Doing the hard yards pays off for coach

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 September, 2008, 12:00am

Executive coach Frank Gallo could have used a professional guide when he arrived in Beijing eight years ago from the United States to work for an international human resources consulting firm.

The credentialed leadership adviser had a wealth of experience to draw on but he struggled like any newcomer in his initial efforts to negotiate a fair price for a fair day's work with his mainland clients.

In the end, Gallo's realisation that he was not playing by his clients' rules came from a conversation with an employee rather than a coach but the point was just as well made - he had to change his rules of engagement to lead and grow a business in China.

The change paid dividends and one bonus of that labour is Business Leadership in China, Gallo's take on the reasons why all executives need to adapt best western leadership practice to the world of mainland business and some ways they can go about it. Now.

He suggests that the age of struggle is over on the mainland and the need for expert intervention has arrived. In the past many managers became bosses through personal resources and fortitude so their instinct is not to develop the next generation of leaders.

But, with a largely young workforce unable to draw on the corporate knowledge of predecessors, companies have to find ways to foster talent for the top in a globalised, market-economy era. For multinationals operating in China, the challenge is to look at their existing leadership programmes to see if basic in-house tenets such as risk-taking, trust and equality really translate.

Gallo describes a management environment in which a big car still means something, courtesy can trump honesty, and encouraging staff to take on new challenges can just lead to confusion and stress.

The question is how to make it all work in a Chinese context and in the second half of the book the author gets to grips with practicalities.

He points out handy ways to use face as a justification for presenting accurate information and methods to get around a lack of formal trust, two areas which can be a major source of frustration for unsuspecting western-style managers. Often the issue is simply a matter of a conceptual recalibration such as realising that a contract is a beginning not an end and something that should be viewed as an expression of intent rather than the final word in a business relationship.

Other times, it's planning ahead by having a decision-making group in place for times when quick answers are needed. In all cases, they are effective additions to the management toolkit.

One salient point in a Beijing Olympics age is the idea that nationalism is an expected inherent quality of Chinese business leaders.

Throughout it all, Gallo draws not only on his first-hand experience but also on the know-how of 18 other managers, offering their anecdotes as panels of direct quotes to break up the main text.