Asia provides leaders with an ideal testing ground for mastering new ways of thinking and operating. Just ask the current CEOs of Pepsi and P&G, as well as the former CEO of IBM. All developed their leadership skills in Asia. Many executives head to Asia in the hope that the experience they get working in rapidly growing and changing markets will give them a competitive advantage. That’s not a bad plan: Asia is a region that rewards fast learners.
Here are 10 takeaways you can expect from experience in Asia:
- Navigating both the local and the global. Getting this balance right requires that top executives in Asia win the trust of colleagues up, down, and across the organization. This gets to the heart of global mindset—systemic thinking and global savvy. If you’re leading a team in Asia, a big part of your job is navigating the global system to make it easier for local executives to do business. The Asia team will appreciate your ability to shape the global strategies and products that impact their local operations.
- Getting used to speed. Executives quickly learn to get things done on the fly, often without a playbook. This takes energy, resilience, and tenacity.
- Listening for understanding. To build a business for the long-term, leaders first need to understand the local market and culture. This is especially important if you’re an expatriate. Experienced leaders in Asia say they’ve learned to tone down their temptation to judge or comment until they fully understand what is being said. Listen first.
- Leading with humility. While all of us have it to some degree, Asia helps us appreciate the importance of humility in our everyday actions. Leaders in Asia use their humility to connect with others, find creative solutions, and adapt their styles to meet the needs of other people and situations.
- Doing what you say you’re going to do. In high-achievement Asia where personal relationships drive business, executives learn quickly to keep their word.
- Inspiring people. Demonstrating charisma is just as important in Asia as it is in the West—and challenging, given the vast geographies, time-zones, and cultures. The soft qualities of charisma are especially important—connecting with others emotionally, demonstrating integrity, and communicating the why of strategy.
- Demonstrating cultural awareness. Executives learn how their work relationships are impacted by their own cultural preferences and the cultural preferences of others.
- Appreciating uncertainty. Expect the unexpected. Many new executives find global roles in Asia more complex and ambiguous than what they are used to in the West. Let new situations arouse your curiosity.
- Building relationships. Because Asians are in it for the long-term, relationships built over time can speed things up, remove uncertainty, and ensure that the needs of many stakeholders are considered.
- Building to last. Over the years I’ve seen many expatriate executives win repatriation back to headquarters by delivering short-term results. They’re building castles in the sand. There’s one big problem: their ‘successes’ often fail to survive the first Asian downturn. For sustained success, global executives need to lay the foundation for local leaders to grow and thrive over the long-term.