The Global Asian Leader 2.0: From Asia, For the World

The Global Asian Leader: From Asia, For the World - GAL 2.0 Center for Creative Leadership Research Report on Breaking the "Bamboo Ceiling"

Best Practices for Supporting Global Asian Leaders & Breaking Through the “Bamboo Ceiling”

The past 25 years have witnessed an unprecedented shift of global economic growth from West to East. Developing Asia economies are projected to grow 5.2% in 2023, despite global uncertainties and a sluggish economic outlook. Asia has the largest population of world youth, it has a growing middle class, and it’s on track to be the biggest market in the future.

Increasingly, global organizations will have to “look East” to sustain business growth, calling upon local leaders with a nuanced understanding of social and cultural norms to drive regional expansion.

But despite the business need for Asian leaders, and Asian talent displaying several unique leadership attributes, in top organizations Asians represent only about 4% of the executive teams in U.S.-headquartered companies and 3% in Europe-headquartered firms.

This new report, an extension of our 2018 study, unpacks factors that have stalled the growth of Asian leaders in breaking through the “bamboo ceiling” over the past 5 years, including evaluating the impact of current trends like the pandemic and rising nationalism. 

Must-Have Leadership Traits for Global Asian Leaders

To override cultural hardwiring and succeed in global roles, our research has identified 5 must-have traits that Asian leaders must demonstrate: 

  • Courage to find comfort in discomfort and take on unfamiliar challenges. 
  • Curiosity to experience new situations and experiment with new skills.
  • Trust to build relationships across cultures.
  • Influence to affect decisions via compelling communication and people skills.
  • Strategic thinking to see the long-term, global implications of decisions.

Asian leaders have made progress in cultivating these traits since the previous study, but a gap remains between Asian leaders and those of non-Asian ethnicity — with notable room for improvement in attributes like trust, curiosity, and courage. 

To break this “bamboo ceiling,” the report outlines a 5-step action plan for aspiring global Asian leaders, along with organizational shifts needed to build a diverse leadership pipeline.

The Global Asian Leader Program

Put Asian leaders in more equitable positions with their global peers. In our exclusive and impactful leadership program, participants take part in a leadership journey over 2 months to strengthen their leadership skills, boost personal resilience, develop greater curiosity, seek new perspectives, and expand their leadership mindset and skillset — all critical for the success of truly global Asian leaders.

How Organizations Can Build an Asian Leadership Pipeline That Cuts Through the Bamboo Ceiling

While individual Asian leaders can take steps toward global leadership, multiple stakeholders — Asian leaders, their managers, regional HR, regional leadership team, global HR, and global executive sponsor(s) — must jointly work together to develop a stronger pipeline of Asian talent.

There are 5 steps an organization must take to build its pipeline of global Asian leaders:

  1. Reflect. Align on what you need in your leadership roles and the importance of Asia in your global strategy.
  2. Take stock. Evaluate your leader inventory in the region, including the key capabilities and leadership gaps of your Asian talent.
  3. Enable access. Remove challenges that Asian leaders may face, such as inherent biases and trust issues, in being considered for regional/global roles.
  4. Enable success. Help Asian talent develop global leadership capabilities through development programs, rotations, coaching interventions, and mentoring to set them up for success in global roles.
  5. Sustain. Ensure an ecosystem of initiatives around development so that there is a constant pipeline of regional/global-ready leaders in Asia.

Most importantly, the initiative must come from the top. Global sponsors at the executive team level need to drive the Asian leadership development agenda, giving careful consideration to organizational success factors and practices.

Leaders must identify the root causes of their “bamboo ceiling” and build “diversity in leadership nationality” into their organization’s equity, diversity, and inclusion agenda. And regional leadership teams and HR must enable Asian leaders to access global succession pipelines. 

With Asia fast becoming the world’s driving force, organizations must have Asian leaders who can take on vital roles in their global strategy. These global Asian leaders need to effectively direct local and regional businesses, and to contribute and execute toward the joint global growth plans.

By understanding the strengths, enablers, and blockers of Asian leaders, organizations can improve their access to global roles, and their chances of success once they are in those roles. Download the full research report to learn more about each.

Download Research Report

Download the report now to learn how Asian leaders can break the “bamboo ceiling” and understand how global organizations can develop a stronger leadership pipeline in Asia.

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September 7, 2022
About the Author(s)
Sunil Puri
Sunil is the Senior Director and Head of Asia-Pacific Research, Innovation, and Product Development at CCL, where he leads and manages research teams and initiatives in APAC and ASEAN/South Asia. He holds an MTech in Energy Studies from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.
Anand Chandrasekar
Anand Chandrasekar is a Leadership Solutions Specialist and Societal Advancement Lead (APAC) at CCL, where he helps clients to identify leadership needs, design and deliver leadership development solutions, articulate leadership solution outcomes, and evaluate the solutions for impact and improvement. He holds a PhD in international management from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, an MBus from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and a BE in electrical and electronics engineering from the University of Madras, India.
Elisa Mallis
Elisa is the Managing Director and Vice President for CCL APAC, where she leads CCL’s efforts in SE Asia, India, North Asia, and Australia to accelerate clients’ leadership development and results while also contributing significantly to CCL’s global research agenda. She holds a BS in Psychology from the University of Miami, as well as an MA in Organization Development and an MAEd in Counseling Psychology from Columbia University.
Christopher Looi
Christopher is a Regional Leadership Solutions Director at CCL and is lead faculty for CCL’s Global Asian Leader programs. He’s held numerous regional portfolio leadership roles for CCL’s global leadership programs and has over 15 years of experience in transformational, human-centric leadership development and facilitation. Christopher holds an MComm from the University of New South Wales and most recently an MEd in Adult Development and Psychology from Harvard University.

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