It’s cherry blossom season in Tokyo, and I’m here delivering a program on Global Mindset for Asia-Pacific Leaders. This group of leaders have thousands of staff across the region and I am reflecting on the challenges they face. The challenge of creating and maintaining a truly global business, while meeting the needs of, and adapting to local cultures. It’s not an easy task.
One of the biggest challenges of working in Asia as a leader, and a ‘boss’, is that in this context, hierarchy is everything, and unless you can ‘read the air’ as it’s described in Japan, it’s hard to know what’s going on, and can be even harder to influence and get results.
How do you access critical information when meetings are often about displays of harmony and you are treated as an honoured guest? How can you get feedback on your ideas if no one would dare disagree with you publicly? How do know what’s real and who to trust? It’s so tempting to trust the person in the room with the best English or the person who knows how to engage with you in a way you are accustomed to.
So what works?
- Access reliable information about the local context – get beyond the surface. Learn about local communication preferences and adapt your style as necessary. For example, often the most useful information is conveyed over lunch or en-route to the car.
- Build a sense of team. Your local team are the key to your success. What are you doing to give them the greatest capability to deliver? How are you ensuring you hear what they really think and say? Alignment, engagement and motivation are critical.
- Be clear on your role and what you bring. Your ability to lead successfully depends on your capacity to align local capability with the broader company vision and goals. You often have a better sense of the bigger global picture, and cross-company networks and insights.
- Have a clear sense of your company values and history and make this explicit – who you are, and what you stand for. Look for ways of engaging with local partners and causes which align with your vision and values.
- Regulators, government and community matter far more than you might think in most Asian countries. If you get those relationships right, your business will be more successful. Your brand and what you stand for are often best communicated through your commitment to community. What potential do you have to add value?
- Build relationships of trust. People will talk truth to power, but only if there is trust. Make an investment of time in relationships, in listening to understand, and demonstrating commitment.
- Be curious and open. Show humility. You will never stop learning, and you will sometimes get it wrong. Anyone who has ever succeeded has failed too. Pace yourself, you will need to be resilient and persist.
- Know what is at your centre. You will be challenged and sometimes doubt yourself, or the job you are trying to do. Consistency is as important as adaptation. A sense of stability, continuity and purpose will make a difference to your ability to cope, and to lead.
Sounds easy, right?! As with anything, the challenge is all in the doing. Engagement starts with a single step, and it’s all about getting to know people and their world. So, start now. Be curious. Ask an open question, and sit back and listen. Watch the magic happen.