Leaving tracks

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Remarkable careers, like the leaders who create them, are made, not born.

I don’t spend 15 minutes thinking about making money. What’s important in my life is influencing many people as well as China’s development – Jack Ma, CEO, Alibaba

Successful careers don’t happen by accident, any more than successful start-ups are accidental. Consider three critical building blocks to career-building:

 

1. Purpose. In a previous post I reported that less than 20% of business leaders can express their individual sense of purpose, according to the Harvard Business Review. And yet the most effective leaders have fierce resolve. They know their talents, strengths, gaps, and passions. They put their purpose to work consciously and with urgency. Think level 5 leadership. See Executive SpringBoard video

 

I see every human being as having a purpose, a destiny, if you like – the destiny that exists in each of us – and find ways and means to provide such opportunities for everyone. – Jonas Salk

 

2. Being the best at something. There must be a need for what you have to offer, and your offering must be sought after.

 

I place the remaining years of my life in your hands. – Nelson Mandela to the people of South Africa, on the day of his release from prison, February 11, 1990

 

3. Financial viability. Your market-driven financial model must be sustainable. Test it. Perfect it. The money needs to be enough to keep you going.

You shouldn’t be surprised that these are the same building blocks of any successful entrepreneurial company. You are the only start-up that matters. Leaving your mark takes self-awareness, conscious choices, and some hard knocks.

You may not fully comprehend the tracks you leave, but others will.

 

I make dreams happen for my team and my customers. Out of work executive preparing her the next opportunity

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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.

SpringBoard: A Career Redesign Workshop

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A career redesign workshop for executives who value purpose over promotions.

This October, CapitaPartners will be hosting SpringBoard, a two and a half day experiential program where executives fashion a professional career that is driven by purpose. Guided by internationally recognized executive coaches, participants link their strengths and values to professional satisfaction.
Reconnect with your passion. Build a legacy. Make fresh contributions.
Join us October 15 -17, 2015 in Santa Barbara, California.
Learn more and register here. And consider sharing this with a friend or colleague.

10 things Charismatic Leaders do

Do all successful leaders have charisma? The answer is yes, and it can be nourished, 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. So what do successful charismatic leaders do?

  1. They articulate a vision. This is inspiring when we like the vision. We follow. Vision stems from the potency of a leader’s inner purpose. Powerful leaders do the hard work it takes to discover a purpose that matters. Their vision is positive.
  2. They connect emotionally. In true charismatic leadership, we find the ability to emotionally connect with others. They communicate in a way that puts others first. People feel charismatic leaders and are attracted to them.
  3. They listen. They ask what their stakeholders want. And they ask for feedback.
  4. They meet others where they are. They adjust their social styles to fit the needs of the situation, other people, and different cultures. And yet, I am struck how often I hear executives describe this skill with suspicion. They ask, “How can I be authentic when I am behaving like a chameleon?”
  5. They have integrity. In other words, they can be a chameleon with integrity. Their selflessness propels them to follow through and make a difference.
  6. They walk the talk. They do what they say they are going to do. This generates trust. I talk about this in a previous post. Charismatic leaders find solutions and finish what they start.
  7. They stand out. They project themselves and are aware of how they land on people. They know how to work the room. In some cultures (like Asia) these leaders walk a fine line. Sticking out too much can be overly individualistic. One Japanese executive told me he felt like a fake. He began to find his charismatic voice by disclosing to others what he stood for. Because he believed in the power of a “learning organization,” he grew more confident working with his team to build a new culture.
  8. They are conscious of their behaviors. They practice the art of observing themselves in action and making conscious choices to modify their behavior in the moment.
  9. They have confidence. They stick their necks out in their engagement with other people, especially on matters close to their heart. This is personally risky and difficult to do. But without confidence in their ability to communicate and execute, they may as well throw in the towel.
  10. The are selfless. Their agenda is bigger than themselves. They demonstrate humility.

In my experience, charisma can apply to both introverts and extroverts. It is high on everyone’s list of essential leadership qualities, regardless of culture. But there is a dark side. We’ve all witnessed the charlatan. None of these qualities can make up for the absence of the first and last points on this list: a positive and selfless purpose that benefits others.

By taking time to translate charisma into actual behaviors, we can gain more confidence, make a difference, and infuse our work with greater meaning.

For the better part of 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 for CapitaPartners, an executive coaching and consulting firm specializing in global mindset and purpose-driven careers. Follow him on twitter (@michaelbekins) #Leadership  

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.

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.

Recruiting executives for India? Hire for nature, then nurture.

Hurry up and cultivate. We don’t have all day.

My friend Ravi knows a thing or two about running a business from India. He has led the Indian subsidiaries of two global multinationals, both well over a $1 billion in revenues, led a sizable Indian joint venture, and serves on the board of a multi-billion-dollar India-based global company. Ravi describes ‘character’ as the price of entry, the most critical attribute for all leaders anywhere, anytime. Ravi then adds that in India agility—the ability to “figure things out on the fly”—is another of the most critical keys to success.

What else do Indian leaders need? Ravi says that as long as they are agile, they just need to add seasoning—at breakneck speed. I’ll summarize these critical components to Indian leadership here.

Character. This is the leader’s rudder, their compass. Character drives energy and passion, the desire to make great things happen. It runs deeper than culture, nationality and ethnicity, and yet exists in plain sight for others to see. No country owns “character.” In the context of leadership, there is not an Indian character any more than there is an American or Chinese character.

