Indian executives more focused on task, hierarchy: Korn/Ferry

Indian executives more focused on task, hierarchy: Korn/Ferry

New Delhi: At a time when globalization is, putting pressure on variations in country-specific management styles, the Indian executive is showing distinct leadership traits compared with his North American or Chinese counterparts, a study has found.

Indian corporate leaders are far more “task-focused" and are less “social" and “participative" than North Americans, according to the study conducted by executive search company Korn/Ferry International, in association with International Market Assessment (IMA) India, a firm that provides business information to top managers. That task focus is accentuated by Indian executives tending to be more hierarchical and less open to ideas and building consensus. These traits could be a factor of the prevailing business environment.

Indeed, Paul C. Reilly, chairman, Korn/Ferry International, says a task-focused style could be appropriate for the fast-evolving business environments of India and other Asian countries. The findings of the study, to be officially released today, reflect trends typical of a growing economy, say some other experts.

“We (Indian organizations) are right now in an entrepreneurial phase. Business comes first to our CEOs before organizational issues," says R. Suresh, managing director, Stanton Chase India, an executive search consultancy. In contrast, “American organizations are far ahead of us in terms of size, scale and complexity. They are already mature and we are yet to reach there." Janet Gasper-Chowdhury, principal consultant and head, human resource consulting at PricewaterhouseCoopers, agrees with the findings. “In general, Indian CEOs are inward focused than outward," she said. “They spend less time at board level and more time with their management team."

The study surveyed 100 so-called C-level executives (as in those with titles such as CEO, COO, CFO) between December 2006 and June across India. Other countries covered in the comparative survey include those in North America, China, Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. The overall sample comprised 95% men and 5% women, with 44% being chief executive officers.

The leadership styles vary within a company, too. The study reveals that as managers move up the ladder, their leadership techniques become more “integrating". One of the reasons for this is the growing need for information at higher levels of management. The more interactive and less formal leadership styles are most effective as they foster an atmosphere which encourages knowledge sharing across the organization.

“The Indian information technology (IT), IT-enabled services, telecommunication, retail and other sunrise sectors are the best examples of interactive leadership style," says Govind Shrikhande, CEO, Shoppers’ Stop Ltd, a retail company. This criticality of information for management is a worldwide trend, and suggests the emergence of a global management culture albeit with regional variations.

While Indian executives are held to be less social, the study found Chinese leaders to have an extreme version of “command and control" style. And none of the executives surveyed from Asia’s emerging markets have achieved the more integrative approach of the best-in-class executives.

“Indian leadership style lies somewhere in-between the participatory style of North Americans and command and control style of Chinese leaders," says Reilly. “This is because Indian businesses are more complex than Chinese ones, but less complex than American organizations and that gets reflected in the leadership style."

As Indian firms globalize, their leaders will develop styles more appropriate for the global stage where they will be required to manage more complex problems and diversified teams, the study predicts. “The increasing number of young employees in the workforce, the average decrease in the age of Indian CEOs, changing customer preferences and market trends are already bringing in changes in Indian leadership style," says Saurav Adhikari, corporate vice-president strategy, HCL Technologies Ltd.

The study, however, reveals that the decision-making style of American and Indian managers are similar behind closed doors. North American leaders are actually more action focused than they present themselves to their organizations.

In emotional competencies, however, Indian business leaders ranked lower than C-level executives in the West. They scored low in ambiguity tolerance, empathy, energy and confidence, all of which impact their interpersonal communication. “We were surprised at the lower ambiguity tolerance, given the cultural diversity in India," says Reilly. “Typically, we expect executives exposed to a lot of uncertainty to have higher scores here," he says.

“Indian leaders are able to handle ambiguity far better than their peers in other countries, since they handle ambiguity in multiple levels—from infrastructure, regulatory, socio-political to cultural," counters Shrikhande.