Do-It-Yourself Leadership Training in China
In recent years, China’s economy has grown so rapidly — and changed so much — that
demand for skilled business managers exceeds supply. Can leadership self-development
programs help address that gap?
BY SHUANG REN, ROBERT WOOD AND YING ZHU
Lin, an executive at the Chinese unit of a
luxury carmaker, has a problem. During
the last decade, the luxury car market in
China has grown by 36% a year — and still
has plenty of room to grow. But as Lin’s organization grows, he needs more managers
capable of leading his fast-growing staff.
Unfortunately, he can barely fill the leadership roles within his organization already.
His managers often wear multiple hats
while they wait for additional managers to
be hired. And when Lin can find qualified
candidates for managerial jobs, the new
hires tend to have good technical skills but
weak people skills, decision-making skills
and strategic judgment.
Lin has considered formal leadership
training, but few training programs in
China suit his needs. Available programs
are costly and seem mostly targeted toward
senior managers. Even if Lin could afford
the training for his middle managers, he
could not afford the opportunity cost of
letting them take the time off for the training sessions.
Lin’s experience is not unique. China’s
economy has grown so fast that demand for
business leaders now far exceeds supply, and
shortages are expected to continue for the
rest of the decade. Despite China’s massive
population and expanding higher education,
Chinese and foreign companies often strug-
gle to recruit enough middle and senior
managers to provide the leadership they
need to succeed in China’s fast-growing,
highly competitive business environment.
The leadership gap confronting executives
like Lin is compounded by the fact that many
experienced Chinese managers — who
might otherwise fill leadership positions in
fast-growing sectors — gained much of their
experience in traditional industries and in a
system where management was based on
government regulation that suppressed
One method Lin has considered to fill
this gap is leadership self-development.
With a self-development program, manag-
ers pick up skills through a mix of formal
and informal channels, such as learning
from a mentor, taking a class, reading a se-
ries of specially selected books and articles
or undertaking self-reflection on their per-
formance. Self-development programs are
cost-efficient, don’t take managers away
from their jobs for extended periods of time
China’s business environment is fast-growing and highly competitive, and companies often struggle to
recruit middle and senior managers who can provide the leadership they need to succeed in China.
(Continued on page 20)