Agility. Successful Indian companies have an irrepressible quality, essential today, that even many global multinational CEOs lack: learning agility, or the resilience to figure out what to do on the fly.  Working in such a volatile and highly ambiguous environment, successful Indian leaders use street smarts, intuition, people skills, and agility to figure things out fast. They experiment with new solutions at each step along the way. This quality seems to stem naturally from their struggles to break through against almost impossible odds. Consciously or not, the best companies in India use agility as a filter for hiring, coaching, and promoting. Agility is not to be taken for granted: look at the recent experience of such iconic companies as Sony, Kodak, Panasonic, and, more recently, P&G—companies that had it, and are struggling to regain it. Agility is spread evenly, if thinly, around the world. Yet given the context of India’s rapid growth, top leaders in India can’t survive without it.

Nurture. Yet many of these great Indian companies lack another quality, also essential today, that most of the top Western multinationals have in abundance: seasoned leadership. These are the qualities of leadership that take time to develop, to nurture: principles, points of view, insights and behaviors established over the years and passed on. Mature leaders high in learning agility use their self-awareness and energy in combination with well-developed leadership qualities that have been nurtured on the job. This is the focus of all leadership development efforts: accelerating maturity.

Are Indian leaders different? Probably not, but their experience and history is. Their agile nature comes from the context of their challenges. Their success, ultimately, will depend on retaining their agility while accelerating their ability to build and grow talent at each stage along the path. Hire for nature, then nurture. And speed it up.

Don’t blame the rat: Chinese enterprises need to invest in people beyond salary

Find the motivation

Have you ever heard one of your senior executives say, in effect, “We in management are trying to drive transformation in our company. You people are resisting change.” When I heard this finger-pointing by a foreign boss in a room full of Asian managers recently, my mind connected back to my old business school professor, Steve Kerr, who used to say “Don’t blame the rat.” In other words, look to the cheese—the rewards that drive action.

Days ago, my mind returned to the phrase during conversation with a client on the subject of rewards and retention in China. I found myself re-phrasing the line, in an effort to put rewards in context. “We’re suffering from a high level of departures. Some of our best people are leaving over compensation. We need to increase pay,” my client said. I responded, “Don’t blame the cheese.”

While careful not to minimize the importance of pay in China, I truly wonder whether paying at the 50 percentile or 75 percentile is going to make much of a difference in a country where managers routinely get 50 percent increases in pay to jump to a competitor. Getting your business right in China requires a more systemic approach to leadership and talent management. To the highly accountable Chinese mindset, how much you invest in my career, how I’m recognized among my peers, and what I’m being measured on are just as important as pay. These define the cheese and explain why great companies place emphasis on action learning, challenging assignments, “talking talent” among the leadership team, and hiring the right talent in the first place. And why leaders need to ‘own’ the transformation. Small wonder, then, that at the first sign of finger-pointing by a foreign boss, an unseen pall fills the room with thoughts of finding the exit. And thoughts of more cheese.

It doesn’t take Superman: Marketing leaders in China don’t need x-ray vision, just consumer focus

Who owns the brand?

How does a mainstream global multinational set about turning a somewhat tired consumer brand in China, growing in the single digits in 2005, into a market-leading, powerhouse brand, growing in the double digits five years later, culminating in a four-fold growth in revenues?

DDG (not the real name) created a culture of deep consumer centricity and ruthless focus, supported by a globally aligned leadership team, to take full advantage of China’s emerging opportunities. In turbo-charging growth, acquisitions help, as they did for DDG, by building scale, multifaceted talent, and broader and deeper capabilities. But acquisitions didn’t account for the success of this Turbo brand, which saw organic growth far surpassing competition and even DDG’s own past successes. Over these five years, DDG drove a huge shift in the organization’s commitment to innovation, local decision-making, and talent.

Our first instinct is to attribute this success to one game-changer, in this case, to Tom Ringer (not his real name), the agile head of marketing. Much credit is due. His impressive communication skills, humility, and strategic sensibilities pop out. He’s the un-superman. I’m tempted to doom Tom with the ‘effective manager’ moniker, which isn’t how we describe game-changers in this day and age. Most impressively, this leader, based in Asia and armed with natural charm, savvy, and empathy, altered the organization’s orientation from a headquarters’ sense of true north to an entirely new bearing, a place deep inside the Chinese consumer. The result was a fresh and open mindset and willingness to dismantle all that was understood about the brand. A new organizational culture took root in China and grew in lock-step with Corporate’s willingness to cultivate local autonomy, accountability and pride. Along with all the other good stuff, DDG’s growth recipe has resulted in a senior leadership team in Asia that is now 90 percent Asian, up from just 75 percent two years ago. The team takes pride in, and celebrates, the results. This personalized, globally aligned leadership team, led by Tom, is not the stuff of super-heroes; it is, however, game-changing.

China will emerge as the world’s largest economy during the career-span of Tom’s high-potential young managers. Two-thirds of the world’s middle class will reside in Asia by the year 2030, if not earlier, creating enormous opportunities for both Asian-based and Western-based multinationals – and pressure on these same global competitors to develop talent fast enough to exploit these opportunities. Given the shifting footprint of their customers and workforce, companies like DDG are fast re-thinking their management structures and centers of gravity in an effort to support local decision-making, speed, greater autonomy, and, just as importantly, the mission-critical leadership competencies of their high-potential young leaders. Hardest to alter is the corporate culture underlying most of today’s successful, highly centralized, globally integrated organizations. And yet change they must, especially around the talent that will drive their double-digit growth in Asia.

DDG drove a seismic shift in their approach to marketing, moving from a headquarters-determined brand strategy to a China-centric approach based on deep customer understanding and local innovation. This doesn’t happen without leaders who listen and learn. DDG transformed the way they grew leaders across the talent platform in Asia. It doesn’t take superman.

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