In the U.S. we’re used to a certain style of management. As the culture here is shaped by an individualistic outlook, it’s not surprising that it feeds into the American management approach. Managers are accountable for decisions made within their areas of responsibility, and although important decisions might be discussed in open forum, the ultimate responsibility for decisions lies with them. Managers are relied on to report to three groups: the team, the company executives and the client, so they must find a balance that pleases all three. To be a successful manager the consensus is that one must have a certain amount of charisma, a positive mindset, and leadership skills at least as strong as their technical expertise in the field.
As globalization widens the marketplace, and our cultures come more and more into contact with one another, we think it’s important to look at how management styles range and differ across Asia.
The Chinese management style tends to follow Confucian philosophy: Relationships are deemed to be unequal, and ethical behavior demands that these inequalities are respected: The older person should automatically receive respect from the younger, the senior from the junior. This is the cornerstone of Chinese management thinking and issues such as empowerment and open access to total information are viewed by the Chinese as, at best, bizarre Western notions. Management is directive, with the senior manager giving instructions to their immediate staff, who in turn pass on the instructions down the line. Subordinates do not question the decisions of superiors as that would be to show disrespect.
The Japanese emphasize the need for information flow from the bottom of the company to the top: Senior management is largely a supervisory rather than hands-on approach. Policy is often originated at the middle-levels of a company before being passed upwards for ratification. The strength of this approach is obviously that those tasked with implementation of decisions have been actively involved in the shaping of policy. The higher a Japanese manager rises within an organization, the more important it is that he appears unassuming and not ambitious. Individual personality and forcefulness are not seen as prerequisites for effective leadership. The key task for a Japanese manager is to provide an environment in which the group can flourish. In order to achieve this, he must be accessible at all times and willing to share knowledge within the group. Seen as a type of parental figure who expects and receives loyalty and obedience from colleagues, and in return, the manager is expected to take a holistic interest in the well-being of those colleagues. It is a mutually beneficial two-way relationship.
Of course it’s important to remember every style has its own characteristics, strong points, shortcomings, and methods for getting work done. But perhaps by recognizing the differences you can gain an important insight into what it takes to succeed as a global leader.
naisA Global is a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational organization dedicated to helping talented young Asian professionals unlock their potential and become great leaders.