Aap kaise hain? Hen hao… The future of Asia leaders

Most of my conversations revolve around work, career future, corporate politics and positioning. Three recent and separate ones come to mind, with a common thread.

All three people work for large US MNC’s, two are Western (one man, one woman), the other an Asian woman.
– All are C level with Asia Pac purview; one in financial services, one in tech and one healthcare
– All have worked for approximately 20 years
– All have bosses who are not Western. Here’s what I heard:

(Western woman)

I was interviewing internally for a great role, had 6 or 7 interviews and got great feedback. I thought I had it, I really did. Things went very quiet for too long, and couldn’t figure out what was happening. I started pushing a bit, and got the answer–I wasn’t getting the offer. Why? Apparently one of the senior [Japanese] leaders who I know very well thought I was ‘too aggressive’. Me? Aggressive? Not possible. [She’s right–that is not one of her attributes.] That was the last straw–I’m looking to get out now–and will.

(Western man)

My boss is mainland Chinese and lives in Shanghai. He’s been with the company for a number of years, and I just started with them last year. I’m also the only westerner on his team, and haven’t met him yet–can you believe it? He hasn’t come to Singapore to visit his team, which is the biggest regional [sales] team. I don’t get it. We all have the videocon sales meetings, but I haven’t had a chance to go to China and meet him. The other week he calls me, and I think “Great!” What does he want to talk about? My travel and parking expenses.

(Asian woman)

My [Indian] boss is really riding me, telling me I have to be traveling 2/3s of the time, asks why I’m in the office so much–which I’m not. He likes to see people sweat. Funny how he conveniently forgets what I’d talked about when we have a meeting, so it all has to be repeated again. I can handle him OK, but get nervous when I get messages that he wants to speak to me, day or night. He sends emails over the weekend and I refuse to open them; it would only take away from the work-life balance I’m trying to get–I’m taking up yoga to get the stress level down. He likes that sort of aggressive, in-your-face management, and I used to work with bankers so I know the type, but he’s non-stop.

* * * * *

The big talent shift is with MNC leaders in Asia who are no longer westerners–or even ABCs/BBCs–but Asian born, bred and educated, a new template.

Forget the cry of ‘no talent in Asia’–that is the rumble of ignorance. You are now seeing an increase of local Asians–and more Asian women–managing and leading cross-culturally. Demographics always dictates, and the demographics show that Asian, and especially Asian women, will be a dominant force in business for a long time. Some will be culturally and communicatively insightful and move up the ladder. Others (like our bosses above) use elbows rather than their heads. But the point is to be well prepared if you have an Asian boss. Cultural differences do not disappear simply by dint of working in an MNC, and each country in Asia twirls very differently than the next. As Tip O’Neill said, ‘All politics is local.’

Coda to the three people: The first woman got offers quickly outside her company and left. The second is still there, and his boss finally visited. For the third, her boss was asked to leave, no replacement to date, but there was a celebratory mood when it was known he was ousted.

By the way, lest one downplay the tremendous importance of English as a fundamental leadership skill, look at Simon Kuper’s most recent article in the most recent Weekend FT.

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