Volume 1, Issue 1

Developing Leadership Theory in Asia: The Role of Chinese Philosophy

Jose C. Alves

Charles C. Manz
D. Anthony Butterfield

University of Massachusetts


This paper is about leadership, culture, and theory development. We argue that development of leadership theories in other cultures has to account for philosophical assumptions and frames of reference underpinning those cultures. Specifically, we point out that leadership theory in China has to account for notions of Chinese philosophy. We start our argument by making a case for studying management and leadership from a Chinese perspective. Then we review Western perspectives of management and leadership and introduce the concept of culture to indicate that the notions of management and leadership may have different meanings in different cultures. After this, we present two Chinese approaches to management – socio-behavioral and philosophical approaches – and present several notions of Chinese philosophy. Finally, we illustrate how these notions can be used in interpreting leadership in Asia. Implications and discussion are also presented.


It is not surprising to us that leadership has interested human beings for centuries, as reflected in the works of Confucius, Plato, or Machiavelli, and that leadership has always been a contested terrain (Sorenson, 2000). What surprises us, as Sorenson pointed out, is the fact that despite being an interdisciplinary field, leadership, as taught and studied in North America, has been largely influenced by psychology, social sciences, and business management. Thus, we are interested in knowing why leadership scholars emphasize the behavioral sciences and pay much less attention to the humanities. We are also interested in the role of philosophy in the study of leadership, which seems to be a more central concern for ancient scholars in China, Greece, and Rome. Furthermore, we are especially interested in learning more about why, given the global nature of contemporary business, we do not hear much, and consequently we do not know much, about how other people and cultures approach this issue that in the West is called leadership.

Recently, these concerns were also recognized by James Burns (2005). Burns noted that during the last century leadership emerged as a distinct field of study, mainly in the United States, which is now seen as a multidisciplinary field that is also concerned with ethics and moral orientations. These two interests reveal a general concern of leadership scholars for context and cultural matters.

The study of leadership in Asia has also regained impetus, possibly due to a combination of historical, social, economic, practical, and research conditions. From a historical viewpoint, Spence and Chin (1996) suggested that the 20th Century was the century of China, and we believe that they referred to the significant political, social, cultural, and even economic transformations which China has had since the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. With the entry of China into the World Trade Organization, we speculate that the 21st Century is going to be characterized by an increasing influence of Chinese companies, business persons, and leadership styles in the global economy, and that this will alter existing conceptions of business, management, and organizations, at least as they have been viewed in the West.

At a management and more practical level, we can also see a growing interest in leadership in Asia and China. This may be due to an increasing demand for leadership in Chinese companies (China Daily, 2005) and a general awareness that emerging Asian leaders will likely be shaped by their historical, cultural, and business contexts. Furthermore, also from a practical viewpoint, the importance of doing management and leadership research from an Asian perspective is illustrated at a macro level by recent economic debates between China and the United States. For example, regarding booming textile exports from China to the United States, in 2005, U.S. officials suggested that Chinese currency is undervalued by 15-40% to which the Chinese counterparts responded that the source of U.S. economic difficulties are instead internal (Economist, 2005). But one should look at these debates as also having a cultural dimension. For instance, Chinese businessmen noted that as Chinese companies seek to enter overseas markets, culture becomes the “biggest difficulty” (Lemon, 2005, p. 1).

From a theoretical viewpoint, we are also aware of an increasing interest in organizational research in the Chinese context (e.g., for a review, see Li & Tsui, 2002). One of the reasons for this is that conceptions of management, organizations, and leadership are different in the East and West, and this is largely due to differences between Chinese and Anglo-American cultures (Pun, Chin, & Lau, 2000). Stewart and Bennett (1991) argued that the Chinese way of thinking emphasizes more of the “synthetic” while the Americans focus more on the “analytical” (pp. 43-44). They noted that whereas the American way of thinking is essentially analytical, the Chinese way is “strongly relational and for this reason it lacks clarity from a Western point of view” (Steward & Bennett, 1991, pp. 43-44). Furthermore, added Stewart and Bennett (1991), the Chinese style “lacks the power of precise analysis and abstract classification, but it excels in identification by evoking concreteness, emotion, and commitment to action” (pp. 43-44). In the same line, and taking a more philosophical stand, Hall and Ames (1995) noted that the difference resides on “problematic thinking”; Chinese emphasize analogical and correlative thinking whereas Westerners draw on more causal thinking.

Research Focus

This paper focuses on the reasons that underpin Chinese and Western ways of thinking, and specifically we address the study of leadership from an Asian and Chinese perspective. We are aware that the history and context of China play an important role in the way Chinese understand the notion of leadership, which may not be necessarily the same as in the West, though at times both views seem to draw on similar terms, ideas, and concepts. For instance, it is suggested that the Chinese way of thinking is strongly relational, but the Western literature on transformational leadership also acknowledges the role of social relations. The issue is whether the notion of relations carries the same meaning in China as in the West. We will clarify this throughout the paper. The fact that these issues may be addressed differently in American and Chinese reasoning should not be a surprise since organizational researchers have already suggested that culture (Smircich, 1983) and frames of reference (Shrivastava & Mitroff, 1984) shape ways of thinking of both the researchers and the researched. It seems that a source of difference between ways of thinking is related to culture and frames of reference. As such, we explore these two themes in this paper.

As Western researchers interested in Asia and China, we view the relation between leadership and culture in organizations as informed by globalization matters. In our view, a Chinese perspective of leadership is as much influenced by global business trends as it is a Western perspective. However, we consider that both Chinese and Western perspectives of leadership are distinct and grounded in different cultures and frames of reference. In practice, leaders are aware of environmental forces and able to balance social microcosms by addressing the why of work (charisma) and the way people work (administration) (Kets de Vries & Florent-Treacy, 1999). In other words, leaders in the global business environment have to be sensitive and aware of phenomena occurring at both individual and organizational levels. We view leadership in Asia as consisting of phenomena that are embedded in and shaped by both global and organizational realities.

One research effort interested in leadership and culture is the Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE) program (House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman, & Gupta, 2004). GLOBE is a cross-cultural longitudinal and multi-method research project in 62 nations that investigates the influence of societal culture and organizational culture in organizational leadership (House et al., 2004). As Scandura and Dorfman (2004) pointed out, despite its theoretical and methodological limitations, the GLOBE project showed that culture and leadership are two intricately related organizational dimensions worthy of further research, in particular because it provides evidence that leadership is different across cultures and suggests insights into what ways it may be different. Nevertheless, GLOBE is a project developed by Western educated researchers, and thereby largely influenced by Western perspectives. In contrast, our paper proposes a non-Western perspective of leadership, specifically a Chinese philosophy perspective, to understand the notion of leadership in one country, China.

