Why Asia's leaders are facing an internal comms crisis

Research presented by SapientNitro at Spikes Asia shows the disconnect between leaders and creative talent.

SPIKES ASIA - Industry leadership in Asia Pacific is in somewhat of a crisis, with only 15 per cent of employees rating their leaders highly, according to new research by SapientNitro and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

This was the headline statistic shared by Melanie Cook, SapientNitro’s head of strategy for Singapore and Hong Kong (pictured below), during her talk at Spikes Asia Wednesday, focusing on the disconnect between today’s creative class of workers and their leaders.

The "creative class", as defined by American economist and social scientist Richard Florida, has been touted as a key driving force for economic development. The question is, how do you harness that creativity and bring it to the forefront?

"Leaders don’t often hear voices of discontent from their followers," Cook said. "Our study showed that only 9 per cent of middle managers in Asia believe their leader has an understanding of the emotional impact their words have."

The advent of the Internet and social-media platforms has changed many things about how we live our lives, from the way we shop to having the power to challenge oppressive regimes and hold big business accountable.

Yet the one thing the Internet hasn’t changed is the typical top-down power structure in organisations, which is an archaic legacy.

"It’s still an ubiquitous structure, most people in this room still have a boss," Cook said. "It beggars belief, I’m empowered to change the world via Twitter but not to change my workplace."

But the tide is turning, with the study showing that only 13 per cent of workers worldwide are engaged with their jobs. In addition, three out of four will leave for a new opportunity should it present itself.

"The creative mavericks are leading this change, driven by the need to see something new. With an average tenure of 18 months to two years becoming common, people are voting with their feet," said Cook.

She believes that the "WTF moments" being experienced by leaders are a result of not yet mature power struggle, as leaders are only effective if people choose to follow.

To aid in achieving a leadership style better suited to helming today’s army, Cook shared the following insights:

  • Leaders still wanted: While there is a distinct power shift toward employees, they still want their leaders to lead, so rest assured that there is no impending coup d'etat to worry about.
  • Expertise must always be proven: Followers want their leader to consistently demonstrate expertise, to learn from and share knowledge every day. Until leaders have proven their expertise, they will have trouble getting followers to take them seriously. Leaders need to be brilliant every day, for you are only as good as last decision you made.
  • Permission to fail, having their backs: To succeed in this hyper-connected landscape, workers need to have permission to fail so that they can innovate. But permission is meaningless unless followers know you have their back and your expertise is there should they fail. If they don’t believe that, they won’t take the risk.
  • We’re in this together: Before gaining support of those you lead, you need to be seen as supportive. In Asia especially, if leaders get angry and yell, they will be perceived as as incompetent.
  • Don’t waste their time: People want to be part of the solution and want to collaborate with their leaders in finding a solution. But collaboration without reaching a decision is a waste of time. And no one follows a leader who wastes their time.

"Today’s workforce will no longer follow bad leaders, because they think they cannot grow and will move on," Cook said. "So it is crucial for any leader to remember to ‘listen to them, start with you’."

Our view: There is no doubt leaders of today can no longer draw from the experiences of their predecessors. The current generation of creative, knowledge workers do not play by the same rules; failing to fully harness their potential would be a waste. We would have liked to see more details from the research, but appreciated the smooth and clear delivery of key takeaways and messages.

This article originally appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific

 

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