INTOUCH : Leadership lessons from China

Shanghai-based Andrew Grant reckons the Kiwi pioneering spirit is an asset in an offshore business environment he describes as “a microcosm on steroids”.
The head of global management consultancy McKinsey & Co’s Greater China practice says that country’s unprecedented levels of business growth and rapid urbanisation offer opportunities that New Zealand is well placed to benefit from. It’s not just because of our Free Trade Agreement which, he says, is viewed very positively in China – but aspects of the Kiwi character also help us thrive in complex and dynamic business environments.
“I think we’re at our best as pioneers in those sort of environments – figuring things out, making it work – and I would love to see us using such opportunities to unlock that pioneering spirit.”
In terms of broader business leadership, Grant says Kiwis are also well equipped to cope with what he describes as the leadership challenge of our age – managing talent which is more heterogeneous and in increasingly short supply at time when business needs are increasingly complex. One Kiwi advantage is their ability (paraphrasing Rudyard Kipling) ‘to dine with kings without losing the common touch’.
“I do think there’s something about New Zealanders that they’re comfortable with both – we have no problem mucking in but also I think we’re not overawed by hierarchy and, in the context of places like China and India in particular, that mindset and comfort level makes us quite effective, I think.”
New Zealanders also tend to have fairly high levels of energy and resilience – and that helps in leadership roles that are increasingly about managing energy rather than time. It’s notion Grant has borrowed from Procter & Gamble CEO AG Lafley – given today’s demands on time, there is never going to be enough of it to do everything.
“So it’s more about managing your energy to ensure every single action with your people sends the right signal… And I do think there is something about New Zealanders, maybe it’s to do with more outdoors upbringing, that we’re quite an energetic, resilient people.”
But we need to think big.
“In market like China, you can’t dabble – you really have to commit for the long term – at scale, with quality. If you do that then the pay-off is extraordinary. If you don’t, then it’s great way to lose lot of money quickly.”

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