We recognize GLOBE's significant contribution to the literature through its attempt to unveil the meanings of culture and leadership as understood by local societies. However, it is important to keep in mind that it does so by developing a framework of comparison that is largely Western influenced. That framework allows the characterization, measurement, and identification of leadership patterns within cultures and subsequent comparison across cultures. Its purpose is to find out how leadership is understood (differently) across nations, that is, what cultural values influence leadership practices. In contrast, in this paper we are less concerned with comparing how leadership in China differs from other countries, but rather, our aim is to examine the underlying roots of why leadership in China is different from other nations, namely from the West. In particular, our focus is on understanding the values and realities in China from a Chinese viewpoint rather than identifying cultural values and correspondent leadership patterns, as GLOBE does. As such, we draw on Chinese philosophy literature to reveal underlying conceptual structures of meaning.

Research Purpose

The purpose of this paper is not to argue that different cultures originate different understandings, since this has already been well documented in the West (e.g., Hofstede, 1980; Nisbett, 2003; Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 1988; Said, 1985). The purpose is also not to suggest how to deal with such cultural diversity in organizations which has been the object of extensive research as well (e.g., Gardenswartz, Rowe, Digh, & Bennett, 2003; Jackson & Ruderman, 1995). Instead, this paper is about how people from Asian cultures, specifically Chinese, understand business and management practices and particularly, how they understand leadership. To a certain extent, we can say that our perspective is consistent with Nisbett's (2003) research about how and why Asians and Westerners think differently. Yet our view is different from Nisbett's because, instead of focusing on cognition and psychology as he did, our paper focuses on values and philosophy. A priori we do not consider that the source of those differences is cognitive (psychology). We seek to inform differences in systems of thought by exploring frames of reference and the nature of values (philosophy) in both Asian and Western traditions.

Hereon, we will be using the term framing in the same context as defined by Shrivastava and Mitroff (1984). For them, frame of reference refers to the underlying assumptions of human inquiry and provides “the conceptual schemes, models, or theories and cognitive maps that the inquirer uses to order all information and to make sense of it” (Shrivastava & Mitroff, 1984, p. 19). From a Western viewpoint, frames of reference include societal, ontological, human nature, epistemological, and methodological assumptions (Burrell & Morgan, 1979). However, since the purpose of this discussion is to view leadership from Asian and Chinese perspectives, framing also includes Asian assumptions which, though they may be unknown to us, are essential for an accurate representation of an Asian perspective of the social world. To summarize, the purpose of this project is to explore the frames of reference used by Asian businessmen, particularly Chinese, to make sense of their world and specifically, of leadership.

A clarification is worthy at this point. Fairhurst and Sarr (1996) used the notion of framing in leadership contexts to refer to “a quality of communication that causes others to accept one meaning over another” (p. xi) with three components: language, thought, and forethought. To consider leadership as the creation and management of meaning has been suggested by other management scholars (e.g., Smircich & Morgan, 1982). We concur with Fairhust and Sarr that language is one of the most important components of framing. However, we think that leadership involves more than that. As Hodgkinson (1983) noted, if on the one hand, “the very terrain of leadership is linguistic,” then on the other hand, “the battles fought on that terrain are affective and valuational and the unending work of leadership is not only to mediate and resolve conflict but from time to time to initiate it” (p. 203). Thus, we suggest that the essence of leadership is not only how it happens in practice, for example through language, but also how that practice is framed by people's values and philosophical principles.

Considering that language plays an important role in management, organizations, and leadership demands that we recognize matters of representation, both in practice and theory, in business and academic fields. (For an overview on language and discourse in organizations, see, for example: Grant, Hardy, Oswick, & Putnam, 2004; Putnam & Cooren, 2004). Although this paper does not focus on language per se, we are aware that language is a critical element in the constitution of organizations (Putnam & Cooren, 2004). Thus, how could we then assume similar conceptions of management, organization, and leadership in social contexts that use distinct languages such as the East and West?

So far we have implied that an important source of the difference between Eastern and Western conceptions of management and leadership rests in philosophical principles. As we are particularly interested in how business leaders from Asia understand leadership, we think it is particularly important to learn about leadership through their own voices. To illustrate this, we include, in a later section, testimonies of Asian leaders about their understandings of leadership. Before addressing this qualitative data, however, it is important to explore how management and leadership have been understood in the West.

Management and Leadership in the West

The nature of leadership has long been an object of study in the management field. In this section, we address the relationship between management and leadership, and then we focus on the nature of leadership. For the first part, we revisit the classic historical works of three scholars – Chester I. Barnard, Mary Parker Follet, and Christopher Hodgkinson. We selected these scholars because they all viewed, however differently, leadership and values as essential aspects of management. Furthermore, they represent different scholarly traditions: Barnard represents a top-down rational approach to organizations; Follett, a bottom-up, humanistic perspective; and Hodgkinson, a more integrative and value-laden approach.

Chester Barnard (1886–1961)

Chester Barnard's conception of management, and more specifically in the executive functions, is based on the notion of top-down communication as the way to promote effective cooperation among the organization's constituencies. The degree of cooperation is dependent on the quality of leadership, which is “the name for relatively high personal capacity for both technological attainments and moral complexity, combined with propensity for consistency in conformance to moral factors of the individual” (Barnard, 1938, p. 288). Though Barnard recognized the complexity of cooperation, especially as it expands throughout the world, he assumed that leadership was essentially related with morals, the individual ability to sustain a stable character, and with responsibility, the power of individuals to control their own conduct. Moreover, Barnard considered morality to be deeply rooted in the past which suggests the importance of history and culture in understanding leadership. Last, he pointed out that as cooperation expands to all the world, conflict will necessarily increase simply because such cooperation will evoke multiple moral codes. Again, this signals the possibility of conflicting conceptions in the business world.

Mary Parker Follet (1868–1933)

Mary Parker Follet (1941) considered relatedness as the key concept in management, organizations, and leadership. She was aware that conceptions of leadership reflect distinct definitions of management; her concern about leadership was not to discuss what each theory proposed, but instead, to understand the changes between “old” and “new” theories of leadership. For her, the reason for a renewal of the philosophy of management and leadership theories was the fact that the old philosophy did not address the new “methods of management…new interrelations of duties and responsibilities” (Follet, 1941, p. 255). For example, in commenting about how old theories focused on issues of a leader's “manipulation” of the followers, she argued, “I do not think that this conception can last long now that everyone is studying what they call applied psychology; for if employers can learn how to manipulate employees, employees can learn how to manipulate employers, and where are we then?” (Follet, 1941, p. 252).

For Follet, leadership is all about inter-relatednes, and it goes to those who are able to find relational significance from everyone's experiences. The leader is anyone “who can organize the experience of the group, make it all available and most effectively available, and thus get the full power of the group. It is by organizing experience that we transform experience into power” (Follet, 1941, p. 258). While the leader's functions are to coordinate, define purpose, and anticipate, Follett pointed out that the essence of leadership is “not to make decisions for his subordinates, but to teach them how to handle their problems themselves” (Follet, 1941, p. 282). In short, leadership should not be conceptualized so much as “leaders persuading people to follow them,” but more as “training people to work with.” Follett's idea of the leader “is the man who is the expression of a harmonious and effective unity which he has helped to form and which he is able to make a fair going” (p. 267), which she called multiple leadership or diffuse leadership.

