Emerging markets NEED a different kind of LEADER

Editor at COLL
Good leaders mean the ability to comprehend economics, business and fiscals over and above what is taught in management schools. It is the innate ability to read trends, projections and trajectories and reports that bring out the valid story of facts. A practical leader is someone who avoids the dog and pony show of fancy presentations and professional make overs to be seriously focused on the story line of data. Someone who is tuned in to the market and competition as much as they are in sync with what is happening within the organisation. Leaders who bring excellence move over and beyond just execution and delivery of the expected. They change the environment, the understanding of work ethics and the engagement of people.


Period of Normalization : Countries that emerged into the global markets in the mid 19th century after wars subsided and they were independent took another 20 – 30years to stabilise. Making countries like Africa, India, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Koreas really come into their own only in the late 90’s . The telecom boom and the internet blast did shrink the world and allowed all to peep into other geographies for their potential. The world has always been curious about the east and even as business grows the east continues its lure. But the investors and mother companies of the west have a legacy of 100 -200 years in operation in many cases. They have had stable, established laws, corporate governance, policies on trade, people management skills and so many fiscal hills and troughs that they are masters of survival whatever the condition of the tide.


The stress on Gen X : Parent companies from the west invest through FDI into countries in the east and provide a cushion during the phase of business establishment that usually has a window of 3-5 years depending on the level of investment the parent company makes and its vision on creating a foot print in the emerging market. Now it is important for us to realise that the Gen X or the people born from 1960’s to 70’s are leaders of this space. In some business systems Gen Y rules the roost but in most orgs with long standing history – Gen X is at the big rung now.

They are in most cases first generations at formal corporate work houses with no role models and examples to follow or learn from. They came with an education that prepared them more for local jobs and career managed by state and country. The education system in the 60-70’s did not foresee how the world will come together and expansions will bring companies from the US homeward. When people were not groomed in fundamentals to be global citizens and leaders of magnitude it is indeed a challenge for them to have arrived in the last 90’s and see the workplace no longer needs a typist and computers will lead the way. They have been the generation that bore the brunt of all newness while the Gen X born from the 80s to 2000 had it much easier with every modernization as part of their education and childhood. Education systems changed vastly in the 90’s to accommodate a more wide view of the world, knowledge from exposure, debate and learning as groups.

Leaders who are at the helm of business in the emerging markets are one of the toughest. They have moved to accepting process, systems, management principles, leadership concepts and business ethics within the last 30 years of radical change. There is hunger. There is wild appetite. But to expect a generation of emerging market leaders to be on par as equals with leaders of the west is not fair. The economic realities are stark, their availabilities and options not the same, their breeding grounds not ready for the today we live in and the finesse focus of the west is equalled by the survival focus of the east. This also explains why more leaders in emerging markets are great task masters and people equipped to handle abnormal levels of pressure but still get it done. It also goes to explain why long work hours and crazy shifts don’t shake them. Their demand out of themselves is not limited by 40 hour working weeks or 35.

The philosophy of worship your work is common to the east. Gratitude for what feeds and provides finds its extension to jobs and companies. There will always be rule breakers and outliers who given the same circumstances out shined, outdid and caught up with the best leaders anywhere in the globe but because they are too few and wide apart we need to look the general mass. Leaders in emerging markets are fantastic technically, functionally and also with driving performance. Usually strategy is devised elsewhere off shores and few leaders get actual rights on PNL or designing the strategy end to end. Therefore in a working world where 95% of the times the job is to understand the strategy and execute it, they do struggle when jobs and roles change putting them in a place where greater demand form leadership is made.

Executive Presence is at times a difficult subject for leaders from Emerging markets. They do sometimes fall off the cliff in assessments as potential global leaders owing to these gaps. Most markets in this region are very academically centric. Social skills, relationship building, finesse in negotiations and persuasions are part and parcel of community living but not given the importance needed. These however become the vehicles carrying performance and success at the workplace in later years. Such leaders then struggle with the ability to “think in the moment”, articulation of ideas, being accurate in appropriateness of response etc. It is hence important that companies create a different instrument or calibration for leaders in Emerging markets and seriously invest in them for at lest 5 consecutive years. This will polish all that Global leadership requires. When that chiselling is complete,  this part of the world could offer some of the most veritable leaders orgs can experience.

Managing people is an area where many are still learning and struggling with.  Being accountable for HOW business is done through fair practices, conversations, mentoring, feedback, influence, engagement are way harder to learn than the hard skills they learnt. Ask for a report, a design, a tool, a result and it will be done but to get to changing environment and peoples experiences is what the leaders of this part of the world are still sharpening their axes on.

We need  more experts who dedicate energy on raising the bar for leaders here and more companies recognising leaders and talent in emerging markets are different from parent companies in the West – so a cut copy paste of expectations, standards and practices will not work. It will demotivate the people and slower their progress rather than force success upon them using old formulas.

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