The Global Asian Leader: From Local Star to Global CXO

The Global Asian Leader: From Local Star to Global CXO

This study is a culmination of almost a year-long research effort comprising 120 in-depth interviews with global CXOs — both Asian leaders in regional or global roles, and non-Asian leaders with considerable exposure to Asia.

Asia is the new center of the world! The past 2 decades have witnessed an unprecedented shift of global economic growth from West to East. This is driven by 2 critical factors. One, sluggish economic outlook in Europe and North America shows no sign of abating, therefore global organizations are “looking East” to sustain growth. Two, sustained economic growth in Asia, especially over the last decade, has increased purchasing power of Asian countries. This in turn has spiralled consumption of goods, products, and services, making Asia a critical untapped market for global enterprises. According to economic pundits, organizations that do not yet have a compelling Asia strategy are already late to the party! Formation of ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) will hopefully further fuel the Asian “growth engine,” and not only drive up the already feverish talent movement within ASEAN, but also make the region more attractive for Western enterprises. Analysts predict that the region could become the world’s largest economy (by GDP contribution) by 2030.

While Asia assumes unprecedented prominence on the global map from a business standpoint, Asian leaders comprise only a small fraction of the global leadership teams in most global organizations.

It is imperative that the Asian leadership talent pool grows exponentially for not only on-the-ground execution of business, but also to help global headquarters understand Asia better.

Asian leaders aspiring for global careers need to develop a level of comfort with disruption. They need to step out of their comfort zone to develop global relationships and credibility with key stakeholders within and outside the organization.

Organizations also need to embrace diversity at the senior/highest leadership level, thereby creating compelling global career paths for Asian “stars.”

Being one of the world’s most respected brands in leadership development, with deep expertise in running successful open-enrollment, custom engagement, coaching, and online leadership development interventions, all deep-rooted in research, CCL is committed to furthering the understanding, practice, and development of leadership in Asia.

Through this research, CCL takes a big leap in furthering the Asian leadership development agenda. The study will help Asian leaders understand critical capabilities to develop as they seek global success, and will enable global organizations to get a handle on tactics that work in developing a global Asian leadership pipeline. We will follow this research up with a programmatic intervention and development journey crafted especially for Asian leaders to better prepare them for global roles.

Leading Globally

This Asian leadership development program puts APAC executives in more equitable positions with their global peers and helps them grow the skills they need to break the bamboo ceiling. In this exclusive and impactful leadership program, available exclusively in the APAC region, 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.

The Study in 8 Conclusions

The Opportunity

  1. Asia will be the biggest market in the future, and it may be the biggest exporter of workforce and talent to the entire world in a decade from now. For sustained success in the region, global organizations will need Asian leaders to help enterprises craft their Asia strategy, and also execute and win local business.
  2. Asian leaders often have superior execution skills and work ethic, demonstrate empathy and humility, are VUCA-friendly, and open to diversity much more than leaders from outside Asia.
  3. Despite a compelling business case, and the inherent strengths Asian leaders demonstrate, Asian representation in executive leadership teams of top 200 companies is in single digits in percentage terms.

The Gap

  1. There are 3 distinct reasons that hold back Asian leaders from stepping into global roles:
    1. Unfavourable country conditions — Lack of talent competitiveness at a country level or inadequate talent development infrastructure may inhibit growth of leadership pipeline.
    2. Organization culture constraints — Organization culture and posture may be the key “culprit,” and may retard organizations’ ability to develop critical skills due to budget constraints, structural and policy issues, absence of trust in non-native talent, lack of global mindset in senior-most leaders, or non-optimal global talent management and development practices.
    3. Individual “skill and will” issues — Individual capability and aspiration issues may also inhibit growth of local talent.
  2. Asian leaders may find it hard to adjust to an “MNC culture” as there may be some cultural nuances that may put an Asian leader at a comparative disadvantage. 6 cultural nuances deeply influence Asian leadership traits and affect their aspirations for global roles.

Infographic: 6 Cultural Nuances That Influence Asian Leadership

The Action Steps

  1. 3 critical experiences stand out in preparing Asian leaders for global roles: cross-border rotations, non-obvious career moves, and stretch or crucible roles.
  2. Global Asian leaders come in 4 different flavours, often shaped by ethnicity, nationality, early experiences, exposure, and education.

Infographic: Global Asian Leadership

  1. Building a sustainable Global Asian Leader pipeline needs 4 pieces of the puzzle to come together:
    1. Asian leaders aspiring for global roles need to develop the right set of individual capabilities by developing clarity of purpose on why to pursue a global career, and getting “comfortable with discomfort” of challenging assignments.
    2. Aspiring leaders need to sign up for suitable experiences to build critical capabilities by stepping into general management shoes early on, and building networks and relationships to navigate the “system.”
    3. Incumbent global leaders need to provide developmental support by taking risks on Asian talent, creating stretch opportunities, and helping direct reports develop a credible and trusting relationship with their skip managers.
    4. Organizations embarking on the global Asian leadership development journey, must get buy-in from the top leadership team at the headquarters, find an executive sponsor, curate and play to a 3-5 year global Asian leadership development plan, and tweak talent development interventions to suit Asian context.

Download Research Report

Download the report to view the highlights key challenges global organizations face in developing a global Asian leadership pipeline, and best demonstrated practices.

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April 18, 2018
About the Author(s)
Sunil Puri
Sunil is the former Senior Director and Head of Asia-Pacific Research, Innovation, and Product Development at CCL, where he led and managed 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.

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