Leading Without Coercion
There are myriad reasons, but two stand out. The first is English. Asian languages are very different. For most Asian companies, conducting operations in English is a monumental task.
But the biggest challenge to global success is moderating the coercive leadership style common across Asian cultures. Coercive leaders tell followers what to do. In emerging Asian countries where skills are low, coercion is often a successful style.
But when Asian managers tell developed-country employees what to do they inadvertently create conflict. Successful global managers must be able to adapt their leadership to match the situation. That means they need more than one management style in their tool belt.
Mary Fontaine, a management committee member for the Hay Group, describes the experience of an American general manager of a U.S. consumer products company in China. The general manager felt a new direction was needed and tried, unsuccessfully, to convince its Chinese franchisees to accept the new direction. He used the same influence approach that he had used successfully with U.S. franchisees.
But this time the result was confusion. In frustration, he gathered all franchisees to an offsite workshop and told them that every family has one father. As the company's representative in China, he serves as the father and the franchisees needed to follow him. Immediately, they fell into line. In this case, his switch to a coercive style met the franchisees' expectations.
Several years ago, I conducted a 360 feedback session with a Japanese manager of a Japanese workforce. His scores indicated that he created a highly motivating climate. But his dominant management style was coercive. I was dumbfounded.
"What is your role?" I asked. He told me that he takes new graduates and teaches them to be entry-level engineers. That made sense. It's kind of like a high school algebra teacher. No one wants a democratic algebra teacher, "Let's vote on how to do this problem." Coercive leadership is a better match to the needs of unskilled followers.
But use coercion to lead a group of Dutch engineers and you are in for a world of pain. I can attest to that from personal experience. Successful managers manage to the situation.
Below are two prescriptions for Asian companies to align their management styles to the needs of global followers.