Career Advice Career Books Recommendations

It pays to keep that poker face

In recent years, Sebastien Henry - author, entrepreneur and executive coach - has emerged as one of the most influential voices on how to succeed in business in Asia Pacific. And by applying his own theories, his Progress U operation - with leadership coaches in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore, Shanghai, New Delhi, and Bangkok - is thriving and delivering strong results across its vast domain.

Therefore, in EQ And Leadership in Asia, Henry knows his themes, from intimate and direct experience. This is no dry volume of self-evident platitudes - it's the real and revealing deal. Though his prose is somewhat stodgy, the lessons provided appear useful, well-reasoned and illuminating.

His focus is on the far-reaching impact of emotional quotient (EQ) - or intelligence - and how it can be leveraged in the Asian workplace and boardroom, while respecting the myriad cultural differences across the continent. In his pursuit of insights to motivate and advise some of the most senior executives in the region, it certainly helps that he speaks six languages, including Japanese and Putonghua.

Even though it's specifically written for leaders and senior managers, Henry's first book is also highly instructive for lesser mortals also trying to get ahead.

Indeed, it contains plenty of insights for working people from all walks of life, but for the executives in Asia, particularly those transplanted from the West, this is an almost indispensable work.

Sensibly structured into two sections - "Understanding Emotional Intelligence In Asia" and "Using Emotions As Allies In Practical Leadership Challenges", the 14 chapters deliver a wealth of road-tested knowledge on how to harness emotional intelligence, creativity, and intuition to enhance one's leadership skills.

Some of these chapters cut straight to the point, and are all the more refreshing for doing so, particularly those titled: "E.I. Is Not about Being Nice and Sweet" and "Preventing Damaging Emotional Outbursts", both of which are particularly apposite for the high-pressure Hong Kong office.

There's also an excellent bibliography at the end of this book for the reader to probe further on topics addressed here.

I was personally reassured to see Thich Nat Han's The Blossoming Of The Lotus included - one of the best books this reviewer has come across on the topic of meditation, and how it can be used for the self-management of one's emotions.

Another book highlighted here is Yu Dan's Confucius From The Heart - finally translated into English from Chinese last year, and a very welcome addition to any business leader's bookshelf. 

Henry is a highly qualified neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) practitioner and NLP trainer. A sound knowledge of NLP always seems to greatly enhance the intuitive powers of business leaders and their coaches and gurus. Its utility as a powerful tool for professional and personal success has endured since it first came to prominence in the US in the mid-1970s.

Henry asserts that leadership is a complex matrix of relationships - so far, so obvious - but then proceeds to explain how all these ties are controlled by emotions. So it is up to the responsible business leader to develop his or her skills at identifying and managing these emotions, both internally and externally, and in a way that achieves that all-important Asian goal - group harmony (or wa, as termed by the Japanese, world leaders in the concept).

Another attractive feature of EQ And Leadership in Asia is its inherent warmth - it introduces a compassionate voice into the debate on business leadership in Asia. By reading what is the latest in a recent slew of books on the importance of EQ in business, one can bring about positive change in both the way in which others relate to you, and how you can relate to them.


Seven insights

  • The people who report to you are like icebergs - the larger part of them is the part that is unseen, and is also the most hazardous. Look beneath the surface
  • Non-formal negative feedback takes much longer to reveal itself in Asian workplaces - but with more volcanic result when it does
  • Uncontrolled emotional outbursts have devastating effects on both one's career and the organisation
  • Nice guys finish last, but a little "niceness" goes a long way. It's all about balance
  • Teamwork has a far greater premium in Asia
  • The hot-headed quickly lose in Asia, so be cool, not only stylistically but literally
  • Cultural sensitivity is crucial