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How can we enhance our leadership skills?

A few weeks ago I conducted a leadership program in Singapore for APAC regional executives of a for-profit organization – half of the participants were Asians and the other half were Europeans and Americans. One of topics we discussed was “leading in Asian contexts” where participants discussed and debated how we should lead in this diverse Asian cultures as well as in a fast changing business and social environments.


We skipped the discussion of classic leadership styles, e.g., autocratic, democratic, vs. laissez-faire, and discussed 6 leadership styles identified in GLOBE study, i.e., charismatic, team-oriented, participative, humane-oriented, autonomous, and self-Protective. While all of those styles exist in all ethnic cultures, there are some differences in terms of degrees. Through a series of learning sessions and discussions, participants basically agreed there is no one single style that can meet the needs of the situations – business, people and organizational needs. Effective leaders are those who can flex their styles to best meet the situational needs to deliver best results.


So, what can we do to build those effective leadership skills and flwxible styles? My suggestion is the following.


First, before thinking about leadership styles, leaders must possess (1) fundamental business, people and organizational capabilities, and (2) leadership mindset, to lead his/her organization. If they don’t, their style doesn’t matter…


Second, assuming your leaders have the right skill set and mindset, their style needs to be fully aligned with corporate values and cultures. For example, if “respect for individuals” and “diversity” are corporate values, its leadership style needs to be inclusive and democratic, not top-down and autocratic; if “innovation” is organizational value, its leadership style is inspiring and allowing, not commanding and punitive.


Third, in order for leaders to be really effective and savvy, they need to be able to style-switch to meet the needs of individuals and business. For example, there are many individual styles, e.g., DISC, MBTI, Facet 5 (Big 5 theory), Herman model, etc., and also, there are various ethnic/cultural styles in present multicultural work environment. Now, are your leaders able to identify those differences and take best possible style or approach to make the best use of those differences to achieve best results?


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