Thursday, July 8, 2010

Emerging need: cultivating leaders

Rapid, unpredictable changes in market conditions, boundless opportunities, fierce competition—that's what emerging markets are like. Unfortunately they're also short on executives with the leadership skills needed to succeed in this kind of environment.

As a result, many companies in these markets don't come close to fulfilling their potential, or they fail outright. So, how can companies in emerging markets develop the leaders they so urgently need?

To study the problem, the China Europe International Business School's Leadership Behavioral Laboratory, in collaboration with the Center for Creative Leadership, interviewed 100 successful midlevel and senior executives from various industries in China. We asked each of the executives recount three critical events in their careers that contributed to their development as managers.

Their answers revealed several keys to leadership development in emerging markets:

SET AN EXAMPLE. Senior managers' words, deeds, temperament, charisma and standards are powerful role models for their subordinates. In a market where companies are struggling to assert themselves amid rapidly changing conditions, it is doubly important that managers have stable leadership to look to for guidance and inspiration. More than one-third of the managers we interviewed mentioned the great influence that executives they admired had exerted on their careers. Senior executives can't just issue orders; they need to exemplify the company's values in everything they do.

NEVER STOP TEACHING. Many executives stressed the importance of continuously learning about their business and about business in general throughout their careers. In emerging markets, where companies and entire industries are growing and evolving at an accelerated pace, open-ended learning is crucial.

For many companies, learning typically involves sending potential leaders to classes at business schools, where they learn management theory and practices. Such training is, no doubt valuable. But it shouldn't be the only form of management training, or even the focus. Rather than spending huge amounts on external leadership consultants, companies should focus on strengthening their own coaching practices.

What would that look like? For one thing, fellow managers who have experience and expertise and are well versed in a company's corporate culture can help junior managers find practical, effective solutions for the challenges they are facing at work. This shouldn't be left to chance—a mentoring program should be set up to ensure that all junior managers are receiving proper guidance.

Companies should also systematically rotate talented employees among various jobs and divisions of the company to broaden their knowledge of the business.
Junior managers also should be included in critical task forces so they garner firsthand experience in the process of managing big issues. The managers we interviewed repeatedly mentioned the importance of their involvement in projects like developing new products, opening up new markets, implementing new business plans and setting up new branches. Restructurings, mergers, share offerings and public-relations crises are also excellent learning opportunities. Experiences like these teach managers not just to adapt to change but rather to embrace it.

MAKE SURE THEY LEARN FROM THEIR FAILURES—AND SUCCESSES. When things do go wrong, make sure there are mentors or coaches ready to help junior managers confront and draw lessons from their mistakes. That can be the difference between talented employees becoming discouraged or feeling that they have grown from the experience.

Successful leaders, of course, learn from every experience. But the introspection that allows for such continuous learning doesn't come naturally to everyone. Companies should include in their training programs sessions designed to help managers develop systematic habits of introspection. Managers should have regular group meetings where they not only reflect on the lessons of their own experiences but also learn from the experiences of others. Click here to read the full article.

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