A Leadership Gap Analysis for Chinese Leaders From a 360-Degree Survey
With the rapid growth and expansion of business in China in recent decades, the demand for competent leaders has increased. Chinese leaders face a business environment that’s more complicated than ever before.
Externally, they need to deal with government regulation, fierce competition, and an uncertain economic landscape. Internally, they need to increase operational efficiency while developing and managing talent pipelines to be sure leadership is in place now and into the future.
We conducted a study using our 360-degree Benchmarks® assessment instrument in order to answer the important questions: “Are Chinese leaders ready?” and “Do they have the necessary strengths in the competencies that are important for success in their organizations to deal effectively with these challenges?”
To understand the essential leadership capabilities and skillsets needed for Chinese leaders to effectively lead and succeed in today’s organizations, we analyzed data from nearly 500 Chinese leaders who attended our leadership programs over a period of about 10 years, focusing on 2 key questions:
- What are the leadership competencies that are most important to success for Chinese leaders?
- What are the gaps (the competencies that are seen as important, yet in which Chinese leaders are underperforming)?
As we explain in our white paper, one particularly interesting finding from our research was that Chinese leaders themselves often don’t have the same opinion about their strengths and developmental areas as their coworkers (i.e., their boss, peers, and subordinates). We know this because there were discrepancies between leaders’ self-ratings and their observers’ ratings. For example, leaders rated “leading employees” as a strength, while the observers rated it as a developmental area; leaders rated decisiveness as a developmental area, while the observers rated it as a strength.
The discrepancies indicate that Chinese leaders don’t have an accurate self-understanding of their strengths and developmental areas, which may be due to a lack of communication, or a miscommunication, between the leaders and their colleagues.
Leadership Competencies for Chinese Leaders
At CCL, based on decades of research, we’ve identified the most important leadership competencies important for success. While all 16 of these competencies are needed, some competencies may be perceived to be more or less important for success in an organization by different people, either because they’re from different cultures, organizations, or countries, or because they’re at different levels of the organization.
Knowing the relative importance of each leadership competency towards success helps organizations focus on which competencies should be developed and strengthened in their leaders. Such knowledge also helps individual leaders focus on the most important areas for their own personal development and career advancement.
Our data found that the 5 most important leadership competencies for Chinese leaders are around managing people and managing tasks. Specifically, 2 competencies that are related to managing people were highly ranked in importance: “leading employees” and “participative management,” while 3 competencies that are related to managing tasks were also highly ranked in importance: “resourcefulness,” “change management,” and “decisiveness.”
These 5 most important competencies reveal the dual aspects of Chinese leadership challenges. On one hand, Chinese leaders need to make quick decisions, solve problems efficiently, and get things done; on the other hand, they’re also expected to build and maintain good relationships.
Closing Leadership Gaps Among Chinese Leaders
Knowing whether a competency is important or not is one thing; understanding whether leaders are skilled in that competency is another. The leadership gap refers to the discrepancy between competencies considered to be important and how well leaders are currently performing on those competencies. After identifying the most important competencies, organizations and individual leaders also need to identify how strong or weak their leaders are in those competencies to understand their organization’s leadership gap.
A gap analysis can therefore help leaders focus on key developmental areas where a competency may be seen as extremely important to success, yet leaders may be underperforming in it.
Our results identified the key gaps for Chinese leaders as “leading employees,” “participative management,” and “change management.” These are competencies that were ranked as being highly important but were also areas of weak performance. To strengthen their leadership skills, Chinese leaders need to leverage collective wisdom by empowering people, developing employees, and encouraging them to participate in decision-making. In order to succeed in a fast-changing environment, leaders need not only to adapt quickly but also to truly embrace change and even initiate important changes in their organizations.
To help Chinese leaders develop in these areas, we offer some suggestions that individuals, managers, HR departments, and others in the organization can use to close these gaps.
Leading Employees: Leadership is the outcome of direction, alignment, and commitment (DAC). Leaders who achieve DAC are willing to empower employees and delegate tasks, communicate effectively, and act fairly. Moreover, leaders should have the mindset of developing others, providing challenging opportunities, and rewarding hard work and excellence.
Organizations should also create a developmental climate and maintain an efficient talent pipeline. People in organizations, particularly those in HR or talent management departments, but also executive team members, should communicate the importance of leaders’ taking time to develop their employees.
Participative Management: Chinese leaders need to learn to involve employees in management. Strong leaders value participative management, share information with the team openly, and push decision-making to the lowest appropriate level. They also have an open mind to different perspectives and opinions.
Leaders can enhance their participative management skills by meeting regularly with their subordinates as a group to solve problems or come up with new ideas, focusing on active listening, requesting more input, and being open to receiving input. For organizations, it’s important that communications be transparent and that employees have a forum for sharing and exchanging ideas.
Change Management: Being a successful change leader is very important for Chinese leaders. Leaders need to be more open to change, think about taking small steps to get to the final goal, and become savvy in asking the right questions to understand the issues or problems involved.
Organizations can improve leaders’ ability to manage change by providing them with stretch assignments, job rotations, or new projects or processes. Whatever is done or whichever special assignment is given, organizations must provide leaders the necessary support, such as coaching and mentoring, so that they can learn and adapt quickly, have time to experiment, and make mistakes and corrections.
Over the next several decades, Chinese leaders will continue to face an uncertain environment, and our analysis found that, in general, Chinese leaders are resourceful and decisive. However, they need to improve their skills in managing change, leading employees, and letting employees participate in the managing process.
Moreover, by comparing leaders’ self-ratings with feedback from their colleagues, we think Chinese leaders need to improve their understanding of their strengths and developmental areas by seeking feedback frequently from their colleagues. Leaders should seek feedback, spend time on self-reflection, and look for other ways to boost their self-awareness. They should also have regular and ongoing communication with their colleagues.
Organizations can help leaders by fostering a feedback-rich environment through instilling a coaching culture, including both formal and informal feedback processes. This would be a starting point for current and future Chinese leaders to succeed in the current Chinese and global business environment.