Leadership Success In China: Conquering An Unknown Territory

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New book guides expatriate managers on their most challenging assignment yet

You need to examine the practice and understand if it is bad for the business—or just peculiar to you—before you impose a change.

Managers on assignment in China may learn that what has made them inspiring leaders in the past, may not be what makes them successful in China, according to a recently released book Leadership Success in China.

With the rapid expansion into the Chinese business market, companies are sending leadership talent to launch and grow their operations in China—but the cultural differences are often jarring for these leaders. Leadership Success in China: An Expatriate’s Guide, written by Yue-er Luo, Ph.D., Erik Duerring, William C. Byham, Ph.D., is a guide for expatriate managers in China on how to lead teams in a disparate culture.

“These leaders are facing a very different culture where employees have become accustomed to a more traditional Chinese style of leadership, so many things in their management repertoire will have to be redefined.” said Duerring, the director of consulting services for DDI in Asia. “Managing a staff in China has to be approached with great sensitivity.”

Leveraging his last few years as an expatriate, Duerring shares his first-hand experiences leading a team in China. The book also explores the impact that China’s culture and history has on their business customs and defines why this experience is so unique for leaders.

Deconstructing the Chinese workforce
A leader can’t enter a foreign market and expect to succeed without understanding the people they’ll be managing. Chinese employees have five distinct personality traits:

  •     An indirect communication style
  •     The need to save face
  •     Respect for age and authority
  •     Strong family values
  •     A strong preference to follow the leader

These traits translate into some distinct cultural differences that managers will have to understand and relate to.

Asking for help is viewed as a sign of incompetence or weakness. “They’re not going to offer up challenges they’re facing, so managers will have to find other ways to know if employees are having trouble in their jobs” Duerring said.

Chinese communication style is diffuse, not specific. It’s not that they’re unwilling to share information, but managers will have to prompt Chinese workers if they want details, because they’re not inclined to volunteer specifics.

Soliciting feedback is a very Western concept. Getting candid feedback from Chinese employees is difficult unless you are in China for an extended period or develop some very close personal relationships there.

Teamwork in China is a challenge. “There isn’t a natural tendency for teamwork among Chinese workers,” Duerring said. “Managers have to coach individuals on the rules of engagement when it comes to teamwork and collaboration.”

More cultural surprises
While you may have been doing business in China for years, managing a team will reveal some foreign business customs that you’re seeing for the first time. “This isn’t about your comfort,” Duerring said. “You need to examine the practice and understand if it is bad for the business—or just peculiar to you—before you impose a change.” Here are a few that expatriate managers will discover:

The paternalistic culture is deeply ingrained in work and personal life in China. Managers should expect to be invited to a wedding or family celebration, and even be asked to give a speech. “You’re a valued member of their work family, and you need to embrace that role,” Duerring said.

Corruption pervades many aspects of commercial life in China. While the Chinese have an expectation of ethical behavior, the definition may differ from Western customers. For example, large, expensive gifts in China do not constitute bribery or quid pro quo.

Chinese managers prefer not to drop team members, regardless of how poor they’re performing. This is particularly true if the underachiever has proven to be a loyal follower. Cultural constraints limit many managers’ ability to give performance feedback.

More information about Leadership Success in China: An Expatriate’s Guide can be found at http://www.ddiworld.com/leadershipsuccessinchina.

Jennifer Pesci-Kelly
jennifer.pesci @ ddiworld.com

Amanda Sham
asham @ psbpr.com


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