I recently attended in Bangkok a breakfast talk of the Franco-Thai Chamber of Commerce on the topic “Best practices to set up Thai leaders for success in Asia and worldwide”. There were two interesting presentations by a Thai and a French speaker, followed by a lively discussion on the topic by four panelists, all of them very experienced in the international arena.
I took away three key insights with global validity from the event that I will share with you below. They might also be helpful to you when you want to develop leaders in your organization.
Key Insight No.1:
The person whom you want to develop must have a strong desire to grow in his leadership role. He must have a drive to develop further.
Sometimes, you might come across people in your organization where you feel that they have great potential to grow and to make the next step in their career. But some of them might not want to take that next step, because they are happy with their current role, don’t want to move from one function to another one, or from one business unit to another one, or don’t want to relocate from one place / country to another one, etc. In such a case, have a deep discussion with the candidate, but don’t force him to make the next move, if he doesn’t want to.
Key Insight No.2:
What is the key in developing people? All four panelists agreed that the key is to take people out of their comfort zone, if you want to develop them. That’s where the biggest growth happens. One of the speakers and panelists, Mr. Chalermpong Darongsuwan, Managing Director of Philips Electronics (Thailand) Ltd, is a living example for that. He described to the audience the Philips way of developing top leaders. Members of Philips top leadership talent pool have to work for certain periods of time (typically 2-3 years) in at least two different functions (e.g. finance and sales), in at least two different business units, and in at least two different countries. After having completed that successfully, the doors to top leadership positions are globally wide open.
What the panelists shared was also fully in line with what I had learned during a talk in Chicago by Prof. Paul Evans, INSEAD university, about ten years ago. When asked what is the best way to develop people he answered to pull the rug from under their feet, and see what happens. He also stressed to take people out of their comfort zone and to observe how they are doing with minimal adequate support. He said it is like throwing them into cold water and watch them perform.
So, after carefully selecting your top leadership talents and after preparing them adequately, you might do the same with your candidates.
Key Insight No. 3:
Top leadership candidates need a person who has their back. They need someone whom they can trust, whom they can talk too, and who supports them. That can be the direct boss, somebody from the HR Department, or someone from another department who is in charge of the leadership talent pool, or a sponsor in the organization. It is important that this person also takes ownership in developing his top leadership candidate, and supports him in climbing the next step on the career ladder.
From my observation, companies struggle with the ownership question, because often there are no clear responsibilities defined. In some firms, the top talent leadership pool is even attached as a showpiece directly to the CEO who however in reality might not be that much involved.
I myself was part of such a bad example where we had sent our highest ranked Thai manager (after she had participated successfully in a talent pool assessment) to Germany based on the recommendation of our Regional Director Asia and myself (country manager). However, the lady got stuck in Germany for about five years without rotating to a different business function or a different business unit. The Regional Director retired, and I didn’t have any influence on our German operations. There was nobody in the whole organization who was directly responsible for developing the leadership talent pool.
The breakthrough for the lady happened only after her old boss in Germany was replaced by a new one. The new boss gave her support, and after one year, she was relocated and promoted to a position in a subsidiary in Southeast Asia. She became a director and head of one of two business units in that company and showed an excellent performance. So, after a totally dissatisfying beginning , this top leadership talent story turned into a big success.
So make sure that in your organization you have the right systems and structures for top leadership development in place, and also assure that you have a contact person or sponsor who has the back of your candidate.
This is the last blog post for 2016. Let me take this opportunity to wish you and your family and friends all the best for 2017!