Leadership Across Cultures: The Scorecard

Businessman Winning Race --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Businessman Winning Race — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Would you imagine that Sub-Saharan African leaders would score highest globally on intellectual flexibility, on breadth of experience and on team development, but lowest on commercial thinking and on their ability to win hearts and minds?

Here are some similar highlights from research published in Harvard Business Review, May 2015 by Gurnek Bains (“Cultural DNA”) of global corporate consultancy YSC. Health warning: these are very broad brush statistics and will mask a lot of local cultural differences.

Latin American leaders? It seems that they lead the world by a mile on their level of drive and ambition, on being engaging and likeable, and on leading collaboration. But only 3% are strong in strategic thinking, and they have the lowest range of experience of any other region.

US leaders are the most action-oriented and also score highly in commercial thinking, but come at or near the bottom in the areas of intellectual flexibility & creativity, authoritative clear-cut leadership, self-awareness, emotional openness and authenticity.

Leaders in the Middle East are globally strongest in commercial thinking and are the most organised & structured leaders, with the strongest orientation to growth. On the other hand, they are beaten only by latin american leaders in the weakness of their strategic thinking.

Indian leaders have the greatest breadth of knowledge, and narrowly lead the rankings in authoritative, clear-cut leadership although these rank low everywhere. They are in fact much stronger in the area of drive and ambition, second only to the latin americans. Their biggest challenges are in the areas of positivity/ emotional resilience and in building relationships as likeable, engaging people.

Europe? Strongest in strategic thinking, in inclusive leadership and particularly in their visionary ability to win hearts and minds (this, by a large margin). They are also the least emotionally closed, with relative strength in perceived authenticity. However they tend to lack drive & ambition and rank low in action oriented thinking.

In China, leaders rank highest in analytical thinking, and have relative strength in their orientation towards growth, in drive & ambition, in being engaging & likeable, and in collaboration (ranking second globally in these areas). They score lowest globally in action-oriented thinking, and equal lowest in positivity/emotional resilience, and perhaps surprisingly in having authoritative, clear-cut leadership.

My Observations – First, I notice that most scores are lower than 50%, suggesting that most leaders lack most of these skills! There’s a lot of scope for development.

Second, while abilities in most areas vary widely, there is a universal lack of  strength in four areas:

  • Authoritative, clear-cut leadership
  • Self awareness and insight
  • Emotional openness and authenticity
  • Forming close, deep bonds.

So there should be huge demand for people like me who specialise in developing leaders! However the lack of self awareness among leaders is precisely why this isn’t always the case.

You have a choice – keep pretending you are doing well, or wisen up and grab a competitive advantage over a relatively weak field by finding a world class coach/mentor.

Every success!







16 Ideas for High Performing Teams

Tower of people

What works in building great teams? Dragon’s den – style internal pitches, naps, public shout-outs, champions-in-residence, free books & training – and more.

Who says? Inc. magazine asked members of the  Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) to share the perks, products, and processes that work best in building high performing teams and a better working culture. To get one-paragraph descriptions of these strategies, go to this link:

Here are their best 16 ideas.

My personal favourite? Public shout-outs at monthly meetings.  “At the end of every monthly team meeting, we put up a slide listing all of our company values. Then, team members have a chance to give shout-outs to each other based on those values and based on each person’s work in the past month. It’s a great way for everyone to publicly recognise each other–and it’s free!”Bhavin Parikh, Magoosh

Which would work best in your company? Or do you have a better idea? 

If you need help in building a positive working culture and highly functional teams, drop me a line!





Business in China: The Haier Case Study

Zhang Ruimin 01Photo by Wang Jun Qd


In 1984 Zhang Ruimin stepped up and took over the leadership of the then state-owned appliance maker. Haier was close to bankruptcy. At one stage he had to borrow money to pay his staff. Now it is the world’s largest manufacturer of white goods, with revenue in 2013 of HK$224 billion (roughly AU$37 billion, or GBP19 billion).

Assumptions? China is a one-party communist state, and it has a reputation for discouraging people from thinking ‘out of the box’. Empowerment must be a dirty word. And leadership equates to authoritarian dictatorship.

