Passing on leadership skills

MIM Speaks

WHY do some organisations consistently win in the marketplace while others struggle from crisis to crisis? The answer is leadership. 

Winning organisations have good leaders who know how to make smart decisions and implement them quickly – and they develop others to be leaders as well. 

Below are the views of Dr Noel Tichy, leadership expert in organisational behaviour and human resource management on leadership in Asian companies, as expressed in an interview he gave to Ryp Yong of Asia Inc. 


Q: From GE to Accenture, Home Depot to Trilogy Software, you’ve identified great leaders/teachers in western companies. Are there great Asian leaders who excel at virtuous teaching cycles too? Who are they and what did you learn from them?  

A: The team of leaders at Infosys in Bangalore, India, along with WiPro, in Japan, the leaders at Honda, Toyota, Nomura Securities, Canon and Shiseido – they are organisations I have worked with over the years. 

In Singapore, we did a Cycle of Leadership workshop that included among others Singapore Airlines, all good examples. 


Q: What potential challenges exist for an Asian company when creating a winning teaching organisation?  

A: Asian, European, or American companies, it does not matter, the fundamentals of great leadership are the same: leaders develop other leaders and they must do it by having a clear teachable point of view and be able to create virtuous teaching cycles. GE has more than half of its workforce outside the US and is able to build virtuous teaching cycles globally. 


Q: What are the biggest issues in creating a winning teaching organisation in any organisation?  

A: The top leadership. They must be committed and willing to role model and to require others to teach, it is non-negotiable. 

There is a chapter in the Cycle of Leadership on the paradox of power, the top leadership must demand teaching. The paradox is that when leaders require the teaching, they then must do it with a virtuous teaching cycle, very participative and with minimal hierarchy. 


Q: Today's managers are witnessing rapid hiring and firing within their companies or industry. How would winning leaders restore/inject employee confidence here?  

A: Very easy, it is by honest and clear expectations about the psychological contract. I like to use the example of McKinsey, the elite consulting firm, where I have sent my MBA students from Columbia University and the University of Michigan for 30 years. 

They end up “firing” 90% of these MBAs, yet they are committed, confident and those who leave rarely criticise McKinsey – they were honestly evaluated every step of the way and helped out when it was clear they would not make partner. 

The deal is, we make you more valuable, we honestly let you know how you are doing, and if you will not make partner we get you a great job elsewhere. GE does the same with young people. 


Q: You stress that business leaders must have “heart” and engage as citizens. Who are the top three most compassionate capitalists you have encountered to date, globally? 

A: Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, A.G. Lafley, CEO of P&G and Roger Enrico, retired CEO of Pepsico. All three have integrated global corporate citizenship into the mainstream of being a 21st century leader. 

Roger donated his salary at Pepsico to fund college for the children of needy employees. Immelt and Lafley engage thousands of employees and leaders in their companies in volunteer community activities. 

For example, in India, GE is partnering with the Manipal Hospital System and the University of Michigan to build a school of public health in Bangalore. 


Q: Aside from Jack Welch, which leaders are still learning and teaching from the retirement deck? 

A: Bill George, just retired CEO of Medtronic, Roger Enrico of Pepsico and Larry Bossidy of Honeywell. 

Q: You have worked with CEOs and groomed MBAs. Can you spot a leader from a mile away? What are the top three to five leadership traits?  

A: 1. Deep commitment to continuous learning and self development. 

2. A transformational leader, always a change agent, looking to take whatever organisation they are a part of to a better place, able to creatively destroy and remake it (even when they are part of a small department or organisation), this trait shows up early in life. 

3. A leader/teacher, always about making others better, being a developer of other people, again shows up early in a leader’s career. 

4. Thinks and acts systemically, embraces global corporate citizenship as a leader facing the challenges of the 21st century both environmentally and human capitalwise. 


Q: As an academic and practitioner, how do you perceive the value of an MBA qualification today, particularly one from a prestigious business school? Is the MBA losing its shine? Why?  

A: The MBA needs to be radically overhauled to fit tomorrow’s world of global growth leaders. The paradigm has only shifted slightly since I started as a professor at Columbia University in 1972. 

We need more focus on globalisation, growth, leadership, and the learning should be much more out of the classroom, action learning. 

At Michigan, we are still the only business school that gets all of our first-year MBAs into seven weeks of full-time action learning projects, over 80 each year. 

This past year, over 40 projects were global, including working in Vietnam with an organisation cleaning up land mines. We need far more of this. 


Q: What is your perception of Corporate Asia today? Has it changed over the years?  

A: It is a mixed bag – you have to go country by country. India is the hottest area now, with China still a big growth story. Japan is re-awakening. Singapore is struggling and other areas are a mixture. 


Q: What are your after-hour activities? Share with us your reading preferences – fiction and non-fiction. 

A: Running, water-skiing, wind surfing and golf. In fiction, I read a mix of action and mystery novels. In non-fiction, mostly political and historical books ranging from Woodward, James MacGregor Burns – the best of all being his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Leadership


o Dr Noel Tichy, leadership guru and co-author of ‘The Leadership Engine’ (A Business Week Book of the Year) will be in Kuala Lumpur to speak on the theme “The Leadership Engine, Building Leaders At Every Level” on Aug 3. Limited seats available. To register, call MIM Customer Service at 03-2165 4611, e-mail: enquiries@mim.eduor visit 

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