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It's not easy becoming a business leader, especially in Asia
November 10, 2004
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New York, N.Y. -- Many leadership development challenges faced by organizations in other parts of the globe are magnified in the Asia Pacific region, according to a report released by The Conference Board.

"Attracting, developing, and retaining leaders is a chief concern of CEOs throughout the world," says Andrew Bell, The Conference Board's Program Director for the Asia Pacific HR Council and author of the report. "But more so in Asia Pacific, which will be a major source of business growth for many corporations in the next decade."

Multi-national corporations and expanding local/regional Asian businesses are looking to develop and engage world-class leaders as they seek to compete successfully in the same international markets.

The major leadership development challenges in Asia Pacific include:

  • Rapidly evolving expectations of younger generations are often in conflict with current leaders.
  • Increasing social and international mobility of people and rapid business growth require changes in recruitment requirements at both graduate and mid-career levels.
  • Traditional structures and career paths are changing, and talent increasingly is recognized and rewarded independent of age and service.
  • Developing solutions to these challenges can become complicated because of a less well-equipped and influential HR profession in a number of countries.

There are also cultural factors in some Asian Pacific societies that inhibit the movement of executives overseas. These include assimilation and acceptance, education of children (there are few Asian Pacific international schools specifically running on the home country education system), and fear about the principalities of return and re-absorption.

Combining these factors with a business context where there can be rapid growth or contraction, increasing competition and consolidation, a rapidly evolving legal and regulatory framework, and growing employment costs of international assignees results in a multi-dimensional challenge.

"There is no prescriptive or singular solution to the question of how best to develop leaders in Asia Pacific," says Bell. "However, many North American and European multinational corporations would agree that they have not been as successful as they had hoped at developing and appointing Asians into top leadership positions."

In Asia Pacific, the challenges in executing effective leadership development can be summarized as a disconnect between people and the vision/strategies of the business. The organization's culture and policies can work against the realization of the objectives and implementation may not be aligned with the realities of local business operations.

Developments in information technology are supportive of improvements in converting strategy into action across the whole spectrum of leadership development initiatives. As technology becomes global, there is a greater focus on consistent international approaches rather than stand-alone country initiatives. To some extent, the technology itself may positively support some of the cultural changes taking place across Asia Pacific, especially as information ownership moves from a centralized and controlled service to distributed access and ownership where people have more individual control over their employment relationship.

Successful leadership development programs need to feature career paths and options, organizational commitment, supportive processes based on providing substantive experience, coaching/mentoring/role-modeling, and long- term reward and recognition policies.

A major theme emerging in the Asia Pacific region is a stronger focus on inspiring and nurturing talent and not just on the development of leaders. What were once called assessment centers are now sometimes called talent centers. One factor in this new approach may be that companies have responded to the rapidly evolving and unpredictable nature of growing a business across Asia Pacific and now focus less on managing the talent flow as a top down planning process through traditional career paths and succession planning.

"What is clear is that the organizations that will thrive are those that are most successful in continually developing talent in Asia Pacific to be effective at the country, regional, and global levels," concludes Bell. "This will require constant attention, persistence and, most of all, learning from experience at the organizational and personal level."

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