So … how has Zhang achieved all this?

Let’s take one example, shared by Benjamin Robertson in the South China Morning Post. In 2014 the CEO and chairman warned his staff that 10,000 of its 70,000 strong workforce would lose their jobs. However, outgoing staff would be welcome back if they had a credible business plan. This is part of his long term strategy to turn the company into an ‘entrepreneurial platform’, which reminds me of Ricardo Semler’s radical strategies with Semco in Brazil (‘Maverick!‘ and ‘The Seven Day Weekend‘).

Employees, including senior executives, are expected to be part of product development teams, and pitch ideas to a committee which has the power to allocate start-up capital and resources. And former Haier staff can get company backing, using the Haier platform, while working for themselves. Zhang himself puts it this way: “We now have a lot of entrepreneurs at Haier who don’t work inside the company. Some aren’t interested in joining, preferring to stay outside in society, partner with the company, and use our platform for pioneering work. Those inside the company are also free to leave at any time, and still use the Haier platform for their work, though they would no longer actually work for the company. In the long run, there won’t be any company employees to speak of—only the Haier platform.” [strategy+business, Nov 2014]

Zhang also has a strong focus on quality. Staff still talk about how he handed out sledgehammers so that 76 faulty fridges could be pulped. 

Prof Bill Fischer of IMD Business School in Switzerland  wrote ‘Reinventing Giants‘, an analysis of Haier’s growth. He reports that “The thing we learned from Haier is that if you don’t have strong self-confident leaders at the top, you can never unleash the voices from below, because an unconfident leader is suspicious, threatened by people from below”.

So empowerment, engagement and entrepreneurship are clearly all core values in the company.

Fortune magazine ranks Zhang 22nd in its global list of people for energising their followers and making the world better. Meanwhile he is flattening this huge company to eliminate unnecessary chains of management and to speed up decision making. Decentralisation has gone to the extent that there are now 2,800 “counties”, each with 7 employees or less.

Art Kleiner, editor-in-chief of strategy+business magazine: “Every part of the organization has its own P&L, makes autonomous decisions (including which other parts of Haier to work with), and can reach out independently to customers, potential employees, and collaborators. R&D projects now often reach beyond Haier’s walls to include academics, independent designers, and even competitors. Zhang sees this as a natural evolution for all major companies, particularly those focused on business innovation in the Internet age.” And Haier aims to lead the world in making all of this work.

Zhang Ruimin has built a company without borders, a company without internal or external barriers, where change is now normal.

End users, other companies and even competitors are brought into the product development process. Haier’s expertise is openly shared: Alibaba spent HK$2.8 billion getting Haier to help build out its logistics network.

Where there used to be complete secrecy pending patents, now there is a greater value placed on collaboration to mutual benefit. Haier has a slogan “Forever honest” which means that there is now a culture of transparency.

Zhang again: “Those inside Haier, especially managers, understand that it’s crucial that we adapt to the evolving needs of users and the changing market environment. A few people who have gone from Haier to work for other companies have written to me telling me that the biggest difference between Haier and their new company is Haier’s transparent interpersonal relations. They say that this is unheard of at other companies”.

I contend that resilience is THE competitive advantage for the future, and Haier is a prime example. If you want help with building a resilient organisation staffed by resilient people, get in touch!

Every success,


The Progress Principle! Catalysts, Inhibitors, Nourishers and Toxins

Small wins 01

I have come across a fascinating piece of research in Harvard Business Review from May 2011, by Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer [“The Power of Small Wins”]. Based on 12,000 daily diary responses, they show with crystal clarity how performance and progress are closely tied to the level of engagement people feel on a day to day basis.

“This is the progress principle made visible: If a person is motivated and happy at the end of the workday, it’s a good bet that he or she made some progress”. I would add that team leaders need to actively help people to recognise that progress. How often do you go home, having worked your butt off, yet feel that you haven’t made any real progress? Wouldn’t it be great to have a boss who took a few minutes to help us to see the importance of what we were doing?

