Developing more effective leaders is critical for organizations to succeed in the years ahead. 

Organizations in the ASEAN region need leaders to drive innovation, increase market share, and grow profitability.

Traditionally, organizations have developed leaders to drive efficiency and operational excellence. While this will always be important, the unrelenting pace of technological change and globalization requires organizations to develop leaders who can effectively respond to constantly evolving business opportunities and threats, and chart a path to sustainable growth. A such, it is vital to link leadership development programs with talent management system, so that the programs can map talent from the beginning and provide talent with the appropriate leadership skills for each level.

Beyond operational excellence: Leaders have to respond effectively to business opportunities and threats. Click To Tweet

Most organizations understand that they need to develop more agile and change-oriented leaders. However, in many organizations, execution is falling short as these organizations are too busy tackling business challenges. In addition, many organizations are only focused on talent at higher levels of the hierarchy but not in lower level; unlike Korn Ferry’s definition of ‘talent’ as all employees across all levels of the organization.

As the ASEAN countries are at different stages of development, we will address this in two broad categories – the developed economies and fast-growing economies.

Developed ASEAN economies: Re-engineer leadership development programs

Organizations in developed economies tend to focus their leadership development efforts on senior leadership and neglect mid-level, first-level, and high potential leaders somewhat. Moreover, many of these organizations invested in off-the-shelf, topic-driven leadership development programs that lacked a connection to their businesses; failing to provide a long-term path for individuals to develop their leadership abilities.

To develop leaders to meet tomorrow’s challenges, organizations in developed economies need to re-engineer their leadership development programs by doing the following:

  • Define their long-term business strategy, identify the kinds of leaders required to execute their strategy, and then build a development/recruiting approach based on those profiles.
  • Orient their leadership development programs around their business and strategic issues – an approach which will generate engagement and innovative thinking.
  • Make leadership development a central part of their cultures and provide individual leaders with a path toward continuous development and improvement.

Fast-growing ASEAN economies: Start leadership development programs

Proper leadership development is becoming more critical in the fast-growing ASEAN economies and the growth of organizations – be it organically, via M&A or expanding their business within and/or outside the country. In this case, it is not about re-engineering leadership development programs, but about starting them.

Leadership development is a rather new topic in fast-growing economies. Hence, these organizations tend to go for off-the-shelf programs (first). As there is a general lack of awareness of the benefits and low perceived added value of how customized programs can improve business results, there is little willingness to invest in these programs.

As such, it is increasingly challenging for business leaders to keep business going while keeping close tabs on increasing market share and improving profitability. Though driving efficiency and operational excellence may be important, it is not always top of mind as the immediate focus is typically placed on meeting the increased demand.

Likewise, the rapid economic growth asks for business leaders who can effectively respond to evolving business opportunities and threats. To do this, business leaders need to take a wider and more strategic view on what is happening around them, beyond the boundaries of their own function or department. As many business leaders struggle to do so, the leadership programs could bridge this gap.

On top of that, leadership development programs should empower leaders to manage people more on behavioral than job-related aspects. Though many leaders are still promoted from within for being the best performer in their field, they struggle to be good managers. They should learn how to guide and coach their employees, accelerate their career advancement (to retain talents) and recognize their contributions to the organization (to maximize performance). This will be key for leaders who want to be effective in fast-growing ASEAN economies in the near future.

The stakes are high. Leadership development is a powerful tool that can transform organizations by aligning leaders and strategy, instilling a more purposeful culture, and increasing engagement throughout an organization. Though organizations at different stages of economic development call for different strategies, only those that embrace leadership development will be best positioned to respond to changing business conditions, seizing opportunities, and succeeding over the long term.

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