Imagine a family without parents, with no guidelines, vigilance and minimum accountability. With no one to discipline, support and
lead, it is likely to be synonymous to complete anarchy. The absence of an able leadership within an organisation breeds the same kind of challenges. An organisation needs a good leader just as a family needs parents to steward its growth and success
By Ananya Mukherjee

Take the example of Carly Fiorina, the troubled CEO who was ousted from Hewlett-Packard in 2005. Fiorina was infamously known for her failure to gain alignment with her board of directors or inspire commitment from her employees, leading to a massive profi t shortfall for the company. One ex-Hewlett Packard (HP) executive was quoted as saying: “Bill [Hewlett] and David [Packard] really would come around and visit with as many HP
employees as possible over the course of a year. But Carly, despite what her various skills and acumen might have been, never tried to have any sort of common touch with the people who were working to implement her vision.”

Undoubtedly, strong leadership is essential to the success of every organisation. The achievements of the organisation are often directly linked to the capability and foresight of the leadership team at its helm. Internally, an effective leader is often one who is well-respected and trusted by employees.

However, if we look carefully at companies that are highly admired for their longstanding successes, we will see that the leadership team was not set up overnight. These companies often have a strong emphasis on talent and leadership development, resulting in leaders that can steer them through changes to remain relevant and successful. “The focus on leadership development also helps these companies groom a pipeline of leaders who can continue to lead the organisation in the right direction,” Alvin Tan, Executive Director, Human Resources, Singapore Economic Development Board, observes.

Negative impacts of bad leadership

• High Turnover
• Disgruntled staff
• Lower productivity
• Bad working environment with little or no trust
• Lack of proper communication
• Less competitive employees
• Tarnished brand image
• Lower revenue
• Stemmed innovation or creativity amongst employees
• Lack of accountability and ownership

Most importantly, in today’s uncertain economic landscape, it is critical that businesses develop leadership talent that is comfortable with uncertainty, is versatile and adaptable, and armed with a keen sense of judgement to undertake quick, sound decisions witha competent calibration of risk. In the face of economic uncertainties, it is essential also that strong leaders with the foresight to envision and create competitive breakthrough strategies and plans, and communicate a compelling and inspiring vision to both internal and external stakeholders, steer the organisation towards
common business goals.

Leadership is a lifelong process

Yes, affirm human resource gurus. Egos can often get in the way and the most successful leaders are aware of their egos and how they play in their lives. It is important for leaders to take a step back and self assess the situation with questions that not only point toward being courageous, but taking accountability and putting the team first and creating a great environment for entire team to succeed. Leaders that are transparent in their decision making build trust within the team.

One of the key challenges is to be humble and realise that leadership is a lifelong process. Even if you are really successful in one company and you move on to a different company, there will be challenges specific to that organisation which one may not have experienced before. “You have different people, you might have different cultures and it is a continual process. You also have staff of a different generation entering the workforce every day. We used to talk about baby boomers followed by the Gen-Y, and now we are talking about the millennium generation. It requires a whole new approach, when working with them,” Alysson Do, Head of HR Operations, Nokia SEAP, points out. In all aspects, humility is the one commonality in the approach to leadership and management, where a leader continues to learn, challenge and ask for help.

In addition, leadership development requires patience and tolerance, especially with the younger and less experienced leaders. In the process of leadership building, it is important to set high standards at times, raising the bar when complacency sets in. Exposing potential leaders beyond their scope of responsibility in order for them to learn is another way to groom future leaders.

Most importantly, a key challenge is to define exactly what your future goals are. “We must be careful not to develop it on the wrong side and hence develop the wrong set of skills and be clear about where we are headed to. If a company fails to support the career stage change, it will adversely
affect the leader’s skills,” Casslynn Ong, Vice President, Regional Human Resource, Fujitsu Asia, shares.

HR plays a key role

In all this, it is imperative that HR plays a pivotal role in building the leadership capability and talent that is aligned with the business growth. HR needs to create and drive this leadership framework, and put in place the diff erent initiatives, learning programmes and staff policies. These tools need to be aligned and integrated to gear leadership development towards a common goal of identifying and growing leaders for the organisation. This must also be supported with a shared mindset towards talent and leadership development within the organisation.

To help support and develop leaders achieve that rung on the corporate leader; deliberate steps have to be made. It is important for HR to prepare leaders for their next roles by not only evaluating their current and past performance but at the same time investing the time and resources to pro-actively facilitate a successful career stage transition. “We award merit increases as informed by past performances but we should promote based on demonstrated readiness of the employee for the next role. How do we then pro-actively intervene? Th is is where HR can provide the right framework, tools, processes to help leaders develop in a structured and systematic manner, by creating a non-threatening environment where learning and development can be optimised. This definitely requires the support of current management team to make this successful,” says Ong from Fujitsu.

One of HR’s key focus should be on helping individual talent with career management and career planning. This can be done via open and consistent
communication with key talents and having a talent management and succession planning programme in place. “HR needs to work closely with the
management team to identify current employees that could move into leadership roles and groom them for succession,” Steve Watts, President, SAP Asia Pacific Japan, highlights.

