In transition? 6 lessons from successful career changes.

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Change happens fast. Transitions take time. That’s because with each new career change, if you’re thoughtful about it, you take a step closer to becoming your true self. This can’t be rushed.

What will it take for the next five years to be your best ever? By linking what you do to who you are, your career becomes your vocation.

Over the years, I have witnessed hundreds of executives make job changes, mostly involving a bigger title, more money, or greater responsibilities. Few of these executives quit to move into entirely new careers. Fewer still describe their new career as their vocation. Maybe it’s because most executives are too damn busy to reflect on what makes them truly effective or happy; or maybe the easy pay raises have seduced them into careers defined by money or power. Or tunnel vision. It doesn’t have to be that way.

What will it take for the next five years to be your best ever?

Changing your career is not the same thing as changing jobs. A truly successful career transition requires a redefinition, or reinvention, of who you are. In my experience, executives who have succeeded in single or multiple career transitions — and I don’t mean job changes — and who love what they do, have five critical qualities in common:

  1. Self-Awareness. The starting point is understanding what drives us. 75 members of Stanford Graduate School of Business’ Advisory Council, mostly made up of senior executives, were asked to recommend the most important capability for leaders to develop. Their answer was nearly unanimous: self-awareness. Self awareness gives executives the power to spot the disconnects between their chosen career path, their income potential, and the joy they get out of life. Self-awareness gives people the power to recognize when “something’s missing” in their career. By reflecting on what’s important and experimenting with different choices, they learn from their experiences. In our coaching, we routinely use self-assessments to flesh out motivations. We help executives find meaning from their career successes and failures, their values and passions.
  2. Autonomy. Successful career-changers self-author their careers and lives. They, not their employers, take responsibility for their own development and the fulfillment they get out of their work. Thirty years in the making, a self-determined career is now a reality, thanks to LinkedIn and the slow death of the social contract. Like it or not, we are all contractors now. Successful career-changers know that theirs is the start-up that matters most. Their livelihood is determined by how effectively they discover, nurture, and sell their inspired vision for the future.
  3. Pursuing Mastery. Good things happen when we are at our best. This takes conscious effort. When executives strive to attain higher levels of mastery over their mindsets, ideas, and behaviors, opportunities come their way. People are eager to work with us because of who we are, not just because of what we know. And we, in turn, want to work with people we can learn from and who challenge us to be better. Mastery is a journey that takes time, experimentation, effort, and discovery. My coaching clients describe this journey as the hardest thing they have ever done — and the most rewarding. With each new level of mastery, higher mountains stand before them.
  4. Purpose. All of us are drawn to an activity that is meaningful for us. If we are lucky, our purpose or ‘calling’ grabs us, shakes us, and doesn’t let us go. Succumbing to our purpose can and should dedicate us to something bigger than ourselves. Our energy, engagement, tenacity, and confidence stems from our purpose. Life takes on a sense of urgency. But relatively few of us are committed to a purpose, according to research published in HBR (see my prior post).
  5. Identity. In your transition, who is the new you? By stepping into the future of your own design, you become the person or leader you aspire to be. Your identity, the way you show up in the world, shifts, and there is no turning back. Have you felt this way? There are many examples of accomplished people who have consciously reinvented themselves, driven by a clarifying and renewable sense of purpose: Winston Churchill, Leopold Stokowski, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Gates, to name a few. Without exception, every successful career shift coincides with a shift, or reinvention, of identity.
  6. Experimentation. Successful career-changers have a learning mindset. Reflection can take you only so far. It is often a good strategy to experiment or act your way into a new way of thinking or being. This involves testing your career ideas on others, attaining certifications or new skills, building new social networks, and trying out new jobs or volunteer roles where your passions can be tested.

How do you score on the above list?

Back to the drawing boardThe most successful people find creative ways to express their inner selves through work. If something’s missing, they change their work. They stretch themselves, accept their strengths and weaknesses without judgment, and are relentless in pursuing the thing they love to do.

If you are in the second half of your career, you know that most careers don’t always follow linear upward paths to success. Careers are journeys filled with ups and downs, pain and joy. Changing your career deliberately and consciously is not the same thing as changing your job. A successful career change takes reflection, hard work, a personal support system, and the courage to experiment. I’d like to hear about your experience.

