Debunking myths around Asian Business leaders

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The next dawn in workforce transformation focuses on hybrid work as the new normal. The future of work poses several questions for leaders, but one major concern is how businesses can adapt to the hybrid working model which is set to be the reality for organisations. Hybrid work has brought about disruption to business models, workflows and people, creating a need for leaders to have an agile mindset within the organisation. 

In this increasingly fast-moving climate, organisations without a leadership development plan will hinder their ability to grow. When leaders are prepared with the right competencies and mindset, they are armed with the catalysts for powering through chaos and disruption. This disruption also presents an opportunity to reset the leadership development function, and view it with an objective lens, without biases and prejudices. Only then will organisations be able to tackle the myths and urban legends, which are aplenty in the leadership development world.

Particularly in Asia, such myths around leadership development are stunting the development efforts of Asian executives. If organisations continue to hold on to these relics, they will struggle to develop leaders at the required pace. It is certainly time to debunk leadership development myths and energize the leadership development function. Center for Creative Leadership’s (CCL) research report, highlights seven such myths, corresponding realities, and debunk action steps.  

Myth I: Asian leaders are harder to develop to take on senior global leadership roles 

Realty I: Organisations must curate compelling development plans to create a strong pipeline of global Asian leaders. Organisation posture may be the biggest stumbling block, much bigger than the individual capability issue.

Debunk Actions:

■ Invest effort in root causing the ‘real’ reason for the lack of global Asian leadership pipeline. Organisational posture (or lack of it), not lack of skills, may be hindering the global Asian leader development efforts.  

■ Identify key capabilities required by leaders to succeed in regional and global roles in your organisation and create development journeys to set them up for success.  

■ Be deliberate to curate appropriate experiences and help engineer the right career moves for executives to hone their global leadership skills.

Myth II: Leadership development efforts should primarily focus on top-level executives 

Reality II: Leadership development must happen across multiple levels in the organization to maximize ROI on development initiatives.

Debunk Actions:

■ Sensitize senior leadership team and get buy-in on leadership development initiatives across multiple levels in the organization.  

■ Map out the content needs and critical capability gaps across levels, geographies, departments, generations, functions, etc.  

Curate the most compelling mix of content and delivery modes for different communities of learners in the organization.

Myth III: Organisations can have one uniform approach to developing leaders across different regions, countries, contexts 

Reality III: For maximum impact, organizations must tweak leadership development interventions and journeys to suit the Asian context.

Debunk Actions:

■ Refrain from ‘exporting’ leadership development programs and journeys as-is to Asia.  

■ Invest energy in understanding business context and culture in Asia, and tweak leadership development interventions accordingly.  

■ Be deliberate to pick countries within Asia where your organization will place talent ‘bets.’

Myth IV: Attending [only] leadership development course(s) will make you a better leader 

Reality IV: For maximum impact, leadership development must happen outside of the classroom as well, including compelling experiences, mentoring, coaching, etc.

Debunk Actions:

■ Be mindful of the 70-20-10 model while designing development journeys.  

■ Be creative in adopting tactics to curate compelling developmental experiences.  

■ Curate and promote an experience-driven development culture.

Myth V: HR can lead and execute leadership development agenda without a top team/board buy-in 

Reality V: HR must find sponsors in the senior leadership team to improve the roll-out and impact of the leadership development agenda.

Debunk Actions:

■ Find sponsor(s) on the executive team or board.

■ Tie the leadership development agenda with the organizational strategy.  

■ Do not shy away from ROI conversation with business leaders; build impact assessment and evaluation as a part of the end-to-end roll-out plan.

Myth VI: Effective leadership development can happen irrespective of the organization culture 

Reality VI: Focus on creating a leadership development culture in the organization, which is a set of beliefs, practices, and behaviors that promote alignment with and commitment towards the leadership development agenda.

Debunk Actions:

■ To roll out a compelling leadership development agenda, start by asking the question “Will the current culture inhibit or promote leadership development?”

■ Educate senior leaders about the need to walk the talk on leadership development.

■ Shape and curate a cultural shift towards a developmental mindset.

Myth VII: Online/digital learning is less effective 

Reality VII: Digital learning can be equally impactful [as classroom learning] if designed and delivered keeping the learner objectives and experience in mind.

Debunk Actions:

■ Invest energy in designing and delivering a program virtually led by an instructor, and keeping in mind the learner experience and objectives.

Bring in partners with expertise in content, program design, and delivery, to co-create and co-deliver compelling solutions.

Future fluent leadership development  

As organizations fight the seven myths, they must act towards creating future fluent leadership development strategies. The CCL research highlights five directives around creating future fluent leadership development in Asia.  

One, leadership development in Asia must be ‘Asianised yet global’. While it is critical to leverage global best practices on what works and what doesn’t in developing leaders most efficiently, the capabilities and skills to be developed must be contextualized to the Asian business and cultural context.  

Two, leadership development in Asia must be ‘high-tech yet high-touch. While technology and digital learning will change the mode of delivery, the human element in learning will stay equally relevant. Interviewees shared that hybrid models are rapidly emerging where online and physical learning methodologies are converging. For instance, online programs followed by coaching, online learning followed by classroom discussions, etc.  

Three, leadership development in Asia will be ‘personalized yet scalable’. While digital learning allows organizations to align delivery with individual leaders’ pace and style of learning, it is also elevating the coverage of such interventions. Some interviewees referred to the emergence of ‘personal learning clouds,’ which are a combination of online content, interactive platforms, along traditional tools.  

Four, leadership development in Asia will be ‘in-house-led yet partner-centric. Several interviewees highlighted the train-the-trainer type of leadership development models to make program delivery scalable with the help of learning partners. Partners play a key role in training and certifying internal faculty, which then rolls out the leadership development journeys to the broader organization.

Five, leadership development in Asia will be ‘experiential yet classroom-based. Learning journeys will mirror the 70-20-10 model more closely in the future, with relevant experiences, and mentoring and coaching components supplementing classroom programs.

Owing to the ever-changing landscape of business, technology, people, economy, and society in Asia, the need for leadership development is more pronounced than ever before. Hence, leaders must leverage new business skills to be future-ready.  

Author: Sunil Puri, Head of Asia-pacific Research at Center for Creative Leadership 

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