Developing Leaders in Asia






The main topic at last week’s Asian Human Capital and Leadership Symposium was how to build a stronger pipeline of leaders in Asia. The conference, held in Singapore, featured an impressive line-up of CHRO’s, L&D leaders, and business executives from companies such as Unilever, GE ASEAN, Siemens, Kimberly-Clark, Qualcomm, Infineon Technologies, DBS Bank, Fast Retailing and more.

These companies, as well as other multinationals in the region, are targeting development initiatives to put more Asians into leadership positions. Siemens, for example, said that its leadership positions in Asia used to be staffed primarily with expats, but now local Asians fill most of these roles.  Many of the other conference participants had similar stories or were planning to get there.

Some of the key points from the conference were as follows.


To bolster their leadership pipelines, companies need to identify the essential elements of what makes an effective leader. Many of the conference participants pointed to SELF-AWARENESS – knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses and remaining open and teachable to new ideas and new ways of doing things. In a global role, flexibility and adaptability are imperative. Leaders must be able to adapt their styles to fit the context, which may vary according to different cultures, organizations, and even individual preferences.  A high degree  of adaptability and self-awareness, or “EQ” (emotional quotient), is essential for today’s global leaders.

Another critical capability is BUILDING TALENT.  In a fast-growing Asian marketplace, the ability to recruit, develop, and retain top talent is essential to an organization’s competitiveness. Building talent was voted the most important capability in one of the conference workshops, and unfortunately was also rated the biggest skills gap in leaders today. Several executives stressed that leaders should be held accountable for talent development – they should have performance goals around development and retention measures. For example, one business leader said that his managers’ bonuses are tied to scores for employee satisfaction/engagement, which influences retention and productivity.

For many, INSPIRATIONAL LEADERSHIP ranked high as an essential capability. Leaders everywhere need to inspire people to follow them. They need to excite and motivate people – including employees, customers, partners, and stakeholders. How they inspire people may differ depending on the context. In the West, we have this concept of the “charismatic” leader – a leader who is passionate, visionary, and decisive. In other cultures or organizations, the leader may have to adopt a different style, such as a team-oriented leader who inspires people by building trust and loyalty. So how the leader inspires people may differ (which goes back our earlier discussion of or EQ), but all leaders need to get people to follow them.

Finally, COLLABORATION was rated an essential capability, particularly in Asia, where organizations need to create synergies through working in partnerships. The ability to partner with people and organizations is critical to success in the region.


Many companies have realized that the core aspects of what makes an effective leader have changed. In many cases, leadership roles need to be redefined and competencies revisited.  Many conference participants talked about how old assumptions need to be discarded  and replaced with a more objective, data-driven view. To this end, companies are using analytics to identify, assess, develop, and promote leaders within their organizations. HR organizations need to develop capabilities to use data to lead these discussions. (For more information on effective analytics teams, read our High-Impact Talent Analytics research.)

In addition, HR leaders need to take on a bold new role. A Group Executive at DBS Bank stated it this way,

“The best HR person is one who can change my view.”

Business leaders don’t want an HR person to just nod and agree with everything they say. HR leaders need to be able to challenge the status quo and to take risks.   This attitude is exactly in line with our new research on high-impact HR organizations which outlines the role of the bold new CHRO.

Finally, one of the key aspects of a high-impact HR organization is enabling managers to drive talent initiatives. HR needs to assist managers in acquiring, developing, and managing talent. One panelist stressed the importance of managers evangelizing talent initiatives – not HR. Of course HR  plays a key role, but managers need to own it. Qualcomm’s CLO called this “business-led HR”.   Through our research and discussions with many companies we have found that too many HR organizations are designed only for efficient service delivery. Instead, they need to perform as enablers of smart leaders and good people managers. Read more about it in our new research brief.


Madhura Chakrabarti

Employee Engagement & People Analytics Research Leader / Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Madhura leads the people analytics and employee engagement research practices at Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP. Highly regarded for her work in analytics, employee engagement, organizational development, and preemployment hiring assessments, Madhura helps corporations make data driven talent and business decisions. Her work has been published in the Journal of Business and Psychology and the Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work. Madhura has a doctorate in industrial / organizational psychology and a master of arts degree from Wayne State University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Delhi, India.

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