Local senior executives see the same core values, no matter how they choose to express or explain them Every senior executive has his or her own views on what it takes to become a great business leader. They have no hesitation in listing certain key requirements or desired characteristics. But to the casual observer it can easily seem that no two people think alike. However, what consistently shines through is that people basically identify the same core values, no matter how they choose to express or explain them. Viveca Chan, the founder of We Worldwide Partners, said that a leader must possess 'five Cs' - competence, capital, courage, consideration and charisma. 'Most of these qualities come from hard work and the desire to keep learning and retraining,' she said. In her opinion, it was also vital to absorb experience from both successes and failures, and it was unrealistic to think you could get to the top by taking short cuts. Elaborating on two of the criteria, Ms Chan said that courage included the ability to take calculated risks and see beyond the obvious. Consideration, in turn, should be understood to embrace integrity, social responsibility and caring for the needs of both staff and customers. 'In the end, if you are genuine with people and try your best, the returns will come,' she said. Ms Chan added that during a business career, most people destined for leadership positions passed through three distinct phases. These involved going from technician to manager and then to entrepreneur or visionary. The first stage focused on learning how to get the job done; the second was about getting others to perform with maximum efficiency; the third required a focus on the future and coming up with a guiding vision. Each stage taught new skills and valuable lessons. 'We need to balance these aspects,' Ms Chan said, adding that aspiring leaders should know where they were at different stages of their career. 'As their [role] in the organisation evolves, their [behaviour] should evolve accordingly,' she said. Ms Chan was in no doubt that a leader's style affected the whole organisation. She found this to be particularly true in China in enterprises started by entrepreneurs who, typically, were opportunistic and charismatic. Clearly, they had strong leadership skills, the evidence of which was in their ability to build billion-dollar companies from next to nothing. 'The challenge for these Chinese leaders is to let go,' she said. 'Right now, the boss [alone] decides what the company does.' In the longer term, this would create problems and was likely to slow progress. For this reason, she noted that the best way forward for many companies in Asia was to develop an east-meets-west management philosophy. With this, the focus should be on enhancing systems and procedures, while also having the necessary degree of 'humanity' to foster staff loyalty and more open communication. Ms Chan added that, as the business world changed and organisations became flatter, it was a priority for leaders to adopt a more co-operative style of management. Charleston Sin Chiu-shun, general manager of Cisco in Hong Kong and Macau, fully agrees on this score. He pointed out that when considering leadership qualities, it was important to look at three core areas. The first was having the people skills to relate to colleagues, clients and other contacts engaged in the business; the second was strategic planning and making sure people could execute effectively; and the third was having the drive to grow personally and push the business forward. He noted that too many leaders fell into the trap of focusing on tactical details rather than broader strategy. 'They don't need to micromanage, but to ask the right questions at the right time to understand where the market is going and how the company should change,' Mr Sin said. 'You need to change with the times, observe market transitions, and do what you believe is the right thing.' He explained that because organisations were partly a manifestation of their leader's style, it was crucial for the leaders to always be authentic and true to their personal values. 'If you believe in something, show your value system,' Mr Sin said. 'Show shareholders and other people on a project that you do care about it.' In doing this, he added, it was necessary to think carefully about both the form and function of every major task. Too often he had heard of cases where people running an organisation failed to understand their own role and lost sight of the overriding objectives. He highlighted one lesson every chief executive should learn. 'People underneath you are the decision makers,' he said. 'How you work with them and how they recognise you as a leader will determine whether you really become a leader.' He recommended that the best way to groom future high fliers was by giving them 'acting' roles first, before confirming a promotion. This made it easier for an individual to learn the job responsibilities, and for the employer to assess concrete results, look for sound judgment in stressful situations, and confirm that someone had the ability to perform and behave like a leader. For Winne Lau Wing-yee, managing director of Pret a Manger (Hong Kong), the prime requirement for any leader was to have great vision in order to give their organisation a clear direction. What made this quality essential was that, in the world of business, everything first had to be created 'mentally' before it could take on a physical form. Ms Lau noted that leaders must also have the ability to inspire, influence and motivate colleagues to achieve defined goals. By far the best way to do this was by involving people in decisions and not simply laying down the law. 'With involvement comes commitment, and with commitment comes action,' Ms Lau said. 'No one likes to be managed, they want to be led.' Along with this, there should be a strong sense of values, so that the organisational culture was based on trust and emphasised ethics, integrity and honesty. Finally, Ms Lau pointed to the need for flexibility in order to cope with conflicting requirements in the most effective and diplomatic way. In her view there were no short cuts to acquiring these skills. Everything came from experience and absorbing the lessons taught by challenges faced in the workplace. 'Success comes from good judgment,' she said, adding that the key was to gain diverse experience and be prepared to accept responsibility. Failure could be painful, but it was also an inevitable part of the process. Certain traits could also be learned by modelling oneself on great leaders and having the necessary desire to improve. 'When things go wrong, I confront [the situation] head on,' Ms Lau said. Doing this, she found that options or solutions then start to surface. 'Ask yourself questions,' she said. 'To me, questions are the answers.' Furthermore, leaders had to understand both the external and internal forces affecting their businesses and had to be always on the alert for change and opportunities for growth. 'Not all change is improvement, but without change there is no improvement,' Ms Lau said. According to Mona Yim, executive director of executive search firm Asian Career, an essential for every leader was to empower other people and make the most of their strengths. She also drew attention to the need to be open-minded about accepting advice and opinions from colleagues, subordinates and business partners. This was the best way of getting new ideas and maintaining a broad focus, while also injecting 'young thinking' into the company. 'Successful people are learning non-stop. They are also resolute and determined to do what they believe is right,' Ms Yim said. Therefore, success as a leader depended not just on training and experience, but also on having the right attitude to life. 'It is always important to enhance your personal and business EQ [emotional quotient] and to adapt,' she said. 'In that way, you can also help the culture of the company to evolve.' To Denny Chan Yung-leung, life business director of Zurich Insurance Group, everyone can be a good leader through learning from experiences and appropriate training. 'Good leaders are usually backed by the right mindset and attitude,' he said. 'In our group, we offer a number of training courses to help managers build successful leadership skills.' Mr Chan thinks successful leaders should understand the strategic directions, visions and objectives of the company. Through utilising their own strength, they should support their company to achieve business goals. In order to remain strong in the competitive world of business, leaders should keep abreast with the development of their own industry and equip themselves with professional knowledge, he said. 'Different leaders have different styles in leading the company to success - and there is no one way of leading to success. 'The key factor is to enhance internal morale and lead the staff to achieve the company's goals with clear guidance and support,' Mr Chan said. Viveca Chan, founder of We Worldwide Partners, was one of the panel speakers at a recent Classified Post readers' seminar, entitled Taking the Lead. The seminar was sponsored by recruitment firm Asian Career and Zurich Insurance Group in Hong Kong.