and creation to the people for review. On this point, Ho Chi Minh clearly stated how “naturally we do not follow whatever the people say. The cadres also use the people’s comparison method to make comparisons themselves. This entails careful comparison and analysis of all social strata having those views. Find contradictions within those different views to identify which is right and which is wrong. Chose the right idea for the people to discuss and choose again so that the enlightment of the people will be gradually increased”(7). He continued that cadres should “gather ideas and experience obtained in directing each unit to form a general idea. Then, use that idea in pilot experiment in each unit. Again, the new general ideas are used to make a new directive. This cycle will be done repeatedly. Doing so manifests the know-how of being a leader”(8).

Thus, during the movement and development of the knowledge of the collective and community, Ho Chi Minh both appreciated the people’s role and emphasizes the role and mission of leaders in organizing and leading the process of knowledge creation. This is accomplished through organizing dialogues in order to find out the truth and to test it in practice, and upgrade practical experience (both the old and new one) to new theory and policy.

2. Implementation in leadership suitable with the era of industrial revolution 4.0

Leadership consists of a number of activities, ranging from building a vision, identifying goals, making correct decisions, encouraging organizational development, building an organizational culture, creating the commitment in the workforce, etc. Among all these activities, the receiving and processing of information (inputs) in order to reach appropriate management or policy decisions (outputs) play a very important role. It is estimated by scientists that 70% of leaders’ time is dedicated to receiving and processing all types of data via various channels. The differences in “quality” between inputs and outputs are shown in decisive solutions that leaders have to make including combinatorial characteristic, the ability to reflect objective reality, and retain feasibility. In addition to the ability of synthesization, analysis, and the personal feelings of leaders, the quality of information and data inputs have important ramifications for the quality of the plans that the management process have created. This is where questions are raised, such as how to receive information and data inputs of good quality in leadership and management activities? How to value the reliability of information sources? How to make the right choice and make an appropriate plan when there are different and even contradictory data?

Since the early 21st century till now, together with the strong development of science and technology, especially information technology, communication and data, the gap in receiving information among different social groups has been increasingly narrowed. Besides, as pointed out by many scientists, with huge daily information across all spheres of the social life, people can be submerged in information without absorbing any significant knowledge and wisdom. Leaders, who are required to make decisions in order to solve problems, are more aware of the imbalance between the growing information and the information processing ability that does not keep up in order to create useful knowledge for work. In that context, scientists put emphasis on highly applied knowledge creation in the face of leadership challenges. In other words, if decision making is considered the choice of one of the action plans, the quality of information and data inputs and the feasibility of the proposed plan has great influence on the effectiveness of the decision implementation.

Herbert Simon’s arguments on “Bounded rationality” (1972) have led to collective knowledge-based decision-making through such methods as Delphi or staired opinions(9). However, the big limitation of this approach is that it focuses on seeking expertise limited in a small group within an organization, company, or consulting firm.

In 2004, the American author James Surowiecki published a book “The Wisdom of crowds: Why the many are smarter than the few and how collective wisdom shapes business, economies, societies and nations”. This book utilized historical evidence and social experiments to assert that the diversity and independence of different opinions of large groups is extremely necessary to make realistic judgements. An ordinary large group can make a more reasonable decision than that of experts(10). This study suggests that finding solutions for leadership challenges should not be limited to those at the top, for it is necessary to mobilize the knowledge of many people - including the ordinary. The biggest challenge in mobilizing the collective intelligence - public opinion - is to get them involved in providing information and suggesting action plans in the most truthful way. Those ideas should and must come from the perspective of the subject rather than the one imposed by a leader or someone else.

For a long time, there has been prejudice against the difference in knowledge between leaders and ordinary people. Accordingly, the majority of opinions hold that leaders always have more information and knowledge than the public. In this line of thought, subordinate officers are only executors who receive information and knowledge from leaders and then creatively implement them to fulfill the tasks assigned by the leaders. In other words, the one-way flow of information and knowledge is from leaders to subordinate officers, from cadres to ordinary people. However, together with the outstanding development of information and communication technology, the potential for the people’s exploitation of information and data have been much improved. The enhancement of educational level and transnational cultural exchanges have increased the ability of ordinary people in knowledge integration. Through this, people’s capacity in recognizing contradictions and finding solutions have made great progresses. So, how and to what extent should the leader’s knowledge integration be built so that his leading and guiding competence is manifested?

