Can Asian leaders have both authority and humility?

August 13, 201510:41 am1737 views
Can Asian leaders have both authority and humility?
Can Asian leaders have both authority and humility?

What makes for an engaging leader, and why is the study of leadership so often misguided? These were the questions being asked at an event hosted by Sirota and Hogan Assessment Systems last week, in which these two companies – arguably the pioneers of employee engagement surveys and personality profiling – discussed what is holding back Singaporean and Asian leaders. Can Asian leaders have both humility and authority?

Leaders from Sirota, Hogan Assessment Systems and Optimal Consulting Group discussed growing employee engagement by understanding personality at a special event in Singapore.

The event was held on July 30th on a theme, ‘How to Grow Employee Engagement Using Personality’, featuring Lewis Garrad, Managing Director Asia Pacific at Sirota, and Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, CEO of Hogan Assessments, who flew in from the US especially for this discussion with 40 of the country’s top HR leaders.

The discussion revolved around how businesses can improve engagement by using personality as a defining factor in management, which quickly focused on the typical personality traits that both help and hinder Asian leaders.

Also present for a panel discussion was Ho Wan Leng, CEO and Chief Consulting Officer, Asia, at Optimal Consulting Group, Hogan Assessments’ Licensed Partner.

Garrad explained that based on a plethora of data from Sirota assessments, those who are selected for leadership roles in Asia tend to be prudent managers who are technically competent.

“In Asia, humility is a more effective tool for developing relationships with employees and making them more satisfied at work when the follower has high power distance – i.e. a wider gap between the superior and the subordinate,” said Lewis Garrad, Managing Director Asia Pacific at Sirota.

Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, CEO, Hogan Assessments said: “There are really just two types of leaders – those who are rapidly promoted and those who actually have the ability to build and maintain high-performing teams. Unfortunately, most organisations reward the former and ignore the latter.”

So, how can you ensure you’re promoting a leader in Asia who is capable of crossing this divide and uniting all aspects of their human capital?

“Humble leaders are able to cross this hierarchy when followers are reluctant to. This makes their employees more comfortable in voicing their opinions to their boss, and therefore they become more engaged and happy at work,” Garrad added.

Chamorro-Premuzic said too often, leaders are promoted on the basis of their technical expertise, rather than on their leadership capabilities.

“When you decide to promote like this, you end up ignoring the ‘dark side’ of their personality. This means toxic leaders are abound, thriving like parasites or bacteria in a contaminated system,” said Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, CEO of Hogan.


While it’s generally accepted that personality predicts a manager’s behaviour, and a manager’s behaviour drives staff engagement, too few organisations put this into practice when finding the right leadership fit.

Garrad explained that these three things often determine an effective leader:

  1. Competence – the ability to get results
  2. Competencies – their behaviour that allows them to get results
  3. Character – who they are, their core values and personality

More often than not, local leaders are promoted based on points 1 and 2, and point 3 is very rarely considered.

“But what really needs to happen is that point 3 is considered first – how they behave, how they engage others and how they are likely to react to certain situations. Then, it’s a matter of also being able to get results. It’s not good to focus on just one of those points,” said Garrad.

“Being successful is not simply the ability to get promoted, but far too often that is how success is viewed.”

Ho Wan Leng, CEO and Chief Consulting Officer, Asia, at Optimal Consulting Group, added disengagement is almost always caused by poor leadership.

“The top three reasons we see that people are disengaged are because of their manager, having no control over their work, and poor decisions being made by top management. All of these reasons are to do with leadership and their ability – or lack of – to build and maintain a high performing team,” said Ho Wan Leng, CEO and Chief Consulting Officer, Asia, at Optimal Consulting Group.

To address these issues, an end-to-end solution is necessary to profile and assess individual managers and leaders, as well as to survey organisational climate, culture and engagement.

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