Christopher Hodgkinson (1928-)

Similar to the previous two scholars, Christopher Hodgkinson is also interested in the relation between management and leadership, but at the same time, he explicitly refers to philosophy. He starts by asking “what does it mean to be an administrator, a man-of-action, in the last part of the twentieth century? And, further, what can it mean? What ought it to mean? In short, a philosophy of leadership” (Hodgkinson, 1983, p. v).

Hodgkinson draws on Dimock's notion of administration as being “wedded to subjects as philosophy, literature, history, and art, and not merely to engineering, finance, and structure.” Moreover, “administrators become increasingly human and philosophical, capable of planning ongoing programs which meet human needs and aspirations, when they are unified by areas of knowledge and skill which stress man's humanity and his philosophical insights” (Dimock, 1958, p. 5; cited in Hodgkinson, 1983, pp. 9-10).

Administration and management, noted Hodgkinson (1983), are distributed along a continuum, with values on one side and facts on the other, that represents three realities. On one extreme pole, those who see reality as based on facts, tend to focus on materiality, managing, and monitoring processes. On the other pole, those who see reality as mostly based on values, tend to focus on ideas, philosophy, and planning. In the middle ground, there are those who see reality based on a mix of facts and values and tend to focus on people, politics, and mobilizing.

Concerned about the representation of such subjectivities, Hodgkinson (1983) mentioned that “we need to be clear about the language games of the three realities, so that, as Wittgenstein would say, our intelligence is not bewitched by language” (p. 78). More specifically, he adds later, the issue is that higher order values “have for certain men the property of transmuting their forms of life, investing them with meaning, giving to them an absoluteness, which carries them beyond the relativity of individual circumscription. . . . Such influence, whether directly or at many removes can be powerful and overwhelming” (Hodgkinson, 1983, p. 118). The administrator should be aware that these “ideologies enter into reality through individual actors and organizational psychology” thus the administrator “must constantly be aware of his value environment and be conscious of his own values, his own form of life” (p. 119). What does all this mean for leadership? Hodgkinson (1983) stated that “leadership can never be understood unless the problem of value is incorporated into its study” (p. 191).

Finally, he recognizes that people do not need to solve value conflicts, but simply live with the resulting affective tension and, if necessary, consider the possibility of inaction (Hodgkinson, 1983). Moreover, “the analysis of affect is but one of the leader's obligations; to be able to control his own affect is another. The latter may be much more difficult than the former [and has] the potential for greater harm” (Hodgkinson, 1983, p. 209).

To sum up, we have reviewed how three classic Western scholars considered management, organizations, and leadership as a whole interrelated phenomena. In the next section, we focus particularly on how leadership has been understood in the West.

The Nature of Leadership

Antonakis et al. (2004) consider leadership to be “purpose driven, resulting in change based on values, ideals, vision, symbols, and emotional exchanges” and management to be “objectives driven, resulting in stability based on rationality, bureaucratic means, and the fulfillment of contractual obligations” (p. 5). This interesting contrast implies that leadership is based on purpose, change, and emotions and that management is based on objectives, stability, and rationality. This contrast could evoke the debate about social order/change and epistemology, which when pursued, may raise challenges to the way this distinction has been framed. Specifically, what kind of change are they referring to? If their notion of leadership-driven change is defined as managerial change, then it may be a kind of change that is objective and guided toward social stability. If their notion of leadership-driven change is defined as ideals-emotion change, then it may be a kind of change that is subjective and guided toward social change. Regardless of the answers that we may assign to these questions, it seems that both leadership and management (as described above and by other scholars) are concepts grounded in practice and that there is a fine line dividing both.

In the West, leadership has long been treated as a global field of study borrowing from Eastern and Western classic teachings including Aristotlean, Confucian, and Buddhism, and more recent ones such as Machiavelli and Hobbes (Burns, 2005). Initial leadership studies focused on major historical figures, such as Buddha, Mohammed, Gandhi, or Churchill, but the discussion of leadership as a process may have been originated by Machiavelli in the 16th Century (Smith & Peterson, 1988). A more systematic analysis of leadership, added Smith and Peterson, may have only been advanced by Max Weber in early last century.

For Weber (1946), leadership rested in three possible sources (“ideal-types”) of authority: charismatic authority, reflected personal characteristics; traditional authority, referred to compliance with norms and forms of conduct; and legal authority, which resulted from functional “duty of office.” Since Weber, research on leadership has developed more systematically, giving way to an array of theoretical perspectives and conceptual definitions (cf. Bass & Stodgill, 1990; Yukl, 2002).

We think that it is important not only to be aware of existing research streams and definitions of leadership, but also to understand their nature, that is, their underlying assumptions. Recently, Antonakis, Cianciolo, and Sternberg (2004) reviewed the field of leadership studies (in the West) and suggested that

Leadership can be defined as the nature of the influencing process – and its resultant outcomes – that occurs between a leader and followers and how this influencing process is explained by the leader's dispositional characteristics, and behaviors, follower perceptions and attributions of the leader, and the context in which the influencing process occurs. (p. 5)

We concur with Antonakis et al. (2004) that leadership is essentially a process of influence; however, we think that a clear understanding of this process is needed. Given Antonakis et al.'s definition, it is important to know more, for example, about dispositions. What is the nature of such dispositions: Are they an individual and/or collective phenomena? Are they stable and/or volatile? How do they change and/or evolve? Furthermore, what is the nature of the relation between dispositions and behavior? Do perceptional and attribution processes occur at conscious and/or unconscious levels? What is the nature of these processes and how do they develop? What is the nature of context, that is, how should we conceptualize it? And more important for this paper, do these influence processes differ between Asia and the West?

The history of leadership studies in the West is presented elsewhere (e.g., Bass & Stodgill, 1990; Yukl, 2002), and it is not our purpose to provide such a review here. Instead we refer to the major schools of thought of leadership studies in the twentieth century. According to Antonakis et al. (2004), the traditional schools include the trait, behavioral, contingency, relational, skeptical, cognitive, and the neo-charismatic or transformational. Additionally, contemporary leadership studies are also interested in broader societal and contextual issues such as hierarchy, gender, organizational characteristics, ethics, cognition, and intelligence; some even suggest the integration-hybridization of leadership theories (Antonakis et al., 2004). Note that the interest of leadership scholars in ethics reveals a renewed concern for values and philosophical principles.

To conclude, regardless of the approach adopted, we believe that the nature of leadership can generally be described as a social phenomena that is “simultaneously a purposive activity and a dialogical relationship ” (Barker, Johnson, & Lavalette, 2001, p. 5). Barker et al. described leadership as consisting of “activity” because it is concerned with the intellectual and practical activities of organizing. It is dialogical because it is part of a process with ongoing conversations. It is also purposive because the act of influencing involves identification of people with purposes. Having defined the notion of leadership in the West, we need now to understand how Western researchers have addressed it in relation to culture.