Catalysts are ‘actions that directly support work, including help from a person or group’ such as ‘setting clear goals, allowing autonomy, providing sufficient resources and time, helping with the work, openly learning from problems and successes, and allowing a free exchange of ideas’.

Nourishers are ‘ acts of interpersonal support, such as respect and recognition, encouragement, emotional comfort, and opportunities for affiliation’.

Each has an opposite: Inhibitors, ‘actions that fail to support or actively hinder work’, and  toxins, ‘discouraging or undermining events’ such as disrespect, discouragement, disregard for emotions, and interpersonal conflict.

toxic   Whereas catalysts and inhibitors are directed at the project, nourishers and toxins are directed at the person. Like setbacks, inhibiting and toxic events are rare on days when people feel great and report making progress.

Even otherwise excellent managers can slip into becoming toxic and inhibiting, notably when overwhelmed by pressure or situations when they may take it out on subordinates. It can take a long, long time to recover the lost ground.

Instead, we need to develop behaviours, systems and routines that build catalysts and nourishment, while eliminating inhibitors and toxins.

One key message is that we need to recognise the significance of minor milestones and achievements. Even solving a minor problem should be a source of satisfaction, motivation and energy. On the other hand, minor setbacks can be even more dispiriting, so they need to be minimised or turned around – overcoming them is itself an opportunity to reinforce the sense of progress.

In this way people develop a greater sense of being involved in meaningful work on a day to day basis, which in turn reinforces the whole progress cycle.

Your Challenge: At the end of each workday, take a few minutes to list any catalysts, inhibitors, nourishers and toxins that have occurred during the day. Then decide on at least one action you will take the next day to eliminate the negatives and/or build the positives. Now go home with a sense of satisfaction, looking forward to making an even better impact as a leader tomorrow.

The Death of Mission Statements

Mission Statements 04

Great missions inspire, while mission statements tend to kill motivation. Here’s a great article by Eric J McNulty on why this happens, and what to do about it.

The key idea is to write a short, explicit  narrative — the story of how a company (or team, or individual)’s mission is actually achieved. And it can be rough and ready, ideally written by the people who do most to drive the organisation towards the mission.

How? Here’s one of several example frameworks provided by McNulty:

To realise our mission, I do A, B, and C as a team leader to build a group that delivers X, Y, and Z. An example of where we performed at our peak in the past six months is… and an example of where we fell short is… I was most proud of my team when we…

Isn’t that a more meaningful, inspiring statement than the usual platitudes that could be applied to any situation, anywhere? If so, what’s your narrative?

Do Leaders Lack Emotional Intelligence?

Today I want to share a fascinating piece of research by Dr. Travis Bradberry, the award-winning co-author of the #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0.

It shows that average levels of emotional intelligence (EI) drop off the further above middle management that people are. However, the kicker is that at every level, the most successful leaders are those with the highest EI!

It seems that selection panels increasingly fail to value genuine leadership skills the higher up the organisation you go, in favour of the simple, short term, bottom line metrics.

So should you hide your ability to empathise, understand, connect, and inspire others? Or should companies shake up their selection processes and criteria and start making better decisions about who to appoint?

Read more at the following link, where Travis also shares some suggestions on how to boost your performance and outshine the competition, at whatever level you currently find yourself . Highly recommended reading.

Why Leaders Lack Emotional Intelligence

Expect More from 2015: Strategies for Success from Leading Experts

Strategies for Success from Leading Experts in Personal and Professional Development

.Stressed out help large

I have a free e-book compiled by Thought Leader Gihan Perera for you, including a contribution by yours truly. Find the ideas that will help you to thrive next year! Click the link below, and feel free to share everywhere.




The Danger of Sham Empowerment

How often have you been given a job to do – then got frustrated because the organisation just won’t let you do it the way you know would work best?

Typically, when we delegate a task to someone (or a team), we simply give them responsibility for getting it done. It feels to them that they are being trusted to represent you and your organisation. However, we don’t give them any real clout or authority to shift resources, so that they can make it happen whatever happens. They discover this when they try to use strategies that you wouldn’t use, or when the resources simply aren’t coming through and they can’t do anything about that. Then the ‘power’ turns out to be an illusion.

