Regional leaders in global businesses must juggle direction from the centre with the autonomy that is necessary to operate successfully in local markets. They have to embrace diversity, while also aligning their people in pursuit of a common goal. 

In research conducted at our Asia Leadership Retreat 2018, the top three biggest challenges of leading a regional team were identified as follows:
  • Communication & collaboration;
  • Managing multiple reporting lines; and
  • Lack of empowerment from HQ. 
Michael Crompton, General Manager for Asia at Criticaleye, advocates a clear regional strategy, with local management playing a key role in its development. “You need to be empowered to make quick decisions and those in the centre need to draw on the knowledge of their people on the ground.” 
He continues: “In Asia’s fast moving, tech-disrupted markets, businesses need to be agile and responsive as otherwise they risk getting left behind."
Duncan Hewett, SVP and GM for Asia Pacific and Japan at VMware, stresses the importance of building a shared understanding. “When you’ve got lots of different cultures and you have people who come from different backgrounds, you have to get to a common goal around what the business is trying to achieve,” he says. 

Regional executives have to work well with those in the global centre. Bala Swaminathan, Asia Advisory Board Member for Westpac Banking Corporation and a Board Mentor at Criticaleye, notes that “communication… is a high-determining factor in developing leadership".

He adds that cultural awareness is vital, combined with trust, especially when operating across multiple geographies. "Just making sure that your boss in the head office trusts you, and you trust [the] people working for you, in developing the value proposition for the organisation is very important,” he says. 
Sanjay Patel, Group Head of Global Services at BAT, also emphasises the importance of communication to make sure there is alignment on strategy. He observes that “it’s not about coming up with a twenty-page document that no one understands”, but rather putting the time and effort into creating a succinct, one-page document that “means exactly the same to everyone in your leadership team”.

When seeking out regional leaders, Anika Grant, HR Senior Director of Global Core Business at Uber, believes you need to look within the local market for your top-talent. “I think specifically being in Asia, having local leaders is an important part of being able to make sure that you can operate really successfully, attracting the right level of talent and, at the end of the day, being part of the communities and the customers that you’re serving,” she says. 

Thriving in a Matrix Structure 
Operating in global businesses will often also involve some degree of matrix working, and the multiple reporting lines involved can introduce yet more complexity.  
Mick Gordon, Managing Director for Ipsos in Hong Kong, explains: “If you’ve got more than one boss to satisfy, you’ve probably [sometimes] got... conflicting agendas, so I think it comes to managing upwards... [and] working out how to reconcile those conflicts.” 
The solution needs a bold approach and being willing, at certain points, to say ‘no’ to HQ. “They are looking for you to do that," adds Mick. "They are looking for you to tell them what’s the most important thing to do. That’s what you’re being paid for.” 
For David Comeau, Board Mentor at Criticaleye and Venture Partner of KEEN Growth Capital, this complexity is a positive as it pools together different strengths, insights and perspectives from across multiple parts of an organisation. “If you can get your leadership team to understand ambiguity and the positive effects of working where you’ve got complementary and seemingly conflicting roles, it’s super powerful,” he says.  

These Comments were Taken from the Following Criticaleye Films: 

To find out more about Criticaleye's 2019 Asia Leadership Retreat, click here