The Relation between Culture, Management, and Leadership

In this section, we explore Western research on management and leadership that has considered the role of culture. Our purpose is not to provide an exhaustive review of the literature, but merely to point out that culture has been recognized as a differentiating factor in management and leadership activities. We first discuss the relation between management and culture and then between leadership and culture.

Management and Culture

Among the most influential research on management and culture is the work done by Hofstede (1980, 1983, 1991). Hofstede's main argument is that national cultures differ and they influence the way people think about their social world, namely about management. He considered culture as “collective mental programming: it is that part of our conditioning that we share with other members of our nation, region, or group, but not with members of other nations, regions, or groups” (Hofstede, 1983, p. 76). Despite providing this definition, Hofstede (1983) acknowledged that there is no commonly accepted definition of culture. Nevertheless, he concluded that research could find differences between cultures. This is an interesting point. Though there is no agreed definition of culture, for Hofstede, it is still possible to seek cultural differences. We suggest that these differences may be understood in terms of frames of reference, that is, according to guiding principles and assumptions that people use to make sense of their social world.

It is important to note that Hofstede's (1983) four dimensions of culture do not constitute a definition of culture but simply an instrument to show that cultures differ. Yet, Hoftstede's intent is not only to show that cultures are different, but also that management theories are understood differently across countries (Hofstede, 1993). The primary point is that societies are different and each generates its own concepts, including leadership and culture itself. Hofstede's work opens up the discussion about the role of culture in other management areas. In this paper, we are particularly interested in the relation between culture and leadership.

Leadership and Culture

Regarding the relation between leadership and culture, “we should not take for granted that models and theories developed in one place will work similarly in another” because leadership behaviors are largely influenced by societal and organizational cultures (Den Hartog & Dickson, 2004, p. 277). Moreover, most Western leadership research, which suffers from a North American bias, may not have much relevance to explain leadership in other cultures (Den Hartog & Dickson, 2004), a view that is shared with other management researchers (e.g., Boyacigiller & Adler, 1991; Hoftstede, 1993; House, 1995).

Den Hartog and Dickson (2004) promoted the development of research on leadership and culture, particularly “large-scale comparative studies involving comparable samples from many different countries” (p. 278). They suggested that such studies should try to overcome methodological limitations, namely measurement invariance (reliability of the measurement), language issues (translation of instruments), and sampling (difficulty in defining populations). We agree with Den Hartog and Dickson regarding the need to extend research on leadership and culture. Yet, we go one step further to suggest that such research can also consider and explain differences between cultures and frames of reference. We think that comparative studies should try to overcome not only methodological limitation, but also be explicit about assumptions of the theoretical frameworks used. In this way, we will be able to understand the degree of explanatory power of comparative studies as well as their cultural groundings.

This paper addresses precisely this matter. As researchers, we have our own cultural biases and preferences, and we should try to account for them when studying leadership in contexts with which we are not familiar. Therefore, if we are to understand leadership in China, we have to learn more about Chinese culture and frames of reference.

Chinese Perspective on Management and Leadership

This section discusses four ideas that we think are relevant to understanding management and leadership from a Chinese perspective. First, we are interested in learning about what Chinese scholars think about the concept of management and whether they see it as having the same meaning as in the West. Then, we would like to know more about two major approaches to Chinese management (social-cultural and philosophical) and the extent that they have been used in research. Specifically, we are interested in learning about Chinese philosophy and exploring its relation to Chinese culture and frames of reference. Last, as we are interested in the practice of leadership, we wish to know how Chinese and Asian businessmen understand the notion of leadership and whether it reflects philosophical principles.

The Nature of Chinese Management

In a study about the conception of “management” from a Chinese perspective in the context of Singapore, Lee (1987) mentioned that the concept of “management” is almost always based on Western assumptions. Western organization theory, according to Lee (1987), draws heavily on Maslow's view of the individual giving advice on how to protect self-esteem and achieve self-actualization. When this Western view is used in non-Western contexts, it tends to misrepresent non-Western understandings. The research area that is particularly keen to the study of such misrepresentations is Orientalism, which was advanced by Edward Said. To Said (1985), Orientalism refers to the study of Eastern societies and cultures by Westerners that is mostly based on European experiences.

For Lee (1987), the main concern with Chinese management research originating in the West is not that they do not recognize differences between Eastern and Western cultures, which they do. The issue is that those studies do not capture and represent the underlying Eastern philosophical assumptions, and as such, end up underrepresenting or misrepresenting Asian conceptions of management and organization theory. She suggested that Asian writers have been “explain[ing] Chinese behaviors using Western theoretical notions” thus being “unable to transcend the dominant mode of western organizational theory” (Lee, 1987, p. 6).

In short, Chinese scholars recognize that the notion of management in China is different from the West. However, because they often draw on Western frameworks, they are unable to come up with a more genuine Chinese perspective of management. Before discussing how researchers could overcome this issue, it is important that we know more about the most common approaches to Chinese management research.

Chinese Social-cultural Approach to Management

The Chinese and the Western socio-cultural approaches to management may be distinguished in several aspects including needs, norms, relationships, family role, decision making, change, cognition, and structures of reasoning (Lee, 1987). To understand Chinese management from a socio-cultural perspective, we should look at these aspects as a whole rather than to its constitutive elements. We provide here a brief overview of each of these socio-cultural aspects and try to show how they are interrelated.

When contrasting human needs of Westerners and Chinese, the former tends to consider their utmost need for self-actualization of the individual, whereas the latter consider it to be self-actualization in the service of society (Lee, 1987). The importance of the collective over the individual is also revealed in the Chinese notion of face, which represents prestige and moral character in social relations. Additionally, Chinese social relations are seen as developing over time rather than being merely based on transactional circumstances. In this regard, the concept of family has a primary role in socializing and professionalizing.

Moreover, according to Lee (1987), Chinese consider that intuition plays an important role in decision making. In the same line, she added that Chinese emphasize the role of informal structures and minimal management control in organizational life. Thus, to the Chinese, it is not surprising that “everything is continuously changing…not only the events…but also the rules governing those events” (Lee, 1987, p. 44). In terms of cognition, Chinese place more emphasis on intuitive, sense-making, and non-abstract processes than Westerners. This helps explain why Chinese and Westerners also have different structures of reasoning across disciplines, professions, cultures, and individuals (Lee, 1987).

The influence of these aspects of Chinese culture on management practices in Chinese organizations has also been suggested by other Chinese scholars. For example, Pun, Chin, and Lau (2000) observed that Chinese management and organizations are shaped by collective orientation, social relations, paternalistic approach, and acceptance of hierarchy.

Chinese Philosophical Approach to Management

In addition to the socio-cultural approach to Chinese management, Lee (1987) also proposed two philosophical perspectives, one based on Confucianism and another on Taoism and Buddhism. The Confucianism path to management emphasizes the notion of self-cultivation and a concern for human relationships that is more subjective than in the West, where organization and work tend to be objectified. From a Confucianist viewpoint, self-cultivation represents the “full development of personality and sensitivity to people's feelings” (Lee, 1987, p. 30). Interestingly, Lee referred specifically to self-cultivation in the management context as the “task of both leaders and subordinates. Leaders are the role models of social order. Managers are to maintain the social harmony” (Lee, 1987, p. 30).

