Delegating and supervising in Indonesia

Written by Ayoub Abattouy November 2013. Posted in Leadership, Int. Skills

Delegating and supervising in Indonesia

Indonesia is a country with beautiful scenery, a fascinating culture and a thought-provoking history. Nowadays it is also an up-and-coming economy with many possibilities for the future. It has come a long way from being a dependent Dutch colony to become the market that it is today. Do not be mistaken, however: Indonesia still has a long way to go and will need to do a lot before it can be considered a developed market. Nevertheless, even now there are many opportunities for businessmen around the world. This article will help you in doing business in Indonesia. It specifically looks at how to delegate and supervise.

It is important to keep in mind that leadership styles vary greatly among cultures and that there is no universally applicable method. It is therefore strongly advised to do research on the (business) culture of the country you will be visiting. Indonesia’s culture varies greatly from those of Western countries for instance and since culture strongly influences business that can lead to big differences in doing business. If someone applies the wrong leadership style, inconsistencies are likely to present themselves.

In order to talk about delegation and supervision in Indonesia it helps to explain Indonesia by means of the concept of “power distance”, a term introduced by anthropologist Geert Hofstede. Power distance is an indicator that helps to show the inequalities in a certain society. It also shows how much power the upper echelons have and their tendency to delegate it. Indonesia has a ranking of 78 on Hofstede’s Power Distance Index, which implies that Indonesian supervisors are not very likely to delegate their power (freely) or would only do so very cautiously. Furthermore, there is a strong hierarchical thinking amongst Indonesian people.

Indonesia is known to have a structured and hierarchical society, like most other countries in Southeast Asia. A person’s age and status are crucial. An inexperienced and young worker is much less likely to be delegated power, compared to an older employee with a higher status and they will have little influence on the decision-making process.  

The Indonesian leadership style is often described as Bapakism and the manager is referred to as a Bapak, which literally means father but can also be used as an honorific for a person in a higher position. He supervises his employees by explaining in detail what and why things need to be done. Employees do not question or criticise him and will follow his instruction, even when he may be wrong. On the other hand, the Bapak looks out for the interest of the whole group and the individuals. He makes sure nobody comes into a situation where he or she will “lose face”.

As mentioned, status and hierarchy are core values in the Indonesian business culture. It is important to be aware of these principals and to apply them while doing business. Loss of face should be avoided at all times. Adapting yourself to the Indonesian business culture will greatly increase your chances of succeeding in Indonesia.