The organisation has developed several corporate development programmes in place to boost employee productivity and success. For example, SAP recently implemented an ‘Executive Athlete’ programme whereby executives will take a battery of cognitive tests, learn how to deal with stress, manage conflict and work out barefooted in an ‘’intelligent’’ gym where treadmills are banned and all exercise is designed to boost brainpower. The
first clinical trial has already kicked off in SAP’s offi ce in Australia and plans are underway to roll out the ‘Executive Athlete’ programme to SAP offices around the region.

Nokia, Do shares, has rolled out the Asian Talent Programme that identifi es top talent and helps build leaders in Asia. The programme has three
different facets that focuses on engagement and development of the next generation of leaders. The first facet focuses on delivering competitive compensation and benefits to help retain these top talents. The second facet focuses on training and development to help build competencies and capabilities. The last facet of the programme provides career development challenges in the organization, which could be short-term assignments or another role in the organisation.

Interestingly, as you begin your career, success is mostly individual success and you focus on your own strengths. However, as you move up in the
organisation, you will realise that it’s no longer about your success, but the success of the people around you. HR can help you develop the right skills and perspective to help drive organisational success.

Thrust on trust building

A key component of leadership development is trust building. However, most people don’t understand the difference between affective-trust and cognitive-trust, note industry experts. Affective-trust is based on liking and familiarity whereas cognitive-trust is based on past performance and professionalism. “Getting everybody to play paintball or do a trust fall is going to have very little impact, instead energy needs to be spent in creating authentic dialogues and articulating shared objectives and agreed behaviours,” Andrew Bryant, Founder, Self Leadership International, shares. Building trust starts at the top and encompasses a series of key steps that need to be in place for trust to be developed. Organisations need to ensure that there is open, two-way communication, a dialogue between employees in both lateral and vertical directions, effective listening and follow-through, understanding of cultural diff erences, respect and acceptance of differences amongst others. Trust is integral in the building of employee relationships which will help in the development of solid team dynamics and a strong internal and external business. “Trust building is particularly important during critical times which may call for difficult business decisions to be made, which might have a negative impact on specific individuals
in the organisation,” notes Ang Cham Lark, Senior Consultant, Global Employment Framework & Reward – Asia Pacifi c & Middle East, Rolls-Royce and Country HR Manager –Singapore & Vietnam, Rolls-Royce. With open communication and trust, employees and team members will better understand the reasons behind the decisions.

Importance of grooming

It is clear that for an organisation to be successful in the long run, it must invest and focus on developing its people. Top talent is sought after everywhere, so the leadership development programmes that organisations drive must take a long-term view of capability development to ensure that people are continually engaged and given opportunities to progress in their careers with the organisations. Leaders also need to build up the capacity and capability of the organisation. In this regard, they are expected to invest time and effort to nurture and groom talent for the organisation. Leaders need have genuine conviction and drive to inspire the team that they lead towards a shared purpose.

For instance, EDB believes that leadership development extends beyond sending talent for courses and MBAs. Leadership development is about building a holistic system to attract, develop and nurture top talent over many years, says Tan. “At EDB, we begin early by identifying and attracting top talent to join us, connecting with top schools to reach out to students with potential. Those who join us as officers are given a range of work assignments to develop and stretch their potential. These can be international work assignments, or opportunities to work in different job families and try out diff erent tasks within EDB. This is reinforced by the right learning programmes, and regular interactions with leaders to share their experiences. We call this approach to leadership development: Live-Learn-Teach.”


True leadership is more than just a title, it is behaviour. True leaders take proactive steps to create an environment where everyone succeeds and every interaction with the customer is positive. It helps build your company brand and customer experience. HR can help by setting in place a clear and proactive leadership strategy that is tightly aligned with the company’s business goals. This means assessing the current and future leadership needs of the company, how the current leadership measures up, what gaps need to plugged and then taking steps to plug those gaps. Provisions should also be made for succession planning – what if a leader departs suddenly? Who would be able to succeed him or her?

However, many employees are not given access to leadership development until they become leaders. “We often hear from participants that they wish they had attended a leadership development programme much earlier in their career. By then, they would have lost years in which they could have developed their leadership qualities,” Sureish Nathan, Vice President, Asia-Pacific, Center for Creative Leadership, notes. Leaders exist at all levels of the organisations and leadership development starts from self leadership. This means that one can practise leadership skill-sets even
when one is an individual contributor without any teams to manage. A strong leadership strategy would take into account the importance of self-leadership and succession planning to ensure that leaders are groomed from Day One, as opposed to meeting an immediate requirement.

Bad Leadership Management

• Post-hoc management: 20-20 wisdom. The leader acts as the judge and the jury. The boss is always right and never to blame. In this way they can remain secure in their job.

• Seagull management: Flying in, pooping on you and flying off again. When they are there, they typically give criticism and direction in equal quantities, often without any real understanding of what the job entails. Then before you can object or ask what they really want, they have an ‘important meeting’ to go to.

• Kipper management: Two-faced approach. When they are with more senior managers they are typically model employees, putting business first and themselves last. Yet with their subordinates, the reverse is often true.

• Micromanagement: Controls every detail. The leader acts as if the subordinate is incapable of doing his job, giving close instruction and checking everything all the time, seldom praising and often criticising.

• Mushroom management: Drop them in the poo and keep them in the dark. Mushroom managers are often more concerned about their own career and image. Anyone who appears as a threat may well be deliberately held back as their ability may make the mushroom manager look bad.