The Taoism and Buddhism path to management emphasizes the process of organizing as “following the nature” and as the “combination of conditions.” From this perspective, management is viewed as a more holistic process with particular characteristics, such as “action is by not action; leader is the follower; change is not strategically planned but suddenly ‘enlightenment'. The manager is not to control but to reflect like a mirror, to flow like the water, and to allow like nature” (Lee, 1987, p. 31).

Whereas Western management thinking is based on rationality, control, and planning, the Taoism/Buddhism management thinking is more intuitive and contextual, in which “self” and “time” also have distinct meanings. Moreover, the “self,” or human being, is simply a manifestation of a Universal Self and individuals do not exist in isolation, as in Western thinking. As such, observes Lee (1987), Chinese have a different “sense of self-dignity compared to the West.” In regard to “time,” Westerners consider that time is linear, but the Chinese consider that “time is cyclical” (p. 32).

Based on these two approaches to Chinese management, “the concepts of organization, management, leadership, structure, environment, etc. will be very different from the existing dominant Western organization” (Lee, 1987, p. 33). When comparing both, it is argued that the social-cultural approach to management has been more developed than the philosophical one, perhaps because it borrows methodology from behavioral science (Lee, 1987). In our view, this may not be a surprise given that most management researchers have backgrounds grounded in behavioral sciences rather than humanities. As implied in this paper, we think that philosophy plays an important role in framing social reality and in understanding management concepts from a Chinese perspective. Therefore, we provide in the next section a brief introduction to some notions of Chinese philosophy.

Notions of Chinese Philosophy

Chinese philosophy is rich and complex. In this paper we introduce the following six streams/concepts of Chinese philosophy: philosophy of change, philosophy of human nature, philosophy of knowledge, philosophy of culture, philosophy of governance, and the Yin Yang concept. We selected these topics because, in our view, they parallel areas of Western philosophy that are commonly included in debates about management theory, namely nature of society, human nature, ontology, epistemology, and methodology (Burrell & Morgan, 1979).

A common thread among these six concepts of Chinese philosophy is the idea of cosmos. In this context, cosmos refers to a multiple-ordered world – the “emergence of the ten thousand things”; this contrasts with the Western perspective where cosmos refers to a single-ordered world (Hall & Ames, 1995, pp. 11-12). Note that, according to Hall and Ames, in the West, the alternative to cosmos is chaos (unordered world), whereas in China, the alternative to cosmos is still cosmos (ordered world). We present first the philosophy of change because of its marked influence in Chinese thought.

Philosophy of change. As Cheng (2003a) noted, the philosophy of change, called Yijin , refers to a comprehensive system of cosmology, culture, and ethics. The observational process that allows us to comprehend the world is called guan.

Guan involves an attitude of detachment and what can be described as tranquility and receptivity. It is a sense of seeking understanding and learning things without forcing any prior theoretical model onto nature and without being impeded by emotions and desires. It is not quite phenomenology in the sense of Husserl's conscious ‘bracketing-off', nor is it an objectivist methodology of attempting to capture the essences of objects exclusive of the feeling, perceiving mind. Guan can perhaps be described as seeing the natural world in terms of large and minute changes and relationships, on the basis of our general experiences of nature. . . . We may call guan phenomenological observation or a natural phenomenological method as opposed to either rational scientific methodology or the phenomenology of rationality. (Cheng, 2003a, p. 518)

Thus, in Chinese philosophy, the notion of change is, from a Western view, atheoretical because it is grounded in practice, as well as it is both subjective and objective since it allows space for emotions and experiences. Cheng (2003a) also suggested that “yijing began as a book of divination” and clarified that

Divination is not a philosophy, but it has an underlying philosophy or logic. The underlying logic is that divination should be seen as indicating both the limitations of the human condition and its freedom of decision and action. On the one hand, a human being is limited by its situation and even by his own purposes, and the future is not dictated by his wishes. On the other hand, he can seek knowledge of the future or a way of understanding its possibilities and can make his own decisions. Divination provides at once a way to reveal limitations in one's life and a way to change one's situation by acting appropriately. (Cheng, 2003a, p. 519)

From a Western viewpoint, one could say that divination refers to, what we call in organization theory, the duality between agency (freedom of decision and action) and structure (limitations of the human condition). Change occurs in the intersection of these two.

Philosophy of human nature. In Chinese philosophy, there are at least five different views of human nature. However, they all “relate to the ethical and political ideals and cosmological views” (Shun, 2003, p. 556). The previous discussion of philosophy of change reflects much of this ontocosmological view. Man is always seen in interrelation to the experiences of nature, his actions are shaped with situations, and his wishes with possibilities. It is this unity between individuals and cosmos that defines Chinese human nature as opposed to, in the West, where human nature is seen as centered in the individual.

Philosophy of knowledge. To start, one should understand that “there is no Chinese epistemology in precisely the Western sense” (Cheng, 2003b, p. 558). In fact, Chinese epistemology differs according to the schools of thought, since it follows

a model of observational ontoepistemology in the Zhouyi to an epistemology of virtues in Confucianism and an epistemology of the ontocosmological dao in Daoism. With regard to meta-epistemology, we can see that Chinese epistemology is dominated by an ontoepistemology with a universal, shared experience and faith in a reality that precludes skepticism. (Cheng, 2003b, p. 568)

This suggests various particularities of Chinese epistemology: observation, virtues, dao (the way), and belief in realism (as opposed to idealism). Cheng concluded his review of Chinese philosophy of knowledge stating that

if we are to construct and integrate a comprehensive theory of knowledge that can achieve unity of reality and reason, unity of knowledge and action, and unity of knowledge and valuation – which intrinsically and extrinsically are important – there is much we can learn from the epistemological tradition and the various forms of knowing in Chinese philosophy. (Cheng: 2003b, p. 568-9)

In short, Cheng argued that Chinese epistemology can provide an integration of perspectives that, in the West, are known as realism and idealism, theory and practice, existing know-how and ongoing learning.

Philosophy of culture. According to Neville (2003), “philosophy of culture is a Western category that has no exact Chinese counterpart” (p. 525). Culture is “the sum of conventions that shape the natural endowments so that they can be fulfilled and together fulfill the human” and are “encompassed under the notion of ritual propriety (li )” (Neville, 2003, pp. 526-527). The concept of li represents guiding principles that derive from inherited rituals and conventions. Specifically, from a Confucianist view, culture is grounded in principled action as (a) it emphasizes the social situation and context, (b) it considers that civilization is achieved through rituals, and (c) it promotes the practicing of rituals in all occasions. The importance of practice and experience in Chinese philosophy requires that we also introduce philosophy of governance.

