The Need for Self-Leadership When Managing in Asia

March 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Business

This article is contributed by Andrew Bryant, founder of Self Leadership International.

As a Westerner living in Asia I often witness a mismatch between leadership and “follow-ship” styles. Asian cultures tend to value collectivism over individuality. They also have high regard for age and seniority whilst appreciating humility.

At the same time, Asian managers tend to be more directive than empowering. Not surprisingly, their employees become habituated to doing only what they are told to do and are reluctant to speak up for fear of being scolded. I have coached many Western managers who are using an empowering leadership style only to be dumbfounded when their subordinates did not take initiative and required confirmation of every little step.

In this age of globalization, it is smart to wonder if there is a way to get the best from people regardless of race or nationality. While doing the research for my book, Self-leadership (McGraw-Hill, available Sept 2012), I discovered an interesting dynamic between an organization’s business culture and leadership style and the level of personal autonomy of its employees.

People who work under a leader who is very direct or for a company with an authoritarian culture will have difficulty expressing their personal autonomy in terms of speaking up, making decisions, being creative and innovative. They may passively accept this command-control style, however, it is more likely that they will become dis-engaged or even resentful. This scenario does not support Self-leaders, who thrive in an empowering culture.

What can be done to bridge the gap and build high performing individuals and teams in Asia?

1. Teach responsibility

Each person should be responsible for their own thoughts, feelings and actions. We need to send a clear message that we respect people as individuals and expect them to manage themselves. Reinforce this by constantly asking, “What do you think about this?” “What do you feel about this?” Initially you may be met with silence, but persevere, make the environment safe to speak up. When an employee points out a problem, gently push the responsibility back and ask, “What can you do about this?”

2. Be clear about accountability

Make sure you are crystal clear about what each individual (rather than the group) is accountable for. Let them know not only what their targets are, but also what behaviors you expect to observe on the way to achieving them. I appreciate that this may seem like a command and control style, but if people have not had autonomy they cannot initially make these judgments. Over time you can shift your style to work with people to set their own targets and behaviors and eventually they will do it themselves.

3. Never SHOUT

In Asia, if you shout or lose your temper you will likely lose the respect of your people and they will probably shut down and become quite unproductive.

4. Separate person from performance

Self-leaders not only take feedback, they seek it out; but when giving feedback in Asia with people who are not yet Self-leaders, you must be doubly careful to make the feedback about the action and NOT the person. If you say, “You wrote a lousy report,” it will be interpreted as “You are lousy.” Whilst it may seem cumbersome at first you will get much better results if you learn to say something like, “I know you to be highly competent and so I know you will want to rework this report to show more clearly how you analyzed the problem, what your conclusion is and what action you suggest we take.”

People in Asia on the whole are committed and hard working. While their education has often emphasized the acquiring of knowledge rather than independent thinking, this does not mean they are not capable of it. If the power differential between boss and sub-ordinate is reduced at a controlled rate and if they are encouraged and acknowledged for having an authentic voice then productivity and innovation will be unleashed.

Source: Self Leadership Coaching Blog

About Andrew Bryant

As a globally recognized authority on self-leadership and developing people, Andrew Bryant is highly sought after for his ability to inspire people to question conventional wisdom and take actions that result in positive outcomes. His unique presentation style blends constructive realism with humor to entertain and engage audiences worldwide.

Andrew has extensive experience as a consultant and executive coach to senior leaders, leadership and sales teams across the Asia Pacific region. He is the founder of Self Leadership International, a provider of Leadership and People Development Solutions including: consulting, coaching, facilitation and training.

Andrew Bryant is a Certified Professional Speaker and is in demand worldwide as an inspirational conference speaker and facilitator. His book Self-leadership will be published in 2012 by McGraw-Hill.

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