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Asian leaders value creativity and intuition

Asian leaders value creativity and intuition more than New Zealand leaders

Leadership styles differ significantly around the world with business leaders in ASEAN countries placing greater value on creativity and intuition than those in New Zealand, according to a recent Grant Thornton International Business Report survey.

The survey asked 3,400 business leaders working in 45 economies about how important they believe certain attributes are to good leadership. While the top traits – integrity, communication, and a positive attitude – are almost universally agreed upon by respondents (and confidence and the ability to inspire also rank high globally) not everyone is aligned on the importance of creativity and intuition.

Nine in ten ASEAN leaders believe creativity is important, compared with just 62% in
New Zealand; while 85% of ASEAN leaders think intuition is important, compared to only 66% in New Zealand. In the EU just 57% of leaders believe creativity is important and 54% rank intuition as important.

Tim Downes, National Managing Partner at Grant Thornton New Zealand, says the patterns in these responses point to some intriguing cultural differences. The survey shows, more generally, that a greater proportion of respondents in emerging markets fall into the leadership camp we would call “modernist.” They put more emphasis on intuition and creativity and also place greater value on coaching team members than leaders who are “traditionalists.”

“This is an intriguing discovery, but it immediately raises a follow-on question. It’s conceivable that our survey captured a gap that still exists for now but could be shrinking, as it seems logical that globalization would bring a certain “sameness” to business management styles around the world. Will we see a steady convergence in leadership styles – more towards the Western style – as developing economies mature?

“Many believe so. As one example, Harvard Business School’s Quinn Mills has made this prediction: “As Asian companies rely more on professional employees of all sorts, and as professional services become more important in Asian economies … Asian leadership will come to more resemble that of the West.”

“I’m not so sure. Given the superior growth rates of their economies, it might be that leaders in emerging markets are gaining the confidence to stick with the management approaches that have apparently been working for them – or that they have the agility to adapt to whatever techniques prove best suited to their fast-evolving local markets.

“A separate Grant Thornton study on Chinese leadership finds that chairmen of companies there are deliberately blending imported and home-grown management techniques and approaches to create a new “Chinese Way” of leading, rather than merely copying western styles.

“Decision-making based on analytics is in vogue now, and certainly represents progress in many areas where managerial decisions have tended to be made in the past on “gut feel.” But there are still many decisions in business that, either because they relate to future possibilities or because they involve trade-offs of competing value based alternatives, can’t be reduced to data and calculations.

“One could argue that those are the very decisions – the ones requiring creativity and intuition – where leadership is most called for when seeking a competitive edge. In a fast-moving, digitally-powered world, creativity and intuition could be the difference between gaining ground as an innovator and getting left behind,” said Downes.

- ends –

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