, Singapore

Meeting today's managerial challenges in a globalised workplace

By Prof Sattar Bawany

The new realities

Today’s managerial challenge is faced with constant change driven by a shifting globalised economy and rapi advances in infocom technology and social media. This period of uncertainty and opportunity is forcing business to reshape conceptions of industries, business strategies, organisational structure and the roles of business leaders.

The biggest challenge facing leaders today is the changing world that wants a new paradigm of leadership. The new reality involves the shift from stability to change and crisis management, from control to empowerment, from uniformity to diversity (cross cultural collaboration), and from a self-centered focus to a higher ethical purpose.

In addition, the concept of servant leadership where the leader as hero is giving way to that of the humble leader who develops others and shares credit for accomplishments.

In the new economy, globalisation, increased competition, speed of innovation, customisation of demand and emphasis on value-added services, the emergence of flexible manufacturing, and the mobility and diversity of the workforce all create the need for unprecedented speed and responsiveness.

The new paradigm of leadership – level 5 leaders

We know that leaders create, transform and manage organisational cultures. The leader’s values, beliefs and leadership styles will impact the organisation’s climate. We need “Level 5 Leaders” who demonstrate ontological humility and possess emotional mastery. They also need to possess essential integrity in discharging their day to day role and responsibilities towards engaging the employees.

In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins examines how a good company becomes an exceptional company. The book introduces a new term to the leadership lexicon – Level 5 leadership. Level 5 refers to the highest level in a hierarchy ofexecutive capabilities. Leaders at the other four levels may be successful, but are unable to elevate companies from mediocrity to sustained excellence.

Level 5 leadership challenges the assumption that transforming companies from good to great requires larger-than-life-leaders. The leaders that came out on top in Collins' five-year study were relatively unknown outside their industries. The findings appear to signal a shift of emphasis away from the hero to the anti-hero.

According to Collins, humility is a key ingredient of Level 5 leadership. His simple formula is Humility + Will = Level 5. "Level 5 leaders are a study in duality", notes Collins, "modest and wilful, shy and fearless."

The cross cultural perspective

The best approach for corporations supporting managers on global assignments of all types is to address both the shift from one culture to another on long-term assignments and develop managerial talent in an open-minded, culturally respectful mindset that values diversity.

Managers going on assignment in another culture need to be aware of their own cultural background. The best preparation for any identity shock, of which culture shock is one type, is to know oneself well. This allows an executive to remain steady under pressure from external influences and provides the strength to be flexible.

Ethnocentricity or the assumption that the American or European way of doing business is the standard was never valid. But in a global economy this misconception is dangerous to a company's return on investment.

A hard-hitting, direct negotiating style can boomerang in Asia, for instance. With a sizable majority of companies that have employees with international job responsibilities, training leaders to interact effectively and respectfully with people of different cultures is one of the best investments a company can make.

Leaders also need to know something about the culture of the nation to which they are moving. The fit between the manager (whatever the cultural background and personality type) and the new culture should be evaluated to determine the likelihood that the manager will or will not be satisfied and effective in the assignment.

Success strategies with executive coaching

Ongoing individualised executive coaching is now a proven method of leadership development for managers. Executive coaching is valuable whether used alone or as a follow-up to executive development.

When preparing managers for a long-term assignment, executive coaching might ensure that both the manager and the business goal move forward in such a way that employee satisfaction, successful performance, and assignment completion are maximized. Effective executive coaching also ensures that employee retention remains high.

Unlike a consultant, who analyses and provides solutions, an executive coach evokes from the client (coachee) solutions that are just beneath the surface, so the client experiences developing expertise from the inside out. In the context of coaching a global executive, the coach also may impart important information about international business practices or coach the manager in how to find it.

The focus is on present and future action moving forward a client-determined agenda. The transition to a new culture or learning how to lead a geographically dispersed team is a one situation in which coaching means the difference between just getting by and excelling.

Many seasoned and experienced executive coach work with clients all over the world, so they have the big picture in mind all the time and easily can apply what they learn from one situation to another while maintaining essential confidentiality. Each client benefits from the coach's breadth of experience.

Executive coaches not only develop leadership skills such as strategic thinking and planning, improved decision-making, and team leadership of their client (coachee), but also are skilled at supporting them in developing global literacy and adaptability and meeting global leadership challenges.


Global leaders today are not just expatriates. Their roles are far more complex. They work across multiple time zones, country infrastructures, and cultural expectations; all the while coordinating performance results, business acumen, social patterns, and technological advances.

Effective global leadership is too important to be left to chance; organisations need to critically evaluate their recruitment processes, performance management, succession planning and their training and development. Those that take a thoughtful long-term approach to building effective leadership will outperform others in their industry.

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