Philosophy of governance. Angle (2003) noted that Chinese philosophy of governance revolves around three questions: (a) how a state should be organized and governed, (b) what are the goals of governance, and (c) how can answers to the previous question be justified. Yet, forms of governance differ according to schools of thought. For example, while Guanzi and Mozi advocated for governance based on objective standards, respectively “carrot and stick” and utilitarian forms, Anaclets and Mencius suggested a softer, “humane government.” In contrast Daodejing suggests a nature and nonaction approach, whereas, for example, Xunzi suggests that governance should be done through transforming, educating people. From a Western viewpoint, we might associate these approaches to utilitarianism, humanism, and individual development. Yet, they are not exactly the same since the Western schools of thought are related to Western philosophical concepts. This idea of relatedness begs us to discuss the Yin Yang concept.

Yin and Yang. Ames (2003) stated that “Yin and yang are terms used to express a contrastive relationship that obtains between two or more things” (p. 846). This may not be completely new since, as we have seen above, it is present in most of the Chinese philosophy concepts. In particular,

Yinyang explains how one thing stands in relation to another, and hence can be described as expressing a correlation between them. [. . .] yin and yang suggest the interdependence of proximate things in the world [. . .] yinyang became a pervasive way of understanding how all things are related to each other, and it sets a pattern for the vocabulary used to articulate this understanding. (Ames, 2003, p. 846)

The yin and yang is a concept used not only to help representing “parts” of the world, but also to suggest ways of how these parts may be correlated. For example, as Ames noted, in Classical Chinese philosophy there is no distinction between “reality” and “appearance,” which contrasts with the Western idea that “objective knowledge is truth; subjective knowledge is mere opinion” (Ames, 2003, p. 847). Likewise, we could suggest that Chinese and Western philosophies are somehow related because both are concerned with similar questions, yet they are different and, as Cheng (2003b) suggested, possibly even complementary.

Table 1 presents the summary of concepts of Chinese philosophy introduced above and contrasts them with Western philosophy (Burrell & Morgan, 1979). Our purpose here is to point out how Chinese and Western philosophies provide different frames of reference for understanding the social world. Moreover, the combination of different philosophy concepts gives place to distinct frames of reference or paradigms. For example, Burrell and Morgan (1979) suggested four sociological paradigms in organization theory: functionalism, interpretivism, radical humanist, and radical structuralism. We do not know what may be the Chinese paradigms that result from Chinese philosophy. However, we think that they should not be necessarily the same as the Western paradigms, simply because they are based on different conceptions of the world.

In the following section, we revisit what Asian leaders think about their leadership and discuss possible understandings of the concept.

Table 1
Concepts of Chinese and Western philosophy

Chinese Philosophy

Western Philosophy
(Adapted from Burrell & Morgan, 1979)

Philosophy of change (Yijin). Refers to a comprehensive system of cosmology, culture, and ethics. Guan is the process used to observe changes and is grounded in practice. It is both subjective and objective, for it allows space for emotions and experiences. Change is seen as divination which provides a way to reveal limitations in one's life and a way to change one's situation by acting appropriately (cf., Western concepts of agency and structure).

Philosophy of human nature, an ontocosmological view. Man is seen in interrelation to the experiences of nature, his actions are shaped with situations, and his wishes with possibilities. It is this unity between individuals and cosmos that defines Chinese human nature as opposed in the West where human nature is seen as centered in the individual.

Philosophy of knowledge. There are several schools of thought, including observational ontoepistemology in the Zhouyi, epistemology of virtues in Confucianism, and an epistemology of the ontocosmological dao in Daoism. A theory of knowledge that considers the unity of reality and reason, unity of knowledge and action, and unity of knowledge and valuation.

Philosophy of culture. Based essentially on the concept of li that refers to guiding principles deriving from inherited rituals and conventions. From a Confucianist view, culture is grounded in principled action as (a) it emphasizes the social situation and context, (b) it considers that civilization is achieved through rituals, and (c) it promotes the practicing of rituals in all occasions.

Philosophy of governance. Guanzi and Mozi advocated for governance based on objective standards. Anaclets and Mencius suggested a “humane government.” Daodejing suggested a nature and nonaction approach. Xunzi suggested that governance should be done through transforming, educating people (references included in Burrell & Morgan, 1979).

Yin Yang. Explains the interdependence of proximate things in the world.

Nature of society. Society is seen as stable or not. The regulatory or ordered perspectives seek to explain society in terms of unity and cohesion, where small changes lead to equilibrium. The radical change and conflict views seek to explain society in terms of deep-seated structural conflicts, domination, and contradictions.

Human nature. Often seen from voluntarist and determinist perspectives. Voluntarists believe that a person has free will when determining what to believe in. Determinists hold that each state of affairs is necessitated (determined) by all the states of affairs that came before it.

Ontology. The metaphysical study of the nature of being and existence. Reality is considered as ranging from subjective perspectives (reality is dependent on thought) to objective perspectives (reality is independent of thought).

Epistemology. The study of the nature of knowledge. Positivists consider all knowledge as based on perceptual experience (physical, material world), whereas anti-positivists accept science as based on intuition or revelation (metaphysical, nonmaterial world).

Methodology. Two main viewpoints are considered. The nomothetic view involves the search for abstract universal principles. The ideographic is concerned with discrete or unique facts or events.

Asian Perspectives of Leadership

We have drawn on interviews of Asian leaders (Appendix) made by Heidrick and Struggles (2004). The issue addressed in this paper emerges precisely at this stage. As Westerners, how can one understand others' views without knowing the others' lenses of analysis? To find out emerging themes without knowing the concepts that individuals use to make sense of the world is, in our view, to misrepresent the actual conception of leadership in Asia. Thus, we ask readers to suspend judgment about Asian leadership until we learn about such concepts. In our view, these concepts should be developed from Eastern philosophy and preferably by Asian scholars, possibly by using the philosophical concepts suggested above.

Yet, from our Western viewpoint, the following themes seem to be evoked in the interviews of Asian leaders: (a) the importance of having leadership models, watching and listening to other people; (b) the need for reflection and self-judgment; (c) the need for balancing stability and rejuvenation; (d) the ambivalent value between useful Western experiences and irrelevant Western know-how; (e) the awareness of social positions and time dimensions; and (f) the importance of the whole community.

These themes seem to reflect some principles of Chinese philosophy delineated above. First, the emphasis on leadership models and Western experiences denotes a concern for the “general experiences of nature.” Second, reflection, self-judgment, and irrelevant Western know-how signal how Chinese make sense of the relation between man and nature, individuals and reality. Third, stability and rejuvenation reflect Chinese concern for change and process. Fourth, time and space reveal a sense of whole and cosmos. However, we would like to emphasize that this is merely our interpretation as Western researchers, and the emerging themes might not be the same if this exercise were done by Asians. Thus, once again, we suggest that readers suspend judgment until we have a much better grasp of management and leadership from Asian, Chinese perspectives.