Remarkable careers don’t happen by accident. Careers, like the leaders who create them, are made, not born.

For thirty years, Michael Bekins has lived and worked in Asia, Europe, and the US in global and regional roles, making almost a dozen cross-border moves. His conversations with thousands of executives have shaped his perspectives on life and work. He is Managing Partner of CapitaPartners, an executive coaching and talent consulting firm specializing in Global Mindset and Purpose-driven Careers. He co-leads Executive SpringBoard, the career redesign workshop for executives. Connect on LinkedIn. Friend on Facebook. Follow Michael on @michaelbekins.

Interested in more information? Visit our Executive Springboard website and consider our reading list.

Three numbers that should change the way you think about your career.

PurposeThe first number should wake us up:

Only 11.1% of managers feel ‘highly committed’ to their work or organizations, according to a 2004 engagement survey covering 50,000 employees in 59 companies.

Our careers, taken as a series of promotions and pay-raises, storybook fashion, seldom result in happiness or anything close to it.

The truer version of happiness, or of fulfillment, comes from challenging our mind toward a series of meaningful, highly personal, goals. A paycheck doesn’t do it, nor do impressive titles. The starting point is understanding what drives us. 75 members of Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Advisory Council, mostly made up of senior executives, were asked to recommend the most important capability for leaders to develop. Their answer was nearly unanimous: self-awareness.

Here is the second number that wakes me up:

Less than 20% of business leaders can express their individual sense of purpose, according to research published in the Harvard Business Review.

Why is this important? Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a pioneer of the scientific study of happiness, writes that when we focus our attention on a consciously chosen goal, a purpose, the experience can be immensely enjoyable, and effective.

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Purpose is the synthesis of your passions, your talents, your character, and your values. People who have it know why they do what they do. They make conscious career decisions. They define success and write the script that gets them there. Purpose stems from who we are, and comes in all shapes and sizes.

If you are one of the 88.9% of managers who are not “highly committed,” try drilling down into your purpose.

Here’s the third shocking number: $150 billion. U.S. companies spend upward of $150 billion every year on development and training. Maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of it. Ask yourself: Did it get me closer to where I truly want to be?

Back to the drawing board

If you were investing in your own development, your spending would probably be a lot different. You would assess successes, failures, strengths and passions. You would take time for deep personal reflection. The work would refresh you, reconnect you to that sense of purpose. You would take the path that takes you there. This is why a group of us created a career ‘redesign’ workshop for executives we call SpringBoard.

Having a purpose doesn’t guarantee success. But most highly effective leaders have purpose.

For thirty years, Michael Bekins has lived and worked in Asia, Europe, and the US in global and regional roles, making almost a dozen cross-border moves. His conversations with thousands of executives have shaped his perspectives on life and work. He is Managing Partner of CapitaPartners, an executive coaching and consulting firm specializing in Global Mindset and Purpose-driven Careers. Connect on LinkedIn. Follow Michael on @michaelbekins.

Considering a global job? Mindset matters

earthGlobal roles are complex, unpredictable, and loaded with ambiguity. What do effective global executives do to master their environment and deliver results? Being hard-charging and smart come with the territory. What else helps? What’s the mindset in Global Mindset?

Let’s start with listening and reflection. Successful global executives know when to step back and cultivate their curiosity. They explore the world through experience, reading, and asking lots and lots of questions. Powered by curiosity, they listen to others, seek feedback, and reflect on their experience.

Leaders who are curious also tend to appreciate ambiguity. Rather than judge others or themselves, they face uncertainty with optimism and openness.

Take cultural curiosity. By engaging with people from other countries and suspending their own judgments, they learn about their own implicit cultural assumptions. Successful global leaders are culturally self-aware and understand how their behaviors land on others. With this, they can adapt their style to fit the situation and the needs of their colleagues. This is a core quality of global mindset and takes practice. Putting others at ease increases credibility. It helps with team building. (For relevant posts check out Ten Things Charismatic Leaders Do and Ten reasons why Asia is good for your career in my recent LinkedIn blogs.)

I once asked the Regional Head of Southeast Asia for a major multinational if she was willing to become better at adapting her style to meet the needs of others. “Yes,” she said, “I can learn to do it, but I’m not sure I want to.”

