New lessons - and questions - about how to thrive in a fast-moving digital economy from a recent leadership summit that included more than 60 CEOs from China.
As many of us have experienced first-hand, the business environment in China is in constant motion. That is
Last fall, Russell Reynolds Associates was fortunate enough to host a leadership summit in New York for more than 60 CEOs from the China CEO+ Group, an independent organization affiliated with Harvard Business School’s CEO Renewal Program. Working with this group of CEOs – all of whom are based in China and have completed extensive executive education coursework at Harvard -- was illuminating. It touched on many of the themes we’re talking about with clients both in China and the rest of the world. And it left us with three lessons that are critically important for leaders of organizations in the Western world to absorb.
Chinese CEOs are relatively cautious and forward-looking.
As a group, the Chinese CEOs we worked with leaned toward pragmatic, reluctant, heroic and connecting qualities within our Leadership Span framework, which considers four pairs of competing competencies
Chinese CEOs provide a window into the future.As nearly every industry confronts the need to adapt to the digital era, China’s CEOs help us see what it takes to succeed in it. Our meetings left us with a burning question that will continue to drive our research agenda and our advice to clients: What is the DNA of a leader who can thrive in a market where things move so fast that if you’re not first, you’re last? Currently, indicators in our data imply that the ability to keep up with a seemingly furious pace of innovation while also making careful, pragmatic decisions is becoming a fundamental competency required of leaders in both developed and emerging markets, across all sectors. We can also see these competencies in practice; observing how China’s digitally savvy CEOs manage innovation and talent in their home country is likely to prove extremely helpful to leaders in other geographies.
China’s business leaders have global ambitions.Indeed, it’s one of the reasons they met in New York and sought perspectives from a variety of US business leaders. As they scale up at home, Chinese CEOs are rapidly preparing to win market share in developed economies like the US and Europe. Part of the preparation is finding the right talent – proven executives who can operate globally — to do so. It also means that US and European leaders will face major competitive challenges ahead from Chinese companies, both in their own backyards and in their efforts to expand in China.
As Chinese companies consider how to go global and Western companies ask how they can invest and innovate in the digital-forward world of China, one thing is abundantly clear: we all have a lot to learn from each other. We look forward to continuing to work with and learn from exceptional leaders like those in the China CEO+ Group.
Grace Cheng leads Russell Reynolds Associates’ Greater China region and is a member of the firm’s Board and CEO practice as well as its Financial Services sector. She is based in Beijing.
Kevin Harris leads Russell Reynolds Associates’ Asia Pacific Industrial and Natural Resources