Discussion and Implications

We have argued that development of leadership theory should be more explicit about its frames of reference. Westerners, in general, will benefit from an increased awareness of a tendency toward a western bias in leadership theory as well as an increased openness to understanding the differences in Eastern cultures. In addition, non-western researchers will benefit from trying to conduct more research on national cultures of a comparative nature from a non-Western perspective. We recommend that both Eastern and Western researchers attempt to more clearly communicate their philosophical assumptions in terms of ontology, human nature, epistemology, and methodology.

Ontology versus Ontocosmology

Western ontology usually considers reality from objective or subjective viewpoints. The former refers to realist and the latter to nominalist perspectives (Burrell & Morgan, 1979). In contrast, Chinese ontocosmology is not only concerned with the relation between reality and human thought, whether subjective or objective, but also with the general experiences of nature. The meaning of human nature in China is better understood as ontocosmology rather than as ontology. Future research will benefit from the development of concepts that address this Chinese philosophical dimension (see, for example: Hall & Ames, 1995, 1998; Wang, 2004).

Thus, for example, to more accurately conceptualize leadership from a Chinese viewpoint, we have to consider both objectivity and subjectivity, and in particular, how these relate to change. In turn, change has to account for both the limitations (determinism) and the freedom (voluntarism) inherent to human action. As such, theorizing about leadership in China follows from a broader, more synthetic understanding of reality than in the West. In our view, Burns' (2005) call for multidisciplinarity and broadening of social issues in leadership studies, is a recognition of the importance of more encompassing approaches.

Objectivism versus subjectivism. Antonakis, Schriesheim, Donovan, Gopalakrishna-Pillai, Pellegrini, and Rossomme (2004) recognized that knowledge can be created from objectivist and subjectivist perspectives, yet they strongly advocate the use of the former because they believe that it provides rigorous and testable theories, while the latter eventually may lead us astray to false beliefs. In a different line of thought, Kets de Vries (2001, 2004) noted that leadership is characterized by rational and irrational behaviors, facts and emotions, and objectivity and subjectivity. This perspective seems more aligned with Chinese philosophy, as illustrated in the Chinese notions of action/non-action in governance and rituals/situation in culture. We believe that leadership studies would benefit significantly from considering both objectivity and subjectivity.

Epistemology versus ontoepistemology versus dao. The ways that Chinese and Westerners create knowledge and make sense of the world are quite distinct. For Chinese, epistemology is viewed as a unity of reality and reason, knowledge and action, and knowledge and valuation. For Westerners, epistemology is either thought of from a positivist perspective as perceptual experience or as non-experiential or anti-positivist (Burrell & Morgan, 1979). This means that for the Chinese, the nature of knowledge is actually a phenomenon encompassing thought, action, knowledge, and valuation. Thus, if we are to theorize about Chinese leadership, we have to integrate all these elements.

Qualitative versus quantitative methods. Nisbett (2003) noted that when he and his colleagues studied the values of Eastern and Western students at the Beijing University and at the University of Michigan by using values' surveys (quantitative method), they found that Easterners revealed stronger Western values than the Westerners. In his view, the “odd results are probably partly due to the fact that value checklists, and even attitude scales, are not very good ways of getting values” (Nisbett, 2003, p. 222). The study was then repeated using scenarios (qualitative methods) depicting values from both cultures instead of values' surveys, and the results were consistent with Western research. According to Nisbett, surveys may be a good way to learn about the future if people are asked about what they would do or intend to do in certain situations, but they may not be as useful for learning about the present. The point we want to make here is that (qualitative) stories may be a better way to understand people's perspectives than to rely on (quantitative) surveys. In our view, this happens because stories retain an openness to interpretation of the situational context of research, whereas surveys tend to enclose and bound it.

Moreover, as shown in some studies on “exceptional leaders” in business (e.g., Kets de Vries & Florent-Treacy, 1999) or major historical figures (e.g., Gardner & Laskin, 1995), the narrative genre can be a particularly strong and evocative form of research in leadership studies. We think that this may be a particularly powerful method for approaching leadership in China, at least from a Western viewpoint, since it encourages opening up to new interpretations and allows a better grasp of the field.

To sum up, we started this paper by making a case for studying management and leadership from a Chinese perspective. We then reviewed Western perspectives of management and leadership, and in particular, we focused on the nature of leadership from a Western viewpoint. Additionally, we introduced the concept of culture to indicate that the notions of management and leadership may have different meanings in different cultures. Then we presented two Chinese approaches to management. The socio-behavioral approach being more developed than the philosophical one, possibly because of the background of management researchers. After this, we introduced several notions of Chinese philosophy and illustrated how they can be used in interpreting leadership in Asia. However, as Westerners, we refrained from providing a Chinese interpretation of leadership. Instead, our purpose was only to suggest ways to begin to more accurately get at a Chinese perspective on the subject.

This paper has theoretical and practical implications. Theoretically, we think that the study of leadership in China needs to account for social and cultural assumptions that are grounded in Chinese philosophy. In other words, we need to understand the Chinese frames of reference. We think that developing Chinese concepts of management, organization and leadership are necessary to understand the Chinese perspective. The introduction of Eastern perspectives in the West will allow broader theorization and ultimately a better understanding of management and organization theories in other parts of the world. This will have implications at the practical level. Chinese managers will be able to better articulate their views of leadership by using Chinese concepts. In turn, Western managers will be more aware of Chinese ways of doing business and ultimately may need to change their business practices.

About the Authors

José C. Alves is a doctoral student in organizational studies at the Isenberg School of Management, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA. His research interests are leadership, international management, and Chinese management. He has lived several years in Macau, China, where he worked as teacher, researcher, and academic affairs coordinator at the Macau Inter-University Institute, China.

Email: ja@som.umass.edu

Dr. Charles C. Manz earned his Ph.D. in organization behavior from The Pennsylvania State University and is currently, the Nirenberg Professor of Business Leadership in the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA. Formerly a Marvin Bower Fellow at the Harvard Business School, he is a speaker, consultant, and bestselling author of over 200 articles and scholarly papers and 20 books including Fit to Lead, The New SuperLeadership, Mastering Self-Leadership and Foreword Magazine's best book-of-the-year Gold Award winner, Emotional Discipline.

Email: cmanz@som.umass.edu

Dr. D. Anthony Butterfield earned his Ph.D. in organizational psychology from the University of Michigan and currently is professor of organizational behavior in the Department of Management at the Isenberg School of Management, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, USA. He has spent several years of his career living and teaching abroad, and recently served as co-chair of the June 2005 International Eastern Academy of Management conference, “Managing in a Global Economy,” in Cape Town, South Africa. Dr. Butterfield's research interests center on issues of leadership and gender.

Email: dabutter@mgmt.umass.edu


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The Asian Leadership Perspective by Heidrick & Struggles (2004)


In a series of interviews about Asian leadership perspectives, business executives were asked, among other things, about their leadership philosophies and how these had developed (Heidrick & Struggles, 2004). (Bolds are our emphasis.)