“Wanting to” comes from deep inside. You have to really want to do it. It can sap your energy.

This gets to another core quality. Physical and mental energy. Tenacity. Engaging with others across functions, boundaries, time zones, and cultures takes enormous resilience. The late night conference calls are only part of the story. But you can’t influence executives half a world away without it.

Not surprisingly, it also takes confidence. Otherwise leaders would just throw in the towel.

I’ve seen executives increase both their confidence and their tolerance to ambiguity. How? We’ve noticed that by pausing, reflecting, listening and engaging with others, leaders begin to approach ambiguous and complex situations with greater confidence and credibility.

These global leaders are conscious of their strengths and weaknesses in their entirety and approach people and situations with humility (another core quality).

Driving for results is a given. What’s under-appreciated is the need to reflect and manage ourselves amidst uncertainty, ambiguity, and heightened complexity. It takes consciousness. (Check out Daniel Goleman’s Self-Regulation: A Star Leader’s Secret Weapon.)

The good news is that we can measure these qualities through our assessment tools. By openly presenting our assessment data to global executives, we build self-awareness, reflection, the commitment to change, and a greater sense of purpose. And purpose drives performance. This is the “mindset” we look for in Global Mindset.

For thirty years, Michael Bekins has lived and worked in Asia, Europe, and the US in global and regional roles, making almost a dozen cross-border moves. He is Managing Partner of CapitaPartners, an executive coaching and consulting firm specializing in Global Mindset and Purpose-driven Careers (see SpringBoard). Connect on LinkedIn. Follow Michael on @michaelbekins.

Ten reasons why experience in Asia is good for your career

Asia provides leaders with an ideal testing ground for mastering new ways of thinking and operating. Just ask the current CEOs of Pepsi and P&G, as well as the former CEO of IBM. All developed their leadership skills in Asia. Many executives head to Asia in the hope that the experience they get working in rapidly growing and changing markets will give them a competitive advantage. That’s not a bad plan: Asia is a region that rewards fast learners. Here are 10 takeaways you can expect from experience in Asia:

  1. Navigating both the local and the global. Getting this balance right requires that top executives in Asia win the trust of colleagues up, down, and across the organization. This gets to the heart of global mindset—systemic thinking and global savvy. If you’re leading a team in Asia, a big part of your job is navigating the global system to make it easier for local executives to do business. The Asia team will appreciate your ability to shape the global strategies and products that impact their local operations.
  2. Getting used to speed. Executives quickly learn to get things done on the fly, often without a playbook. This takes energy, resilience, and tenacity.
  3. Listening for understanding. To build a business for the long-term, leaders first need to understand the local market and culture. This is especially important if you’re an expatriate. Experienced leaders in Asia say they’ve learned to tone down their temptation to judge or comment until they fully understand what is being said. Listen first.
  4. Leading with humility. While all of us have it to some degree, Asia helps us appreciate the importance of humility in our everyday actions. Leaders in Asia use their humility to connect with others, find creative solutions, and adapt their styles to meet the needs of other people and situations.
  5. Doing what you say you’re going to do. In high-achievement Asia where personal relationships drive business, executives learn quickly to keep their word.
  6. Inspiring people. Demonstrating charisma is just as important in Asia as it is in the West—and challenging, given the vast geographies, time-zones, and cultures. The soft qualities of charisma are especially important—connecting with others emotionally, demonstrating integrity, and communicating the why of strategy.
  7. Demonstrating cultural awareness. Executives learn how their work relationships are impacted by their own cultural preferences and the cultural preferences of others.
  8. Appreciating uncertainty. Expect the unexpected. Many new executives find global roles in Asia more complex and ambiguous than what they are used to in the West. Let new situations arouse your curiosity.
  9. Building relationships. Because Asians are in it for the long-term, relationships built over time can speed things up, remove uncertainty, and ensure that the needs of many stakeholders are considered.
  10. Building to last. Over the years I’ve seen many expatriate executives win repatriation back to headquarters by delivering short-term results. They’re building castles in the sand. There’s one big problem: their ‘successes’ often fail to survive the first Asian downturn. For sustained success, global executives need to lay the foundation for local leaders to grow and thrive over the long-term.

Why Career?

