Leadership development key to growth in Asia

by 11 Nov 2008

CEOS ACROSS Asia have expressed a willingness to develop the next generation of leaders in their respective organisations, but very few of them have been proactive and strategic in doing so, according to recent research.

It found that the majority of organisations in the region do not have comprehensive leadership development strategies in place for grooming top talent. Most of the leaders who are in their current position were given the role without any formal grooming and training.

Furthermore, while 89 per cent of CEOs provided mentoring when asked by their employees, only 23 per cent had formal mentoring programs in place. Mentoring activities from Asian CEOs ranged from taking employees to lunch, to listening and providing advice on employees’ problems.

As a result, the absence of a strategic focus on leadership development could encumber the next generation of leaders in Asia to successfully assume senior leadership roles.

The research – which was commissioned by the Ministry of Manpower, Singapore, and conducted by The Gallup Organisation and the University of Nebraska’s Global Leadership Institute – surveyed companies and their leaders across Bangalore, Beijing, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Shanghai and Singapore.

“Organisational leaders may spend 90 per cent of their time running their organisations, and 10 per cent of their time identifying and grooming the next leader,”said Ong Ye Kung, chief executive of the Singapore Workforce Development Agency.

“But often it is the latter 10 per cent of the effort that will help solve 90 per cent of our future problems.”

The research also found that two thirds of Asian CEOs believe that leaders are made and not born. Furthermore, most CEOs said that job rotations and cross-cultural exchanges are more valuable career milestones as compared to more traditional, formal, classroom leadership training.

In describing events that shaped their leadership potential, many CEOs described as milestones career-anchoring events such as downsizing a department and taking a stand on controversial issues early in their career.

Furthermore, most employees were optimistic about their CEOs’ leadership, ranking them favourably against leadership qualities such as the ability to adapt to rapid changes, emphasis on development and mentoring, ethical standards, and the degree to which they were inspirational and embraced diversity and creativity.

Employees were more confident with leaders who spent more time and energy promoting diversity in their organisations. Increasing and embracing diversity were also shown to be related to instilling employee confidence in the future of the organisation.

The study also highlighted areas that Asian leaders could improve on. Employees in Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Mumbai and Bangalorehoped that their leaders could respond more effectively to adversity, and recover more effectively from it, while employees in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Mumbai and Bangalore felt that their leaders could be more people-focused, and should do more to develop their staff.

“The current approach to leadership development in Asia needs to change,” said Peter Ong, managing partner of The Gallup Organisation in Asia.

“Leadership development must be more strategic, proactive and intentional. It is not too late for us to start thinking how we can deal with this leadership challenge – but we will have to move swiftly if Asia is to sustain and accelerate its growth. If this is not addressed, Asia may lose the global war for leadership talent.”


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