165 C-level executives across nine Asian markets reveal key attributes of leadership success in their regions
A study by The Human Capital Leadership Institute (HCLI), Singapore’s National Centre of Excellence, in partnership with Tata Communications, a leading provider of A New World of Communications™, reveals interesting nuances of Asian leadership on the back of in-depth conversation with 165 C-level executives across nine countries in Asia. ‘Leadership Mosaics Across Asia’ is an in-depth study that surfaces insights into the similarities and differences in leadership characteristics across the continent giving a detailed orientation into its organisational cultures and providing leadership lessons.
The study reveals that growing up in an uncertain political climate between military rules and coups, has equipped emerging leaders in Thailand with the potential to navigate complex environments and deal with volatility and uncertainty relatively well. At the same time, they are lauded as being open-minded to different cultures and showcase flexibility of thought.
While Thai emerging leaders work well in teams, they also need to beef up on communication, overcoming their shyness and stepping out from the crowd to speak out and express their points of view – especially when these views differ from their senior’s opinions.
As the only Southeast Asian country to have never been colonised, Thais tend to be quite content with the present. As one foreign CEO commented, “The land is very, very rich and fertile, and you get food so cheap that you can never starve to death…. They live in the now.” This, in combination with the low cost of a maintaining a comfortable lifestyle, results in a workforce that is relatively resistant to relocation.
These unique insights and more provide global businesses with rich perspectives on how best to navigate for success in the region. Aside from Thailand, the other markets researched are China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam.
Su-Yen Wong, CEO of HCLI, shares that the study has uncovered different ways of leadership in the Asian countries with honest insights that will advance leadership development in the region.
“Succession planning and the challenge of finding the ‘right’ Asian talent to step into senior roles for Asian operations has always been one of the top issues that keeps CEOs awake at night, for both Asian conglomerates and multinational corporations (MNC’s) operating in Asia. The question then is: what kind of senior leaders are these MNCs seeking and expecting? What leadership qualities or competencies do they deem necessary for their top roles? And, why are Asian emerging leaders perceived to fall short? The HCLI’s Leadership Mosaics study delivers the very answers to these perpetual questions,” says Ms. Wong.
Speaking on the occasion of the research launch, Vinod Kumar, Managing Director and CEO of Tata Communications Group, says “At Tata Communications – a multi-billion dollar enterprise with employees across 40 countries and operations in over 200 geographies – we appreciate the nuances of different styles of leadership, just as we value the diversity and colour that this brings. We are honoured therefore to be associated with the HCLI’s Leadership Mosaics Across Asia study.”
“Technology and digital communications are changing the way in which business is conducted today. Business leaders are starting to build interconnected ecosystems and collaborating across their industry platforms like never before. And at the heart of this digital transformation is the very real need for human connection and emotional intelligence. This HCLI study helps us deconstruct and understand myriad leadership styles across many geographies and cultures. For at the end of the day, all roads lead to leadership.”
Each country’s report dwells into its unique leadership style, and how this may have to change in an evolving global order. It also focuses on the country’s next-gen leaders and suggests how they can make the next leap to become global leaders. This enables global businesses to build their Asian leadership pipeline for sustainable success in the region.
Highlights of the study:
Similar patterns of leadership:
It is no surprise that Asia is an incredibly diverse region with no one particular way of doing business across these countries. However, the reports reveal some common patterns of leadership styles. For instance, leaders in several Asian markets covered tend to highlight relationships as a way of ‘getting things done’, with many leaders attributing much of their success to connections in both business and political circles. This can largely be linked to the cultural values that emphasise familial ties and social strata, or a distrust in the rule of the law.
In drawing out the portrait of business leadership for Asia, one also inevitably runs into a discourse on power. While ‘respecting the order’ comes out as a strong trait in China and Japan, a ‘hierarchy-conscious society where older employees address the person before the issue’, and not the issue at large, is a key trend noticed in India. Across Southeast Asia, words such as “paternalistic”, “hierarchical”, “autocratic” and “feudalistic” resound when leaders, both native and foreign, were asked to describe the ways of leadership in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Unique styles of leadership:
In the case of Thailand, leadership assumes the existence of a hierarchy, with the senior person in the hierarchy expected to be the one who talks and makes decisions. At the same time, this organisational hierarchy is not one where senior leaders are aggressive to their people, but one in which there is a sense of family. This could be from a combination of automatic respect for authority blended with the boss’ concern for individuals. Our interviewees likened this hierarchy to that found in many Asian families.
Different shades of leadership styles:
Leaders from Singapore and Japan sit at the ‘logic’ end of the scale and excel in process thinking, while leaders from India thrive on improvising solutions in environments of uncertainty and chaos. There seems to be a direct correlation between these traits and the maturity of the existing infrastructure in each market. Leaders from other regions researched fall at various points on the scale.
Such findings are also useful to global businesses who are looking to feed their best Asian talent into their global leadership pipeline. For example, India is known for its global leadership exports who are highly aspirational, mobile, adaptable, and are able to skilfully navigate volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA)environments. Interestingly, HCLI’s findings indicate that leaders coming out of the Philippines share similar global leadership traits. All they need is a boost of confidence, assertiveness, and sponsorship by senior management to make their mark on the globe.
The Thailand Mosaics report is available in full today and can be downloaded from leadershipmosaics.asia.
See attached appendix 1 for a summary factsheet/key insights into Thailand and the respective eight other markets. The other country reports are available on request.