[KEYSTONE INSIGHT] Leadership Challenges in Asia
[KEYSTONE INSIGHT] Leadership Challenges in Asia
2020-09-16 author:admin

The author: William H Mobley, KEYSTONE Founder, Executive Coach, CEIBS Professor

It is an honor and a pleasure to have been invited to serve as editor of this special edition of Organizational Dynamics dealing with ‘Leadership Challenges in Asia.’

My first experience living in Asia came in 1978– 1980, when I served as a Senior Fulbright Scholar at the National Taiwan University in Taipei. The ensuing 15 years spent as a Texas based business school dean, university president and organizational consultant provided at least an annual trip to Asia.

For the past eight years, I have again resided in Asia, in Hong Kong for six years and in Shanghai for the past two years, serving as a professor of management, consultant, and executive coach.

What dramatic change in Asia from 1978 to the present! In the late 1970s, most multinational firms operating in Asia were simply transferring knowledge, expertise and product to Asia as a place to assemble for export to developed markets, with some local marketing and tight headquarters control. In Bartlett & Ghoshal’s classic framework, many multi-national firms operating in Asia in the late 1970s were simply sourcing or assembling for export in joint ventures. They would not be characterized as following a ‘multi-domestic’ strategy, with an emphasis on responsiveness to local markets.

Nor would they be characterized as following a ‘transnational’ strategy—with the latter’s emphasis on responsiveness and efficiency, supported by the effective transfer of knowledge to and from local markets, differentiated contributions by national units to integrated world- wide operations, and knowledge developed globally and shared globally.

Today, we see the accelerating development of global research and development (R&D) and design centers to Asia (e.g., General Electric Co., Intel Corp., General Motors Corp. and multiple pharmaceuticals); the development of India and China as global software centers; and the development of multiple bio-science centers in Asia.

Witness the rapid movement toward market economies in Asia, with rising gross national product (GNP) and per-capita income, and corollary development of sophisticated and differentiated consumer markets in many of the Asian countries. (Note: this is a good place to caution against treating Asia as a monolithic entity.

There are vast cultural and economic differences within Asia, not to mention within countries. For example, the East Coast of China has developed rapidly relative to West China.) Witness the rapid localization of leadership of many (but not all) multinational firms in Asia, e.g., Motorola Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Witness the development of many Asian firms into global multinational firms, e.g., Haier Group, Hutchison, Infosys, Acer Inc., Formosa Group, not to mention the many Japanese and Korean global firms. With rapid evolution of the economies, consumer markets, and strategies of business enterprises founded or operating in Asia, the leadership requirements are changing.

Witness the continuing derailment of international executives as discussed by Morgan McCall and George Hollenbeck in their recent book, Developing Global Executives: The Lessons of International Experience.

Westerners leading and/or investing in Asia require a deeper understanding of the culture, the values, beliefs and norms of the various regions in Asia. Also witness that the globalization of business and economic transition is progressing rapidly, while cultural and political change is moving much more slowly. The differential speed of movement of these two ‘tectonic plates’ is causing predictable friction and heat, sometimes volcanic in nature, and presents continuing risk for businesses and leaders in Asia.

In this special issue, we have invited a variety of authors to share their insights regarding various aspects of leadership, culture and the leadership environment in Asia. We give particular emphasis to China, with its 5,000-plus-year history and now, not only the world’s largest population (1.3 billion people), but also the most rapidly growing economy in the world (estimated at 8.3 percent GNP growth in 2003), and the leading recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI).

We have invited authors to this special edition of Organizational Dynamics who have varied and unique perspectives on leadership issues in China and Asia. Leadership styles, leadership’s value base from a Chinese perspective, organizational culture, influence tactics, distance virtual leadership, economic transformation, localization and human resource (HR) strategy, are addressed from China, Asia and cross-cultural perspectives. We hope this selection of papers, some empirical, some descriptive, some prescriptive, will add to your understanding of some of the leadership challenges in China and Asia, as well as the cultures of China and Asia. Our thanks to each of the authors for their contributions to this special edition.

Anne Tsui, Hui Wang, Katherine Xin, Linhua Zhang and Ping Ping Fu provide an insightful discussion of ‘Variations in Leadership Styles among Chinese CEOs.’

These authors help us understand the forces affecting Chinese leadership behaviors and the variations in leadership styles in China, as well as provide a leadership scale for China. They appropriately invoke Deng Xioa-Ping’s famous quote: ‘Black cat, white cat, any cat that catches mice is a good cat,’ to capture the diversity of leadership styles among Chinese chief executive officers (CEOs). Juan Fernandez discusses a prescriptive model of ‘Leadership by Values,’ based on Confucian thought, with emphasis on leaders earning trust and influence by grounding their behavior and decisions on two fundamental values: consideration for others and a deep sense of justice.

His paper provides valuable insights in these times of loss of faith in corporate leadership and governance in all parts of the world, and as companies in the developing countries of Asia move toward a market economy and share- holding structures.

The influence tactics preferred by Chinese managers in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China are examined and discussed by Ping Ping Fu, T.K. Peng, Jeff Kennedy and Gary Yukl, drawing on the Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE) project measures.

These authors cogently advise that subtle but important differences exist among managers from similar cultural backgrounds, reminding us of the importance of understanding and developing sensitivity to cultural variations in managerial values . . . a lesson for both Western and Chinese managers.

We also give attention in this special edition of Organizational Dynamics to several of the global leadership challenges reflected in Asia—including leadership of virtual global teams, leading in the transition from a relation-based to a rule-based economy, and globalization versus localization of human resource management (HRM) processes in China and other parts of the world.


Don Davis provides a unique lens, Taoism, through which to better understand the special leadership needs of virtual teams comprised of members spread throughout the world. Leading virtual teams is an increasing challenge as globalization continues, and the Davis article offers some valuable insights.

Dealing with the relationship-based governance in many Asian societies is a challenge for organizations and leaders from Western rule-based societies. Shaomin Li, Seung Ho Park and Shuhe Li describe the nature and dynamics of relation- and rule- based governance, and the impact on trans- actional costs of both types.

They argue that relation-based governance destroys itself, and supplements or replaces itself with rule-based governance as an emerging economy continues its economic growth. Their analysis provides a helpful framework for both business executives and researchers. Global standardization versus localization of practices and processes is a continuing leadership challenge.

Carl Fey, Antonina Pavlovskaya and Judy Tang Ningyu analyze and compare how three Swedish multinational firms implement their HRM systems in China, Russia and Finland. Under the Research in Action section, Dan Denison and his colleagues continue their programmatic work on exploring relationships among corporate culture and organizational effectiveness in various parts of the world.

In comparing 230 organizations from Europe, North America and Asia they find a surprising similarity in results across these regions. In a second study of a single company’s operations in Asia, South America and the U.S., they again find general similarity in the relationships among corporate culture and organizational effectiveness across countries.

They discuss the theme that there may well be a common set of cultural traits that can be used to understand the effectiveness of organizations, but that these common traits are expressed quite differently in different national settings.

My co-editors of Advances in Global Leadership have observed that this theme is increasingly evident in the cross-cultural and global leadership literature. Morgan McCall and I observed in Advances in Global Leadership, Vol. 2, that understanding global leadership is analogous to seeing and connecting the spots of moving leopards as they speed through the deeply camouflaged forest.

We trust that the papers presented in this special issue of Organizational Dynamics will allow you to connect a few more of the dots. Enjoy the continuing journey.