The ability to construct a rational argument – is not enough to win the hearts and minds of the many new stakeholders they will face.
The authentic global leader champions a culture whereby integrity is celebrated and there is zero tolerance for anything less.
Passion without purpose is like an unguided missile – a lot of energy expended but it’s all potentially misdirected.
True Preparedness Means Identifying What Could Go Wrong and How You’ll Respond, Well in Advance
Aristotle said that great leaders exhibited three attributes: ethos, logos and pathos. He didn’t weight them equally, however, and not surprisingly, given his love of a good argument, he thought that logos trumped the other two by a considerable margin.
When thinking about today’s great leaders it is interesting to analyse how they present themselves in multiple settings and what techniques they use to connect with, persuade and engage audiences. There are some notables that immediately spring to mind: Bill Clinton, who charms audiences on a very personal level with his well-modulated voice, blue eyes and smile; Sheryl Sandberg, who engages through a heady combination of intellect and empathy; and next generation leader Emma Watson, whose message about new feminism, told in an extremely poignant and thought-provoking way, captivated UN audiences.
In Asia we also have our notables. For me, Alibaba’s Jack Ma is perhaps one of the most stellar authentic leaders. He consistently exhibits all three of Aristotle’s attributes, persuading analysts, investors, regulators, customers, users and employees alike. He is often held up as an example of a potential role model for the new generation of global leaders, not just in China, but also throughout the world. It is not only his entrepreneurial brilliance that has inspired such confidence, it’s also his strong sense of values and seemingly effortless ability to tell stories in a light-hearted, self-deprecating way so they transcend cultures and resonate long after the lights have gone down.
For many other Asian leaders of global companies, or companies seeking to go global, the experience of engaging with stakeholders in the West is more challenging. There are greater expectations on them by Western media, analysts, regulators and even civil society to lead from the front and humanize the brand in a way that would be unheard of in their home country.
For these Asian leaders, logos – the ability to construct a rational argument – is not enough to win the hearts and minds of the many new stakeholders they will face. Without credibility (ethos) and the ability to emotionally connect (pathos), they often face an uphill struggle to establish a strong global presence and help their companies reach their global potential.
For these leaders, an authentic and successful leadership approach can often be achieved through a combination of Principles, Passion and Purpose.
Principles — Uphold the highest standards of transparency and ethics: The authentic global leader champions a culture whereby integrity is celebrated and there is zero tolerance for anything less. Asian companies have some of the poorest transparency standards in the world. In the latest study (November 5, 2014) by Transparency International of 124 of the world’s biggest publicly-traded companies, including 17 companies from BRIC economies, Chinese companies were far behind. All eight Chinese companies in the report scored less than three out of ten, with six Chinese companies among the bottom 11 companies in the index. Greater transparency improves reputation and competitiveness and ultimately economic prosperity. While regulators trip over themselves to tighten the rules, a more important leadership test should be whether an organization has a prevailing culture of integrity. This is the mark of a great leader, no matter which market he or she operates in.
Passion — Be obsessive about customers and their wider community: “Passion” is an over-used word in management circles. Defined by the Oxford dictionary as strong and barely controllable emotion, “passion” has been diluted by business to convey something slightly more prosaic. There is, however, a role for passion in business leadership, and that is the obsessive attention to understanding what customers want and the wider concerns of the communities they live in. For Asian leaders going global, this means starting by really listening – listening to employees in new markets, listening to customers, listening to communities. It means breaking down hierarchical barriers to ensure their feedback is heard and acted on. Too often global leaders miss the social cues given by key audiences in new markets and therefore their actions are seen as out of sync or inappropriate.
Purpose — Share value to create value: This leads me to my last point. Passion without purpose is like an unguided missile – a lot of energy expended but it’s all potentially misdirected. Purpose-driven companies are those guided by the fundamental belief that consumers want more than a transactional relationship from brands. Leaders of these companies understand that by addressing areas of community concern, often through uncommon alliances, it is possible not only to share value but to create value – though access to new markets, redefinition of new products and broadening and deepening of audience relationships. Unilever worked with CARE and six other companies to increase the reach of their products in Bangladesh through a rural sales network, providing work for around 3,000 women in the process. Proctor & Gamble developed new markets for its sanitary products in developing countries by teaming up with Save the Children. For Proctor & Gamble the partnership provided awareness-building and demand-generation benefits. For Save the Children, it was a way to stop dropout rates among young girls in resource-poor markets.
I challenge Asian leaders to look for similar opportunities to share value. It not only addresses vital community concerns; it also provides them with a legitimate platform upon which to connect and engage with new audiences, while creating value at the same time.
I also challenge Asian leaders to really assess whether they are upholding the highest standards of transparency and ethics. Another year should not go by with Chinese companies at the bottom of the transparency rankings. This is a disgrace and undermines genuine efforts by many Chinese companies to improve their value proposition through innovation and brand marketing. At the very least, leaders of large Chinese companies should heed the advice of Transparency International and demonstrate public support for anti-corruption and explicitly prohibit facilitation payments or bribes.
Doing well by doing good should be the mantra of the next generation of global leaders. If this belief drives their business decision-making, they will be well on the way to becoming authentic leaders.