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Asian CEOs pay lip service to leadership grooming

By: Xieli Lee, Singapore
Published: Sep 05, 2008

Singapore – Asian CEOs might say yes to leadership grooming, but their passiveness coupled with the lack of strategic leadership development and mentoring initiatives say otherwise.

According to a recent study commissioned by the Ministry of Manpower, 89% of  Asian CEOs polled only provided mentorship when asked by their employees and only 23% had formal mentoring programmes in place. Without a strategic mentoring programme in their organisations, the CEOs’ idea of mentoring ranged from taking employees to lunch to listening and providing advice on employees’ problems. Leo Yip, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Manpower, believes the results reinforce the need for companies in Asia to “take a more strategic and proactive approach towards their leadership development efforts”.

Similarly, a majority of the companies do not have comprehensive leadership development strategies in place and that most of the incumbent Asian leaders were given the role without any formal grooming and training. Ong Ye Kung, chief executive for Singapore Workforce Development Agency, observed that organisational leaders are spending 90% of their time running their organisations and 10% on identifying and grooming the next leader. “Often it is the latter 10% of the effort that will help solve 90% of our future problems.”

However, two-thirds of the CEOS surveyed felt leadership is “made” and not “born” and most agreed job rotations and cross-cultural exchanges are more valuable career milestones compared to traditional formal classroom leadership training. Many respondents cited events like downsizing a department and taking a stand on controversial issues early in their career had helped shaped their current leadership values.

Peter Ong, managing partner of The Gallup Organization who conducted the study with University of Nebraska’s Global Leadership Institute, fears Asia may lose the global war for leadership talent if CEOs take too long to address the issue. “It is not too late for us to start thinking how we can deal with this leadership challenge but we will have to move swiftly if Asia is to sustain and accelerate its growth.”

Companies featured:

  • Ministry of Manpower
  • Singapore Workforce Development Agency
  • The Gallup Organization

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