Asian Leadership

Samuel Kim

President & Co-Founder

Center of Asia Leadership

Leaders are everywhere. They can be your manager, your company CEO, your sports teams, your parents and even yourself. 

But describing leadership can be complex. Many management and leadership gurus offer models and framework to help describe and develop our leaders. However, much of these leadership models are based on the behaviors and styles of leaders from the western world. In Asia, leaders behave differently. Depending on where you come from, their leadership styles can be vastly diverse, contrasting and even counter-intuitive.

What makes Asian leaders unique? How do we become leaders in Asia? How can we nurture our emerging leaders in Asia?

Joining us is the Co-Founder and President of The Centre for Asia Leadership, Samuel Kim. He is passionate about nurturing and empowering talents and to help emerging leaders to be socially responsible as they face the complex challenges of today. Prior to establishing CALI, Samuel worked for 14 years in a wide range of sectors, from strategy consulting and social entrepreneurship to international development, politics, and government. He has worked for and with over 30 renowned organizations, including the United Nations, UNESCO, Samsung, and Toyota. 

Podcast Episode Highlights

Defining Leadership

  • Making progress.
  • Ones who are able to pay attention to collective problems. Problems don’t just affect one person, it affects everyone. 
  • Take the responsibility to look into the collective challenge, such as things that are decaying in our society. 
  • Pay attention to the problem, not just at a national level, it could be within the organization, within the family, or even your own personal challenge. Don’t be afraid to embrace the problem and work on it.

Leadership in Asia vs Leadership in the West

  • There are a lot of differences, and we can use these differences to learn from each other. 
  • Leadership in Asia – there’s a sense of community, wanting to look after those around us. 
  • Leadership begins with learning. Asians love to learn whether it’s learning new trends, new knowledge, or new skills. 
  • Leadership in the West – there’s a sense of dignity. Where they have worked towards something, and regardless of what others think, they believe they’ve earned it and they are proud of their achievement. 
  • Leadership in Asia – what others think matters, it can get in the way, and there’s the social pressure as well.

The Asian Style of Leadership

  • Leaders like Jack Ma of Ali Baba, the late Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, and Park Geun-hye from Korea, are highly regarded because they have steered their community to face the challenge and try to focus their energy to solving these problems. 
  • On the other hand, looking at the west, they are relatively stable, mature, have a high standard of living.
  • Successful Asian leaders help their nation or organization face the actual reality of the situation, and take it a step further in guiding them towards the aspiration. 
  • In contrast, there are also leaders who rule with Asian elements, such as the top-down hierarchical model, where they use power and authority. It is a challenge for only one person to provide the solution to all the problems we face.
  • Despite having many great leaders in Asia, it comes down to those who are able to facilitate and help people pay attention to the problems, and guide them towards where they should go as opposed to the authoritative method of leadership.  

What Asia Needs

In order to survive, Asia needs to be flexible and must be keen to adopt new means of doing things.

Leadership Skills Required

  • Communication skills – the ability to drive or steer the discussion. Instead of just identifying the problem, leaders must be able to point out the pattern, and be open to a discussion as to why this is happening. It is also important to be able to articulate the goal in a way that gives hope. 
  • Practical reasoning
  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity 
  • Managing group dynamics
  • Relationship building and management – the problem we face today is a collective issue, and it’s challenging for just one person to come up with a solution to that problem. 

What can companies do to help foster and develop leaders within the organization

  • Rationality quotient – the ability to think is a wonderful gift. When we look at certain issues, we need to think about the cause and have the ability to come up with some very good questions as well as think through and develop one’s own theory of change. By developing this, the company is really helping young people identify new opportunity. 
  • Adversity quotient – dealing with failures. Failure is a wonderful indicator as to where you are. It’s an indicator of what’s working and what needs to be improved. 
  • Foster learning – encouraging people to learn about the new trends, new skills, new knowledge. Leadership begins with education. 
  • People skill – teaching them how to build relationship, how to maintain, how to manage.


  • Begin with working on yourself.
  • Cultivate a learning mindset, discipline and stewardship.
  • Take up the goal of reading 50 books per year.
  • Find enablers – people who are able to provoke and invoke you.

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