With the vast amount of job-related advice available online and in print today, the best way to translate it into a thoughtful action plan is to put it in the context of the why of our career. This becomes increasingly important as we move up the ladder and consider our impact and legacy.

Finding meaning in our career is a matter of listening to what life wants of us, not just what we want of life. John Schuster, a coach and writer on human development, says that responding to a call is a choice that leaves you no choice. Our purpose sometimes grabs us, shakes us, and refuses to let us go. Responding—and giving in—to that calling or purpose can energize us to achieve amazing things.

When we are honest and clear about where we are on our journey, we can move forward more thoughtfully and efficiently, saving years of “soldiering on.” However, not all of us are lucky enough to attune to a higher calling all the time and most people’s lives and careers aren’t linear. Instead, we move through ups and downs in a spiral fashion, riding the waves of intense energy, success, frustration, boredom, change, growth and renewal.

Building a “successful” career isn’t just about moving up; it’s also about digging deep. By mining our past and mindfully approaching our present, we can regularly tap into our passions, values, and strengths to design a career that fully reflects what we want our life to be about. If you feel something is missing and want more in your life and career, now may be the time to act.

CapitaPartners introduces SpringBoard, a career redesign workshop for executives.

For 35 years I have advised and coached senior executives, particularly global executives, through career transitions, big and small, formally and informally. I can remember just about every one of these encounters, so lasting is the imprint that is formed during periods of intense human interaction. If ever you’ve experienced career coaching you will know what I mean.

More recently, I’ve thought deeply about how to make an impact on careers in today’s world where we are, in many respects, “contractors.” We can author our own careers, leveraging LinkedIn and other networking sites to promote and monetize the unique experience, skills, networks, qualities, and passions that set us apart and add value to organizations.

And so CapitaPartners created SpringBoard, an intensive career redesign workshop for executives. I am pleased to announce that over the next year CapitaPartners will deliver SpringBoard to executives in three cities: Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo. Over two and a half days, a cohort of like-minded executives will move through a series of interactive exercises designed to bring awareness and insights to their career and life plans. The approach is grounded in concepts of adult learning, executive coaching methodologies, and 30 years of practical experience in career decision-making. Through feedback and support, you will come away with fresh thinking and a concrete plan. Our goal is for these experienced participants to learn as much from each other as from the coaches. Our first workshop is in Santa Barbara from October 15-17, 2015.

Consider taking a short time-out to focus on the “why” of your career. Visit our website and consider registering. Or email SpringBoard@capitapartners.com for more information.

Charisma is a good thing, right?

Don’t all successful global executives demonstrate charisma? The answer is yes, but let’s be clear about what we mean by charisma. We are not talking about over-the-top, larger-than-life sales-types who ooze charm for better or worse. I know of no follower in any culture who wouldn’t shy away from such a leader. In true charismatic leadership we find the ability to emotionally connect with others and communicate a vision with confidence, integrity, and in a way that puts others first. Leaders do it in a way that meets others where they are, and this requires the ability to adapt their styles to the situation. They attract followers. How a leader projects himself in Japan may be different than how he does it in Sydney or New York.
In Asia, for cultural reasons, these leaders walk a fine line. A leader’s willingness to project charisma strikes many as chameleon-like, a bit disingenuous and risky. Sticking out too much seems overly individualistic, while adapting or changing our leadership style seems inauthentic. Suzuki-san, Japanese general manager, felt uncomfortable adjusting his style in order to connect emotionally with others. He felt like a salesman, a fake. He was not willing to bend his style to elicit an emotional response. He was described as lacking in vision. He felt more comfortable showing himself as solid, predictable, structured and logical, but he didn’t connect with others.
So how might Suzuki alter his approach in different situations? What if he were making a presentation to global executives in the US on the future of the business? The behaviors that feel right to him in one situation may not yield the result he wants in another situation. Creating an attractive vision for others, listening more, explaining less, and connecting with his team emotionally—projecting charisma—does not amount to compromising his values around putting the needs of the business and others first. He decided to move outside of his comfort zone and practice this new leadership skill. He realized that building an emotional connection with others makes himself and others feel good. And it’s good for the business.

Our take-aways from 2014

As we reach the end of 2014, I would like to thank all of CapitaPartners’ friends and clients great success and fulfillment in 2015.

