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5 strategies to develop global leaders in ASEAN



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Only 15% of businesses in Asia Pacific are identifying who is ready for the next move or position within their leadership pipeline, found a study conducted by Mercer less than a year ago.

More recently, Gallup and Human Capital Leadership Institute (HCLI) studied 72 business leaders from sectors across six countries in the ASEAN region to identify 5 strategies to develop leaders, and how HR and line managers can catalyse that process.

1. Make long-term career plans, but remain open to possibilities

Long-term career goals are important, and leaders who reflect on their developmental status roughly every 3 years tend to stay on track.

The GM of a luxury goods company’s Southeast Asian operations explained: “My career was broken down into three-year paths. I wanted to become operations manager within three years. And when I achieved that, I said, ‘OK, in three years, I want to become branch manager.’ And then I said again, ‘From branch manager, I want to become managing director.”

Action items for HR:

  • Plan for emerging leaders to be around long enough to see the outcomes of their efforts.
  • Do not allow emerging leaders to stagnate beyond a certain number of years in the same role.
  • A career checkpoint around the three-year mark seems to be an effective time to reflect.

2. Go global, early

Early cross-border experiences help shape individuals into broad-based leaders with a dynamic global perspective.

A Filipino senior leader now with a Philippines-based utilities company explained why he moved
with his family to Singapore for a regional HR job in the early 1990s: “Right from the beginning, I always saw myself as someone willing to go beyond the confines of my geography. I’d like to say I am one of the early adopters as far as the global village is concerned.”

Action items for HR:

  • Identify emerging leaders who aspire to gain cross-cultural experience within the company.
  • Discover what motivates that person to help them make the most of the international experience.
  • Account for the needs of the leader’s family.

3. Early cross-functional experiences and risks pay off for executives

Taking risks and exploring different roles in the beginning of a leader’s career helps him or her identify the right job fit and builds a holistic view of doing business.

One operations leader at an electronics manufacturer described finding his passion: “I started my career in the materials management profession. But after an opportunity where I was able to run an electronics factory, I discovered I enjoyed operations. As I get to the tail end of my career, I find that I enjoy operations because I have the chance to interact with people. Of course you manage machines, systems and processes — but also people.”

Action items for HR:

  • An aversion to risk in ASEAN cultures can hinder innovation and entrepreneurial thinking.
  • Allow your high-potential leaders to try out diverse roles and activities, to take risks and to fail.
  • This  would help leaders gain a greater appreciation that there is no one right way — but many ways — of looking at situations, challenges and opportunities.

4. Develop a professional network with depth

Emerging leaders should proactively surround themselves with a diverse, tight-knit group of professionals who can provide the contacts and feedback they need.

The director of a consulting firm in Indonesia, a naturally extroverted business leader, said he did
not develop his professional network solely for his own use: “I have always had a lot of friends. So I
developed an organisation with a friend of mine that is now managed by a small group of senior executives. We meet once a month and others are invited to join us. We take one professional from each sector. You contact anyone currently in the group if you want to join — I may not be the first contact.”

Action items for HR:

  • Introduce emerging leaders to people outside the organisation who are important to the business.
  • A senior leader can bring young talent to external business meetings.
  • This external exposure is crucial as the emerging leader needs to know the macro political and social environment the organisation operates in.

5. No need to “save face”

Instead of pretending to know everything they need to know, emerging leaders should be humble and speak openly about their own shortcomings to earn others’ trust.

An American C-level executive at a Malaysian bank noted: “One of the things that people in ASEAN
appreciate about my style is that I’m confident in knowing what I’m not good at. I have no problem telling somebody that I wasn’t trained traditionally, and most of them probably know more about corporate banking than I do. And that really puts them at ease. Everyone’s honest and upfront about their strengths and weaknesses. And this puts your employees in the role of the teacher, so you expect them to help you come up to the curve.”

Action items for HR:

  • Communication habits and hierarchical thinking are a major barrier to open exchanges.
  • Create a culture where all employees can exchange their views openly and frequently.
  • Allow employees to fail and then to admit to failure without fearing harsh consequences.

Image: Shutterstock

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