Published on January 6, 2010
The "new face of capitalism" requires a fine blending of Eastern and Western leadership traits, says Mana Lohatepanont, the Hay Group's managing director for Thailand and regional director for Southeast Asia.
Citing a study conducted by the global consultancy, Mana said business leaders everywhere in the world were found to have common attributes, such as integrity, vision and strong determination. However, 60-70 per cent of their characteristics were different, according to culture, tradition and the objectives of their organisations.
The higher the position an executive has, the more important these different attributes become, he said.
The research has found CEOs in Asia, for example, focus more on external factors, such as getting government permissions and raising capital, while their Western counterparts concentrate more on building organisational capacity, such as talent management and business reorganisation.
While Western chief executives are outstanding for their strategic insights, Indian executives are more inclined towards adaptive thinking and Chinese leaders treasure business perspectives. Furthermore, Indian CEOs lean towards building networks to obtain information, while Chinese leaders emphasise self-criticism.
"Chinese leaders will constantly review themselves and allow other people to tell them how they have performed. By this, they can improve. When they make a mistake, they can announce it to the public," he said.
Mana said Chinese executives - perhaps influenced by Confucianism - emphasise win-win situations and harmony in the relationships within their organisations. This is also true in many Thai companies, as in the case of CP All, the operator of 7-Eleven convenient stores, which has "harmony" as one of its key corporate values, he said.
To succeed in the future, Western and Eastern leaders should learn from each other. Western CEOs may look at how great Asian leaders have their key motivation built around social responsibility and financial success and, adhering to altruism as a basis for motivation, tap into their inner strengths for a more purposeful business agenda. On the other hand, Asian executives may study the ability of Western leaders to inspire, motivate and keep staff engaged, while building organisational capacity, he said.
According to Hay Group research, leadership characteristics have a direct link to business results. Up to 30 per cent of variance in financial results - in other words, execution capability - can be explained by differences in organisational climate. Anywhere from 50-70 per cent of variance in organisational climate can be attributed to differences in leadership styles, which in turn, are driven by the underlying characteristics of CEOs.
Interestingly, another study conducted in 2008 by the Hay Group and Chief Executive magazine revealed "best in class" organisations around the world value execution and inspiring leadership as the most important qualifications of business leaders. The top-performing companies hardly gave any value to decision-making capabilities or the technical competency and expertise of their leaders.
"Leaders are supposed to guide and give emphasis to teamwork rather than pointing their fingers," Mana said.
He said Hay had not yet begun research on the characteristics of Thai business leaders, but from his "rough observations", great Thai leaders often shared the following characteristics:
They were good at controlling their emotions, presenting themselves as calm, steady and mature.
They made sacrifices, were considerate and always thought of their staff, subordinates and communities.
They were passionate and had an inner drive.
They had humility, a sense of intimacy, were persuasive and "somewhat humorous".
Virtue played some part in their thinking, due to the uniqueness of Thai culture.