For us, this has been a year of unbelievable progress, thanks to the contributions of my associates and partners Ken Brousseau, Armin Pajand, and Steve Fisher. Together, we partnered with and supported clients in Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, across Southern California, Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, Maine, and New York. Thank you all for your commitment to achieving new levels of success; you are an inspiration to me!

Looking back at the outcomes from the past twelve months, some core themes emerge:

First, receiving executive coaching is exhilarating—and challenging. In fact, growing self-awareness and taking the necessary actions to expand various capabilities during the coaching process is hard. Our clients dig deep to uncover all of their behaviors and mindsets, some pleasing, others not, and lay them out on the table for observation and introspection. While this is uncomfortable at times, with dedication, it can be extremely rewarding. One client told me that, while she “re-discovered her love affair with the business,” being coached also was one of the most difficult things she has ever done in her professional life. My take away here is that change doesn’t happen because we want to change or because we are thinking about changing. Change happens because we step outside our comfort zone and take action. There can be no coaching without action.  I am continually moved by my clients’ courage in this regard.

Second, global leaders experience far more complexity and flux than do executives in local roles. We know this from research, our own careers, and our clients. Executives based overseas experience the “tyranny of distance”—the midnight phone calls, bosses 10,000 miles away, and constant travel. As a result, our clients need to summon extra mental energy and resilience and go out of their way to build bridges, demonstrate interpersonal adaptability, and appreciate different cultures. Success for them is a matter of maintaining optimism in the face of these challenges, and a lot of our work revolves around providing extra support so they can do so with more ease.

Third, I am reminded time and again that we author our careers and the contributions we make to organizations and the world at large. Some are surprised to discover that our limitations are determined by ourselves, not by our employers. A career is ours to create, share, and, sometimes, transform. Beyond a resume, a LinkedIn profile, or a value proposition, the best careers are an extension and expression of who we really are. The more we understand ourselves, our purpose, our passions, and our development needs, the sooner we can take control over our careers. I am especially gratified by the work we do with clients to help them gain mastery over their ability to leave an inspiring legacy. Again, I am humbled by my clients’ dedication to re-think their life and career.

As a result of our shared efforts, almost all of our clients successfully navigated some sort of major transition during 2014. One was promoted to CEO, another repatriated to the US after seven years in Japan, a third found his true niche and value proposition after being promoted to CFO. Building on the principles that contributed to these achievements, in 2015, we will be expanding our research and coaching programs that focus specifically on global leadership and facilitating critical career transitions for global executives.

About CapitaPartners. We partner with clients to develop global mindset in executives and build an outstanding cadre of global executive talent. Through coaching, workshops and consulting, we offer programs on Global Leadership, Leading Across Cultures, Global Careers, and Transitions. Our AsiaNext platform ignites the next generation of talent in Asia.

Careers: The End of Expats?

Over the course of my career, I’ve packed my bags and moved countries eleven times. Along the way, I also held several short-term assignments lasting about a year for which I chose to live in hotels and serviced apartments instead. For most of those moves, I had my company’s commitment that as long as I performed, opportunities would await me when it was time to return home.

Back then, it was common for repatriation to be the underlying goal of both organizations and the executives they sent overseas. That has fundamentally changed, with high-potential talent managing their careers on their own terms while the best companies are investing more in developing local talent. As a result, the traditional three-to-five-year expatriate assignment is truly a thing of the past.

At the same time, while multinationals have cut back on expatriate packages, expats are more willing to give up those privileges in order to stay where the action is. Many voluntarily bail out of their expat status, recognizing it as a symbol of an outdated colonial mindset, and a costly burden for their employer. Others proactively look for opportunities to stay in Asia and apply their new expertise as “local” hires in new organizations once their initial expat assignment is over.

In fact, few self-respecting, globally minded executives would describe themselves first and foremost as “expats” today. The best recognize that to make a meaningful contribution, they need to blend into the international melting pot. They also value gaining experience over receiving immediate financial rewards— these executives are in it for the journey, not just “the job.”

Bonnie, an American citizen, has shuttled between the U.S., Singapore, and Australia for most of her work life, always as an assignee from headquarters. Now a regional executive in Asia with a top-tier U.S.-based company, she was almost speechless when I asked her if she has any plans to return “home.” “Why would I do that? The opportunities are in Asia.”

