Four Rules for Global Leaders to Live By

HCLI Research
Published 30 October 2015

Antonio Helio Waszyk, former Senior Vice President, Nestlé S.A., was the Southeast Asia Regional Head, as well as the Chairman of Nestlé India. HQ Asia spoke with Waszyk about his life, lessons learnt and his insights into thriving as a global leader.

As a global executive for the last 30 years, Antonio Helio Waszyk attributes his success and longevity to always questioning what value he can create for the Nestlé Group. Joining the company in 1977, he explains that, despite living in six countries since leaving his Brazilian homeland, his own values, principles and outlook continue to align with the company. He shares the four key lessons he has learnt during his time as a global leader, the importance of a global experience, how to adapt to your host country while maintaining your own outlook and values and the ‘how’ and ‘what’ of talent development.

Accept The Direction of the Country…

Waszyk feels that being a successful global leader starts with respecting and understanding the nuances of the local culture. Waszyk successfully translated leadership skills, honed in Brazil and various European countries, to leading in Asia. He recognised that employee training, customised to location, is a cornerstone of successful leadership in the region. For example, due to cultural norms, Southeast Asians are less likely to pose questions to an authority figure. Waszyk explains that this means it is important to be certain that employees in Southeast Asia understand the purpose of a project and the expected outcome. “Part of the job of a leader is to always be breaking the barrier between you and the people,” he explains.

When asked to reflect on challenges that are particular to this region, Waszyk says: “The big question is how to get people in Southeast Asia to work together within their organisations? How do you capitalise on their talents and get them to contribute to their team?”

One answer lies in training talent and picking the right person for the right position. Waszyk says that, unlike other regions, Southeast Asians readily work together and have a team mindset. While it is important to work within the cultural norms of the country, he argues that local leaders still require a bit more attention and training to prepare them to share ideas with the team and to be global leaders.

…But Maintain Authentic Leadership

Authenticity and transparency are key to Waszyk’s success in adapting his leadership to the diverse countries and cultures he has worked in. “It’s much better to be transparent, even more so when employees are not performing,” he says. “If it’s bad for the employee, it’s bad for me and it’s bad for the company.”

An employee expects the person leading him or her to give them updates and explain the situation, and this is the basis of trust, says Waszyk. He believes leaders must be honest and upfront in their communication, which will help the employee, the manager and the company. “A leader must have the courage to deal with all employees.”

Global Leaders Need Global Experience

The high quality of life and comfortable lifestyle in Southeast Asia can be a deterrent for leaders considering overseas positions. While it is easier for Southeast Asia’s leaders to remain in their home country, Waszyk argues that they must leave their comfort zone and seize the opportunity to work abroad. Failure to do so harms their futures, as they will forfeit opportunities and miss out on the chance to grow. “Being mobile and having experience abroad is important when looking to grow within a company,” he says. Indeed, for some leadership positions at the Nestlé Group, the employee must go through mandatory expatriation to be considered for the role.

Waszyk says that when he looks at who may fit an open position, he analyses the candidate’s history. If they do not have overseas exposure, then they are often not included as options for upper management. In Southeast Asia, a region that will have many opportunities in the future, aspiring global leaders should look to take advantage of each and any opportunity to develop overseas.

Live like a Roman…

For Waszyk, cultural exploration is key to living in a foreign country. “You don’t look for good cheese from the Swiss mountains in India. Nor does one need to eat chicken tikka every day,” says Waszyk. He proposes instead that people look for a balance, and rather than focus on what is not present, leaders overseas should maximise their access to what they do have.

“One of my mentors once gave me the advice: ‘When in Rome, live as the Romans do’,” says Waszyk. This approach has helped him enjoy life abroad. For example, he advises overseas leaders to not say, ‘I don’t get that’ when exploring foreign cuisine or an aspect of the local culture. Rather, they should appreciate novelty and be curious.

…But Draw On Your Background

Whatever culture or country you happen to be in, Waszyk argues you should always keep your innate values and beliefs. Given his technical background in pharmaceutical studies and biochemistry, Waszyk tries not to make arguments based on assumption and scenarios. As a leader and when making decisions, he focuses on facts and figures and is a believer in always thinking in context.

This way of thinking and operating is part of Waszyk’s personality and remains unchanged, wherever his posting. Authenticity is your personality, argues Waszyk, and being authentic is crucial to happiness and success. “As soon as you fake yourself, you start to have problems in either your personal or professional life,” he says.

To Develop Talent, Know The ‘How’ and the ‘What’

When it comes to developing emerging talent, Waszyk believes in an ethos of how and what. ‘How’ is defined by how good the employee is, and ‘what’ is the work being completed. The ‘what’, such as project delivery and work quality, can be improved, but the ‘how’, which refers to how they act and work within a team, is much more difficult to learn. The ‘how’ is more subconscious-based and how a person inherently reacts, while the ‘what’ is quality and output of work.

Waszyk explains: “If you see that the ‘what’ [project quality] is not good, but the ‘how’ [employee’s attitude and interpersonal skills] is good, then you have to capitalise and work with them. If the ‘how’ is an issue, then you need to take action.” Essentially, Waszyk explains that an employee’s demeanour and attitude is much more significant than project quality because quality can be improved upon.

To ensure that you’re developing the right people, make sure you hire effectively. Waszyk believes that leaders must pick the right person and define the problem. “You ask the right questions and then stay out. If people need you, they will come to you. This is the majority of your role as a leader focused on talent development.”

This focus on development is an enduring one, as Waszyk feels that all employees should always be evolving regardless of what project is involved. He explains that there is always an opportunity to become more nuanced in dealing with interpersonal relationships, which has an impact on a person’s long-term career.

Similarly, if an employee is not performing optimally, Waszyk looks at the facts to deduce why. He analyses whether the employee is the correct fit for the position and looks at their motivation. “If the ‘how’ is behaviour or peer relations related, then you need to take action,” he says. But he stresses that focusing on people development and identifying the right person for the right job lowers the chance of these types of issues.

This article first appeared in HQ Asia, Issue 9 (2015).

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