Asia’s Leadership Challenge

Leadership ChallengeIt is said that the 21st century belongs to Asia.  Discussions of economic shift from the west to Asia is an on-going theme.  For Asian countries to rise to the occasion having an ample supply of skilled leaders is of paramount importance.

In earlier years, companies set up small representative offices to drive sales into the Asia market.  Fast forward to today, Asia has become the largest revenue stream for these same companies.  They have built large scale organizations through organic expansion and complex joint ventures.

Multinational companies have long utilized expats from headquarters to bridge the leadership gap.  But, this option is getting too expensive in current economic climates.  Local staff is pushing for key and senior leadership roles.

Looking to reduce cost and meet the rising demand of local staff for leadership positions companies are at a paradoxical moment.  The decision facing companies is either continuing to spend money on costly expats or risk loosing key local staff if there are not promotional opportunities.

What companies have know for a long while is the limited pool and shallow depth of leadership talent.  Competition for talent is not only from other Western multinationals but also from the rising Asian multinationals.

With the seemingly insatiable Asian growth, companies must consider shifting organization resources closer to the marketplace and at the same time focus on management and leadership development.

Asian Leadership Focus

Dealing with Change:  Heidrick & Struggles says that aside from depth of experience, the most important quality needed in a China executive is the ability to cope with rapid change (Heidrick & Struggls China Perspective IV, 2010).  Changes occurring locally is happening at a much fast pace than perceptions back at the home office.

Cross-Cultural Competency:  The senior executive is also required to have bi-cultural and cross-cultural competency to bridge corporate and in-country teams.  They need the ability balance cultural norms in Asia (i.e., humility and in-direct communication style) with those from Western countries (i.e., direct, confrontational). They must clear through both geographical and cultural distances (China CEO: Voices of Experience).

Corporate Clout:  Furthermore, China leaders need a strategic ability to rethink China as an integral part of the company’s core operations, not just as another international office.  Having corporate clout of influence is needed to drive research and development, product development, and manufacturing and customer requirements with the boardroom back at headquarter offices.

People and Team Development:  Recruiting and retaining key talent remain the highest priority for companies doing business in Asia.  To overcome this obstacle companies must make decisions to constantly provide development and training opportunities.  According to Development Dimensions International, the most critical skills for Chinese leaders are motivating others, building trust, retaining talent, and developing and then leading high performance teams (Leadership Success in China: An Expatriate’s Guide).

Leadership is at the center of focus if companies are to succeed in the Asia marketplace.  Investing in leadership development programs and retention of high-potential performers is a daunting task but a necessary one.

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