3 Critical Skills Asian Leaders Must Sharpen to Succeed in a Global Career

By HCLI Editorial Team, Eunice Loh
Published 20 September 2022

In our recent Alumni Masterclass Series (AMS), Manish Sinha, Senior Vice President, HR, Global Segments, R&D and Medical Affairs at Becton Dickinson (BD) in the USA shared three critical skills Asian leaders need to focus on to successfully transition from a regional to a global playing field – growing their influence in the Western world.

Global Mindset

To be in contention for a global role, leaders must first cultivate a global mindset. This means creating a foundation to connect global, regional and local managers across their organisations. By interacting and learning from global business executives, we can effectively develop higher-level thinking.

How can Asian leaders create opportunities to develop higher-level thinking in a global context?

  1.  Raise your hand for a challenging role–one that is vital for the success of the enterprise. This does not mean choosing a role that is impossible to succeed at or one that you are insufficiently equipped to perform. Know the job well, train yourself and apply skills that you have learnt in a clear, measurable, and impactful way.
  2. Engage in real-time exposure with leaders within and beyond your organisation. Shape your thinking through small and large-group discussions, team projects and industry visits. Expanding your interactions widely. Try to follow leaders outside of your own organisation. This can be a key differentiator when you are in contention for a global role.
  3. Put yourself in a foreign cultural setting. In doing so, you are able to deeply immerse yourself in cultural differences which promote the generation of new experiences and stimulation of fresh ideas.
Cultural Navigation

Go beyond understanding your appetite for cultural diversity. Leaders need to be able to adapt and navigate multicultural environments. Cultural navigation can be broken into three stages.

The first stage is awareness – be intellectually aware that cultures are different. The second is experience – notice the cultural differences in informal settings so that leaders can navigate them. Finally, accept that as a global leader, you have a role to play in navigating the environment.

How can Asian leaders overcome some of the roadblocks in cultural navigation?
One roadblock preventing us from becoming global leaders is when we use stereotypes. It may be easy to notice at a conscious level. But we must ensure that we are not bringing stereotypes to work subconsciously. This is especially challenging for Asian leaders who, more often than not, allow others to influence us into accepting stereotypes about ourselves without being aware of the change in mindset.

Another common roadblock preventing us from becoming global leaders is experiencing the multicultural setting as a victim–where you feel that the other side is not trying to understand you or appreciate the value you bring to the table. Remember, the onus is not on them to understand you. With the responsibility to adapt and evolve, we have to recognise that we may make more than half the journey.

Distinctive Personal Skills

Global leaders know how to identify their uniqueness and sharpen the skills that will bring value to a global operating environment. As such, Asian leaders need to dig deep and identify key differentiators that can set us apart from our Western counterparts.

How can Asian leaders leverage our cultural differences in global settings?
Asian leaders tend to have a higher tolerance for ambiguity As we enhance our ability to work with minimal information and increase our tolerance to ambiguity, it is of immense help in the western setting. At the cost of generalisation, in some of the cultural nuances in the West, reliance on data and information is so high that it reduces the tolerance to ambiguity that western leaders may have and when Asian leaders hone these skills, it becomes a differentiator for us.

Managing conflict is a strength of most Asian leaders. This can be refined to become one of our differentiators. Asian cultures are inclined towards managing conflict and finding a win-win solution. However, we must note that conflict management skills may be affected by our ability to synthesise information and communicate crisply which is a potential weakness of Asian leaders By the time we reach the central point, we would have lost our audience. Instead of painting the full picture when describing an idea, start with the central point then feed the peripheral information or wait for others to ask questions to fill in the peripheral gaps rather than try to overexplain. This will improve our conflict management skills and turn them into a key differentiator for us.

Global leadership is an ongoing journey

“Every morning, get up and remind yourself what are the base skills that brought you in contention for being a global leader and never forget the entry ticket that got you to the global stage.”

Global leadership skills must be constantly sharpened through the process of framing one’s mind to be open to complex situations. We must be more receptive towards cultural differences in foreign settings. Every opportunity in a global environment helps us to learn more about ourselves and others, enabling us to use these differences to enhance our executive presence and build our personal leadership brand in global settings.

This article summarises the insights of Manish Sinha given at the HCLI Alumni Masterclass Series on 17 Aug 2022.

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