“An army of a thousand is easy to find, but how difficult it is to find a general,”an old Chinese proverb says. In China’s case, the problem has never been about finding enough people – getting the right individuals for the top, however, can be much more complicated.
Attracting and retaining talent is one of the biggest challenges that businesses face in China’s fast-developing and dynamic market. Top-notch employees jump from one job to another, hoping to land positions in organizations that demonstrate good leadership and staff investment. It’s not surprising then, that these are also the keys to finding and keeping talent.
Most Chinese staff are hardworking, well educated and ambitious, yet comparatively young. Due to obvious historical reasons, many lack the knowledge, social skills, as well as business and life experiences that enable a person to be an efficient, self-confident and charismatic leader.
Companies are certainly spending time and money on employee training. But much of this is invested in dull sessions of listening to expert lectures, taking notes and then forgetting what was learned as soon as busy schedules and daily tasks take over.
Leadership skills cannot simply be learned in a classroom, much less through a “one-size-fits-all” method. Instead, becoming a good leader is like training to become a good golfer. Knowing basic theories and rules is helpful, but plenty of practice is needed before skills become second nature.
Leadership is not about achieving perfection, as even masters make mistakes. Effective leaders learn from their errors, analyzing them carefully each time something goes wrong. In addition, it’s important to remember that each individual has a unique personality, with different inherited characteristics, particular abilities, values, life experiences, motivations, strengths and development areas. No one is perfect, yet everyone is good at something.
This can be extremely helpful. In today’s increasingly competitive business environment, leadership is truly needed at all levels of an organization. This does not mean that every leader must be the same, or aim to copy their top executive. On the contrary, the fundamental challenge for current and potential managers is to first know oneself and only then, embark on a career-long development path based on individual traits. In the long run, savvy leaders are not just acting like a director or CEO, but being one.
Down the road
This process should start early. Like all development programs, the participants must have a strong motivation to learn and improve, as well as an open mind. While most of these characteristics are easily found among high-potentials in China, there are challenges when it comes to focus and commitment. Many aspiring leaders get bogged down with juggling daily tasks and do not put the same kind of energy into flexing leadership abilities.
As such, human resources departments and top management executives should establish a strong culture to support leadership development at every level. This requires resources, processes and providing high potentials with sufficient time for these programs – rather than piling more on to their plates.
More importantly, succession planning is absolutely vital for the success of every company in the long run. Instead of just providing seminar training or lectures, coaching and mentoring are far more efficient and typically yield permanent results. Arranging individual programs requires more effort – and probably a bigger chunk of a firm’s budget – yet the results are rewarding both for the individual and the organization.
Identifying and understanding a company’s high-potentials is the responsibility of every department manager, not just the human resources department. Developing such individuals will not only improve the company’s brand as an employer, but also increase retention rates.
Furthermore, succession plans and leadership investment are positive for the overall human resources sector. After all, if a sufficient number of companies help executives grow, there will be many more proverbial generals to choose from in the future.