New CCL report examines the current state of Asian Boards and highlights the need for Future Fluent Board Leadership

November 2019 —

SINGAPORE – Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), the top-ranked global provider of executive education, today released “BOLD 3.0: Future Fluent Board Leadership in Asia”, which reviews the evolution of board leadership and what Asian boardrooms may look like in the future. The report is the most comprehensive study of its kind, surveying 350 board members and interviewing 109 Asian board members across a range of countries. BOLD 3.0 was published in partnership with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Institute of Corporate Directors Malaysia (ICDM), Institute of Corporate Directors (IDC) Philippines, Singapore Institute of Directors (SID), The Sri Lanka Institute of Directors (SLID), Vietnam Institute of Directors (VIOD), and supported by Pymetrics.

There are six broad factors that hinder the growth of effective leadership on Asian boards. These range from a lack of governance maturity in most of developing Asia, to concentrated shareholding, to capacity and skills gaps. Respondents likened some boards to “old boys’ clubs”, and 56% suggested that one or more board Directors be replaced.

“Boards have a tremendous opportunity to function more effectively and accelerate their impact”, said John Ryan, CCL President and CEO. “Leadership development is the thread that can weave these principles together, by making individual board members more self-aware and strategic, and by fostering a collective sense of teamwork and shared mission for the board as a whole.”

The rise of BOLD 3.0 in Asian boards

In response to corporate governance breakdowns over the past decade, many Asian governments have led multiple efforts to strengthen regulations and governance codes. However, this focus has not solved sporadic corporate governance issues, leading to a realization that organizations also need to take a closer look at their board leaders. As such, Asian board leadership – which has grown from promoters, families, and other closely-knit shareholders, to the tightening of governance codes – has now entered its third phase, BOLD 3.0, with a renewed focus on collective leadership.

“It’s clear that it’s a pivotal moment in the evolution of Asian boards,” said Elisa Mallis, CCL Managing Director and Vice President, Asia-Pacific. “Most boards are lacking in areas that will be critical moving forward, such as digital skills and global leadership development capabilities.  We also see a need for increased representation of female leaders and leaders across generations on Asian boards to provide diverse and inclusive perspectives for market success. ”

Key focus areas for Asian boards

Boards need a strong foundation of corporate governance processes, ownership structure, country jurisdiction, and national culture. This must be supported by resilient pillars: individual drive and motivation of board leaders; functional, technical, and leadership expertise; clarity of roles; and board composition. As a cornerstone, board culture separates boards with individual brilliance from brilliant boards.

BOLD 3.0 identifies the traits of the best Asia boards, and the current and future priorities for Asian board directors:

  • Four behaviours often displayed by outstanding board directors in Asia: asking questions; speaking their mind; evaluating decisions critically and displaying good judgment; and developing meaningful relationships.
  • Top five qualities board leaders in Asia must have for sustained impact include: trust and credibility; sound judgment; strategic intent; having a long-term view; and ability to do strategic planning.
  • Supplementing core capabilities: A ‘rock star’ board leader can no longer just have technical and functional skills, they must also have skills in strategic and individual leadership. For example, 55% of respondents were satisfied with their boards industry and financial expertise, but only 18% reported being satisfied with their board’s sustainability expertise and technology savviness.
  • People development: a key emerging leadership role is to help develop first-rate talent, ensuring CEO succession but also ensuring adequate development across the enterprise. 41% of respondents said their board rarely discusses the talent agenda and spends little to no time with top talent each month.

 “While the traditional approaches of Asian boards have succeeded in building Asian companies’ market share to this point, we are seeing that natural limit of how far these approaches can carry companies,” said Sunil Puri, Senior Director of Research, Innovation and Product Development, Asia, CCL, who led this research. “What will distinguish the next generation of Asian board leaders is their ability to develop others’ leadership skills and capabilities, creating a culture that can be quickly scaled.”

Next steps

CCL research suggests a four-step process for Asian Boards to continue to be effective:

  1. Evaluate existing governance maturity, to ensure they are operating on a strong foundation;
  2. Reflect on leader intent and capability, with regular dialogue;
  3. Assemble a compelling team and establish a clear mandate, including diversity, clear roles, set KPIs and board reviews;
  4. Curate a culture based on trust and commitment. Trust—whether among board directors, between board and management, or between board and CEO—is often the most critical element of board culture.

“A board’s culture has a direct influence on company culture. Understanding the current state of Asian boards, as well as their strengths and weaknesses, is a key step towards identifying organizational strengths and a beginning step towards preparing organizations for the future to compete at the global level” said Grace Kerrison, VP and Managing Director APAC at Pymetrics. “Future fluency at the board-level takes time and requires a mind-set change. It has to be deliberate and an ongoing process that requires preparation and an ongoing commitment to realize results, but we believe that the tools provided by this report will go a long way towards creating future-fluent Asian board leaders.”

Research Methodology

A total of 350 board leaders, directors, and CEOs across six countries—India, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam—were surveyed as part of this report. 26% of the total survey respondents were women board leaders. 91% of the interviewees were of Asian origin. Quantitative data was supplemented by 109 detailed interviews of senior board and C-suite leaders across Asia.

About the Center for Creative Leadership

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®) is a top-ranked,global provider of leadership development. By leveraging the power of leadership to drive results that matter most to clients, CCL transforms individual leaders, teams, organizations, and society. Our array of cutting-edge solutions is steeped in extensive research and experience gained from working with hundreds of thousands of leaders at all levels. Ranked among the world’s top providers of executive education by the Financial Times, CCL has locations in countries worldwide.

Stephen Martin
Center for Creative Leadership
+1 336 286 4038
martins@ccl.org

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