Instead, we need to do the reverse: give them real authority, but retain responsibility for success or failure. This rarely happens in practice. Too often we give a tokenistic, superficial, false level of empowerment which allows us to stay in control but which achieves nothing.

If I’m still responsible for your performance, I’m going to be motivated to keep in touch with how you’re doing, and will coach and mentor you (not instruct you) so that you do a great job. After all, I’m accountable to my client/boss for this, not you. And you have authority to act, so I don’t need to step in and direct or do things to make it happen.

When people feel empowered and that turns out to be a sham, typically they react by doing one or more of these things:

  • They Get Out 
  • They Get Safe 
  • They Get Even.

If you don’t intend to give real authority to your people, the message is clear: Don’t Pretend That You Are Empowering Them. It’s better to be honest and authentic as people then know where they stand, even if they don’t like it much. If you effectively lie about this, sooner or later you will break their trust and the results will probably be highly damaging, and lasting.

Trust is an essential feature of resilient, sustainable organisations. It takes a lot to build trust, and it can be destroyed in a heartbeat.

Empowerment? Don’t do it if you don’t mean it. Check out my previous post on the 5 features of empowering delegation

Every success, Hugh

The Toxic Leader

In a recent post I discussed the notion of the toxic workplace. Today – it’s the turn of the leaders!

Gabriel Thorn, a US Company Commander, has written a great post (link below) asking what happened to the US army’s decision to eliminate their toxic leaders, recognising the destructive effect such characters have on morale, and how they cause the best to up and leave.

What we have here is classic ‘tank’ behaviour. Tanks simply roll over everything in their path to get the job done as quickly as possible, and rarely even recognise that they are crushing everything indiscriminately.

What can you do if you have to put up with a tank as a leader?

4 choices:

  1. Stay and put up with it;
  2. Vote with your feet and leave;
  3. Change your attitude towards them; or
  4. Change your own behaviour.

Notice that I haven’t suggested that you try to change THEIR behaviour. Put it this way – how often have other people succeeded in changing YOUR behaviour? Really? And with the tank this is frankly almost impossible.

So consider this instead. Your goal is to command their respect. “We’re on the same side”. Don’t counter attack or get defensive – but do interrupt, back track (“I get it that you think this should be finished by now”), target the bottom line (“The way I’m handling this will save us time and money in the future”), fire your shot then negotiate peace with honour.

Keep it simple, don’t be cowed, don’t get emotional. Win respect and even those toxic tanks will by and large leave you in peace.

Gabriel Thorn’s article: Whatever Happened to Eliminating The Toxic Leader?

The tank and other difficult behaviours are beautifully described, with strategies, in this book:

5 Signs of a Toxic Workplace

When your working atmosphere gets toxic, everything else becomes hard or even impossible to achieve. Today I’m re-posting an article by Janie Smith as I’ve come across far too many toxic workplaces like this. And it can sometimes be easier to turn around than we think. The alternative, if we don’t, is too horrible to contemplate.


Janie quotes behavioural scientist Darren Hill, who picks out these 5 signs:

  1. Passive-aggressive communication is the norm
  2. Lack of discretionary effort
  3. Death by committee
  4. Clock Watching
  5. Lack of quality, shared experiences.

Read more here.

All of these symptoms indicate a lack of engagement – mirrored by, and probably caused by, a lack of leadership. How many are you experiencing? Maybe you’re too busy to change things? Or maybe these problems leave you in practice with too much hard work just to keep the business going.

Some suggestions: it’s time to make your purpose crystal clear and to invest energy in communicating that to your team. It’s time to show zero tolerance for undermining, negative attitudes. It’s time to show lots of appreciation for people who put in the extra mile (or inch) so that they know they, and their efforts, are valued – even if they simply come in with a positive attitude.

If you’re in this chicken and egg situation, give me a call and I’ll happily spend a bit of time getting to the heart of how you might make life a lot easier.

Every success, Hugh

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