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The universal law of leadership: set a goal and work to it

November 21, 2016

In recent months, Tata Communications has been working with the Human Capital Leadership Institute (HCLI) to develop Mosaics, a set of papers looking at how leaders get business done in countries across Asia. The papers validate and challenge our perceptions of leadership and will shape the conversation about evolving leadership styles in Asia.

As I have read through each of the Mosaics, spanning cultures from Vietnam to Japan and the varied cultures of Malaysian business, one key theme has struck me time and time again: successful leadership across the region requires rallying your team around a single, clear, tangible goal. Each country relates to this core theme differently and has its own way of stating the fact, but, ultimately, they look to one team coalesced around one goal. However, the process of achieving the end objective varies across the region.

A statement from one CEO in China’s mosaic captures this perfectly. Talking about leading the Chinese arm of a Japanese firm, they highlight: “Chinese leaders prioritise achieving the goal speedily and adapting. We have a short-term plan – for three months and for a year! This is unthinkable in Japan. But Japan is a more developed country. Whenever Japanese leaders do anything, they will plan it out over three years in a step-by-step approach. And this is very workable in Japan but not in China – plans and reality are often different”.

Yet each culture values shared achievement to motivate teams to perform. Another Chinese executive, also working in a Japanese company tells the story of how they created performance in their business when financial incentives were restricted:

“Another Chinese executive shared that it was a blow to his Chinese team when their Japanese headquarters told them that they could not work towards a public listing. After all, while many private Chinese companies could not offer their employees high salaries, they could give shares and everyone would be motivated to work towards an IPO of their company. In his context, this Chinese executive rallied the drive of his team by helping them find their sense of achievement. For instance, the team started to create original technology solutions with the goal of selling these solutions internationally”.

While in Japans’ leadership mosaic, leaders from around the world, working in Japan, highlight the approach common across companies of building consensus around a goal before striking out for it. The result is slow initial progress but, when the real work begins, more often than not it will happen faster than anywhere else. Not only that, but one of the Japan Mosaic’s key pieces of advice for anyone looking to lead business in Japan is the need to set big objectives as part of the big picture, and let your team get on with it. My personal experience, working in Japan for 5 years, validates this style of working.

In India, given the operating environment, we practice Jugaad, which I’ll talk more about in a later post – but at its centre, Jugaad is about seizing opportunity in apparent chaos. Taking such an action needs a clear goal and a team devoted to it, otherwise you’ll only add to the chaos. It is in testing times that Indian leaders really make use of palpable targets as a rallying point for teams. India’s Mosaic highlights the need to stand before your team in person, lay out the facts , show the plan and rally them round it. Let them see you pushing on the same goal and make the same sacrifices together.

For most experienced leaders, this may not be news. But, for me, it re-emphasises a universal truth that people, no matter where you go in the world need to understand and be clear on where they are heading, and feel that destination reachable. If a leader can instil that clarity and buy in, and modify how they can convey their vision to the culture in which they operate, they can achieve real gains and lead effectively anywhere in the world.

As the world becomes ever more globalised, that feels like a lesson worth remembering.


What qualities do you look for in leadership? Let us know in the comments below.