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As HR functions in Asia frantically try to keep pace with an ever-increasing demand for regional business leaders, they are often faced with an equally tough challenge of getting internal buy-ins from global leadership for aligning talent management and development approaches to the local context.

Regional HR leaders opine that they often have to play the role of 'myth busters' for global leadership to dispel misconceptions around capability gaps in Asia and best approaches to develop local talent. These myths may centre on the role of the global HR function, effort required to make Asian leaders "global-ready", role of expats and commitment of global organisations to develop Asian leaders.

Below are seven myths of developing global Asian leaders, the facts and the reality around each. In addition, each myth includes a compelling call for action for senior regional and global leaders.

Myth 1: It is More Difficult for Asian Leaders to Succeed in Global Leadership Roles

There is a split verdict on the likelihood of success of Asian leaders in global roles.

In global leadership roles, Asian leaders can be at least as successful as Western leaders. However, there are constraints around global leadership opportunities for Asian leaders because large enterprises tend to be homogenous at the senior leadership level.

Call for Action

  • Celebrate global Asian leadership success stories in your organisation.
  • Spread senior global Asian leaders across countries rather than restricting them to the regional HQ.
  • Partner with global business to push the global Asian leadership agenda.

Myth 2: Organisations Need One Uniform Approach to Develop Global Leaders Across Different Countries

Countries in Asia vary widely in their capability to develop talent.

Organisations may need to tweak their talent attraction, development and retention practices to maximise returns on their initiatives in Asia.

Call for Action

  • Be aware of socio-economic and socio-cultural diversity.
  • Select the countries to focus on.
  • Evaluate and test your global talent development assumptions.

Myth 3: Development of Global Asian Talent can be Managed by Global HR

Regional HR needs to lead the global leadership development initiative.

Regional HR needs to own, design and lead global Asian leadership development initiatives.

Call for Action

  • Ensure close strategy and execution collaboration between global and regional HR.
  • Design a talent development strategy that strikes the right balance between economies of scale and responsiveness to local conditions.
  • "Bust myths" about what Asian talent can and cannot do.

Myth 4: Asian Leaders are Harder to Train, Groom and Develop for Global Leadership Roles

Asian leaders do not have inherent skill gaps that prevent them from taking on global roles.

The success of developing Asian leaders is a result of overcoming key obstacles, both at an organisational level, and personal skill and will levels.

Call for Action

  • Test your assumptions before implementing talent development and selection approaches in Asia.
  • Exhaust buy and build options before going down the route of borrowing talent for Asia.
  • Partner with global leadership to understand the long-term strategy for Asia.

Myth 5: Global Organisations are Committed to Developing the Asian Leadership Pipeline

While regional HR heads at most global organisations claim that leadership development is at the top of their agenda, there seems to be lack of commitment to align efforts with priority.

Global organisations need to develop a stronger connection between commitments and action to develop Asian leaders. Just investing in Learning & Development (L&D) and a liberal compensation and benefits policy will not solve the problem.

Call for Action

  • Create opportunities and stretch roles for Asian leaders.
  • Encourage authentic relationship building between peers and superiors.
  • Look beyond investment in L&D and incremental compensation.

Myth 6: Asian High Potentials Will Get Noticed Automatically and Eventually Assume Leadership Roles

While there is some merit in arguing that the US and Europe have a head start on development of the global leader pipeline and eventually Asia will catch up, the truth is that organisations and incumbent leaders need to be a lot more deliberate to make this happen.

Accelerating the growth of the global Asian leadership pipeline will need deliberate interventions by organisations and incumbent leaders.

Call for Action

  • Keep an eye out for crucible roles - ideally global assignments or cross-geography roles?for Asian high potentials.
  • Encourage next generation leaders to take risks early on in their careers.
  • Create space and time for local talent to own leadership opportunities.

Myth 7: Sending Expats to Run Business Operations in Asia Will Solve the Leadership Pipeline Problem

While most western MNCs utilise expatriates for senior leadership roles running operations in Asia, it is, at best, a quick-fix solution which may not be sustainable in the long run.

Staffing regional roles with expat leaders is, at best, a short-term solution. Only talent development interventions that strengthen the global Asian leadership pipeline can yield long-term results.

Call for Action

  • Make the qualifying criteria for expats to fill local roles harder.
  • Conduct a succession risk analysis of current leadership roles in the region.
  • Introduce hard KPIs to make incumbent expat leaders accountable for developing local successors.

Global organisations aspiring for high-growth rates in Asia will need to overcome several challenges. Research shows that "global companies find it hard to hire senior leaders locally because they are looking for employees like the ones they have at home, based on traditional skill sets and educational achievements"1. Successful companies will instead strive to create a company culture which cultivates local talent. We'll leave you with three questions that, as a global or regional leader, you should be asking yourself:

  1. How important is Asia to my organisation?
  2. Do I have enough talent that understands Asia?
  3. Do I know how to develop Asian talent for global roles?

Wong Su-Yen is the CEO of the Human Capital Leadership Institute.

The Human Capital Leadership Institute (HCLI) is an aggregator and neutral player in the human capital ecosystem. HCLI offers the unique ability to bring together multiple perspectives and voices from business, government and academia, offering thought leadership and insights on understanding Asia, successfully doing business in Asia and its implications on leadership and human capital strategies for Asia. Through its efforts, the Institute aims to develop global leaders with a strong understanding of leading in Asia, as well as to build Asian leaders with the ability to lead on the global stage.

HCLI is a strategic alliance between the Singapore Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) and Singapore Management University (SMU).

For more research findings and to access HCLI's flagship publication, HQ Asia, visit To learn more about our programmes and offerings, visit

Find us on social media: Facebook: @HCLIasia, Twitter: @HCLIasia and on LinkedIn: HCLI.

1 Perspectives on global organisations, McKinsey & Company, 2012.


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