The "Ideal" Global-Asia Leader

The "Ideal" Global-Asia Leader

by
Rebecca Siow

Are you a HR leader in charge of succession planning for your MNC’s Asian operations? Do you know the profile you are looking for? Are you struggling to find a match between your existing talent pool and expectations of Headquarters? HCLI’s research initiative, Leadership Mosaics Across Asia may just provide some answers.

A while ago, I was in a teleconference with the HR team of a global drinks giant. They spoke of succession planning and the challenge of finding the ‘right’ Asian talent to step into senior roles at their Asian operations.

The above is not an isolated case. Many multinational corporations (MNCs) – admittedly, mostly those headquartered in Anglo-Saxon countries – have underscored a similar challenge. 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?

The Ideal Leader
Having interviewed hundreds of senior business and HR leaders in the last few years, the Human Capital Leadership Institute (HCLI) discovered that the ‘ideal’ leader at the corporate zenith of MNCs must possess four critical qualities. Firstly, he or she must be comfortable with navigating a discomfiting business environment. Geopolitical risk, disruptive technology, societal inequality, discontentment and terrorism are just some macro contributors to our volatile and uncertain environment. Moreover, a globally connected world is susceptible to jolts originating locally. As part of a global business, leaders need to appreciate, predict and plan for many eventualities. Yet, the links between causes and outcomes are complex (even ambiguous). How many emerging leaders are truly able to embrace a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous operating environment?

Secondly, the ‘ideal’ leader must build good relationships across organisational boundaries. Externally, boundaries exist between a business and its stakeholders (think: government and society). In global MNCs, a critical boundary also exists within: that between global headquarters (HQ) and the local offices. Often, decisions are made at the HQ but lack alignment to local context and challenges. In such a scenario, executives based in the local offices need to sell up their ideas and solutions, and influence their counterparts in HQ. To do this effectively, a relationship of trust needs to exist between the parties on either side of the boundary. However, do differences in language fluency, communication styles and behavioural norms impede relationship building?

Thirdly, the ‘ideal’ senior leader in a MNC must be very adaptable. Possibly covering a few countries, an entire region or even the globe in geographical scope, he or she will come across cross-culturally ambiguous encounters. He or she will need to deploy different approaches to solving problems, depending on what is feasible in a particular regulatory, market and business landscape. Yet, while adaptability is key, there must be balance with one’s authenticity. Completely assimilating to a host environment robs leaders of their unique differentiator and value, and can even trigger personal dissonance. Hence, authentic adaptation requires a high degree of self-awareness, maturity and wisdom. Are these in abundance in emerging leaders?

Finally, senior leaders in MNCs must want to take on the role. Undoubtedly, the average person will want career progression and promotion. However, do emerging leaders want this badly enough to make some “sacrifices”? Are they hungry enough to move out of their comfortable home environment, challenge themselves and stay in a foreign (even hostile) host country for a few years? After all, it is through such international assignments that a talent is stretched. It is through such crucible experiences that an emerging leader really learns to be comfortable with discomfort, build trust and relationships across boundaries, and adapt authentically across cultures.

HCLI’s research, Leadership Mosaics Across Asia asked 165 C-suite executives based in nine Asian countries what they think the ‘ideal’ leader was. If you are curious to know what they said, simply visit our website to download the complimentary research reports.

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