HR & EDUCATION | Staff Reporter, Singapore

Is Asia’s next generation of executives ready to lead the corporate world?

75% of current leaders say successors aren’t fully equipped to ascend corporate ranks.

The Corporate Executive Board released findings that indicate leaders across Asia fear the rising class of business executives lack the experience and related skills essential to effective leadership. In a survey of more than 3000 executives globally, nearly 75 percent of those in the region questioned their successors’ readiness to move into a leadership role, revealing a leadership gap between Asia’s current and future stars that will require immediate attention if aggressive business goals are to be realized.

The leadership gap is due in part to the fact that the next generation of leaders is made up of relatively young, inexperienced employees. While they have achieved rapid career advancement, many lack the fundamentals required to succeed in the transition from operational to leadership responsibility. On average this group has six fewer years experience than their counterparts in other countries and is likely to have moved up through a series of opportunistic career moves, hopping from company to company and promotion to promotion.

“Our research suggests that strong, capable leadership will be critical to realizing Asia’s growth potential and to reinforcing its history of innovation. However, executives across the region are expressing grave concern about the readiness of their rising stars to take the helm,” said Tom Monahan, CEO and chairman, CEB. “Current leadership question whether the next generation has the years and diversity of experience required to succeed.

Their concerns are well founded given that the next generation continues to ascend the corporate ladder without seeing the long-term effects of their business decisions or having learned critical skills commonly gained through years on the job. If companies across Asia want to achieve long-term business goals they must accelerate executive development and narrow the leadership gap.

The leadership gap is apparent not only to current leaders but to a broad employee base as well. When asked to evaluate next-generation executives, employees throughout Asia score them lower across all five leadership capabilities CEB has found most critical to effective leadership. These include team building, communication skills, problem solving, enterprise vision and strategic thinking. In fact, employees rated next-generation executives lower on all 15 leadership capabilities explored except one, business acumen. This suggests that employees believe their emerging leaders know the business basics of their market better than outsiders, but they don’t know how best to mobilize an organization to succeed in it.

Attracting capable leaders is important, but unfortunately not sufficient to bridge the leadership gap. Organizations must also retain current emerging leaders, accelerate their development, and enable them to succeed. Progressive companies across Asia are pursuing four core strategies to improve leader effectiveness:

•Engaging Leaders with High-Impact Career Paths: A compelling career path is the single most important engagement driver in an organization—especially since only 32 percent of employees in Asia express satisfaction with their jobs and their future career opportunities with their employer. Companies should ensure they are creating positions that clearly link the employee’s role to the firm’s success and lay out an attainable path to greater leadership responsibility. If the region is considered crucial to growth, organizations should consider concentrating top global talent there – expanding important leadership roles and creating a true leadership hub.

•Strengthening leadership capabilities that matter: Given the scarcity of critical leadership competencies, organizations need to focus on developing leaders broadly, but especially in the five capabilities that matter—team building, communication, enterprise vision, problem-solving and strategic thinking—throughout an individual’s career.

• Accelerating leader development through “crucible” stretch roles: Since next-generation executives across Asia typically trail their global peers in years of experience, companies can accelerate development by offering exposure to high-impact, “crucible” experiences – business critical positions where important decisions are required and where a rising leader can gain years of wisdom through rapid on-the-job learning.

•Realigning corporate support for leaders in transition: Leaders who succeed in challenging stretch roles rarely do so alone. Companies must enable stronger leadership by providing effective support systems. The best companies support leaders in stretch assignments by balancing leader expectations with regard to short- and long-term wins, ensuring access to a supportive network of managers and peers; and reinforcing team successes over individual accomplishments.

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