  1. When asked about his leadership philosophy, Yang Yuanqing, president and CEO of Legend Group (Beijing), mentioned that the company has

    created an open organizational architecture in which the senior executives value employees, model positive behaviors and set good examples by being open, honest, decisive and ethical in all of our dealings. . . . one of the most important attributes of leadership is excellence in communication, both within the company and externally. As to the individual qualities that make up a leader, I believe some of them are born with and others are developed later through studying others who are successful in leading – both individuals and corporations. . . . I have also studied the examples of Western leaders such as Jack Welch . . . and many others. (Heidrick & Struggles, 2004, p. 8)

  2. Frank Ning, chairman of China Resources Enterprise Ltd. ( Hong Kong ), stated:

    Leaders do two things: One is establish direction to the company, based on their knowledge and vision for the business. Second, and most important, is to manage the people and manage the organization. . . . Building a leadership philosophy is very much a reflection of your view of yourself and of your own behaviors. (Heidrick & Struggles, 2004, p. 11)

    In the early stages, you learn to judge yourself . . . . The only way we can learn to be a leader or improve our abilities at leadership is to have new challenges and to do our best to meet them. . . . It is difficult to judge someone on anything except his actual performance, because everybody has their own leadership style and formula for working with people. . . . The problem is, how do you evaluate these [leadership] attributes? It is not so much a science as it is a feeling, assessing other people. (Heidrick & Struggles, 2004, p. 11)

  3. Victor Fung, chairman of Li & Fung Ltd. ( Hong Kong ), noted:

    My philosophy is one of learning and evolving with the environment. . . . [in the company] we have had to create a balance between the need for stability, so people can work productively, and the need to rejuvenate the company almost continuously. (Heidrick & Struggles, 2004, p. 15)

    [As trainee with the Citibank, at the age of 24, I learned] “how entrepreneurial each unit could operate within such a huge, global organization . . . but then I had to chose between getting my doctorate or continuing as an entrepreneur, and I decided to be an academic, so I gave the business up. . . When I came back to China, I had spent almost 10 years unlearning what I had learned at the business school in the West. . . . [Yet,] my business school background and the experience of teaching in a business environment enabled me to think longer term and set long-term goals.” (Heidrick & Struggles, 2004, pp. 15-16)

  4. Margie Yang, Chairman and CEO of Esquel Group ( Hong Kong ), said:

    My task is to apply what I have learned from business school and my years of working in the West toward establishing a platform of strong management. . . . I have been very much influenced by my family, because my father is in industry and my maternal grandfather also was a businessman in the textile industry. (Heidrick & Struggles, 2004, p. 20)

  5. Morris Chang, CEO of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (Taiwan), mentioned that

    A leader needs to have two qualities. First he or she has to know in which direction he or she wants to take their people. Secondly, a leader has to have enough people following them to achieve their purpose. . . . The person who had probably the biggest influence on me was Patrick Haggerty of Texas Instrument. . . . Although I was initially three levels below him . . . I had the good fortune of getting acquainted with him early in my career at TI, and I had frequent opportunities to see him and listen to his advice. (Heidrick & Struggles, 2004, p. 24)

  6. Daniel Mao, board member of SINA Corporation, mentioned:

    My leadership philosophy is to have the right people in the right places. . . . as far as my own ongoing development, I consider myself a people person, and I have improved my people skills through mentoring from venture capitalists, management consultants, and business lawyers. . . . Above all, I continue to learn and improve as a leader by listening carefully to my staff and customers. (Heidrick & Struggles, 2004, p. 27)

  7. Keiji Tachikawa, president and CEO of NTT DoCoMo (Tokyo), noted:

    A business should continually grow and contribute to the development of the society and economy. In order to achieve these goals, it is the role of the leader to achieve a consensus within the organization and to demonstrate a clear direction for the future. . . . Leadership is required at every level of the corporate ladder. . . . At each level there are opportunities to grow and develop, but it takes time, -- it cannot be achieved in a day. (Heidrick & Struggles, 2004, p. 29)

  8. Chang Sun, managing director of Warburg Pincus Asia LLC (Hong Kong), mentioned:

    I have two leadership roles to play. One is to lead the professionals in our four country offices and the other is to work with the senior executives of our investee companies. . . . My philosophy has largely been shaped by the many twists and turns in my life and by extremely diverse groups of people I have come into close contact with, in rural China as well as in cities like Beijing, New York and Hong Kong. . . . As a teenager during the cultural revolution I learned how to deal with the emotions . . . four years in the Chinese Air Force in rural China trained me in endurance, discipline and military precision; wining a place in Beijing Foreign Languages University against thousands of other applicants made me cherish every opportunity to learn; working as translator at the United Nations gave me the chance to observe . . . diplomacy; . . . the Wharton School allowed me to switch careers; . . . [working] at a boutique buyout firm in New York, as well as Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong, prepared me well for the challenges of private equity investing. (Heidrick & Struggles, 2004, pp. 32-33)

  9. Koh Boon Hwee, chairman of Singapore Airlines (Singapore), mentioned:

    I try to build consensus around what we need to do . . . [which in practice] means that I communicate the company's strategy direction and try to get people's buy into that point of view. . . . One thing I look for in recruiting for leadership positions – even more important than their educational background – is the amount of drive and the level of energy that they would bring to the job. . . . I was quite fortunate at the start of my career many, many years ago to have worked for Hewlett Packard. HP had a really unique philosophy of believing in the people who work for them. (Heidrick & Struggles, 2004, pp. 40-41)

  10. Peter Wong, CEO and general manager in Hong Kong of the Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong), noted about his leadership philosophy:

    There are three approaches important to me. One is being broad-minded about people. The second is being broad-minded about business. And third is being broad-minded about changes. . . . As far as being broad-minded about people, my view is that leaders have the responsibility to develop more leaders. . . . By “people” I don't just mean people inside the company. I am also referring to the people in the community. . . . As far as being broad-minded about business my motto is “What you can copy, don't try to re-invent everything.” There are so many product around the world. . . . [B]eing broad-minded about change, is important because we are living in a world of change. I am totally awed by the pace of change in China today. . . . Dealing with change also means a lot of trial and error. . . . Ultimately what is most effective is honesty, consistency and simplicity. (Heidrick & Struggles, 2004, pp. 45-46)

  11. Stan Shih, chairman and CEO of Acer, Inc.( Taiwan ), stated:

    The first objective in leadership is to clarify the mission, and the second is to communicate it appropriately to the team members to get their consensus and support. Then it is my responsibility to empower the team members to carry out the mission. I start by coaching them, based on my own experience, and at the same time I also try to encourage them to work in their own style. The power of the team is that we bring different strengths and support one another in pursuit of the mission, and so it is the leader's responsibility to be the catalyst for that. . . . I learn to lead by being a good subordinate . . . . I learned by doing and by watching my bosses perform. So once I understood the responsibilities inherent in the tasks, I was able to help others learn how to perform them well. (Heidrick & Struggles, 2004, p. 50)


International Journal of Leadership Studies
An online refereed journal sponsored by
Regent University, School of Business & Leadership
1000 Regent University Drive, Virginia Beach, VA 23464
Phone: 757-352-4550; Email: ijls@regent.edu