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Leadership in Asia: Why understanding and leveraging social capital matters

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This article is brought to you by TrustSphere.

Arun Sundar, chief strategy officer, TrustSphere, analyses why a lens of social capital is inherently relevant to the Asian context, and introduces the concept of people analytics to gauge this measure.

A new era of constant business disruption, changing demographics and technological upheaval is redefining the workplace, workforce and work itself. In a volatile future of work, the relationship between leaders and their followers is becoming more central than ever before to the concept of leadership.

Consequently billions of dollars are spent annually on leadership development programmes. Asia is no exception. Yet research shows that most leadership development programmes in the region fail to achieve desired outcomes.

Leadership requires a vigilant interplay between the 'people' who are led and 'the system they belong to'. Therein lies the main challenge. In the West, the primary focus is on individual empowerment and human capital optimisation while Asia tends towards group harmony, optimisation of the system and social capital expansion which in turn trickles down to the individual. This is where a lens of social capital becomes extremely important and technologies like people analytics can help.


Measuring and analysing social capital data at an individual, team and department level can surface several leadership characteristics. But identifying, understanding and leveraging social capital capabilities can be tricky.

Social capital resides in relationships, both within and beyond organisational boundaries. And in today’s hyper-connected data-driven environment, forward thinking organisations are using collaborative technologies for generating, building and leveraging social capital.

Common forms of business collaboration, such as email, voice and instant messages, can offer several insights into the social capital competencies of leaders. Applying network science on this data set can provide some rich social capital/relationship network insights to understand how information flows in an organisation, and decisions are taken. Previously invisible, these social capital insights can be leveraged for leadership development.

Case study: Measuring leadership development for a Fortune 100 company’s Asia business

TrustSphere was engaged by a global management consultancy to use organisational network analytics (ONA) technology to measure the impact of a leadership development programme for the Asian business.

By extracting and processing the meta-data from corporate communications systems such as email, TrustSphere used passive ONA to map and analyse the networking activity of 18 managers and their 200 direct reports. These insights were used to baseline their leadership behaviour at the start of the programme.

As the programme progressed, TrustSphere measured changes in their network periodically reflecting changes in their behaviour.

Key insights:

  • 115% change in leaders' own networks
  • 38% increase in the number of working relationships with different business units
  • 114% increase in the number of strong relationships
  • 148% increase in strong relationships with employees at lower levels of the organisational hierarchy
  • 40% improvement in their team’s levels of collaboration


Why is this data important?

Today leadership has become a team sport. Leaders are expected to increasingly collaborate with their teams, inter-operate across diverse teams, and work with other leaders.

Using ONA, TrustSphere helped to identify how managers communicated with other managers, their teams and the rest of the organisation to collaborate, share information, solve problems and get their work done by addressing critical questions like:

  • What networks do the best leaders build?
  • Are the leaders' behaviours changing?
  • How do they impact people they lead?
Building a broad network of working relationships, with a mix of people of different genders, tenures, seniority, ethnicity, etc. opens a leader up to diversity of thought as well as promotes innovation.

The author is Arun Sundar, chief strategy officer, TrustSphere; founding chairman, Asia Analytics Alliance; founder, The Social Capital Institute; and a TEDx Speaker. He is a regular contributor and opinion leader in the Asia Pacific technology space and an advisor to multiple technology ventures, initiatives and Governments globally.

Images / TrustSphere

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