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Suite Talk: Dr. Roland Smith, MD of Center for Creative Leadership



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Dr Roland Smith, senior vice president APAC and managing director, Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), lists out the seven steps HR leaders must follow in building a culture of coaching and mentoring.

Q. Having lived across the United States, what inspired your move to Singapore, and in taking up the challenge as regional MD?

A global perspective is critical for success. One of the categories that the Center for Creative Leadership measures employees on is their global awareness.

I lived in Europe when I was young and also lived in the Philippines as a young adult. At the time that the opportunity to work in APAC presented itself, I was already conducting global research on next generation senior leaders.

We believe that the best and next practices around leadership and talent sustainability will come from APAC. The demand for strong leaders across Asia is significant. To advance the practice, understanding and development of leadership in Asia for the benefit of society worldwide was an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down.

Q. Since helming CCL’s regional operations in 2013, what has been your most memorable moment?

There have been so many. Working with CEOs and top teams in each sub region of APAC has been an amazing experience. Opening up markets in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Philippines was exciting and challenging.

Expanding CCL’s societal impact working with youth, regional non profits, and launching the Asia Women’s Initiative and Network (AWIN) are all on the top of my list. I could keep going if you wanted me to.

Q. What, in your research, have you identified as the skills most crucial to this region’s development? And where are the biggest gaps?

Most of the leaders in APAC are strong in their ability to be strategic and drive operational performance. They are functionally strong. There are gaps in how effective they are in leading change, in leading and influencing across multiple groups and constituencies.

Many organisations understand the importance for the development of next generation leaders but are not taking a systematic view relative to create systems and cultures that result in talent sustainability.

There are gaps in how effective (leaders in APAC) are in leading change, in leading and influencing across multiple groups and constituencies.

Q. While leadership development is often called a priority, what is the typical challenge you see companies trying to tackle in this investment?

Companies tend to want quick fixes and solutions. In addition, there is limited resources available for the development of leaders in the future. What often happens is that the resources are allocated to a smaller percentage of the workforce (top talent) without creating a talent ecosystem and a talent mindset amount the leadership of an organisation.

Those organisations that are the most successful are those where the leadership is personally committed and active in the development of others as well.

Q. Coaching and mentoring are an underutilised solution to developing leaders. What is your list of dos and don’ts in establishing a coaching culture?

Recommended process:

  • Explore the business strategy and the challenges at play for the organisation (discovery via interviews, questionnaire and focus groups).
  • The senior team must articulate why and how coaching as a practice for leaders is going to make a difference to the business challenges (senior team workshops).
  • The senior team themselves must invest time and energy in experiencing it, getting trained on it and practising it with their direct report, communicating about its importance vis-à-vis the business challenges.
  • There must be a change team internally with a deep understanding of what coaching is and how it serves the business, and role modelling it themselves. This could be done by HR, but not only by HR – we have to identify pockets of strengths: real business leaders who are already good at it in the organisation. They will ensure follow up.
  • The organisation must be ready to communicate about this as a business challenge.
  • Some talent processes must be reviewed: what type of people we reward and promote and hire.
  • Training must be made of practice, not theory and that requires a high investment.

Q. Taking a view as a futurist, what are top 2-3 L&D trends that you expect to take shape in the next five years?

  • Learning becomes 24/7 and global through apps and virtual learning.
  • Increased focus in capturing leader knowledge and wisdom.
  • Melding of the education sector with independent leadership organisations to provide a more holistic solution to organisation development.
  • Genuineness and empathy become the two most key dimensions for leader-follower engagement.
  • Move from collaborative to collective leadership mind-set to achieve innovative breakthroughs.

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