What are the Qualities of a Great Leader in China?

Published on 2010-11-25

Source: NZ Defence Force
LEADERSHIP TRAINING IS HOT in China. No doubt this is linked to Hewitt and Manpower’s research highlighting a leadership gap – a gap that isn’t expected to be filled until 2012 to 2014. Consequently, most firms acknowledge that developing, rather than hiring, talent is the way to go. But what skills are we currently developing in China’s future leaders, and are they relevant?
In an essay titled ‘The Essence of Leadership’, Jonathan Byrnes, a Senior Lecturer at MIT, recently wrote for the Harvard Business School on the qualities of a great leader. His top eight qualities were: Capacity for passion, Perspective, Creativity, Organization skills, Teamwork, Persistence, Open-mindedness, and Integrity. These are all valid traits, but the team at ClarkMorgan Corporate Training wondered whether these qualities are at the heart at what motivates Chinese employees, and, just as importantly, can we apply a universal approach to leading Chinese?
To answer those questions, ClarkMorgan conducted surveys across five cities in mainland China. Respondents in our survey originated from Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Tianjin, and all were white-collar workers from multinational companies. The differences between the Harvard Business School results and our own were startling.
Cruel to be kind, in the right measure
Of the 203 respondents in the survey, over 80 individual definitions of leadership qualities were recorded. Respondents were asked to nominate up to five leadership qualities, in either English or Chinese, and surprisingly two, almost opposing traits, came up on top. Caring/Considerate and Powerful/Authoritative, made up number one and two, respectively, suggesting that white-collar employees in China are looking for both a shoulder to cry on and a kick in the butt – but in the right measure. Some might say that this result in indicative of a culture that is highly respectful of the teacher’s role in society – one that often requires both the carrot and stick to get results. Nevertheless, the two qualities were absent in the Harvard Business School’s top eight, and are rarely found in common Western leadership texts.
East does meet West
Number three on the list of leadership qualities was vision/strategic. While Byrnes omitted this trait from his top eight, this trait is well documented in other authors’ “best of” list, including Stephen Covey and Ken Blanchard. This is where the East and West do appear to think alike. Successfully predicting the future has allowed companies to weather the Global Financial Crisis, when so many competitors failed. Mind you, many too were just plain lucky!
Another trait common in both East and West thinking is Open Mindedness. While this is expected in the West, there is a clear sea change among Chinese employees who, only a generation ago, could be considered anything but open minded. But it appears that since China’s debutante, in 1979, a new culture that expects leaders to be open minded, especially within multinational company workforces, has developed. That’s a great sign for Hu Jintao’s call for innovation. Then again, this goal to move China away from the ‘factory of the world’ into one focusing on ‘value added’ commodities and a strong service industry, particularly in finance and banking, could result in some challenging side effects, particularly in relation to political reform.
A changing in tradition?
Interestingly, some of China’s traditional values were low down on the list. ‘Diligent’ just made it into the top 40, and ‘humility’, was out of the top 50. This was a very interesting result, as while both qualities are no doubt important, a lot of foreign text books on China may be attaching too much importance to these two qualities.
What is clear is that the recent ClarkMorgan findings on the top 10 qualities of a leader differ significantly from the Western MBA doctrine. And this is why this research, along with other survey findings, are added to ClarkMorgan leadership & management courses. That keeps our training course China-focused and 100 percent relevant!