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Bank of barbarian and a lesson learnt from leadership


“I felt it in my gut, I knew there must be something, I called my subordinate to go to check, and for God’s sake, that word just fell down”, Thuy said.

Everything happened when ACB bank opened a new branch in Can Tho. Right before the G hour, when all of the top bank management, representative of the government and journalists were invited, one word on the signboard fell down, the slogan “people’s bank” suddenly turned out to be the “bank of barbarian”. Before considering whose responsibility, can anyone imagine how terrible it is? This could be the biggest shame ever in the bank history if it wasn’t fixed timely. I meant that’s how one tiny word can ruin massive effort.


Figure 1: Reproduced from Thu Pham 2013

The little story above is just one of many experiences in every working day of Le Kim Thuy, the current Marketing Director of ACB bank, which bank is voted as the best bank in Vietnam through many years. I was shock to know that this young lady has been in this position for almost 9 years, which means she was only 26 years old when she reached the bank’s top management. And it must be a mistake if my topic was not about leadership, which has kept her on the right track for a very long time.

“Leadership is not only about vision, strategy or something big, it starts from simple little things in workplace everyday”, Thuy said.


Figure 1. Taken by Ms.Thuy’s subordinate 2013

 Become other people and go from there

That’s how individualized consideration works, which means followers will be concerned according to their own needs or capabilities (Nelson et. al. 2009). “Treating each follower as giving them the appropriate amount of time and concentration is a smart move in showing your empathy in leadership”, Thuy said.

But why does it matter to empathize and understand the needs of others?

Ms. Thuy declares that by understanding others, closer relationships in an organization could be developed faster and firmer. Understanding and providing subordinates what they really need to succeed or overcome difficulties will help a leader to build trust; strengthen relationships with employees and as a result, it would impact many other relationships of employees in an organization to collaborate better and improve creativity, especially in marketing industry. This could be a challenge for some of people, since this skill comes more naturally to some people than others, but it is a great tool that cannot be underestimated for a leader (Barbuto & Wheeler 2007).


Figure 2. Reproduced from : WordPress 2012

Motivation and inspiration are sometimes just a simple act

Motivation and inspiration empower people, not by pushing them in the right direction but by satisfying their needs (Kotter 1990). Therefore, Ms. Thuy believes that there is a variety of ways to encourage people, and it doesn’t always need to be big things. She indicates few tips of what she has done for many years in stimulating her employees.

  • Never save compliments”

Motivation sometimes is just being acknowledged. A compliment in front of other people about what your employees have put so much effort to do is worth equally as giving them money without saying a word or any care.

  • “Share failures”

By willing to share your failures or successes, your subordinates will connect to you much more deeply. Thereby, they will understand that they are not the only ones who make mistakes and must overcome challenges, or there’s no success without lesson learnt.

  • “Take a real interest in your employees”

Some excellent subordinates of the month are usually called to my room to share with me their achievements and how they gain that. By that way, they feel that they are respected and their effort is admitted.

  • “Be a good example”

Going to work on time, picking up a piece of trash, keeping promises, those little small acts could create a big role model in other eyes. Since people would like to watch more than to listen. So be someone worth following. 

  • “Don’t act like a boss”

“Shut up and do what I said” is a forbidden thought in leadership. Once employees considered themselves as your slaves, they only work for money, not for the success of your organization. 


Figure 3. Reproduced from : Garengpung 2013

Leadership and management don’t always need to be separated

In most of theories, leadership and management are two different subjects that always need to be divided clearly. As management is getting people to do the job, leadership is inspiring people so that they want to do it (Kotter 1990). Between push and pull, managers push and command people to complete the work while leaders pull and communicate (Seepersad n.d.). However, there are always exceptions. Coming back to the story about the bank of barbarian, Ms. Thuy affirms that sometimes when crisis comes, a leader have to do the job of a manager and even an employee.

The word fell down and disappeared in the middle of the night when there was only 4 hours before the opening. While all branding operations are completed in Ho Chi Minh City. “Where would you find another supplier at midnight to do one word for you? And you are in rural area! There is no way that word can be brought there before the morning”, Ms. Thuy said.  After one hour calling to every supplier to ask for making another word, she decided to come to the place to directly manage the trouble. On the way to the location, she noticed another nearby branch of ACB bank, then she immediately thought of taking that word on the signboard down to replace to a missing one at the new location. After that, the carpet was used to cover up the signboard until the supplier in Saigon brought another word to Can Tho.

“In those cases, you must put your hands into troubles, try everyway, to solve it”, Ms. Thuy said. Managers learn to take risks while leaders involve people in the process. Since both are needed to be successful, why a person cannot be both a manager and a leader?!


Figure 4. Reproduced from: Calgary2pointo 2011

To sum up before finishing the interview, Ms. Thuy told me that “go local before going global”. Before thinking about vision, future strategy or anything big, everything must starts from simple experiences first. As before being a leader, everyone used to be employee. A big castle cannot be built without a strong foundation. So don’t push too hard. It is a long process to reach the top of the world. However, as the higher position you get, the more responsibility you take. And it’s not simple. So learn how to walk slowly before running too fast.



Barbuto, J.E & Wheeler, D.W 2007, “Becoming a Servant Leader” Do You Have What It Takes?”, Nebguide, ianrpubs, viewed 4rd September 2013, <>.

Calgary2pointo 2011, “Boss Tips”, image, Calgary2pointo, viewed 6 September 2013, <>.

David 2013, “Leadership”, image, Garengpung, viewed 6 September 2013, <>.

Kotter, John. P. 1990, “What leaders really do?, HBR, online, viewed 4 September 2013.

Nelson, R, Marrone, J & Slay, H 2009, “Journal of Leadership& Organizational Studies”, SAGE, pp.34-43, viewed 6 September 2013, <>

Seepersad, D n.d., “Characteristics Needed for Effective Leadership”, PA Times, view 6 September 2013, <>.

Soilmag 2012, “Top 5 practices of a good boss”, image, Soilmag, viewed 6 September 2013, <;.

Thu 2013, “Proof of life”, image, Bank of barbarian and a lesson learnt from leadership.

Thu 2013, “The bank of barbarian video image”, image, Bank of barbarian and a lesson learnt from leadership.

WordPress 2012, “Empathy”, image, WordPress, viewed 6 September 2013, <>.


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6 thoughts on “Bank of barbarian and a lesson learnt from leadership

  1. -Fix categories, add tags, add byline.

    -SO WAS IT IT IN VIETNAMESE? “the slogan “people’s bank” suddenly turned out to be the “bank of barbarian” “? Expound on this further as the blog maybe read by foreigners who are not able to see the connection.

    -“which means she was only 26 years old”… I guess you can also say, leadership is not about age.

    -An enjoyable read, I like how you completed the intro story to wrap-up the topic at the end. Next time for image consistency, choose images that have the same ‘look and feel’ or even same blue and white color as ACB Bank 🙂

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