Developing the next generation of ASEAN leaders

While the rest of the world is grappling with an ageing population, ASEAN nations are at the opposite end of the demographic scale. More than half of the ASEAN population is under 35, with only India and Africa sharing similar youthful demographic statistics. ASEAN’s economic metrics similarly shine on the global stage - Singapore’s prime minister predicts the region will become the fourth largest economy in the world by 2030. But ASEAN’s continued success requires strong leadership to capitalise on growth opportunities, particularly in the wake of the ongoing US-China trade war.


And therein lies the challenge. While the stage is set for economic success, ASEAN countries are struggling to find the leadership stars to set it alight. With such a young working population, the region is experiencing a mismatch between young people’s skills and the mature leadership vision that industry demands. Businesses must fast track the development of their next generation leaders or risk missing out on the great opportunities currently there for the taking.

Leaders are grown, not born

There’s no questioning the great leadership potential among ASEAN’s young people. Leaders like Malaysian Vivy Yusof, Indonesian Achmad Zaky, Thai Paul Srivorakul and Singaporean Roshni Mahtani Cheung are lighting up the tech and entrepreneurial scene, their vision and drive showing what’s possible.

The challenge for businesses is to unleash the leadership potential within their own organisations. Many, in fact most, future leaders won’t be waiting around fully formed and ready to step up. While this might seem like a negative, it’s most certainly not. Most leaders need to learn how to lead; they’re grown, not born.

A matter of style

Today’s employees will only grow into tomorrow’s leaders if they have the opportunity to learn how to be a good leader. It’s crucial for leaders to understand the behaviours that good leaders use to engage their people and develop the self-awareness to know when and how to effectively deploy these behaviours.

Within ASEAN, the leadership challenge is especially complex, requiring leaders to navigate seamlessly between the many different cultural, religious and societal norms within the region. Leaders will need to be able to draw on different styles in different circumstances to get the most out of their people.

Korn Ferry research shows that leaders use six different styles (Directive, Visionary, Affiliative, Participative, Pace Setting and Coaching) to make the right impact on their organisation’s performance. To achieve the big ASEAN dream, young leaders will need to sharpen three styles in particular:

  • Visionary: A leader uses this style to provide long term direction and vision. It helps team members to understand what they need to do and how they need to do it. And – most importantly – it enables team members to understand why their work matters.
  • Affiliative: A leader uses the affiliative style to generate a warm and friendly atmosphere – to create harmony. It makes team members feel valued as individuals, not just workers.
  • Participative: A leader uses this style to generate commitment and consensus among employees and generate new ideas. It enables a team to build a shared vision. And to discuss ideas, make decisions and share responsibility – together.

These three styles are often underused, but used consistently together, they help to build the credibility, trust and strong relationships critical for the success of ASEAN leaders.


Two questions every leader needs to ask

Becoming a great leader requires a combination of internal motivation to be the best you can, teamed with feedback and support from the organisation. It all starts with understanding how and why individuals behave the way they do in a given situation. Encourage your next generation leaders to kick-start their growth by challenging them to ask themselves these two questions:

  1. Why do I behave in that way?
  2. What helps me to behave differently?

Only through building self-awareness will your employees become the leaders of the future they need to be.