Career Advice Career Guidance and Counselling

Squeeze more water: from functional to transformation leadership

A recent trip to Shenzhen opened my eyes to the new leadership challenges that China’s globalising companies are facing – and the new opportunities they present to Hong Kong-based professionals.

I met with the executives of a company that has acquired multiple assets in Europe. This firm has become skilled at financial acquisitions, but it now faces a much harder tough task: creating synergies and value from a diverse portfolio of assets. Not only are its newly acquired companies spread across several countries, they also use different accounting standards, procurement practices and performance management systems.

The great writer Lu Xun said: “Time is like water in a sponge. The more you squeeze, the more you may get.” Today, the leaders of many such Chinese companies are wondering how to squeeze more water out of their organisations, and they feel an increasing urgency to do so. They have successfully aggregated assets, but now they must integrate them.

As a first step, my Shenzhen-based client is hiring a CIO to drive transparency and consistency in business processes and performance monitoring across its subsidiaries. The next step is to use this data to create a consistent set of management practices – and instil a culture of high performance – across the global portfolio.

In the next few years, many such companies will seek to move their enterprises onto new platforms. This is a golden opportunity for professionals building international careers. China’s global firms will need executives and senior managers who are skilled at driving change in large, complex organisations.

These transformational leaders must be adept at managing diversity, influencing people, articulating bold visions, fostering collaboration and driving sustained change. To date, however, most corporate managers in Hong Kong and elsewhere have focused on becoming excellent functional leaders in areas such as finance, operations, marketing or sales.

Just as Chinese companies must reimagine themselves to compete better on the globally stage, future leaders must transform too. That will mean strengthening your influencing skills, cultivating your self-awareness, and treating your working life as a journey of continuous learning.

Are you ready to step up from functional to transformational leadership?

This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Time to transform.