Sep 7, 2006

On Leadership

quoting a report on Leadership by Towers Perrin about "Leadership in Asia":

"Leaders in Asia need a sound grasp of the three C's: context, content, and creativity. Thus far the first C has been emphasized, to the almost complete exclusion of the other two. A couple of decades ago, when markets were unsophisticated and relatively closed, the availability of products from foreign multinational companies was a novelty, and foreign executives with even a perfunctory contextual understanding of the market and the business and cultural
moorings of the country in which they operated could make the grade.

That is no longer the case. As markets have opened and consumers have grown more sophisticated, they have come to demand more in terms of the value delivered to them. Understanding context is no longer enough; now, leaders and their organizations need to excel at content and creativity to be successful.

By content we mean a sound understanding of the foreign country's infrastructure and value chain, from product conception to delivery to the client. For example, most multinational companies with a presence in India envision the profit potential presented by a middle-class consumer population of 250 million. But many of these companies fail to take into account that only one-fifth of that number can be reached through existing distribution channels. Companies that have succeeded in India have built deep marketing and support networks in rural areas. The best-laid plans of many consumer goods companies have gone awry because of a lack of understanding of the infrastructure and support mechanisms that allow products to be moved from the manufacturer to customers.

To make an impact in markets around the world, leaders of global companies also need to come up with creative, innovative ways to reach out to customers. Companies with operations in foreign countries often face stiff local competition. Fast-food chains, for example, find themselves going up against local cuisines that are entrenched through age-old tradition. The best approach is not to resist or go against the grain of tradition but to find creative ways to package products so they suit local tastes.

McDonald's, for example, has introduced a vegetarian burger in India, with considerable success.

In essence, leaders of organizations that have global operations need to concentrate not just on external factors such as branding and securing customers but also on internal factors such as building organizational capacities and capabilities. The big challenge in Asia is for leaders to fill the needs of various targeted populations through mass customization without escalating costs unduly. Only through a thorough understanding of not only context but also content and creativity can they make that happen."

In my personal view the most important job of a leader is to articulate a vision...therefore a leader has to be a great story-teller! This story and the promise of success is what a leader has to constantly keep going back to his people and partners with. And only if the story is powerful and moving enough with his people finally make it happen.

So apart from the deep understanding of markets, industries, operations and people the job of establishing a two way communication is critical to a leader's job. That is why (in my opinion!) a lot of very good COOs never become half as successful CEOs :-(

But that does not mean all CEOs need to be charismatic personalities like Richard Branson :-) A leaders job is often a paradoxical mix of the hard and soft, the distasteful and the elevating and therefore a leader needs to be paradoxical himself...think of great business (and social leaders) and therefore this very paradoxical nature of theirs ignites so much debate !