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Why Asian bosses are underrepresented in executive leadership

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Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) has recently released a new report, The Global Asian Leader: From Local Star to Global CXO, which tackled tough questions about Asian underrepresentation in executive leadership, through in-depth interviews with 119 global CXOs.

Attended by Human Resources, the event unfolded key reasons that were stalling the growth of Asian leaders, as well as development areas and critical gaps in the development process – such as unfavourable country conditions, organisation culture constraints and individual “skill and will” issues.

In the press release, Dr. Thomas Goh, managing director and chief client officer, APAC, CCL, said: “Today, one in three top 300 companies by revenue globally originates from Asia. Logically, we should be seeing a significant proportion of Asian leaders at the forefront of executive leadership. The reality is far from this, however.”

“Organisations need to understand that they need Asian leaders with a nuanced understanding of the region to leverage the Asian advantage, and develop a healthy Asian leadership pipeline to groom these talents.”

CCL leader attributes


The research also revealed that 60% of the world’s youth live in the Asia Pacific region, with 88% of the next billion entrants to the middle class globally poised to come from Asia. On that note, it is imperative that global organisations invest in developing Asian leaders to realise their full potential.

For that, building a sustainable global Asian leader pipeline needs four key pieces:

  • To develop the right set of individual capabilities
  • To sign up for suitable experiences to build critical capabilities
  • To provide developmental support by taking risks on Asian talent
  • To get buy-in from the top leadership team at the headquarters

To develop the right set of individual capabilities

Asian leaders need to develop the right set of individual capabilities by developing clarity of purpose on why to pursue a global career, and getting “comfortable with discomfort” of challenging assignments – the research advises.

To sign up for suitable experiences to build critical capabilities

The study also showed that Asian leaders need to sign up for suitable experiences to build critical capabilities by stepping into general management shoes early on. In addition, Asian leaders need to build networks and relationships to navigate the “system”.

To provide developmental support by taking risks on Asian talent

Incumbent global leaders need to provide developmental support by taking risks on Asian talent. It commented: “Creating stretch opportunities, and helping direct reports develop a credible and trusting relationship with their skip managers.”

To get buy-in from the top leadership team at the headquarters

Last, organisations embarking on the global Asian leadership development journey must get buy-in form the top leadership team at the headquarters. It said: “Find an executive sponsor, curate and play to a 3-5 year global Asian leadership development plan, and tweak talent development interventions to suit Asian context.”

CCL next steps


In the release, Sunil Puri, director of research, innovation and product development, Asia, CCL, who led this research, said: “In the research process, we held no-holds-barred conversations with senior leaders, Asian and otherwise, from the biggest Asian and global organisations, across various industries, and collated a wealth of data and insight which we used to formulate our counsel for this research.”

“Ultimately, both prospective Asian leaders and the organisations they work have to take action to eradicate the bamboo ceiling. To effectively develop their workers, organisations have to find a credible executive sponsor, and curate and invest in a 3-5 year global leadership development plan for their leaders. At the same time, Asian leaders have to step outside of their comfort zones and expose themselves to different cultural environment,” he concluded.

Lead Photo / Center for Creative Leadership

Infographic / Center for Creative Leadership

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