Social sciences mention contextualized knowledge as one of the liveliest arguments in modern knowledge management theories. Accordingly, with the increase of complexity of phenomena and other social processes resonated by the interaction containing more “uncertainties” than “certainties”, human’s understanding of any event cannot be “unchangeable” but must be linked to a specific context, space, and time of the phenomena(11). Contextualized intelligence/ knowledge becomes extremely useful, especially in solving leadership challenges. The understanding of a specific context that may be changing every day or even every hour becomes increasingly important. A lack of information and understanding of the context of a challenge can easily lead to a wrong decision.

Challenges to leadership and policy in practice are always far different from the knowledge learned at schools. In many cases, the knowledge of traditional sciences and the available knowledge of leaders or organizations is not enough for them to overcome those challenges. This situation requires leaders and organizations to create new knowledge, in which the ability of supporting and leading the knowledge creation becomes extremely important for the leaders. During this knowledge creation process, each relevant subject, regardless of education levels, has a certain position. Their roles are not only limited to becoming a beneficiary of the knowledge creation process but they can also make certain contributions to contextualized knowledge.

The theory “Knowledge-based management” of Ikujiro Nonaka, one of the 20 world famous managers in the 21st century, stresses that knowledge creation is the core foundation to lead and manage any organization/community to increasingly grow to adapt to the continuous changes of the market and society. When comparing and contrasting the cycle of knowledge creation of SECI model of 4 stages including socialization, externalization, synthesis and internalization discovered and generalized by I. Nonaka and his colleagues on the basis of the practical study of knowledge creation process in a series of outstandingly successful enterprises in Japan(12), we find a coincidence with the instructions given by President Ho Chi Minh as mentioned above.

SECI model affirms that knowledge creation is a continuous transformation between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is personal insights, which are subjective and based on personal experience, and in many cases cannot be expressed in words, numbers or formulas (it is dependent on the specific context). Explicit knowledge is objective, logical knowledge, which can be expressed in words, numbers or formulas (it is not dependent on the context). All knowledge is in the form of tacit knowledge or orginates from tacit knowledge. “New knowledge is created from the continuous interaction between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge”(13). According to I.Nonaka, interaction between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge is the continuous movement back and forth between subjective and objective views towards the truth. In this back and forth, dialogue and practice play an important role in order to objective personal tacit knowledge and verify it, bringing it closer to the truth.

This is exactly what President Ho Chi Minh emphasized: The people compare and solve correctly because they are plenty, they can hear and see everything. This is the endless source of tacit knowledge which leaders cannot underestimate and ignore if they want to succeed. For leaders, knowledge creation is not limited to finding out new knowledge themselves or relying on a team of experts. They have to come up with different methods and tools for dialogue with people, activating the process of emerging tacit knowledge (externalization of tacit knowledge) and from there, convert it into explicit knowledge (objectification and generalization of tacit knowledge), which is useful in order to be ready for facing and overcoming challenges. This is the role of leading and guiding the process of knowledge creation, both in the small scope of organizations and in the broader range of community and society.

For leaders and managers in the public sector (the Party, State, political and social organizations, etc.), the development of their leadership ability guiding the knowledge creation will go together with the development of knowledge management tools through training, mentoring, and practical experience. However, first it is necessary to practice the important capability of establishing contact with people as pointed out by Ho Chi Minh, “To make the people sincerely express their views, cadres must be sincere, hardworking and tactful in inspiring them to speak out”(14).

In the context of the industrial revolution 4.0, people can seek more information and learn faster by using the Internet. The roles of artificial intelligence and human creativity are increasingly important for leading knowledge creation in institutions, organizations, communities, and societies in order to neutralize the leadership and management challenges, this becomes an urgent demand for leaders. This ability is considered one of the core abilities of the current and future leaders.

Leading and guiding knowledge creation can be trained and fostered, therefore, it should become an important integral part in training and fostering leaders and managers in Vietnam and at the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics.



(1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8), (14) Ho Chi Minh: Complete Works, vol.5, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995, pp. 285, 286, 295, 294, 296, 295, 297, 291, 295.

(9) Simon, H. (1972): “Theory of bounded rationality” in decision and organization, Guire, C.B.Mc. and Radner, R. (Eds), North-Holland Publishing Company.

(10), (13) James Surowiecki: The wisdom of crowds - Why the many are smarter than the few, Knowledge Publishing House, Hanoi, 2014.

(11) Helga Nowotny, Peter Scott and Michael Gibbons: Rethinking science - knowledge and the public in an age of uncertainty, Knowledge Publishing House, 2009.

(12) Nonaka, I., Toyama, R. and Hirata, T: Knowledge-based management, Youth Publishing House, 2011.

Dr. Bui Phuong Dinh

Dr. Nguyen Thi Thanh Tam

Institute of Leadership Science and Public Policy,

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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