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 struggle 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 managerial initiative.
One method Lin has considered to fill this gap is leadership self-development. With a self-development program, managers pick up skills through a mix of formal and informal channels, such as learning from a mentor, taking a class, reading a series of specially selected books and articles or undertaking self-reflection on their performance. Self-development programs are cost-efficient, don’t take managers away from their jobs for extended periods of time and can provide leadership skills tailored to a company’s current environment.