Another American, a top regional executive with a U.S. multinational who has been in Singapore less than a year, is coming to terms with the realization that he is happier in Asia than in headquarters, just as his assignment there is coming to an end. “It’s emotionally tough to consider the possibility of leaving after spending my entire life with this company. But I’ve got to look to where the opportunities are, here or on the outside. And this is where the action is.”

For organizations, building a pipeline of mature and agile local leaders is a strategic and cost-effective move for the long-term that will take time to achieve. While more and more programs like Capita Partners’ AsiaNext platform are being offered to prepare high-potential local talent for global roles, for the foreseeable future, most companies still need expatriate mentors to help groom them.

Getting and maintaining an appropriate balance between expat and local executives will remain the challenge for HR teams, especially in fast-evolving markets, where “un-expats” with the right experience and attitude are presented with new opportunities all the time, regardless of a their current employer’s repatriation plan. Their future is determined by the cut and thrust of the market for talent, not by some executive sponsor in headquarters. Recruiters call every day, and they know they have choices.

Smart organizations will win their loyalty not with a binding expat deal of “three to five years,” but by ensuring that they provide immediate and tangible career benefits that outweigh tempting opportunities at other companies. It is time to let these expats “go local,” recognizing that all career paths do not lead back to headquarters. They lead to where the action is.

For those expats whose time has come to return home, a strategy for repatriation will help them make a smoother, more successful transition. Capita Partners offers game-changing workshops and one-on-one intensive coaching as part of its Xroads Career Engagement offerings. Contact info@capitapartners.com for more information.

CapitaPartners is a leader in global mindset and careers. The firm consults to multinational organizations on global leadership, expatriate assessment and selection, and repatriation

How Bosses Learn: Three Steps to Learning Through Career Inflection Points

Unless we are totally lacking in self-awareness, most of us would admit to failing in a new role at least once. What separates effective leaders, the people who keep getting promoted, from the managers who seem to get sidelined?

In “The Seasoned Executive’s Decision-Making Style,” (Harvard Business Review, February 2006, CapitaPartner’s strategic partner Ken Brousseau of Decision Dynamics proves the adage, “What got you here won’t get you there.” Through data collected by assessing thousands of executives, Ken shows that somewhere in our early careers, usually as we are beginning to manage people, our jobs become more complex and the solutions and behaviors that worked until that point do not work anymore.

In fact, leaders tell us that they typically confront this “inflection point” when they move from being a supervisor to a manager, or from an individual contributor to a team leader. Relying on old habits that were good enough to “get the job done” in their early career —like doing instead of leading, or telling instead of listening—most executives hit a wall. To move past this point quickly, new learning needs to happen and new behaviors, specifically essential, “soft” leadership qualities, are necessary.

Deepak got promoted by being smart and getting things done. He became a General Manager early in his career and quickly flamed out. The warning signs were there but he ignored them. He describes this failure as a “crucible experience,” saying, “I didn’t listen to my team. I was the smartest person in the room. Then my boss read me the riot act.”

While Deepak learned his lesson, too many others do not, and continue to operate as they always have, blaming everyone but themself for their derailment. This is most tragic in the case of otherwise high potential executives with the smarts and talent to excel, but who fail to win the support of colleagues, even other high potentials.

So, what can you do when being smart simply isn’t enough? Deepak embraced and applied three steps recommended to anyone seeking a positive change and transformation in any area of their lives. They are:

  1. Self-awareness: Deepak faced the behaviors that threatened to derail him head on. He began to ask for feedback and sought help clarifying specific areas for development.
  2. Commitment to change: Fueled by a compelling picture of what success would look and feel like compared to his current experience, which was causing frustration, Deepak took full responsibility and was willing to do whatever it took to change himself and his results.
  3. Action and reflection:Deepak recognized that thinking about doing something or promising to do something aren’t the same as doing  He consciously selected and consistently practiced new behaviors, reflecting on what was working and course correcting until the most effective new behaviors became part of his daily life.

Discovering his authentic, most positive and powerful style took time and courage. Luckily, he was someone driven by learning and continuous self-improvement with the motivation to move out of his comfort zone. If you find yourself struggling to move past a similar inflection point in your career, dedicated coaching can significantly accelerate your learning process and empower you to make a positive impact with greater ease and enjoyment.

