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How Singapore business leaders can succeed in a fast-changing world: study

Friday, October 14, 2016 - 05:50
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Singapore business leaders may have a global outlook but they lack the global mindset - one that's truly inclusive of multiple, diverse perspectives - to take on the world, says a study by the government-backed Human Capital Leadership Institute.

Singapore

SINGAPORE business leaders may have a global outlook but they lack the global mindset - one that's truly inclusive of multiple, diverse perspectives - to take on the world, says a study by the government-backed Human Capital Leadership Institute.

"To really appreciate that there are different approaches to a problem, Singapore's emerging (business) leaders in particular, should live and work overseas," suggests the study which was done with Tata Communications.

"Having experienced and succeeded in the rough-and-tumble world outside 'Singapore Inc', they can then be credited as true global leaders," the 28-page study entitled "Building Global Leaders For Singapore, From Singapore" concludes.

The study, which is based largely on in-depth interviews with top executives, says Singapore needs global business leaders because multinational corporations here want their local senior managers to take on a bigger regional or global role, as the Singapore market is too small.

Because of the tiny domestic market, local enterprises also must venture overseas to grow - and they need global managers to lead the way, the study adds.

Singapore business leaders are known to make fact-based decisions. "They anticipate, plan and execute in a structured and timely fashion, with a preference for mapping out end-to-end solutions before execution," the study notes.

And they do more than talk. "We just basically want to get the job done," the CEO of a local conglomerate cited in the study explains.

While such quiet and methodical business leaderships have served Singapore well, the study says they may now not work so well in a fast-changing business environment.

And in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world that is the global market, Singapore's business leadership style will definitely have many drawbacks, according to the study.

Referring to the preference for end-to-end solutions, one CEO observes: "It is not that the very intelligent Singapore leaders will not change. They will change as the environment changes. However, in the initial stage of mapping out the end-to-end solution, there are some fixed views that have established in their mind, which may take longer time to unwind. Sometimes, they may miss some opportunities as a result of that."

A top executive at a foreign MNC in Singapore says that to succeed in a rapidly changing global environment, business leaders here "need to stop assessing an idea with the paradigm of 'can it be done or not'. Instead, they have to start asking, 'How can I get it done?' "

Another senior executive says though business leaders here are very good in terms of process thinking, instilled during National Service, they tend to lack mental flexibility in navigating changes in a VUCA world.

The quiet leadership which Singapore business leaders are inclined to practise can also be a handicap when going global. The study says Singapore business leaders have to learn to stand out.

"Particularly in MNCs with a predominant Anglo-Saxon culture, executives highlighted the importance of 'charisma', 'executive presence', 'gravitas' and the like," it indicates. "At the senior levels, leadership is less about the leader doing things personally. Hence, these qualities are important as it causes followers to look to the leader, and want to drive and execute things on the leader's agenda."

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