In today’s global business world, leaders not only need to be competent in the logistical complexities of international business such as import and export, tax, regulatory frameworks, and compliance, they must also have the skills to deal with the intricacies of working among a diversity of cultures. This is especially true in Asia, one of the world’s fastest growing regions with over 4 billion people.
According to recent research by McKinsey & Company, Asia will account for more than half of the global economy by 2040.
As more businesses expand into the continent, leaders must equip themselves with an understanding of how to adapt their leadership style for sustainable growth in the region. What works well in one’s home market may fall flat when leading the business in another country.
Leaders should start their Asian growth journey by exploring and fine-tuning their leadership style. This involves being open-minded and curious to learn while navigating an array of linguistic, geographical and cultural differences.
Embracing diversity for sustainable success
When it comes to business, it’s important to understand how diverse Asia is. It’s a vast geographic region that is home to a huge diversity of cultures. It consists of 51 countries and dependencies, with representation across all religions.
Asia utilises almost every major language family and most of its countries speak more than one native language. There are over 2,000 living languages in Asia and the continent accounts for 60 per cent of the world’s population.
Leaders must understand this level of diversity across these very different markets so they can identify opportunities and plan effective investment of resources and energy. Cultural differences usually present themselves in the following five areas:
- Societal class hierarchy
- Level of individualism among people
- Gender roles
- Culture’s tolerance for uncertainty and risk
- Short-term or long-term orientation
Distances and population density can also come as a surprise. Accounting for this comes down to understanding on-the-ground logistical and workforce realities, which is not easy to do from afar without taking the time to learn about a location and its people.
However, when managed well, expanding into Asia promises a wealth of opportunity because of the diversity. It introduces unique perspectives and skills to the mix and can generate very high return on the investment.
So how does a leader leverage the opportunity in diversity that Asia presents?
Here are three leadership traits that you should nurture to help you achieve strong business results in Asia.
Recognising inter-market diversity
We know that different markets have different requirements and often, one country can represent different markets. This is a key differentiator for doing business in Asia. China, for example, is split into several unique cultures, with individual regions differing greatly to one another.
Even smaller countries, such as Singapore, have strong representation among a mix of different cultures. Appreciating and understanding those differences will help set your brand apart from other leaders who may only see it as one homogeneous nation.
Working in Asia involves developing strong peer-to-peer relationships and expressing a commitment to the place and its people. These take time to build and must be based on values that are important within the cultures, like authenticity and respect.
Leaders must also remember that strong relationships are about give and take; it’s a two-way street. It’s essential not to be so distracted by the opportunity that you forget to create value in the region and drive a collaborative ecosystem that respects the parties already there.
Communication styles vary greatly across cultures. In Australia, interactions tend to be more direct, which is important when building trusting relationships with customers in that market. Conversely, in China, directness can be viewed as arrogant and disrespectful.
Being culturally agile is key to doing business in Asia; it’s vital to adopt different communication styles according to the local market. Communication is a cornerstone of establishing a trusted relationship – if this is not high quality, it’s very difficult to form successful business partnerships.
By understanding some of the key differences and leadership fundamentals specific to Asia, business leaders will be better-prepared to face challenges and grasp the diverse and exciting opportunities presented by this continent.