Seven Goals for Asian Leaders

Leading others has mostly to do with how we manage ourselves. Here are some concrete ideas for succeeding in global roles.

1. Get on top of your job.

Why? When we enjoy our jobs, it shows. Getting on top of our jobs allows us to focus on strategic thinking, building critical relationships for the future, and influencing up. But here’s the rub: Studies show that cross-border, cross-cultural, and multi-functional global roles in Asia are different. They are high in complexity and uncertainty as Asia grows in size and importance. And often there is no playbook. Our challenge is to manage this surge in complexity by becoming more versatile in the way we manage data and interpersonal relationships. Listen for feedback. By becoming more self-aware of your strengths and limitations, how you make decisions, and how you relate to people, you can more effectively manage through others. (See Getting on top of the job in Asia)

2. Make your voice heard at Head Office.

Why? As the global center of gravity shifts to Asia, Asian leaders need to demonstrate greater influence on global strategy. There is a vacuum to fill and CEO’s expect you to fill it. But it’s hard, especially for Asian leaders with no experience in headquarters. One Head of Asia described her mindset shift to me. “Before I was promoted into this job, I used to think that “Corporate” decides the strategy and Asia’s job is to execute. Today I understand that there is no Corporate. Corporate is us.” Many of today’s CEOs want Asia to take the lead in strategy formulation, given the growing impact of Asia on growth and earnings. But winning a seat at the table is hard for Asian leaders. By learning influencing skills, thinking systemically across the organization, and building key global relationships, executives in Asia can begin to speak up and make their voices heard.

3. Become the go-to person across the company.

Why? Being the go-to person is a visible sign of influence. Think about it. To whom do you ask for ideas and why? By demonstrating value in everyday conversations and contributing to the effectiveness of others, you are demonstrating soft leadership. These are the leaders who get promoted.

4. Build a reputation for innovative solutions.

Why? Creating innovative third-way solutions require us collaborate with others without regard to status or who owns the ideas. At CapitaPartners, we use the term, “win-win-win solutions: I win, you win, we win.” Yong Nam, the big-thinking former CEO of LG Electronics, cultivates this enlarged definition of “we.” He once said to me, “I look for leaders who win in collaboration with customers and suppliers. The entire value chain wins.” Another friend, the CEO of a large Asian telecommunications company, says his company built their leading market share in China by ensuring that Chinese consumers won. And they did this by helping the Chinese government build the necessary infrastructure. So what does it take to create innovative solutions? My friends would say hard work, lots of humility, and an enlarged definition of “we.”

5. Build versatility in decision-making styles.

Why? Managing effectively is mostly about making good decisions. We make decisions all the time, big and small—from where to go to lunch, to how best to manage a critical meeting, to whom to hire. Minor decisions can be made on the fly. Bigger decisions, involving multiple stakeholders require an aptitude for integrative thinking—the ability to source others for data, consider multiple solutions, and connect seemingly unrelated dots. Savvy executives use multiple decision-making styles, depending on a decision’s urgency and complexity. Versatility in our decision-making styles allows us to consciously use the decision style that best suits the situation. This takes practice.

6. Build your empathy.

Why? Research shows that effective senior executives demonstrate higher levels of empathy, cultural self-awareness, and interpersonal adaptability than their less effective counterparts. Empathy allows us to step into another’s shoes. Another former colleague uses the word “executive maturity” to describe these qualities. We can grow our ability to empathize with others, starting with active listening, becoming culturally self-aware, and demonstrating respect for others. But it’s hard. The Asian virtues of humility and respect provide good starting points.

7. Find your purpose.

Why? Your purpose is your compass, your true north. Purpose puts meaning and potency into your everyday actions as a leader. It is said of Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, that his success as a leader has much to do with his relentless search for truth. This in turn has shaped the Amazon culture. President Obama said of Nelson Mandela that he moved South Africa toward justice and in so doing moved billions around the world. Leaders with purpose embrace their strengths and limitations, convictions and doubts in their entirety. They speak to what is best inside us. For these leaders, promotions, security, and reputation are the not the goals but rather the results of purposeful leadership. As the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.” We may not all achieve this. It’s the journey that counts.

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