Revealing Insights into the Similarities and Differences in Leadership across 9 Markets in Asia

October 21, 20164:36 pm1043 views

165 C-level executives across nine Asian markets reveal key attributes of leadership success in their specific regions, in a study conducted 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.™

The study 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. Logic, Emotions, Processes and Improvisation collide in Asian business leadership.

Singapore’s business leaders are forward planners, driven by data and processes while their Indian counterparts succeed on quick improvisations and emotional connections with their people. Confucianism forms the cultural core of many Chinese senior business leaders. As a result, they lean towards a hierarchical leadership style.

Yet, similar to trends across many markets in Asia, there must be a turn towards participative decision-making and empowerment. Such unique insights give global businesses an in-depth understanding for leadership success in the region.  Apart from Singapore, India and China, the other markets researched include Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Su-Yen Wong, CEO of HCLI, believes the study has uncovered different ways of leadership in the Asian countries with honest insights that will advance the 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.

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 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 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.

Different shades of leadership style

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.

Unique styles of leadership

Each country cherishes a unique leadership style that influences the overall business landscape of the region. Japan’s history in technological excellence and methodical problem solving has created best-in-class products and processes, particularly in the manufacturing sector.

Singapore’s leaders offer a unique proposition of bridging the gap between the East and West, hence positioning their country as the most cosmopolitan with a global outlook when taking business decisions.

Looking ahead

Such findings are useful for global businesses looking to feed best Asian talent into their global leadership pipeline. For example, India is known for its global leadership exports, those who have high aspirations, 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.


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