Happy anniversary! Today, it’s five years that I have dedicated my work to leadership development and executive coaching in Asia. ‘What are the most common leadership challenges for executives in Asia?,’ I am often asked. Reflecting on these five years, in which I had the privilege of working with a variety of amazing people from diverse backgrounds, here are the top five leadership challenges I have observed in numerous workshops and a thousand hours of executive coaching:
Leadership Development Challenge #1: Crazy Busy-ness
Leaders these days are unbelievably busy, it’s sheer madness! One Vice President I worked with received about 700 emails per day. His assistant was overwhelmed just sorting these emails. How could anyone possible read and respond to this mass?
The business world is drowning in information overflow and unproductive hectic. When I contact someone in a multi-national organization these days, it sometimes takes weeks to receive an answer to a simple question.
Of course it’s not just about emails. How many back-to-back meetings have you scheduled this week again? And let me guess: headquarter has just imposed some of these global innovation or cost saving projects on you and your team — as if you were not busy enough with what you had on your plate already.
Surprisingly though, most leaders I work with have got used to this madness: when I ask them what they want to work on in our executive coaching program, they rarely put time management or prioritization on the agenda for their own leadership development. Being super busy seems a given. However, seeing things form an outsider’s perspective, I notice how much time and energy is wasted on activities that do not move the organization forward. That’s why I rank busy-ness #1 among the most common leadership development challenges.
How about yourself? How busy are you? Are you truly focused on what matters, or are most of your activities determined by others or the circumstances? In other words: are you in control or are you merely in reactive mode most of the time?
Leadership Development Challenge #2: Motivating People
‘How to motivate employees’ is on top of the list that my executive coaching clients want to work on. In most cases when it comes to motivating others, leaders must first of all take a step back and understand what motivates themselves in the first place. Surprisingly, many executives are not aware of their own motivating factors right away. One key insight leaders gain in this process is that motivation is something highly individual. Leaders seek in vain for the text book solution or the universal one-size-fits-all approach how to motivate employees. In fact, one of the worst things you can do is to assume that what motivates you also motivates the people you are working with.
Do you spend enough time to understand the driving forces of each individual in your team? What is each person’s reason to work with you, and how can you bring out the best in them by linking their individual motivation to the goals of the organization?
Leadership Development Challenge #3: Employee Engagement
Alas, employee engagement! It’s like the buzzword of the century, isn’t it? You have probably heard it so many times that it only evokes eye-rolling these days. You and your team may have been through countless engagement surveys. You have read all the Harvard Business Review articles about what you must do as a leader to boost employee engagement, and you have ticked it all on your checklist.
Did it help? If your organization is like most, it is likely that you have not made any quantum leaps. If you have done your best but employee engagement remains below expectations, it might not be your fault. It’s time to ask a different question: ‘do we have the right people on board?’
Having worked in academia, the corporate world, and in leadership development for over 20 years, I have come across many people who did not perform up to expectations. However, neither were any of these people ‘bad’ nor stupid. They were simply in the wrong job!
There is only so much you can do to develop people. There is only so much you can do to provide an engaging work environment. If you have chosen the wrong person in the first place, all your efforts to engage them will be in vain. People development is critical. Getting the right people (who can be developed) on board in the first place is at least equally important.
So, do you have the right people on board? Who has the potential to be developed, and who will thrive if you create the right environment? And who will be just be stalling no matter what you do to engage them?
Leadership Development Challenge #4: Perception Management
‘One thing that people are never good at is seeing themselves as others see them,’ said Eric Schmidt of Google. And understanding how other people see you is crucial for you as leader. If you don’t know how you are perceived by others (e.g through 360 degree feedback), it may hurt the organization and sabotage your own career. I have seen many leaders complaining about problems which they have actually been causing themselves. Their idea of demonstrating involvement is perceived as micro-managing by their teams. They complain that people do not get involved in meetings, but they overlook how their own critical comments are the main reason for preventing others from speaking up.
One key element of being successful as a leader is managing the perception other people have about you, particularly when it comes to your next promotion: do you give people the feeling that you have what it takes to be successful in the next level role? What matters to them, and how can you give them what they need — while remanding authentic to yourself?
Leadership Development Challenge #5: Are You in the Right Job?
I work with very successful directors, vice presidents, and C-level executives. They have climbed the career ladder further than most people. They work hard and long hours. They are fully engaged.
However, once they begin working with me as their confidant, their personal coach, things can get quite personal. You’d be surprised to hear how many successful leaders wonder if the ladder of success they are climbing is actually leaning against the right wall. These executives have come very far, and they enjoy their work. But something just doesn’t feel right or is missing. They may lack a sense of fulfillment. Or they have a feeling that they could achieve so much more. Or maybe they have been having this dream of doing something totally different for many years.
When this occurs, it is usually fear that is holding them back from living the life they want.
If you are like this, it does not mean you need to quit your job to find fulfillment. Maybe you just need to adjust what you do or how you do it, while remaining in the same organization. But if you have always dreamed of running your own business, then what is really holding you back from turning this dream into a reality? Alas, life is short.
Would you like some support in solving your most pressing leadership development challenges? I will be happy to discuss with you how – without any obligations. Contact me now:
phone: +66-2 107 2025